Falling Slowly by Anita Brookner

[I’m up to number 18 in my chronological re-read of all of Anita Brookner’s 24 novels.]

If you said “falling slowly” to me I would be inclined to think of someone falling in love. In Falling Slowly we do indeed see Miriam Sharpe fall in love, not once, but twice (maybe), but I’m no so sure it was all that slowly and I’m even less sure the title refers to falling in love. I’m more inclined to believe it’s about falling into a deep, comfortable, numbing, rut that leads to nowhere but death. Excited? By all means read on.

As I have worked my way through re-reading of Brookner’s novels, I have found more going on in her novels than I perceived the first time. And I have gotten away from thinking of her output as a monolith of quietly and comfortably tragic people just waiting to die. But then along comes Falling Slowly, a poster child for the Brooknerian stereotype. Those who don’t know my love for Brookner, might think this declaration is tantamount to criticism. Far from of it. I love every little thing about the way Brookner dives deep into exploring loneliness and resignation making them feel like cozy, warm, blankets. Sure, blankets that will slowly snuff the life right out of you, but cozy nonetheless.

At its heart, Falling Slowly seems to be about Miriam finding out what being in love really feels like. Unlike other relationships in her life (like her short-lived marriage) there isn’t anything safe or sure about being in love. Miriam falls in love with Simon, but it seemed kind of fast to me. And after that she appears to fall in love with Tom more slowly, but does she? And is that what all of this is about anyway? No, as I mentioned earlier, I think Falling Slowly is about falling slowly into acceptance of one’s fate. As is typical with Brookner, there seem to be many opportunities for her characters to alter their fates, but as I get older I see more and more how fate is not something we can see at close range. It creeps up on us even when we think we might be avoiding it. It’s like the proverbial (and apocryphal) frog calmly getting boiled to death. We see it with Miriam’s mother who accepts her fate once she is moved into a nursing home. We see it in Beatrice who accepts her slide into death after she stops performing professionally. We see it in Max Gruber who seeks to slide into his fate in a way that would be amenable to his wishes, but in the end ends up sliding into a country apart from the one he imagined. And of course we see it in Miriam herself.

After a trip short trip to Paris that was cut even shorter than expected (this seems to happen a lot in Brookner, trips to Paris to work out some sort of emotional cobweb are almost always cut short) Miriam’s “rebirth” is astonishing in its moribundity (this needs to be a word):

At Waterloo, her usual neutral smile in place, the usual courtesies offered and accepted, the usual immaculate appearance adjusted, she took her first steps into a world in which she perceived the possibility of being denied essential information, a world in which silence was commonplace, and absence a forgone conclusion.

Have you ever felt that way after a mini-break? And this is with almost 90 pages to go.

I came across one line that made me do a bit of a double take. Almost like an alien popping out very briefly from Brookner’s immaculate, polite mind only to retreat as quickly as it appeared. After spying her love object in a restaurant with another woman Miriam describes her:

The girl, meek, her eyes cast down, like a heifer, was beautiful.

For those who don’t need to be convinced to pick up a Brookner but might want to differentiate between her two dozen novels, I suppose I could point out that Miriam is a translator of French books who spends her work day at the London Library. And central to the story is her sister Beatrice who is/was a classical piano accompanist. Not to mention a few fabulous descriptions of paintings, masterfully done by art historian Brookner. So if that is your bag, then this is your bag.

[I’ve updated my Gazetteer  of London place names in Brookner’s novels. Only six more re-reads and it will be complete.]

Eating my way through the apocalypse

Barbara Pym’s Victoria Sandwich with homemade lemon curd filling was perfect for Easter.

In general I have been eating my way through my stress. Despite being very productive for work and around the house, I have treated the past 73 days like a holiday or snow day that requires treats. Part of this may be fueled by not having regular access to candy and other mass produced items that I would have from time to time during the work day. Still, I have been a little nuts. (Except I put no nuts in any dessert. I like nuts on their own, or in savory items, but I never let them anywhere near my sweet stuff–with one or two recent exceptions.)

