Tuesday, March 22, 2011

something to think about

I have just finished (and enjoyed) Susan Hill's Howard's End is on the landing. While looking through her bookshelves in search of Howard's End, Hill discovers a wealth of books unread or look since read but needing to be enjoyed again. She decides to spend one year reading only the books she already owns, no buying new books for a year (can you imagine? I don't think I could do it.).

On finishing her book, I headed to my bookshelves to see what I had that was untouched by reading eyes. I still have books from a trip to England in 2000 and a trip to New York in 2004 but I had fewer unread books than I expected. The titles include:

Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Seabiscuit by Laura Hillenbrand

A stranger to command by Sherwood Smith (a post-surgery gift from MRC, a devoted reader and cohort in crime at my library)

The great tree of Avalon by T.A. Barron (New York trip)

The Sally Lockhart trilogy by Philip Pullman

Children of the wheel by Pamela Scobie (England trip)

The rose revived by Katie Fforde (England trip)

Tam Lin by Pamela Dean (started but never finished and highly recommended by Floating Lush and Cleery from my library)

The welcoming home by Michaela Mahady (a Minnesota architect and daughter of one of my favorite library patrons of the past)

When I go on vacation later in the year, I will choose some of these titles to carry with me. Some will be wonderful and some won't, some will retain their place on my shelves and some will go to the book sale at my library. Which books are on your shelves, unread and unheeded?

Sunday, March 20, 2011

if only dreams came true

One of my more hopeful dreams in life is to own a Tiffany window. I love the color and the elegance of his stained glass. Unless I win the lottery, I fear this dream will not be fulfilled. Sigh.

One Sunday, listening to NPR on the way to church, I heard an interview about a novel about Mr. Tiffany. Amazingly, I remembered the title of the book and managed to request it when I got to work the following day. Clara and Mr. Tiffany by Susan Vreeland is the story of Clara Driscoll, the woman in charge of the women's department (yes, in New York in the 1890s--Mr. Tiffany thought women had a better eye for color and a more delicate touch with the many small pieces in any stained glass project) at Louis Comfort Tiffany's studio (not to be confused with Tiffany jewelry, the company owned by Tiffany Senior). Clara was the force behind the popular and amazingly beautiful Tiffany lamps (okay, if I can't have a window, a lamp would be a lovely replacement!).

While some of the story was a little over the top, the detailed descriptions of New York in the 1890s and early 1900s were amazing--the city was booming and growing and starting to be the highly energetic city it is now. The descriptions of the artistry and hard work involved in making stained glass were fascinating--Tiffany patented many forms of glass (rippled, striated, opalescent and more) and changed the face of the decorative arts in America. The city, the Tiffany company and all of the vast array of characters--the people living in Clara's boarding house, the girls of various ethnic and social backgrounds who were a part of the design department, Clara's artistic friends and more--are so charming and interesting--I finished the book last night and I already miss them!

I've spent some time researching Clara Driscoll on the internet, trying to find picture of the windows and lamps mentioned in the book. She was not given credit for her work--all designs were credited to Mr. Tiffany--but do look up dragonfly lamps and wisteria lamps and the underwater scene lamp and appreciate her talent. And read the book!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

from the first word

Mere sentences in to reading C.J. Sansom's Heartstone, I was back in Henry VIII's London with Matthew Shardlake, the hunchback lawyer and solver of mysteries. Queen Catherine Parr has asked Shardlake to pursue the case of a former servant's son (now dead of a suicide?) who had filed a complaint in the Court of Wards against the adoptive family of the children he once tutored. When the Queen asks for a favor, one says yes so Shardlake takes the case even though he has no experience in the courts dealing with the orphaned children of the weatlhier classes. Shardlake is also investigating the mysterious background of a woman he has befriended--she is an inmate at Bedlam, the notorious "hospital" for the insane. Then there is the matter of the devalued currency caused by Henry raising taxes to fund a war against France, the impending birth of the child of Shardlake's assistance Barak (a former street ruffian) and his wife whose first child was stillborn. Shardlake is also dealing with the retired military man/martinet who has become his steward and bullies the other servants in Shardlake's home. This is just part of a complex and fascinating story filled with complex and interesting characters and unexpected twists and turns in the plot.

I am not a mystery fan but I devour the Shardlake stories. Matthew Shardlake is an intelligent and entertaining companion, very human and very frail (his hunchback gives him constant pain and he is often negligent of his back-strengthening exercises...sound familiar to anyone?). I can see the sights, smell the smells and feel the heat and humidity, unpleasant at the best of times but made more uncomfortable by the heavy robes and gowns required by the lawyer's trade. I resent any time when I'm not curled up in my chair or stretched out on my daybed, nose poked deep into the adventures of Matthew Shardlake.

I think I'll go spend some time with him right now!

