Ordeal by Nevil Shute

I loved this book the first two times I read it, but reading it now as we start to emerge from the pandemic, was even more interesting.

Peter and Joan Corbett and their three kids (6, 3, and 1, if I remember correctly) live in Southampton in 1939 when the UK goes to war with an unnamed country that starts an intense bombing campaign. Written in 1938 and published in early 1939, it predicts the German bombings, but Shute also supposes the spread of communicable diseases because of damaged water and sewer infrastructure.

In order to stay out of quarantine, the family of five decides to rough it out on their small sailboat.

If you like reading about people putting things right, this book (and pretty much any Shute novel) is for you. And by putting things right, I don’t mean in the moral sense–although his characters are usually flawlessly moral–I mean in everyday, mundane terms. (Securing Peter’s bombed out office, making shelter from the bombing, helping neighbors, provisioning and reprovisioning their boat, rescuing an RAF pilot, etc.)

Shute’s novels can come across a little corny and old fashioned, but that is also what makes them fabulous. In this case, their constant quest for milk for the baby becomes kind of comical, mainly through repetition, but also because Shute seems to think that an infant can subsist only on cow’s milk. But rather than detract, that detail only reinforces the old fashioned, romanticized view of the past that I find totally engaging. Especially in these times.

(The novel is Ordeal in the US and What Happened to the Corbetts in the UK.)

Stuck in Mud

When I last posted in late February, the one-year anniversary of lockdown was just a few weeks away, and vaccination seemed more than a few months away. And since Covid-19 variants were popping up here and there, our household went into a super duper lockdown. It felt like we were too close to the finish line. We didn’t want to be the last soldiers to be killed. So we dug in even deeper. A trip to the pharmacy about once a month was the only place we ventured outside taking Lucy for her walks.

It was during this period that I started posting those Pandemic Book Browsing posts. We were searching out any videos that could give us a life outside our house. Then we became obsessed with trying to get vaccination appointments. I think we became eligible in early March. After two really frustrating attempts to get appointments on two successive Thursdays, when tens of thousands of other DC residents also were trying, things seemed dire. Then DC got its act together and created a registry so that once you were signed up you just had to wait until they notified you. After three more tranches of appointments came out over three successive weeks and both of us were passed over, the situation started to feel even more dire.

In truth, I was being kind of silly. We have been very, very lucky in having a very easy lockdown. Both still fully employed, with no need to put ourselves in harm’s way. And I had never thought I would be vaccinated before June, so I shouldn’t have been freaking out in March. I think it was seeing others getting appointments in other states, and no one I knew getting an appointment in DC that started to make us feel envy and desperation. People in other places were complaining about the frustration of trying to find appointments with various providers, but the centralized appointment system in DC seemed even worse, because of one’s forced passivity related to the process. I wanted to do something.

And then, in week six, the floodgates opened. On that Tuesday I got an invite from a local hospital to get an appointment. My joy turned to disappointment when I realized that John didn’t get an invite. Then a few days later John got an invite from another hospital system, and then another, and then from DC’s centralized system. And so now, about a month later we have both had two doses of Pfizer and are only about a week away from the two-week waiting period.

Between the frustration of waiting for an appointment and then the relief of getting one, attitudes about certain things changed on a dime. During the frustration phase, some things lost their appeal: cozy videos, reading, blogging, etc. None of the things that helped sustain a year of lockdown worked anymore. Instead we turned to truly bad TV. And I mean bad. Have you heard of the “The Only Way Is Essex”? It’s so bad, it’s embarrassing. But there are about 1,000 episodes on Hulu and it worked like anesthesia. Then, almost immediately after getting appointments, we became entirely uninterested. And thank God for that. One can say a lot of bad things about reality TV, but TOWIE is so inane, it makes the Real Housewives look like Shakespeare.

As we approach freedom in the next week or so, it’s hard to know what will appeal to me. Getting out and about is high on my list. Going to a used bookstore. Getting a haircut–the first one for over a year. Going to five (yes five) different doctor appointments. During lockdown we made admissions to each other that our lives had to change post-lockdown. We needed to be less cozy at home and get out and mix it up in something. Classes, groups, social gatherings, events. But how long will that last for someone who was a homebody in the Before Times? Already, at times, I get little twinges of recognition of the downside of “normal”. But maybe we can make a new normal.

But, who the hell knows? I don’t.

