Literary Ramblings

A few more bits & pieces that I found interesting as I wasted time on the internet when I probably should have been doing something else. Taking photos of the girls probably isn’t the most effective use of my time either but I was so stunned to see Lucky (on the right) lounging in the sun on Phoebe’s purple bed the other day that I couldn’t resist. That wary look is just her default expression although she’s never happy to see me approaching with a camera, phone or iPad. I think she was just too comfortable to move. The photo of Phoebe was taken on a lovely late winter afternoon the previous week.

The covers for the much-anticipated reprints by Scott of Furrowed Middlebrow (in conjunction with Dean Street Press) have been unveiled. I’ve already preordered the Winifred Pecks & A Chelsea Concerto by Frances Faviell. Can’t wait to get my hands on these.

One of my favourite podcasts is Chat 10 Looks 3 with Leigh Sales & Annabel Crabb. In the latest episode they recommended Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History podcast. Gladwell is an author & “global thinker”, probably what used to be called a public intellectual. In this 10 part series, he looks back at moments in history that have been overlooked & reconsiders their importance. The first episode is about Elizabeth Thompson, better known as Lady Butler, a Victorian artist best known for her monumental pictures of military subjects. Everything about her career was unusual & typical of her sex & time. She was a woman artist in an age when women couldn’t attend art school or attend life classes (unless they were the model); she became famous when her picture, The Roll-Call, was exhibited at the Royal Academy; she was not elected to the all-male Academy & her career ended when she married. Gladwell is very interesting on all these points & he interviews former Prime Minister Julia Gillard for another angle on the difficulties of being the first in her field. I’m looking forward to listening to the other nine episodes.

An extract from John le Carré’s memoir, The Pigeon Tunnel, has been published in The Guardian. I’m looking forward to this after reading Adam Sisman’s biography of le Carré earlier this year.

More books have entered this house lately than are really necessary but one that is entirely necessary & that I’m very excited about is Caught in the Revolution by Helen Rappaport. The story of Petrograd in 1917 told by the outsiders, the foreigners who were living in the city at the time. I’m a fan of Helen’s, having loved Four Sisters & Magnificent Obsession. This is definitely next off the tbr pile, actually, it’s not even going to make it on to the pile, it’s on my reading table already.

Sunday Poetry – Eleanor Farjeon

Yesterday was a very cold day; winter has finally begun & it was a day of bitter winds & showers with even a little hail. Just as well it was Saturday & I was home all day to keep the house warm, dry & snug. I took Lucky to the vet for her flu vaccination first thing – which is a tale in itself. I had made an appointment to take both cats for the vaccination last Monday. When I arrived home from work, Phoebe was there but psychic Lucky was nowhere to be seen. I called, I searched, I rattled the nibbles bag – nothing. I think my mistake was getting the cat carriers out, ready to go, before I went to work. Lucky is a wary soul & made herself scarce. Of course, when Phoebe & I returned from the vet, who should come sauntering towards us, looking completely unconcerned & wanting her dinner?
So, I had to make another appointment.

After I brought Lucky home, I went to the farmers market, the greengrocer (for the things I couldn’t find at the market) & then home. After a bit of housework, I made coffee, sat down to read Genji & before too long, Lucky was on my lap & Phoebe was in one of her favourite spots, on the top of the chair behind my head & they didn’t move very much for the rest of the day.
It reminded me of Eleanor Farjeon’s poem, Cats Sleep Anywhere.

Cats sleep, anywhere,
Any table, any chair
Top of piano, window-ledge,
In the middle, on the edge,
Open drawer, empty shoe,
Anybody’s lap will do,
Fitted in a cardboard box,
In the cupboard, with your frocks-
Anywhere! They don’t care!
Cats sleep anywhere.

