Monday, January 29, 2018

Outrageous Fortune, by Patricia Wentworth

This 1933 book is one of Patricia Wentworth's "stand-alone" stories, and it is quite a wild ride. It begins with a young man lying in a cottage hospital, unconscious but occasionally muttering about Jimmy Riddell. He was found lying on a ledge of rock, above a treacherous bay where a ship was recently lost. A woman named Nesta Riddell arrives in response to a radio appeal, announces that he is her husband, and whisks him away. A short time later, another woman shows up, also in search of this young man. But she is looking for Jim Randall, the cousin she hasn't seen in seven years. It was clear from her first appearance that this young woman would be our heroine:
    "Miss Leigh?" said the day sister.
    "Oh yes," said Caroline Leigh in that warm dark voice of hers.
    Someone once said that Caroline's voice was like damask roses. He was an infatuated young man who wrote poetry. Caroline laughed at him kindly but firmly, and all her friends chaffed her about her crimson voice. All the same there was something in it.
Hearing that the unknown Jim has been taken away, Caroline resolves to track him down, just confirm that he isn't her Jim. Meanwhile, he wakes up in a small house in a small town. He has no idea who or where he is, but he has a nagging memory of a string of emeralds, shining in lamplight. Informed that he is Jim Riddell, husband of Nesta, he finds that hard to accept. And then Nesta tells him that he has stolen a string of emeralds, and she wants her share. Jim also learns that the owner of the emeralds, an American named Elmer Von Berg, has been shot, presumably during the robbery, and is at the point of death.

The story alternates between Jim and Caroline, as he tries to figure out who he is and what is happening, and she tries to find out where and who he is. There is considerable tension in those sections. In between her sleuthing, Caroline goes home, to the house that she shares with her older cousin Pansy Ann. Pansy (christened plain Ann) "sketched a little, and gardened a little, and painted a little on china. She also wrote minor verse..." Perhaps Patricia Wentworth meant her to add some humor to the story, to lighten the tension from time to time, but I feel like those sections interrupted a much more interesting story, and put it rather out of balance.

This was a fun read, even without Miss Silver. I still have a few of the non-series books to read, as well as two Miss Silvers, and two others featuring her frequent collaborators Ernest Lamb and Frank Abbott of Scotland Yard. I can't imagine how those two will manage to solve any crimes without her! I'm sure I'll still have something of Patricia Wentworth's on the TBR shelves when her turn comes in Jane's reading celebration (on November 10th). But if not, I've already discovered the joys of re-reading her books.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Romance of a Shop, by Amy Levy

This is the story of four sisters in London, left orphaned at the death of their father. With an inheritance of only £600 between them, they decide to open a photography studio to support themselves. Two of the four, Gertrude and Lucy Lorrimer, are already skilled amateurs, having turned the house's conservatory into a studio. The oldest sister, Fanny, is really a half-sister to the other three. Much more conventional, she agrees to the plan only reluctantly, though she does pledge her own independent income of £50 to their support. The youngest sister, Phyllis, has been rather spoiled by the others, who want to spare her any heavy work.

I learned about this 1888 novel from Jane at Beyond Eden Rock (actually from a review on her old blog, Fleur in Her World). Several elements of the story put this onto my reading list. I am partial to stories about orphans having to make their way in the world. I love those about women opening their own businesses, particularly with Victorian women stepping out of traditional roles. And I am fascinated with the history of photography, and with old photos (it's one of the things I love about working in archives). I immediately thought of the pioneering Victorian photographer Julia Margaret Cameron, and the Broadview edition of the novel that I read mentions her in the supplemental material.

