Week’s End Notes (25)

View through the screen porch

  • So. It’s officially the first day of summer today. Though by the weather, it’s seemed it for a while. It’s been warm–though outside of a few days, not particularly hot–and very humid much of the past few weeks. And rain. Lots of rain. Everywhere I go in Northeast Ohio, everything is lush and verdant. I’ve had reason recently to travel parts of NEO I don’t normally visit, and several times now–avoiding interstate congestion–I’ve travelled through the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. Driving alongside the old Ohio & Erie Canal and Towpath Trail (well used by bicyclists), past old farmsteads and canal locks and all the lovely forested scenery is so relaxing, I’ve found I don’t mind taking a few or more extra minutes at all. And it’s lovely that it’s free to enter–I actually didn’t realize until recently that most U.S. National Parks charge entrance fees–though I don’t know, really, how they could as there are so many roads that pass through the park. (Ohio state parks are also all free.)
  • The weather’s not only been perfect for enjoying all the green around us, it’s been perfect for reading. Lovely weekend mornings on the back porch, lemonade and book in hand–perfect. Which is perhaps why I’ve gotten a little carried away with my to-read-soon list, especially regarding my library selections. I did decide that I will put on hold reading Tolkien’s translation of Beowulf or his essay “Beowulf and the Critics” until I’m ready to do a bit of Icelandic or other similar reading as well. But I’m in the middle of three other books, and my ambitions for the rest of the summer are perhaps a tad unrealistic.
  • First, the current reads. I’m still working my way through The Piazza Tales (included in the Library of America volume, black cover, in the image below), and I’m finding that I’m becoming more comfortable with Melville as I’ve been reading. There’s still about 100 pages to go, but I WILL finish this summer! Anne of Avonlea is a slow reread, one I pick up on occasion in evenings to read a bit from before I fall asleep. I know these books so well, and it’s such a nice bedtime read that I don’t care how long it takes me  to finish.
  • The most exciting current read, however, is Pioneer Girl, the unedited original manuscript of the memoir Laura Ingalls Wilder would later modify into The Little House books. It’s a lovely annotated edition, full of lots of historical tidbits and explanations. I’m almost through the section that corresponds with By the Shores of Silver Lake and hope to finish by the end of June. Although I’m reading a library copy, I am planning to order my own copy soon. And it’s prompting me to contemplate some Little House rereads. Maybe not the whole series, but if nothing else, I don’t remember some of the middle books that well, so perhaps those.

June 2015 Current Reads

  • And then the hope-to-read-soon pile. (Including a Little House book as mentioned above.) Realistically, this could probably take me to the end of the year, although if I were to make that pile, I’d include my next Sherlock Holmes (The Valley of Fear) for fall reading, and perhaps a few others. But for now, these are the books I think I’d most like to get to soon.
  • Actually, I may or may not read Off With Their Heads!, which is a nonfiction book about fairy tales and the way we use and read them. I’d originally planned to read it this spring, but never quite got to it. I think I’m down to my last renewal, so it probably won’t happen.
  • There are two titles that are definitely planned for July, as Stu and Richard are again planning a Spanish Lit Month. (Yay!) I went the “what’s on my shelf that I haven’t read yet” route for this one, which leads me to Love in the Time of Cholera and The Book of Imaginary Beings, which I keep misnaming in my head as Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (J.K. Rowling). Completely different authors! But both the Borges and the Rowling are in the tradition of the Medieval Bestiary. (And did you ever imagine a mention of Borges and Rowling in the same sentence?)

Summer-Fall 2015 Plans

  • The other “dedicated” read is Northanger Abbey, for Adam’s Austen in August. I started to reread it early this past spring, but didn’t get far before I was distracted by other things. An Austen event seemed the perfect time to actually make some headway.
  • Out of Africa is at the suggestion of several other bloggers (plus my mom) from a few posts back. And the other books–Enter Jeeves, The Farm, The Bluest Eye, A Wrinkle in Time–are all books that for some reason or other, I’m drawn to read soon. At my current reading rate, I should make it through all these by next June! Guess I need to work on that.
  • Of course, I did manage to read two books (Beowulf and The Scorpio Races) for Carl’s 9th Once Upon a Time reading event, ending today. That was one better than I had planned. So perhaps I’m not too ambitious after all?
  • Happy reading!

Completed: Tea with Jane Austen

Tea with Jane AustenTea with Jane Austen
Kim Wilson
2004, U.S.

OK, I confess up front: I read this more for the tea than the Austen! Does that make me a bad participant in Adam’s Austen in August? Yes? Then perhaps I should cave to temptation and re-read Northanger Abbey after all. Or Mansfield Park. No, Pride and Prejudice. No,….

Well, that aside, I think there is plenty in Tea with Jane Austen for fans of both tea AND Austen. Wilson’s book is not a comprehensive history of tea nor a biography of Austen, but rather a glimpse into daily life of those living in the Georgian and Regency eras, framed by the history of Austen herself.

