Wednesday 31 December 2008


Hello my gentle readers, from England! I have been without a computer for 14 days now, and have found my way to an internet cafe here in London so I can pop in and wish you all a very Happy New Year. I am having a fantastic time in England, having been able to do everything I want except connect with some blogging friends here. As we have no internet connection, I cannot download my photos until we get home next week, but trust me, I have taken many!!

London is amazing, as ever, and tonight I am - again - on Charing Cross Road - and the crowds are gathering to celebrate New Year's on Trafalgar's Square. My husband and I are not staying - neither of us enjoys crowds or drunkeness! - so it has been enough to see the Square prepared with large screens for tonight. The boats are getting ready on the Thames to blow their horns at midnight. My in-laws live in a tiny town further down the Thames estuary (in a not-so-nice English dockside town) where we will hear the large ocean-going freighters blow their horns also. I am quite eager to hear it for real, since I've only heard it over the phone so far!

When I get back, I will do posts over the next few weeks with some of the photos we've taken. It's been an adventure coming into London when we can, which has only been since Christmas, and often with the children. Today, for instance, we went by St Paul's Cathedral, and found one of the oldest existing pub in London, Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese, which was totally booked for New Year's work parties so we couldn't get in. But, I saw a sign that said that Dr Samuel Johnson used to eat their regularly, as did Charles Dickens later, and then I saw a sign pointing to Johnson's house, so off my husband and I went and we discovered Samuel Johnson's main residence on Gough Square (near Fleet Street) where he wrote the main part of his dictionary. The house is a museum now, and it was open today, so we ended up walking through it!

This brings home to me that for me, London is more about books, and the authors who wrote them and where they lived. It is an adventure to turn a corner here and see an ancient church now squeezed between modern buildings, and discover that Pepys went there (All Hallows by the Towers, the oldest surviving church in London), or St Bride Church, where Johnson regularly went. I have taken pictures of each, so look for photos later. It is as always amazing for me that I am literally walking in the same place that people in bygone times have walked. Johnson was there, 200 hundred years ago, at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese pub, with his literary society, holding discourse. We found one of the houses Samuel Pepys lived in; he also watched the Great Fire of 1666 burning from the roof of All Hallows Church by the Towers. I love the noise, the bustle of this city, the fashions, the vulgarity of Picadilly Circus, the beautiful museums, the glorious architecture - St Paul's Cathedral is breathtaking - and above all, I love that this city, and this country, is the birthplace of my language, and the English novel and poetry and the words we communicate with.

I have 4 minutes left on my time here at the cafe, so - for now, have a very happy New Year's Eve and may 2009 bring each of you, my dear readers, all that you love and hold dear.

You should see the books I've been buying!!! I can't think of a better place to celebrate the New Year, in one of the oldest cities in the world. Happy 2009!!

Sunday 14 December 2008

Sunday Salon

The Sunday

I have been having so much fun on the Blog Calendar Advent Tour.. Bloggers are writing in from all over the world, sharing their Christmas traditions. And it's not over yet! There's another 10 wonderful days to go! However, we are leaving on our trip tomorrow night, so if I'm late with leaving comments, just wait, I will catch up.

Yes, that's right, tomorrow night I'm LEAVING ON A JET PLANE for England. *sigh* only one sleep to go! Yesterday we had our becoming a tradition Christmas get-together, with whichever family members are available. While here, my sister-in-law mentioned that Canadian Tire had a suitcase set on sale, after she saw the three sad bags we'd pulled up from the basement. So I went on the web, and there it was:

Almost enough for my books I'll be bringing back!!! Just kidding....I think....

My husband bought it last night, and now the cat is getting very upset and the kids are getting very excited and we, at last, are at the moment of truth: what exactly are we bringing, and why is there not a packing fairy? I need her!!

I will post again later, but a small child is bouncing on the chair, waiting for his turn on the computer, and I really, really, have to get some clothes near the suitcases now. I can't leave it for the last day! Packing fairy, where are you?

By the way, we had a very good Christmas meal yesterday, with ham in apple cider, new roast potatoes, two kinds of salad, steamed broccoli, and blueberry pie for dessert. Anyone for leftovers? Then we celebrated by watching the newly released Dark Knight after the kids were in bed....sadly ,our age told and all three of us adults remaining, fell asleep during it! Even me.

Middlemarch Update
: Ha ha ha. You expect me to actually have READ anything this week, with the bus strike so one of my daily times for reading is taken away? I did! I did read something! However, I am only halfway through the book, and unless I have a sleepless night, it won't get done before I go, so I might be leaving it half-read. Page 319, Chapter 39. By now Dorothea is very unhappy in her marriage, Will madly in love with her, Lydgate and Rosamund are engaged, Mr Featherstone has died and left everything to a complete unknown - that was hilarious! except for Fred, who my fingers are crossed that he will stop gambling and take a decent job somewhere.

Maybe the packing fairy can come soon so I can have time to read, which in this week's Thursday meme, the question was, do you have enough time to read what you want? HA HA HA HA. As if!

My secret plan is to be up on the airplane reading, reading, reading while everyone sleeps!!! Shh, don't tell anyone. I'll let you know how the secret reading plan worked,on the other side of the pond.

Happy holiday preparations to all, and to all: READING TIME!

Wednesday 10 December 2008

What do you take on a trip to read?

I'm back! By that I mean, our buses went on strike at midnight and I only take buses - neither my husband nor I drive; we had a major snowstorm yesterday and through the night, so my ride cancelled today, and I can't get to work; and the buses can only be legislated back to work by the federal government, who of course are suspended at the moment until Jan 27. What happens when things get difficult? I find my sense of humour again! Plus, I had lots of sleep - Sunday I ended sleeping for 2 hours in the afternoon - so I feel much better. All I can do is laugh, and count down the days until our trip and we are out of here!!!

Middlemarch Update: I think the excitement for our trip is reaching a crescendo because I find myself unable to concentrate on anything for long. I am still reading Middlemarch, but still have over half the book to go and am running out of time before we go. I'm on page 265, just ending Book 3. I do love it, I just can't seem to read for any length of time. I find myself thinking of what we still have to do, and mentally getting things sorted for packing - bring this, forget that, etc - and suddenly realize I'm staring at the page but not seeing it.

One of the many dilemmas facing me about what to bring is, of course, what books do I bring? So I thought I'd ask this question of you today: when you are going on a fairly long trip, what books do you bring? do you bring any? does size matter? Author? Kind of book? What do you bring with you on holiday?

So far, I have a shortlist of books I might be bringing, and my real question is, which one will make it on the airplane with me in my bag?
Susan's Shortlist
The Wood Wife - Terri Windling
In the Woods - Tara French
Mistress of the Art of Death - Ariana Franklin
Stalin's Ghost - Martin Cruz Smith

Do I bring a book that I really really want to read, that I would be devastated if my luggage got lost? I usually try to pack so that if my baggage does go missing - and this has never happened before, so it's more a 'what if' scenario - I'm not heartbroken. Or do I bring books that are easily replaceable?

I'm going to a country where most of the books I love to read are published anyway, so I don't really have to bring many. I will be buying books in England, this is not even a question, and my husband is just pleading that our luggage isn't overweight by too much on the trip back. So, my real question I end up posing to myself is, do I bring many books with us? I need 2 or 3, just as a safety blanket in case I can't get to Charing Cross Road right away. My in-laws do not have any novels, only a few cookbooks and bird-watching books. The idea of being caught somewhere with some time available for reading, and not having a book to hand, gives me the chills. That would not be a holiday! I'd be more stressed without a book to read, than I would be by bringing too many and not reading any of them!

