Tuesday, July 30, 2013

The Forgotten Man

The Forgotten Man: a New History of the Great Depression, by Amity Shlaes

Amity Shlaes is a well-established journalist and historian in the field of economics.  Her new look at the economics of the Great Depression made quite a splash in 2008, and I've been meaning to read it ever since.  Score one for the TBR pile!  Shlaes offers analysis of how Presidents Hoover and Roosevelt responded to the 1929 crash and subsequent depression, chronicling the actions of the movers and shakers of the times.  It's a big-picture history; we see New Deal policies in action, the decisions in Washington, and the rise of large unions, not portraits of individual farmers and workers.

We start in 1927, getting some background and the political climate of the time.  The economy is roaring and many people are getting modern conveniences such as electricity or even a car for the first time.  Leftists have their eye on the new Soviet Union and think it is just great, so a delegation of Americans visits for a tour (that part is fascinating).  Shlaes then takes us through the crash and Hoover's response to it--for example, the disastrous Reed-Smoot tariff, along with other things that were more beneficial.

Most of the book concentrates on FDR and the New Deal--and it's not as good a picture as Americans have tended to think.  Roosevelt was into moving boldly, and he was not interested in consistency.  The capricious price-setting he and his colleagues indulged in is just plain frightening.  He railed against big business, and then instituted massive regulation that mostly damaged small businesses (and often the consumers most of all).  He went after random small businessmen, which scared everyone--the illustrative case was especially interesting to me since it involved brothers running a kosher chicken slaughterhouse.

We also see how local communities reacted to the Depression.  Some instituted barter or unofficial currencies.  Father Divine, a charismatic black preacher, held public feasts and bought property to settle people into.  Bill Wilson started a new kind of group for alcoholics, building a supportive community to help people kick the bottle.

Shlaes concludes that a lot of what FDR did prolonged the Depression and made it worse.  She offers a lot of information to back that up.  And much of it sounds discouragingly relevant to us today.  Shlaes brings up some good questions about the difference between classical liberalism, concerned with individual liberty, and 20th century progressive liberal politics, focused on collective action.  Roosevelt was a "liberal"--but what exactly did he mean by that
?  It's important to get the definitions straight.

A very good book, and really interesting.  Sometimes it dragged a bit, as economic history is wont to do, but for the most part it was surprisingly hard to put down.  I was interested to see that a graphic novel version is being prepared for publication--perhaps for those of us with shorter attention spans.

Monday, July 29, 2013

Dancers in Mourning

Dancers in Mourning, by Margery Allingham

I don't think I've said anything about Margery Allingham here, but I love her books.  She wrote a lot of them, very fun mysteries (and plenty of other stuff too; she wrote for magazines a lot) usually starring Albert Campion as the detective.  Campion is your eccentric kind of detective, who hides a clever mind behind a vacuous and foolish exterior.  He has something of a secret identity, and there are references to his real name being Rudolph and a wealthy background.  If he reminds you of Lord Peter Wimsey, there is a reason for that, since he was reputedly created as a sendup of Lord Peter.  I haven't had a lot of luck getting many Allingham stories, so I'm happy now because I just got a pile of them.

In this story, Campion is called in to deal with a theatrical problem.  The famous Jimmy Sutane is starring in a popular show, but he's being quietly persecuted with nasty practical jokes.  Sutane is highly-strung and the pranks are driving him mad as well as endangering his career.  Campion spends a weekend with the whole cast at Sutane's country retreat, but a dancer--Chloe Pye--turns up dead.  Then the understudy is blown to smithereens.  It's quite a confusing mystery, but I spotted the killer before Campion did (since he's letting his emotions cloud his judgment, unusual for him).

Allingham has a very distinctive style.  She's not a great writer, but she's good at difficult mysteries and her stories have more variety than many others (in my opinion, anyway).  I plan to be quite happy reading my way through my pile.

In other news, I'm most of the way through 3 difficult books, and I'm thinking of doing that 15-day Book Blogging Challenge, but I don't know.  Some of the questions seem awfully difficult to answer!