I have made about 30 desserts. For two people. In 10 weeks.

Cakes

Chocolate Cake with Mocha Frosting (x 2)
Barbara Pym’s Victoria Sandwich w/ Homemade Lemon Curd
Buttermilk Crunch Cake
White Cake with Penuche Frosting
Lemon Blueberry Bundt Cake
Lemon Buttermilk Cake with Lemon Buttermilk Buttercream
Whoopie Pies

Cakes have been a bit weird for me. The Chocolate Cake recipe I have is a really good one and that cake is super. I also have good luck with Barbara Pym’s Victoria Sandwich despite the fact that the recipe calls for a ridiculously high oven temp which I ignore. And the Whoopie Pies were pretty damn good, particularly the fluff in the middle (if you wonder what a pie is doing in the cake category, get thee to Google). But the rest of the cakes were various shades of dry and disappointing. The common denominator seems to be buttermilk. But that doesn’t really make much sense. Several used cake flour but that also doesn’t make sense. I decided last night that unless I have a trusted recipe, I might keep cake baking to the boxed variety. Those are always moist and fluffy.

Cookies and BArs

Chewy Chocolate Chip Bars (x 4)
Brownies (homemade)
Brownies (Betty Crocker)
Strawberry Shortcake Cookies
Chewy Oatmeal Raisin Cookies
Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies

You bookish people may not realize that Jenny at Reading Envy also has a baking blog called Jenny Bakes. (I just noted this morning that her baking blog predates her book blog. Go figure.) Anyhoo, she blogging about these Chewy Chocolate Chip Bars that I have made four times since March 13th. If you’ve ever had a chocolate chip cookie bar, or blondie, or chocolate chip cookie, you don’t know what you are missing until you try these. So damn good. Definitely the MVP of sheltering in place.

These might be one of the best things in the world. From What’s Gaby Cooking?
The brilliantly nerdy folks at America’s Test Kitchen decide to come up with a Brownie recipe that mimics the chewy goodness of a boxed mix brownie. Too many brownie recipes are too fudgy, too dense, or the worst sin of all, too cakey. This recipe is brilliant. It really figures out how to make them chewy.
Ice Cream and Pudding

Chocolate Ice Cream (x 2)
Vanilla Ice Cream
Cherry Vanilla Ice Cream
Milk Chocolate Pudding (x 2)
Brown Sugar Pudding

That $49 Cuisinart ice cream maker is the real deal. Their recipe for chocolate ice cream is really good. Tastes like the chocolate of childhood. And for you in the UK, these puddings are the cool and creamy kind not the British kind.

Yeasty

Sourdough Sandwich Bread (x 4)
Baked Currant Donuts
Pizza Dough
Sourdough Pizza Crust (x 2)
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Unlike so many other unlucky bakers, I managed to snag a jar of yeast on March 13th before the country went ass over teakettle into baking chaos (and I had a packet or two already at home). Still, I thought it would be great fun to try making a sourdough starter. I won’t bore you with that because those stories are ubiquitous on social media these. I wish I had a picture of my sad looking, but great tasting, Baked Current Donuts. Those were yummy and are going to be making a second appearance in the near future.

Chewy, crusty, sugary, speckled with currents. Mine were a bit flat, but they were damn good. I’ve had this recipe for ages and finally gave it a whirl. Lots of raising time involved so it takes some planning so they are ready when you want them to be.
I didn’t get much of a rise on my sourdough sandwich loaves, but the taste and texture was really fantastic. I think the fact that I only had all-purpose flour might have been part of my problem.
I made sourdough pizza dough a few times with cast off from the starter. It was not bad and it made for perfectly fantastic Friday night pizzas. Later I made a crust with actual yeast and it was definitely more like a real pizza crust.
The last time I saw flour in the grocery store was maybe the third week of March. I had to text a picture to a neighbor to let her know they had just set some out. Since then I have found an online source for flour and have 20 pounds of it. Unfortunately, still no bread flour.
Quick Breads

Banana Bread (x 4)

I’ve got a good recipe that is even better after the finished loaf has been frozen and thawed. Nice moist top and a touch of cinnamon.

