Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Clarissa February Update, Letters 7-11

It's time for our February Clarissa check-in. Last month we began a yearlong project to read the 537 letters (roughly 1500 pages) of this epistolary novel around their corresponding dates and discuss our progress at the end of each month. Terri, from Tip of the Iceberg, and I are alternating monthly hosting duties. It's my turn this month, so leave your link and catch up with other participants here.


After a prolonged silence for most of the month, we've had five letters over the past several days. The first four were from Clarissa to Miss Howe, but in the fifth letter we finally heard from Miss Howe.

Plot Update:
When word of Lovelace's visits to the Howe household reaches Harlowe family, Clarissa is abruptly summoned home. Although she is never alone with Lovelace, Clarissa feels his "rank and fortune entitled him to civility". Her family, of course, does not agree and Clarissa is subjected to even harsher treatment  at the hands of her brother and father. They are more anxious than ever to marry her off and have chosen Mr. Solmes.

Clarissa is confined to the house. She is not allowed out, even for church, and visitors are prohibited. Her correspondence has also been curtailed, but Clarissa has found alternate means to continue communication with Miss Howe and asks her friend for advice.

Miss Howe thinks Clarissa might not be aware of her true feelings for Lovelace: "For a beginning love is acted by a subtle spirit; and oftentimes discovers itself to a by-stander, when the person possessed (why should I not call it possessed?) knows not it has such a demon." She warns Clarissa to proceed with caution and believes Lovelace has "seen more than I have seen; more than you think could be seen --more than I believe you yourself know, or else you would let me know it."

A Few Quotes:
Clarissa on Mr. Solmes:
"... find it impossible I should ever endure him. He has but a very ordinary share of understanding; is very illiterate; knows nothing but the value of estates, and how to improve them, and what belongs to land-jobbing and husbandry." L8 
"... all I say against him is affectedly attributed to coyness: and he, not being sensible of his own imperfections, believes that my avoiding him when I can, and the reserves I express, are owing to nothing else: for, as I said, all his courtship is to them [her family]; and I have no opportunity of saying no, to one who asks me not the question. And so, with an air of mannish superiority, he seems rather to pity the bashful girl, than to apprehend that he shall not succeed." L8
Miss Howe  on the Harlowe family:
"You are all too rich to be happy, child. For must not each of you, by the constitutions of your own family marry to be still richer? ....none of your family but yourself could be happy were they not rich."

Thoughts and Impressions:
After a long silence, the action really picked up over the last week. I was able to read the letters more quickly, too, and think I'm finally getting used to the writing style.

Clarissa is obviously in a very bad spot, practically under house arrest, but it seems like she may be getting ready to assert herself. In letter nine, we learn her family "all have an absolute dependence upon what they suppose to be meekness in my temper. But in this they may be mistaken; for I verily think, upon a strict examination of myself, that I have almost as much in me of my father's as of my mother's family." Has she had a flash of great insight into her temperament or discovered an inner strength she never knew she possessed?

It was a pleasure to finally read a letter written by someone other than Clarissa. Miss Howe provides an interesting perspective on the developing relationship between Clarissa and Lovelace. She sees her friend, possibly unaware of her true feelings, in danger of falling for Lovelace. The more Clarissa's friends/family are against him, the more Clarissa seems inclined toward him. Miss Howe believes Lovelace understands this and and will use it to his own advantage.

I am anticipating a dramatic and exciting March. The letters increase in frequency (sometimes two or three per day) and will now require more discipline to stay on track. I hope I'm up to the task!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Clarissa: February Post Round Up

It's time for our February Clarissa check-in. Last month we began a yearlong project to read the 537 letters (roughly 1500 pages) of this epistolary novel around their corresponding dates and discuss our progress at the end of each month. Terri, from Tip of the Iceberg, and I are alternating monthly hosting duties.

Have you written a Clarissa post this month? Please leave your link in a comment and I will add it to the list.