Friday, July 26, 2013

A little update

I didn't mean to stay silent for a week!  The only books I've finished have been re-reads of mysteries by favorite British authors.  I have some serious reading going on too, but let's face it--it's really hot, there's a lot going on, and I'm trying to get ready for the start of school, and my brain has not been quite up to facing the Great Depression or Kafka.  Even though they are really interesting.  I haven't even touched the EBB/RB love letters since Monday!  Oh no!

What I have been doing is prepping for the start of school in a few weeks, and in case you care, I'll tell you about it.  This is your cue to skip this post if you don't care!   We are due to start in about 3 weeks, and I have done very little over the summer, because by June I always need at least a month where I do not have to think about homeschooling at all.  I do have most of my materials, because I do the bulk of my purchasing in the spring before the old school year ends, but that doesn't mean they're ready to go.  Ha ha.  (I do have some things squared away: grammar, spelling/vocabulary, math, and logic are ready to go.)

My most pressing job has been preparing for a year of physics.  I have a Great Courses DVD set, several boxes of experiment supplies, and a textbook for my 10-year-old, but I spent a good deal of the summer trying to figure out what text to use for my 13-year-old.  Once I chose that, I had to match all these disparate things together.  I am expecting to have several kids using these things and participating in labs, so I have to be ready.  I've prepared a syllabus that correlates lectures, textbook chapters, and labs so that everyone can be on the same page; it still needs a little work but I feel very accomplished about it.  There is also the small problem that we have a physics nerd right here in the house....but he's the one with the full-time job.  So I get to teach it, with him for backup.

My youngest, all ready for Kindergarten 5 (!) years ago

History is another subject that takes heavy preparation.  We are going to be doing modern world history, 1850-present.  Luckily, when my older daughter was younger, I spent summers preparing reading lists for each year that match up with the history book and what books are available in the library, so my 10-year-old is pretty much taken care of.  I looked at several different lists of recommended literature for the middle grades, and put together a list of things for the 13-year-old to read this year; some of them are required by her history text, and others are things I chose to go along with it.

I've been thinking a lot about what to do with the 13-year-old's writing, too.  She has done well with the curriculum we've used, but I think this year we need a change.  She and I would both like to try the online course from BYU Independent Study, so we'll see how that goes.

Oldest girl, with her 3rd grade books long ago. 
 I want to do a year of government, so I've been preparing that.  I'm excited about this one.  We'll be studying American governmental structure, the Constitution, and major cases, and once we have a reasonable understanding of that I have one of those "You Decide" kind of books about Bill of Rights cases and questions.

I'm still thinking about languages.  What to do, what to do...the older one thinks she would like to continue with Spanish and pick Latin back up again.  We'll see how that goes.  10-year-old should pick one of those.  (Unless she wants to do something really neat, like Koine Greek or Russian!)

There is lots more to do.  I haven't stocked up on supplies yet, or gotten the school areas straightened out, or all sorts of things. So you can see why I've been going very slowly with my reading lately...

Monday, July 22, 2013

Letters of RB and EBB, Part III

The Letters of RB and EBB

This time I read letters from November 1845--March 1846.  When last we checked in, Robert and Elizabeth had just begun their romantic relationship; Elizabeth had finally admitted her feelings to Robert and they were on the same page, though Robert had to keep assuring her that she was perfectly fine the way she was and that he hadn't planned to marry anyway (which, maybe he hadn't, but he sure wanted to marry Elizabeth--he was just too smart to tell her that just yet).

From November through March, they really solidify their relationship.  Elizabeth becomes more demonstrative and manages to say more of how she feels about Robert, until she is quite eloquent on the matter.  She tells him her family nickname -- Ba -- and allows him to use it, which he does quite a lot.  Her given name of Elizabeth has disappeared by now.