Snakes on a plane.

PIE

Apple Gallette

I haven’t done much in the pie category. John’s favorite dessert is my Apple Gallette, but other than that I haven’t done any pies. I have a recipe for Coconut Cream pie made with white beans that I am going to try (but I’m not telling John until after he tries it).

On the Savory Side
I’ve had a recipe for pickled carrots for years and have never tried it. But since I had such a giant bag of carrots I decided to give it a go.
So they were pretty good, and a great way to perk things up when fresh ingredients start to run low.
Roasted bell peppers for a farro salad.
A pan of lasagna so good it almost put me in the hospital.
Not long before the shutdown I went to a book event at Politics and Prose where author Joe Yonan was talking about his new cookbook Cool Beans. One recipe he talked about was for black beans that get pureed with everything including the roots and skins of the onion and garlic as well as the bay leaves. Have you ever ingested bay leaf before. I hadn’t. The resulting beans were ah-mazing.
Happily, these 25 pounds of beans were a Christmas present from John in 2018. I love them, but haven’t used many. And even now, with all the other fresh things I’ve been making, I think I have only used two of these since the shutdown began. Although they are shelf stable, they are better if less than a year old, so I need to get simmering.
A while back someone on Facebook posted one of those short cooking videos of this cheesy spaghetti casserole. When I shared the video, my sister-in-law in Texas said “I make that all the time” and gave me the recipe. Yes that is Velveeta. So good. The store was out of Rotel so I had to use canned chilies instead.
I could have happily eaten it at this stage. Just give me a fork.
Yeah, it was a tasty as it looks.

 

Braving the Elements

Friday, March 13th, a few days before DC shutdown, I went to Whole Foods at about 11:00 in the morning. Since the city was still open, I thought I would avoid the lunch rush. I was wrong. The shopping itself wasn’t bad, but the check-out lines were crazy.

Since then, I think I have been to the store maybe five more times. I am down to going to the store maybe one every two weeks. The stores are less crowded and with the exception of flour they are pretty well stocked.

March 13th. Before 6 feet. Before masks. Before. This was a 45-minute wait.
As I stood in line I started second guessing everything in my cart. I didn’t put anything back, but I did stack it up much higher.
Was glad to see these go up at Giant and elsewhere. Big thanks to all the grocery works putting their lives on the line to feed their own families.

Read my shelves

By now most of you have probably seen that photo of the bookshelves where the book titles make a sentence. It’s a made-up shelf with real books, but unreal spine artwork, which explains at least two author name typos (Steven King and Nevil Schute). I’m really sick of that photo so I won’t show it here.

But this week a friend of mine on Facebook was playing this game with his niece where they were doing something similar with books they actually own. That got me going this morning in my library and I got so into it I was late getting to my desk for work.

One of the big problems is finding verbs, but that isn’t as hard as finding conjunctions. I did about 14 of them, and I kind of think I will probably do more.

A hit and three misses

I seem to be even less willing these days to continue with books I’m not totally enjoying. In some ways I know I am missing out on worthy material, but seriously, these days if it doesn’t grab me pretty quickly, I’m not going to give it the time. After finishing a great vintage spy thriller by Helen MacInnes (Hidden Target) I had a difficult time settling into something new.

To wit:

Love Gardam’s Filth novels and one or two others, but this adolescent tale just left me a wee bit bored. There were some charming, witty elements to it, but not enough to get me to finish it.
I’ll admit I bought this one for the cover. In fact, I went online to get the UK version just for the cover. This one I could imagine picking up at some point and finding it interesting. So I will keep it for now. But for now? No.
Having read and loved Cluny Brown and more recently Brittania Mews, I thought this wold be the book to shake me from my doldrums. But I’m coming to realize that Margery Sharp is hit or miss for me. This one started out amusing me, but then some circus/vaudeville types enter the picture and well, that’s where I gave up. Now, as I look at the cover, it makes me wonder if I might yet be missing out on something. Looks almost agricultural. That seems promising.
Well, I loved just about everything about this novel. Not necessarily my favorite Auchincloss, but it hit all the right spots. A 1960s novel written about the War years at a boys prep school in New England with flashbacks to even earlier periods. Just what I needed.

