Monday, September 24, 2007

Some thoughts on cobwebs, housework and books

After my unpleasant run-in with the unwelcome guest in my bathroom yesterday, I decided to go on the offensive against the autumn spider invasion. All yesterday I was busy with dusters, Dyson and steamer, cleaning all those corners where they like to lurk. I have obviously been spending far more time on blogging, reading and quilting recently than on housework because every corner and crevice boasted a cobweb. All is clean and arachnid-hostile for the present but I fear it will require constant vigilance. Cob cottages may have 300+ years of charm but really they are only mud huts and great breeding grounds for creepy-crawlies.

Just to show that I am not a complete slattern, I had already started on a tidy-up of the books on and around my bedside table over the weekend. 'On and around' is an understatement for piles and towers of books on every surface, including the floor. I couldn't think of where to put them, all shelves being full, and then I had a brilliant idea - they could go on the blog. I've had fun adding a new list to the sidebar. These are the books that I've been reading since my last sort out in July.

I have really enjoyed exploring some of the designated book blogs, especially those I've picked out as favourites. I have been filled with awe at the number of books those erudite and interesting writers get through but now I see I've been getting through quite a number myself. I'm glad I waited until I couldn't move around them before putting them away, or I might never have noticed. RandomDistractions does not pretend to be a book blog but there are one or two of my recent reads that I would like to comment on.

I made a huge mistake this summer in responding to a special offer on books from the Richard and Judy book club - their summer collection. Last year I bought Arthur and George by Julian Barnes, Labyrinth by Kate Mosse and March by Geraldine Brooks on their recommendation and enjoyed them all, so I thought it would be safe to buy their full summer list. Mistake! I started by reading Jonathan Tropper's How to Talk to a Widower. Richard and Judy picked this out as the best of their eight recommendations and it received impressive reviews in several newspapers. All that I can say is, if you haven't read it then don't! To its credit, each chapter starts out well with a sentence to draw the reader in: Chapter 2: MOST DAYS,WE GET RABBITS ON OUR LAWN. Chapter 3: MY MOTHER WARNED ME NOT TO MARRY HAILEY. Chapter 41: I HAD A WIFE. HER NAME WAS HAILEY. NOW SHE'S GONE.And so am I. Unfortunately I can't quote much more of the book because I filter out offensive language. Jonathan Tropper is a teacher of writing at Manhattanville College. Hm! Most teachers of my acquaintance have more than four-letter words in their vocabulary.

That was the summer reading off to a very bad start. The MM spotted Simon Kernick's Relentless in the parcel; thinking it looked like a man's book, he took it into the garden to read. He came back after ten minutes and returned it to the pile - 'utter trash' was his verdict. This was beginning to look like a very poor investment. Next I selected The Savage Garden by Mark Mills. This was described in The Telegraph as 'An intriguing puzzle, elegantly written ...' I'm afraid I found it tedious and all rather pointless. At least I don't need to find room on my bookshelves for this lot as they will be going straight to the charity shop.

I put Richard and Judy aside for a couple of weeks and nosed around the lives of Anna Massey, Judi Dench, John Simpson and Andrew Motion. (I imagine that Andrew Motion's writing classes bear no comparison with those of Mr Tropper.) Then my Scottish ancestry kicked in and made me return to the R&J parcel: I had paid for eight books and only read two and discarded one, I had to try again. I'm glad I did because The Other Side of the Bridge by Mary Lawson was an excellent choice; set in northern Canada in the 1930s and 40s, it is gentle, evocative and full of surprises. I am currently enjoying the much lighter, amusing It could happen to you by Isla Dewar. Still to read are the intriguing sounding Salmon Fishing in the Yemen by Paul Torday, Kim Edwards' The Memory Keeper's Daughter and The House at Riverton by Kate Morton.

