Ken Resting on a Snowshoe Trail at Home















Tuesday, December 31, 2019

A War and Peace Readalong for 2020 (366 days)

If the internet is still up late this afternoon, I'll likely be adding more to this entry.
But I'll post now so as not to waste any time in the event you might want to participate in a War and Peace chapter-a-day readalong in 2020. I've been waiting a while for one to come along, and was happy to hear news of this one yesterday, at the blog Classical Carousel

The host of the readalong is Nick Senger. Click here to get all the information.
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Nick has hosted year-long readalongs in previous years as well. As he points out, the chapters in Leo Tolstoy's War and Peace are quite short for the most part (around 4 or maybe 5 pages.) Participants can also read any translation they wish.

I'm reading the Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky translation. I bought a copy when it was first published in 2007, and have hung on to it ever since. I read War and Peace the first time when I was seventeen and loved it, though my appreciation did not extend to the battle chapters.

Our power has come and gone many times over the past 36 hours. So has the internet. So I hope I can answer comments in a few hours. Til then, Happy New Year's Eve. Ken is picking up the bubbly for us. I hope we can watch a movie or two tonight.  I hope to tell you about the movie we saw on Sunday at the cinema, Bombshell. I thought it was very, very well done. More later.

Monday, December 30, 2019

The Ice Storm Cometh--And Books in the House

Our entire region has ground to a halt due to an ice storm that started early last evening and is expected to last another 24 hours. Why we still have power and internet early this morning is a mystery. But I'm sure we'll lose it soon, so I may not be able to respond to comments or post for an indefinite period of time.

Over the Christmas and New Year period, I have an annual habit of hauling home loads of books from the library. It seems that borrowers return all their books before Christmas. As a result the "New Books" shelves are stacked to the hilt, and I can often find recently published books that I haven't seen at the library all year. This is especially true of audiobooks.

But today I'd like to mention some titles that are still popular written a number of years ago. I'll start with The Observations by Jane Harris (born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and raised in Glasgow), published in 2006. This is Harris's widely acclaimed debut novel.
Set outside of Edinburgh in 1863, a young Irish girl goes to work in a country manor house. She has no experience as a maid, but as it turns out, the mistress of the house hires her because she can read and write, not for her skills in the scullery. Dark secrets abound all over the house, and soon the mistress directs the girl to keep a journal of her secrets.

Another title that piqued my interest is a short novella (or a long short story [62 pages]) by the Irish writer John Connolly entitled The Caxton Private Lending Library and Book Depository. The tale is available on its own via Amazon, but it is also included in a collected volume of tales entitled Night Music. John Connolly is also the author of the Charlie Parker mysteries, which I have never read. A man who prefers books to people is the hero of this mystery, which received a 3.95  rating on Goodreads.

The next book I'll mention is a recently published book, which I'm listening to as an audiobook. Mayflower Lives: Pilgrims in a New World and the Early American Experience is written by the English popular historian, Martyn Whittock. When I first heard about this book earlier this year, my knee-jerk impulse was to reject it, because of my absurd bias favoring American scholars when it comes to 17th century American colonial history. I reconsidered and realized it would be very interesting to read about the so-called Pilgrims' first years in America (only about half the group were Puritans and Dissenters), seeing it from the perspective of a writer of  English history. It's good for Whittock that he published this one in 2019--I suppose we must get prepared for the flood of Mayflower-inspired books that will appear in 2020, the 400th anniversary of the Mayflower Landing in Plymouth, Massachusetts. (A 4.05 rating on Goodreads.)  I don't mind the flood, actually, because in the past ten years or so, I have been continuously fascinated by the 17th century in the Americas,  and globally as well.

Saturday, December 28, 2019

The Diary of a Bookseller--A Scottish Treat from Wigtown

A very brief note tonight--just to say that I am loving a book I chanced upon, The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell, who owns a second-hand bookshop in Wigtown, a village in the Galloway area of Scotland. Evidently Galloway is located in the southwestern corner of Scotland, and has become a destination for used books browsers.