Italy before the plague…four weeks ago

I was extremely lucky to spend a week in Bologna in mid-February to study Italian. Not only lucky that I had the time and resources to do so, but also that my timing was lucky indeed. The day I left Italy to return home on February 22nd, there were only 75 known cases of covid-19 and two deaths from the virus. At the time all of these cases were in Lombardia which is the province immediately north of Emilia Romagna where Bologna is located. I was worried about perhaps bringing the virus home with me and becoming patient zero for the DMV. That didn’t happen. In fact it took at least another week before cases started to appear in Emilia Romagna so I didn’t worry too much. And now Italy has 21,157 cases and 1,441 people have died there. And people in this country are finally starting to realize that we need to take drastic measures to try and flatten the curve.

But four weeks ago, Italy was a happier place.

The view from my Air BnB window. It was several days before I realized that that gate opened out onto a street. I’m not sure what I thought was behind it. They were having unusually warm weather for February and one day as I did my homework with the window open the sounds of the birds singing was mixed with one of my neighbors playing Sempre libera at high volume. It was a very Italian moment.
The wall of my salotto.
The city is layer on layer of architectural styles with poritici everywhere. It would be a good city to walk around in in the rain, but I didn’t see any of that.
Bologna’s famous due torri.
Everywhere you turn there is some amazing thing to look at. Hard not to act like a tourist.
I would love to see an overlay on this spot explaining how all these elements came to be mashed together.
Right outside my apartment. It was fun watching the progress during the week.
I really enjoyed Madrelingua. I know there are programs like this all over Italy, but I kind of fell in love with this one and assume I won’t be so lucky if I try one of the others in a another city.
The ceiling of the room where I had two hours of grammar and two hours of conversation each day.
Actually, now that I think of it, I think this is the room where I had conversation and grammar. The other one was the room for my post-lunch intensive session.
Every day after grammar lessons all of the students from the various classes walked to a nearby bar for coffee and Italian conversations. With the fun instructors rapping our knuckles if we retreated into English. My class had two students from Australia, and one each from Germany, South Africa, India, and Moldova.
Unlike learning in the US all of the teaching is in Italian so even the explanations to questions are in Italian. Challenging but pretty satisfying. Although most of my classmates seemed to be better than me, I will say that on the first day my instructor complimented my pronunciation and was surprised to learn that I grew up in the US.
They advertised this Unicorn Latte and said it had no artificial coloring in it so one day I had to order it. It was kind of like chai with ginger and other things in it. I took one sip. But it made for a good picture.
Bologna’s trademark tortellini in brodo (broth) expertly executed at Oltre.
Take out pasta and European Fanta (so much better then the US version). I saved the second pasta for another day.
Much to my delight, my good friend Ron who lives in the Netherlands was on break from his teaching job and decided at the last minute to join me in Bologna. The day of his arrival I walked by a food market and couldn’t resist buying somethings. Those strawberries were red all the way through. The pinkish citrus looked a bit like a blood orange but were smaller and sweeter. The tomatoes were unbelievably good. Even in the height of summer at a good farmer’s market you can’t get tomatoes like that in the US. The flavor is astonishing. It must be the soil, or the water, or something.
Someone else made the fresh tortellini, but I made he sauce.
The kind of cookies that sneak up on you when it comes to deliciousness.
Right on the corner near my apartment. I never bought anything there but I loved looking in the windows.
Very cute used book shop near my apartment. In Italy mysteries, detective novels and books of that type typically have yellow colors and are referred to as i gialli (the yellows).
I loved the patina of this place.
Loved this place.
The anatomical library.
I didn’t know these existed, but once I leafed through one I had to have them. But then I saw the price for the set and decided not to.
Then later that night I looked them up on line to see about getting them when I got back to the States and saw that some of them were really hard to find and really expensive. So I went back the next day and bought the lot of them. It sure made packing my one small bag interesting.

