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

Your email back, however

Synaesthete would like to meet

Other synaesthetes describe their experiences as pleasant whilst for me it is a constant sensory overload…. pick up any cheap paperback that uses too many mixed metaphors and that is my day to day, with all attempts at clarity squandered by confusing, muddled leaps of imagery. I see fireflies when a tyre screeches, smell fried onions when I step on an upturned plug…

Online dating marked a huge step. At first I found the profile I created absolutely disgusting. Reading through it, the paragraph smelt of tar and vinegar and was full of sticky, tooth-chewing words. I had no hope of response to such a squalid, acrid thing, and imagined that anyone to whom it might in any way appeal must have some kind of perversion I did not want to share. You must understand that it was not just that I did not have high hopes, I actively dreaded who would be interested in such a thing. I gave it to my doctor to edit, and he gave me two thumbs up, but I could tell by his tweedy, neoprenaged vowels, he was just being kind.

Your email back, however, smelt like a sea breeze: that was all it took. I didn’t have to read about the interests you listed, your hobbies or your star sign. It was that sea breeze smell, cutting through the snow and mown grass, that convinced me this was a chance I had to take. I organised a meeting.

You chose a spot at Piccadilly, within sight of Eros and the Criterion. I like Piccadilly Circus; the exhaust fumes and the chatter present me with a fresh inky blue, it’s almost precisely the colour of the line on the Tube map. To me the flashing neon adverts are a barbershop quartet suffering the giggles, which pleases me, and the tourists’ interbraiding accents cause a firework display of neurological responses. The taxi drivers’ swearing is accompanied by different shades of silver, squeaky and lickable.

As I waited, the rain made a pink overture against my jacket. And your colour, when you introduced yourself? You must not be insulted, but you were blank. A soundless, tasteless, brilliant blank.

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From “Attrib. and other stories by Eley Williams”, a book I’m rushing to buy after hearing this extract read aloud on the Backlisted podcast.

Some Hope

“…your sainted mother. How is she these days? One hardly sees her any more.”

“It’s amazing, isn’t it? She seems to think there are better things to do than going to parties.”

“I always thought she was a little peculiar,” said Nicholas wisely.

One of the Mitford-like jokes in this, the third of a trilogy but the one I picked up first in the library:

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I thoroughly enjoyed the writing but don’t know if I can now go back and read the earlier parts without spoiling the genuine sense of reconciliation, even redemption, as Patrick puts the abuse of his childhood behind him.

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The series has apparently been filmed, with Benedict Cumberbatch starring, and whilst he’s definitely too old to be Patrick, I’d be interested to see it. In the meantime, we can all enjoy the put downs of snobbish country life, over-articulate young men and social posturing:

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Jane of Lantern Hill

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Everybody except the baby had brought a present for Jane. Mrs Jimmy John gave her a lambskin dyed red for a bedside rug. Miranda brought her a little fat white jug with pink roses on its sides, Punch brought her some early radishes, Polly brought her a rooted geranium slip and the twins brought her a toad apiece for the garden.

“You have to have toads in your garden for luck,” explained Punch.

LM Montgomery does peak hygge. This one has lots of sowing flowers, swimming in the sea and frying potatoes, as well as a fairytale ending – perfect holiday reading.

Blog of the week

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As you can tell, I like to read, so a blog all about reading will always be a winner with me. Macdonald is actually an academic who has published several fascinating-sounding journal articles and a book about the conservatism of John Buchan and Dornford Yates’ writing.

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Since browsing her blog’s backlist, I’ve come across the autobiography of the man who painted the most famous portraits of Lawrence of Arabia, and who’s writing in 1940s Morocco decided to recall his Victorian life in Aberdeen, an HG Wells war book published in 1916 that criticised the generals and the public’s unthinking jingoism – despite possibly inspiring some of Churchill’s later speeches of WW2 – and has a very sympathetic portrait of a young German, a bizarre novel of post-civil war America that firmly upholds social and racial segregation (Macdonald compares it to being wowed by a 1930s German novella and then finding out that the author was seriously pro-Nazi), and the links of Buchan and WonderWoman. Her podcast sounds a blast too. Read all about it here.

(Shelfies of my own book collection, July 2017 / October 2013.)

Summer evenings

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Flora went into the kitchen, where a lamp already burned on the table. Its soft light fell into the heart of a bunch of pink roses in a jam-jar. There was a letter from Charles propped against the jar too, and the roses threw down a heavy, rounded shadow onto the envelope. It was so pretty that Flora lingered a moment, looking, before she opened her letter.

Cold Comfort Farm, Stella Gibbons. Photo from @elfredapownall.