Given the strong association of the British and tea to this day, it is no surprise to learn that Austen and her contemporaries were mad about tea. What is perhaps more surprising is realizing that it was only a relatively new beverage to the British. (Ditto for coffee and chocolate.) It wasn’t until the Europeans started exploring and conquering other nations that they were introduced to beverages from the Middle East, South America, and–most importantly for this book–Asia. What seems so quintessentially British today was once a novelty–and for some time even considered by some to be a dangerous drink!

Some Britons viewed tea’s growing popularity with disfavor, sneering at is as unmanly, untraditional, and un-British…. One particularly indignant fellow wrote a furious letter to Gentleman’s Magazine, claiming tea caused feebleness, cowardice, poor blood, barren women, and dissatisfied servants.

p. 57

Of course, much of the objection to tea turns to have come from those whose income was negatively impacted by its growing popularity–that is, brewers.

By the day of Austen, however, tea was firmly ensconced in English society–so much so that it was both highly taxed and highly smuggled. Interestingly, to me, and likely to anyone reading novels from the Georgian and Regency eras, is the meaning that was given to tea in literature:

In each novel, tea is used by the author as a sign of character: to know and approve of tea aligns one with civilization, and, by implication, with the good and the right. Those who spurn tea are backward and unenlightened at best; their rejection of it may even be a sign of doubtful morals. It’s hard to argue with such logic.

p. 46

Indeed, as a tea lover myself I find it hard to argue with such logic!

But Wilson doesn’t limit herself to talking just about tea. Rather, tea forms the framework for the book, which is divided into chapters according to the different meals served with tea or the different locations where tea might have been offered. Thus we learn what tasty treats might have been served for breakfast or at a dance–modernized recipes even included. (Although, I find it difficult to convince myself that any recipe involving both one pound of butter AND twelve eggs is a good idea.) And all those confusions of meal times are explained: why can Elizabeth Bennett leave home after breakfast to find the Bingleys still sitting at theirs, despite what must have been at least an hour between?

I rather enjoyed this breezy and informative little read. Best served with a cup of good breakfast tea–fresh brewed from loose leaves, hot and strong, of course!

(Bonus: This is my second completed (first blogged) book for the 2013 TBR challenge.)

In which I recall vacation

All things considered, I believe the past week was a successful vacation.

I chased after birds…

DSCN7417 Gulls

Squished my toes in the sand…

DSCN7421 Sand

Walked the beach…

DSCN7341 Beach

…a lot…

DSCN7629 Beach2

Enjoyed the sounds of the surf…

DSCN7351 Surf

And stalked the elusive sunrise.

DSCN7668 Sunrise

(No really, it is elusive. It took five days before we had one without clouds at the horizon.)

And I even managed to finish three of the books I brought along, as well as starting two others. The library books took priority—both because I have to return them and because they simply seemed more appealing than the books I’ve been avoiding for a year or more already. Pride and Prejudice fell into neither grouping—it is too much of a favorite that I couldn’t rush headlong into it, but have to savor it, sipping slowly.

I am fortunate to be able to read in the car (not while driving myself of course—which could lead to a whole post on pet peeves about other drivers’ bad habits), and Brad Meltzer’s Dead Even was just the thing to while away the trip. After we arrived at the beach I also sped through Aunt Dimity and the Deep Blue Sea and The Curse of the Pharaohs. These were delightful cozies, perfect for beach reading—easy to pop in and out of without worrying about losing the thread of the plot line. The last of the library books, Special Topics in Calamity Physics was begun. It is not a book to speed through, as there are too many tricks of phrase and allusions, not to mention the slow pacing of the plot. I’m not yet decided on my opinion as to the book itself, but there has been more than one turn of phrase that has delighted me with its inventiveness.

I still must finish Special Topics in Calamity Physics, and then I intend to get back to my plans for a course of “great book” reading, with perhaps a cozy or other light reading sprinkled in for variety. I have an ever growing stack of “heavy” reading lining my floor and book shelves, and it would be nice to cross those off the list. But which to read first?

In which I undertake a challenge

Once upon a time I read a lot. Once upon a time I had the time to read a lot. Over the last few years, I unfortunately did not read quite so much. Last year, I even challenged myself to a mere twenty-four books in the year, or only two a month. I failed miserably, ending the year with only fourteen read, of which two were no more than 100 pages or so, illustrated. (Admittedly, the year before was worse, with a mere ten.)

So, it should be considered madness that I would even consider undertaking a book-related challenge. Unless it involved the purchase of books of course. My acquisition of new reading material continued unabated, even when I wasn’t reading it. However, I’m feeling optimistic. I’ve managed to already finish ten and one-half books this year (that last was started in ’09), and I’m currently in the middle of a half dozen or so. Considering four of those books could solidly be considered “cozies”, the Cozy Mystery Challenge seems a natural fit.

I have between now and  the end of September to read six cozy mysteries from start to finish. With two weeks of vacation in there, I think this is entirely doable. As long as I remember to select cozies for my reading of course.

I’m off to a good start; I began Pride and Prescience this morning, which has already proved a quick and enjoyable read. The characters are those of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and the time immediately after the wedding that ends the original book. I’m not very far yet, but am quite enjoying the wit of the banter between the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy.

Otherwise, I’ve no set plans for the challenge—merely to read, read, and read some more!