Monday, January 15, 2018

Library Thing

I joined Library Thing in November 2013, and while I add new books as I acquire them, I still don't have every book I own entered. Today I discovered that more than half of my sizable Wodehouse section wasn't catalogued there. I spent a happy hour of my holiday figuring out which ones weren't and adding them. With Wodehouse, as with Patricia Wentworth, this will help me avoid duplicates, since I can't keep all the titles straight, between say Big Money, Uneasy Money, Money in the Bank and Money for Nothing, not to mention all the titles with "Jeeves" in them.

I currently have 1386 books listed in "Your Books." I think there are somewhere around 150 more to add, not counting a few duplicates (mostly Jane Austen and Dorothy Dunnett).

I use LT mainly to catalogue my books. I haven't really explored the other features, though I do have a few "friends." One of my favorite sections is "Members with your books," and my favorite part of that is where LT suggests what books I should borrow from them. I trust the warning that comes with those lists is tongue-in-cheek: "Obviously that does not necessarily mean you can borrow the books."

Usually when I click on that link, the first name on my "to borrow" list is Ngaio Marsh, with ten or more titles. The thing is, I've read Ngaio Marsh. I used to own some of her books. But something - what's the opposite of clicked? I came to realize that I don't care for her books. I've looked, but I can't figure out how to tell LT to please stop recommending Ngaio Marsh, or other authors I don't want to read.

I've just discovered the section where I can record how many times I read a particular title, which I'm always interested to know. I think of myself as a re-reader, and looking over my reading logs (and this blog) bears that out. I like knowing what I've been re-reading and when. With some books, it's almost every year. This weekend it was some Terry Pratchett books last read in 2007 (though I could have sworn more recently).

If there are any particularly useful or fun features of Library Thing, I'd love to know about them. And I should really figure out the groups, since I technically but passively belong to the Virago and Persephone group.

Edited to add: I've spent two "ice days" at home, checking my books against Library Thing. I quickly realized that 1) I have a lot more books than I realized and 2) I am a serious book squirrel, piling up TBR books. It's time to dig them out. I'm filling a bag for the library sale as well.

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Anticipation, mysterious edition

I absolutely stole borrowed this heading from Audrey.

When I opened Laurie R. King's newsletter yesterday, I did a double-take when I read that she is "going to revisit Kate Martinelli for a story of some kind..." I'd heard somewhere that Kate has a voice-over cameo in LRK's latest novel Lockdown, but otherwise she hasn't been seen since The Art of Detection in 2006. I've never given up hope for more stories with Kate (and Lee, Nora and Al), just like I keep hoping for another book set in the world of Califia's Daughters.

Now, I know "going to revisit" doesn't mean "publishing any time soon," so I won't be holding the proverbial breath. But I will be on the look-out for updates. In the meantime, there will be a new Mary Russell book out this year. And that means I need to catch up, since I'm two behind on that series.

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Keep Going and Like It, by Marjorie Hillis Roulston

Reading Jane's review of Marjorie Hillis's Live Alone and Like It reminded me that there were other books by Hillis to read - and now a book about her, The Extra Woman by Joanna Scutts. I was happy to find two of her books available through inter-library loan. The first to arrive was this one, subtitled "A Guide to the Sixties and Onward and Upward With Some Irreverent Rhymes."

Chapter One, "The Young Sixties and Seventies," begins,
This little book is written in the belief that you can have as interesting, useful, and even gay life in the sixties and seventies and often the eighties as at any other time in your life. You can also be miserable. The latter is equally true at twenty, thirty, forty, and fifty.
Chapters on the active life, travel, clothes and make-up, illness, housing, dating, and food follow, much as in her earlier books. There is also a chapter on grandchildren, which is more about how to be a good grandmother. A central theme of this book, as in her earlier ones, is that life take planning and purpose, and some effort, if you want to get the most out of it.