RBG, Covid-19, and a Wardrobe Malfunction

I went to the Washington National Opera last night to see Samson and Delilah by French composer Camille Saint-Saens. It was a last minute purchase made possible by a change in travel plans. And, as is usual for me, I did that thing where I was looking forward to it, but then on the day of the performance I start wishing I could just stay home. But happily I fought inertia and got my butt out of the house.

Now that I think about it, the fabulous chandelier in the Kennedy Center Opera House looks a bit like the Coronavirus.
Pathogens Flying Everywhere

Maybe because I have been reading and talking a lot about Covid-19 over the past two weeks I was hyper aware last night of other people’s behavior. (I had been in Italy, quite near the origin of the outbreak, right as it was starting to get a foothold, so for the past two weeks I have worried about becoming DC’s patient zero. At day 15, it looks like I might be in the clear.) Anyway, to wit:

  • The first thing I did was use the bathroom, not just because I had to go, but because I wanted to wash my hands. Not surprisingly for men, as I spent 20 seconds at the sink, at least two people left the bathroom without washing their hands at all.
  • Then I noticed the ticket takers pawing everyone’s tickets despite the fact that they have a scanner that doesn’t require them to touch them at all. I politely made a point of not letting her touch mine and we shared a joke about it, but then I realized if I wanted a program (and I did) I would have to take it from another usher. So with a possibly tainted program, I made my way to my seat.
  • Then the opera. All I could focus on was how much the singers, chorus, supernumeraries, and dancers were touching each other. So much touching, so many hands on faces. I was thinking they should re-block the whole thing during intermission so there would be no virus transmitting action on stage. I hope their union has good health insurance.
  • And speaking of hands on faces, there was no part of my face that I didn’t want to touch. I finally gave in.
  • Oddly, at intermission an older, elegant woman next to me offered me M&Ms from a cup that she had been eating from. In my 30+ years of concert going, no stranger has ever offered to share a snack with me. So why on the night DC confirmed its first cases of Covid-19? I declined and chuckled to myself.
  • It seemed to me, that the older the person the fewer precautions they seemed to take. Uncovered coughs and all sorts. For my own part, during intermission, I executed a perfect, fully encapsulated, elbow sneeze.
Then Ruth Bader Ginsburg Walked In

The orchestra had started tuning when a smattering of applause began. I was a bit confused because the conductor doesn’t walk out when the orchestra is tuning so I didn’t know what was going on. Then I noticed in the aisle two rows ahead of me, a frail, old woman with a friend and a small group of people who seemed to be Kennedy Center personnel and at least two Secret Service agents were crossing the theater. It was 86-year old opera lover Ruth Bader Ginsburg. She was walking extremely slowly making her way to her seat as the rest of the theater  (including myself) realized who she was. The applause gained strength until most of the place was on its feet applauding and cheering. It was extremely heartening–and frightening. No one better give RBG Covid-19!

And it made me think how incredibly important the next election is.

An Exploding Necklace

At one point in the final act, with a full stage, with the dancers having completed the main portion of the Bacchanale, there was the sound of something raining down onto a platform. Like big wooden beads falling off of someone’s necklace. And then, seemingly confirming my ears, large gumball-sized objects started rolling off the platform where they seemed to have fallen from the neck of a chorus member or supernumerary, onto the raked stage where they made their way to the front and over the edge onto the screen that shields the orchestra pit from just that sort of calamity.

But then there were a few stragglers, probably falling out of the folds of a sparkly robe. One stopped just behind the foot of one of the dancers. Staying very much in character she elegantly flicked it behind her with her foot where it headed off stage–until it started rolling forward and landed right at the knees of Samson (Roberto Aronica) who was in the middle of singing plaintively about how he had sold out his people for a night in bed with Delilah. It made me chuckle at the wrong moment, but I don’t think anyone heard me. (One couldn’t really blame the dancer for wanting the bead out of the way, there was still lots of dancing to come. Occupational Health and Safety after all.)