February Posts:
1. JoAnn @ Lakeside Musing
2. Cat @ Tell Me A Story
3. Adam @ I Lodge In Grub Street
4. Lindsey @ Sparks' Notes
5. Christina @ The Literary Bunny
6. Col @ Col Reads
7. Terri @ Tip of the Iceberg

Tuesday Intro: Trespass by Rose Tremain

The child's name is Melodie.
Long ago, before Melodie was born, her pretty mother had had a stab at composing music.
Melodie is ten years old and she's trying to eat a sandwich. She prises apart the two halves of the sandwich and stares at the wet, pink ham inside, and at the repulsive grey-green shimmer on its surface. All around her, in the dry grass and in the parched trees, crickets and grasshoppers are making that sound they make, not with their voices (Melodie has been told that they have no voices) but with their bodies, letting one part vibrate against another part. In this place, thinks Melodie, everything is alive and fluttering and going from one place to another place, and she dreads to see one of these insects arrive suddenly on her sandwich or on her leg or to start to tangle its limbs in her hair.
by Rose Tremain

Trespass is my current audiobook and, after this opening scene, Melodie has not appeared again. I have been listening while walking on the treadmill (I hope to be walking outside again soon) and it's definitely holding my interest. The old house in the south of France, full of family secrets and, now, with a mysterious disappearance, has kept me on the treadmill a few minutes longer each day. Does the opening paragraph appeal to you?

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening paragraph(s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Meal Planning

We've been talking a lot about organization and efficiency lately - preparing meals in advance, using a crock pot, and freezing. Last spring I wrote a post for Lakeside Kitchen outlining my meal planning strategy and I've decided to share it here today.

Lakeside Kitchen is a cooking blog my daughter and I started a couple of years ago. When she went off to college last summer, I realized that I did not want to maintain two blogs and quietly closed up shop. Life has changed a little since then. I'm routinely cooking for just three now, plus I no longer worry about practice or game schedules. My basic meal planning principles, however, remain the same.

From Lakeside Kitchen:

It's all about organization.... and flexibility. Every Sunday or Monday, I compose a "Master Meal-Planning Sheet" and select a few dishes to prepare early in the week. Family activities that impact the dinner hour (or my ability to cook) are listed on the left, the menu goes in the center, and a grocery list goes on the right. Here's what this week's sheet looks like, so far:

If we're out all day, I may choose a crock-pot meal that's ready when we get home. When there's little time to spare, a stir-fry is quick and easy. On the rare day when no activities are scheduled, I may experiment with something more elaborate.

My meal-planning sheet looks pretty simple now, but wait a few hours... meetings are added, games or lessons get changed, and the unexpected always arises. By starting with just three or four definite meals, I can make adjustments as needed during the week and, if I'm lucky, have some leftovers for lunches.

A trip to the grocery store is part of my Monday routine, but another stop on Thursday or Friday is inevitable. We always need more milk and produce and, if the beginning of the week has gone as planned, I'll buy fish or meat for a couple more dinners. Also, by later in the week, Margaret may have an idea for a weekend dessert and I can pick up those ingredients, too.

Do you have a meal-planning system, or do you keep a stocked refrigerator and decided day-by-day what's for dinner?

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Book Notes: Miss Garnet's Angel

Miss Garnet's Angel
by Salley Vickers
Plume, 2002
337 pages

What it's about: 
After the death of her longtime friend and flatmate, retired British history teacher Julia Garnet does something completely out of character: She takes a six-month rental on a modest appartamento in Venice. An atheist, a Communist, and a virgin, Julia finds herself falling beneath the seductive spell of the city's intoxicating beauty and sensual religiosity. She befriends a young Italian boy and English twins who are restoring a fourteenth-century chapel. And she falls in love for the first time in her life with an art dealer named Carlo. (from amazon)

Why I read it:
Venice in February, TBR Double Dare

What I liked:
Character development:  Miss Garnet's spiritual and emotional transformation was very well done.
Setting:  Venice is such an appealing setting. It's practically a character here.
Map: I love maps! This map of the city includes characters' apartments, significant historic sites, and canals.

What I didn't like:
The alternating story of Tobias and the Archangel Raphael (from the Apocryphal Book of Tobit), while necessary to overall understanding, slowed things down. I was always anxious to return to Julia's story.