The sheer volume of letters has increased enormously.  They are now writing long letters to each other almost daily--often twice a day.  Robert may only visit once a week (if that) and they have far too much to say to each other to only write a couple of times a week.  It is still absolutely necessary to preserve an appearance of a "literary friendship" that goes no further.  Elizabeth's sisters are in on it (and supportive, as she supports another sister's clandestine relationship), but she doesn't want her brothers to know too much.

Even Elizabeth is now wishing that she could escape her home and actually marry Robert.  They sort of hint around about their dream of going to Italy and living happily, but I'm thinking that the M-word is confined to personal conversations, at least for now.   Elizabeth keeps assuring Robert that she doesn't need or want wealth; if they combine their incomes they'll have enough to scrape by and she'll be fine.  (She may have had something of an aversion to money; her family's fortune came from plantations in the West Indies and she was opposed to slavery.  By the time of the letters, her father had lost much of his wealth and they were not rich.)

This section from November through March takes up over half of the first volume of letters.  Jenny scheduled the next five months of April through September for the next two weeks, but that is the entire second volume--mine is a scanned copy (from 1898) and it's nearly 600 pages of letters!  

Letters of RB and EBB, Part I
Letters of RB and EBB, Part II

Sunday, July 21, 2013

MLK Jr: Essays and Speeches

Oops, this post got a bit lost.  For the Dewey Readathon I thought I'd try to spend some time on a couple of essays.  I wound up choosing a giant book of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s writings and speeches, and read several.  They were excellent, but now it is far too long since I read them!  This is just a note for the Essay Challenge.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Norms & Nobility

Norms & Nobility: a Treatise on Education, by David V. Hicks

I've wanted to read this book for years.  It's one of the foundational texts on classical education.  So it's been on my wishlist forever, but it's also pretty expensive and not that easy to find in a library.  I finally got around to ILLing it, and have been working on it for a few weeks.

This is a difficult and heavy text, with a whole lot to think about--even though it's less than 200 pages long.*    Hicks lays out why a classical education is worth pursuing and how to do it (there is a whole syllabus for grades 7-12).  He has a lot to say.  I read it quite slowly, and it would be good to own the book so I can read it again...and then again.

I think it's also rather advanced in the world of classical education.  This is not a book for a beginner to read; if I'd tried to read it 10 years ago it would not have made much sense to me.  At that time, The Well-Trained Mind was perfect, because it is clear and practical.  Hicks is more philosophical, although he does also hit the practical points, which I appreciate very much.

*Like Jessie Weston's From Ritual to Romance, it's written in an older style that is learned and dense, rather than the more current style for simpler language, but great length.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Great House

Great House, by Nicole Krauss

I did it!  I read a modern novel that has been on my wishlist for over a year!  I've actually had it checked out from the library for far too long, a ridiculously long time.

Great House contains the stories of several different people, connected only by an old wooden desk with many drawers.  (Actually, even that much is not always clear.)  Each of these people tells--or, more accurately, confesses--a life story, and the desk comes to take on a weight and meaning.  As the pattern of the book emerges, we see that all of these people are very alone, having lost the ones who loved them, and the desk holds all that loss and sadness.

It's a really good book, but very melancholy.  I read it with great interest, which is a little surprising to me since I don't normally go for modern fiction all that much. 

I want to read a happy book now!

Tuesday, July 16, 2013


What's on Your Workdesk Wednesday is a blog meme hosted by Julia at Stamping Ground.  (Who knew stamps had gotten so sophisticated and fancy?  Not me.)

My daughter's birthday was a few days ago, so I can unveil the project I was working on.  Guess what her favorite show is:

I must say, I think it is the awesomest bookmark that ever did awesome.

In other news, I'm still working on the blog project, which we are hoping to roll out in a couple of weeks.  I've been using my librarian super-powers to invent categories and tags and all that, and I've written articles on teaching library skills to your children and what good chapter books you can read to a small child.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Test Yourself

A local author who writes about local history recently found a copy of a teacher's exam in a newspaper from 1889.  Take a look at the questions and see if you can handle it.  And if you've never read the story of John Bidwell, who founded my town and was involved in an awful lot of California history, check out my review and put it on your TBR pile.