All of these elements come to play in the novel, which I found fascinating. I liked the sisters, and I wanted them to succeed. Amy Levy goes into detail about how they find a location for their work, as well as a place to live, and about how they organize their business. They have to contend with some opposition from an aunt, as well as Fanny's concerns about propriety. They struggle at first, and they lose some old friends, though their dear friend Constance Devonshire stays true. I was reminded here of Louisa May Alcott's stories, particularly An Old-Fashioned Girl, where Polly finds a supportive community of young women, working like herself. Levy also shows how the Lorrimers' business grows through different types of commissions, including photos for artists to work from, and pictures of the dead. As the notes explain, this was a regular event in Victorian life. I have seen photos of the dead, in coffins and out, in archives where I've worked, as well as in books. I find them disturbing, but I can understand how they must have brought comfort, in an age before the plethora of photos that we have today to document a loved one's life.

With these commissions, the sisters are introduced to London's art scene. The beautiful Phyllis makes quite an impression, and the well-known painter Sidney Darrell asks her to pose for him. (Fanny goes along as chaperone.) Meanwhile, they have also met Frank Jermyn, an illustrator for the London papers, and Lord Watergate, a respected amateur scientist (who wants Gertrude to make some slides for his lectures, another commission). Unfortunately Phyllis has developed bright eyes, high color, and a bad cough - and we all know what that means in a Victorian novel. She is also bored, with too much time on her hands, only helping occasionally in the studio, and therefore too susceptible to Sidney Darrell.

Amy Levy brings the sisters through their adventures to a neat and fairly happy ending (well, three-quarters of a happy ending). I was shocked to read in the introduction that she herself committed suicide (in her family home) at age 27, just a year after this novel was published. For me, that cast a shadow over the story that she told here. I learned that she published only two other novels, both in the year of her death. I'm interested to read more of her work, particularly her last novel, Miss Meredith. My Broadview edition includes some of her journalism, including a very interesting article on women's clubs; selections of her poetry; and a (very) short story. I appreciated the supplemental information, such as contemporary reviews of the novel, and excerpts from an 1857 article on photography. I was also interested to learn from the introduction that Amy Levy was the first Jewish woman to attend Newnham College; a photograph of her with her fellow women students is included.

Several people, Claire, Simon, and Barb among them, have started another Century of Books reading project this year. Meanwhile, my own Mid-Century of Books has sadly languished - I stopped even noting the years of the books I was reading. Now, however, I can add another year! Maybe I'll manage to finish a decade or two this year.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Innocents, for Margery Sharp Day

Happy Birthday, Margery Sharp! Once again Jane of Beyond Eden Rock is hosting a celebration in her honor. In fact, she has expanded her birthday calendar to include sixteen women authors. I'm looking forward to a year of reading and celebrating, especially with Dorothy Canfield Fisher up next in February.

For this month's author, I chose The Innocents, her last novel, which I first read about on Jane's blog.

I was just getting ready to write a brief summary of the novel, which is told in the first person, but I couldn't remember the narrator's name. It is only now, after paging through the book again for 10 minutes or so, that I realized she never names herself or is given a name. No one passing her on the street in her small East Anglia village even says, "Good morning, Miss X." I didn't notice this, reading her story. I remember that she is the daughter of the former vicar, that she is past middle age, that she never learned to swim, that she loves watching the artichokes in her garden grow. But I have no idea of her name, and that feels wrong now.

The story that she is telling begins with an Outdoor Fête, where a beautiful young woman from the village meets a visitor from America. Robert Guthrie, staying with his cousin Tom, is immediately taken with Cecilia, who runs a small dress-shop out of her cottage. He takes her back to the States with him. Six years later, in June of 1939, they return for Tom's funeral, on their way to a European holiday. They have brought with them their three-year-old daughter Antoinette. Both parents now have qualms about taking the child on their travels, and our narrator agrees to keep the little girl with her while they're gone. The outbreak of the war catches the Guthries in Austria. They manage to get back to New York, but without their daughter. Antoinette spends the war years with our narrator, developing a close bond and a regular routine with her.