So if you see me gazing out into space and I'm not catching a quick nap, I'm musing on what to pack. Thus, the trials of life in Ottawa today (strike, suspended government, a foot of snow) recede into the background. 5 sleeps until we leave for England!

I also confess here, Gentle Reader, that I love to travel. I like airports, and train stations, and bus stations, cars packed to the top of the interior with luggage and supplies, cruise liners, anything that goes somewhere. Going someplace different, seeing new things, and revisiting family and friends in far away places - there is magic in travelling, the potential for anything to happen, wonder and surprise. I am so excited by the idea of getting out of Ottawa!! And then, that we are going to England, which I love
as much as I love Canada,and have family and friends waiting for us over there - I almost cannot wait for this trip to start! Postings here might be a bit scarce in the next few days as we get ready, but I will be back, as often as I can, and also while we are in England. I have a plan, but it all depends on my in-laws computer, so I won't say anything yet. I will try to keep getting to the Advent Blog Tour as often as I can also. I am really enjoying this advent tour, it is wonderful to meet so many new bloggers and from different countries, and see all the different ways we greet the holidays.

And I will post again before we go. I can't leave you hanging with the question of what books I might be bringing with me!!! So please do let me know how you approach books and travelling, dear Gentle Reader. I hereby confess that I do bring too many books with me, and I can't recall any trip I have ever taken where I read ALL the books I brought. Only a few times do I recall wondering why I pack so many,though!

Sunday 7 December 2008

Sunday Salon - Brr, it's cold outside

It's a quiet Sunday here with us. We had a birthday party yesterday for the daughter, and made more cookies - this time decorating gingerbread cookies to hang on the tree. Daughter then received a little cookie making set of her own, so we will be making cookies today - this time chocolate chip cookies, so she can try it out. Otherwise, this is our last calm day before we leave for England in 8 days' time!

I'm really tired - I've already erased a post I started once here because it was too whiny, and then closed my eyes, so even though the sun is shining brightly, I think I need a rest. I need to be a bear today! A cold wind is blowing outside - literally, it is a North wind and our temperature is dropping rapidly as the day goes on! - and I think I am going to go curl up and maybe nap or read some more Middlemarch while I can. That's what cold winter days are for!

I'll be visiting blogs later for the Advent Blog Tour, I have some catching up to do there. I am really enjoying everyone's treats, and stories, and sharing of their Christmases with us. What a great idea, Kailana and Marg!

Happy Sunday reading, everyone!

Thursday 4 December 2008

Escape to a land far, far away......

Unfortunately, our trip to England is still 12 days away. At work, out of the blue, our management took away our funds for reclassification and even getting a proper job description because of the 'economic downturn.' Since my section is the lowest-rated in the entire department, and we are doing work that is higher-classed, this is a real blow. It's not the money, it's the respect, its' being treated as equals, it's the recognition that our work is valuable. So I got out of that meeting to have my husband call to say that our Governor General, who is our head of State in Canada, and the Queen's Representative, agreed to suspend our parliament. So instead of having an election called, or facing a vote that he would lose next week in the House, we have no parliament sitting at all, no work being done, no immediate reaction to the economic downturn which is finally being felt here in Canada. Most of all, it feels like our right to speak and be heard has been taken away from us, and it sets a terrible precedent for future minority governments here in Canada. We are supposed to be a democracy, but the PM refused to let the House tell him he had to act more quickly to deal with economic turmoil. They are all our elected officials, and he deserved their wrath if he couldn't come up with something to restore Canadians' confidence. I cried at work when the news broke about our government being suspended for the next 7 weeks.

Oh, and our bus transportation - which my family uses because none of us drive! - voted to go on strike next week. It's about 10 miles to my work from my house. There are times when I feel the world is about to go crazy, and this is one of them.

So I've mostly been listening to music tonight, which when all else fails and I am too disturbed or restless to settle down to read, I turn to. It soothes me and restores me. I'm finally discovering how to find my favourite songs on You Tube! Here are a couple of my favourites:

U2 Bad - various release dates One of my all-time favourite songs, one which I now know explains why I dream about Bono (he's on my side, helping me!) when I'm fighting zombies in my dreams - if you ilsten to the lyrics, he's letting go of the bad so he can be wide awake in his life.

REM "The Lifting" from the Album "Reveal" sorry, there is no live video, but this is a song I turn to over and over again. "once, you had a dream of oceans and sunken ships and memories of things you have never known, you have never known...." my anything is possible song!

Enya - the song I associate with her. Hmm, there's a theme about escaping here, isn't there?

Moby - Extreme Ways (with clips from the Bourne Trilogy) - I love this song, and my kids love to dance to it!

Nick Drake - Northern Sky. Now I'm feeling better. This is one of his happiest songs he ever wrote, and I love it. See? I'm smiling now. Thank the universe for music!

Now I can contemplate reading and talking about books, so......

Middlemarch Update: I have been reading Middlemarch when I can. I am so very much enjoying this book. I am delighted by the realism of the characters, by the different matches, the different kinds of falling in love - or fooling one's self into love - that Eliot is portraying. Most of the characters are very likeable, the exception being creepy Mr Bulstrode, the banker. I love the quiet setting of the town. This book is slowly exploring each character and their effect on one another, like ripples in a pond. One character's actions affects others, the neighbors gossip and affect Lydgate's and Rosamund's lives, people get sick, grow old, have dreams, and some come to fruition, some do not. One of the most delightful scenes is Mrs Garth teaching her children grammar in the kitchen while she is baking pies. It is intimate, a familiar setting, and utterly perfect in rendering 1829 merchant family life. Best of all? Mrs Garth's name is....Susan.
read: Page 250, Chapter 32.

Have a good night reading, everyone!

Monday 1 December 2008


Our book-blogging community lost a lovely, kind, generous, welcoming member, Dewey. I only found out a little while ago tonight.

Dewey was one of those special people whose generous nature came through her posts. She was came up with the 24 hour read-a-thons, Weekly Geeks, many giveaways, and she always welcomed anyone and everyone to the blogging community. Sooner or later she would find her way to your blog and say hello. For a better post, see Nymeth's here. They were doing this year's Christmas swap together.

Dewey's passing is making me realize how real this online community is, as real as our 'real' lives in the important ways - love, and caring, and listening, and of course, sharing in our love for books. If you read her husband's post (link is above), you will see that she had piles of books around the house. she loved reading, and sharing in anything possible that had to do with books, and she was so enthusiastic that she had bloggers lining up to do the read-a-thons!

Most of all, I think of her family. They loved her longest and best and most dearly, and I hope that the fact she is missed by so many people is of some comfort to them at this time.

A bright light has gone in our world, and I will miss her.

Blog Advent Tour 2008 - Baking a special cookie

Welcome to this year's Blog Advent Tour 2008. Today is December 1, and I am very excited to be a part of this year's tour.

So,welcome, Gentle reader. Come into my home. I have a favourite cookie recipe that I discovered 2 years ago, and it has fast become a tradition in our home. Today, at this time of holiday and festivities, my daughter and I will show you how easy and quick this recipe is. It is easy, she is not quite 6 yet! Come share in the holiday spirit in our home by sharing in the making of:

The Ginger Spice Cookie, found in Chatelaine's November 2006 issue, Top 10 Cookie, from Karla Gogghe of Chatham, Ont.

Ginger Spice Cookies

Prep: 25 mins Bake: 7 min
Makes 40-45 cookies

Vegetable oil
2 cups (500 mL) all-purpose flour
2 tsp (10 mL) baking soda
1 tsp (5 mL) each cinnamon and ginger
½ tsp (2 mL) nutmeg
¼ tsp (1 mL) salt
1 egg
¾ (175 mL) vegetable oil
¼ cup (50 mL) molasses
1 cup (250 mL) packed brown sugar
1/3 cup (75 mL) granulated sugar

1.Arrange oven racks in top and bottom thirds of oven. Preheat oven to 350F (180C). Lightly spray or coat 2 baking sheets with oil. In a medium bowl, using a fork, stir flour with baking soda, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg and salt. In a large bowl, beat egg with a fork. Then beat in oil and molasses. Using a wooden spoon, beat in brown sugar until evenly mixed. Gradually stir in flour mixture until well mixed.