A favorite passage:
"The dark green water-weathered doors lay open back. Stepping through the vestibule she made out a procession of candles punctuating the fine gloom with little swaying hollows of light. As she stood the notes of a chant started up. What a strange world she had entered coming to Venice; a world of strange rituals, penumbras, rapture. Timidity crept over her, the old insidious sense of not belonging, and she stepped back out of the wax-laden smell into the harshness of the foggy air." page 68
My Rating:

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Poet Birthday: Edna St. Vincent Millay

View from Mt. Battie - Camden, Maine

Today is the birthday of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, born in Rockland, Maine (1892).  After her parents divorced in 1900, Millay moved with her sisters and mother to Camden, Maine. Edna was in high school when she submitted a poem, "Renascence," to a poetry contest. She didn't win the contest, but one of the judges fell in love with her, and almost divorced his wife. She performed "Renascence" at a poetry reading, and a woman in the audience was so impressed that she paid Edna's way to Vassar College.

*click to enlarge

The above marker is at the top of Mt. Battie; I like to imagine she wrote this poem here.

Afternoon on a Hill

I will be the gladdest thing
    Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
    And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
    With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
    And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
    Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
    And then start down!

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Forgotten Waltz by Anne Enright

It amazes me how a book with very little plot can be so immediately absorbing. I sat down with Anne Enright's latest novel on a Friday afternoon, planning to read just a few pages. I wasn't sure it was what I wanted to read next, but, by the time I looked up, fifty pages had been turned and the decision had been made.

To say The Forgotten Waltz is about an affair is too simplistic. Adultery from the point of view of the other woman gets a little closer, but it's really more than that.

Gina, our first person narrator, is happily married to Conor when she meets Sean Vallely in her sister's garden. Enright's prose is slow and deliberate, but draws the reader in from the opening passage . Gina's voice provides a sense of immediacy and intimacy as she meanders through events from her childhood, marriage, and career. Her account of Sean's marriage, career, and daughter also figures prominently in her story of their affair.

As I closed the book (and I loved the ending), I considered the possibility that the story would be very different if told from Sean's perspective, or that of his wife, Aileen. Is Gina a reliable narrator?  But in the end, I realized it didn't matter. I simply enjoyed reading Gina's story.

Favorite passages:
"The affair, as I had learned to call it, progressed in its Friday pace. The sex became less filthy and more fun, the silence filled with talk - laughter even - and this unsettled me. I might have preferred silence. Every normal thing he said reminded me that we were not normal. That we were only normal for the twelve foot by fourteen of a hotel room. Outside, in the open air, we would evaporate." p. 117 
"I have thought about it a lot since - how much Aileen did or did not know. When it all blew up in our faces, sean said that she had been 'in denial'. He said 'you have no idea' (the things I have to put up with). They must realise, these women. They must, on some level, know what is going on. I know it sounds like a harsh thing to say, but I think we should own up to what we know. We should know why we do the things that we do. Otherwise it's just a mess. Otherwise we are all just flailing around." p. 108-109 
"I thought it would be a different life, but sometimes it is the same life in a dream: a different man coming in the door, a different man hanging his coat on the hook. He comes home late, he goes out to the gym, he gets stuck on the internet: we don't spend our evenings in restaurants, or dine by candlelight anymore... I don't know what I expected... It's like they don't know you exist unless you are standing there in front of them. I think about Sean all the time when he is gone, about who he is, and where he is, and how I can make things right for him. I hold him in my care. All the time."  p. 202 
"I go through the darkening town with Sean's beautiful mistake. Because it really was a mistake for Sean to have a child, and it was a particular mistake for him to have this child; a girl who looks out on the world with his grey eyes, from a mind that is entirely her own. Lovers can be replaced, I think - a little bitterly - but not children. Whoever she turns out to be, he is forever stuck with loving Evie." p.258

Bottom line: The real beauty of The Forgotten Waltz lies in the writing.

My rating:

Sunday, February 19, 2012

TSS: A Sunday Ramble

Good morning, and welcome to a rambling edition of The Sunday Salon. After missing the last couple of weeks, it seems like there's a lot to talk about. The lack of winter weather gets top billing around here. In contrast to last year's punishing snow and cold, it appears this will go down as "the winter that wasn't". We have had around 40 inches of snow this season, the least ever by mid-February. We have had a few inches over the past couple of days - just enough to make everything look pretty, but no driving woes or snow shovels for us this weekend!

On the reading front, Venice in February continues. I posted a review for The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan. The audio was well done, but it's not a book you can really claim to enjoy. I also finished Miss Garnet's Angel by Salley Vickers and will be trying out a new (to me) mini review style.