Doesn't matter where you live, but if you love books, love booksellers, are fascinated by the book business, worry about the oligarchy of Amazon, and love to laugh--this book is for you. It's not just laughs, though. Parts of the book are very serious. And I'm sorry to say it seems that due to the state of our dinner tonight, that I will need to leave quotes from the book until tomorrow.  There is only one copy of this book in our huge library system, and the book was published in 2018. It's so compelling and has shaken me from my reading doldrums. This is by far the very best book I've ever read by a person working in bookselling.

Thursday, December 26, 2019

Happy Christmas Week!

At long last, I found a Christmas novel that I am thoroughly enjoying and heartily recommend to all. Finally!

The Christmas Bells by Jennifer Chiaverini (2015) is a novel that criss-crosses two time periods in Cambridge, Massachusetts--the Civil War era and the War in Afghanistan in modern times, through the eyes of a single family. The Civil War years are visited through the lives of the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and his family, and through their holiday traditions, and tragedies. I am astounded by how extraordinarily well-written this book is and how well researched (so judged by my  historian of the Civil War no less!). I am listening to the novel on Audible while knitting peacefully. You may wish to consider putting this one on your list for next year, especially if you appreciate Massachusetts and New England history. So well done! And more than that, so affecting.

I may not have roasted a turkey at Thanksgiving, but I surely made up for it Christmas Day, and we enjoyed it so much. Turkey pot pie will follow tomorrow night.

I am contemplating my reading for 2020 as well as my other plans. No decisions on my reading plans yet. But although I was overjoyed, immeasurably so, with the pleasure of my extensive reading from January-July 4th 2019, I was not happy with the plunge off a cliff into the ocean of desultory reading for the rest of the year. I do not know what I want to do in 2020, so this week I am leaving the question open.

Of course I know I'm reading Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale with Katrina of Pining for the West, starting January 1st, but other than that, I am leaving my heart and mind open for what will come books-wise in 2020.  



Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Mid-December Revelations

No matter what I do, my energy is at its lowest ebb in December, and especially so in the last half  of December. We see very little sun at this time of year (I think we had a sunny day last Saturday!) Our snowiness and cloudiness are mostly due to the lake-effect clouds and snow that blow east and southeast off Lake Ontario. January is a much sunnier month here, and always, with it, my mood and energy rise up. 

BUT! I must say I dearly love November and December for these reasons. It's as if I am a plant and I need this period of dormancy to do absolutely nothing of any consequence. Oh, yes--I play the piano, I tramp widely with Sandy, I read, I knit, I cook, but don't bother me with serious problems that need attending to. Don't bother me with cleaning or renovation or business efforts. None of that! I'm just beginning to totally accept that I am not a ball of fire in December. What a relief it is to accept that and to know that when January rolls around, I will be rising up again, as I always, always do.

Books! I have several going at the moment. One is A Merry Murder (2019), a cozy Edwardian mystery by Kate Kingsbury. It received good reviews, but for me the writing is just sort of okay. I will finish it, I think--only 210 pages. It's amusing by turns, I suppose. Don't go out of your way. But do let me know if you've read others by this author.

Now here's a Christmas title well worth going out of your way to read!!!  I'm reading again a Christmas mystery that I thought was top-notch. The Twelve Clues of Christmas by Rhys Bowen. This one is so much fun, so clever, don't miss it!


I'm also reading The Pushkin Hills by Sergei Dolatov, translated from the Russian by his wife Katherine Dolatov. The link will indicate better than I can what it is about. I'm finding it very humorous--it's a short novel as well, published by Counterpoint Press, an indie press.



Tuesday, December 17, 2019

A New Cookbook and Other Pursuits

The piano tuner arrived today to save me from the piano's rapid descent into out-of-tune-ness. He reminded me, urgently, to purchase a humidifier immediately, and I absolutely will. He told me to never put a cup full of coffee or  tea on the convenient resting places  on the piano, and I have obeyed him unreservedly. I wouldn't dare go against his dictates, truly! After he left, I played for a couple of hours, almost entirely holiday-inspired music. Sandy adores the piano. She sleeps on a dog bed by the piano's side whenever I play. Isn't it wonderful to have some tranquil moments in yet another crazy year?

