A sparkling memoir by the daughter of English theater critic Kenneth Tynan and his wife, Elaine Dundy, author of The Dud Avocado. Tracy was obsessed with clothes from her first onesie and became a costume designer in Hollywood. Her sense of style (rather like her father's really) is not the sort of thing I would think of but her outfits are stunning nonetheless. (Her wedding dress was an oversized tee shirt hitched up at the waist with a belt.) Each chapter focuses on a piece of clothing and what the author was doing at the time she owned it.
[Ben Franklin] "does not conceal his dedication to clarity of thinking. In a world in which wishes pass for facts, he offers sober counsel and witty encouragement so that each of us might come both to see better and do better. He would help one and all to disentangle themselves from snares and traps largely of their own making or neglect. At the same time he has no illusions that the bulk of mankind can perform the kind of auto-emancipation that he managed to accomplish while still an adolescent . . ."
-- Ralph Lerner, Naive Readings: Reveillies Political and Philosophic
Peter Hayes has written a superb new book examining how and why the Holocaust happened.
Targets: Why the Jews?
Attackers: Why the Germans?
Escalation: Why Murder?
Annihilation: Why This Swift and Sweeping?
Victims: Why Didn't More Jews Fight Back More Often?
Homeland: Why Did Survival Rates Diverge?
Onlookers: Why Such Limited Help from Outside?
Why? Explaining the Holocaust is hard to read but it does provide answers to questions that have puzzled us for decades.
Sorry to be gone so long from my blog but it's been a tough winter this year. Cold, snow, unmeltable ice, and the HRS virus, which laid us low for a couple of weeks.
I've been doing a lot of reading and a lot of the books I've been reading have been hefty. A thousand-page biography of Hitler (volume 1) and a Chinese classic in four volumes that I'll be reading for the rest of my life.
I'll be back with some comments on books soon.
What fun it's been these last 10 years and more having a platform to say what I like about books and anything else that comes to mind. Blogging has kept me in touch with other bloggers like dovegrey reader and Random Jottings. And it has made me a better reader, knowing I needed to have something intelligent to say about the books I was dashing through and perhaps ought to have been lingering over.
Back in 2006 I was reading Barchester Towers (again), The Gentleman in Trollope, and Tea with Jane Austen. Today I'm reading The Claverings (again), Pendennis, and Clarissa.
When her only friend dies, Amy Snow finds herself, at 17, evicted from the only home she has ever known. alone and forced to play a treasure hunt game her friend has used to make it impossible for anyone but Amy to learn her secrets. As she moves from rural Dorset to London and experiences the social life of Twickenham and Bath, our eponymous heroine learns much about herself and others. The author makes no serious attempt to use 1840s language or manners (the characters call one another by their first names on meeting, a woman takes her bonnet off in public) and the story has 21st century sensibilities (better to be living in a loving shopkeeper's family than in a cold but wealthy and aristocratic house.) But a fine plot and a couple of really excellent characters.
Tracy Rees, Amy Snow (2015) 555 pages
Fiction: treasure hunts, 19th century. Rated 3.5/5
This history of autism and the people who brought it to public attention - they were mostly savvy parents of children "on the spectrum" as it is now called - is a combination of heartbreaking and hopeful. There have been lots of missteps along the way, particularly the current tendency for people with the condition to angrily condemn those who are looking for a cause and a cure.
John Donvan and Caren Zucker, In a Different Key: The Story of Autism (2016) 670 pages
Nonfiction: Medicine, Autism. Rated 5/5
"I have the feeling that we've seen the dismantling of civilisation, brick by brick, and now we're looking at the void. We thought that we were liberating people from oppressive cultural circumstances, but we were, in fact, taking something away from them. We were killing off civility and concern. We were undermining all those little ties of loyalty and consideration and affection that are necessary for human flourishing. We thought that tradition was bad, that it created hidebound societies, that it held people down. But, in fact, what tradition was doing all along was affirming community and the sense that we are members one of another. Do we really love and respect one another more in the absence of tradition, and manners and all the rest? Or have we merely converted one another into moral stranger?"
-- Alexander McCall Smith, Espresso Tales
One of the blogs I follow regularly is called Anecdotal Evidence. It's written by an erudite former journalist who wanders entertainingly around his world and his books and has much to teach me. Today he talks about a young woman on horseback who goes by his house occasionally and that leads him to Philip Larkin's poetry. Check out the blog.
A few years back we were making plans to visit our God-daughter who lived in Hawaii. So to get in the mood we began watching Hawaii Five-O, the original with Jack Lord, which was first on TV in 1968 and lasted until 1980. Then we though what the heck let's look at Hawai'i Five-0, the undoubtedly inadequate reboot from 2010. And we fell in love. With Danny Williams, played by James Caan's son, Scott Caan, and with Chin Ho Kelly, played by Daniel Dae Kim, and with the rest of the crowd from Kono to Danny's daughter, Grace.
