Wednesday Reading Meme

Jul. 26th, 2017 10:11 am
osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

I finished The Railway Children! [personal profile] asakiyume had acquired a copy of the most recent movie for us to watch, which gave me extra impetus, but it was a real pleasure to read so I probably would have galloped through it anyway. Highly recommended if you like early twentieth-century children’s books.

Also highly recommended: the 2000 film version of The Railway Children, which is quite faithful to the book - it cuts a couple of scenes (and one of the cut scenes is the one tragically sexist scene in the book, which is otherwise so good about letting the girls be just as heroic as their brother) but doesn’t add much, which IMO is generally where adaptations go wrong, adding in scenes that don’t suit at all. The biggest addition, I think, is that the film draws out some of the stuff about class relations which is latent in the book - but it doesn’t become overbearing or anything; it’s still quite secondary to the fun adventures.

Also Jerry, by Jean Webster - who is most famous for writing Daddy-Long-Legs - and this is definitely a case where I can see why that’s the book she’s remembered for, although Jerry is not without charms. A young American man - and, as a side note, his name is Jerymn, which I have never seen before and would be inclined to take as a misspelling of Jermyn except Webster spells it that way every single time. Has anyone else run across this name? How do you pronounce it?

Anyway, Jerry - to give him his easily pronounceable nickname - Jerry is vacationing in a dull Italian country town when he meets a beautiful American girl. To get closer to her (and enliven his dull days), he masquerades as an Italian tour guide. She sees through him at once, but doesn’t let on, and the rest of the book consists of the two of them gleefully upping the ante of the masquerade.

What I’m Reading Now

I’m almost done with Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope, which sadly I think is not nearly as good as either The Fragile Flag or The Fledgling, although also not nearly as bad as The Time Bike. A good middling Langton! And I will continue to search for The Swing in the Summerhouse, which is about, I think, a magical swing, which I think is just perfect and delightful and I hope the book lives up to it.

There are also a couple of post-Time Bike books in this series, but I am a little leery about reading them. Still, if I do run across them…

What I Plan to Read Next

My next reading challenge is coming up! It is “a book published before you were born,” and the only challenging part of this will be fixing on just one. The library has kindly purchased Kate Seredy’s The Chestry Oak for me (this is the first time I have made a purchase request at a library! I feel so powerful!), so perhaps that; but there is also the possibility of reading more Nesbit...

Well, I'm back

Jul. 25th, 2017 09:34 pm
osprey_archer: (cheers)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
Aaaaaaand home! Google maps said the drive from DC would take nine hours, so of course it took about twelve (Google maps also thinks it is possible to walk from DC to Indianapolis in eight days. Maybe if you are a solar-powered automaton who needs neither food nor sleep, and has anyone looked into whether Google is constructing these potential robot overlords?) but I made it and I have unpacked my things and put them away, except for my new books, for which I will need to find homes.

I did not intend to get this many new books. They crept up on me. Where else would I find a memoir about growing up in the Oneida Community? How could I possibly turn down a picture book about Emily Dickinson illustrated by Barbara Cooney, one of my very favorite illustrators ever? And of course there was The Railway Children just waiting for me in a Little Free Library...

But I think now that I have finished reading it, I ought to pass it on through another Little Free Library, so I don't need to tidy that one away, at least.

The garden is looking - well, honestly, the garden looks as if the tomatoes are planning an assault on the house; they have taken over everything, choking out the dill and overshadowing the poor lovely snapdragons. The basil, which is in a pot and thus safe from the tomato plants' depredations, looks sad and pallid, and probably needs a bigger pot and probably some compost, poor thing.

The rosemary, also in a pot, looks good, and I should get a rotisserie chicken and make chicken salad and have a picnic. On my travels I recollected how much I enjoy picnics, and also how much I used to enjoy taking day trips to whatever sites of interest there are in the area - I did this a lot in Minnesota - so clearly I ought to pack some picnics and drag my friends along for some sight-seeing.

I have gone through my mail and paid the bills and tidied away the bank statements and set my letters aside for future perusal ([personal profile] asakiyume, your letter arrived all right!). I will attempt to read them at a rate of one per night to spread the joy, although it will be hard not to read them all in one swift gulp. It's such a treat to have so many letters!

Must make a grocery list, but that can wait until tomorrow.

I did not get quite as much writing done as I hoped (but then one never does on a trip), but I have made some pretty good progress revising Sage, (still haven't figured out a title for it, though), although part of this progress has involved deciding I need to rewrite the first 10,000 words or so... so there's still quite a bit to be done.