I finally started reading The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki. The Japanese names confused me for the first chapter or two, but I made myself a cheat sheet and fell right into the story. This sentence from the back cover says it all:
As told by Junichiro Tanizaki, the story of the Makioka sisters forms what is arguably the greatest Japanese novel of the twentieth century, a poignant yet unsparing portrait of a family–and an entire society–sliding into the abyss of modernity.
I purchased this book a year or two ago for The Japanese Literature Challenge and, even though the challenge is over, the time seems right to read it now.

After a long gap, the next letter in our Group Read of Clarissa by Samuel Richardson is dated tomorrow. It's been nearly a month and I'm looking forward to reading more. I wonder what happened during Clarissa's visit to Miss Howe - did she see Lovelace? There are only a few letters this month and I will collect links to all February posts on the 29th. It's still not too late to join in. We will have read only eleven letters (roughly 73 pages) by then. The frequency increases in March, so I'm going to need to budget more reading time next month.

Have you noticed Blogger changed word verification to TWO words? Not only that, it is much harder to decipher the words. It's frustrating when the verification process takes more time than the actual comment. Several months ago, I removed word verification, disallowed anonymous comments, and began moderating comments over five days old. So far there hasn't been a spam problem.

We're now only hours away from tonight's Downton Abbey season finale and I'm already worried about the impending Downton Withdrawal Syndrome (DWS). {If you don't watch the show, I know you think I'm crazy, but do yourself a favor and watch the beginning of season 1. All it takes is one episode and you'll be hooked.} Coping strategies are in the planning stage, but include watching the entire season again (possibly multiple times), trying Upstairs, Downstairs and other series, and reading Downton-themed books. Do you have any suggestions? Are you worried about DWS?

We have a busy day ahead, so I'll wrap this ramble up now. The Syracuse University basketball game is at 1:00 (what a great season!), then dinner with my family, and finally the two hour Downton Abbey finale. Are you on twitter? There's a live party beginning at 9 PM using #DowntonPBS. It's fun to follow the stream even if you don't tweet. I'll see you there!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Kafka's Soup: A Complete History of World Literature in 14 recipes by Mark Crick

This quirky little book was recently on display at my library, and I couldn't resist taking a closer look. It consists of fourteen recipes, each reading more like a short story. The fun begins when you realize the "stories" are written in the style of a famous author.

As I skimmed through this slim collection, I was particularly drawn to "recipes" by Jane Austen, John Steinbeck, Virginia Woolf, and Geoffrey Chaucer. As expected, Chaucer's Onion Tart recipe was beyond my comprehension (as is his work). Harold Pinter's Cheese on Toast recipe is, naturally, presented as a play.

My favorite recipe was for Tarragon Eggs a la Jane Austen:
4 eggs
1 tablespoon minced fresh tarragon, or 1 teaspoon dried
4 tablespoons butter
Ground pepper
Pinch of salt 
It is a truth universally acknowledged that eggs, kept for too long, go off. The eggs of Oakley Farm had only recently been settled in the kitchen of Somercote, but already Mrs. B- was planning a meal that would introduce them to the neighbourhood with what she hoped would be universal acceptance. Her eggs had been strongly endowed by nature with a turn for being uniformly agreeable and she hoped to see at least a half dozen of them make fine matches in the coming week. The arrival of a newcomer in the parish presented the perfect opportunity and Mrs. B- wasted no time in sending out invitations to a luncheon....
The book is very clever. Of course, it helps to be familiar with the writing of each recipe's author, but even if you just know a few, it's still pretty funny.

Kafka's Soup
Written and illustrated by Mark Crick
Harcourt, Inc., 2005
92 pages

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Comfort of Strangers by Ian McEwan (audio)

It's not unusual to feel slightly off kilter while traveling, especially in a foreign country. We eat more, we drink more, sleep patterns are altered, there may be a language barrier, and it's easy to get lost.