In the original we were particularly fond of a certain phone booth which showed up all over the Islands wherever it was needed. And an ambulance that was repainted from week to week to represent various hospitals. And the Byodo-In Temple, scene of the crisis of some of the best stories and was like the phone booth and the ambulance almost a character in the show. But I think our favorite was Wo Fat, an arch-villain, named for a Honolulu restaurant. I didn't think anybody could possibly embody Wo Fat the way Khigh Dhiegh did. Well, Mark Dacascos has beaten the odds and is even better than Dhiegh. The character himself remains as elusive and enigmatic as the original.
Much as we love these TV programs I would really like to see the Charlie Chan stories brought to life. Masi Oka, who plays Dr Max Bergmann, would make a splendid Charlie Chan. The first of the books by Earl Derr Biggers was The House Without a Key (which was also named after a Honolulu restaurant) and it is what we now call cinematic - a very visual story. Here's my review of the book from 2011.
1925 Hawaii was an idyllic sort of place, a place where a straight-laced New England Puritan could lose himself in the heady scent of night blooms and the sunset gilding of the sea. And that’s just what happens to John Quincy Winterslip, a Boston bond dealer who is sent by the family to fetch home his aunt, who left months ago for a visit and hasn’t come home.
His ship arrives in the evening and because of bureaucratic red tape (yes, even in Hawaii Territory in 1925) the ship has to sit outside the reef overnight and land in the morning. When he does go ashore, John Quincy discovers his wealthy uncle Dan, a controversial figure in Honolulu whose fortune is thought to have been acquired through nefarious means, has been murdered during the night. The only clue is a watch with a phosphorescent dial on which the number two is faded.
The police arrive, and among them is Charlie Chan, the finest detective on the island. As he investigates, Charlie finds some additional clues, including an ornate dagger, a jeweled brooch, the stub from an unusual brand of cigarette, and more. It turns out there were quite a few visitors the night Dan was killed, and with John Quincy’s help the police turn up numerous motives for wanting Dan dead.
This is Hawaii and so there are lots of Hawaiian words, a visit to a luau, swimming and surfboarding, leis and muumuus, and the light blinking on Diamond Head. Hawaii being the original multicultural Eden, there are not just Hawaiians and mainland Anglos, but also Japanese and Chinese, Spanish and Portuguese, English and Irish. And because this is Eden, Dan’s house on Waikiki is a house without a key.
This mystery is very dated and filled with atmosphere, Charlie Chan is a minor character but an important one, and the complicated plot comes to a satisfactory ending. The bad guys go to jail, the good guys come into some money, and the guy gets the girl. You'll have to read the book to find out which girl.
Starting with caves at Lascaux and Patagonia and finishing up with Rothko and David Hockney, Victoria Finlay examines the many colors used in art works and explains where and how they were procured. Her previous books, Color, and Jewels, were excellent and this new work is no less attractive and enlightening.
John Himmelman is on to something with his series of books about Isabel, the Bunjitsu Bunny. She is dedicated to her sport and practices every day, learning not just how to do the physical maneuvers of bunjitsu, which appears to be a form of aikido, but also learning the precepts of this modern Japanese martial art.
I'm not a Trump supporter. Nor am I a Clinton supporter. But I'm not really puzzled about why Trump won. Here's an explanation from Mark Steyn:
The establishment of both parties spent the last year telling his supporters they no longer mattered - they're too old, too white, too male, too bluecollar, too rust-belt, too too tootsie, g'bye; they're old and fading and they'll be dead soon. This is, in fact, an over-broad generalization: Trump pulled more millennials than Romney, and more of the Latino vote, and he doubled Mitt's share of the black vote.
Even so, it was too much to expect this New America to wait for this old, irrelevant America actually to kick the bucket: they had to hasten 'em into the grave by endless taunting that everyone matters more than you. So that, in nothing flat, transgendered rights suddenly become a huge urgent public-policy priority requiring instant federal bathroom ordinances and congratulatory calls from the White House to Caitlyn Jenner. And you've never met a transgendered person or know anyone who's met one - and yet they matter, and you and millions like you don't. And both the left's social-justice warriors and the right's psephologists are insisting that you'll matter even less next time.