A few seconds later, as the the cast was looking toward the back of the stage, another bead started to make its journey forward when Delilah herself (J’Nai Bridges) trapped it under her foot. Sadly, I didn’t see what happened to it after that. That’s a real diva–stop a rogue bead in its tracks while never losing focus.

It was a pretty fabulous night out.

A Sunday Looking at Dusty Books

Last weekend Frances of Nonsuch Book and I went for a good rummage around one of the less organized used bookstores in the area. Although frankly it is starting to get too organized for my tastes. We spent almost three hours hunting and chatting. It was great to catch up with Frances. At no point did we fight over any of the books.

Published in  1976, the Iris Murdoch is the newest book in the stack. Turns out I already owned the Thirkell (and in that edition) so it’s going to Frances.

I think it was Jenny of Reading Envy who reminded Instagram the recently that any used bookstore worth its salt has to have at least one Anita Brookner on its shelves. This one passes the test.

Now look at this beautifully bound volume. What treasure could be lurking inside?

This? Even funnier was another similarly bound edition of a very suspect wok cookbook from the 1980s. Either someone had a lot of money or had a hobby.

I bought this one because it was about London from 1958. I had no idea what it was about. It was even written by Anonymous. Turns out Anonymous was Michael Nelson and it was anonymous because it was a gay novel. Although, having it read it, it is really a bitchy gay novel. An odd thing. Meant to be satire. 

Another shelf safari or some navel gazing?

The beginnings of a shelf safari. I didn’t know what to read so I used a random number generator to determine which shelf to choose from. And number 11 of 20 was the winner.

 

The other night I was again faced with needing to find a book to read…I had a post in my head, but am beginning to wonder about the point of it.

To my recollection, in the 14 years or so that I have been blogging I don’t think I have ever really written a navel gazing post about whether to keep on plugging away at my blog. But it seems like the time has come to maybe do just that.

Here are some mostly random thoughts about the state of my blogging psyche:

Social Media Has Changed Everything

Although I am active on Twitter and to a much lesser degree, Instagram, and really enjoy my interactions with bookish people on those platforms, the rise of those behemoths (and others) has pretty much meant the death of blogging, or at least the death of what I used to know of the blogging community. I was going to write about activity in the comments sections here at Hogglestock, but to be honest, my comments sections were never all that lively. There was a core of regulars, but again to be honest, I still have a core of regulars, and I love them/you. And some read my blog posts and then comment on Twitter instead of here. But I sometimes I feel like I am just whistling in the wind.

you can’t skim a podcast

Let’s be honest, the only way we could keep up with so many bloggers back in the day, was because we skimmed the shit out of those things. Sometimes a post title was a far as we would get, sometimes we’d skim and jump around all the way to the end, and sometimes we’d read the whole damn post. But c’mon, skimming was the only thing that left room to read actual books. But with podcasts, there ain’t no such thing as skimming.

Now some of you may be thinking, hey wait, you idiot, you were co-host of a podcast for a couple of years. Yes! But my not so secret dirty secret was that before Simon asked me to join The Readers I had never listened to a book podcast–not even The Readers. I absolutely loved being on the podcast and, based on the number of downloads we got, people liked listening to it as much as I liked doing it. Since then I have listened to a few book podcasts by others and definitely enjoy some of them, but, not being able to skim, and not having much time for  listening, I pretty much skip them entirely.

Booktube?

This is no disrespect to anyone with a booktube channel, but holy shit, really? I’m painting with a broad brush. They are great in some ways, and no doubt, yours is better than the rest, but…I should probably stop right there. Also…impossible to skim, like podcasts.