Winding Up

Jul. 23rd, 2017 07:51 pm
osprey_archer: (shoes)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
Somehow my six-and-a-half hour drive stretched to eight-and-a-half (I only stopped at Dunkin Donuts once, I swear!) but in the end I did make it to DC! Where Caitlin and I promptly made beer bread and ate it piping hot with brie (the only way to eat beer bread), and now we are going to watch The Great British Bake-Off. (The universe has been conspiring to get me to watch The Great British Bake-Off.)

But before this, I spent a wonderful few days with [personal profile] asakiyume! We baked scones with fresh-picked currants and slathered them with blood-orange marmalade, at which we looked askance at first - it is very brown-looking - but it is delicious, A++ highly recommended.

We also had much ice cream and - and! - visited Emily Dickinson's house, which is delightful and I highly recommend that too. They have Emily's writing desk, which is much smaller than I expected - really only the size of a bedside table - but it sits right by the window, overlooking the garden, in a room all done up with rose-covered wallpaper, and just seems really like the perfect place for Emily Dickinson to reside.

We went over to the graveyard, too - did you know that they carried Emily's coffin over the fields when she died, so that even her corpse could avoid the public gaze that she shunned in life? I thought that extremely thoughtful of the pallbearers. In any case, the grave is now the center of much public attention, and the top is covered in pencils and seashells - and the shells spill over onto Emily's sister Lavinia's grave, too. I'm not sure why (are sea shells particularly associated with either of them?), but it's nice that Lavinia is not neglected.

And we went to the reservoir and took a VERY LONG walk and had a picnic, and read aloud a chapter of The Railway Children (the most sexist chapter, sadly, which is too bad, because most of it is full of refreshingly equal-opportunity adventures) - the modern world could do with more reading aloud in it. I shall have to try to talk my roommate into it when I return.

Which will be on Tuesday! The trip is almost over! Tomorrow is the last hurrah - I'm going to the National Gallery (I always go to the National Gallery when I'm in DC) and perhaps one of the other Smithsonian Museums, although I'm not sure which one. I did Air & Space last time, which was delightful, but I think I ought to branch out.

Wednesday Reading Meme

Jul. 19th, 2017 08:18 am
osprey_archer: (books)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
What I’ve Just Finished Reading

Pierrepont Noyes’ My Father’s House: An Oneida Childhood, which I liked very much; although of course I would, being fond of a) childhood memoirs (I tend to agree with C. S. Lewis that “I never read an autobiography in which the parts devoted to the earlier years were not far the most interesting”), b) memoirs about cults (really anything about cults), and c) the nineteenth century.

But even if you are interested in only one of those things, this is an engaging book; much recommended. The one thing it will not give you is a clear description of the Oneida Community’s collapse: Noyes was ten at the time and found the whole thing ominous but fuzzy.

I also finished rereading A Wrinkle in Time. I’m glad I reread it because I no longer feel that vague gnawing sense that I just didn’t get it - but at the same time, it’s a bit sad to reread it and realize that I’m just never going to love that book the way that some people do.

What I’m Reading Now

Kidnapped! I only intended to begin it, but somehow I ended up halfway through the book already. It’s such a cracking good adventure yarn, it’s very hard to put down!

I have begun Jane Langton’s The Astonishing Stereoscope! It’s early days yet, but I have high hopes that it will live up to the other books in the series - or at least the early books in the series; I hold a real grudge against Time Bike for being so dreadful that it stopped my exploration of the Hall Family Chronicles, even though I adored both The Diamond in the Window and The Fledgling. But fortunately the good books in the series are the kind that are just as good if you read them first as an adult.

What I Plan to Read Next

The Railway Children, which I also intended to read next last week, but I bought Noyes’ memoir at the museum and it simply had to take precedence, so… But this week I am quite determined! Railway Children or bust! Unless I find something simply irresistible in Amherst.

Herb Garden

Jul. 18th, 2017 04:41 pm
osprey_archer: (nature)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
Micky and I swept through Cornell today, first to the art museum, where we spent most of our time on the top floor with the Asian Art - they go all across Asia, which naturally takes up quite a bit of space and time, so we were tired out by the end and didn't stop long in the rest of the museum. Well, except for a beautiful display of Tiffany glass on the landing between the second & third floors.

And then we went to the Cornell Botanical Gardens today, although it was rather hot, and had an absolutely splendid time walking around their herb garden - which was separated into themed plots, "Culinary Herbs," "Herbs for Tea," "Healing Herbs," "Herbs from Literature," and so on and so forth. (Many of the herbs were of course in more than one plot.)

