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...

Saturday, December 16, 2017

My Life in Books, 2017

I saw this meme over on Jane's Reading, Writing, Working, Playing - and it looked like such fun that I immediately started looking back over my year of reading.

In high school, I was: Stiff Upper Lip (Jeeves)  (P.G. Wodehouse)

People might be surprised (by): My Latest Grievance  (Elinor Lipman)

I will never be: The Young Stepmother  (Charlotte M. Yonge)

My fantasy job is: (in) The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop  (Lewis Buzbee)

At the end of a long day I need: Silence in Court  (Patricia Wentworth)

I hate it when: (I keep) Dreaming of the Bones  (Deborah Crombie)

I wish I had: Four Gardens  (Margery Sharp)

My family reunions are: Written in Blood  (Anne Bishop)

At a party you'd find me with: The Quiet Gentleman  (Georgette Heyer)

I've never been to: A Town Like Alice  (Nevil Shute)

A happy day includes: Circle of Friends  (Maeve Binchy)

Motto I live by: Eat Cake  (Jeanne Ray)

On my bucket list is: The Copenhagen Connection  (Elizabeth Peters)

In my next life, I want to have: Earth and High Heaven  (Gwethalyn Graham)

I didn't write about most of these books when I read them, but a couple at least are on my "favorite books of the year" list, so I'll have something to say about them there. I love all the end-of-the-reading-year recaps, lists and posts and everything in between. I often find something to add to my TBR lists, if not the stacks.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

An early New Year's resolution, maybe

I am reading and enjoying Lewis Buzbee's The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, which JoAnn recommended. As the subtitle says, it's "a memoir, a history" - a memoir of a life in books, both reading and selling, and a brief history of booksellers and bookstores. In the first chapter, he describes a very familiar feeling:
For the last several days I've had the sudden and general urge to buy a new book. . . It's not as if I don't have anything to read; there's a tower of perfectly good unread books next to my bed, not to mention the shelves of books in the living room I've been meaning to reread. I find myself, maddeningly, hungry for the next one, as yet unknown. I no longer try to analyze this hunger; I capitulated long ago to the book lust that's afflicted me most of my life. I know enough about the course of the disease to know I'll discover something soon.
I know that urge so well. I may resist it for a day or two, but eventually I find myself at Murder by the Book, or Half Price Books, or Barnes and Noble, browsing through the shelves, like Buzbee not quite sure what I'm looking for.

But Buzbee goes on to say, "I do know that I'll leave with some book and head home to spend hours, both lost and found, in the perfect solitude of my sagging green easy chair." That brought me up short. If I bring a book home, it's rarely to read it right off. No matter how excited I am to bring it home, or how much I anticipate reading it, there is usually something else I need to finish first, and then some other book pops up to distract me. So my acquisition gets added to the TBR stacks, where it sits unread, sometimes for years. In a later chapter, Buzbee quoted an unnamed Stoic philosopher: "Of what use are whole collections of books, when their owners barely find time in the course of their lives to read their titles?" I thought, yep, that's me.

I've watched Simon's Project 24 this year with both awe and envy. I don't honestly think I could do that, limit myself to buying only 24 books over an entire year. Though I haven't bought any books in December (yet), I've bought 116 books this year, and 42 of those books are still on the TBR stacks. I've been playing with ideas for something like Simon's project, but focused on the TBR shelves. At first I thought of only buying books that I've already read, that I want to add to my library. I don't know that I could stick to that, though. There would have to be exceptions for new books by favorite authors, because I'm not going to wait on a library copy of Deborah Crombie's latest before buying my own. And I do think there should be some room for serendipity, and the discovery of books you didn't even know you needed, or authors you've never met before. So I am thinking instead of a TBR limit: no more than 12 books added to the TBR stacks in 2018. That means reading the books I buy as I buy them, or not buying books I haven't read. This seems doable to me, at least today. It's something I want to try, anyway. So there's my first New Year's resolution, a little early.

Edited to add: In a later chapter, Buzbee talks about the purchase of a book, and what happens to it afterwards. "It can be devoured immediately on getting home. . . Maybe the reader will take a few peeks at the first couple of pages while waiting at the stoplight." I've done that many times - Houston traffic has a lot of stoplights.