The rise of the author industrial complex

None of you are surprised I don’t read much recent fiction. I certainly read more of it when I was on The Readers, but with each passing year I’m less and less interested in newly published books. Part of it is the fact that so many superlatives are thrown around for truly mediocre or uninteresting books. Part of it is MFA programs churning out cookie cutter authors with entitlement complexes. Boo hoo, you wrote a masterpiece that isn’t getting isn’t any press? You can’t live off of what you make as a writer? Well, that’s never happened to any artist ever.

OLD books vibrate

On a less antagonistic note, I used to think that I liked older books because they stood the test of time, etc. But in reality I read plenty  of  books that didn’t stand the test of time. Many have not only been forgotten but the authors who wrote them are barely even mentioned in the farthest, deepest recesses of the web. Truth is, I have a predilection for the past. It was highly imperfect. It was deadly for so many. But I like inhabiting the past, whether it is the 1890s or the 1990s. I can be moved by recently published books, for sure. But there is something about older books. They vibrate across the years, decades, and centuries. I like connecting with those dead authors.

As I went on my book safari I pulled off these four short story collections. I’ve started the Jack London. And let me tell you, it positively vibrates.
old books don’t sell newspapers and i’m going to die one day

My interest in older fiction keeps many of you coming back here, but old books don’t, as they say, sell newspapers. I’m okay with that. In fact, as long as I know a few of you are out there, I will keep blathering on about them. In fact, as I have said before, I consider myself a bit of a literary seed banker. I keep some books just because I don’t want them to get pulped because no one is clamoring to read them. And although much of what I write here is just to have a creative outlet, or as a reminder for myself of what I have read, I like the idea that some day someone is going to come across an old book no one has ever heard of, and they are going to surf whatever the web of the future is and will come across something here. And I’m not thinking about my legacy, I’m thinking about the book’s legacy. I feel the same way about my library. I think a lot about what will happen to my books when I die. I have no heirs and, even if I did, most heirs don’t give a rat’s fanny for the books they inherit. And nothing I have is of any interest to any book depositories. But I know there is some young weirdo out there that would like them. But then again maybe not. And even if, well, needle in the haystack, etc.

More from the shelf safari. Three novels, none of which were born yesterday. Haven’t started any yet since I got immersed in the London Hawai’i stories.
Friends forever

The reality of this old blog and bookish Twitter is that I have made friends with flesh and blood people, some of whom I have met in real life. And we get each other. We don’t always agree but we like each others quirks and senses of humor and most importantly, we like each others pets.

When Books Speak to You

When I am out and about looking for dusty old copies of novels that most people don’t want, I come across other old dusty novels that I’m not really sure I want, but which have covers that say, “Hey, what about me? I think I may be up your alley.” And sometimes when those books speak to you, they really know what they are talking about. Two fairly recent examples include when I stumbled on Prairie Avenue by Arthur Meeker and Victoria 4:30 by Cecil Roberts. Two old books I took chances on only to be rewarded more than I ever could have imagined.

So in early December right before I had a tonsillectomy I combed my TBR shelves to see what I might want to read while I recovered from surgery. The doctor told me it would be seven to ten days of pain and no work. As I tried to figure out which way to go, I got a hankering to tackle at least a few of those old dusties that I had picked up over the years but hadn’t gotten around to reading.

Some of the old dusties I thought I would dip into while I recovered. The Little Ark, and Sorrow Laughs didn’t work for me at all and ended up getting donated. But I did read New York 22 and A Trip into Town as well as a third one not pictured here for some reason.

Happily, the first two days post surgery were really not too bad so I got a lot of reading done. But as the doctor warned me, on day three things started to get really painful, and even worse, on day four the narcotic pain meds had me ejecting what little food I had in my stomach. So, days five through ten found me trying to manage the pain with ibuprofen and ice packs. Still, I did manage to finish three of the dusties in the ten days I was laid up.

Lucy keeping me company while I slept off my surgical stupor.

Oddly, the three books that I got into and really enjoyed were all set in New York City. As I have mentioned before I love books that take place in the past, but I don’t quite trust historical fiction. What I prefer is fiction that is old. That way when they describe a scene, I don’t spend all my time second guessing whether the author was accurate. This is especially true in these three books, I would have constantly been asking myself, would this character have done that in the ’50s or ’60s? The answer is, apparently, yes.