2.Place granulated sugar in a small bowl. Pinch off about 1 tbsp (15 mL) dough and roll into a
ball. Then roll in granulated sugar until evenly coated. Place on baking sheet. Continue with remaining dough, placing balls at least 2 in. (5 cm) apart.

3. Bake on 2 racks in preheated oven, switching position of sheets halfway through baking, until
cookies begin to crack and set around edges, 7 to 10 min. Remove baking sheets to a rack. Let cool on sheets. Store in an airtight container at room temperature up to 5 days or freeze up to 1 month.

And, voilà! Wonderful ginger cookies that are a little bit crunchy on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside. Don't worry about the 5 days; they'll be gone long before then.

Baking from scratch is something I love to do, and don't often get time for. I find making this cookie fun and quick and very relaxing. As you can tell from the pictures, even if we make a mistake as we did this time and make some of the cookies too small (they were ½ the size required!) they turned out just the same. And I have yet to meet a person who does not like these. I hope you enjoyed the pictures at least! Daughter and I had so much fun making these together. As I write this, almost half the jar is empty already.

Now, Gentle reader, that you have watched us make cookies for the holidays, come, sit down in this chair, let's relax. Have a cup of tea with me, you can have the flowered mug, since clever readers will spot the Arsenal mug and know it's mine. There's a plate of our cookies for you and me.

Happy holiday season, in whichever manner you celebrate it, dear reader. May you be surrounded by love, be joyous all through the holidays, and may you, because we are all book bloggers, find a very special book - something you have longed for - under your tree this year!

Sunday 30 November 2008

Sunday Salon - Christmas Wish List - mostly books..

The Sunday

I am absolutely delighted. Yesterday I met my eldest son at Collected Works, where I was picking up a book I had ordered (Robin McKinley's Rose Daughter,). And my 20 year old said there was a book he was wanting to read. A book!!! Well, the bookstore didn't have it, so I ordered it for him and said, "Merry Christmas, you know what one of your presents is", and it should be in by next week so he'll get it before we go, AND the clerk said he'd read it and loved it! World War Z by Max Brooks. I was so happy I practically floated out of the store, because my son seldom asks for books, and to get him one that he wants!! I also took the opportunity to order The Wood Wife by Terri Windling. So far, Nymeth,
Rhinoa , Carl, Deslily,
Dark Orpheus, and Robin, a new to me blogger at A Fondness for Reading, have reviewed The Wood Wife, and all thoroughly enjoyed it. This will be my airplane book, at least it's the book of the moment. I keep changing my mind about what I'm bringing, however I will save that post until closer to leaving.

On this quiet Sunday, as our city prepares for either snow or snow pellets or rain tonight and tomorrow, I am dreaming of books to buy. On my Christmas wish list this year, which will sadly have to wait until late winter because our Christmas present is really going overseas to England in 15 days! FIFTEEN!!! A girl can dream anyway, and my husband brought home the newspaper which, he said to me, I would be happy to know, contained this years' Best Books to Buy for Christmas Gifts! There is one title in particular that I have wanted since I read a review about it last spring: Champlain's Dream, by David Hackett Fischer. You can find it on Amazon here.

I lived in Quebec City for 3 years as a teenager, the city that Champlain founded in 1608. For me, history is made real when I can see the places and imagine the events as I stand on the ground. I loved York for that reason, because wherever I went, there were layers upon layers of events and history and it enchanted me. Here in Canada we don't have as much physical remnants of history as Europe does, as the Aboriginal peoples lived for 30,000 years and left little trace. It's in their stories and traditions only, and the occasional encampment discovered in by accident in an excavation. What we understand as physical 'history' began with the first explorers and settlers. I love imagining how the land first was, how it was when the settlers first came, what Champlain would have seen. I am interested in the early history of Canada, and our relations with the native peoples, and how the land looked - the enormous dark forests, the rivers and lakes filled with fish, the wildlife. When I lived in York for a year in 2000, one of the things I was so surprised to find I missed about Canada was the feeling of the landscape. Anyone who reads Canadian fiction knows that the landscape is always present. The hard rock face of the Canadian Shield, the forests, even some of our Canadian words like moose, I discovered I missed hearing. Anyway, I am interested in how the explorers came to Canada and what they first found, and how they helped to shape our country. I really want this book!

Also on my Christmas wish list this year is: Shelley Duvall's Faerie Tale Theatre. It's NOT a book, but it's on my wishlist, high up! This is a new release, with all 26 Faerie Tales she produced for PBS in the US, finally together in one collection. I have long been looking for the individual versions, which was only way it was available until now, and it wasn't available. So this is a dream come true! (I've already shown my husband the Amazon site and dropped a very large hint.) They are retellings of the fairy tales using well-known (usually) American actors and actresses, with high and very charming production standards, and witty, funny, and somtimes dark retellings. Here is a link if you are interested in knowing more. Here is also an excerpt of the description (just because I love reading this over and over!): "From the Brothers Grimm to Hans Christian Andersen, twenty-six of the most beloved stories of all time are brought to life by A-list actors (in some of their most unique and memorable roles) as well as master directors including Tim Burton and Francis Ford Coppola among them --- You'll in seeing Robin Williams as the Frog Prince,Eric Idle as the Pied Piper, Billy Crystal as one of the Three Little Pigs,Jennifer Beals and Matthew Broderick as Cinderella and her prince, Bernadette Peters and Christopher Reeve as Sleeping Beauty and Prince Charming, Susan Sarandon and Klaus Kinski as Beauty and the Beast, Paul Reubens as Pinocchio, James Earl Jones as the Genie inside Aladdin's lamp, and Carrie Fisher as Thumbelina.

Each one of these stories is literally hand crafted by the directors (some of them famous directors like Francis Ford Coppella) and Shelley Duvall to reflect a certain style --- An example being the Sleeping Beauty tale was set in Russia with the sets and costumes designed to look like scenes from classic Russian motifs, the music from the Russian ballet --- Another being the direct rip off of the classic Jean Cocteau film "Beauty and the Beast".

All of these were designed with the intent of entertaining not only children but adults --- Some of the best moments in these are only things that adults will understand --- Christopher Reeve does a fantastic job in his multi-role part in "Sleeping Beauty" as does Malcolm McDowell as the Wolf in "Little Red Riding Hood" --- McDowell infuses the character with a subtle dark sensuality --- His chemistry with his then wife Mary Steenburgen is strong.

Probably the best one of all is the "Three Little Pigs" with Jeff Goldblum (as the Big Bad Wolf), Valerie Perrine (as a ravishing piglette), and Billy Crystal(as one of the three little pigs) --- The writing in this one is completely off the wall as well as it should be --- So enjoy with a loving heart and the mind of an innocent child.
*sigh* Pure magic.

Also at the top of my list is Nigella Lawson's new book, Nigella's Christmas. I had a chance to peek at the book yesterday at Collected Works, and I confess, I do want this book too! Maybe it's a good idea if I stay out of bookstores for the next 15 days, at least until we get to England! Then, it will be another story!!! Yes, a really bad pun, sorry...

And that is what is at the top of my list. I haven't really looked this year because we are going to England, and because, I confess, I keep bringing home books anyway! And if we don't go soon, Nigella will come home with me.

What's on your Christmas wish list this year?