I just got a copy of a new book that she helped edit; I need to read it so you can find out what it's about!

Austen in August Event

I've been meaning to sign up for Adam's yearly Austen in August event, so here I am.  Follow the link to sign up too!

Adam says:
The Goal: To read as many of Jane Austen’s works (finished or unfinished) as you want or are able to, during the month of August.  Biographies, audiobooks, spin-offs, and re-reads also count.  I will post throughout the month on different subjects, as well as with my own reviews of the Austen books I finish.  We will be offering giveaways, guest posts, and other shenanigans, all of which are meant to inspire a great, interactive event.
If you are going to participate, you can read any of Jane Austen’s novels, a biography about her, or any contemporary re-imaginings (such as Austenland or The Jane Austen Book Club, for example). All posts will help you qualify for prizes, which I’ll explain in a later post!

I am planning to read Northanger Abbey, a book that I love and haven't read for a while.  I don't know that I will read more, but maybe a history book.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

The Power of the Ring

The new edition's cove--not as pretty as mine.
The Power of the Ring: the Spiritual Vision Behind The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, by Stratford Caldecott

InterLibrary Loan is my friend this month, and I've been reading 3 at once.  First to the finish line was this very lovely book by Stratford Caldecott--I am having a Caldecott party lately, since I just read his Beauty for Truth's Sake and just got Beauty in the Word a couple of days ago--and this is an older book, all about Tolkien and not education.  That sentence kind of got away from me there...

If you're interested in how Tolkien's faith informed his work, and especially in how his Catholicism comes out in his books, this is the book to read.  There are several books like this actually; I've enjoyed one or two before, but Caldecott points out a lot of things I hadn't run into before.  It was really enjoyable to read, too (although the font used in the edition I read was a little annoying.  There is now a second edition, and while the cover illustration leaves something to be desired in my opinion, maybe the font is better!).

Now I'm really in the mood to read LOTR again.  It's been a very long time for me, unless you count when my husband read the whole thing aloud to our kids a year or so ago, but I didn't listen all the time.   Does anybody want to do a readalong?

If you read it, be sure to check out the appendices as well.  There's some good stuff in there, and also a short analysis of the film trilogy if you're interested.

Friday, July 12, 2013

The 13th Element

The 13th Element: the Sordid Tale of Murder, Fire, and Phosphorus, by John Emsley

Everything you ever wanted to know about phosphorus, plus bonus material!  Phosphorus was discovered in the 1600s by alchemists searching for that ever-elusive philosopher's stone.  It glows in the dark, it burns spontaneously in air, it's very poisonous and yet it's necessary to all life on earth, so phosphorus is pretty interesting stuff.

Emsley, a British university-type person, gives us an exhaustive history of phosphorus; it's interesting but a little too much information for most people.  There's a lot about alchemy and match factories--especially, of course, the dreaded phossy jaw, which was fascinating but don't try to read it over lunch, which I did--and then horrific descriptions of phosphorus bombs and nerve gasses.  Even murder and industrial accidents get their own chapters.

There is quite a bit of good information about the necessity of phosphorus in nature, and also about ecological concerns.  Phosphorus is very poisonous, but usually (not always) easily oxidizes into harmless compounds fairly quickly.  You might remember that there used to be environmental concerns about phosphates, which Emsley explains turned out to be both much more complex than first realized and also mostly a problem with heavy metals and other types of industrial pollutants. 

And finally (!) there is a chapter on possible explanations for spontaneous human combustion, or just plain human combustion with an igniting factor.  Wow.

Throughout, Emsley tries to emphasize phosphorus' "evil" side.  You'll note that the book's title is The 13th Element, and this is because it was the 13th element identified as such by Lavoisier.  Phosphorus is number 15 on the periodic table so that title threw me a bit at first, but Em
sley is trying to use it to set the tone of the book.  Personally I would have preferred less of the 13/evil theme, but hey, I can see where he might need a hook to sell the book!