There seem to have been a lot of books about people's daughters recently, I still have a copy of The Abortionist's Daughter on my To Be Read shelf and I've seen references to The Rabbi's Daughter, The Firework-maker's Daughter and The Grave-digger's Daughter. I'll try not to be put off by the trend. I would normally pass on the historical novel too but I enjoyed The Needle in the Blood earlier in the summer so I'll give The House at Riverton a chance.

I must get on and finish as many books and quilts as possible before I start my studies on 13 October. I hope I won't have to choose between reading my favourite blogs and doing the housework - the spiders could make a major come-back and I would have to leave home.


  1. How timely -- book lists. This morning I received an email from my son requesting English language books for his daughter in her first year at the International high school (lycee) in Toulouse where they live.

    Supposedly, classes are half in English and half in French. It's surprising the library wouldn't have English books, but I try not to act like I think anything French is odd. It's not easy, I can tell ya, so I've been poring over book lists, fiction and non-fiction. He also requests history and geography books.

    Does anyone know whether textbooks are made available to students in lycees? I replied to him that while I would be delighted to send my beautiful granddaughter books, I need some direction as to titles.

    Anyway it was fun looking over the lists and I was delighted that my favorite book, "My Antonia" by Willa Cather is on the Modern Library reading list.

    Our small house here has no room for shelving books, so I've taken to buying used books from They're in amazingly good shape and so cheap after I read I can give them to the library or just pass them on the friends and neighbors.

    I'd never be brave enough to just buy a bunch of books as you did. Although I think it would be great fun.

  2. So. Maureen, we already know that we are both Devon residents and almost the same age and we also now know about the shared convent history, Aga ownership, arachnophobia and love of books. To that we now add ownership of a 300-year-old house occupied by many-legged creatures. Any guesses as to where this common history will take us next?

    Thank you for the book commentaries - always welcome. I bought The Island (Victoria Hislop) on the basis of an R&J recommendation and was very disappointed. Wonderful story but a bit lacking when it came to use of language, I thought. Style is as important as substance in the making of a memorable novel.

  3. erp: I don't know very much about the French lycee system. My daughter did "French exchange" when she was about 15 years old -she spent a month in France, living with a family and attending school and then the French student came to stay with us. It is difficult to judge a system on such a brief encounter, but our impression was that our youngsters worked much harder.

    "My Antonia" is one of my favourites, too. I wonder what else we would put on a reading list for students in another country? I studied French literature in sixth form (age 16 -18, I'm not sure what that is in your schools). We read Moliere, Racine, Flaubert, Hugo and du Maupassant; I wonder if the French would feel well-represented by that selection? We only had one modern novel, "Le Pilot" but I don't remember the author.

    My knowledge of American literature is pretty restricted, too. I've read some Edith Wharton, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, Hemmingway and some of the poets but you might think I've missed some important writers. I'd be glad to have your recommendations.

  4. 60goingon16 (now true!),
    Yes, it's getting rather creepy!

    I'd forgotten about 'The Island' - I agree with your assessment entirely. However, when I heard my son was going to Crete for his holiday last year, I sent the book to him with a warning that it was not a work of any literary merit but quite an interesting insight into the local life. He enjoyed reading it in situ - pictured here.

  5. Salmon Fishing in the Yemen is, on the surface, a funny book but as you read further it becomes rather touching and heartwarming. I simply loved it.

  6. 60... Style is as important as substance in the making of a memorable novel.

    You are so very right and this lack of style turns me away from modern books, fiction and non-fiction. If I can't get past the poor writing, non-existent or creative grammar, I'll never learn the author's point. BTW - I like your moniker. I'm 70+ going on 19 myself.

    Monix, the books needn't be American authors, just books written in the English language. Here are links to some of the websites I found: Great Books (Keep scrolling down for the list); fiction ("My Antonia" is #94 on the Reader's Fiction list) and non-fiction.

    Other suggestions are welcome.

  7. Elaine: Thank you. Trusting your judgement, I'll read that next.

  8. erp: You know what you've done: drawn me into spending yet more time online and then sticking my nose into even more books. Great. Thank you. I hate housework!

