Friday, January 30, 2015

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros: Living on Yesterday

Happy Tuesday! I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where readers share a bit about what they are reading or thinking of reading.

My selection is a Living on Yesterday (1951), written by Prague born writer Edith Templeton (1916-2006). My book is a reprint by Hogarth Press from 1986, and it was a book sale find. 

From the back cover:

"Edith Templeton's Living on Yesterday is a social comedy, beautifully played and full of surprise, revealing that the elegance of the Bohemian world of its setting is a mask for deep hatred and wild ambition.

Baroness Kreslov devotes a great deal of her time to good works and very little to her family and children. A bountiful hostess, she surveys her drawing-room as the general would the battlefield: over by the gilded chairs is the fascinating, if penniless, Count Szalay; while behind the potted palms lurks her eminently marriageable daughter, Hedy--as far as the Baroness is concerned, it is inevitable that the two meet. But for Hedy, the match promises a subtle revenge against her mother; and when revenge turns sour, undaunted, she takes her revolt one step further . . ."

From the opening of the book:

"The Baroness Kreslov had just taken off one glove and was unfastening the buttons of the other, when the noise started overhead.

A step behind her stood Joseph, slightly bent forward, with his right arm curved deferentially in readiness to receive her furs, and with his left arm pressed to the satin braid of his trouser.

Neither of them made the faintest move, and thus they remained for the next few seconds, while a man's voice shouted words which they could not distinguish, alternating with dull and heaving thuds. When a door on the landing above the stairs flew open and books were flung over the banisters and tumbled down the steps, they did not raise their eyes."

What do you think? Would you keep reading? A review is coming soon!

Monday, January 26, 2015

Back to the Classics Challenge: Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh

It's been a bit quiet here on the blog, mainly because of a busy work schedule and also because of a winter reading slump. But I'm trying to get out of my reading slump, and Evelyn Waugh has given me a lot of laughs, earlier this month with Vile Bodies and now with his first novel, Decline and Fall (1928). This satire has a little something for everyone. Waugh lampoons the British class system, education, religion, prison, and marriage, just to name a few.

Paul Pennyfeather is the hapless and penniless soul who takes part in a prank at his school, Scone College, and happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. He is "sent down," another way of saying "expelled." He then spends the rest of the book continually being a victim of circumstance. 

Although Paul has no experience teaching, he gets hired as a teacher at a boys school called Llanabba in Wales. He's thrown in with a group of misfit and eccentric teachers and wayward pupils. Paul is given the task of organizing an athletic day (even though he's not athletic himself), and he meets the glamorous and wealthy socialite, Margo Beste-Chetwynde. She is the mother of one of his students. Soon, Paul and Margo fall in love and become engaged. 

Paul can't believe his luck. Unfortunately, Margo's money comes from her shady business dealings, and Paul only discovers this when she asks him to go to France to take care of something related to her "business." Paul then finds himself arrested (on the morning of his wedding!). The stoic Paul takes the fall for Margo and is sent to prison for running a prostitution ring.

Prison agrees with Paul. He finds solitary confinement a pleasurable experience and a relief since he has no responsibilities to anyone. Paul also meets up with one of his old friends from his teaching days who is a fellow inmate. 

After a time, Paul begins to get special favors and learns these favors are courtesy of Margo who pays him a visit. She has married a man who has money, and she's now known as Lady Metroland. Her new husband hatches a plot to help Paul escape through a plan to fake Paul's death. Paul then returns to Scone College where he takes up his studies again using his own name; he is able to convince everyone that he is a long lost cousin of Paul Pennyfeather. 

All this happens around Waugh's funny characters, absurd situations, and Waugh's humor which reminds me a bit of P.G. Wodehouse. I love the writing and highly recommend Decline and Fall. Also, a couple of the characters from Decline and Fall were familiar to me because they made an appearance in Vile Bodies

There are so many wonderful quotes in Decline and Fall. Here are a few:

"Oh, I shouldn't try to teach them anything, not just yet, anyway. Just keep them quiet."

"Why did no one warn me?" cried Grimes in agony. "I should have been told. They should have told me in so many words. They should have warned me about Flossie, not about the fires of hell. I've risked them, and I don't mind risking them again, but they should have told me about marriage. They should have told me that at the end of that gay journey and flower-strewn path were the hideous lights of home and the voices of children."

"I'm one of the blind alleys off the main road of procreation."

"Chokey thinks religion is just divine."

I read this novel for the  Humorous or Satirical Classic category of the Back to the Classics Challengehosted by Karen at Books and Chocolate 

Have you read Decline and Fall or any of Evelyn Waugh's novels?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Monday, January 19, 2015

Fog, The Magician

Wrapped in a cloak
Of grey mystery, 
Fog, the magician,
Steals tip-toe out of the sea.
Melville Cane, Fog, The Magician.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend!