Our narrator has never married, never spent much time with children, though she has watched the village's parents and children with an observant eye. She quickly realizes that Antoinette is not a normal child: "during those very first days of our life together it became clear to me that Cecilia's daughter was what in earlier times would have been called an innocent." She later uses the word "retarded" in passing, a standard term when this book was written in 1972 (and afterward for that matter). Our narrator accepts this, accepts Antoinette very much as she is, and sets out to make a happy and fulfilling life for her, within the boundaries of what she can do and be.

The war had little impact on their quiet village. But with peace comes Cecilia's determination to bring her daughter back to New York. When she arrives, however, it is clear that she has no understanding of Antoinette's situation, and in fact is in complete denial about it, though it must have been apparent even before their separation. Under her brisk treatment, Antoinette starts to regress, to shut down. Our narrator can only stand and watch. Nothing she says to Cecilia, no appeal for the child's sake, makes any difference.

I enjoyed this book very much. I was sometimes reminded of The Flowering Thorn, another of Margery Sharp's books about a woman taking on a child to raise. Both women lack experience with children, both learn as they go. But our narrator here has a bigger challenge, in dealing with a special-needs child, without the resources that a foster parent today would have. I liked our narrator very much. On the surface, she might have passed for one of Barbara Pym's Excellent Women, but as she says herself, "I am not in the least sweet-natured."
I am highly critical, and easily displeased by circumstances which I unfortunately cannot control. It would accord better with my temperament, I often think, had I been born a fishwife, licensed to strong language and even physical belligerence; or else a tycoon with a retinue of understrappers, who when I said "come" or "go" came and went unquestioningly as helots. Being instead an elderly single woman of no position and small means, I do the best I can for myself by appearing sweet. . . Of course to preserve this fictitious character I need to do more than my share of disagreeables, such as watching by sickbeds till the doctor comes, at a pinch watching by corpses after he has left, breaking news of bereavements, and in general continuing to act as I'd acted all through my girlhood and then young-womanhood as an unpaid auxiliary curate. Early training stands me in good stead! I am nevertheless by nature far more fishwife or tycoon - who in the way of lack of inhibitions must have much in common - and have never doubted that in any real crisis I would react as ruthlessly as either, only so far there had been no occasion.
Margery Sharp dropped one or two large hints about how the situation with Antoinette might be resolved, so I wasn't surprised by the ending, though I was a bit taken aback. As I said, I did enjoy this book, in large part because of our narrator.

Thank you to Jane for hosting this celebration of Margery Sharp, and for inspiring me to read her books. I still have Lise Lillywhite and The Gipsy in the Parlour on the TBR shelves, but I've just been reading a review of In Pious Memory that greatly intrigues me.

Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Woman Next Door, by Yewande Omotoso

This is the story of two women, who live in neighboring houses in an exclusive enclave in Cape Town called Katterijn. We meet Hortensia James first, as she walks toward a wooded rise, a place of refuge from the home where her husband of sixty years is dying. When she and Peter bought that home, No. 10, she became the first black person to own a house in the development. In the thirty years that she has lived there, she has carried on a feud with the owner of No. 12, Marion Agostino. Marion, whose own husband has recently died, heads up a community association that keeps a close eye on the neighborhood. Hortensia found out about the association by accident, Marion having neglected to invite her. She began attending to make a point, even though the trivialities discussed often bore her, but there is always the chance of scoring a point off Marion, or getting under her skin.

The story moves back and forth between the two women, both in their 80s, telling us the stories of their lives, how they came to Katterijn. Marion was an architect with her own firm, until she gave up her career to stay home with her four children. In one of her first commissions, she designed the house where Hortensia now lives, and she has always wanted that house for herself. A lot of her antagonism toward Hortensia is rooted in that envy. Hortensia, born in Barbados, studied art in England. After graduating, she opened a design firm that produces award-winning textiles. When she and Peter (who is white) moved to Nigeria for his work, she opened a studio there, and carried it on to South Africa with their last move. Both women are intensely proud of their own work, their careers, but see the other's as a trade, nothing to brag about. I was pleasantly surprised to find two career women at the center of this story, one still actively working in her 80s. (The author has her own architectural practice, in Johannesburg, according to her author bio.)