The oldest of the three, but the second one I read, was New York 22 by Ilka Chase. Published in 1951, the book is set on the Upper East Side, and eventually Paris, in the years immediately following the Second World War. A well-written compelling love triangle and a fabulous look at the publishing/magazine/society in New York and Paris just after the war. I loved getting this snapshot into that milieu during that time period. It was like literary archaeology. Each description providing a marker for social scientists to study the time and place.

I think it was a much more interesting, or at least much more enjoyable, look at France in the immediate post-war period than William Maxwell’s The Chateau. 

I was delighted, but not at all surprised that the Chase novel had these instructions for a bed jacket penciled in the back cover.

 

Published in 1959, Just Off Fifth by Edith Begner was the last one I read, but the middle of the three chronologically. It’s a fun look at the lives of tenants in an apartment building, not surprisingly, just off Fifth Avenue. Like the other two books, I relished all the period details and loved the story of the still famous, but severely blocked, novelist who moves into the building with her husband. She ends up being the fulcrum around which much unpleasantness takes place. This was full of great characters and a totally enjoyable read, but not as well done as the other two novels.

The first of the three I read but third in the line-up chronologically was Michael Rubin’s A Trip Into Town which was published in 1961.

Away from the confines of Westchester and Long Island, away from indulgent parents and prosperous homes, come Suki, Esther, and Steven–to savor freedom and explore the city, and incidentally, to attend the university.

 

This was a pretty fascinating look into college life at the time, and particularly what it was like for women whose families weren’t necessarily expecting them to get a degree. Written by a man, and dated in some ways, I was still surprised at how relevant it seemed. Of course I was on oxycodone at the time, but I think it would hold up. Suki reminded me of Jessa from HBO’s Girls.

And just to prove how much of a dusty this one is, I am the only, I repeat, the only person on Goodreads who has read, or at least rated, this book. There was a different edition already cataloged there, but no one has actually rated it. Until now. And given Rubin’s rather common name, it was hard to find anything about him. This, it turns out, was exacerbated by the fact that he died in 1989 before digital footprints existed. Thankfully one of his classmates at Bard, writer Eve Caram, advocated for his inclusion in Bardians of the 1950s exhibition, or I wouldn’t know anything about him.

I bought each of these mainly because their covers got my attention. What a lucky thing that was.

Even more fun seeing the covers of this accidental New York Trilogy lined up is seeing the author’s lined up.

My literary roots, 5 times removed

So that would be Miles Standish wishing my 10th great grandmother Priscilla Mullins well on her wedding day. And the handsome blacksmith behind her would be my 10th great grandfather John Alden.

I did a bit of digging around with my (mom’s) DNA data on Ancestry today. There was a DNA link that was new and I hadn’t seen it before. It made a connection to some of our ancestors in colonial Massachusetts. Not a big surprise these days in my research. My mom’s side, once almost completely unknown to us, has yielded ancestors in colonial CT, MA, NH, NJ, NY, and RI. But then I was poking around with the new information and quickly traced those lines much further back. (If you get any of your ancestors back to New England, the records are amazing and you will be amazed how much information is there.)

Turns out my ancestors were in Plymouth Colony…and more specifically…drum roll please…on the Mayflower.

My 10th great grandfather was John Alden a blacksmith and the cooper on the Mayflower, who decided to stay rather than return to Europe. He ended up marrying passenger Priscilla Mullins whose parents and brother all died the first winter in the colony.

But wait, it gets better…so Priscilla, my 10th great grandmother, was the only woman in the colony of marriageable age at the time and was pursued by Miles Standish as well as my grandfather…about which Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote the probably apocryphal poem The Courtship of Miles Standish.

But wait, one more thing…Longfellow wrote the poem because he was one of John and Priscilla’s direct ancestors, which means that Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is my 5th cousin 5 times removed.

Wait I hear my phone ringing, Henry Louis Gates Jr. is calling to offer me a job