Such is the case for Colin and Mary. Wandering around an unnamed city late at night in search of an open restaurant, they are befriended by Robert, a stranger who takes them to an out-of-the-way bar. Initially they're happy to meet a native and visit an establishment frequented by locals, but a feeling of unease gradually grows. After a chance meeting the next morning (the couple got lost and never made it back to their hotel), Colin and Mary end up at Robert's home. Here the story becomes uncomfortable. The plot takes a turn toward the twisted and odd. I won't elaborate further, but be aware this psychological thriller is rife with sexual overtones. The cover illustration hints at a voyeuristic component to the relationship. Indeed, at times, I felt like an voyeur by simply listening.

Alex Jennings' narration is flawless. Although listening was not my first choice, I'm glad now there were no print copies available in the library system. A pervasive feeling of unease is, perhaps, even more palpable on audio.

I initially wondered at McEwan's failure to name the city, ostensibly Venice, but later decided it enhanced the mood. Leaving it unnamed accentuated the sense of disorientation.

The Comfort of Strangers (1981) was a gripping, yet disturbing book. Listening seemed to make it even more compelling. I was forewarned, but chose to proceed anyway. While not exactly a likable book,  it was very good.

My rating:

Chivers Audiobooks, 2001
3 hours 49 minutes

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Valentine's Day with Jane Austen

 Quotes from Jane Austen on Love and Romance, edited by Constance Moore:

What a strange thing love is!
- Emma Woodhouse, Emma

I suppose there may be a hundred different ways of being in love.
- Emma Woodhouse, Emma

A woman in love with one man cannot flirt with another.
-Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey is better to know as little as possible of the defects of the person with whom you are to pass your life.
-Charlotte Lucas, Pride & Prejudice

It would be an excellent match, for he was rich, and she was handsome.
- Sense and Sensibility

You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope... I have loved none but you.
- Captain Frederick Wentworth, Persuasion

A lady's imagination is very rapid; it jumps from admiration to love, from love to matrimony in a moment.
- Fitzwilliam Darcy, Pride & Prejudice

If you go on refusing every offer of marriage, you will never get a husband at all.
- Mrs. Bennet, Pride & Prejudice

Happiness in marriage is entirely a matter of chance.
- Charlotte Lucas, Pride & Prejudice

When two sympathetic hearts meet in the marriage state, matrimony may be called a happy life.
- Mary Crawford, Mansfield Park

Of course, the real reason to feature Jane Austen quotes is the excuse to include a photograph of "my" Mr. Darcy, Colin Firth. Happy Valentine's Day!

Monday, February 13, 2012

"The Farmer's Children" by Elizabeth Bishop

"Once, on a large farm ten miles from the nearest town, lived a hard-working farmer with his wife, their three little girls, and his children from a former marriage, two boys aged eleven and twelve."
It begins like a fairy tale, complete with a stepmother, princess-like half sisters, and two motherless boys. When Elizabeth Bishop adds in oppressive cold and a full moon, the tale quickly turns dark and foreboding. Since their father and the hired man (who usually sleeps in the barn) have gone to town, Cato and Emerson must take his place in the barn and guard against vandals. Cato decides it's a "night  for the crumbs" and hides four slices of bread under his sweater during dinner. On the way to the barn, he leaves his trail of crumbs.
"Outside it was almost as bright as day. The macadam road looked very gray and rang under their feet, that immediately grew numb with the cold. The cold stuck quickly to the little hairs in their nostrils, that felt painfully stuffed with icy straws. But if they tried to warm their noses against the clumsy lapels of their mackinaws, the freezing moisture felt even worse, and they gave it up and merely pointed out their breath to each other as it whitened and then vanished. The moon was behind them. Cato looked over his shoulder and saw how the tin roof of the farmhouse shone, bluish, and how, above it, the stars looked blue, too, blue or yellow, and very small; you could hardly see most of them."
Inside the barn, the boys are cold and scared. Judd's blankets are nowhere to be found and the farm implements look malevolent in the moonlight. They long to follow their breadcrumb trail home before sunrise. Unsurprisingly, the story ends in tragedy. It is a peaceful tragedy, one that I was not expecting.

Bishop's writing is very visual, allowing the reader to "see" every detail as the story unfolds. Although Elizabeth Bishop is best known for her poetry, I am happy to discover her short stories.

I read "The Farmer's Children"in The Best American Short Stories of the Century, edited by John Updike. It also appeared in Harper's Bazaar in 1949.  Unfortunately, I could not find the story on the internet.