Once home, the book may go on top of the pile of those still waiting to be read, or to the bottom, where it can stay for years. In my stack of unread books right now, I've got a history of the Danube River by Claudio Magris and a scientific study on the patterns of global migration, DNA, and languages. I would like to read these books, but they've become part of the furniture. Maybe next year, after I finally get to The Aeneid, a twenty-years-ago purchase that has been moved to my permanent shelves.
I always feel better reading about other people's TBR stacks. I've got at least a couple of books that have become part of the furniture as well.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Ayala's Angel, by Anthony Trollope

I have more books by Anthony Trollope on my shelves than any other author (though Patricia Wentworth is coming close). It has been a good while though since I picked up one of his books - looking at my reading diary, almost a year. The last one I tried to read shook my faith in one of my favorite authors. I had a bad feeling when the young heroine met the charming cad. I knew their marriage was a mistake, but I didn't expect a Trollope heroine to die of disappointed love  - and then to have her father die of grief in his turn was just a step too far. I am prepared for that with Charlotte M. Yonge, but not Mr. Trollope.

My negative reaction didn't stop me from adding a couple of Trollope books to the TBR shelves when I came across them (The Fixed Period and The Landleaguers). There are also far more Trollope books on the TBR shelves than any other author's. Finally deciding it was time to try another, I looked carefully over my stash, unwilling to risk another dreary tragedy. The back cover of my Oxford World's Classics edition of Ayala's Angel promised "A romantic comedy of implacable exuberance . . . the brightest and freshest of Trollope's novels." It more than lived up to that blurb, though I'm not sure I agree it's the brightest and freshest.

Ayala is one of two sisters left without a penny after their parents' death. Her rich aunt and uncle, the Tringles, take her into their home. The older sister Lucy makes her home with the poorer aunt and uncle, the Dossetts. But when the son and heir Tom Tringle falls madly in love with Ayala, she is banished to the Dossetts, while Lucy is welcomed to the Tringles' magnificence. I thought there was something of Sense and Sensibility about the two sisters.  Ayala certainly has all the romantic notions of Marianne, while Lucy has more of Elinor's sense and stability. But Trollope makes it clear that Ayala is the heroine of his story.

Much of the comedy in the story comes from the suffering of their rich uncle, the baronet and millionaire financier Sir Thomas Tringle. He has two daughters, as well as his son Tom. The elder daughter Augusta has just married the Hon. Septimus Traffic, a baron's son and Member of Parliament. Sir Thomas settled £120,000 on Augusta, which will give the couple a comfortable income. Mr. Traffic however has decided to save as much as possible by moving in with his new in-laws. I enjoyed Sir Thomas's increasingly irate efforts to turf the young man out, and his own daughter as well, while his son-in-law ignores his hints and even outright insults. Then there is the second daughter, Gertrude, who is determined to marry and expects her £120,000 in turn. However, her father is equally determined not to end up with another sponging son-in-law. At one point she is driven to elope to Ostend, under the mistaken idea that it's a continental Gretna Green where weddings are quickly and easily arranged. Poor Sir Thomas has to cope with the fallout of that escapade, after which he starts referring to Gertrude and her intended as "those two idiots." I sometimes thought he might have been happy to trade his daughters for his wards, who despite their own romantic tangles behave so much better.

This being a Trollope novel, there are of course several hunting scenes. The editor of this edition, Julian Thompson, notes that "The hunting-scenes in Ayala's Angel are as fresh as any, and, as R.C. Terry has pointed out, are remarkably free from nostalgia, despite the fact that Trollope had himself hunted for the last time." The notes also point out several connections in the hunts to The American Senator. It's been so long since I read that book that I didn't remember any of the cross-over characters.

I enjoyed this book very much. It reminded me of why Anthony Trollope is one of my favorite authors, even if every book of his isn't exactly to my taste. I am late for the Palliser Party that Jo Ann and Audrey have been hosting, but I am still in time for the next book, Phineas Redux. Though I'm thinking it's been too long since I last read The Eustace Diamonds.