Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Illustrated Letters of Jane Austen

This is a book that I have owned for years.  The title pretty much sums up what the book is about- letters that Jane Austen wrote throughout the years, most of them to her beloved sister, Cassandra.  Penelope Hughes-Hallett did a beautiful job of compiling these letters and introducing them.  Her voice comes through gently, without taking away anything from the beauty of Austen's writing.  So here, quickly, are some of my observations about this book:


  • I met Jane Austen in a new way while reading this book.  So often, we only read about Austen through somebody else's eyes.  Here, we can see Jane Austen herself, without any other author's interpretations or editing.  It's so refreshing!
  • The illustrations!  They are truly one of the highlights of the book.  I found that I am still a sucker for pretty pictures in books.  The illustrations are varied, from portraits that Cassandra, a budding artist drew, to little humorous sketches published in newspapers at the time to beautiful watercolor sketches done by famous people.  
  • The social rules fascinate me.  What accomplishments were expected of ladies, the proper way to accept a dance...the rules go on and on.  It's interesting, because Jane Austen, of course, accepts the rules as just the way things are.  So the reader picks up those social rules along the way through reading Austen's writing.
  • I am glad I don't have to wear regency dress.  I look at those pictures and hear Jane mention certain things about their clothes and I breathe a sigh of relief.  I am a dress-uppy kind of girl, but those teeny-tiny little plunging bodices and skirts that appear to be constantly sticking to ones legs does not sound pleasant.
  • For the first time, I got a very clear picture of the Austen family as a whole.  I have read biographies about Austen before, but this one is so interesting because it is Jane, herself, talking about her family and all of the little quirks that make up everybody.
  • Jane Austen was an observer, rather like me.  She writes to Cassandra all of her observations about people and the funny, strange, and interesting things that they do.  I think it's part of what makes her such a brilliant writer...that ability to observe something interesting, stow it away for future use, and then pull it out again and incorporate it into a novel.
This book was so wonderful, readers.  I think it was my favorite of my Austen in August reads.  I highly recommend it to any Austenites.  

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Tea With Jane Austen

I'm finally getting around to doing some Austen in August posts.  On August 30th.  Oh well.  My Austen in August writing will probably go into September, but that's fine.

The first book that I picked up was Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson-a slim volume devoted to life in Jane Austen's day as it pertained to tea.  There were fascinating facts, quotes from letters Jane wrote, and all sorts of charming pictures and recipes.  I quite adored the book.  

The book was arranged throughout a day, starting with tea for breakfast and finishing with tea for dinner, with stops all along the way.  The author carefully went through the steps that were taken to make tea, depending on class, and argues that tea was something extremely important to Jane.  Wilson quotes liberally from the novels with loving descriptions of taking tea and discussing tea and judging people who don't take tea seriously.  

Wilson obviously cares very deeply about tea and wants all of her readers to care as deeply about it as she does.  Now I am not a devoted tea drinker, but I love history and I love Jane Austen, so this was a perfect book.  And, really, this book was just a sort of history of that time period, seen through the lens of tea.  

The writing was not breathtaking, however.  There were some awkward, stumbling sentences and things were quoted with no clear source.  I believe that this is Wilson's first writing and so we'll credit the mistakes with a not-very-great editor and inexperience.  

I think that this book could be read as a coffee-table book; flipping through the pages at the pretty pictures and reading the quotes at the side.  However, I sat down and read the thing cover to cover and was glad I did.  Halfway through reading, I got up and made a pan of apple (the first of our own apples!), sage, and cheddar scones. I rooted around in the cupboard for a pretty, non-earthenware mug and curled up, feeling perfectly content.  Readers, it was lovely.  In fact, I think a pre-requisite when reading this book should be having a nice teacup filled with a period-appropriate tea (I chose Oolong), and a little something to eat.

One of the best parts was the recipes.  Wilson would quote from a letter or a paragraph in one of Jane's books that mentioned a recipe and then Wilson modernized the recipes and included them in the book.  I copied several down before I returned this book to the library.

If you have ever enjoyed reading anything about Austen, then this is a book for you.  It's fun and interesting...the perfect weekend read.  I quite enjoyed it.  

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Shift from Amazon Affiliates

So remember how about a month ago I used to always have a link to amazon affiliates whenever I posted a book review?  Well, then you might have noticed that the links just disappeared.  I thought I would let you all know why I ended up deciding against it.
Breadsticks I made for supper one night this week.  Yes, they're completely unrelated.
They were delicious, though.  I wish I could pass you one through the computer screen.

