Wednesday, July 12, 2017

She had never felt so vulgar in her life.

Later, he said: 'I doesn't make you happy, though, does it?'

'It doesn't make me anything.' Then she added with a rush: 'I'm sorry. I don't feel real. Everything seems a long way ahead or a long way behind, and I seem in the very middle of a vast vacuous interim. Do you understand that?'

He shook his head. 'Never mind. What do you do in London?'


'I just wondered what you did.'

She took a deep breath. 'I run one house in London and another in the country.'

'What country?'


There was a pause while she waited for him to say something about Kent; but he said nothing, and she continued faster and more defensively: 'I look after my children. Julian's at his prep school and Deirdre goes to a day school near London. I--'

'So they are away or out all day,' he interrupted.

'Yes. That's what all childen do at that age. Many children,' she corrected herself--obviously he had not done it. 'Then we entertain a good deal. Conrad likes streams of people.'

'So you have a lot of cooking.'

'I don't do the cooking. I couldn't possibly cook well enough for Conrad. I do the arranging of it. There is a lot of arranging, you  know. I read, and look at pictures, and garden, and listen to music - and Conrad minds awfully about clothes so I spend a certain amount of time on them--' She stopped: she knew dimly how it all sounded to him and knew dimly what it was all like - equally and differently unsatisfactory and incomprehensible to them both, and her talking only made it more irreconcilable.

'I suppose I'm a sort of scene shifter for Conrad,' she finished. 'He likes an elaborate setting, and he likes it to vary. I try to do that for him.'

'I'm sure you're very good at whatever you try to do,' he said; and they surveyed one another worlds apart across the small table. Anyway, I can leave him, she thought; it will not be difficult at all, and years hence it will simply be a surprising and friendly thing to remember. We have nothing in common, she thought, and if we go on now, I shall be back before the children are asleep.

--Elizabeth Jane Howard, The Long View

Saturday, October 22, 2016

Have You Seen My Trumpet? by Michaël Escoffier

This interactive book consists of a series of questions, the answers to which are found in the final word in the questions. For example, the final word of one question is “dandelion;” the answer to the question is “lion.” Interspersed among the questions is a recurring query from a little girl who is looking for her trumpet. Yes, she does eventually find her (you guessed it) pet. How delightful to read a book that makes words fun! How nice that this title is preceded by two others of the same ilk. A minor complaint is that some of the answers are spelled the same as a part of the final word in the question, but they do not sound the same, which could be confusing to emerging readers. For example, the last word in one of the questions is “fishbowl.” The answer to the question is “owl.” The silver lining is the opportunity for teachers, parents, and caregivers to instruct readers in the wonderful world of the phonetic vagaries of the English language. The illustrators are a feast of earth tones, texture, personality, and humor. In addition, the manner in which Di Giacomo rendered the eyes of the characters enables the reader to know instantly the emotional construct of these characters. As for the humor, what child will not delight in seeing a bat sitting on a toilet?  Note: On the first page, Frisbee is not capitalized. It should be, for it is a trademarked brand name. In addition, a line of text on the final page is missing a comma.

Swallow the Leader: A Counting Book by Danna Smith

In this amusing spin on the universal childhood game of “Follow the Leader,” one little fish, the leader, leads one, two, three, then ultimately nine other small fish through a winding course in the ocean. Along the way, they follow the leader as it splashes, hides, floats, and imitates other sea creatures. And when the leader instructs the other fish to eat a snack, they follow suit, eventually eating each other one by one. The last fish just happens to be a shark that gleefully swallows fish number nine, which, like the Russian nesting dolls, contains all of the other fish. However, all is not lost, for the shark emits a huge burp, expelling the nine little fish. Told in a singsong rhyme, the tale is part poetry, part marine biology, part addition and subtraction, and part happily ever after. The illustrations of the little fish and shark remind this reviewer of Muppets: bright colors, simple bodies, big mouths, and bulging eyes. The watery environment and its residents of rays, blowfish, turtles, crabs, and a whale have a softer feel—  as if they were created with tissue paper and watercolor. Whatever the method, the book is a visual joy.