An autumnal Easter miscellany

Isn’t it odd how the seasons sometimes seem to change as if a switch had been flicked? A week ago, the weather was humid, hot & we’d had no rain for weeks. Overnight, a cool change came through, pushed out the humidity & we had over 30mm of rain in two days. Autumn had arrived. Since then, the mornings have been cool & crisp, the nights are drawing in & suddenly it’s Easter. Time to make hot cross buns (the ones with a V on top are for a vegan colleague so no egg glaze), pull out the tomato plants in the veggie garden & plant daffodils ready for next Spring, which always reminds me of the Provincial Lady & Lady B..

Lucky & Phoebe love the autumn. The sun is warming, not burning, the hot north winds are gone & a little sleep in on a cold morning is very agreeable.

I’m going to spend the long Easter weekend doing some gardening, catch up on some podcasts, decide on my next audio book &, of course, reading. One of the podcasts I have listened to is this interesting discussion about the definition of literary & commercial fiction on Books on the Nightstand. I agree with Ann & Michael that bookish people know literary fiction when they see it but actually defining it to someone who’s not in the book or library trade is difficult.

I’ll also be making a decision about what I’ll be reading for the 1938 Club. I’ve listened to Nevil Shute’s Ruined City, which I loved, but I’d like to read at least one more book, if not two.

Whether you’ll be observing Easter or just enjoying a long weekend; whether it’s autumn or spring in your part of the world, I hope you have time to relax & do whatever makes you happy. I can’t resist a poem by John Donne, suitable for the occasion. Good Friday 1613. Riding Westward.

Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motion, lose their owne,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules admit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.
Hence is’t, that I am carryed towards the West
This day, when my Soules forme bends toward the East.
There I should see a Sunne, by rising set,
And by that setting endlesse day beget;
But that Christ on this Crosse, did rise and fall,
Sinne had eternally benighted all.
Yet dare I’almost be glad, I do not see
That spectacle of too much weight for mee.
Who sees Gods face, that is selfe life, must dye;
What a death were it then to see God dye?
It made his owne Lieutenant Nature shrinke,
It made his footstoole crack, and the Sunne winke.
Could I behold those hands which span the Poles,
And tune all spheares at once peirc’d with those holes?
Could I behold that endlesse height which is
Zenith to us, and our Antipodes,
Humbled below us? or that blood which is
The seat of all our Soules, if not of his,
Made durt of dust, or that flesh which was worne
By God, for his apparell, rag’d, and torne?
If on these things I durst not looke, durst I
Upon his miserable mother cast mine eye,
Who was Gods partner here, and furnish’d thus
Halfe of that Sacrifice, which ransom’d us?
Though these things, as I ride, be from mine eye,
They’are present yet unto my memory,
For that looks towards them; and thou look’st towards mee,
O Saviour, as thou hang’st upon the tree;
I turne my backe to thee, but to receive
Corrections, till thy mercies bid thee leave.
O thinke mee worth thine anger, punish mee,
Burne off my rusts, and my deformity,
Restore thine Image, so much, by thy grace,
That thou may’st know mee, and I’ll turne my face.

Pre-Christmas ramble

My self-imposed book buying ban is continuing (except for a cookbook which doesn’t count). I’ve been very disciplined & haven’t even been tempted. Of course, it does help that I’m still buying books for other people as Christmas & birthday presents so bookish packages do keep arriving. I’m also still doing a lot of rereading (I was withdrawing an old copy of Gaudy Night at work the other day & sat on the floor reading my favourite bits for quite a while so I really need to read it again from the beginning very soon) so it’s just as well I’m not bringing any more books into the house that will actually be staying more than a few weeks.

However, just because I’m not buying books doesn’t mean I can’t be tempted by bookish merchandise. I do love a good bookish coffee mug. You can see my collection of book-related mugs above (click on the photo to make it larger. From left to right – Penguin Room of One’s Own, Folio Society, Librarian, Slightly Foxed, Susan Hill’s Long Barn Books & two more Penguins, Persuasion & Wuthering Heights). You might think I have enough coffee mugs. Well, I thought I did too. These are only the book-related ones, I have a lot more… Then, I saw these. Virago are producing three coffee mugs featuring Excellent Women by Barbara Pym, Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier & Valley of the Dolls by Jacqueline Susann. I’m sure you don’t need three guesses to decide which one I’ve ordered.

