Thursday, February 19, 2009

"I did not have three thousand pairs of shoes, I had one thousand and sixty."*

I have a lot of shoes. Especially for someone who is not especially girly.

I have sexy silver strappy high heels (that I haven’t worn in, oh, eight years).

I have businesslike black and brown pumps (you know, the ones that kinda resemble penny loafers with chunky heels).

I have an elegant pair of Paul Green black Oxfords that cost me a remarkable sum of money and due to my ensuing four pregnancies no longer really fit me – but I refuse to give them up.

I own an embarrassingly large number of running shoes, all Adidas and in varying stages of wornness.

I have any number of summery shoes – brown strappy sandals with a wedge heel, several pairs of plain black flipflops, pink Mary Jane Crocs, Tevas from my college days, and brown Keen Mary Janes that go with everything, make my legs look really trim and muscular, and are on my feet (if I must wear shoes) constantly from about April till October.

I have Doc Marten boots, and LL Bean boots, for snow. I have Uggs for cold. I have both flat and heeled dressy black boots. My flat boots are kind of boring, with a buckle round the ankle and a zip up the side. But my heeled black boots – my heeled black boots are calf-length, microfiber, square-toed, and incredibly sassy. Just pulling them on makes me feel fun and flirty and hothotHOT.

Stephanie Kallos’ Broken for You is the sexy black boot of my bookshelf. You can recommend it to people knowing that if they read it, they will not only like it, but it will move them, it will make them think, and it will cement their perception of you as a discerning and intelligent reader. It does all the work for you.

But Kallos’ new book, Sing Them Home? Is the brown Keen Mary Jane. Just opening this book every night was a pleasure. It went with every mood. I hated to see it end, much as I am dreading the eventual demise of the shoes I wear nonstop for six months of the year (In fact, I really should just order another pair or two right now.)

Yeah, this metaphor is a little strained, I know. It sounded better at 3am when I was dazed with sleep and with an infant attached to my breast. But when I turned the last page of Sing Them Home? I wanted more. I wanted it to keep going on and on and on, this saga of the Jones family and the town of Emlyn Springs and its inhabitants. I wanted to know who got married, who died, who had babies, who went away to school. I just simply wanted it to continue.

If that’s not one of the nicest things any reader can say about a book, I don’t know what is.


*Imelda Marcos (Who else?)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

"There is a world of difference between domesticity and domestication." *

I love getting mail. Birthday, anniversary, and Christmas cards; notes from my elderly aunts; little treat packages from various points on the globe; even the bills give me a weird frisson of pleasure, reveling in orderliness and organization (of course, it's H's problem to pay them and balance the checkbook, so I would bet that he doesn't like them at all). I especially enjoy receiving magazines. I only subscribe to a couple - Newsweek, Brain, Child, the now (sadly) defunct House & Garden (Dominique Browning, this means you can have time to write another book now!), and the also now (sadly) defunct H&G substitute, Domino.

My point about my love of snail mail is twofold.

First, the mail this week brought me an eagerly awaited gift to myself, the new Persephone edition of DE Stevenson's long out-of-print Miss Buncle's Book.

When I was a small-ish girl growing up in NJ, I read all of DE Stevenson's gentle little romances. Every one was set in England, in a cosy world of afternoon tea and housekeepers and vicar's wives, and all of them end happily. They are the perfect comfort reading - like A Secret Garden or A Little Princess for adults. Miss Buncle's Book was the first half of a two-book omnibus (the second half was the sequel, Miss Buncle Married) that I checked out of my local library probably every few months. I read it over and over again, and I couldn't have been the only one because the library copy slowly grew more dilapidated until it finally fell apart and was removed from circulation.

Miss Buncle, a spinster living in the small rural village of Silverstream, writes a novel about her village and its inhabitants. The book, written under a pseudonym, is an unexpectedly runaway bestseller. When the citizens of Silverstream begin to recognize themselves in the book, the fun truly begins. (The only thing that could have made this book even more perfect would have been if Stevenson had seen fit to pen Barbara Buncle's actual novel for us, too.)

I searched for a copy of my own for years and years. It's been out of print for so long that any copy that turned up on Amazon or was exorbitantly expensive. But recently, the wonderful Persephone Books republished it, and I now own my very own beautiful copy of Miss Buncle's Book.

