Reading

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Or rather devouring both these Christmas books. I must have cooked 5 different recipes from the Anna Jones within the first week of having it, and the Emily Wilson translation completes my triumvirate of Bettany Hughes and Mary Beard on my shelves.

Like keeping bees or playing chess

“Oh.” said Stephen. “Politics.”
“Yes, but you can’t say ‘politics’ in that sort of voice nowadays, can you?”
“What sort of voice did I say it in?”
“As though it was something separate, like keeping bees or playing chess.”
“And don’t you think it is something separate.”
“Well, do you, really? It seems to me it’s everything – how we mlive and behave to each other, how we bring up children, what sort of world we want to live in.”…
“Of course – my father…He’s a stout Tory.”
“That generation decently could be.”
“And our generation decently can’t?”
“I think not.”

National Provincial by Lettice Cooper, whose other excellent books include The New House and Fenny. The quote above reminds me very much of Nancy Mitford’s wry comment that politics in the 20s was an esoteric hobby until Hitler came along to liven things up. Luckily Persephone are republishing this next year, but it might be worth seeing if there are any secondhand copies out there.

Bedtime reading

I came across this great, ultra camp sounding, memoir when I was actually looking for images from Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls. I will talk about that below, but this is just too good for Christmas to pass up:

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And here we are for the original theme of today’s post – 100 tales of active and inspiring women. There is a fear that this kind of buy-the-Tshirt feminism is replacing activism, but my view is that in an age when so many socially progressive policies are being rolled back, we need to reminding kids of the alternatives:

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Reading outside the box

I posted a couple of months ago about the excellent Instagrammer @sophia_stories and her hashtag #readingoutsidethebox, which got me really thinking about what I tend to read: a lot of female writers, definitely, but usually white, middle-class and from the first half of the twentieth century.

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Now I’m not going to abandon those authors, but they do of course present a certain world-view (see here for Kate McDonald who writes about the deliberate social conservatism of many these writers), and it’s been refreshing to start reading very different voices. Partly this is the result of being in a relationship with someone who can also roar through Waterstones like Genghis Khan on a good day, but tends to scoop up new publications, authors from the Indian subcontinent and non-fiction, so my across-the-bookshelves borrowing is getting far more varied.

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Enter The Reading Women, a blog and podcast that has so far introduced me to this funny and angry book of essays (by the way, her anger at alcohol pressured on young women is fully justified although thankfully it’s not something I’ve had to deal with),

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a range of memoirs including the one at the top of this article, and crime fiction including this debut about a young Muslim Canadian detective:

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In the way of all algorithms, the Internet then led me to The Good Imigrant, which I devoured last week. A collection of essays that covers everything from learning to wear your “black” hair when you’re a mixed-race kid in rural Somerset who doesn’t identify as black to the different voices of home, work and friends, to the hidden racism facing Chinese and other East Asian populations in the U.K., to a series of funny and rage-inducing articles about literal type-casting of actors. I’d say this is a book to buy so I won’t post a whole load of shots from it, but these are both from a piece by Riz Ahmed. One about the restrictions of casting slots and how this interacts with national self-images, and also the continual indignity of airport checks:

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The fragrant egg and b.

“Jeeves,” I said, “I am not the old merry self this morning.”
“Indeed, sir?”
“No, Jeeves. Far from it. Far from the merry old self.”
“I am sorry to hear it, sir.”
He uncovered the fragrant egg and b. and I pronged a moody forkful.

From the ever excellent PG Wodehouse whose Leave it to Psmith joined me on holiday last month as I sat pronging Devil’s Food Cake in my pyjamas. Greatly relieved it’s now the weekend after a LONG week.

Reading in heels

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Slightly cheesy title, but a fun monthly box that gives you or a friend a new (often newly-published) book plus a clutch of treats for a very affordable price. Put it this way, the price of the book takes up most of the price, and postage is an affordable £2 a month. I’m not sure if I’ve got room in my house for this but it’s a fun way of getting a treat each month and reading something a bit different so I’m going to give it a go for a couple of months and the November box was a wonderful autumnal mix of some true life crime, camomile tea, chocolate treat and cinnamon-y bath oil.

Order now for December…

It was only just beginning

And it seemed as though in a little while the solution would be found, and then a new and splendid life would be begin; and it was clear…that they still had a long, long road before them, and that the most complicated and difficult part of it was only just beginning.

Chekhov, Lady with a lapdog.

Bread and ashes

Tabasarn, in south-eastern Daghestan, spoken by about 90,000 has, I was once assured by a tipsy linguist, eight genders. Scholars, he assured me, enjoyed introducing new, unfamiliar objects to the Tamasars to see which gender might be assigned. Apparently a samovar was unanimously assigned to the seventh gender, though no one could say why.