Books!  I am in the final minutes of listening to Home Work: My Years in Hollywood by Julie Andrews, knitting alongside throughout. I have enjoyed it, but I must say that I most appreciated the chapters that discussed everything about the 1960s movies she starred in and the stories from that decade.

I had the most wonderful time visiting two bookstores last Friday when I had to travel to Albany for a  medical appointment. I will tell you honestly: I enjoyed having the opportunity to gift myself as well as others. Most likely this is because I haven't had the chance to shop in a bookstore for over three months. And I do hope I'm not the only one who does this in December. Do confess if you find yourself plucking up gifts for yourself as you do the rounds! 
I was at The Book House in Albany, an independent bookstore, and found two extraordinary nature titles for my collection. I also purchased the brand new The Joy of Cooking (2019). This was a big gift for me. This new edition is amazing! It's the product of John Becker and his wife Megan Scott. John Becker is the great-grandson of the original author Irma Rombauer. And for the very first time this team tested every recipe published in the book!
I remember how shocked I was to learn, many years ago now, that the authors of The Joy of Cooking , in various editions, even in the first one, did not test every recipe. What?!? How could that be?
I still have the 1974 edition (not the first), which I used a great deal in my twenties and thirties (still feel attached to it), and I have the one published in the late 1990s. And now the 2019 edition, which I love!! Lots of new recipes and loads of totally revised older recipes that reflect ingredients and cooking styles available today. It is huge--a compendium--at nearly 1200 pages. Lots and lots of international recipes. 
I've made a vow to cook two new recipes each week going forward, not necessarily out of this cookbook, but in general.
Are you cooking during the holiday, by any chance? Please let us know.

I have not been reading books. And I must. Going forward, I must. I need to. I need to start a book that interests me, set aside time to read (doesn't have to be a long time), and stick to it. I have countless, yes countless books in the house that I want to read, so tomorrow, Wednesday, I will indeed set aside 45 minutes to just  sit and read a book I've been wanting to read.  DONE! I will let you know very, very soon which book I've chosen.




Friday, December 6, 2019

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

When I was a child, I read about children in the Netherlands and Belgium leaving wooden shoes on the doorstep for St. Nicholas to come by and leave treats. (Actually on the eve of St. Nicholas Day, December 5th). I thought that this was a terrific idea and tried to convince my mother to go along with it. The idea got squelched immediately,  though I do think I deserved a treat for the knowledge of customs in other lands.

I like to have the time in December to enjoy preparing for the holiday season. I love playing holiday songs and Christmas carols on the piano, for one thing,  just as  I did when I was a kid.
With my new piano, I'm going gangbusters, finding songs and arrangements that work.
I find myself  reminiscing about my younger teenage years--how my gang of  neighborhood friends, on every Christmas Eve, would  practice our caroling, gathering around our family Steinway (inherited from a wealthy great aunt), and once sure of ourselves, we'd  go singing our lungs out into our  neighborhood where loads of treats awaited us at every door. Christmas cookies, cakes, eggnog, and at one very notable house, a Scandinavian  glogg was offered, though we were all underage as far as alcohol was concerned. It was tasty--cinnamon, cloves, apples, cider, red wine, and brandy. We sang uproariously after sampling glogg!
One Christmas Eve we endured a torrent of sleet and freezing rain hailing down on us. I questioned whether my pals would want to go and how long they would hold out. But those who I sensed might have bowed out, persisted, and we reaped huge rewards in candy and cookies for braving such a storm!  People fed us to the hilt, so glad were they that we made it again that year despite the storm.

Whither books? My reading has taken a huge hit in  November and into December, mostly due to my novel-writing course. But I am on the verge of picking up steam.  I have so many books available, my own and from the library, that it's so difficult to choose. I'll weigh in tomorrow or Sunday, with my end-of-year reading plans, but MOSTLY I want to hear about yours!