Speaking of Barbara Pym, I was reading one of those roundups of favourite books of the year in the Age on Saturday morning. I’m very sceptical about these articles, especially when authors are asked their favourite reads of the year. (Not as sceptical as I am about the articles asking politicians what they’re going to be reading over the summer although the article in Sunday’s Age wasn’t as overly worthy as some I’ve read. One politician, Richard Di Natale, leader of the Greens, even said he wouldn’t be reading but playing with his children) Most of the books chosen by the literati are serious worthy tomes, usually award winners or published by friends of the writer. In a small literary market like Australia, it doesn’t do to upset someone who will probably be reviewing your next book. Very occasionally someone breaks that mould & this year, it was Helen Garner, one of my favourite writers. “Books that got me through pneumonia by provoking fits of uncontrollable laughter were, first, Barbara Pym’s A Glass of Blessings and Excellent Women, then three Charles Portis novels, Norwood, The Dog of the South, and his 1968 masterpiece, True Grit.” I haven’t read Charles Portis but Pym would definitely cheer me through pneumonia.

Speaking of Helen Garner (I told you this would be a ramble), I’ve recently discovered a new podcast by two of Garner’s most devoted fans. Well, it’s new to me but it’s been running for just over a year. Australians will know Annabel Crabb & Leigh Sales as political journalists (Crabb mostly in print & Sales as the anchor of the 7.30 current affairs program). Annabel Crabb also presents a TV show called Kitchen Cabinet where she visits politicians at home. They cook her dinner & she brings dessert & she interviews them about their life before politics & how they stay sane while they’re in politics. It sounds light & fluffy but often the audience learns a bit more about the politicians when they’re having a conversation rather than delivering a 30 second soundbite. It’s also fascinating to see who can cook & who has obviously never picked up a lettuce before. Annabel Crabb has just published a cookbook, Special Delivery, which has some gorgeous recipes for cakes, puddings & desserts as well as other dishes (that’s the cookbook I’ve just bought. I couldn’t resist the Roasted Strawberry & Ginger Cheesecake recipe). Their podcast is called Chat 10, Looks 3 (a reference to the song Dance 10, Looks 3 from A Chorus Line. I know nothing about musical theatre so I was completely mystified until I listened to the first episode & all was explained). Crabb & Sales talk about books, musical theatre (Leigh Sales’ passion), cooking & whatever else they feel like. I’ve listened to a few episodes now & I’m really enjoying it. They’re intelligent, witty, funny women & they sound as though they’re having a ball recording the podcast.

The photos of the girls under the Christmas tree aren’t great but I spent ages sitting on the floor, throwing their favourite toys under the tree to entice them into camera range so I was determined to share them. Just so that you don’t forget that it’s summer here, this is Lucky enjoying a mild evening last week snoozing in a sunny patch on the back porch.

Lastly, I’m trying out a new feature on Blogger which allows me to highlight a featured post. I thought I’d choose a post from the same time in a previous year. So I’ve begun with my review last year of Anthony Trollope’s collection of Christmas stories, Christmas at Thompson Hall.


Now here’s a very enticing idea. Simon from Stuck in a Book & Karen from Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings are hosting a reading challenge later this month called The 1924 Club.
All you have to do is read a book published in 1924. There’s a list of possible titles on Simon’s blog. I’ve read quite a few of them but two that I do have on the tbr shelves are The Matriarch by G B Stern & The Three Hostages by John Buchan. I’m looking forward to exploring the shelves to see what other possibilities I have.

Which brings me to my other plan. Christine Poulson (author of Invisible, one of my Top 10 books last year) has just blogged about her plan to stop buying books for a while. I read this & thought Yes! What’s good enough for Christine is good enough for me – until Christmas, anyway! I do have several pre-orders on the way – Alison Weir’s biography of Lady Margaret Douglas, The Lost Tudor Princess, Claire Harman’s biography of Charlotte Brontë, the British Library’s collection of Christmas mysteries, Silent Nights, & Jennifer Henderson’s biography of Josephine Tey, so I won’t feel too deprived. It’s the eBooks that are the real temptation because they’re so easy to buy & they’re invisible so don’t even take up room on the tbr shelves. Let’s see how long I last.

