Quotable Elizabeth Von Arnim

006“What a blessing it is to love books. Everybody must love something, and I know of no objects of love that give such substantial and unfailing returns as books and a garden. And how easy it would have been to come into the world without this, and possessed instead of an all-consuming passion, say, for hats, perpetually raging round my empty soul! I feel I owe my forefathers a debt of gratitude, for I suppose the explanation is that they too did not care for hats. In the centre of my library there is a wooden pillar propping up the ceiling, and preventing it, so I am told, from tumbling about our ears; and round this pillar, from floor to ceiling, I have had shelves fixed, and on these shelves are all the books that I have read again and again, and hope to read many times more – all the books, that is, that I love quite the best. In the bookcases round the walls are many that I love, but here in the centre of the room, and easiest to get at, are those I love the best – the very elect among my favorites.” -from The Solitary Summer

Isn’t this a great idea? Do you have any “pillar” books? Which ones are the very elect among your favorites? My pillar authors are Elizabeth Von Arnim herself, Barbara Pym, Mary Stewart, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth Bowen, Willa Cather, and my Persephone collection.

Sunday Bulletin – November 16

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This week I attended the Arizona Library Association conference just outside of the Phoenix area, at a conference center out in the desert. As soon as I drove out of the city and entered the tangle of brush, cacti and jagged mountains I felt my soul exhale. It felt so good to be out of the concrete, out of the strip malls, out of the endless traffic. It reminded me that I really need to journey away from the city more often, into the beautiful places in Arizona that are so refreshing and stimulating to the brain and the body. I can’t have roses like Elizabeth in her German garden, but saguaros, prickly pear cacti and mesquite trees will do just fine.

Books finished this week:

One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes – This painterly, beautiful novel documents the life of one family on one summer’s day in 1946. Laura Marshall, her husband Stephen and daughter Victoria are uncomfortably adjusting to life after the war. Their servants are gone, rationing is a challenge, and their family dynamics are still unsettled since Stephen’s return. Starting at breakfast and going through to evening, we mostly follow Laura as she engages in her domestic chores and ruminates about their changed lives. It is an absorbing portrait of the ways in which English society shifted after the devastation of WWII. Panter-Downes writes so well about human nature and I love her vivid descriptions of people, buildings and the landscape. The world she creates is so real and so fascinating. I just adore her writing and wish that her other novels were as available as this one. It looks like I’m going to have to submit a few interlibrary loan requests.

Hope your Sunday is wonderful!

Jane’s Day Out

Have you seen this video? It was released a few days ago by the Jane Austen Centre. Though undeniably cheesy, it does give a glimpse of Bath and its attractions that I was going to show you before I accidentally deleted the entire post I wrote on my visit to the city. So, instead of my photos today, enjoy a tour through beautiful Bath with Jane Austen. I’ll try to post my photos another day.

Sunday Bulletin – November 9

Old Filth

I was right about the correlation between watching less TV and finishing more books. In the evenings I now settle down with my book after dinner rather than flipping through the channels all night long and it has been wonderful. I love the quiet, the concentration and the joy of slipping into a story rather than reading snippets of chapters during commercials. I’m enjoying what I read and I’m also remembering more.

When I was younger I could watch TV, listen to music and read at the same time, remember everything and take it all in. Not so any longer. I have an older brain and it needs coddling and assistance in order to work decently. If I try to do multiple tasks now I feel like I’m on the brink of a mental breakdown and I berate myself for eating too much sugar and rotting my brain (I always blame my fogginess on sugar). Now I know I just need to do one thing at a time and I’ll be fine. But I can always stand to eat less sugar.

Books finished last week:

Never Let Me Go by Kazuo Ishiguro – I read this for my November book club meeting. I found the first person narrative rather trivial at first and hard to grasp, but the second half of the book moved more quickly. A group of students grow up at mysterious Hailsham school and are groomed for a special purpose (I won’t say what in case you want to read it yourself). There are definite moral and ethical issues here and heartbreaking choices, but in the end I was unsatisfied. I think it will be a good book to discuss, though.

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Arnim – When I first started reading this I thought it was going to be a nice, charming little story about a woman’s love for flowers and solitude and communing with nature. It is certainly about all of those things, but it has an undercurrent of acidity that is quite funny and sometimes alarmingly mean and a wise and insightful tone that made me stop to think about what the author was really saying under all this talk about roses. I read a few passages to a co-worker and she was instantly intrigued and wanted to know what this wonderful book was. When I told her she wasn’t necessarily turned off, but she didn’t want to borrow it from me either. Her loss, really, as this is so amazingly good with gorgeous writing about gardens (my new passion) and devastating opinions on marriage and the relations between the sexes. I’m so glad that I already have The Solitary Summer on my shelves and will be reading it soon.

Old Filth by Jane Gardam – This book is very hard to describe because it has a seemingly slight plot: elderly ex-judge mourns the loss of his wife Betty while remembering his early childhood in Malay, his brutal time spent as a foster child in Wales, his golden school years and the ocean voyage that nearly killed him in WWII. However, this very layered novel takes the reader on a journey that, to me, is always more interesting than a book full of plot twists – a novel that examines the growth of a character from childhood to dotage. Edward Feathers (also known as Filth for Failed in London, Try Hong Kong) is an old man living in retirement in the country. His wife has just died and his mind is slipping back into his past, into the events and choices that shaped his personality and his fate. He’s a rather reserved and cold man, but he does have a streak of romanticism that runs through his soul and colors his memories. I found this book to be very stirring as it says so much in a very simple and sometimes really amusing way about love, death, survival, friendship, loss and grief. It’s about an ordinary man who weathers the storm the best way he knows how. And I loved it.

So, two great books and one so-so book finished last week and two started: One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes and H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald. Cutting down on my TV time is one of the best decisions I’ve made lately.

Have a wonderful Sunday!

Pretty Plants in England

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One of my very favorite things about England is its beautiful gardens, plants and trees. Many of you know that I live in Arizona, in the Sonoran Desert, and though it can be surprisingly and stunningly breathtaking at times, for most of the year it is quite brown and grey. Needless to say, the greens of England thrilled me. I reveled in the gardens and the flowers intoxicated me. Even walking in the parks was a treat as most of the parks here at home are not very interesting and mostly serve as playing fields for soccer and football, not beautiful places in which to enjoy nature.

I was also really intrigued by the gardening culture in England – all of the books and TV programs devoted to the topic are wonderful. While I was there I watched an episode of a program called ‘British Gardens in Time‘ and fell in love with the subject of the episode, Biddulph Grange, so much so that my friend googled to see if there was any way we could visit. Unfortunately, it would have been too long of a journey from London so I had to shelve that dream for another time.

Following are some of the photos I took of the lovely plants of England. I wish I would have taken more photos of the foliage, but I think I was too busy marveling at and enjoying it all to remember to photograph a lot of it. I hope you enjoy the show.

In Bath–

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At Westminster Abbey–

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At Windsor Castle–064

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At Hampton Court Palace–

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