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!

21 comments / Add your comment below

    1. I agree – the book wouldn’t have been half so wonderful if it was just all about flowers. I love her humor and wry observations. She’s a new favorite and I am eager to read more of her work.

  1. I discovered von Arnim through Girlebooks (now defunct, alas) and was blown away by her. If you like the German Garden I hope you’ll seek out some others. I especially enjoyed _Christopher and Columbus_ and _Princess Priscilla’s Fortnight_. Jane Gardam is another favorite…”layered” is a good way to describe her writing.
    Me, I don’t watch TV but I’m thinking about cutting out all Internet use in the evenings to make time for reading — I’m not doing enough either!

    1. I’m definitely going to read more Von Arnim! I have five of her books on my shelves that I’ve collected over the years. One particular used book shop here in my town always has a Von Arnim available when I visit – very strange for Arizona. I spend a bit too much time on the Internet as well, but I am pretty good about limiting my time. It seems easier for me to turn off the computer than it is to turn off the TV!

  2. I’m so glad you enjoyed the von Arnim! You might also like The Enchanted April. There was a copy of Old Filth on the library sale shelves yesterday, and I didn’t buy it. Hopefully it will still be there next week! I have really cut down on my TV watching too, even watching on my tablet, but like Lory in her comment said, I also need to limit how much time I’m spending on the Internet in the evenings.

    1. I’ve already scheduled to read The Enchanted April next year for my book club! I hope it will go over well.
      It is hard to stay off the Internet some days when you fall into that black hole of research and keep spiraling with one site leading to another.

  3. I read Never Let Me Go a few years ago and enjoyed it, but I didn’t find it completely satisfying either. It’s one of those books that leaves you with a lot to think about, though, so I’m sure it would be a great book to discuss.

  4. So excited that you’ve been converted into a Elizabeth von Arnim fan! She wrote so many interesting and funny books that I’m sure you’ll love as you discover them. There is a huge range to her work, from the light, flippant novels to darker, rather chilling ones, but they are all interesting. My absolute favourite is Fräulein Schmidt and Mr Anstruther.

    1. She is great and I only wish I would have read her sooner. But the right author for the right time, I suppose… I will keep my eye out for a copy of your favorite.

    1. I’ve always wanted to do that with an author and since I started with her first novel it would be the perfect opportunity. However, she has so many books and I have such a small collection of them. I might have to wait until next year when I will allow myself to buy books again!

  5. I’m another von Arnim fan. After reading and loving Elizabeth’s German Garden years ago, I’ve read most of them now. I read somewhere that while she was ordering rose bushes by the hundreds her husband was going bankrupt so it’s not surprising that things were a bit fraught and it explains his temper!

  6. My experience with Kazuo Ishiguro has often been that I’ll read a book of his, love it, and then never feel the same way about it on a reread. I think this means that it was never true love between me and his books. I only wanted it to be. (Friendly advice: Even if you are impressed with the cast, don’t see the film of Never Let Me Go. It is not good. There’s so much voiceover. Carey Mulligan and Andrew Garfield and Keira Knightley are all excellent, but they cannot save the movie from its voiceover madness.)

    1. I had thought that I might watch the film, so thanks for the warning! I can see how it would be hard to put into film format – too much first person narration and recollection. The soundtrack, however, is lovely. I’ve checked it out from the library and it is very nice.

  7. I have read all three. My least favorite was “Never Let Me Go.” As one of your other readers said, it left me unsatisfied. And I agree with the other comment about the movie, not good! However I love the other two books. Great choices!

Thank you for reading and commenting.

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