I’ve been able to think about all this because we’re having a public holiday today – for a football game. It’s not even on until tomorrow but we’re having a day off on the eve of the AFL Grand Final anyway. So now we’re the city with a holiday before a football game & a holiday for a horse race (Melbourne Cup Day in November). It’s also the start of the first run of hot weather we’ve had since last summer. At least the sun is warming up the veggie garden so I can start planting in the next few weeks.

Now for some completely unrelated cat photos. I don’t have any new photos of the girls (I almost got a shot of Lucky with my 1924 books but she was unco-operative) so here are the collages I made last year when I discovered the collage app.
The clocks go forward tomorrow night & summer is almost here. Oh well, only six months until I can change the clocks back again!

Post no 1000

1,000 posts! I’m amazed I made it this far. I think I wrote in my 500th post that I was amazed I made it past the first two weeks… This blog started as a reading diary & has expanded into much more than that. It’s still a reading diary, & I love being able to look back at some of my favourite reads & be reminded of the books I’d completely forgotten. It’s also become a place to show off photos of my cats – Abby, Lucky & Phoebe – & sometimes the garden & my baking. Any post with a cat photo is guaranteed to attract a lot of hits, often more than the book posts…

I thought I’d celebrate by choosing one post from every hundred that I’ve written over the past 5 1/2 years. Thank you to everyone who visits & comments or just visits & lurks. It’s lovely to know there are so many other people in the world who enjoy the books, poetry & cats I love & want to have a conversation about them.

Abby, hot cross buns & reading progress – a post about Abby, who died just over four years ago, but who made her presence felt on the blog in that first year. Also, baking & the books I was reading that Easter.

Judging a book by its cover – Sometimes the posts that generate the most comments aren’t reviews but general ramblings about books & reading. This post looked at some of my favourite imprints & the changes over the years to the cover art & the way the books are made – font, paper & binding. I also wrote that I didn’t see that I would ever want an e-reader. Oh well, it just proves I’m not ashamed to change my mind as I now have a Sony, Kindle & several apps on my iPad devoted to e-books.

Memoirs of a Highland Lady – Elizabeth Grant – I know that Blogger’s statistics can be a little dodgy but I’m always fascinated by the posts that are in my Top 5 in my stats overview & also by the posts that have generated lots of hits. Sometimes I can guess that it’s because the book is on a school syllabus but sometimes I have no idea. This post has had over 2000 hits since January 2011 & I have no idea why.

Introducing Lucky & Phoebe – First impressions (without pride or prejudice) of the girls when they came to live with me nearly four years ago. Nothing has changed – Lucky is still timid & Phoebe is still adventurous.

Gaudy Night – Dorothy L Sayers – I love rereading my favourite books & I enjoyed writing this post which is more an appreciation of DLS than a review of the book.

Sunday Poetry – Sir Walter Scott – Sunday Poetry was one of my better ideas. I hadn’t read much poetry for years until I thought about posting a poem each week. It’s taken me back to old favourites & to anthologies on my shelves. This post about Scott’s Lochinvar took me from the anthology I was reading then to a book I’ve had since I was a child. Scott, Scotland & a little nostalgia.

Plotting for Grown-ups – Sue Hepworth – I’ve been very lucky to receive review copies from authors & publishers over the years. Sue sent me a copy of her novel, But I Told You Last Year That I Loved You, & I then read & loved her other books. I’m always fascinated by how writers write & authors like Sue & Linda Gillard have discovered that publishing their work themselves gives them a lot more control over the finished book.

New arrivals – Buying books is one of my favourite hobbies & posts about my latest purchases & preorders always create lots of comment. I once mentioned to my online reading group that I counted my preorders (like sheep) when I couldn’t get to sleep, which caused much hilarity but also made a lot of sense to several members of the group… I just tell myself that I’m building up a good stock of books for my retirement.