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford at The Book Mine Set.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Weekend Cooking: Pork & Pineapple Skewers

Weekend Cooking, hosted at Beth Fish Reads, is open to anyone who has any kind of food-related post to share: Book (novel, nonfiction) reviews, cookbook reviews, movie reviews, recipes, random thoughts, gadgets, fabulous quotations, photographs. If your post is even vaguely foodie, feel free to grab the button and link up over the weekend.

Grilling in Central New York in February is very unusual, yet this entire winter has been anything but usual. Our area has never experienced a winter with so little snow (under 40 inches so far this season), and temperatures have been relatively mild, too.  Last night, with the grill so easily accessible and temperatures pushing 40 degrees, we decided to make a summer favorite - Pork and Pineapple Skewers. It's an adaptation of this Rachel Ray recipe.



1 20 ounce can  of pineapple chunks in their juice, drained and juice reserved
1 clove garlic, smashed
2 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons finely grated fresh ginger
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Salt and pepper
1 1/4 pounds pork loin, cut into 1-inch cubes
4 scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces


Combine the pineapple juice, garlic, soy sauce, ginger and oil in a large bowl; season with salt and pepper. Add the pork and scallions and let marinate at room temperature for 30 minutes.

Preheat an outdoor grill or grill pan to medium-high.
Meanwhile, thread the marinated pork and pineapple chunks onto skewers.

Grill the kebabs, turning occasionally, until golden and cooked through, 10 to 12 minutes.

Quick, easy, and delicious!

Note: If you think the photos look like more than 1 1/4 pounds of pork tenderloin, you're right. I doubled the recipe.

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Tuesday Intros: Celebrating Dickens Bicentenary

Today marks the 200th birthday of Charles Dickens. In honor of the bicentenary, I am posting two of my favorite opening passages from his novels. Bleak House, widely considered to be Dickens' masterpiece, has a marvelously visual opening. Can't you just see and feel the mud and fog? It is, by far, my favorite Dickens opening.

A Tale of Two Cities, Dickens' work of historical fiction, features what may be his most well-known opening, yet it is my least favorite novel. My favorite Dickens novel, Great Expectations, has an unremarkable opening paragraph.

More information on the Dickens Bicentenary can be found at Dickens 2012. Follow the celebration on twitter @Dickens2012.

Bleak House 
published serially 1852-1853
London. Michaelmas term lately over, and the Lord Chancellor sitting in Lincoln's Inn Hall. Implacable November weather. As much mud in the streets as if the waters had but newly retired from the face of the earth, and it would not be wonderful to meet a Megalosaurus, forty feet long or so, waddling like an elephantine lizard up Holborn Hill. Smoke lowering down from chimney-pots, making a soft black drizzle, with flakes of soot in it as big as full-grown snowflakes--gone into mourning, one might imagine, for the death of the sun. Dogs, undistinguishable in mire. Horses, scarcely better; splashed to their very blinkers. Foot passengers, jostling one another's umbrellas in a general infection of ill temper, and losing their foot-hold at street-corners, where tens of thousands of other foot passengers have been slipping and sliding since the day broke (if this day ever broke), adding new deposits to the crust upon crust of mud, sticking at those points tenaciously to the pavement, and accumulating at compound interest.
Fog everywhere. Fog up the river, where it flows among green aits and meadows; fog down the river, where it rolls defiled among the tiers of shipping and the waterside pollutions of a great (and dirty) city. Fog on the Essex marshes, fog on the Kentish heights. Fog creeping into the cabooses of collier-brigs; fog lying out on the yards and hovering in the rigging of great ships; fog drooping on the gunwales of barges and small boats. Fog in the eyes and throats of ancient Greenwich pensioners, wheezing by the firesides of their wards; fog in the stem and bowl of the afternoon pipe of the wrathful skipper, down in his close cabin; fog cruelly pinching the toes and fingers of his shivering little 'prentice boy on deck. Chance people on the bridges peeping over the parapets into a nether sky of fog, with fog all round them, as if they were up in a balloon and hanging in the misty clouds. 
A Tale of Two Cities
published serially 1859
It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to Heaven, we were all going direct the other way-- in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only.

Every Tuesday, Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea posts the opening paragraph (sometime two) of a book she decided to read based on the opening paragraph (s). Feel free to grab the banner and play along.