PS Middlemarch Update: ON page 171, Chapter 17. And I have a confession to make: Will Ladislaw has just paid a visit to Dorothea in Rome, where she is on her honeymoon with Causabon. Well, to my surprise Eliot was writing Ladislaw as if he was falling in love with her. What? I gasped. Wasn't it Lydgate? So, I did a very rare thing, but I went to the back of the book and read part of the ending. I had it wrong from my memory of the BBC production. Dorothea never gets together with Lydgate - it's Will, her husband's second cousin, that she ends up with!!! To all my Gentle readers who kindly didn't tell me I had it wrong, I apologize! And I still don't know the full ending, so I don't feel too guilty. I hate reading the ending of a book I am enjoying, but I had to know! Now I can relax and watch the real romance unfolding. Already there are terrible cracks in Dorothea's and Causabon's marriage, but that was more due to them innocently not knowing that they had never really talked to eachother - a lovely comment by Eliot on how bad marriages everywhere are made!

Saturday 29 November 2008

Fun quizzes from around the blogs

Here are two fun quizzes I found around the blog-world this past week. I'm sorry, I can't remember who I found them on, so I apologize to those bloggers who I saw these on.
Blog Reading Style
Your Personality: All-Rounder! Your responses showed you fitting equally into all four reading personalities:

Involved Reader: You don't just love to read books, you love to read about books. For you, half the fun of reading is the thrill of the chase - discovering new books and authors, and discussing your finds with others.
Exacting Reader: You love books but you rarely have as much time to read as you'd like - so you're very particular about the books you choose.
Serial Reader: Once you discover a favorite writer you tend to stick with him/her through thick and thin.
Eclectic Reader: You read for entertainment but also to expand your mind. You're open to new ideas and new writers, and are not wedded to a particular genre or limited range of authors. Link here
to find your reading style. I have to say this sounds like me! I never would have thought I was an all-rounder, so I was surprised.

Blog written style:
ISFP - The Artists

The gentle and compassionate type. They are especially attuned to their inner values and what other people need. They are not friends of many words and tend to take the worries of the world on their shoulders. They tend to follow the path of least resistance and have to look out not to be taken advantage of.

They often prefer working quietly, behind the scene as a part of a team. They tend to value their friends and family above what they do for a living.
Link here to find your blog written style.
I am not sure that anyone would believe that I don't use many words!! I do like working quietly - I am the social committee person - lead of the group because the only other two members are new to the department - and I had to send an email out arranging the entire department for the upcoming staff Christmas party, and I was so nervous that it took me hours to compose the message in both English and French! I've never really liked the spotlight, I get nervous and tend to do embarrassing things then. I have to agree completely with the last sentence though, because work anyone can do, but your family and friends? Irreplaceable.

update - yesterday I read 5 pages, am now in Ch 17. I will be reading later today, and will update then, but while I was waking up with my tea this morning, I thought I'd pop in and say hi before the day really gets going. My favourite quote from yesterday's reading, is a pointed comment from Eliot which is sadly as true of myself as well as most other females (especially when young): "It had not occurred to Lydgate that he had been a subject of eager meditation to Rosamond, who had neither any reason for throwing her marriage into distant perspective, nor any pathological studies to divert her mind from that ruminating habit, that inward repetition of looks, words, and phrases, which makes the large part of the lives of most girls." Ouch! harsh and insightful and true, sadly, sadly true. Especially while we are young women, I think.

I hope your Saturday and weekend are filled with pleasures and lovely time for reading!

Thursday 27 November 2008

Thursday update - and new books!!

Middlemarch - p 134, still Chapter 16.

Missed one bus doing last minute decision this morning on when to meet teachers for both parent-teacher interviews next week.

Missed next bus because forgot purse at home.

Read five pages while waiting for bus at Chaudiere, 15 minutes before anything showed up. Because 50 mins late for work, had to work through lunchtime.

Made birthday cards for daughter's upcoming birthday party after children finally asleep.

pages read: 5. Time to read: priceless!

On the guilty book-shopping before Christmas front, I went to an author signing tonight! Mary Jane Maffini was signing her books. She is a local mystery writer, has published several books, and was part-owner of Prime Crime Books, which readers will know is Ottawa's primary mystery bookstore. I went to the signing with two friends who know Mary Jane through their book club. While we were standing there talking, Mary Jane looked at me and said she had seen me before. I told her in Prime Crime, and then she knew! It is so fun to be recognized by an author!! I bought books for my mother and myself, and they are each signed. The Cluttered Corpse is the second book in her second mystery series, starring Charlotte Adams, a professional organizer. Mom gets the first book in the series. It looks intriguing!

I also bought the latest collection of mystery stories collected by The Ladies Killing Circle, a group of local mystery authors. These stories are from authors around Canada. Going Out With A Bang is a crime and mystery collection.

This looks like a good introduction to new Canadian mystery writers.

I also found two very special books - The Holy Book of Women's Mysteries by Zsuzsanna E Budapest,

best described as a women's spirituality book on paganism and the Goddess, and I thought it had gone out of print, so I wasn't even looking any more!

And the last book is one that long ago, Nymeth picked for me when a meme went around asking the blogger to choose a book that would best describe what the blogging friend was most like. She had chosen Transformations by Anne Sexton for me, which funnily enough was a book I had long been looking for. Well,tonight, The Complete Poems Anne Sexton was on the shelf!

I am going to go spend a little time leafing through my lovely books now.

Wednesday 26 November 2008

The best intentions.....

Middlemarch update:
I read two pages of Middlemarch between last night and now! I confess, we watched House last night (a middling episode, until I realized it was more about Thirteen than House), and I watched The Tudors. So tonight I promised myself I'd do better, but then I had to catch up with friends in England on Facebook.......and the excitement over the trip is building so the kids are beginning to act out already, and we're still 2 1/2 weeks away!

So, I am going to be good and go read now. So I can say I read today!

In other news, we finally, finally have snow - and not a lot, not a snow storm, just the second day straight of snow, and more tomorrow, but it's all falling very slowly. It is warm out too, hovering around the freezing mark, so very comfortable to be outside. If my new boots hadn't just given me a blister, I would be out for a walk now, because I love warm winter evening with the snow glistening under the lights and the crunch of my footsteps the only sound. There is space to think, and slow down and listen. As we get closer to the trip, to Christmas, another birthday, friends and family and all the holiday season, I must remember, I have to remember, to take time for me, and time to enjoy every thing, and not get caught up in rushing. To that end, I have joined

the Advent Calendar Blog Tour for book bloggers! I have picked Dec 1, and I will be sharing something that is becoming a tradition in our family. I love the idea of going from day to day and reading what that day's bloggers for Christmas have to share with everyone. What a lovely way of bringing a little of you into my Christmas! See Marg at Reading Adventures here,
or Kaliana at The Written World here
to join up. It's not too late! I joined yesterday!

I hope you have time to read on this snowy evening.

Tuesday 25 November 2008

A Plan for Middlemarch

Why do I dread reading the classics so? Yes, they can be wordy, and say in 40 words what we now say in 20 or 15. Yes, they describe a whole lot more of the world around them than faster-paced novels (even my beloved mysteries can be guilty of this fault!)do. The very best of novels written, however, that have stood the test of time and are considered among the best - why do I resist reading them? I, who love words, and reading, and books, so much?

I am delighted to report that I am thoroughly enjoying Middlemarch. To my great surprise. I don't know why I feel classics are boring; it might be a result of reading too much Thomas Hardy, and Ernest Hemingway when I was 16 and 17 years old, forced reading in schools, years before I could properly enjoy it. Classic novels weren't written for children or young adults; they were written for adults to enjoy. Or maybe my mind was slow to mature, because I certainly read Agatha Christie, Mary Stewart, and Helen MacInnes by the time I was 14! They aren't of the calibre of classics, though, being written for adventure, thrills, and easy reading. Maybe this is what makes classics in general terrifying to the average reader, because they are boring for teenagers who are filled with hormones and their social circles, and are books written for older people who have some experience to relate to the subject matter.