This was a fine, fairly interesting, but sometimes overly long book.  You know I like books about chemistry, so I was predisposed to be pleased, and mostly I was--but it got boring in spots.

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


Son, by Lois Lowry

At last, Lois Lowry has written a concluding story to The Giver!  At the end, Jonas and Gabe go out on their sled and may or may not find safety.  Lowry wrote two more books in the same universe, but concentrated on other people.  Here, we learn about Gabe's mother--Claire, a young girl assigned as a Birthmother in the community.  The birth does not go well, and Claire is shoved off to the fish hatchery, where she wonders what happened to her baby.  She manages to secretly spend a little time with him, but then Jonas disappears with Gabe.  Claire, too, runs away from the community, and spends years in a different place before setting out on a journey to find the son she longs for.

I liked Son quite a bit, and so did my older daughter.  Good stuff.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Black Sheep

Black Sheep, by Georgette Heyer

Goodness, you read one of those things and you can't stop!  I had this Heyer novel on my TBR pile and had been ignoring it for at least a year, but it wasn't very appealing.  My copy is an ancient paperback with a truly hideous cover.  It was a lot of fun to read.

Miss Abigail Wendover is a single lady, no longer young (in Regency terms, that means she's 28), attractive and wealthy.  She is very worried about her niece Fanny, who is 17 and madly in love with a charming, calculating fortune-hunter.  As Abby tries to out-maneuver young Mr. Calverleigh
, she meets his uncle--just back from India and the black sheep of his family.  Can she resist his charm and save Fanny as well?

Very fun and fluffy, just like Heyer, though the plot was certainly more serious than the Reluctant Widow story from last week.  Fanny is on the brink of elopement!

Monday, July 8, 2013

Der Struwwelpeter

Der Struwwelpeter, von Dr. Heinrich Hoffman

Finally, I read another book, this time in German.  Struwwelpeter is right about my speed, since I haven't studied German in years and years--I quit after two semesters to take Russian.  Quite a few words were a bit old-fashioned, but I mostly did OK.  I also found an English version online to compare them---I read the German first and then the English--but of course the English version had been rendered into rhyme, so it mostly wasn't the same words.

Although I read a whole lot of nursery rhymes and cautionary tales as a child, we did not have Der Struwwelpeter.  I shouldn't think very many American children do, but the older British novels I've read often make a passing reference to the stories in here, so it must have been pretty well-known in the UK in the past.

These are cautionary rhymes in the traditional 18th- and 19th-century style--that is, children misbehave and are hideously punished, and everyone enjoys the wholesome fun and violence.  Peter never cuts his hair or nails, and nobody likes him; Friedrich is cruel to animals, so the dog bites him and he has to stay in bed and take nasty medicine while the dog eats his lovely sausage and cake.  Pauline plays with matches and is burned to death!  (This was a real danger, when matches were more flammable than they are now and people wore voluminous clothing.)  Three naughty boys make fun of a "Moor" and are punished.  A hare turns the tables on a hunter--I think I just met the original Bugs Bunny?

The really scary one was about poor Konrad, who sucked his thumb and got his thumbs snipped off by a tailor.  Agh.  We former thumbsuckers cringe in sympathy.  And Kaspar is a picky eater:

"Ich esse keine Suppe! Nein!
Ich esse meine Suppe nicht!
Nein, meine Suppe ess' ich nicht!"

I liked that one.  There is something about the rhythm of some German that I like, and that hits the spot.   There are a few more stories, but I'm getting boring now.

I broadened my knowledge of 19th-century children's literature, and practiced a bit of German.  Not bad!

Letters of RB and EBB, Part II

Time for another chapter of the letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett!  Ooh, this was interesting.  In our story so far, Robert has started a correspondence with Elizabeth, and he's clearly interested in her.  After they meet in person, Robert sends a Confession of True Feelings letter, and Elizabeth reacts poorly.  She has never thought of herself as eligible for romance, and she doesn't know what to do, nor does she want to encourage Robert to waste his life on her (as she sees it).  I have now read the next 5 months of letters, from May to October...

