Monday, April 09, 2018

Reading Lately

I've been plowing through books this year. Here's a selection of what I've read lately.


Country Chronicle by Gladys Taber (1975) Taber was well-known for her books about Stillmeadow, her farm and 1600's house in Connecticut. This book consists of musings categorized by the four seasons, with recipes interspersed. One such thought, which I wanted to quickly write down before I forget, concerns the many tourists that come to New England in the summer. Taber observes that you always take yourself with you when you travel. In other words, the way you behave when you travel is a reflection of who you really are, since you are away from the constraints of the community that knows you. This isn't the first of Taber's books that I've read and it won't be the last.


The Headmistress, Growing Up, and Miss Bunting by Angela Thirkell (1940s) There's a comforting sameness to Angela Thirkell's novels and while I can't reconcile myself to her classist and sexist world view, there's still something endearing about these books. She's adept at portraying awkward social situations and difficult people and you can't help laughing at some of her characters. On the other hand, Thirkell makes it clear that women should be content to accept men as their superiors, the serving classes are happiest if they are being subservient, and that social mobility is anathema. But what are these books about? Thirkell herself pokes fun at herself through her Mrs. Morland character who writes novels that are "all the same." All three of these novels are about small communities in the fictional region of Barsetshire, dealing with World War II, and the vagaries of human nature, with bits of romance thrown in as well.


Thank Heaven Fasting by E. M. Delafield. (1932) A deliciously cynical, although somewhat somber, novel about Monica Ingram, a young girl being groomed for the marriage market. Her upbringing is both impossibly sheltered and cynical. All people are gauged according to whether or not they are "useful." A young man who's attracted to Monica isn't a marriage prospect because he doesn't have enough money, but he's deemed useful because his presence helps prove that she is attractive and will thus attract more eligible men. Monica's parents, on the one hand push her into adult society, on the other, treat her as a child and leave her utterly unequipped to deal with men. And so, because of the very innocence her parents try to preserve, Monica does serious harm to her chances.


Goat Song by Brad Kessler. (2009) Another back to the land book; the most satisfying of the ones I've read so far. Kessler and his wife Dona buy a farm in Vermont and raise dairy goats. The book is a pleasing mix of the down and dirty details about animal husbandry and cheese-making, and a poetic celebration of the goat and the special relationship between a herdsman and his animals. I like Kessler's voice; lyrical without being pretentious. I was surprised to learn how many of our words come from goat behavior. Capricious, for example, from capri, comes from the finicky way that goats eat. There's also a frankly shocking description of goat sexual behavior which helps one understand why the image of a goat is associated with sexual depravity. (The description also raised my hopes for what might be revealed in the Steele Dossier. Ahem.)

Happy reading! Feel free to share what books you've enjoyed this winter.

5 comments:

  1. We like some of the same novelists; I just read County Chronicle by Angela Thirkell. Pretty close in title to Country Chronicles :) I have not read the 3 Thirkells you mention, would you like to trade books by mail if you have not read her County Chronicle? I am currently reading her What Did It Mean?

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    1. That's a great idea, but I get all my Thirkells from the library. Our public library just ordered a ton of new reprints of old Thirkell novels and the UVA library also owns most of them. But thanks for the offer!

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  2. I did a bunch of reading for an article I have coming out in a local publication soon that sent me down some serious rabbit holes. I needed a mental flossing after that, so I read this absolutely delightful "Garden of Small Beginnings" by Abbi Waxman that I found on the shelves in the "new" section of the downtown library. Currently, I'm into the second Elena Ferrante book of the the Neopolitan quartet. I'm also about halfway through a book I picked up on Bix Biederbecke at a WMRA Book event at Kardinal Hall last fall.

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    1. The Elena Ferrante books are on my list, but it will still probably be a long time before I get to them. I'm a bit dogged about sticking to my list. :)

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  3. Goats are very on trend right now, aren't they?
    I yearn for a nice civilized vacation. I think I'll leave America to make that happen.

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