There are subtleties of perception and portrayals of characters that can only come with experience and wisdom. We can see the change in writing in Jane Austen's work, from Northanger Abbey when she was in her twenties, to Persuasion, which was her second to last work completed, in her late thirties, and one of her best books, I think, as well as a classic of the English novel. That mature expression as she delicately portrays Anne Elliott's discovery of her own strength of character against what those she loves want for her, could only come after observation and experience. The same holds for Middlemarch.

In no way to do I want to give you the idea that Middlemarch is boring! There are turns of phrases that are specifically English and 1850's dialect, though I find this increases the beauty of the novel - it was written then, and it can't be more than that, and I am getting an authentic view of life as it was in a small provincial town in England in the early 19th century.

What I have decided to do because this novel is 688 pages long, is write about it a little every day or so. Instead of doing one long post, you will get my daily impressions of this novel, and make your own mind up if you want to read this novel. At the very least, I want to write about what delights me in this book, and why I am enjoying it so much. and my very real pleasure in discovering that the classics are not dead at all.

I will of course write about other things over the next few weeks! So there will be a journal-like entry about Middlemarch in my posts, so those of you who want to read about my thoughts can go to it, and those who don't, who never want to pick up a classic again, can skip right over it.


MIddlemarch, where I am: page 128, chapter 16.
I have met all the main characters by now. Dorothea Brooke, the principal female protagonist, intelligent, ardent, who longs to do something in the world to make it better, but doesn't know how to achieve it; her sister Celia Brooke, considered not as bright as her sister, but has better perceptions about people than does Dorothea. Mr Causabon, the man Dorothea marries, who is writing the key to all the world's mythologies. Mr Tertius Lydgate, the doctor newly come to Middlemarch, who also wants to make a difference to the world through medicine, both practicing it and investigating it to further knowledge; and Rosamund Vincy, beautiful, calculating, shallow, and her brother Fred, charming, intelligent, and a gambler. There are assorted other people in the story who enliven it, add depth and allow Eliot to comment on all the structures that make up 19th century English town life, from banking to the reforms in voting in government, to Rosamund's father running for mayor. This is a novel about people taking their place in the world, and how the world acts on them. It is filled with ambitious people and the lazy, the contented and the bitter. In the first 128 pages I have seen Dorothea and her sister quarrel and make up believably as sisters do, and the deep ways of knowing about their characters that siblings have growing up together. I have seen Rosamund begin to daydream about married life with Lydgate just because he is the new man in town, Fred ask for money from his rich, miserly uncle - and make no plans to work, preferring to have others support him. There are all sorts of characters in here, and it is delightful to see this English town spring to life before my eyes.

Eliot has richly imagined the town so that all the people know each other fairly well - as well as anyone can know another socially, without giving him or her much thought, because each is preoccupied with securing or keeping their place in the world. These are people each with their own life, in a town that if you or I moved there tomorrow, would still feel much the same in how people relate to each other.

I am so curious now: what happens after Dorothea marries Causaban, who has been a lifelong bachelor until now, and is almost double her age? Will Celia get the neighboring baronet? Lydgate and Dorothea, who if you read their character analysis you will see they are made for each other, both desiring the same things in life, have met and neither was impressed with the other - which is so true to life!!! Lydgate has met Rosamund and only has eyes for her, and Dorothea has about to marry Causabon. Fred has asked his plain second cousin Mary to marry him but he is in debt to her father and she won't while he can't support himself. And Rosamund has her eyes set on the man who can raise her station in life and hopefully expose her to a higher social circle. This is Eliot's plan, as she says in the novel itself: "I at least have so much to do in unravelling certain human lots, and seeing how they were woven and interwoven, that all the light I can command must be concentrated on this particular web...." p117.

What I like best so far is that Lydgate has ambition and a desire to do real good in the world. I like this sense of purpose, a calling. Dorothea feels the same need for a calling, but she has few avenues open to her to even explore what it could be. I like this in these characters, I like that this book is about people wanting to be part of the world and affect it. It's refreshing, so either I have limited my own reading in the past while, or it's a subject that currently is only discussed in psychology and mental health books - that idea of real calling, not just money, but to do service, to explore and learn and give to the world. Maybe we have been guilty of limiting fulfilling a calling to ambition to stock markets and businesses, and we can see how well that is going these days. I have my university degree in English LIterature, which is of course the Arts, and if most of the Western governments had their way, the arts would not be offered at university any more. What would we do without a way to express our selves in the world? To reveal the world as it is, through film, drawing, or writing? If I cannot see through Eliot's eyes, or hear through Beethoven's or Mozart's, I am the poorer, and so are all of we. At least in my opinion! Imagining the world gives us all soul. To have a calling is to live with that soul. And already, in 1869, in Middlemarch, pursuing a dream is worked on by the world, so that it is the rare person who achieves anything like it:
"For in the multitude of middle-aged men who go about their vocations in a daily course determined for them much in the same way as the tie of their cravats, there is always a good number who once meant to shape their own deeds and alter the world a little. The story of their coming to be shapen after the average and fit to be packed by the gross, is hardly ever told even in their consciousness; for perhaps their ardour in generous unpaid toil cooled as imperceptibly as their ardour of other youthful loves, till one day their earlier self walked like a ghost in its old home and made the new furniture ghastly. Nothing in the world more subtle than the process of their gradual change!.....
"Lydgate did not mean to be one of those failures....
" p120
That is one of my favourite passages so far!

And, of course, my dream, my calling, has been to be a novelist, so even as I read Middlemarch, I am in awe at how easily she writes about each character and makes them individual. I know each of them a little by now, even though I am only a little way into the novel. This is a rich novel, music for my eyes and soul.

And a last thought: maybe the books that become classics are ones that we can feast on again and again, that we never tire of because they reveal us to ourselves, no matter where we live, nor at what year. This is not to say classics aren't being written now, though I often look at the books being published and wonder, what of any of these, will we be reading 100 years from now? What will matter? i don't come up with any real answers, as I'm hardly perfect at picking books for the general taste!! uh oh, I'm already sounding like a 19th century writer!!

Happy reading, everyone!

Sunday 23 November 2008

Finally feeling myself again

It took some time, but the penicillin eventually kicked in, and by Thursday, I was beginning to feel like myself again. How can I tell? Other than being able to eat lots of lovely food again, I decided that I wanted to read again. I had carried The Bean Trees for almost the entire week I was sick, and all through last weekend, and even through to Tuesday of this week, and I didn't read a page. It didn't matter how I was feeling, I eventually realized that I was not in the mood to read this book! I don't know if it was the unlikeliness of how the main character gets her Native Indian child - a woman hands it to her outside a cafe in the middle of nowhere! - or if it was just me being so sick, but I couldn't concentrate on reading. So I watched The Lord of the Rings all over again through three nights, and by Tuesday night, I gave up on The Bean Trees. It's totally unbelievable, but I'm also resistant to extremely negative portrayals of Native Americans because my brother is aboriginal, and my family adopted him because of the Canadian government's policy in the decades before the 1980's, of taking babies and young children away from young single aboriginal parents and giving them to white families to adopt and raise - part of the government's policy of assimilation begun last century. I know, it sounds very political, and it is. It also doesn't change that when he came into our family, he became - is - our brother, son, uncle, our family. He lives in two worlds, with two cultures, and having seen him struggle to find who he is and what he can be with this heritage, I've tried to learn some of his culture so I can better understand what he comes from. Every time I think about how the unknown woman hands the baby over, I cringe, and then I can't suspend my disbelief enough to keep reading. So as much as I love Barbara Kingsolver's other books, this is one I just can't read. See how reluctant I am to stop reading a book?!