Pandemic Book Browsing : Juxtaposition City

This guy is the Executive Director of the Kansas City Public Library, but I find the juxtaposition of his overall look and the loft apartment to be kind of an odd one. The two don’t look like they go together, particularly the floating canopy bed in the middle of it all. Probably was a mistake to make conclusions about someone based on their appearance. In fact, I coined a phrase that might be easier to remember: Don’t judge a text by its dust jacket. :)

Pandemic Book Browsing : Living in a Library?

Another in my series where I post a video about someone’s home library, or a used bookshop browse, or anything that allows us to wander through a room of old books.

Well not quite living in a library, but living above a library and having after hours access to it? They would probably evict me because I would straighten things at night. Possibly in a way that isn’t helpful to the staff.

Pandemic Book Browsing : Casing the Strand

Another in my series where I post a video about someone’s home library, or a used bookshop browse, or anything that allows us to wander through a room of old books.

Today’s installment has us shopping for books at Strand Books in New York with two white men I have never heard of. I have mixed feelings about posting this video. The notion of someone having a quest to read “every significant novel that has been written” is kind of annoying to hear. It sounds outdated and makes me think it is code for novels written by authors with penises. But even though that line is uttered, the video doesn’t really veer too far that direction.

I have also developed a tiny, tiny, bit of an aversion to the Strand. Probably because it is often crammed with poseurs. You know, people who have read one book since college and insist that their friend read it.

But who am I kidding? It is still an amazing place to browse and buy. Sometimes I don’t even make it inside because I can spend all my time at the carts outside where I usually find one or two readable copies of the kind of books that I like that other people don’t care much about. And how can I quibble about the Strand? I had first become aware of it in the film Six Degrees of Separation (one of my favorite movies of all time). It was the one place I sought out on my first trip to New York in 1995. That was back when it was still only “Eight Miles of Books.”

Their reading tastes might not be your cup of tea (certainly weren’t mine), but it is still fun to tag along.

Pandemic Book Browsing : A Tipping Point

Another in my series where I post a video about someone’s home library, or a used bookshop browse, or anything that allows us to wander through a room of old books.

This video is a bit of a departure from the others I have posted so far. Less joy, less serenity. But, lots and lots of books, and for me at least a different kind of joy. This shop would have been a great candidate for my Book Tidying Fantasy Camp. And the fact that the store is now closed makes my retrospective FOMO go off the charts.

When I see a store like this, I don’t just think what I might discover, but I think about wanting to organize it. And I don’t just think about wanting to organize it, I start thinking about the process I would use to get it organized. I would say a full 60% of my fantasy life is about process. If I think about inheriting a ton of money, it isn’t long before I start thinking of process questions. What kind of lawyers would I need to hire? If I start that charity who should I have on my board? How would I go about hiring staff? Do I work out of my home at first or find some space somewhere? How would I find someone to design my logo?

But back to process fantasies about chaotic bookstores. What would be the first thing I would do?

  1. For this one, first thing would be recycling all non-essential papers. Seems to be more than a few stacks of that kind of thing.
  2. Then I would clear a front corner for sorting. Given the space restrictions, it would have to be a small area–and it would create more short term mayhem in the rest of the store.
  3. Everything in the aisles would be put in boxes and then those boxes stacked up to the ceiling in the empty corner.
  4. Discard any cat skeletons I find.
  5. Once the aisles are clear I would get all of the obvious losers off the shelves. Things like Self-Help, which can’t have much resale value. Not to mention the fact that most of them are total bullshit. I would probably put them out on the sidewalk for a one-day free give away. Then they go somewhere else…
  6. Now that I think of it, #5 would also apply to those boxes I stacked up in #3.
  7. This would probably give me enough space to organize the shelves.
  8. Then I would open up the boxes and place those books in their appropriate sections. No doubt, this would start to create some piles in the aisles (ooh, say that phrase out loud, I like how that sounds), but hopefully not too bad. This step would also free up that area in the front corner that was used for the stacks of boxes.
  9. At this point, the store should be navigable for those who wish to be adventurous.
  10. Now I need to make sure my desk is set up properly so I can have a decent work space for assessing each book in turn.
  11. Prior to getting serious about inventorying the stock, I would probably also look in general what I had and decide if I want to jettison any subjects. I’d be super tempted to 86 sports for starters. But who knows. Even for those subjects I would have to assess each one to get an understanding what is worth putting online and what I just donate.
  12. With sports (or similar) gone, I’ve got a bit more room to spread out.
  13. And so it continues…
  14. I begin to put stuff in the window, I put up clever signs, keep the tables outside appropriately interesting.
  15. Is this the point at which I adopt a gentle senior dog to hang out in the store with me?
  16. Get rich.