Shapes, Reshape! by Silvia Borando

This new spin on a counting book invites children to rely on key words, shapes, and colors to identify different animals. Each two-page spread consists of text on one page and a collection of shapes in different sizes and colors on the other. The text is simple and follows a pattern: The first sentence gives a hint as to what the shapes will make once they are reassembled. Each answer is brief and includes a few alliterative descriptive words to describe each of the eleven different animals featured in the book. The illustrations look like bright pieces of cut paper that are stacked on one page and then reassembled as lions and crabs and hedgehogs and other animals on another. The design choice of lots of white space around the text and illustrations allows the simplicity to shine. Children who enjoy this book will also enjoy Borando’s Shapes at Play. Note: Activities related to this book can be found at

Bunny Dreams by Peter McCarty

During the day, bunnies know to eat vegetables, stay away from dogs, and seek safety in underground tunnels. During the night, though, it’s another story. In the night, bunnies dream: they dream of flying, of knowing the alphabet and numbers, of writing their names. And when they emerge from their dream state to wakefulness, they gather outside to admire a very special moon. This bedtime story is certainly unique, but what makes the book so charming is the artwork. The bunnies, dogs, and lone chicken (don’t question, just accept) look like elongated balloons with appendages and ears. (They’re so darn cute that this reviewer wishes the publisher would package the book with a plush toy.) This fantasia really takes flight with the dream sequence, for the bunnies are by turns striped and numbered, then clad in form-fitting purple unitards—all the while flying about with lettered wings. This book is by no means conventional; instead, it’s charmingly weird and captures the unmoored imagination found in children.

Curious George by H. A. Rey and Margaret Rey

The 75th anniversary re-release of this classic tale is updated to include a free audio download. The story and illustrations are unchanged, and George is as much a stand-in for curious children today as he was when the book was originally published. For those unfamiliar to the story, it’s a tale of a little monkey named George who is captured in Africa by the man with the big yellow hat in order to be delivered to a zoo in an unnamed city overseas. Along the way, George’s curiosity impels him to try to fly, to call the firehouse, and to send him on a skyward journey via balloons. The delightful illustrations capture the personality and energy of George, as well as the colorful chaos and mayhem that he instigates. Although the first book ends with George’s safe delivery to the zoo, his friendship with the man with the big yellow hat is cemented and the two star in six more books by the original author. Actually, that would be authors, for H.A. Rey’s wife, Margaret, is acknowledged to be an equal partner in the creation of all of the original Curious George books. (For more information on their collaboration, see the publisher’s website, Although the first edition was published under H.A. Rey’s name only, the reason is no longer relevant, so it’s a mystery and a shame that the publisher decided not to credit Margaret in this 75th anniversary publication. The very least the publisher could have done in this anniversary re-release was to  add her biography to that of her husband’s and John Krasinski’s, the narrator for the audio download, on the book’s jacket flap. Note: Resources for teachers and librarians, as well as games and activities for children, can be found at

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Alexander Hamilton

Back in the very early days of this blog, I spent several months slowly making my way through Ron Chernow's superb biography Alexander Hamilton. I recommended it to Wendy, and she also became a fan of both the book and its subject.

In December I learned of the upcoming off-Broadway musical Hamilton and sent Wendy a link to Lin-Manuel Miranda's 2009 Hamilton Mixtape performance at the White House.

In January we ordered tickets for a late March performance. It turned out to be a Javier Munoz, or #Javilton show, and after three months of obsession over all things Miranda, it took a bit of mental adjustment over the course of one musical number to accept someone else in Miranda's role, but then I was caught up in the overall awesomeness of the show and in Munoz's own performance.

The show moves to Broadway this summer. The cast album comes out this summer. I'll be buying the cd immediately and I'm hoping I can manage to get to NY to see the show again.

And I need to reread Chernow.

Monday, April 06, 2015

The Way We Live Now by Anthony Trollope

Anthony Trollope's 200th birthday takes place on April 24, and Karen at Books and Chocolate is hosting an Anthony Trollope Bicenntennial Celebration all this month in his honor.

Due to my reading slump, who knows if I'll get a Trollope novel completed by the end of the month, so I thought I'd repost a review from 2010. I read The Way We Live Now then as part of the Classic Circuit's Trollope Tour.

The Way We Live Now, a satirical attack on the "commercial profligacy"of early 1870s England, is regarded as one of Anthony Trollope's finest novels, if not his masterpiece. In the summer of 2009, Newsweek put it at the top of its list of works that "open a window on the times we live in," explaining "[t]he title says it all. Trollope's satire of financial (and moral) crisis in Victorian England even has a Madoff-before-Madoff, a tragic swindler named Augustus Melmotte."