 Sanford Robinson Gifford, The Artist Sketching at Mount Desert, Maine, 1864-1865
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Jazz Age January: Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

From Vile Bodies:

"Oh, Nina, what a lot of parties.

(. . . Masked parties, Wild West parties, Russian parties, Circus parties, parties where one had to dress as somebody else, almost naked parties in St. John's Wood, parties in flats and studios and houses and ships and hotels and night clubs, in windmills and swimming baths, tea parties at school where one ate muffins and meringues, and tinned crab, parties at Oxford where one drank brown sherry and smoked Turkish cigarettes, dull dances in London and comic dances in Scotland and disgusting dances in Paris--all that succession and repetition of massed humanity . . . Those vile bodies . . .)"

I have several Evelyn Waugh books on my bookshelf that have been waiting, so I was excited to read his satire Vile Bodies for Jazz Age January, hosted by Leah at Books Speak Volumes. Written in 1930, the novel is Waugh's send up of London's Bright Young Things.

The plot seems simple enough. Young writer Adam Fenwick-Symes wants to marry the glamorous socialite, Nina Blount. He arrives at the beginning of the story on a crossing from Paris, having written his memoirs on his trip. He considers the work a masterpiece that will make enough money so that he can marry Nina. Unfortunately, Adam's manuscript is confiscated at Customs, deemed to be pornography and destroyed.

Adam has to come up with one thousand pounds or Nina won't marry him. He spends much of his time involved in schemes to get the money. For example, he gives what money he has left to a drunk major who is one of the boarders at the rundown hotel where Adam lives. The major wins one thousand pounds on a horse race with Adam's money but disappears before he gives Adam the winnings. Throughout the story, Adam tries to find out what happened to the drunk major and the money.

Then Adam appeals to his future father-in-law who lives in a crumbling old house called Doubting Hall. Nina's father is the eccentric Colonel Blount, who can't remember what's happening from one moment to the next, and wants only to talk about films. He gives Adam a check for one thousand pounds, and Adam can't wait to give Nina the good news until he discovers too late that Colonel Blount signed the check "Charlie Chaplin."

In the end, Nina marries a gentleman named Ginger who is boring but has lots of money. Meanwhile, she and Adam continue their affair, and even spend Christmas with Nina's father where she tells Colonel Blount that Adam is her husband. Colonel Blount can't recall ever meeting Ginger or Adam, so he is none the wiser.

All this happens against a backdrop of sex, drinking, parties, and even a cross country automobile race. Comic and absurd events occur at a fast pace; memorable characters move in and out of the story and sometimes show up in unexpected places. The satire can be dark at times, but I was never bored.

The ending did surprise me. Adam meets some of the characters on a battlefield of a world war. It seems like Waugh makes the point that while the Bright Young Things move from one party to another, having what they think is a good time, their lives have been rather empty.

I really enjoyed this book and Waugh's dry sense of humor. I highly recommend Vile Bodies. If you've read Vile Bodies or anything by Evelyn Waugh, I'm interested to know what you think.

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh

Happy Tuesday! I'm participating in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where readers share a bit about what they're reading or planning to read.

My selection is the satirical Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh, first published in 1930. I've had this book for awhile, and I wanted to read this novel about the "Bright Young Things" for Jazz Age January over at Books Speak Volumes.

From the back cover of the book:

"Vile Bodies, Waugh's second novel, is the writer's spontaneous, jazz-fevered tribute to the "Bright Young Things" of London's prewar smart set. Through the book's mad and illogical whirl of parties and strange doings runs the love story of Adam Fenwick-Symes, an impecunious young writer, and Nina Blount, daughter of a slightly insane aristocrat. Adam and Nina keep getting engaged and disengaged as the story progresses. The rest of the habitually crocked and extravagant cast boasts last week's Prime Minister, Mr. Outrage, the American evangelist, Mrs. Melrose Ape, Lord Chasm, Lady Circumference, the ever-sublime Margot Metroland, and a drunken major who wins thirty-five thousand pounds for Adam at the races but keeps disappearing just before he pays off."

Here is the opening:

"It was clearly going to be a bad crossing.

With Asiatic resignation Father Rothschild S.J. put down his suitcase in the corner of the bar and went on deck. (It was a small suitcase of imitation crocodile hide. The initials stamped on it in Gothic characters were not Father Rothschild's, for he had borrowed it that morning from the valet-de-chambre of his hotel. It contained some rudimentary underclothes, six important new books in six languages, a false beard and a school atlas and gazetteer heavily annotated.) Standing on the deck Father Rothschild leant his elbow on the rail, rested his chin in his hands and surveyed the procession of passengers coming up the gangway, each face eloquent of polite misgiving."

What do you think? Would you keep reading? My review is coming soon!

Monday, January 12, 2015

Back to the Classics Challenge--I'm In!