Despite the similarities to Hillis's earlier books, I didn't enjoy this one nearly as much. It was written thirty years later, in 1967, yet paradoxically it feels more dated to me. And while Hillis was careful to include advice for those on limited budgets, the book seems aimed more at the well-off. She takes it for granted that her readers will have a maid at least. (If moving, they might want to find a home with easy access to a movie theater, to please the help.)  I felt her photo on the back cover suggested the type of woman she was writing for here, fur cuffs and all.

I also missed the (probably fictional) "Case studies" that Hillis used to underline her points in the early books. I don't think that her "irreverent rhymes" added much to this book. She wrote another book, Work Ends at Nightfall, entirely in verse. I haven't looked for a copy of it yet. On the other hand, she includes more examples and anecdotes from her own life, and those I did enjoy. And it was a pleasant surprise to come across two references to Houston. She commended the excellent opera company here (still going strong), and she included it on a list of cities worth visiting for their "art, culture, shopping, and night life..." (recommending travel in the U.S. and Canada, and not just for those who can't afford to travel abroad).

In the end, this was a couple of hours' pleasant reading, but not a patch on Live Alone and Like It. The other book I have requested is You Can Start All Over, is a guide for widows and divorcées - the latter still slightly scandalous, I would think, when it was published in 1951.

Monday, January 8, 2018

Stanton, by Walter Stahr

The cover of this book caught my eye in Barnes and Noble. Any cover with Lincoln on it will get my attention.

Then I realized the book was by Walter Stahr, who wrote an outstanding biography of Lincoln's Secretary of State William Henry Seward. And just like that, I had found another Christmas present for myself!

Edwin Stanton was like Lincoln himself a lawyer. He was a much more prominent and better-paid lawyer, in fact. He was also a Democrat, but he strongly supported the Union, particularly after Lincoln's election brought Southern states to secession. In December of 1860, Stanton accepted the office of Attorney General in the cabinet of outgoing president James Buchanan. In those last months of his administration, Buchanan waffled over how to respond to secession, allowing Southern states to take over government property, including arsenals and weapons. (Until this year, Buchanan was often rated the worst president in American history.) In the cabinet, Stanton was among those pushing the president to protect and preserve the Union. One year later, when Lincoln's Secretary of War had proven himself incompetent and (some said) corrupt, he offered the position to Stanton. Stanton had no military experience, but he was hard-working, a very skilled organizer and executive, and incorruptible. He was committed to Lincoln, to preserving the Union, to winning the war. He became equally committed to the African American soldiers that he welcomed to the army, and to the former slaves emancipated by Lincoln's proclamation and Union victory. Stahr argues that "Lincoln deserves his reputation as the 'Great Emancipator,' but Stanton should perhaps be known as the 'Implementer of Emancipation.'" It was his commitment to the freed people that led him into conflict with Lincoln's successor, Andrew Johnson. Johnson wanted political and social control of the Southern states returned to whites. Johnson's attempts to remove Stanton from his cabinet led to his impeachment, the first in U.S. history.

Walter Stahr has written another excellent biography. I knew something of Stanton from all that I have read about Abraham Lincoln and the Civil War. They had a close partnership in the war, and they genuinely loved and respected each other. I did not know much about Stanton's early life, which was not an easy one. After his father's death left the family in poverty, he was apprenticed at age 13 to a bookseller. "A friend remembered that Edwin was 'just high enough to get his chin above the counter...'" I was fascinated by his later work for the government, investigating land claims in California. Stanton traveled out to California and spent months in archival research, collecting boxes of documents that eventually helped prove the deeds presented in court were forgeries. It was also fascinating to see the Civil War from a different perspective, through the work of the War Department. Stahr highlights the ways that Stanton used the power of his office to silence dissent, through arrests and trials before military commissions, which denied the accused their rights. He also used that power to help Republicans win elections, playing a key role in Lincoln's 1864 re-election. And he took control of the investigation into Lincoln's assassination and the trial of the accused conspirators.

