Friday 23 January 2015

Seven Quick Takes, Vol. 2

1. I meant to post every other week, and I'm already behind. In my defense, my husband is away and I'm running the show solo. My elder daughter did come home from boarding school last weekend, but helpfully had her wisdom teeth out, so she lay around on the sofa and almost cried when we ran out of macchiato caramel yogurt (I don't even know what a macchiato is, and neither, apparently, does my spellchecker).

So, here's a look at my reading week, to show you how eclectic (mixed up) it is.

2. For my early American literature class, I'm reading William Bradford's Of Plymouth Plantation and John Smith's account of the Virginia colony. They're interesting to me, because both men led their communities with similar principles and along similar lines, but their outlooks led to vastly different accounts of their experiences. To Smith, it's a big adventure, starring Smith; to Bradford, it's a long struggle in the wilderness against the wiles of the devil.

3.  To lighten up, we also began Ann Bradstreet's poetry. She was lucky enough to be supported by her family in her writing; not so other women of her time.  In 1650, one Rev. Thomas Parker wrote to his sister, "Your printing of a book, beyond the custom of your sex, doth rankly smell." Bet that was a good sibling relationship.

4. As part of a critique group, I may read a chapter from a Victorian cosy mystery, an eighteenth century cornish whodunnit, a 1930s soft-boiled American crime novel, or a story of London gypsies or Scottish pirates.

5. With my daughter, I'm reading The Canterbury Tales, currently the General Prologue, which is relatively uncontroversial.  Choosing tales to study with an eleven year old is harder - I'm opting for ones with lots of farting over lots of sex.

6. To relax (really!), I'm delving into Ina May Gaskin's Guide to Childbirth. She's the godmother of modern American midwifery. For those not in the States or Canada, be very grateful that midwifery is still the norm for prenatal care! She began as an English Literature graduate but fell by chance into the role of midwife at the Tennessee community where she has lived since the 70s. The book is as much story as women's health. For a taste, here's a Ted Talk she gave.

7. Inspiration of a different sort came this week from Elaine St.James's Living the Simple Life - I was familiar with all her ideas, but I needed some inspiration to give our bedroom a more drastic clear out. It's written in very small chunks - nice to peruse over coffee or when you're winding down at night.

For more Seven Quick Takes, hope over to This Ain't the Lyceum.

Friday 2 January 2015

7 Quick Takes, Vol I

As part of a New Year's experiment to try blogging again, I'm linking up with 7 Quick Takes - I think the title is self-explanatory.

1.  In keeping with the original plan for the blog, I'm starting with two 'neglected' classics that I got in Folio editions for Christmas.  The first is Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).  I fell under Lawrence's spell two summers ago when I visited Clouds Hill, his last home. I was immediately gripped by the mystery of why an educated, cultivated - and famous - man would choose to hide away under an assumed name in a such a primitive home.
I also love Seven Pillars because it's the sort of book that would never get past an editor today: a sprawling, 800-plus page mass of biography (real and 'elaborated'), history, military campaign, geography and topography. As I wrote on Facebook when I first finished it, "I feel like I've been through the entire Arab campaign with Lawrence. Plus I now know a lot about camels."

2. The second is my number one desert island book, Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. I even wrote a post on this some time ago. Sterne plays wild experiments with the novel as a written and physical form before the conventions we're so used to were even established. Poor Tristram Shandy sets out to faithfully record his life for his readers, from the moment of his conception, but can barely get a few pages in before he gets hopelessly diverted. Hovering in the background of this crazy, funny novel is the bittersweet knowledge that he'll never catch up with himself before he dies. By the way, since reading this novel, I can never look at a wind-up clock in the same light...

3. ...But I didn't get a chance to re-read either, since I'd promised myself the leisure to curl up with Royalist Rebel, written by a friend, Anita Seymour. Her book tells the story of Elizabeth Murray, heir to Ham House, during the English Civil War. I appreciated the skill with which Anita introduces a haughty, not altogether sympathetic, young English noblewomen and draws the reader to her as we experience Elizabeth mature through her wartime experiences and the struggle to hold onto her birthright.  I also loved seeing places familiar to me, such as Richmond and Hampton Court, through the eyes of the seventeenth century.

4. An interesting addendum to this came when describing the book to a friend here in the States. I explained it was set during the Civil War, and she asked, "Which one?". It was one of those 'culture gap' moments that comes from bring an expat. The Civil War means one thing only to the British, but of course she was also thinking of the Wars of the Roses. Come to think of it, one might add the wars between Stephen and Matilda, the conflicts among Henry II and his sons... the list goes on, but still, there's still only one "Civil War".

5. I've also been a beta reader for another friend's novel over December, and a question she had about publishing had me thinking - I now know people published across a whole spectrum: agented and unagented, with traditional (usually small to mid-house) publishers, e-publishers, self-publishing, and often a mix of all these. It's a wide-open market, and I can't decide whether that's confusing or exciting. I wonder which trends will grow in 2015?

6.  New books + moving a bookcase = several hours completely rearranging our library. My husband's  method would be to shove the books where they fitted, but my librarian background compels me to organize everything by subject and in chronological order. After an hour of angst, I was ready to admit I have a disorder...

7.  Happy New Year and Merry Christmas for those of us who hold grimly on to the twelve days of Christmas. Since we didn't get the tree up until the 23rd, at least it won't be sad and dead come January 6.

For more Seven Quick Takes, the linkup is hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum. In the interests of disclosure, as they say, its origins are in the Catholic blogosphere, but there's plenty of entertainment for everyone.