Once I decided that, I then spent an evening going from book to book. Picking it up, reading a page or two, putting it down. Finally, I kept looking at Middlemarch, and took the plunge. This is a book I have long wanted to read, and yet it is a chunkster and written in mid-19th century style, both of which I have to be in a mood to read, so I've dreaded reading it also. I'm making slow headway, mostly because my lunchtimes have been taken up at work this week with other things, but I am discovering I am really enjoying Dorothea and her sister Celia. The story is about Dorothea's desire to do good, some good, in her life, which leads her to make a dreadful marriage to a dry, pendantic, horrible man - Mr Causabon. Now I have a confession to make, I saw a few years ago a BBC production of Middlemarch so I know the story. And yet, as always, I find that the book itself is far richer than the tv or movie production was. It didn't come through in the tv production that Celia is actually smart in her way also - she is able to see through people and we see her horror at Dorothea's acceptance of Mr Causabon, and I for one am reading the impending marriage with a sense of a train wreck coming. George Eliot also has the men discussing upcoming political changes, that will affect Dorothea's world, although she is not paying attention to it as she should. Where does passion fit in the life of wanting to do good? Where does love fit? Thankfully it was about 10 years ago that I saw Middlemarch, so most of the book is new to me; all I can really remember is that I hated Causabon in the tv production and I already hate him in the book - that everlasting life's work on the categorizing of world's mythologies, that should be interesting (and Frazier was doing in real life in The Golden Bough!), he never intends to complete, and we know this because Causabon is in his late 40's and still hasn't finished gathering his notes! He has published nothing so far! Not even a prelude! This is a book about real people and their desires, their ambitions, and their failures, especially their failures to make good matches. I am very curious how this will play out in the book, and at the heart is the struggle of the very opinionated, willful, passionate, pious Dorothea to do something good in the world for others.

I know that Virginia Woolf loved this novel, and as some of you may remember, I can barely tolerate Virginia, so we'll see as I make my way through this 688 page novel how I fare. I expect this will be the only book I read in the run-up to our trip to England, which is 22 days away now. Which leads me to my announcement that -

I will not be finishing any more challenges for this year. I have mixed feelings about this, since my aim was to try to read 10 more books before Dec 31. However, being so ill and not being able to read during it, has given me some time for reflection. I love the challenges I joined, and I'm so happy I did complete some, especially Carl's. This was my first year in blogging, and so I joined everything! I know that some people have decided to not join many challenges next year. I have signed up for three a while ago, the ongoing Canadian 2 Eh challenge, and for 2009, the science fiction '42' being hosted by Becky, and the Women in 19th cent literature, also hosted by Becky. Darn but she makes interesting challenges! And I know I will be joining anything Carl does!! I want to say that I want a year of whimsy, and gosh but that has a lovely ring to it! then I think of the 999 challenge, which I could possibly try.....since I loved the 888 challenge (even if uncompleted).... and my whole aim is to read more books. So I can't even say I won't join more challenges! I know I will. And work on finishing the ones ongoing - there's also the 1% challenge, and the Awards Challenge, which continue through into the new year, that I am keeping. I know myself, I love a challenge! I have to remind myself that my whole goal is keep encouraging myself to read more often each day. That is my greatest success this year, that joining all these challenges gave me: I found time to read more books. I also found ways to challenge myself to read in genres I don't always read books in, as well as to keep reading my beloved mystery and fantasy books.

I suppose this is my year-end review early, because we won't be back until early January, and I don't know how often I can get online while in England, as my in-laws computer is possibly on its last legs now. Our trip is from Dec 15 until Jan 5, so while all of you will be posting happily your year-end reviews, I will be seeing as much of London as we can fit in with the kids. This little break in blogging and reading has let me sift through reading and what I accomplished this year, do not be afraid, gentle reader, that I am going away! I don't know yet how often I will be able to blog while in England over the holidays, as my in-laws' computer is about to crash (we can hardly talk on msn at the moment), but at the very least I will find my way to internet cafes and send updates and hopefully plenty of gorgeous photos.

Things to do
: I still haven't created my challenge for reading all the books on the Mythopoeic or World Fantasy lists. This will be an ongoing challenge for myself. Missing are buttons (if any readers can create buttons for challenges, and I think Becky sent me some, but when my blog crashed in August I lost them, so please send any ideas!) - my other goal is to work on becoming more technologically advanced in creating my blog, so I can figure out how to do extra pages. The fantasy challenges would be linked to these. Nymeth (thank you, dear Nymeth) kindly sent me the link to the blog page template, but I still can't get the set-ups to work on my blog, so that is one of my new year's goals already set.

In the meantime, is the countdown to our trip - 22 days to go! and an upcoming birthday party for our daughter who is turning 6 at Christmas while we are in England, and seeing friends and family before we go. So if I actually finish Middlemarch, not only will this be a long-sought-after achievement (which will be surpassed only by my finally reading War and Peace, whenever that will be!), it will be an accomplishment to complete in the run-up to Christmas and our big holiday!!

Well, that was a good catch-up post! I hope you read plenty of good books while I was away! Here is a rare treat, an actual picture of myself with our cat, Bandit, taken a few weeks ago:

She has been known to plop herself down on my book when she wants a cuddle.

Happy reading, everyone!

Friday 14 November 2008

What do you do when you have......

.....strep throat?

I have been sick for much of the past 8 days, and finally, today, I know what it is. Strep throat!

How bad, you ask? The strep has been so bad I haven't picked a book up this week.

I also have had such a sore throat that chocolate hurt it, so sad, sad me, I haven't had any chocolate this week either.

Yes, it's sad when I look forward to feeling better so I can eat chocolate again, isn't it? And being able to read!

So I have no new book thoughts, and no thoughts in my head except wanting to be able to swallow without it hurting.

I hope you have had a good week reading, my Gentle Reader!

Monday 10 November 2008

Tamsin - Peter S. Beagle

Tamsin by Peter S Beagle
This was a lovely way to end RIP3 challenge. I finished it Oct 28, well before the deadline of Oct 31. I finished it reluctantly, because I fell in love with Jenny Gluckstein and her new family, her falling-down manor house in Dorset, her cat Mister Cat, and most of all the countryside where, in England, the fairies and creatures of folktales are alive. There are reasons for all those folkstories. After reading this book, Dorset will never seem the same for any reader. Nor will any field or remote corner of a field. Always the wind will seem to ring faintly with chimes,and every stormy night could bring the echo of the Wild Hunt, so real does Beagle make them possible in this book.

It is most of all a story about a ghost and the girl she appears to 300 years after her death. With the lightest of touches, Beagle brings the ghost, Tamsin, to life. And all through the book Jenny wants to touch her, and can't. And Tamsin can't touch her either. The most remarkable thing about the ghosts is how Beagle combines what we think ghosts should be - memories, emotions, caught in time and space - and presents them with such sensitivity that it seems obvious, only we've never known this before about ghosts: they fade because they forget what it's like to be human. They forget how hair should feel, how to sit, how to move, they forget the physicality of being alive. "Ghosts can't cry, but I about did, every time she remembered something that small from three hundred years ago. The more time we spent together, the more things like that came back to her - just as she herself was growing clearer, easier to see." Isn't that charming, and true, the way that the way to the heart is true, even if we can never see the way until we are on it? That is what Peter Beagle's writing is like, about how things are true, and in this story, Jenny discovers that all her mixed-up 13 year old feelings were true, because her bad behaviour when the story begins is what gives this book its emotional highs and lows - it's Jenny's reactions to Tamsin that makes her real to us, too. And the context of that emotional unhappiness - a new step-family, father and two brothers - a new country, are all believable settings for her wild reactions. I should know, since I was that age when I got a new step-father and three siblings who resented us, so all Jenny's feelings are quite believable even if not nice. One of the best things about Tamsin is how she and her younger step-brother Julian become close, become brother and sister, in the course of the novel.