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A typically hitchhikers-guide-to-the-galaxy type intervention from this delightful book that talks you through the politics, landscape, history and languages of this region, along with a good smattering of rollicking travel tales (Tony’s friend Chris generally sleeping upright in his green sleeping bag like the caterpillar in Alice in Wonderland, and staring at the local cheese trying to decide whether it would make his hangover better or worse.)

Here’s some more on the local linguistic melting pot:

Many languages here have a prolix proliferation of cases: one analysis of  Tsez identified forty-two different locative case markers, which can describe precisely what space someone or something is in, at, under, by, near, away from: a hollow space, a flat space, a space that might be a trifle uncomfortable or sadly lacking in alcohol…Abkhaz, a notoriously difficult language, has fifty-eight [consonants] ; one of its dialects, Bzyp, has sixty-seven…Essed Bey insisted that Tabarsarn was so difficult that the Tabasars…preferred to speak an easier, neighbouring tongue.

Feed of the week

At the end of a brief phone conversation, you tell the manager you’re speaking with that you’ll come by his office to sign the form. When you arrive and announce yourself he blurts out, I didn’t know you were black!
I didn’t mean to say that, he then says.
Aloud, you say.
What? he asks.

You didn’t mean to say that aloud.
Your transaction goes quickly after that.

I went on a massive reading jag on holiday – catching up on not having time and energy to read much earlier in the summer, and excited by new books and voices.

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At the perfect time, I discovered @sophia_stories, an Instagram feed for a PhD student studying modern Palestinian authors, and just #readingoutsidethebox generally.

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Poetry, rap, novels of childhood memories and observations of modern life all fill her feed. What I especially like are the double posts: Sophia will flag a book when she starts reading it, and then post again in a few days with her impressions – very different from the usual Bookstagram feeds where you sense that the book was read for its cover or compatibility with some flowers and never actually read.

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And the quotes…

“Instant coffee with slightly sour cream…”

“The English newsreader told me / home was a broken man, holding / a dying child, with flies round its mouth:
A story that didn’t tally”

“home begins with the spoon knocking against the rim of the pot of lentil soup”

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Starting stocking your bookshelves now…

 

 

Berlin nights

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After hours of strolling in the heat, the cold glass of sour buttermilk was just the thing we both craved to quench our thirst. The clean, pure flavour and its thickness cooling my throat lingered with me long after we pushed back from the table, said goodbye, and walked home, sandals slapping gently against the sidewalk.

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Muck had told us to bring dessert, so I sifted through my recipes cookbooks searching for something to make, both relishing the task and feeling indecisive as I always did…

I could bake a cake, something simple and rustic, topped with fruit. But in Germany, cake was eaten mainly in the afternoon served with a cup of coffee or tea. And although I used to bake cakes for dinner parties in New York, the idea of a slice of cake after dinner no longer appealed to me…

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I thought about slicing peaches and slipping the wedges into wine, but the truth is that good peaches were not so easy to come by in Berlin….A pavlova sounded pretty good too: marshmallowy mereingues topped with whipped cream and berries.

But pavlova felt too fussy for this languid afternoon. I leaned back on the couch and closed my eyes, hearing the faint hum of traffic from the outdoors and thinking about our day. I remembered the buttermilk we’d shared, creamy and sour. It occurred to me that buttermilk and berries would make a perfect summer dessert…

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The panna cotta was simple to make, but when the time came to unmold the set cream from its ceramic mold, I struggled to loosen it from the sides. Max came into the kitchen just as I was starting to lose my cool and ended up helping me, the two of us giggling at the panna cotta’s luxuriant wobble as it settled into its serving plate. Then I spooned the juicy berries and their syrup all round the panna cotta, almost obscuring the creamy mound. As Max drove us to Muck and Jurgen’s house, I held the serving plate gingerly in my lap as the fruit slid precariously back and forth.

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Out on their deck at dusk, we ate pink-fleshed lake trout poached gently in fennel broth, small boiled potatoes, waxy and sunflower yellow and dusted with chopped parsley, and a little salad of soft greens studded with toasted sunflower seeds. There was a cold bottle of Riesling and a sharp and creamy horseradish sauce mixed with grated apple for a bit of sweetness to dollop on the fish…

The table soon fell quiet and as our spoons scraped against the china and I saw the light draining from the sky, my life suddenly felt so complete, so rich and full and just as it should be, that I almost lost my breath.

Luisa Weiss, My Berlin Kitchen