I had a brief but intense interest in healing herbs when I was a kid, so it was nice to be able to see all those herbs that I'd read about in the flesh, if you will.

And also to sniff the leaves of many, many different kinds of mint, and try to pick up the non-mint undertones that are supposed to be there - apple mint, chocolate mint (yes, that's it's own plant!), mint sage... But really they all smelled like mint to me.

***

After that, being rather hot and tired, we repaired to an ice cream shop and thence to Micky's house (where I have been TRYING to do my laundry, but I fear I have become the Bane of Washing Machines - I broke the one in my apartment not too long ago, did I tell you? Well, I don't think I did anything to break it, it just broke while I was using it, but still...

In any case I have been having trouble getting the machine to work. Nothing seems to be working this afternoon: I also attempted to write a bit more of the Adventures of Harriet and Troy and alas have come up against the rocky shoals of Peter Wimsey's inimitable voice. He never sounds like himself when I write him. i suppose I could just cut him out entirely and have Troy meet Harriet all on her own, but then Wimsey can't discomfit Alleyn by calling him by his old Eton nickname (which, I have decided, should be "Allers,"), which would be too bad...

Oh well, dear. This is all lots of fun to brainstorm about, but I really can't do Peter's voice justice, and on the whole it's really more ambitious than I think I want to write. Perhaps it's just better to accept that the brainstorming will be the final product - as tormenting as that may be. Surely it's better than having nothing at all?

***

On the bright side, Micky has introduced me to The Great British Bake-Off. In fact she is at least the third friend to recommend this to me, but the first one to take the necessary step of forcing me to sit down and watch an episode, and it is just as charming and delightful as everyone has always promised.

Ithaca

Jul. 16th, 2017 11:00 pm
osprey_archer: (shoes)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
I am arrived in Ithaca! The one in New York, not the Greek island, although the Greek island would also be a splendid place to visit someday.

We had a splendid dinner at a restaurant called Rulloff's, which is named after a famous nineteenth century Ithaca murderer (or famous at the time, at least; I had not heard of him until I read his famous last words written up on a chalkboard on the wall in the restaurant), and possessed of excellent food. We had crepes for dessert - or at least, we ordered crepes; I am not sure the chef understood that crepes are in fact supposed to be thinner than ordinary pancakes. However, as the pancakes were topped with raspberry compote and Nutella creamed into mascarpone, of course we forgave them their trespasses and ate them up entire.

***

And I had another thought about Oneida, which I forgot to put in my post yesterday.

Our guide mentioned that over the years in Oneida, the community voted to stop using tobacco, alcohol, and caffeine. Now on the one hand, these are all pretty normal nineteenth-century candidates for reform (the Mormons also banned, and IIRC still ban, all three).

But at the same time, hearing about this reminded me of the Rat Park experiments, which were studies in morphine addiction that took place back in the seventies. Rats in ordinary lab rat cages swiftly get addicted to morphine when they're offered the opportunity to take morphine-laced water. However, Bruce Alexander discovered that rats who lived in a less restricted environment - in a structure he called Rat Park, where they had toys and (more importantly) other rats to play with - barely used the morphine water at all.

And what occurred to me is that, for all its problems - which were after all severe enough to eventually break the community apart - Oneida was basically Human Park. Here you've got all these people hanging out together all the time, even doing a lot of their work in bees (think quilting bee, not spelling bee) so it will be more social and fun, constantly putting on entertainments for each other and playing croquet together and, of course, having lots of sex. Who needs cigarettes or beer or even tea when they've got infinite croquet?

...I mean, you'd still have to pull my tea out of my cold dead hands. But then I'm not living in Oneida, now am I.

***

Although it's also worth noting that living for five years in Oneida failed to dent future presidential assassin Charles Guiteau's delusions of grandeur even slightly, so clearly all the togetherness in the world is not a panacea.

Oneida Community

Jul. 15th, 2017 05:23 pm
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[personal profile] osprey_archer
I discovered, FAR TOO LATE, that it is actually possible to stay in the old Oneida Community building: they have converted part of it into a hotel (and an even larger part of it into apartments). IF ONLY! But they seem to get booked up far in advance, so probably even if I had popped over to their website when the idea of a road trip first occurred to me in June, I still couldn't have stayed there.

Still. MAYBE SOMEDAY. Upstate New York is so beautiful - I've never been here before, but I love the mountains - and so full of history: I just happened to stumble upon L. Frank Baum's hometown today. They have an Oz museum, which I did not visit, but if I come back...