RB's first letter to EBB

The two are still writing, but Elizabeth is clearly trying to discourage Robert from romance.  She just wants to talk about Poetry and Life.  Robert keeps dropping anguished hints about his feelings, and she replies with a stubborn reluctance to hear it.
...I see by the law of my own star, my own particular star, the star I was born under, the star Wormwood, on the opposite side of the heavens from the constellations of 'the Lyre and the Crown.'  (EBB, July 1845)

...I am yours ever, and not till summer ends and my nails fall out, and my breath breaks bubbles,--ought you to write thus having restricted me as you once did, and do still?  You tie me like a Shrove-Tuesday fowl to a stake then pick the thickest cudgel out of your lot, and at my head it goes--  (RB, July 1845)
From her point of view, it's completely hopeless; what would they do?  She is a chronic invalid (I thought she was a TB patient, but no!  Her illness was a lung problem, though, and she did not expect to live long), and she has a strange and despotic father who won't even let his healthy children marry. Reading her descriptions of him, I think he must have had some psychological problem.  He seems to have been completely tyrannical; nothing would please him, and nobody was allowed to do anything.  Elizabeth wants to go on a trip to a better climate for her health, but she is blocked from going anywhere at all, for any reason.  So it's not that she isn't attracted to Robert (which she won't admit aloud for a minute), but that circumstances prevent their union.

At last, however, Robert's insistence that he knows what he's doing and that she's the only woman in the whole world for him, and anyway he never planned to get married so it doesn't matter that they can't--seems to have some effect.  Elizabeth admits her feelings in words that make it a bit difficult for modern eyes to see (I found this bit rather confusing), and suddenly Robert is ecstatic.

However, they are still trapped.  Elizabeth warns Robert that his habitual weekly visit is fine, but if he starts showing up more often, the family (her father) will notice and that will be the end of his ability to see her at all.  Any action that hints at a special friendship will lead to disaster.

Letters of RB and EBB, Part I

Saturday, July 6, 2013

In the First Circle

In the First Circle, by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

I have done it!  I have read all of In the First Circle.  This is a spectacular book, but it took me a long time to read because it's not the kind of book you gulp down.  You have to go a bit more slowly.  Also, my copy is very large, so I had to be sitting down and concentrating in order to read--which is good for the experience, but an awful lot of my reading is done while standing up and doing other things, or over lunch, or something like that.  There is not that much sitting-down focused reading in my life.

This is a huge story.  There is a long list of characters at the front (very helpful!), and they have their own lives, but connect at some points.  Even Stalin gets several chapters to himself.  The main storyline concerns the zeks (prisoners) at a special prison where they must use their engineering and technical skills to develop secret government technology--in particular, a telephone system that will encode conversation in real time (just for Stalin), and voice identification technology.  At the same time, a diplomatic officer decides to take a huge risk to inform the American embassy that a Soviet spy is going to receive plans for the atomic bomb.  Since all phone calls are monitored and recorded, the zeks are given the assignment to figure out who, of a possible 5 people, could have made that phone call.

The central plot of the story takes only 3 or 4 days.  But since many of the characters have stories of their own to tell, the novel sprawls everywhere, encompassing all of Russia since the Revolution.

I LOVED this novel.  Loved loved loved.  It's definitely one of my best reads of the year so far, and very much worth the effort. Thanks to Amy at Book Musings for introducing me to it!

Friday, July 5, 2013

London Under

London Under, by Peter Ackroyd

I love books about London, and in particular I love books about London under the ground, so when Kristen M. mentioned this little book, I went looking for it.

It's a short, quick read in which Ackroyd devotes a chapter to the various elements making up the underworld of London: hidden rivers and streams, remains of ancient buildings, tunnels, sewers, and of course the Tube.  There's some nice history and it's very evocative.

To be honest, it was a little too evocative for my taste.  Peter Ackroyd's style is always discursive and poetic, and here he goes on and on and ON about the chthonic nature of the underworld with sentences like "This was the anxiety that created the Minotaur, half man and half bull, with his own kingdom beneath the earth."