Stahr recognizes and pays tribute to Stanton's gifts, to the immense contributions that he made to winning the Civil War and to helping the freed people. But he doesn't gloss over his many faults. He quotes frequently from my favorite diary-keeper of the period, George Templeton Strong.  As an officer of the Sanitary Commission, helping to care for Union soldiers in the field and hospital,  Strong had to work with Stanton. He wrote of Stanton after his death,
Good and evil were strangely blended in the character of this great War Minister. He was honest, patriotic, able, indefatigable, warm-hearted, unselfish, incorruptible, arbitrary, capricious, tyrannical, vindictive, hateful, and cruel. Robespierre had certain traits in common with Stanton. I mean no disrespect to Stanton, who was infinitely bigger and better than that miserable Frenchman - but their several failings were not unlike.
In the end, Stahr argues that "Stanton was not a good man, but he was a great man."
He played a central role in winning the central war in American history. He lived and worked with great men, Lincoln and Grant and Sherman. He was one of them. For all his faults, he deserves our praise.
I agree, and I think this biography does him full justice.

I don't know what Walter Stahr will write next, but I will read it. I'd love to see him tackle the other members of Lincoln's cabinet. I nominate the Secretary of the Navy, Gideon Welles, who was a difficult character in his own right. He left behind a wonderfully snarky diary covering the war years (Stahr quotes his unkind comments on Stanton). It was recently published in a new edition that I have so far resisted buying.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

Finding a book again

Last night at Half Price Books I came across one that I've been trying to find for years, An American Primer, edited by Daniel J. Boorstin. It's a collection of foundational documents in United States history, starting with the 1620 Mayflower Compact and ending with Lyndon Johnson's 1965 "Address on Voting Rights." I had a copy of this in college, and somewhere along the way I got rid of it. The problem in trying to find it again was that I couldn't remember the title or the author/editor. Describing it as "a book of historical documents" didn't get me anywhere. These days I keep track of the books I dispose of, as well as books I read but don't own, because I'm constantly forgetting titles and authors.

Looking at this again after thirty years, I was surprised at what isn't included, until I realized it was published in 1966. A modern edition would hopefully be more inclusive. There is nothing from Frederick Douglass or Martin Luther King, Jr. There is only one document from a Native American, and that in 1774. It does have the 1848 "Seneca Falls Declaration" on women's rights, as well as Elizabeth Cady Stanton's "Address on the Divorce Bill" from 1861. Still, with its limitations, I think it's worth having. I can and have looked up some of these documents on-line, like the Constitution, but it's nice having so many in one place. I've just realized though that this edition doesn't include the 25th amendment, passed in 1967, so I shall print out a copy to add in. We're certainly hearing a lot about that particular amendment these days.

I was also looking last night in the British history section. I was sick over Christmas and New Year's. I didn't get a lot of reading done, but I did watch some TV and movies. I happened on "The Young Victoria" on Netflix, the film with Emily Blunt. I'd seen it before, and I was drawn in again by the gorgeous costumes and settings. I was struck though by the scenes of the coronation, with Prince Albert supporting the new Queen from the audience. That didn't seem right to me, so I went to check. I could have sworn that I had a biography or two of Queen Victoria on the shelves, but I don't. (I have Gillian Gill's We Two, which confirmed that Albert was not at the coronation.) I don't know what happened to my copy of Christopher Hibbert's biography. I see I gave Elizabeth Longford's to the library sale several years ago. Now, I guess if I haven't even needed to consult them in that time, I haven't really needed them on my shelves, and I didn't buy a replacement last night. But it has made me wonder if maybe I have been a bit too quick to discard books, to make shelf space or to cull the TBR stacks, especially when faced with packing books to move. I'm trying to be more deliberate about acquiring books, and now I'm thinking about that when it comes to getting rid of books as well.

I also found a few Patricia Wentworth books on the shelves. I was dithering over Pilgrim's Rest, before I remembered to check Library Thing and confirm I already have that one. I've sent more than one duplicate copy to the library sale, but those at least I'm not likely to regret.