In the midst of all this teen turmoil, is the story of Tamsin and how she became a ghost so long ago, and why she is still there at the Manor. I'm not going to tell you how it's worked out, because this is a story that is simple - love, betrayal, jealousy, passion - and because how it is resolved made me cry while I was reading it, because finally they are all set free - and because once again the British countryside reaches over and grabs at me and I've been homesick since reading this book. That's how good this ghost story is. It's a slice of real British countryside complete with alive fairies and creatures to be frightened of, come to life. *sigh* perfect reading right before Hallowe'en, perfect reading anytime.

My one resentment is that the story had to end. I really hated it ending, even as I rushed to see how it all turned out. It's one of those stories where I really wish Stour Head existed (as it exists in this book anyway) so that I would have a chance to see the Pooka, to hear the Wild Hunt, to smell vanilla unexpectedly and know a ghost was visiting me. Oh, and to be afraid if I see the Black Dog watching me. And best of all, an even older mythological person comes to life, an older magic that is set in the British landscape, and satisfyingly resolves Tamsin's mystery. Now my heart is calling me home again! 35 days to go until we are back again on our visit!! This is one of those times when I wish we could somehow get tickets into the book, so I could go visit Stourhead Farm world. This is when we need Thursday Next's world to come to life, so we can go book to book!

Most highly recommended, a wonderful ghost story, complete with a ghost-cat as my cover shows. If you go to Geranium Cat's post, (below in other reviews) you can see the other cover with the empty rocking chair. Both covers are very good representations of the book. Wonderful, haunting, filled with humour and the ghastly, bump in the nights and fey creatures that would lure you to death, and the spirits that make your kitchen a mess. And love, all kinds of love. This story is a pure delight.

Other reviewers:
Geranium cat

Sunday 9 November 2008

Sunday Salon

The Sunday

Rhinoa at Rhinoa's Ramblings posted about an interesting challenge hosted by Librarything for next year: the 999 Challenge, here. The challenge link itself is here . I haven't decided if I am going to join. As I commented to Rhinoa on her post, I have learned many valuable lessons this year with the 888 Challenge, which I have so enjoyed! Principally - pick categories of books that I read plenty of naturally. For any of you out there looking for a challenge for next year's reading, I recommend it, as I can't think of one that has gotten me to read so much, this year, than the 888 challenge. You can see by my sidebar how I am doing with this challenge; 48 out 64 books done now. I am nothing like Rhinoa who has read 155 books already this year! I'm almost at 60 books read; which is my best total for several years now. Still not where I want it, but I am greatly encouraged that I can find time to read more. That's what challenges are all about, for me! Reading as many books as I can!

I've been sick since Friday with a very bad virus that is going through the city, so I'm only here briefly to say hi, then retreating back to the sofa to watch more tv (mostly movies with the kids) because that is all I can really do. I've been running a fever on and off since Friday, as well as a very bad sore throat, so even reading is challenging me this weekend! I did finish Fred Vargas's Wash This Blood Clean From My Hand, which was a very different sort of mystery. A book review will follow, as well as for Tamsin, when I feel better, but I'm struggling just to write these few paragraphs right now! I've started The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver, a book my mother loves and gave to me. I've enjoyed several other of her books, and indeed one year every one received Animal Dreams from me, I enjoyed it so much!

I hope you all enjoy some time with a good book today!

Sunday 2 November 2008

Sunday Salon - Birthdays and Books and Hallowe'en

The Sunday
It has been a very busy weekend; Hallowe'en of course, but it is also my eldest's son's 20th birthday (on Hallowe'en) and my youngest's 4th birthday today, so in between trick-or-treating and carving pumpkins, we have had two birthdays to celebrate! So I cooked a celebration birthday dinner yesterday for 7 adults and 2 children, and today, my mother left to go back to Kitchener, and I am needing a day to unwind. Aside from Graham unwrapping the rest of his presents later today, we have nothing blissfully planned. So I have a date shortly with Fred Vargas' Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands, which I have been longing to read since I bought it last spring sometime. It won the Duncan Lawrie International Dagger, which replaces the British Dagger Awards that used to be handed out for mysteries. So I will spending today in darkest Paris with an excellent mystery.

However, on this wonderfully quiet Sunday, I do want to share with you the lovely books I bought when my mother and I made our annual visit it Prime Crime, Ottawa's local mystery bookstore. We went on Friday morning, after I finished carving the pumpkin. We always spend well over an hour meandering from one shelf to another, asking each other, "Have you read this book yet?", and our piles grow huge and in my case, toppled over once! Here is what I bought:
- Stalin's Ghost, Martin Cruz Smith (an Arkady Renko mystery! I've loved this series ever since Gorky Park, and I forgot this was coming out.)
- Seeking Whom He May Devour - Fred Vargas (an older one in the series, but I'm reading them as I can find them since they are translated. I have to lend this to my mother after, since she knows she is getting Wash This Blood Clean From My Hands for Christmas).
- What Came Before He Shot Her - Elizabeth George (catching up in this series)
- Skinny Dip - Carl Hiaasen ( I love his funky bizarre characters involved in hilarious mysteries and coincidences set in Florida, all of which Mom says have their basis in real-life cases)
- A Deeper Sleep - Dana Stabenow ( I love Kate Shugak! Now she could run for V-P and I would vote for her!!)
- Winter's Child - Margaret Maron (Deborah Knott series, who couldn't love a judge whose father was the town bootlegger? and her 10 brothers)
- Friend of the Devil - Peter Robinson (I can hardly wait to read this one, new in paperback, a continuation of the Alan Banks series set in Yorkshire)
- Dead Cold and The Cruellest Month - Louise Penny. ( I reviewed Still Life last spring, the very first in the series, and these are the next two. Cruellest Month is new in paperback, and my mother, who I gave Still Life to last year for Christmas, has already read both of these and enjoyed them so much she bought #4, which came into the store in trade paperback while we were there! It's just come out! I will wait until I read these ones.)
- Missing Justice - Alafair Burke - (I keep reading about this author and her Samantha Kincaid mysteries, so I'm trying my first one.)
- Winter House - Carol O'Connell ( a Kathy Mallory mystery, I have two to catch up on, but I grabbed this so that I have it to read. Mom has already read it and says it's good, so the dip in the series is gone, thankfully. Mallory is too good a character to surround with lazy plotting and writing.)
- The Witch is Dead - Shirley Damsgaard. (An Ophelia and Abby mystery, Ophelia is a witch and Abby is her cat. A fun series which I can't seem to buy as they come out, so I grab when I see one).
- A Harvest of Bones - Yasmine Galenorn. ( A Chintz and China mystery, have never read this before, but the amateur sleuth is supposed to be a medium so it should be fun!!)

and finally, for my writing, from the How Dunit Series, "Deadly Doses, a Writer's Guide to Poisons", by Serita Deborah Stevens (with Anne Klarner).

I love my new pile of books!

So, I wish you all happy reading on this Sunday, and maybe some left-over Hallowe'en candy to munch on, wherever you go in your reading today. I have two birthday cakes to munch on! One is Nigella Lawson's delicious Quadruple Chocolate Loaf Cake (from her cookbook Feast), yummy. Now for a lovely cup of tea, and I'm set for a lovely long afternoon of reading.