1.  I felt bad about posting the new books for a variety of reasons- new books can be ridiculously pricey, and environmental, financial, and human resources are needed make a new book.  There are lots of nice books that are already out there.  It felt silly to be advocating buying new books when so many used books are looking for loving homes.  :)  I know, that sounded like I was talking about puppies from a shelter.  It also seems like a bad idea to buy new books simply for financial reasons.  I don't know who's reading this blog and I didn't like encouraging a financially struggling reader to spend exorbitant prices on a new book.  Of course there are exceptions to this rule-textbooks and books that have just been released, among other things.

2.  I just recently learned that Amazon is not the best of companies, ethically speaking.  I don't know why I was surprised.  They really are just a big-box store in online format.  And it's no new news that big box companies are almost never ethically sound.  I would rather support a smaller business, be it online or a local bookshop.  If that's what I believe, then it's talking out of both sides of my mouth to recommend that you buy something on Amazon that I've linked and then turn around and say that I prefer local businesses.  Of course, like in reason # 1, there are cases where Amazon really is the best, nay, the only, place to get something.  Then, I say go ahead.  But I don't think that it's a good default.

So anyway, that's why you aren't seeing those handy-dandy links from me anymore.  I do wish that places like Powell's and other little books companies like this and this would implement a book-linking service for bloggers.  I would gladly use it!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Liebster Award!

Goodness!  Another blog-tag of sorts!  The lovely Girl With Her Head in a Book nominated me for a Liebster Award and I was quite honored and set to work at once.  It's always fun for me to answer these kind of questions, so here goes:

1) How do you feel about print books versus e-books?  
I am a strictly print book girl.  I feel like screens are present in so much of our lives and we don't need to convert good old fashioned reading to a screen, too.  Okay, so that was harsh, but I do love that lovely scent of paper and ink.   Sigh...

2) Which words or plot points automatically make you decide not to read a book?
Hm...These are fabulous questions!  The old, old story of girl meets train-wrecked boy and proceeds to rescue him.  Ugh.  Oh! Oh!  And the still more annoying storyline of so-and-so is in a coma in the hospital and the people around him realize come to realize important truths about themselves.  Gah.  Actually, Hallmark-ey heartwarming stuff always makes me gag.
3) What is your first 'bookish' memory?
Sitting in a huge library with my dad.  I have no idea where my mom or my brother were, but we were sitting in front of a fish-tank reading...I can't remember what.

4) Do you find that you read books which are more by male or female authors?
I scanned my bookshelves and found that I tend to read books by female authors more than male authors.  I had no idea which I read more of until I saw this question.

5) Where's the strangest/most unusual place that you've ever read a book?
I read books in some pretty strange places.  I think the funniest is sitting with the car parked in the driveway, reading.  I have also read in a hot, unfinished attic in August (can't remember why).

6) Do you read in any other languages than English? How do you feel about translated fiction?
I read Spanish (took several years of it) in a halting way.  I have never attempted novels.  One day, I was in the library and picked up Amelia Bedelia in Spanish.  It was brilliant!  All of that word-play done with totally different words when translated to English!  I think that translated fiction has to be handled very gently, with plenty of poetic license on the part of the translator in order for the book to be enjoyable.

7) How do you feel about Reading Challenges eg. Goodreads challenges?
I love reading challenges!  They also make me feel good because I read such a copious amount of books.  I finish those challenges lickety-split.

8) Do you often read books that you feel you 'ought' to read rather than ones that youwant to read?
This is the reason I refuse to be in a serious book group.  I will read academic books because I feel that they are stuff I, you know, kinda need to read, but the majority of my reading is my choice.  Reading is, after all, a hobby and hobbies should never be about doing things you dislike.

9) If you could pick one fictional character to be your friend in real life, who would it be?
Oooo...Jo March from Little Women!  I think that she would be a good friend.   I am much more Meg March-ish in personality, but a great many of my friends are of the Jo March persuasion.  I think that more steady personality combined with a spunky, stubborn personality works very well.

10) Which author would you most like to meet and why?
Jane Austen.  There's a reading challenge currently going on called Austen in August.  I'm participating in it (in a disultry way) and after reading all this stuff about her, I really want to meet her!
11) What do you like best about blogging?
That daily act of sitting down and writing.  It's a rhythm that I love.  I also love all of the reading/bloggy connections that I have made in such a short amount of blogging time.  I can see why there are bloggers that write for years and years and never get tired of it.

