East and West


Excited to read that Penguin Classics are republishing four Asian-American authors from the 20th century. Each of the books (Chinese, Japanese, Korean, Filipino) sounds so good and also so pertinent to today’s issues that I’d want to read them all.

Podcast of the week

So, for any other romance novel lovers out there (no pun intended), you need to get your headphones on and download the Sentimental Garbage podcast.


It takes a favourite book each week, but also discusses such gems as the importance of very specific snacking in chick lit, why it is that women are the ones always expected to change in a straight relationship (key quote: “it’s not another woman’s job to sort your sons”) and why a dominating lover probably appeals to younger readers,


along with discoveries like Julian the Loaf (an idea I’m totally stealing), spoilers and musings on who writes the most enjoyable – as in the characters having the most enjoyment – sex scenes.

Lemon squash and heat

I told them I could be free by the twenty-first and that I’d come home the twenty-second. (June.) But everything went better than expected – I had all the examinations corrected and graded and back at the office by ten the morning of the twenty-first and I returned to the apartment feeling so footloose, so restless that I began to have some second thoughts. It’s only a five hour drive from the University to the ranch, if you move along – if you don’t stop every fifty miles for orange juice the way we used to, Judith and I, our first two years in college, or at bars, the way we did later, after we’d studied how to pass for twenty-one at under twenty…

I did say I’d be home by the twenty-second, and I had unconsciously cleared the way by the twenty-first, which in June is the longest day of the year. After I got back from taking the examinations to the office, it began to feel like it. I walked around the apartment and looked two or three times inside the refrigerator, so cold, so white, so bare, and more times than that out the big west window at the bay with the prison islands in it…

It was increasingly clear to me that I didn’t intend to spend another night, at least not this one, in the apartment. There were all kinds of indications: I stripped the sheets off my bed and put them in a laundry bag; and I folded the cover over the keyboard of the piano, a piano which was held mine, but which I’d scarcely touched, as they say of pianos, since Judith, who owned the other half, went to New York…

By three that afternoon I was halfway home, and sitting in a bar, one of the ones we used to stop at in the old days. It was quite dark and air-cooled and I had in hand a lemon squash with vodka in it in deference to my grandmother who hates the smell of alcohol on anyone’s breath – particularly girls’ breaths.


The opening of “Cassandra at the Wedding” by Dorothy Baker. Republished by Daunts in a new edition, and unputdownable. The plot trigger is the wedding of Cassandra’s twin, Judith, and although the guardian bizarrely reviewed it as “a dark comedy about marriage”, it’s really an examination of family. Published in 1962, it’s deeply evocative of South California ranch life, endless orange juice and Ivy League graduates of the time.

Ayesha, at last

One of my favourite reads recently has been a retelling of Pride and Prejudice from Uzma Jalaluddin set in the Toronto Muslim community, “Ayesha at last”. Unlike the original you get to see inside the heads of both protagonists, and there’s also a delightful twist at the end where you get a glimpse of the Darcy-character living his new, more mischievous life. Add to that some excellent side characters and the fact that the Kindle edition is only 99p and it’s a must buy. I’m just sorry that the publisher seems to have underestimated the print run as paper copies have sold out nothing in the states and here in the U.K.

Uzma also writes a column in the Toronto Star called “Samosas and Maple Syrup”. Here are a couple of examples, one on feminism and her sons and one on the interaction she between children and their grandparents. 

Devouring words

Setting off on another reading spell, making the most of long flights coming now up and time away from the computer screen. I also found that a mixed dose of Muriel Spark and MFK Fisher helped get my reading mojo back from a slump, and I’m now contemplating books in Prague, Trieste and Siberia. However on this trip it’s time for lighter fare and I’ll be digging into these initially:

then intrigued by this (although I still need to read The Joy Luck Club, which I think might have a similar theme to this),


and these two also remind me of previous trips to New York and Paris.

(None of the photos are mine)

It made me sad to leave the galley-proofs

It was when Martin York was especially upset that he would call me up to his office to talk to him. It made me sad to leave the galley-proofs of a novel by Cocteau or a new edition of Tender is the Night folder on my desk. Many of the Ullswater Press books were so good, so rare.

A far cry from Kensington – Muriel Spark. With the same postwar atmosphere (refugees having sweet cakes and lemon tea after the Oratory and before their lecture circuits; Kensington boarding houses and a woman of 28 as a war widow) as The Girls of Slender Means but even more moral detachment, and an unexpected happiness at the end. As calming as lemon tea.

Library Planet


If you want a Lonely Planet for libraries – with entries from Auckland


Denmark, and




then visit Library Planet. From previously being in a house share with a librarian who had to go to Kuala Lumps once for work, I can testify that this could be a truly global project. The Stockholm national library is still on my list…

Which hardly one woman in a thousand could stand the test of

It had been a frosty morning, to be sure, a sharp frost, which hardly one woman in a thousand could stand the test of. But still, there were certainly a multitude of ugly women in Bath; and as for the men! they were infinitely worse.


This portrait by Manet of his friend, the actress Mery Laurent, is fat kinder than Sir Walter Elliott’s disappointment in Bath, but has exactly the same feeling of a face glimpsed on the street on a cold winter morning.