Thursday 30 October 2008

Northanger Abbey

I am sitting here listening to Vivaldi, wondering if Jane Austen heard it while she was writing her novels. Did Vivaldi's music come quickly to England, or did it arrive after her death? It's not really important, but there is something in his violin concertos, which I especially like (Konzert 11, d-moll 565 is what is playing) that reminds me of the quickness of repartee, and all the dancing and social events, in Jane's novels. We take music for granted in this century. It's available 24 hours a day, and anything we want can be played. Back in Jane's time, of course, music could only be heard if someone was around to play an instrument. So young ladies who could play were in great demand!
Northanger Abbey is a novel about a young girl coming out in society; it is moreover, a novel about a girl who is not skilled at anything, who comes from the countryside to the town of Bath for a visit. Being from a kindly and dull family, she has no 'wit' or effortless repartee skills that her new friend Isabella has; nor does she have any fortune. What she does have is a kind heart, that allows her to bear all kinds of company with no complaint, and she also has one other quality that all of Jane Austen's heroines bear: honesty. Catherine cannot bear dishonesty, and when she is put in a position by a potential suitor's actions, she is dismayed, and she acts on it: 'If I could not be persuaded into doing what i thought was wrong, I never will be tricked into it.' She is no push-over, and this is very important, because above all, Catherine is silly. She has absolutely no thoughts about anything except Gothic novels and the places such novels are set in. They are all she reads, because history is dull and boring.
In having a dear, sweet, practically brainless heroine, Austen is able to be as ascerbic as she likes in commenting on the society around her. From making fun of Catherine's feelings and torments as she falls in love with Henry Tilney, to the absolute embarrassing idea Catherine develops that Henry's father murdered his mother, to her being sent home in ignomy by carriage alone for a 70 mile trip, and which Catherine is not afraid, not humbled, but rather wonders what she did, what Henry feels when he finds out, and how her family will feel - Catherine and Jane Austen turn the world of the Gothic novel and indeed, most 'female' novels on their head. Catherine faces no danger, does not need to be rescued by Henry at any point. And yet, and yet. She does come to see for herself, by herself, that Isabella is a tease, a flirt, and not a trustworthy friend; she is able to face down her brother, Isabella and Isabella's brother when they are trying to persuade her to break an engagement she has just made with Eleanor and Henry Tilney, and her inability to really hold any kind of deep conversation or learned conversation on anything is more the result of her family (her parents are kindly and dull, dull, dull with nary an opinion really on much and can't get stirred about much either) and her background - from the tiny village of Fullerton, than any lack of intelligence in her. She does talk with Henry and here is a perfect example of Austen's wit and comment on dating:
"She was heartily ashamed of her ignorance. A misplaced shame. Where people wish to attach, they should always be ignorant. to come with a well-informed mind is to come with an inability of administering to the vanity of others, which a sensible person would always wish to avoid. A woman especially, if she have the misfortune of knowing any thing, should conceal it as well as she can."
Oh, I dearly wish I could have met Jane Austen and talked with her! The advice above is still being repeated today to girls!! Yet Jane means it ironically - and probably knew many women who pretended to be dumb to get a man - just as we still do today. This probably began the first time there was two women and a man in cave man times: one women would be herself, and the other would play helpless.....I leave it to you to guess how that one played out! However, enough of the smart women must have won out because the human race has continued, though it is doubtful any lessons have been learned from cave man times on.
I pointed out Catherine's honesty, because I was thinking about Austen's other heroines and began to see that despite their faults and flaws, every one of them - Anne, Emma, and Elizabeth - also share one quality: they are unfailingly honest. Emma doesn't mean to hurt with her matchmaking skills, she thinks she is helping her friend; Anne never says she doesn't love Wentworth when she first breaks the engagement, she just says she doesn't think it wise to marry when he has nothing but his face to recommend him; and Elizabeth is too proud by far, and is not leading Darcy on (as her other suitor claims is the practice of women to do) by refusing the first offer; she genuinely doesn't recognize he is her equal yet, and that she could love him. Catherine may be simple, but she is quick to learn, and she recognizes her own follies as well as everyone else's; all she wants to become a better-read/more knowledgeable person, is better company to keep.
It does still puzzle that Henry could fall in love with her, but Austen says that he fell in love with her this way:
"for, though Henry was now sincerely attached to her, though he felt and delighted in all the excellencies of her character and truly loved her society, I must confess that his affection originated in nothing better than gratitude, or, in other words, that a persuasion of her partiality for him had been the only cause of giving her serious thought. It is a new circumstance in romance, I acknowledge, and dreadfully derogatory of a heroine's dignity; but if it be as new in common life, the credit of a wild imagination will at least be all my own."
And how often in our own lives and families, did romance and true love begin because someone told us someone else liked us, or thought we were cute, etc? In what I think is the crucial scene in the novel, Catherine reveals that she knows nothing of drawing, and Henry begins to instruct her in the beauty of the natural setting around them, and Catherine 'so hopeful a scholar': 'his instructions were so clear that she soon began to see beauty in every thing admired by him, and her attention was so earnest, that he became perfectly satisfied of her having a great deal of natural taste.' It is this that shows them together, naturally, and that they are suited to one another. From the very beginning of their meeting, I wanted them together, and as a romance novel this is as sweet as any of Austen's novels.

I have finished RIP3 Challenge with this book, but since I have to review Tamsin (tomorrow with any luck), I will save my final thoughts until then. However, Northanger Abbey does fit in. If nothing else, Catherine's fanciful imagination has been led astray by reading only Gothic novels. Henry himself has read most of Ann Radcliffe's books, so they can converse on The Mysteries of Udolpho with ease. But when he quizzes her on other books, she confesses she finds them too dry. and herein we find an old debate that rages today, whether one should read only fiction, or try to read non-fiction - and thus better one's knowledge of the world. I'm not debating that here. But it is interesting that Jane Austen takes the side of reading widely - she does not say Gothic novels are bad, just that reading only them reveals a mind that is not curious about the wider world. My guess is that Henry will lead Catherine into reading more. One scene at the end of the book suggests that Catherine reading Gothic novels only is sprung from her parents, her mother especially, who gives her "The Mirror" to instruct her daughter in how to behave!!

If you are in the mood to laugh out loud, to poke fun at society's pretensions, to roll your eyes at the sheer silliness of people (all Mrs Allen talks about is her dresses!!), then Northanger Abbey is a delightful book to choose. If you are in the mood for romance, for true love, Northanger Abbey has that too. If you are in the mood for England, and a bit of English society, pick this book up. And most of all, if you want a delightful companion to lead you through a light-hearted, caustic look at dating in merry old England, this book is for you too.

However, while this was read for RIP3, if you are looking for a creepy setting, horror, scary events, dark scenes, this is not the novel for you. It makes fun of them, without scaring anyone. Not at all like the Scary Movies series! I do love that we do go to an Abbey in the book and get an inside look at a fine English house, but because Catherine has an 'undiscerning' eye, we are not given much period detail at all. The weather (it rains a lot in this book!), and the character of Mr Tilney himself (the father), are far more frightening than anything Catherine can conjure in her mind. He is domineering, and erratic, and that is probably the hardest part of the novel to read. There are no ghostly moments, just Henry making fun of Catherine when he is setting her up for the abbey before seeing it, making fun of what her Gothic-filled mind is conjecturing. Reading Gothics, and horror novels, is silly, and fun. So I guess the question 200 years later, is are there any horror novels or ghost stories that are serious works of literature? Dracula is the only one that comes to mind. Then, we end up in discussing what kind of book is art, or literature, and how we define that.....

I love Jane Austen. After reading this and Tamsin earlier this week (review to follow, also a wonderful, wonderful ghost story), my faith in novels is happily restored.