The audience of Trollope's day was less appreciative of its portrayal. Reviewers took issue with and resented the title itself; they argued that Trollope had not created a novel that was an honest characterization of their world. According to Marion Dodd, who wrote the introduction the 1950 edition, Trollope had peaked in the 1860s: "Mercenary marriages, abuse of the wealthy and their ill-gotten gains, satirical treatment of the nobility bereft of money, morals, and stamina, were so different from the material in Trollope's other books that the result was first shock, and then indifference and weariness."

(illustrations: Lionel G. Fawkes)

Trollope had intended to focus the novel on Lady Matilda Carbury, his notes show:

Living in Welbeck with son and daughter, spoiling the son and helping to pay his debts -- clever and impetuous. Thoroughly unprincipled from want of knowledge of honesty -- an authoress, very handsome, 43 --trying all schemes with editors, etc. to get puffed. Infinitely energetic --bad to her daughter from want of sympathy. Flirts as a matter of taste, but never goes wrong. Capable of great sacrifice for her son. The chief character.

The book opens with Lady Carbury dashing off letters to the editors of the London papers with the intention of securing the necessary reviews for her just-published Criminal Queens, a book in which she's spread "all she knew very thin, so that it might cover a vast surface. She had no ambition to write a good book but was painfully anxious to write book that the critics should say was good." Lady Carbury, the narrator tells us, "was false from head to foot, but there was much of good in her, false though she was."

Lady Carbury's greatest desire is to marry her handsome son off to an heiress. Sir Felix Carbury at 25 has already run through all the money left him by his late father and has no compunction against demanding and wasting the little that his mother and sister have to live on keeping horses in the country and gambling at the Beargarden, the club where all the young wastrels spend their time passing IOUs back and forth (living within one's means is not the way anyone lives now).  Mother and son set their sights on Miss Marie Melmotte, only daughter of financier Augustus Melmotte, recently established in London and growing in prominence among the upper-crust despite a cloud of rumors.

It was at any rate an established fact that Mr Melmotte had made his wealth in France. He no doubt had had enormous dealing in other countries, as to which stories were told which must surely have been exaggerated. It was said that he had made a railway across Russia, that he provisioned the Southern army in the American civil war, that he had supplied Austria with arms, and had at one time bought up all the iron in England. He could make or mar any company by buying or selling stock, and could make money dear or cheap as he pleased. All this was said of him in his praise, -- but it was also said that he was regarded in Paris as the most gigantic swindler that had ever lived; that he had made that city too hot to hold him; that he had endeavoured to establish himself in Vienna, but had been warned away by the police; and that he had at length found that British freedom would alone allow him to enjoy, without persecution, the fruits of his industry."

Melmotte desires that his daughter marry well, in the upper rungs of society; Lord Nidderdale is willing "to take the girl and make her Marchioness in the process of time for half a million down." While the men are arguing terms, Marie, who's been developing a mind and opinions of her own, falls for the undeserving Felix, who at least is paying attention to her.

Melmotte refuses to consent to the match, telling his daughter that Felix is destitute and wants her only for her money. Undeterred, realizing that all men want her for is her money, Marie contrives to elope to New York with Felix, stealing money from her father and giving it to Felix to finance the trip. Felix, however, fearing that Melmotte will cut them off without a penny despite Marie's assurances that she has a fortune already signed over in her name, is too much of a coward to meet Marie in Liverpool as they've planned. He instead loses the money given to him gambling at the Beargarden while Marie is prevented from getting on the ship by men her father has sent to bring her back. Much to Lady Carbury's dismay, Felix gives up on the schemes to marry Marie.  Melmotte and Lord Nidderdale, however, continue their negotiations for a mutually beneficial marriage; Marie is but chattel to them and nothing she says or does really signifies.

There are several other affairs of the heart that thread through The Way We Live Now--Felix's sister Hetta is loved by both her much-older cousin Squire Roger Carbury, who Lady Carbury wishes her to marry, although not because he's the most moral man around, and Roger's close friend Paul Montague, who Lady Carbury disdains. Hetta loves Paul, but more difficulties arise when Paul's former fiance, the American Mrs. Hurtle, follows him to London and demands he keep his promises to her. Ruby Ruggles, whose farmer grandfather is one of Roger's tenants in Suffolk, doesn't want to marry the slow-witted but loving John Crumb, who's always covered in meal, when Sir Felix Carbury is willing to see her on the sly, especially when she runs off to London to stay with her aunt. And Georgiana Longestaffe, whose father can no longer maintain a lavish lifestyle, is so desperate that she condescends to engage herself to an elderly Jewish banker (anti-Semitism abounds in TWWLN, unfortunately).