Pandemic Book Browsing : Sylvia Townsend Warner Edition

Another in my series where I post a video about someone’s home library, or a used bookshop browse, or anything that allows us to wander through a room of old books.

You don’t have to be a fan of Sylvia Townsend Warner or Arthur Machen to enjoy this quiet stroll through R.B. Russell’s library (and mind). In addition to perusing his crowded shelves Russell tells about how he became a book collector. Nothing fancy here. Just someone who loves his books.

Pandemic Book Browsing : Where it started

Earlier this week I posted the first of a series where I will post someone’s video about their home libraries or a used bookshop browse, or anything that allows us to wander through a room of old books during lockdown.

The video today is kind of where the whole thing started. My husband and I have been trying to live vicariously and stumbled across videos that focus on interior design and generally include strolling through people’s houses. I could say a lot about these videos, but I will save that for another day or another forum. Once I clicked on the video below the great Algorithm started offering videos of people’s libraries. Which then led to lots of great videos of bookish rooms which I will be posting in the coming weeks.

Author Eric Motley takes us on a tour of his Georgetown apartment. This gentleman has a predilection for fancy books which really isn’t my thing, but I love the enthusiasm he has for his collection. This video isn’t entirely about books, it’s also about him, and his art, and, as I explained above, it was the gateway for discovering some really good content on YouTube.

Pandemic Book Browsing

This is going to be the first of (hopefully) a series where I post someone else’s video about their home libraries or a used bookshop browse, or anything that allows us to wander through a room of old books.

Confession time: Back when books blogs were going gangbusters and I had about 100 bookish blogs in my blogroll, I used to do a lot of skimming. No one had time to read all those blogs and still have a life, or more importantly, still had time to read. So I would skim through for interesting bits. This meant that there were a lot of blog posts that never got read. And I was always drawn to posts that were about bookish topics rather than straight book reviews.

The same is true with book videos on YouTube. Except with videos it is a lot harder to skim. Sometimes you can fast forward to see that the vlogger has moved on to another book, but that is pretty inexact and time consuming. Also, so, so many reviews or stacks of new books.

Lately, in our quest for some relief from 11 months of pandemic lockdown, my husband and I have taken to watching YouTube videos of people going to antique shows, galleries, and anything else where we can feel like we are somewhere experiencing something. Never in my life have I wanted to go antique shopping like I do right now. One can buy a lot of stuff online, including antiques or old books, but there is very little satisfaction in that. One wants to browse, touch, smell.

After all those antiques and old houses, the algorithm started to point us towards videos about old books, libraries, and such. And in exploring some of those I’ve seen a few so far that are a delight. Nothing fancy, and focused on the books, not the person. Seriously, so many vloggers of every type and stripe think that their face is what we have shown up for…it isn’t. It’s like someone who gives a PowerPoint presentation and stays on one imageless slide for 20 minutes and then rushes through others slides that have images you actually want to look at.

So, now that I have pissed off the book vlogging world, let’s move on to the first video. A lovely, slow walk through a home library. The video is ten years old and is satisfying in so many ways. Our reading tastes are not necessarily in line, but I love to hear him wax poetic about the contents of his flat.


FYI: I know nothing about the people I will be posting–and since I enjoyed the videos, I’m not about to find out. (Snaps blinders firmly on face.)

A delicious random challenge

What is more exciting than setting a reading challenge for oneself? Normally I would say abandoning a reading challenge, but this time it’s different, I mean it.

Back in December, I was drawn to a post on Twitter because J.L. Carr’s A Month in the Country was among the books shown. It was a surprise favorite of mine several years ago and I always like to see people talking about it. But then I took a look at the other titles, and rather quickly formed the notion of re-reading the Carr and reading all of the other titles as well.

I should say that I don’t know the Tweeter from Adam. I follow him, and enjoy his output, but I don’t know how I came across him in the first place. So why am I placing any faith in his assembly of books for a project he is working on? I suppose it is because of the Carr. I did find the cover for A House in Norway attractive. And then I thought the subtitle for Ceremonial Time was intriguing and in line with my recent interest in archaeology and pre-history. And by then I was kind of sunk in.

But maybe more than anything, I like thinking about what might be in that space in the middle that Himmer is pointing to.

I’ve gotten my hands on all of them except for Pond which appears to be stuck somewhere in Georgia. I suppose I don’t have to wait for it to arrive to start. If only there was some natural starting point for this challenge…wait, I just finished a book this morning…it’s the 1st day of 2021…I have three more days before I have to go back to work…