Friday, 31 July 2009

Readings from America

I loved reading Mary Ann Schaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potatoe Peel Pie Society and will recommend it to my book group. Although written by an American, the characters are all English or Guernsey. Set just after the end of the second World War, it's a series of letters, started by a writer looking for a topic for her next book, the first having done quite well. She receives a letter from a man in Guernsey who found her address in a copy of a book she had owned. She replies and sets in motion a life-changing course of events, as well as discovering just what life was like for the islanders under the German occupation during the war. The subject is one of interest as well as familiarity to me, as flights from Southampton to the Channel Islands are common and regular, and when a book was published a while ago on the history of the occupation of the Channel Island, there was a huge local demand for it. This tale although fiction, has a solid foundation in the truth, and is memorable for that reason.
Barak Obama's Dreams from my Father, a book club read, proved much more interesting than I had anticipated. I'm not usually a fan of political biographies, especially American ones, but this book, written well before he bcame President was very readable, and certainly explained his family and background in some detail. Worh a read, if only to conteract some of the wilder opinions to be found in the media.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Well back in Hampshire after a nine hour drive from the Auvergne, a five and a half hour ferry trip from Le Havre and a short drive from Portsmouth, the grass has grown , as has the alchemilla, the geraniums and almost everything else, especially the weeds is also looking extremely lush and well grown. Can we walk up the path between the garage and the house? Only if we don't mind crunching a snail or two. Such is our homecoming late in the evening after a day driving through France to catch the ferry back home. Unload car, unpack suitcases, fill up laundry basket, a quick coffee and bed after a long day.

Reflecting on what I've been reading the last weeks in France seems like another life, which in a way it is. Much of our time there has been spent on working on the house, replacing items the builders took out and hadn't put back, either from incompetence or neglicence. We managed a few swims in the local pool, along with a handful of other middle-aged swimmers who do their lenghts in the section roped off for "nageurs" as soon after opening time as we can. The other part of the open-air pool is for young children being given swimming lessons by a very bronzed, fit youngish male instructor. Later on the pool will get busier with people coming to treat it as the local "plage", to sunbathe and swim as the fancy takes them.

Tuesday, 7 July 2009


Just before coming to France, I ordered Anne Fadiman's two books of essays, Ex Libris and At large and At Small, the confessions of a Literary Hedonist, and what delightful reading they turned out to be. I ordered them through The Book Depository, a speedy, efficient service. How could I as a librarian resist a title called Ex Libris? I found the essay on how the author and her husband combined their respective book collections intriguing, as my husband and I have never even thought about doing this - our collections are too dissimilar, and we have no room in our house big enough to house all the books we collectively own in one place. Instead, they are scattered throughout the house, in collections grouped by subject - my husbands books on clock and watch making and collecting in his workroom, my books on literature, fiction, and history on one set of bookshelves and books on crafts and sewing on another bookcase in my work area. My collection of cookbooks is elsewhere, but not in the kitchen, as it's too big a collection and the kitchen too small to house it. We seem able to find what we want most of the time, anyway. Here in France in a barely furnished house, we have just bought one small bookcase/ cupboard, adequate for the small collection of books we currently have here, mostly English novels imported by me, but a few in French acording to our interests.
I found Anne Fadiman's essays really good reading. I loved the range of subjects, including ice-cream and coffee ( both of which I also adore - my first coffee maker was a percolater that sat on the hot plate or gas ring of whatever digs I was living in as a student in Manchester - it made strong coffee) I've tried every variety of coffee maker, but seem to have settled for a filter, both here in France and at home, although I also have a cafetiere, a Moka espresso and a old wedding present of a rather posh Russell Hobbs percolater, unused for about twenty-five years. I must admit I've neve seriously considered using liquid nitrogen to make ice cream - I use a rather primitive electric churn machine, with bowls which need to be put in the freezer overnight to freeze them before you can even get round to making the ice cream or sorbet you have set your mind on making. A bit tedious but reasonably effective. It only makes tiny quantities, though, so OK for small households, useless for a crowd. This is the joy of Anne Fadiman's writing - it leads you into an examination of how, what, where, and why you live the way you do, think the way you think, and possibly consider a better way.
One thought that occured to me was the connexion with the French verb essayer, which means "to try". Almost too obvious to mention, really.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

That Certain Age

My library based reading group wanted something light to read, so I chose Elizabeth Buchan's That Certain Age for us. It's a story in two intertwined parts, about two very different women and their different lives. One woman, Barbara is married to a former fighter pilot, now an airline pilot who flies off to exotic places, leaving his wife and children in their comfortable home. The other character, Siena is a modern career woman, married for some time to a husband who wants children, but does Siena herself want them? The comparison of the different periods that these women lived in ( Barbara' life is set in the 1950's) is interesting. Barbara's husband doesn't want her to work outside the home, while Siena's is quite happy for her to jet off to the States for a project. A novel to make one think about the delicate balances within any relationship, about what happiness is, and how it can differ from person to person and time to time, and also about the importance for a woman of her own money, to do with as she wishes. This last point has always been important to me, as it was to my mother, also a working mother in her time. Barbara's life is more restricted than Siena's by the fact that she has to rely on her husband for finances, and has to find devious ways to be her own self, in a way that Siena does not, although she has her own difficult choices to make in life.

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