I nominate:
1. EverydayHas@ http://everydayhas.wordpress.com/
2. countrygirlsread@ http://countrygirlsread.wordpress.com/
3. Desperate Reader @ http://desperatereader.blogspot.com/
4. Jennine G. @ http://livingawritinglife.blogspot.com
5. Michelle F. @ http://newhorizonreviews.blogspot.com
6. Books as Food @ http://booksasfood.blogspot.com

And here are my questions:

1.  What is the first book you remember reading?

2.  What is your favorite genre of reading?

3.  What book character do you think you are most like?

4.  Are you part of a book club/group?  How do you feel about book clubs?

5.  The most annoying book I ever read was…

6.  Did you like reading in school?

7.  Where is your favorite place to read

8.  If you could pick one fictional character to be your best friend, who would it be?

9.  Do you read seasonally?  That is, do you read lighter, beach-read books in summer and heavier books in winter?

10.  Can you listen to music while reading?  If so, what kind of music do you like to have as background noise?

Thanks for nominating me, Girl with Her Head in a Book!  I had fun writing this.  Any of you readers who I missed are welcome to chime in in the comments or on your own blog post.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Life Among the Savages

Life Among the Savages made me laugh until I cried.  This story is written by the famous Shirley Jackson who is most well-known for her short story The Lottery.  But after writing such dark stuff, she went on to write a memoir about raising her children in an old, rambling, New England farmhouse.

Shirley Jackson, along with her husband, raised 4 children, all of whom appear to have been spunky, rambunctious, hilariously funny children (although now that I think about it, isn't that the definition of most children?).  The story starts when Ms. Jackson and her husband are house hunting.  They have been kicked out of their apartment and they are looking at houses to raise their baby and toddler in.  After months of searching, a raggle-taggle farmhouse that is lacking in pretty much any modern convenience is secured and the family moves in.  From the story of Laurie heading off to school and returning a changed, swaggering man to the birth of Barry, their youngest son, when Jackson shouted at all of the nurses because of her pain medication, the stories are all captivating and enjoyable.

Each chapter (they're very long) is an essay-type story about one of her children's exploits.  My absolute favorite story was of the middle daughter, Joanne, who had a vivid imaginary life, with complicated relationships and many children, whom she could also become at times.  One day, they head to the department store (I do so want to step back in time to a 1940s department store) with Joanne and her imaginary family in tow.  The results are disastrous (and wildly funny).

Knowing Shirley Jackson's previous writing, I am in complete awe of how she manages to write in such a different tone.  The tone in these stories is one of warmth and love and humor, rather than dark bitterness.  It is a truly skilled author who can switch between such different writing styles.

This is one of those books that I could not put down.  I read and re-read each word, so as not to miss any little bit of Jackson's writing.  Her style is so captivating.  I laughed and laughed and then read aloud sections to my (sometimes) listening family members.  I was torn between gobbling up the whole book in one sitting and reading about 5 pages so as to make the book last.  Isn't that the best kind of book?

Some of the books I review, I end up saying, "Well, this is a book for (blank) type of person, but if you're not (blank) type of person, don't bother reading this."  This is not that type of book.  These witty, charming stories could be enjoyed by anybody.  If you have ever spent even half an hour with a child under the age of 12, you will instantly recognize so many of the experiences and adventures.  Please, please go read this, my dear readers.  I guarantee that you will thank me.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Canning Tomatoes-An Excerpt from The Melendys

Today is the beginning of the canning extravaganza-where every surface is covered in pulp and seeds and we all collapse on random kitchen chairs at 7 pm, wearily watching the last canner.  Every year that I do this, I wonder why I think this is a good idea, but when I see the beautiful ruby red jars full of tomatoes sitting in the basement, I feel completely gratified.  The other thing that always crosses my mind is the story of the Melendys, written by Elizabeth Enright.  The Melendys have all sorts of adventures (see this post, where I wrote about them), but here's an excerpt from their canning adventure, accompanied by pictures of our canning mess.   Enjoy!
Onions in the food processor, for pizza sauce.  (Note the clean kitchen.
It's the last time you're going to see a tomato-less surface for the rest of this post)

So in summary, Cuffy (the kindly housekeeper) has left to take care of her sister-with-a-broken-leg, widower Father is on some vague business trip (he frequently is), and that leaves the four children at home, the oldest of whom is fourteen.  You heard that right, fourteen!  It's August and the garden is, of course, overflowing.  Mona (the 14 year old) is completely enchanted with cooking and proposes that she and Randy (the 12 year old) can the produce-

""We eat tomatoes for every meal except breakfast now," Randy said.  "And the cucumbers are just getting boring."  "Maybe we could sell them," offered Oliver helpfully.  "Nix, small fry.  In a rural community like this it would be coals to Newcastle."  "Canning is the answer," Mona said.  "Oh, if only Cuffy were here!""

"A moment later she looked up, striking the table with her mixing spoon.  "We'll do it ourselves!  We'll surprise Cuffy."  "O-o-oh, no!"  said Rush.  "And have us all dead with bottling bacillus or whatever it is.  No, thank you."  "Botulinus bacillus," corrected Mona.  "Oh, Rush, don't be so stuffy.  I'll get a book about it and do everything just the way it says.  I'll only can safe things like the tomatoes and I'll make pickles of the cucumbers."