Monday, February 6, 2012

"A Venetian Night's Entertainment" by Edith Wharton

Short Story Monday, meet Venice in February. I'd been searching for stories set in Venice to share this month, when Audrey pointed me toward Edith Wharton. The story was exactly what I'd hoped for and Wharton, as always, was a pleasure to read.

"A Venetian Night's Entertainment" is a story Judge Anthony Bracknell liked to tell his grandsons. Ever since childhood, the mere mention of Venice had been like "a magician's magic wand" to the judge. His fascination stemmed from a print depicting a "busy merry populous scene" in St. Mark's Square.
"For here, by their garb, were people of every nation on earth, Chinamen, Turks, Spaniards, and many more, mixed with a parti-coloured throng of gentry, lacqueys, chapmen, hucksters, and tall personages in parsons' gowns who stalked through the crowd with an air of mastery, a string of parasites at their heels. And all these people seemed to be diverting themselves hugely, chaffering with the hucksters, watching the antics of trained dogs and monkeys, distributing doles to maimed beggars or having their pockets picked by slippery-looking fellows in black -- the whole with such an air of ease and good-humour that one felt the cut-purses to be as much a part of the show as the tumbling acrobats and animals."
As young Tony grew up, that image faded, but Venice still figured prominently in his dreams. All he learned in subsequent years seemed to "confirm its claim to stand midway between reality and illusion" - Venice still meant magic.
"It was the kind of place, Tony felt, in which things elsewhere impossible might naturally happen..."
Tony finally had an opportunity to visit Venice 1760, as part of his grand tour aboard the family's merchant ship. The story perfectly conveys the carnival-like atmosphere as, almost immediately upon arrival, Tony becomes an unwilling participant in a strange series of events involving a chance encounter with a beautiful young woman, an arranged marriage, misdelivered correspondence, and a chase. Tony is never exactly sure what is happening and, as a result, neither is the reader. This story was great fun! You can read "A Venetian Night's Entertainment" here.

Can you suggest other short stories set in Venice?

Short Story Monday is hosted by John Mutford. Venice in February is hosted by Bellezza and Ally.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Author Birthday: Stewart O'Nan

From today's Writer's Almanac:
It's the birthday of writer Stewart O'Nan (books by this author), born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania (1961). He worked for years as an aerospace engineer, and when he came home from his work every day he would go down to his basement and write. In 1994, he published his first novel, Snow Angels, about a murder in a small town in western Pennsylvania. He often writes about characters who feel trapped by their circumstances and end up doing horrible things. He said, "My own life isn't terribly interesting, even to myself, and that ... [is] why I write about people and places so different from the ones I know."
Stewart O'Nan's latest novel, The Odds, was every bit as good as I had expected. If I'd known today was his birthday, I would have finished the review in time to post. Instead, let me say that O'Nan was my favorite author discovery of 2011 and link to my thoughts on a few of his books.

Have you read Stewart O'Nan yet?

Thursday, February 2, 2012

Every Last One by Anna Quindlen

Anna Quindlen knows how to tell a story. You may not always feel comfortable while reading it - mothers die (One True Thing),  domestic violence is rampant (Black and Blue), and painful coming-of-age choices must be made (Object Lessons) - but Quindlen is a master. Her characters' lives will draw you in ever time, but beware of the emotional punch.

I was prepared when I began reading Every Last One on a flight home from Florida last month.  Other bloggers warned that an "unspeakable tragedy" was in store. I put the book away shortly before landing, certain the event was just pages away. The funny thing is that once I got home, I avoided the book for days. I needed extra time to brace myself, but then the rest of the book flew by just as quickly.

The first half focused on Mary Beth Latham's seemingly perfect life - great husband, three kids, a beautiful home, and her own landscaping business. Sure there are the trials of daily living, but overall things are pretty good. Half way through the book, something horrible happens. The rest is all about surviving, putting your life back together as best you can, and facing the next day. It was easy to empathize with Mary Beth, but something about her rubbed me the wrong way.

Returning to Quindlen's fiction after a nearly ten year hiatus has been a pleasure. Although I liked the first half much better than the second, Every Last One definitely met my expectations. A recommended read.

 My rating:


Related Posts with Thumbnails