Sunday, May 17, 2009

Zelda meets Holly meets Matilda

Sophie Dahl is a model/ author and the granddaughter of children's author Roald Dahl. I wasn't sure what to expect from her novel Playing with the Grownups, but took a chance with a free advance reader copy I happened across. I was pleasantly surprised by it. The story is told by fifteen-year-old Kitty, who lives a Grey Gardens-esque bohemian lifestyle with her manic-depressive mother Marina. A cross between Holly Golightly and Zelda Fitzgerald, she's a painter who uproots Kitty from rural England to New York and then back again based on the advice of her guru. The story actually borrows a bit from Roald Dahl's Matilda in the sense that Kitty is a child forced to live with an unfit parent. A quick read, interesting characters, and an overall entertaining novel.

Sidenote: It wasn't until college that I realized Roald Dahl's name wasn't actually Ronald....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

More alphabetical order

I recently read an interesting book of short stories, After the Quake by Haruki Murakami. After reading and enjoying After Dark, I was intrigued to read more of his work. This didn't disappoint. The stories are all very different, yet are all loosely tied to the aftermath of the massive earthquake in Kobe, Japan. A really interesting concept, overall. And I really like this weird book cover too. Like with After Dark, reading these stories makes me more interested in Japanese culture....and makes me want to read more of his work. I'm considering working my way through his books in alphabetical order by title since it seems that I've unintentionally started out that way.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Crafty Weekend Recap

In addition to some Mother's Day festivities on Sunday, I spent this weekend being the craftiest and thriftiest that I've been in a long time.

I Acquired.....

A pretty vintage picture frame for $5 courtesy of the Habitat for Humanity thrift shop. Shabby-chic with metallic golds and greens, it should go nicely with one of the new Black Apple prints I've ordered, which works out perfectly since I just got a third print as a gift from my cousin/goddaughter Hannah!

Sylvie by Emily Martin. Will be the third in my collection from The Black Apple!

I Baked....

My version of Magnolia cupcakes. White cake mix with a touch of almond extract, and vanilla icing with a touch of rosy color piped on top. They were a hit at the Mother's Day celebration.

And I Crafted....

Some lovely and adorable feathered headbands!

Wearing them makes me feel like a character from Gatsby. Even when I'm not wearing them, they look just as pretty grouped in a vase on my dresser:

Not only do these bring a touch of Twenties Era style into my everyday life, but they also got good reviews from someone who was actually alive in the 1920's!

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Cold Comfort Farm

In my recent post in which I raved about my new Wellies, I alluded to the fact that they had a connection to the book I was reading at the time. Now that I've finished it, I can finally reveal that that book was Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons. In the novel, Flora Poste, an orphaned young socialite, moves from London to the English countryside to live with her relatives the Starkadders on the dreary Cold Comfort Farm, armed with a determination to bring order and civility into their lives. Shortly after her arrival, she requests that some "gumboots"- a.k.a. Wellies, be sent to her for mucking about the farmlands. Hence the connection to my boots!

The back of my copy of the book had some high praise in the vein of "funniest novel ever". Cold Comfort Farm lived up to the hype. The entire book is hilarious, though not necessarily in the laugh-out-loud madcap way of, say, a Wodehouse novel. Rather, Gibbons' every sentence is so clever, and her use of language to paint a satirical scene is so witty that the novel is just a pleasure to read.

The names alone make this book worth reading, from butlers named Sneller and Hoots to the farm's cows Graceless, Pointless, Aimless, Feckless, and Fury. Beyond that, many of my favorite passages are those that juxtapose Flora with her backwards, backwoods relations. This one occurs when Flora first meets her cousin Rueben, and is trying to extract some conversation from him:

"After a silence which lasted seven minutes by a covert glance at Flora's watch, a series of visible tremors which passed across the expanse of Reuben's face, and a series of low, preparatory noises which proceeded from his throat, persuaded her that he was about to speak to her. Cautious as a camera-man engaged in shooting a family of fourteen lions, Flora made no sign.

Her control was rewarded. After another minute Reuben brought forth the following sentence:

'I ha' scranleted two hundred furrows come five o'clock down i' the bute.'