Thursday, January 4, 2018

Pack of Cards, by Penelope Lively

This is a collection of short stories, some of which were originally published in an earlier book called Nothing Missing But the Samovar (the title of the first story). This collection, with additional stories, came out eight years later, in 1986.

I've read, I think, all but one of Penelope Lively's adult books, as well as two other collections of her stories. I had an idea of what to expect with these stories, and as I read them, I found familiar Lively scenes and settings. "Interpreting the Past" is set amid an archaeological dig in an English cathedral city, with a mixed staff of amateurs and professionals. "A Clean Death" features Carol, a girl like Lively herself sent home to war-time England and a girls' school where she is very much the square peg. Two of the stories involve time-crossing, and I'm still not sure what exactly is going on in the last story, "Black Dog," but it may be a haunting.

What really surprised me is how funny some of them are. I can't remember ever laughing out loud over her stories before. "Servants Talk About People: Gentlefolk Discuss Things" has a nephew lunching with a most unobservant and self-satisfied uncle and aunt. "Customers" features a jolly couple brazenly shoplifting. "A Long Night at Abu Simbel" leaves me disinclined to ever sign up for a package tour of Egypt. "Bus-Stop" takes you on a ride through London with a brisk conductor, until a passenger boards who is horrified to find him working such a menial job. And "The Emasculation of Ted Roper" - well, that's a masterpiece of misdirection.

I really enjoyed this collection. It has everything I love in Penelope Lively's books, in a wonderful variety. Next to Nature, Art is the last book of hers that I haven't read. I still have some of her children's books to find as well, and I'm looking forward to her new book, on gardens.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Christmas presents, for me

It's a good thing that my TBR resolution doesn't go into effect until New Year's. I went to Kaboom Books this evening in search of one book, and I came home with five. The book I wanted was Penelope Lively's Pack of Cards. I had somehow gotten the idea that I didn't like her short stories, but this year I read The Purple Swamp Hen and Other Stories and Beyond the Blue Mountains. I also re-read Making It Up, so I was clearly wrong about her stories. I had a feeling that Kaboom would have a copy of Pack of Cards, which they did.

While I was there, I thought I'd look for Eudora Welty's books. Some years ago I gave all my copies of her books to the library sale. I can't remember why now. I've been thinking lately that it might have been a mistake, and I'd like to try her books again. There was a copy of Delta Wedding on the shelves, which was the first book of hers that I read, and I thought it would be a good place to start again.

With the other three books, I feel like I hit the bookish jackpot.

The owner was chatting with the customers ahead of me when I went to check out, so I wandered back into the shelves. That's where I came across a Virago edition of A Very Great Profession, by Nicola Beauman. I couldn't believe my eyes. I've resisted ordering the new Persephone edition, because I know that this exploration of "The Woman's Novel 1914-1939" is going to add a lot of books to my "want to read" lists. So my discovery of it tucked away on a high back shelf was clearly Meant to Be.

I also found my way into a small back room for the first time. There I found Myrna Loy's autobiography, Being and Becoming. I had no idea she wrote her autobiography. She is one of my favorite actresses, particularly in the many films she made with William Powell. I think Libeled Lady is the best and funniest, and I watch The Thin Man every Christmas. I will read any memoir about the Golden Age of Hollywood, but I'm also interested in reading about her political and social activism.

And finally, The Drones Omnibus of stories by P.G. Wodehouse. I love the Drones Club, which counts Bertie Wooster as a member. I enjoy the adventures of the Eggs, Beans, and Crumpets, as the members style themselves. I don't think there are any Wooster stories in this collection, but it does include "Uncle Fred Flits By." I dote on the Earl of Ickenham. And I'm intrigued by one story, "Goodbye to All Cats." It begins, "As the club kitten sauntered into the smoking room of the Drones Club..." A club kitten - this makes me love the Drones Club even more.

Those three books are sitting on the last open shelf in the house. I do still have some space for double-shelving in some of the bookcases, but not much. So I either need to exercise some bookish restraint, or I need to look for another bookcase, and figure out where to put it. Hmmm, which is more likely...