Thursday, July 23, 2015

On the Nightstand

Here's my latest haul from the Alderman library.

Odd Girl Out by Elizabeth Jane Howard. This is my fun read of the bunch.  Everything EJH writes is delightful.

The Life of Samuel Johnson by John Boswell.  For the fifty classics project. (Pictured is volume one of three.)

The Reminiscences of Lady Dorothy Nevill.  I'm reading this because Virginia Woolf mentions it in The Common Reader.  I have quoted part of Woolf's passage below.

Thus she was not an extreme case of aristocracy; she was confined rather to a bird-cage than to an asylum; through the bars she saw people walking at large, and once or twice she made a surprising little flight into the open air. A gayer, brighter, more vivacious specimen of the caged tribe can seldom have existed; so that one is forced at times to ask whether what we call living in a cage is not the fate that wise people, condemned to a single sojourn upon earth, would choose. To be at large is, after all, to be shut out; to waste most of life in accumulating the money to buy and the time to enjoy what the Lady Dorothys find clustering and glowing about their cradles when their eyes first open—as hers opened in the year 1826 at number eleven Berkeley Square. Horace Walpole had lived there. Her father, Lord Orford, gambled it away in one night’s play the year after she was born. But Wolterton Hall, in Norfolk, was full of carving and mantelpieces, and there were rare trees in the garden, and a large and famous lawn. No novelist could wish a more charming and even romantic environment in which to set the story of two little girls, growing up, wild yet secluded, reading Bossuet with their governess, and riding out on their ponies at the head of the tenantry on polling day.

The Diary of John Evelyn.  Volumes 2, 3, & 4 pictured. Volume 1 was all introduction, written by someone else, so I didn't bother with it. The library didn't have all volumes from the same edition, hence the mismatched covers.  This work was also brought to my attention by Virginia Woolf, in a chapter titled "Rambling Round Evelyn."   From The Common Reader:

Should you wish to make sure that your birthday will be celebrated three hundred years hence, your best course is undoubtedly to keep a diary. Only first be certain that you have the courage to lock your genius in a private book and the humour to gloat over a fame that will be yours only in the grave. For the good diarist writes either for himself alone or for a posterity so distant that it can safely hear every secret and justly weigh every motive. For such an audience there is need neither of affectation nor of restraint. Sincerity is what they ask, detail, and volume; skill with the pen comes in conveniently, but brilliance is not necessary; genius is a hindrance even; and should you know your business and do it manfully, posterity will let you off mixing with great men, reporting famous affairs, or having lain with the first ladies in the land. The diary, for whose sake we are remembering the three hundredth anniversary of the birth of John Evelyn,5 is a case in point. It is sometimes composed like a memoir, sometimes jotted down like a calendar; but he never used its pages to reveal the secrets of his heart, and all that he wrote might have been read aloud in the evening with a calm conscience to his children. If we wonder, then, why we still trouble to read what we must consider the uninspired work of a good man we have to confess, first that diaries are always diaries, books, that is, that we read in convalescence, on horseback, in the grip of death; second, that this reading, about which so many fine things have been said, is for the most part mere dreaming and idling; lying in a chair with a book; watching the butterflies on the dahlias; a profitless occupation which no critic has taken the trouble to investigate, and on whose behalf only the moralist can find a good word to say. For he will allow it to be an innocent employment; and happiness, he will add, though derived from trivial sources, has probably done more to prevent human beings from changing their religions and killing their kings than either philosophy or the pulpit.

Before Midnight by Rex Stout.  I've been reading through Rex Stout's oeuvre.  Honestly, it's getting to be a bit of a chore, but my reading OCD won't let me give up.  The stories are usually mildly interesting but this is my twenty-third Nero Wolfe novel and his eccentricities are beginning to bore me.  Still, if you like detective stories, these are decent and Stout had an inexhaustible imagination when it came to coming up with creative ways for his victims to be murdered.

Trooper to the Southern Cross by Angela Thirkell.  (Not pictured on the nightstand because it arrived from a used book dealer after I took the photo.)  Angela Thirkell is a writer I'm just starting to get into.  Her Barcetshire novels are the sort of British comfort lit I love the most.  This book, it turns out, was originally written under the pseudonym "Leslie Parker."  It's a departure from her usual themes and is about an Australian troop ship on a long voyage after World War I.

The Hundred Days by Patrick O'Brian. (Not pictured because it is at work.  It's my read-at-lunch book.)  The Captain Jack Aubrey/Stephen Maturin British navy during the Napoleonic wars series is truly stellar, but it's depressing that the last few books in the series aren't as good as the earlier ones. I am just not getting into this one.  It seems rambling and plotless.  Or maybe it's just that I'm only reading it for half an hour a day, or during the few stolen minutes that I have while waiting for the shuttle that goes between my office and the medical center.


  1. After streaming the shows from Chicago live, we had a long discussion on the influence the Dead have had on pop culture and I ended up pulling "The Electric Kool Aid Acid Test" out. I don't quite think Edie's ready to read that yet, but it is a nice refresher on exactly how much I love Tom Wolfe's writing. I may have to pull out "On The Road" again as a result too.
    We watched "Breakfast at Tiffany's" last week, which of course inspired me to pull out the book (which I read in an afternoon on the dock at the lake) and then promptly hand it off to Edie, who is now falling in love with the prose of Truman Capote, one of my favorites. I'll be sending a Truman Capote collection off to camp with her this weekend.
    While at the lake, I also picked up a book laying around the cabin - "Blue Wide Sky" - set at SML. I found some of the situations pretty ludacris, there were some glaring holes and inaccuracies, but the writer could do descriptions of the landscape fairly well. And I was able to read it in an afternoon on the dock.
    A friend also just passed along a stack of old New Yorker magazines, so I've been ripping through them. And of course, my usual stack of cookbooks. I checked out a new preserving cookbook from the library - it's British and I find Europeans have a much different approach to food preservation than we do here. I may have stumbled upon at least the inspiring recipe for Edie's new favorite flavor of Jam by Daniel. Now if only rhubarb were in season....

  2. You really inspire me to read more classics.