Hello! I'm taking part in the Back to the Classics Challenge over at Books and Chocolate. My list of books is below:

1. A Nineteenth Century Classic. Persuasion by Jane Austen
2. A 20th Century Classic. Sanctuary by William Faulkner
3. A Classic by a Woman Author. Night and Day by Virginia Woolf
4. A Classic in Translation. Indiana by George Sand
5. A Very Long Classic Novel. Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser
6. A Classic Novella. Broderie Anglaise by Violet Trefusis
7. A Classic with a Person's Name in the Title. Madame de Treymes by Edith Wharton
8. A Humorous or Satirical Classic. Decline and Fall by Evelyn Waugh
9. A Forgotten Classic. Some Tame Gazelle by Barbara Pym
10. A Nonfiction Classic. Frederick the Great by Nancy Mitford
11. A Classic Children's Book. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
12. A Classic Play. I'm going to read several one act plays from the 1950s by Texas playwright, Horton Foote.

Also, this month I'm participating in the Sister Carrie Readalong over at Care's Online Book Club

I hope all is going well with your reading. Are you planning to join in any challenges this year?

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros--All My Puny Sorrows

Happy New Year, and happy Tuesday! I'm taking part in First Chapter First Paragraph Tuesday Intros, hosted by Diane at Bibliophile by the Sea, where readers share a bit about what they are reading or thinking about reading.

My selection is All My Puny Sorrows by Canadian writer Miriam Toews (2014).

From the back cover of the book:

"Elf and Yoli are sisters. While on the surface Elfrieda's life is enviable (she's a world-renowned pianist, glamorous, wealthy, and happily married) and Yolandi's a mess (she's divorced and broke, with two teenagers growing up too quickly), they are fiercely close--raised in a Mennonite household and sharing the hardship of Elf's desire to end her life. After Elf's latest attempt, Yoli must quickly determine how to keep her family from falling apart, how to keep her own heart from breaking, and what it means to love someone who wants to die."

In reading about the book, I learned that the title comes from from a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge:

"I too a sister had, an only sister--
She loved me dearly and I doted on her!
To her I pour'd forth all my puny sorrows."

The first paragraph of the book:

"Our house was taken away on the back of a truck one afternoon late in the summer of 1979. My parents and my older sister and I stood in the middle of the street and watched it disappear, a low-slung bungalow made of wood and brick and plaster slowly making its way down First Street, past the A & W and the Deluxe Bowling Lanes and out onto the number twelve highway, where we eventually lost sight of it. I can still see it, said my sister Elfrieda repeatedly, until finally she couldn't. I can still see it. I can still see it. I can still . . . Okay, nope, it's gone, she said."

What do you think? Would you keep reading?

Friday, January 2, 2015

Have A Lovely Weekend!

Gerrit van Honthorst, The Concert, c. 1623
National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC

Remarks on Recent Reads: The New Year's Edition

Happy New Year! Before too much more time gets away, I wanted to tell you about some of the books I've been reading lately. Apart from Deborah Crombie's book, Water Like A Stone, my choices have been on the lighter side.

Water Like A Stone by Deborah Crombie (2007). This mystery is set over Christmas with a complex plot involving three murders that seem random. What I loved about this book, though, was another multi-layered plot involving family. Gemma James and Duncan Kincaid have come with their children to the home of Duncan's parents in the idyllic Cheshire countryside. Gemma's never spent time with Duncan parents, and Duncan has some work to do on his relationship with Kit, his son. It all makes for great reading.

Watermelon by Marian Keyes. This is the first in Keyes' series about the Walsh sisters, but as I've mentioned before, I haven't been reading the books in order. This is a book I'd recommend and a great introduction to the quirky Walsh family. Claire has just had a baby girl, and on the same day, her husband leaves her. She and the baby go home to Dublin to stay with her family for awhile. Watermelon is funny and poignant and hard to put down. I love Keyes' characters and her distinctive writing style. 

Christmas Pudding by Deborah Mitford (1932). Paul Fotheringay has written a bestseller which was supposed to be a serious book but has been hailed as the comedy of the season. He ends up spending his Christmas holiday in the Cotswolds at Compton Bobbin, posing as a tutor for Lady Bobbin's hapless son, Bobby. Paul has taken part in this scheme in order to conduct covert research for his second book about a relative of Lady Bobbin's. Lady Bobbin, quite imposing and obsessed with horses and hunting, has invited a collection of characters for the holiday. Christmas Pudding was such a fun read and the characters and the situations they get themselves into had me laughing out loud. 

Cocktails for Three by Madeleine Wickham (2006). I've read several Sophie Kinsella books, but this is the first book I've read that she's written as Madeleine Wickham. Maggie, Roxanne, and Candace are three close friends in London who work at the The Londoner, a famous magazine. They meet frequently for drinks and gossip. Each of the three has her own challenges, and each has a secret. At times, the story made reminded me a bit of Sex and the City. It was a quick read.

What were your favorite reads over the holidays?