The joy & the curse of the tbr shelves – I do a lot of dithering in my life & sometimes I dither on the blog as well. Usually it’s a not-too-serious complaint about being unable to decide what to read next because I have too many choices & want to read everything at once. Since I discovered podcasts the problem has only increased. When I think that once, all I had to worry about was the review pages in the Saturday paper & the books I saw at work. Now, there are so many wonderful blogs that I read, three online reading groups constantly mentioning books I either know, own & haven’t read, or (even worse), have never heard of but must own as soon as possible, plus podcasts that I can listen to while I’m driving, ironing or cooking – no wonder I buy a lot of books!

And finally,

Bookish ramblings – which could be the alternate name for this blog.

Lucky & Phoebe on a cold winter’s day

Yesterday was one of the coldest winter days I can remember. We have a couple of these cold blasts from Antarctica every winter but this one reached all the way up the east coast. The Bureau was even predicting snow in Queensland (although it looks as though it didn’t quite happen)!

I had to do some housework, ironing & cooking in the morning but Lucky & Phoebe had no such duties. They barely put their noses through the catflap all day. Lucky curled up on (or under) her blanket & snoozed all day & Phoebe followed me around for a while hoping I’d sit down. She had to make do with my reading chair until the afternoon when I finally did sit down & she had her own personal electric blanket for the rest of the day.

Sunday Poetry – D H Lawrence

I’ve been reading Janet Morley’s anthology of poetry for Lent, The Heart’s Time. One poem a day with an analysis of the poem & some thoughts about the relevance of the piece for meditation during Lent. I’m not a religious person but I’m enjoying reading my one poem a day, reading the analysis & then reading the poem again. I first read about Janet Morley in this review on Vulpes Libris about her anthology for Advent, Haphazard by Starlight. I love reading poetry & I like the idea of taking the time to read one poem a day. The Lent anthology includes poems by many of my favourite poets – Herbert, Christina Rossetti, Blake, Dickinson – along with others I’ve never read before like U A Fanthorpe & Kei Miller.

This poem, Pax, is by D H Lawrence. I vaguely knew that Lawrence wrote poetry but I don’t remember ever reading any. The image of the sleeping cat drew me to this poem immediately, I love the image of contemplative rest & calm, the repetitions of the words peace, sleeping, yawning. This time of year, the beginning of autumn, is one of my favourites seasons. I feel contented, looking forward to autumn & winter. The image of a sleeping cat makes me think of safety; a cat never fully abandons itself to sleep unless it feels safe. On Friday night I had Lucky & Phoebe both asleep on my lap (it was a very tight squeeze), Brahms’ Violin Concerto on the radio & it was very peaceful, even though I couldn’t move an inch.

All that matters is to be at one with the living God
To be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world,
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of a master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of lif

Fingers crossed, I think it’s autumn

I don’t want to tempt Fate or Providence or any other higher power but it feels as though summer is over & autumn is just around the corner. After last year’s heatwaves & very hot weather, this summer has been mild in comparison. Still, I’m looking forward to autumn & winter as much as ever. Cool, crisp nights & early mornings, Sunday afternoons reading & drinking tea with a cat on my lap, making soup & filling the freezer with pasta sauce. Perfect!

I took these photos of Phoebe & Lucky last weekend. The nights are drawing in, the pre-season football competition has started (my only interest in football is that the beginning of the season means that it’s autumn) & the weather has turned quite cool for this time of year.

Of course, a week of mild temperatures & a few brown leaves doesn’t mean that summer can’t make a return but I’m only thinking positive thoughts. Lucky & Phoebe are thinking positive thoughts too & they’re already scouting out the warmest places to sit near the heater or on my bed, ready to stake a claim.

My final piece of evidence is the clincher. Here is Phoebe on her purple bed on the back porch for the first time since last Spring. I put the girls’ daybeds out on the porch every day but they hardly ever use them in the summer. Definitive proof that the weather is getting cooler. Maybe I should contract Phoebe out to the Bureau of Meteorology as a forecaster?