Which brings me to my second point: I couldn't remember where I'd discovered Persephone Books. I thought I'd seen them in an issue of Domino, because I often see lovely things in that magazine that I then long to own. Persephone's elegant editions would fit into its stylish pages quite nicely.

But some casual conversation with Suse, and some research consisting of wandering through the pages of another book I quite like, and I realized I had run across them in Jane Brocket's also-cosy The Gentle Art of Domesticity. She has more than one photo of Persephone novels, their dignified yet charming dove-grey covers making them stand out from their more gaudily colored bookshelf companions. In one photo, if I recall correctly, she even has a stack of the beauties, on an end table or nightstand, and I instantly coveted that sedate pile of books.

Their fronts are quiet, but their endpapers are gorgeously vintage.

The typeface is simple and elegant.

I even love the numbers on the back, which at the same time press home the point that I own ONE of these, and - groan - there are at least EIGHTY MORE I need.
I want.
I covet.

Persephone Books detail, in novel, poetry, and biography, the everyday lives of women. From the Persephone website: "Persephone prints mainly neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women." The books are "readable, thought-provoking and impossible to forget." (There is a neat little piece on how Persephone finds and/or picks its books here.)

They are pretty, oh so pretty.
And they play well with others.

My one little grey book makes me feel, just for a moment, that I too could pull off the gracious living depicted in the pages of the style and decor magazines that will no longer liven up my mail delivery once a month.

*Jane Brocket in her lovely The Gentle Art of Domesticity

Monday, February 09, 2009

The Victoria bushfires in Australia have left a trail of tragedy in their wake - the death toll is 131 and still expected to rise.

The fire jumped an insane distance in moments and wiped out the entire community of Kinglake (you can see the photos on CNN, it WILL break your heart).

Please, please go donate to the Red Cross to help the thousands left homeless.
(FYI, $25 American equals about $16 Australian dollars, at least according to the XE conversion website).

My dear Suse, and Penni Russon from Eglantine's Cake are safe (I think the rest of my Aussie blogger friends are in Sydney...). I worry about other Melbourne thoughts are with you all, and my heart hurts for what you are going through.

Be safe, and please keep us posted.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

"The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness."*

I went on a Stewart O'Nan spree when I first discovered him. I started with Prayer for the Dying, which appealed to me at first due to its plague theme. (Do you know anyone else who regularly reads the Weekly Morbidity and Mortality Report?) But what a ride! Nail-bitingly suspenseful, inevitability worthy of Shakespeare's tragedies, haunting, eerie cover art - and it made me cry too. I don’t think a book has affected me so much since, except for Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. (And since both books deal with similar themes – mainly, the often futile battle against inexorable evil - that doesn’t surprise me.)

Then I tackled Snow Angels. Very good as well, a little less polished, a bit more teen-angst-y due to the age of one of the main characters, a completely different book, but the same spare, elegant writing and gripping storytelling.

Wish You Were Here was gentler and not as focused, but more involved with characterization.

I was wowed by my find, but for some reason didn’t follow through by ordering from Amazon, or the library, the rest of his novels. However, I was recently thrilled to stumble over his newest, Songs for the Missing, at a dashing visit to my library last week. It boasts all of O’Nan’s usual detailed but natural storytelling, compelling characters whom we get to know almost uncomfortably well throughout the book’s course, and an occasional plot twist that you never see coming but that makes all the sense in the world. O’Nan doesn’t write thrillers, or police procedurals, but I often perceive those elements in his novels.

Of course, due to total lack of sleep and consequent brainlessness, I have set aside Songs, just for the moment, in favor of rereading Book 4 of the Twilight series, Breaking Dawn. It just goes better with the Cherry Cordial Hershey Kisses I have been snarfing down in a spate of what I like to refer to as “survival eating.” When my brain functions return to their regularly scheduled efficiency, I will pick up Songs again. And now I have to go, because I am This. Close. to experiencing brain bleed from the now-healthy, perkier-than-ever, and endlessly nattering three-year-old.


*Joseph Conrad (Did you know Conrad wrote his brilliant novels in his THIRD language? I consistently find this fact utterly amazing.)