These flights of fancy were paired with a distinct lack of detail.  To be fair, most people probably aren't as willing to read hundreds of pages about this topic as I am.  Ackroyd is purposely writing a short book that just gives the reader an idea of what is there, and there is lots of interesting stuff here, especially odd little stories and facts
.  But I was irritated by the way he would show, say, a really neat vault and then leave it without spending any time there.

There's a bibliography at the end, which mentions MY favorite book about London's underground world, London Under London.  It's hard to get, though.  I was amazed to see just how many books have been written about this.  I think Ackroyd picked the title because every single other possible combination of the words London, under, and underground had already been used several times each.

I also checked out Ackroyd's giant history of London, but I'm not sure I'll read it.  I probably won't be able to resist, though.  Some people are obsessed with Paris, and some folks love New York, but give me London every time.

Oh!  Ackroyd does talk a lot about the Tube and he mentions the iconic tube map that we all know.  I wondered if I could find out what the Tube tunnels really look like on a real map and look what I found: What does London's Tube Map Really Look Like?

Wednesday, July 3, 2013


Today is a little different, as I haven't been working on sewing; I've been working on my baby blog project (a group blog about inclusive classical homeschooling).  My workdesk is entirely virtual and the content is not yet sharable, and may not be for a little while yet.  Some articles I've written so far:

How I taught 7th grade chemistry
World geography with younger students
Longer books to read aloud to young children

Some photos I've taken:

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Reluctant Widow

The Reluctant Widow, by Georgette Heyer

It's long time since I read a Heyer novel; I haven't been in the mood for one for quite a while.  I found this on the sale rack at the library, though, and the description grabbed me.  I have to say, this is one of the best and most fun Heyer novels I have ever read.  It is just great. 

Elinor Rochdale, a governess down on her luck, is dropped off by the mail coach and expects to be met by her new employer's servant, so she hops up into the waiting gig that seems to be expecting her.  Imagine her surprise when she is taken, not to a spoiled little boy, but to a lord who matter-of-factly asks her to marry his dissolute cousin, who is sure to die soon.  Elinor is quickly drawn into a strange situation involving secret staircases, French spies, mischievous young brothers, and all manner of mad goings-on.

Heyer's Regency dialogue is always pretty good, but here I really felt like she surpassed herself with Elinor's wit--and every other character too.  It's a wonderful fun and fluffy story.   I think I'll see if my 12-yo daughter wants to read it too.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Mrs. Dalloway

Mrs. Dalloway, by Virginia Woolf

Happy July!  Or, good luck hiding from the heat, depending on where you are.  I'm hiding, with occasional forays to swimming pools.

The WEM ladies have been reading Mrs. Dalloway, and I particularly wanted to join them, as this is one of my CC titles but I, for one, am quite afraid of Virginia Woolf.  I haven't read much of her before, I'm not too big on Moderns anyway, and I always get annoyed by her snobbery, so I needed company!  But I was in fact quite surprised by how much I enjoyed the book and that I didn't find it nearly as difficult as I expected (I was figuring on something not too far removed from Ulysses).

The book takes up one day and revolves mostly around Clarissa Dalloway, a middle-aged lady who is preparing to host a party in the evening.  I thought it would be entirely about Clarissa, but the point of view jumps around to various people, passing from one to the next as they intersect throughout the day.  We spend time following Clarissa's old love Peter, grown daughter Elizabeth, a young man suffering from severe shell shock and his Italian wife, Elizabeth's history teacher, and more--some only for a moment.  There is not exactly a lot of plot, but as we see the various characters' thoughts and actions, we get a picture built up of relationships and social structure.  And at the end of the day, Clarissa's party brings many of
these people together, even some from the past.  

It reminded me a bit of a Seinfeld episode, actually, though without the comedy.  That is probably terrible.

There is plenty to think about here.  As I said above, I was surprised by how much I enjoyed the book.  I might even read more Woolf someday.