A recipe for a summer day

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On the twenty-second June, I spent the day taking depositions for young Thomas Harper Esq., in a room without windows or ventilation at an opposing firm on Sixty-second street. The subject of the deposition was sweating like a laundress and repeating himself even when it made no sense to do so….When we finally finished, I had to go to Central Park to get some air. I picked up a sandwich at a corner deli and found a nice spot near a magnolia where I could eat in peace with my old friend, Charles Dickens.

Katy Kontent (pronounced Kon-tent) in Amor Towles’ The Rules of Civility. 

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I’ve been reading a lot of snippets recently – cooking memoirs, collected essays etc – craving a bit of nonfiction and some doses of new ideas. A book of short stories (collected by a favourite author) seems like a good way back in to fiction. Or do I just go for a doorstopper?

A slender reputation

There are some books that you circle and dither round, knowing you’ll read it “one day”, until the possibility that the second hand supply drying up and/or the risk of prices going up too high forces you to act. Kathleen Hale’s “A slender reputation” is one of the those, but after I finally kicked myself into gear and bought a copy I was so glad I’d got there at last.

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Hale was an artist who ran away from home at 18 to join the London art scene in 1917 when it was no joke (she says matter of factly that she never went without food and drink for more than two days, but it left her with stomach ulcers and pain for the rest of her life), became best known for her Orlando the Marmalade Cat series even though she was talented in many genres, and had a companionable loving marriage with a husband who she was never naturally attuned too.

Her book is a joyful set of memories about post-first world war Bohemia (she worked for Augustus John, but was more a friend with his wife Dorelia), the satisfaction of motherhood unexpectedly and later in life, house and garden making as part of, rather than a drain from, her artistic creativity, and most of all an ongoing optimism through thick and thin.

East and West

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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.

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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,

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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.

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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.

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),

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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.

pure joy

After reading Horatio Clare’s writing up of his walk to lubeck for Radio3 in 2017, I’ve picked up John Eliot Gardiner’s biography of Bach again. Each chapter could be a journal article in its own right and his examination of the two cantata cycles that Bach wrote for Leipzig are so engaging I’ve had to keep listening along to YouTube as I read. This is one of my favourites that I’ve discovered in recent weeks.

A tough life needs a tough language

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I’ve never previously wanted to read Jeanette Winterson, which just shows how easy it is to get a wrong impression of an author from public dialogue. (Dickens is a prime example of an author I loved as soon as I actually read him.) This extract is funnier and blunter than I’d have expected and now I’m curious to read her memoir “Why be happy when you could be normal?”