"Mona slept an uneasy sleep that night, and her dreams were long dull dreams about tomatoes.  She rose early the next morning, got breakfast with Randy, and studied her canning book.  By the time the boys and Willy began bringing the vegetables, she knew it almost by heart.  She and Rand were enthusiastic about the first bushel-basketful of tomatoes, it seemed a treasure trove: an abundance of sleek vermilion fruit, still beaded with dew.  The second bushel also looked very pretty, the third a little less so, and by the time the fourth one arrived she stared at it with an emotion of horror.  "There can't be that many, Rush!"  "You asked for it, pal.  There's the living evidence.  And in twenty four hours, there'll be this much over again." …."The kitchen was swamped with vegetables."

"It was a long, hot, clumsy business.  Mona dropped sterilized lids on the floor, and they had to be sterilized all over again; Randy cut herself with the paring knife; Mona half-scalded her fingers getting the first jar into the boiler.  Randy skidded and fell on a slippery tomato skin which had somehow landed on the kitchen floor.  They lost two jars of tomatoes from the first batch when they were taking them out of the boiler.  The first was dropped by Mona when she thoughtlessly took hold of it with her bare hands.  The second exploded like a bomb, all by itself.  "I guess there was something the matter with it," said Randy brilliantly.

"Her [Mona's] face was scarlet with exertion.  Her hair was tied up in a dish towel, and her apron was covered with tomato stains.  Randy looked worse if anything.  There were tomato seeds in her hair and an orange smear across one cheek.  She was wearing nothing but a faded old playsuit and an apron.  "Gee whiz," she said.   "You know how I feel?  I feel like an old, old woman about forty years old, with fallen arches."

I hear ya', Randy, I hear ya'.

Still, later…"They look sort of nice.  The tomatoes, I mean, not your arches.  Look, Ran."  They were nice.  Sixteen sealed jars of scarlet fruit, upside down on the kitchen table.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Reading Habits Tag

I was just recently tagged by Girl With Her Head in a Book to answer a series of questions about reading habits (you can see her answers at the above link).  Fun!  So here goes:


1. Do you have a certain place for reading at home?- Not really.  Well, I read all over the place.  My favorite places are stretched out longways on the sofa with the little lap dog curled up next to me or at the kitchen table in the morning.
2.  Do you use a bookmark or a random piece of paper?- Random shreds of paper.  The little tear-out ad cards in magazines work beautifully.  Sometimes I feel like I should have real bookmarks (see this post and this post), but for the most part, I use random shreds because I lose the real bookmarks so quickly.  They're like bobby-pins.  So loseable.
3.  Can you just stop reading or does it need to be at the end of a chapter or a certain number of pages?-Definitely at the end of a chapter.  I can never get back into a chapter that I've stopped halfway through with.  You know what else is weird?  People that read the first chapter of a book and then stick a bookmark in and walk away.   I have to read a least 5 chapters into a book before I stick a bookmark in it.
4.  Do you eat or drink while eating?- Well, I read at breakfast and lunch.  At dinner I tend not to because everybody's back from work and it's nice to sit and talk.  I would feel weirdly anti-social reading at dinner.  Sunday afternoons, when I have a huge glut of reading time, I'll often make some little treat to share and eat myself while reading.  My family has a tradition of eating sunflower seeds in the summer while reading novels.  I still carry that on.
5.  Do you read one book at a time or several at once?- Always several at once.  I like having something light, something tome-like, and something pretty to look at.
6.  Do you read out loud or silently in your head?- Huh!  I didn't know there were people who read out loud to themselves.  So yes, I read silently.  I can still remember the first day that I learned to do that in about 2nd grade.  I was so proud.
7.  Do you ever read ahead or skip pages?- *Ahem*.  Well, yes, I do.  I very often skip long, rhapsodizing descriptions of scenery or people.   If I see a whole string of sentences chock full of adjectives, let the skimming begin!  I must say, I am quite a skilled skimmer.  I read ahead if I suspect an author of writing a depressing ending.  If I find out that the outcome is not what I want, I slam the book shut and no harm done because I haven't gotten all invested with the characters.
8.  Breaking the spine or keeping it new?- Argh.  What a question.  I always want to crack the spines, but as soon as I do, I feel bad that the book has lost its newness.  I ask myself which I'm going to do every time I open a new book.
9.  Do you write in your books?- Depends.  Never in fiction, but from all my academic exposure over the years, I do write in nonfiction books.  I do think that writing in some books can have value.  I love finding old family members' books that were written in.  It's like a window into their minds.  So I'm not opposed to writing in books, I just don't do it frequently.
10.  What are you currently reading?- An Old Fashioned Girl by Louisa May Alcott, Eat and Make by Paul Lowe, Tea with Jane Austen, and The Wit and Wisdom of Jane Austen (the Austen books are for Austen in August).

Thanks so much to Girl With Her Head in a book for this fun challenge!  I can't wait to see what others say about these questions.