Saturday, July 30, 2016

Stormy weather and the armchair traveler 6WS

The weather, veering wildly between hot and humid and hot and downpours, is good for staying in and reading.  And here, thanks to various recommendations, is the current array, not counting what's going on in the Kindle (more Edinburgh books by Alexander whatsisname Smith).

Thanks to dogonart, and after a lengthy, months that is, wait, the library got hold of Four Seasons in Rome, a year on a fellowship there, enjoyed by Anthony Doerr, and I just embarked on it.  Very entertaining, and great fun to visit Rome by proxy without having to struggle with two babies, finding food for the family, admiring the scenery while lugging a stroller up steps, and writing a novel.  He seems to be surviving so far, though.

Then Kate H. turned me on to Diana Athill, whose most recent book is out this year, in her 98th year.  She still writes at a lively clip, though, if a bit disjointed, but she's lived an interesting life. She goes from wealth and great family houses, not hers, but related, to comparative poverty, until late middle age brought more money into her life, and she has continued on her unsentimental way, casting a penetrating but not unfriendly eye on her surroundings.  She's a lifelong single woman, with a colorful personal life and no regrets.

Pangur Ban is a retelling of that ninth century Irish poem about the monk and his white cat, presented here for kids really, but you can read it anyway. It's short, and you can spend either ten minutes or a lifetime unpacking what's in it.  

Anyone who has had an animal companion nearby while she works will appreciate the notion that the monk doesn't interfere with Pangur's work of hunting for mice and Pangur doesn't interfere with the monk's work of hunting for meaning. The illustrations are a perfect fit for the meaning, created by someone who knows his cats, as you'll see on the page where the cat gets back into the monk's cell.

This recommendation came to me via brainpickings, a wonderful, thoughtful blog which I in my turn recommend. I keep up with it on Twitter then get a weekly digest of the articles referred to through the weeks, some very good sources.

Then The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicholson, yes, those Nicholsons, talk about well connected for sources.  She lives at Sissinghurst! that place of famous white garden fame.  She thanks half the royals for access to their papers and pix!  

The summer in question is 1911, when the tectonic plates of the political Western world were starting to shift, after the death of Victoria, but before all the treaties, all at cross purposes, were invoked by the death of the Archduke with the subsequent destruction of the world as it had been up to then, for practically everyone, mostly for the worse. 

Knowing all that, though, it's intriguing to get a glimpse into the privileged life still being enjoyed by a few, who little knew how soon it would vanish, during a summer of perfect, in fact very hot, weather.  Not unlike the weather recently in the UK, in fact, except people wore a lot more clothes then.

Just embarked on this one, and it's a bit more heavy going, what with all the historical detail and the name dropping, but still worth chugging on a bit with.

So that's the coffee table load for the day!  and I finally noticed that my title is in six words, so it fits with the Six Word Saturday theme.


  1. perfect books for imperfect weather. Send us some of your stormy stuff, we are smack in the middle of No Rain in Sight. Not pretty.

    I may have read Diana Athill, lord knows I know the name, but if i have i have no idea what or when. Now it seems I must. =)

    also, if you haven't dug into Calvin Trilling (and oh doesnt THAT sound messy) I just finished, this summer, his "Family Man" which is utterly delightul and gentle. I have yet to find anything of his that was less. and "Messages From my Father" as well.

  2. Trillin was last week! "Enough of CA!vin Trilling" to be exact. yes, good reading on many subjects

  3. Pangur Ban is an old friend! Did you notice that the Irish cat has a Welsh name?
    You're doing a lot of great reading in this weather! I'm taking a less intellectually demanding (or stimulating, unfortunately) route...binge-watching series that I missed years ago which are now available online. First, The West Wing (all 7 seasons) and now, Nashville.
    But right now it's time to get out there and feed the goats. I wait til the sun is below the horizon, but then I have to move fast to get it all done before dark. So the goats have a more comfortable temperature for Fine Dining, but I've got sweat dripping off my hair the whole time I'm out there. Well, except for the first few minutes. Gosh, what a summer!

  4. I,m reading Carola Dunn ...nice escape reading this hot weather. Gadzooks!!

  5. Ooh Daisy Dalrymple, yes, she's fun. I listened to several over Hoopla, the libe service.


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