Travellers

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This could easily be yet-another half-written survey of nazi Germany intended to cash in on our society’s fascination with this period, but it’s actually a well-researched, gripping and often unexpected survey of the times. The opening chapters reflecting on the poverty and hunger of early 20s Germany and the starvation that led many church groups to offer aid are particularly interesting as they often get passed over in a few sentences in history books, but the analysis of the reasons why so many visitors kept their heads in the sand is also far more subtle than the usual they-hoped-to-avoid-war explanations. Highly recommended and a very easy read: I tore through it in a day.

Good things to eat and plenty of them

There were little new potatoes for dinner, creamed with green peas, and there were string beans and green onions.  And by every plate was a saucer full of sliced ripe tomatoes, to be eaten with sugar and cream.

”Well, we’ve got good things to eat, and plenty of them,” said Pa, taking a second helping of potatoes and peas…

He cut into the pie’s crust with a big spoon, and turned over a big chunk of it onto a plate. The underside was steamed and fluffy. Over it he poured spoonfuls of thin brown gravy, and beside it he laid half a blackbird…The scent of that opened pie was making all their mouths water…As long as the blackbirds lasted, and the garden was green, they could eat like this every day.

Little Town on the Prairie – Laura Ingalls Wilder

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Summer lists

Last year I spent a good amount of my summer holiday in Toulouse tearing through books and sleeping and it was bliss. I discovered Madeline Thien (I could still hug her book if I came across a copy now), challenges myself with Deborah Levy’s Hot Milk (didn’t like it but enjoyed what it made me think about) and generally got my mojo back.

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This year I’m being drawn to all the Americana as I’ve just booked an autumn stateside holiday. A bit of nostalgia with the little house on the prairie books, but I’m also looking forward to finding out a bit more about the history with this if I download it on my Kindle.

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The lithub list of 100 books to read America got my attention and I’ve ordered this, which is aimed at kids but sounds really good – a summary of a young black girl growing up in the 60s South and moving to New York as an adult.

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And Ann Patchett’s latest, which I bought as a treat for myself last year but haven’t read yet. Patchett’s writing is amazing but often quite intense and I needed time to digest after her previous book that I read, State of Wonder.

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And of course there’ll probably be lots of beach reads, which for me means cookery memoirs, romance novels (#noshame) and travel books.

Festival moods

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If in May the first music festivals come out, by late June / July it’s definitely the turn of the literary circuit and the London season seems fully underway as the talking set’s removal to various parks and country houses coincide with racing, cricket and tennis.

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The one I did get to (thank you C) was the Queen’s Park literary festival where I went 100% fangirl at seeing Zadie Smith speak. But next year I’m saving time for the Garden Museum’s weekend (topics ranging from Elizabethan knot gardens to foraging)

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and The Idler also had a splendidly louche-sounding weekend booked in at Fenton House earlier this year. Not a tent in sight, let alone a portaloo…

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Blog of the week

It’s been a while since we had one of these posts, but I’d like to think it’s worth the wait.

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First warning: The Modern Mrs Darcy blog will make you want to go and rewatch your favourite Pride and Prejudice adaptation.

Second warning: you will also want to go and buy a lot of new books, especially if you check out Anne’s summer reading list guides

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Third warning: Anne’s Friday round ups also appeal to the same part of me that loves Girls’ Night In and other end-of-the-week compendiums. And when one of those posts links you to the fictional characters that embody each Myers-Briggs type then my cup overfloweth.

Basically its book nerd central, and I mean that in the best possible way. Sorry if that’s been not you…

This might be even worse

I didn’t realise then that my father frightened everyone, not just me.

The room was filled with an Awful Silence so I looked about me wondering if he had found out about my overdraft, or the fact I had been in late from the local coffee bar last night.

“I think you should know”, he said, drawing on his cigarette in his oddly elegant way, and speaking just as slowly as he always did, “I think you should know,” he repeated, “certain facts.”

I thought I was about to pass out with the horror of what was to come. Some months before he had given me a long and very serious talk about the internal combustion engine; this might be going to be even worse.

“The facts are rather delicate,” he continued, “and you must promise not to pass them on.”

I stared at him. My best friend had told me some Facts on Bognor Beach last summer but of course I hadn’t really believed her because, quite honestly, they didn’t seem very nice, and certainly not the sort of things that people should be doing in their spare time. I actually said to her: “If you believe that, you will believe anything.”

“I work for MI5.”

Charlotte Bingham’s MI5 and Me is the perfect Mitford-esque summer read and I’m also quite fond of it because I’m pretty sure that my mum was a ringer for the woman on the front cover in her Yoof.

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From yellow packet adorned with an elephant

I began to play a game with myself…Picturing myself in a dacha surrounded by prickly gooseberry bushes, I’d mentally preserve and pickle the tastes and smells of my Soviet socialist past in an imaginary three-litre jar.

In went the Order of Lenin Red October chocolate bars with a mirthful kid on the wrapper. In went the scarlet-wrapped Bolshevik Factory Jubilee Biscuits, the one’s that dissolved so poignantly when dipped in tea from a yellow packet adorned with an elephant.

Anna von Bremzen’s Mastering the Art of Soviet Cookery is a fascinating and increasingly melancholy look at the development of Soviet Russia through Anna’s family history and her and her mother’s food memories. Starting with a Czarist feast of blinis “as plump as the shoulders of a merchant’s daughter” (Chekhov) and running up till the vodka rebellions of Gorbachev’s final years and splintering of the USSR its a total page turner.

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I’d no idea that Stalin – in a brief moment of generosity – sent his food minister to 1930s America, with the result that the socialist dream in late 30s Moscow was for every child to have a hamburger, ketchup and Pepsi, and that Khrushchev’s obsession with corn was also a legacy of Prairie dreams. Nor that the Russian emigrees to 20s Paris created a new kind of French cuisine. This book came via a recommendation on The Captive Reader blog, so go and check that out for more goodies too.

Frilled linen

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And then, opening her eyes, how fresh, like frilled linen clean from a laundry laid in wicker trays, the roses looked; and dark and prom the red carnations, holding their heads up; and all the sweet peas spreading in their bowls, tinged violet, snow white, pale – as if it were the evening and girls in muslin frocks cane out to pick sweet peas and roses after the superb summer’s day

Mrs Dalloway buying the flowers herself, and the very much not-for-sale roses in Regebt’s Park.

Rain-washed mountains

“Your father says it’s Gaelic and pronounced Camasunart,” said Mother, “and it’s at the back of beyond, so there you go darling, and have a lovely time for the birds and the – the water, or whatever you said you wanted.”

I sat clutching the receiver, perched there above the roar of Regent Street. Before my mind’s eye rose, cool and remote, a vision of rain-washed mountains.

”D’you know,” I said slowly, “I think I will.”

Gianetta Fox sets off for Scotland in Mary Stewart’s “Wildfire at Midnight”

Cake!

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There was a strange rumour in Highbury of all the little Perry’s being seen with a slice of Mrs Weston’s wedding-cake in their hands: but Mr Woodhouse would never believe it. – “Emma”, Jane Austen

Not at all like Mr Woodhouse as I go to celebrate a friend’s wedding today, partly with a lot of cake.

The top picture is the wonderfully-titled “The Tempting Cake” by Albert Roosenboom.

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