  9. I knew we'd find another shared interest - a loathing of housework. Or, put another way, Books 10: Housework 0. With diversions and distractions at half-time. (Unfortunately, have just been hoist on own petard as arachnid has landed on my mouse hand as I write this. Exit, stage left pursued by spider.)

    Continued . . . /
    Am also relieved that I now know one other person who wasn't impressed by 'The Island'. I thought it was just me . . .

    And to erp and monix - I love 'My Antonia' too.

    (erp, 70+going on19 sounds pretty good and definitely better than the other way round. Who wants to be old before their time?)

  10. In the hands of a better writer, The Island could have been a great book.

    I hope you've recovered from the spider attack. I bet you wish you had bought those batteries!

  11. Full disclosure -- since retiring in 1988, I haven't cooked to speak of or done more than the most perfunctory housework or yard work. Luckily my husband has taken a liking to cooking. Prior to retirement, he never gave a moment's thought to household matters and certainly never "cooked" anything or went grocery shopping, another chore I hate, alone.

    Naturally, I politely offer assistance, but he likes to have plenty of elbow room to whip up his meals and who am I to interfere with genius. Whatever culinary delights he puts in front of me are praised to the skies and he's gotten pretty darn good at it.

    He doesn't even mind cleaning up. He usually watches the evening news while cleaning up and I think it's good for him to use up his pent up anger putting the dishes and pots in the dishwasher instead of throwing them at the TV. Since it's dangerous to be in his way, he usually does the clean up solo, but if he's tired or whatever, I will jump in and graciously take care of it myself.

    Every other week we have a non-immigrant all American cleaning crew in. When they leave everything is sparkling and stays in pretty good order until their next arrival. I do the laundry most of the time, but again, my roomie doesn't mind putting things in the washer or dryer and has even learned to fold and put things on hangers -- sorta. I keep my hand in, but never criticize because, in fact, I don't give a darn if the laundry isn't folded as precisely as it would be my wont to do.

    monix - you are entirely welcome. I'm always glad rescue a friend from tedious chores. You may always call upon me at a moment's notice for a diversion.

  12. erp - you seem to have it made! Until I retired last year, I was always able to afford to pay someone else to do the housework. I am finding it difficult to knuckle down to the repetitive chores, although I enjoy cooking.

    We are off on another house-hunting trip in a couple of weeks. I'll be looking for something small and modern and leaving us enough profit from the sale of this house to get a team like yours in to do the housework.

  13. The life of a hedonist leaves no time to quibble about book shelves. Good luck in your house hunting.

  14. At least I don't need to find room on my bookshelves for this lot as they will be going straight to the charity shop.

    You seem to have an odd notion of charity.[/sarcasm]

  15. Skipper: LOL

    Thanks for the marker! The internet needs a new set of indicators besides italic and bold to show tone of voice, thus avoiding a lot of misunderstanding. There's a project for some whizz kid.

  16. Housework is good for the soul, just like reading is. You should enjoy it, if only for the opportunity to think about other things while you're doing it; the things you wouldn't otherwise have time to reflect on.

    Love your blog.

  17. Stephen, welcome and thank you for the kind comment. I've just had a peek at your blogs and look forward to reading more when I've finished the pile of ironing! Actually, ironing is the one aspect of housework I have always enjoyed. Perhaps I should make a New Year resolution to change my attitude to the rest.

  18. m. the last two comments came up as new on bloglines today (1/3/08), but there's no date. For us with uncertain memory, pls add the day and the year as well as the time, so we can tell if we've read before. Thanks.

    Ironing is something I didn't mind either although I haven't done any in ages. I liked the challenge of doing it with the fewest possible permutations.

    Stephen, to each his own.

  19. e, I'll see what I can do about the settings but, as you know, I'm no IT expert!

  20. So, I see, expert or not, you did it!

  21. Only with your help, e! Thank you.

  22. No thanks necessary. I'm only the product of a long list of people who've helped me through the years.


I love to read your comments and promise that I will reply as soon as I can leave my garden, sewing room or kitchen!