But the engine at the center of the novel is definitely Melmotte's maneuverings through the artistocratic society that doesn't approve of his kind yet cannot resist associating with him due to his incredible ostentation and power. And, of course, his shady investments and financial skulduggery--buying property without paying a dime to the too-afraid-ask-for-it Longestaffe, for example--keep the reader attentive. Melmotte chairs the London board of directors for the Great South Central Pacific and Mexican Railway, a railway proposed to run from Salt Lake City down to the port of Vera Cruz. There are no plans to actually build the railway; it is just a reason to float a company and engage in stock speculation.

Melmotte entertains the Emperor of China and  is elected a conservative member to Parliament before it becomes impossible for society to continue to condone his fraudulence.  Those who'd attached themselves to him earlier begin to break away and Melmotte is left alone -- his wife and daughter don't count -- to face a fast approaching arrest. Trollope provides a psychologically gripping portrayal of Melmotte's attempts to bully and bluff his way through, including a scene where he mortifies himself after showing up drunk in the House of Parliament.

What I found most disturbing in Trollope's depiction of Victorian England is its routine disregard for and mistreatment of women:

Henrietta had been taught by the conduct of both father and mother that every vice might be forgiven in a man and in a son, though every virtue was expected from a woman, and especially from a daughter. The lesson had come to her so early in life that she had learned it without the feeling of any grievance. She lamented her brother's evil conduct as it affected him, but she pardoned it altogether as if affected herself. That all her interests in life should be made subservient to him was natural to her; and when she found that her little comforts were discontinued, and her moderate expenses curtailed because he, having eaten up all that was his own, was now eating up also all that was his mother's, she never complained. Henrietta had been taught to think that men in that rank of life in which she had been born always did eat up everything.

A daughter or wife who refused to accept this natural order, or was unlucky in who her care depended, could expect and did receive violent treatment. Lady Carbury's backstory contains a history of physical abuse which she as a matter of course attempted to hide from the world; she bore the brunt of the scandal when she separated from him for awhile. Likewise, the independence of the American Mrs. Hurtle, who dared pull a gun on her ex-husband to keep him from sexually assaulting her, is presented as the grounds that justify Paul Montague's preference for the meek and innocent Hetta Carbury: Mrs. Hurtle is "a wild-cat" and just won't do in polite society.

Marie Melmotte is horribly beaten by her father during the course of TWWLN and accepts such treatment: Melmotte had certainly been often cruel to her, but he had also been very indulgent. And as she had never been specially grateful for the one, so neither had she ever specially resented the other. . . she. . .had come to regard the unevenness of her life, facillating between knocks and knick-knacks, with a blow one day and a jewel the next, as the condition of things which was natural to her.

Beaten by her grandfather, Ruby Ruggles is on the verge of being raped by Felix Carbury when John Crumb shows up to save her. Small wonder Mrs. Hurtle and Ruby's aunt do their best to ensure Ruby marries John despite her belief that the man is beneath her: he'll keep her well-fed and won't beat her. Isn't that all a Victorian woman could want?

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Sunday, March 08, 2015

"One last story left to tell. . ."

Inspiration up and left you? Writer's block getting you down? Burnout aggrieving your soul? Singer/songwriter Radney Foster's been there and put it to song.

L. and had a great time at Radney's show at the Double Door Inn here in Charlotte Friday night and his "Whose Heart You Wreck (Ode to the Muse)" was one of the highlights for us--I was thrilled that my video of this one turned out. And I got an autograph and a picture taken with Radney afterwards!

But alas and alack, while I was able to upload the video to Facebook, Blogger say the file is too large to upload here. (Really? Not enough space for a single song?)  Sigh.  So here's Radney Foster singing "Ode to a Muse" somewhere else back in 2013.

(Mine was better grumble grumble.)

"I don't believe in ghosts, but I see them all the time."

Sherman Alexie cancels book tour for memoir about his mother.