It was a difficult remark, Flora felt, to which to reply. Was it a complaint? If so, one might say, 'My dear, how too sickening for you!' But then, it might be a boast, in which case the correct reply would be, 'Attaboy!' or more simply, 'Come, that's capital.' Weakly, she fell back on the comparatively safe remark: 'Did you?' in a bright, interested voice.

She saw at once that she had said the wrong thing..."

The humor is not the only admirable quality of the book. Gibbons clearly has an astute perspective on modern literature and intellectualism. Another of my favorite passages: "One of the disadvantages of an almost universal education was the fact that all kinds of persons acquired a familiarity with one's favorite writers. It gave one a curious feeling; it was like seeing a drunken stranger wrapped in one's dressing gown."

Gibbons slyly riffs beloved English writers like Austen and the Brontes. Despite the satirical nature of her writing, she still manages to make us like and root for her heroine. She even creates a certain kind of suspense that pervades the novel amidst the funnier scenes. We're left tensely wondering, what was it that Aunt Ada Doom saw in that woodshed? Alas, like Flora herself, we'll never know...

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

New Art

For the past few weeks, I've been obsessed by all things Etsy, and have been especially enamored by the prints on The Black Apple's shop (the artist's blog is pretty great too!). After much hemming and hawing about which prints to get, I finally decided that the two ladies below would be perfect additions to my apartment. I can't wait to get them! Now I need to start looking for some vintage frames.

"Black Eyed Susan" print by Emily Martin

"The Baby Tooth" print by Emily Martin

Monday, May 4, 2009

A Rainy Day

This quick little still life represents my uniform this week. Since it's supposed to rain every day, I'll be wearing some variation on a dress, leggings, and my new Hunter wellies. They were a major investment, but will hopefully be worth it if they last me twenty years like everyone says they will. Plus, I just love wearing them. They make me feel so British! Or like I'm a character in this book and should be clamming on a beach in Maine. They also have a slight tie-in to the book I'm currently reading....

I also wanted to point out this interesting political essay on The Daily Beast today. What caught my eye was the reference to Keats and Fitzgerald- both in the same sentence, and in such an unexpected place!

Sunday, May 3, 2009

A Quick "Reader"

As I mentioned in one of my last posts, I've spent the past few weeks trudging through The Robber Bride. With that behind me, I moved on to The Reader by Berhard Schlink, which actually felt like an easy, light read in comparison. Although the subject matter is by no means light, it felt refreshing to be able to get through a book in only a couple of hours, spread out over a few days (hence the poorly executed pun in the title of this post).

I had resisted reading this book ever since it was one of Oprah's Book Club picks. I gave in when the buzz over the
recent movie piqued my interest. The writing style is straightforward, almost sparse. At times this works, and the author is able to evoke rich images and scenes with only a few choice words. Equally often, however, the tone was so straightforward that it seemed to veer into the realm of reporting, and I found my eye skimming over long passages as if I were scanning a news article. Interestingly, the story not only deals with a trial, but the
author is a lawyer by training. I can't help but think that this impacted the writing- both intentionally and unintentionally.

Issues of reading and illiteracy play a key role in the story, and I think they're meant to be what sets this novel apart from other Holocaust literature. For me, the theme of reading took a backseat to other questions that were raised, such as who should bear the guilt and the responsibility for the relationship the narrator had with Hanna as a teenager. However, something kept me at a distance from these characters throughout the book, and this prevented me from caring about either of them enough to spend much time investigating these questions.

The Reader also called to mind another book that I mentioned here, School for Love by Olivia Manning. Though the books and characters are quite different, both deal with an adolescent boy's interactions with the Post-WWII adult world around him. What Manning does so well in her book is to capture the world as seen through her character's young eyes. In The Reader, Schlink's narrator looks back at his teenage self from various stages of this life. While perhaps a more complex literary maneuver, I think it was this decision that ultimately kept me from feeling any kind of connection with the characters. I'll still keep the film version of The Reader on my Netflix queue, though. I have a feeling this may be a case where I like the movie better than the book, and Kate Winslet really does seem perfect for the role of Hanna.

And for a few final, unrelated notes:
1) I know the picture of the book cover here is a bit generic, but it was in response to certain readers demands for more pictures!
2) Tonight Masterpiece Theater's Dickens series continues with an adaptation of The Old Curiosity Shop on PBS. I'll be watching.
3) I'm only about 20 pages into my latest book, but I'm already excited (and amused!) by it...more to come soon.


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