Mostly I spent the day visiting the Oneida Community Mansion House, where the three hundred odd members of the community lived from the 1860s to 1880, when the community broke up. (They were in the area since 1848, but it took them some time to gather the resources to build that stately brick house.) I took the guided tour, which was really wonderful - we had a thoughtful and well-informed docent, a former English teacher, who not only knew everything about the house but had read most of the books in the gift shop and helped me decide which one to buy. (I ended up with Pierrepont B. Noyes' memoir of his childhood at Oneida, which is delightful so far.)

The Oneida Community was a Christian perfectionist cult - perfectionist in the sense of "We can achieve sinless grace on earth!", not its modern meaning. They practiced:

1. Bible communism. Everyone in the community holds all goods in common; the community takes care of everyone and everyone does work for the community, and all kinds of work are held to be holy.

2. Complex marriage. All the men and women in the community are heterosexually married to each other. People at the time often figured that there was a constant orgy going on in the mansion, but in fact sexual contact had to be carefully negotiated, usually through an intermediary, and anyone had the right to say no. (Charles Guiteau, who later assassinated President Garfield, lived in the Oneida Community for five years and could not get laid.) You'd think women would be getting pregnant all the time, except the community also practiced

3. Male continence. Men were not to ejaculate during sex. This apparently worked really well - there were only forty pregnancies in the group's first twenty years of existence - possibly because incorrect ejaculation would come up during Mutual Criticism, which would be totally mortifying and also limit one's future sex partners.

4. Which brings us neatly to Mutual Criticism, during which people were allowed - nay, encouraged! - to tell you all your faults so you could try to correct them and thus approach nearer to spiritual perfection. This sounds excruciating, but Pierrepont Noyes, in his memoir, comments that "because members had the opportunity to criticize each other openly, Community life was singularly free from backbiting and scandalmongering," so perhaps it's a case of ripping off the bandaid all in one go rather than taking it up millimeter by excruciating millimeter.

And also everyone except John Humphrey Noyes, the founder, underwent Mutual Criticism, so any impulse toward harshness much have been tempered by the knowledge that the criticizer might soon by the criticized.

I have no idea if the Community owned this many portraits of Noyes when it was active, but now they are everywhere. It reminded me a bit of the omnipresent Lenins in the Soviet Union, although this comparison is unfair to Noyes: he seems to have been about as benevolent a patriarch as it is possible for any human being to be, spoken of with love and respect even after the community fell apart.

Although I do think the comparison does serve to show the limits of the Oneida community, as enticing as certain aspects of the experiment seem. (I for one like the idea of living in a mansion full of like-minded people with a well-stocked reading room and an endless round of entertainments: the Oneidans, no ascetics, played croquet, put on plays, read novels aloud to each other, and fielded a full orchestra.) Communes seem to need a charismatic leader to succeed - hence the mayfly nature of most nineteenth-century commune experiments - and there's no guarantee you'll get a benevolent Noyes rather than someone voraciously power-mad.
osprey_archer: (writing)
[personal profile] osprey_archer
I have to leave Lily Dale today, and feel rather as though I am being pushed out of paradise. It is so quiet here! So quiet – and so many flowers – and I’ve gotten such a lot of work done – 7,000 words on a new novel!

Which is perhaps too similar to The Time-Traveling Popcorn Ball in some ways, by the by, but perhaps that one was not quite ready for prime time yet, poor thing.

But there are no rooms at the inn, so I must be moving on. I’m heading up toward Oneida, I think. We shall see if I actually make it all the way to my stated destination this time…

***

Oh, and also – I hope you’re happy, you monsters:

“Lord Peter Wimsey was one of your schoolfriends?” Troy asked.

“A schoolmate, at least,” Alleyn said, after a slight hesitation. “We investigated a case together at school.”

Under other circumstances, Troy might have laughed, or pressed for details. But now she simply smoothed the letter in her hand and frowned down at it again. “And now he wants me to paint his wife, the suspected murderess.”

“Acquitted,” Alleyn reminded her. “Not all suspects are guilty, you know.”

“Of course,” Troy said. Her own days as a murder suspect rose in her mind. She pushed them ruthlessly back. “But no one seems to have impressed this on the press. A suspected murderess painting a suspected murderess – soon I will be painting nothing but pretty murderesses for their rich foolish fans. So many criminals have the most boring faces.”

As she spoke, a newspaper photograph from the Vane case floated up in her mind. The girl had looked almost ugly, with a sullen mouth and a strong, dark brow.

It was the brow that made Troy pause now. There might be something in that. One could not tell from a newspaper photograph.

“I suppose,” she acquiesced, “it will do no harm to meet her.”
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