This first Wells and Wong mystery, Murder Is Bad Manners, is also called Murder Most Unladylike. It's 1933 and Wells and Wong are students at a fancy girls' school in England. Wong is homesick for her house and family in Hong Kong but she has made friends at school, especially with Wells, the daughter of Lord Hastings and a perfect English rose (porcelain complexion, golden hair, etc.) Together they have formed the Wells and Wong Detective Agency and when a teacher disappears suddenly they go to work to solve what they are sure is her murder.
The second book in the series, Poison Is Not Polite, aka Arsenic for Tea, takes place in 1934 at the estate of the Wells family. It's Wells' birthday and in addition to her parents the house party to celebrate includes her brother and his friend from school, two classmates of Wells and Wong, a kleptomaniac great-aunt, a dashing and mysterious uncle, a frumpy governess, and a creepy "art expert" who seems more interested in Wells' mother than the house's art treasures. When he turns up dead, poisoned by arsenic at the children's tea, the girls have the case to themselves while the estate is cut off by heavy rains and flooding.
Also at the house though not really suspected of the crime are the butler and the cook. The book includes a map of the estate and floor plans for the three floors of the manor and a family tree. Perfect.
"Are you thirsty?" said the Lion.
"I'm dying of thirst," said Jill.
"Then drink," said the Lion . . .
"Will you promise not to -- do anything to me, if I do come?"
"I make no promise," said the Lion.
"Do you eat girls?" she said.
"I have swallowed up girls and boys, women and men, kings and emperors, cities and realms," said the Lion. It didn't say this as if it were boasting, or as if it were sorry, nor as if it were angry. It just said it.
"Oh, dear!" said Jill, coming another step nearer. "I suppose I must go and look for another stream then."
"There is no other stream," said the Lion.
-- from The Silver Chair by C S Lewis
Flavia de Luce, in her seventh mystery adventure, As Chimney Sweepers Come To Dust by Alan Bradley, finds herself in Toronto at the school that her mother attended in her youth. When a body appears suddenly - it had been stuffed up a chimney a few years before - she feels compelled to find out who it is and who killed the girl. But she doesn't know whom among her fellow students she can believe and she may have put her trust in the wrong teacher. And then there's that language adjustment for an English girl in North America.
Nickles? Dimes? I knew that cents were roughly equivalent to pence, but beyond that, Canadian currency was a veiled mystery.
Why had I ever been sent away from the land of the sixpence - the land of half crowns,, h'pennies, florins, farthings, and shillings. The land of decent coinage, where everything made sense?
I sympathize because I've sometimes held a bit of a grudge against the English who gave us pints, quarts, and gallons, inches, feet, yards, and miles, and then walked into the sunshine of the metric system leaving us trying to remember how many teaspoons in a quarter of a cup and and how many pounds in a ton.
Young Flavia has done it again. A good solid 4 on a scale of 1 to 5.
I first read The Rector of Justin when I was young and I remember wondering idly which versions of events were the true ones and who was reliable and who not. Then I shrugged and walked away from the novel for 45 years.
This time I've read it with intensity and have worn a new wrinkle in my brow trying to decide half a hundred questions: was Horace wise to talk Eliza out of marrying Frank; did Jules commit suicide; did Griscam manipulate the rector or did the rector manipulate him; did the old man really believe in God; was the rector of the title, perhaps, the primary narrator.
Funny how books change with time . . .
Decades have gone by since I've read any Hawthorne and now I'm sorry because re-reading the House of the Seven (sic) Gables has been a great pleasure.
The characters are, as always in Hawthorne, remarkable, burdened with weighty meaning. Hawthorne writes like no other about guilt, redemption, and atonement. Always mysterious. The incomparable Hepzibah, the beautiful and innocent Phoebe, the puzzling daguerreotypist, the ex-con Clifford, hypocritical Uncle Jaffrey, the tragic memory of Alice, the painting of the dead colonel, and the gloomy Pynchon house itself are all suffused with guilt from the past and the atmosphere oozes hints of the supernatural.
I've visited the house in Salem, Massachusetts, which dates from the late 1600s, and which was in the mid-1800s when Hawthorne wrote the novel owned by relatives. As always with Hawthorne, give him a wisp of family history and he'll give you an entire world of guilt and retribution and if possible forgiveness. He built the story from a tale a cousin told him combined with the mystery of the extraordinary old house and his own, inescapable sense of culpability for the transgressions of his family during the Salem witchcraft incident.
Do visit Salem, Massachusetts, if you get the chance. Chestnut Street, lined with glorious houses built in the early years of the 19th century, is sometimes called the most beautiful street in America, and I would not argue. The Essex Peabody Museum is filled with earth New England shipping and whaling lore. And try to fit in a visit to the House of the Seven (sic) Gables and Hawthorne's birthplace next door. DO NOT miss the secret staircase.
Sic? The House of the Seven Gables has nine gables. Count them.