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

the carrot dangling in front of my nose

My friend and traveling buddy JN has been dropping suggestions about a trip to Italy as in "take care of your knee, Carol, so we can go to Italy." Well, I took care of my knee and we are now starting to plan a trip to Italy in 2012. Being me, I have been out buying travel guides--I love travel guides and have oodles of them, some for places I've never been and will probably never see. Planning the trip is almost as much fun as taking the trip. Needless to say, I am one of those travelers with a long, long list of places I want to go and things I want to see and foods I want to eat...especially chocolate.

Frommers came out with a new series called day by day which is full of color picture, maps and little personal tidbits about the country/city it describes. I picked up the book about Italy and have been dipping into it whenever I have a few minutes. I now know a bit about soccer mania and famed players, a few words I need to know--arbitro is referee, portiere is goalkeeper (actually doorman); about the fashion industry in Milan (those of you who know me know what a fashionista/trendsetter I am...Ha!); about the Roman emperors Hall of Shame, featuring Caligula among others. This is just the kind of travel guide I love...lots of trivia and details which I can bore JN with when we're traveling. Isn't she lucky?

Fodors has started a new series called See It which is very similar but includes personal walking tours and things you need to notice for specific locations like Tivoli and Villa d'Este. Much more casual and personal than other travel guides. Also perfect for a few minutes of daydreaming whenever I can sit quietly for a little while.

From the reading I've done so far, I know I want to spend more time in Florence and the surrounding region (have to see David since he is on my life list). I need to see the Sistine Chapel (life list again) which will probably cause me to burst into tears...JN is used to that happening when we travel...with joy and disbelief (you should have seen me when I first saw the Taj Mahal...sobbing and incoherent...it was wonderful). JN longs for Venice which sounds great to me--credit card and Venetian glass are a perfect combination, don't you think?

Thursday, January 13, 2011

perfect day

I managed to make an early escape from the reference desk on the first day of our new computer catalog system (whew!) thanks to a school visit to Garlough Elementary's 3rd graders. I visited 3 classes of terrific 8 year olds who greeted me with cries of "I remember you!" and "I remember when you read The End." Talk about feeling special when they remember something I did 2 years ago.

This time I read Kevin O'Malley's Once upon a Royal Superbaby which is a companion book to his Once upon a cool motorcycle dude. The story is told in the dialog of a boy and a girl, forced to work together on a school project: writing a fairy tale about a king and a queen. The boy's part of the story is full of laser guns, robots, motorcycles and a supermuscular baby named Strong Viper. The girl's version is about lovely Queen Tenderheart and her beautiful baby Sweet Piper and is full of unicorns, shopping, sweet birds and tender family moments. The book is a riot and tremendously fun to read aloud...if you're at all melodramatic (which I am in spades!).

The kids hung on every word, laughed uproariously and clapped when I finished. In other words, the perfect audience. I don't remember the public librarian ever visiting my school but I am so glad I get to do it, and with such a warm welcome from teachers and students alike. I love talking about reading and about all the cool programs at the library.

And I love Kevin O'Malley and his fun-to-share books!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Love at first word

Have you ever picked up a book and known, from the very first word, that you were going to love it? That's the way I felt about Mary Robinette Kowal's Shades of milk and honey which has been described as Jane Austen with magic.

Jane is the older (late 20s, oh my) of two sisters. Melody, the youngest sister, is fair of face and popular with the young swains of the neighborhood but her appearance is all that she has. Jane is sallow-complected with a prominent nose but she has a warm heart and is an accomplished "glamorist"--she can manipulate her surroundings magically to make them more appealing. With a few twist of the magical threads attached to everything, she can make a gentle and flower-scented breeze waft through a room, add the gentle music of bird song to a dinner party and more.

Melody is "in love" with the man next door, a feeling, unfortunately, shared by Jane. In hopes of gaining his favor, Jane acts as friend and teacher to his teenage sister who soon finds her true place in Jane's affections. Jane also attracts the grudging attention of a professional glamorist, hired to decorate the home of a noblewoman living in the area.

From such a simple beginning come elopements, reduced circumstances, unrequited love and all the other behaviors so amusing to society in early 19th century England.

Jane is a delightful companion, her plain-ness and lack of pretence make her oh-so-appealing. Do try to spend some time with her. You won't regret it!

Thursday, January 6, 2011

a lovely little book

When reading book reviews, odd and unexpected things catch my eye. This is one of them.

While traveling in Europe, Elizabeth Tova Bailey picked up a virus that, over a period of time, almost totally incapacitated her. She was moved to a care facility for recovery and, while there, a friend of hers brought her a flower pot with a wild violet planted in it. On the bottom of one of the leaves was a snail. Watching the snail fascinated Ms. Bailey and she was soon full of questions about snails and their behavior. The result was The sound of a wild snail eating.

This lovely little book came from her observations and research about snails and they are, indeed, fascinating little creatures. Ms. Bailey kept her snail, moving it to a terrarium, until it had produced eggs (snails are hermaphrodites), becoming the proud father/mother of many, many offspring. Soon afterwards, the snail was returned to the forest, its original home.

Warm, graceful and gentle, this is a delightful bedside book. A few pages each night was a perfect transition from wakefulness to drowsiness. A lovely little book.