One day an accident occurs at Hortensia's house, the effects of which boomerang to Marion's. In the aftermath, the two women slowly begin to talk, rather than just arguing or shutting down. Each has secrets, problems, anxieties she has been carrying alone. Each has been very much alone. But there is so much between them, not just the years of dislike, but the vast differences of race, of background, of experience. Marion, the child of Jewish immigrants fleeing Europe in the 1930s, grew up wrapped in white privilege. Throughout her life, she has closed her eyes to apartheid, to her own racism, to the way she treats her black housekeeper (who must eat from separate dishes, segregated between meals in plastic containers).

Hortensia, a black woman from the Caribbean, who has lived in England and in Nigeria, moved to South Africa after apartheid. As a black woman, she is very much aware of its history and its lasting effects, of the racism like Marion's that still lives. She experienced that racism herself, as a student in England, in marrying a white man, living in Nigeria. Yet she is also on some level an outsider in South Africa, an immigrant herself, which gives her a unique perspective. That's part of the complexity of this story. There are so many layers to their women, their histories, their lives. They are both so strong, have survived so much, but they are also both deeply flawed, as we come to understand.

This is the first of Yewande Omotoso's books to be published in the United States. I am so glad that I came across it on the "New Books" shelves in the library, and I've added her to my "author track" list there, so I'll get an alert about any new books (or if her previous book Bom Boy is released in the US).

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Dreaming Spies, by Laurie R. King

I bought a copy of this book when it first came out in 2015, Laurie R. King being one of the authors whose books I usually buy in hardback (on publication day, if possible). But when I sat down to read it, I found it hard going. Less than half-way through I put it down, never picked it up again, and eventually, during one of my culls, passed it along to the library sale. This time, I sailed through it, and it has already become one of my favorites in the series.

There are three sections to the story. It opens in England in March of 1925. Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes have just returned to their Sussex home after their adventures in Portugal (Pirate King) and North Africa (Garment of Shadows). They discover that a familiar-looking Japanese rock sculpture has been placed in their garden. Then when Russell returns to her own house in Oxford, she finds a young Japanese woman, bleeding in her kitchen.

The story then shifts back a year. Russell and Holmes are preparing to sail from Bombay (after the events of The Game), en route eventually to San Francisco (where the action of Locked Rooms takes place). Boarding the ship at the last moment is the Earl of Darley, with his recent bride (a second wife) and his son. Holmes believes the earl to be a blackmailer and suspects he may have a victim on the ship or in one of the ports they will visit. A young Japanese woman slips aboard the ship in the Darleys' wake. Russell, who later meets her on deck, learns that she is Haruki Sato, returning to Japan after studies in the United States. Miss Sato agrees to tutor Holmes and Russell in Japanese, and she ends up giving a series of lectures on different aspects of Japanese life to the other passengers.

[It was at this point in my first read that I lost interest. I remember that the voyage seemed to be taking forever, days of sailing with lectures and lessons and nothing much else. I had a very different reaction this time, so perhaps I was just having a bad reading day or two back then.]

On their arrival in Japan, Russell and Holmes are offered a commission, to retrieve a particular item, the loss of which would have the gravest political implications. Before they are accepted as consultants, however, they are put to the test: first, to make their way across Japan not as wealthy visitors, but using their skills and as much of the language as they were able to acquire. This was my favorite part of the book, watching them work out ways and means, ingenious as always, but also seeing Japan through their eyes - their open, curious, and accepting eyes.

I won't say too much about their work in Japan, to avoid spoilers, nor about its sequel in Oxford, except that it involves the Bodleian Library. I half-expected Mary to come across Harriet Vane, settled in the reading room, but then Gaudy Night is set a few years later.

I really enjoyed this book. I still have the next, The Murder of Mary Russell, on the TBR shelves, and then a new Russell and Holmes coming out later this year.

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.