Sunday, 20 January 2013

Maeve Binchy and Lorna Lewis

January's biting cold, damp, flurries of snow and 'resolute' bloggings about economy, diets and the like make me want to snuggle somewhere in peace and quiet with really escapist fiction. I've been out walking to the post office and bank already this weekend, but seem to be lacking a suitable hat. I have woolly ones that I can just pull on and wonder during each cold spell whether I shouldn't go and afford myself something smarter. Not that there's a milliner near me - I'd need to try a large department store.

I have two books on the go, which isn't many for me. One vintage, the other modern. I like a bit of contrast.

I've escaped into Maeve Binchy's last novel A Week in Winter. Not that I've finished it yet. However, first impressions are very positive. I was sorry to hear of her death last year and was delighted to find that she'd finished this novel. She seemed such a nice lady in all the positive senses of the word and this book is ahead of her usual high standard. We're back in small-town Ireland and one of life's survivors is using a lifetime's savings to buy and open a small hotel. Stone House was the former home of three spinster sisters and the sale allows Chicky redemption and to give back small kindnesses that had been so willingly offered to her. So far, a novel of friendship, family and kindness. Small things, yes, but they are the very best and most valuable of small things.

Vintage reading this week is from the reading room, so can't photograph or take it home. Which is a pity as the reading room is arctic. However, The Silver Bandbox is an enjoyable read that happens to be one of those 1950s 'career books for girls'. Lorna Lewis, an author I can recommend, did some good work in the 1950s and 1960s encouraging girls to consider jobs in hotels, management, factories and millinery in this last. Fanny Lea's adventures with 'flamingo-pink' cotton for the customers and 'tinned salmon' cotton for the workroom are enjoyable and from an era where all smart women wore hats for day-wear, not simply for weddings, if the wedding were especially smart. It's all about working hard, paying your dues and being rewarded by your employer, if you've put in the work to deserve it. There's something rather reassuring about that.

Sunday, 13 January 2013

East Wind Melts the Ice

January's a month when everyone seems to be feeling a little flat. The adrenaline rush of the new year's resolution is fading already. The sales might be on, but that means the crowded shops are best avoided. I'm trying to use the month to burrow down into my 'not finished yet' pile. You know, the one that every reader is adding to, even if they don't admit it. I try, not that I always succeed, in giving a book a few chances if I'm not immediately drawn in. Time, light, mood and all sorts of emotional responses mean that a book might need a few attempts.

I've had the elegant East Wind Melts the Ice on my shelves since it was first published in 2007. It's been pushed back when reading for business or for travelling. Some books, like this one, are too beautiful to take outside or shove in a rucksack. I've enjoyed Liza Dalby's writing on geisha and kimono, so thought that I'd manage to finish this one quickly. Well, it's 2013 and I'm still finding it difficult to finish. That's not to say that the book isn't interesting, but the unfamiliar subjects mean that the book requires concentration, peace and quiet. I don't always have any of those elements. However, January has long dark afternoons and I've had the computer off for much of the day. The book is a collection of short diary entries as small essays. I'm keeping this for bedtime or early morning reading to read an entry or two a day. Twisting between Japan and California, this is a fascinating scrapbook covering gardens, houses and wildlife. I'm enjoying her work as she discusses writing in English and Japanese - how she's translating Eastern concepts for a Western audience and her discussions with her translator. It's a book for thoughtful days and I am determined to finish it this year.

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Characters old and new

Inspired by the wonderful Catherine Fox, I've been musing on the futures of favourite characters. She mentioned on her blog that Harry and Isobel did marry (good!) and that Andrew Jacks is fine. He'd be surviving every University restructure and terrify under-prepared undergraduates and university bureaucrats. Like one of my own tutors, watching him in a staff-student meeting would be seen as an afternoon's entertainment. Just not for the victim of his superior intellect. If you haven't read Catherine Fox's kindly sarcastic novels of life in the Church and around University, then you're in for a treat and there are three.

What of "my" own characters now that I have four? I feel quite certain that Tania Whichart (an early version of Petrova Fossil) would continue zooming around in a sleek little car and be a pilot. Perhaps even a Spitfire Girl during the Second World War. I suspect she'd have a fabulous time and eventually gain some confidence. Vivien Farthing is likely to have risen in the publishing world and been charming and elegant about it. Lintie Oliver's more of a puzzle. In wilder flights of fancy I do see her as a globe-trotting journalist. Then again, I see her relishing in the delights of an ordinary childhood having written her way into a family. As to Candy Nevill, she'd certainly reach New York and have the most amazing time charming America eating everything with enthusiasm before begging recipes. I can just see Ianthe and Candy riding the escalators and exploring every floor of Macy's. Assuming you could drag Candy out of the kitchenware department, she might even be persuaded to try on some smart clothes. I don't know how old Williams Sonoma is, but it strikes me as the sort of shop she'd greatly enjoy. I returned home from my last trip to America (not New York, one day, perhaps) with some Nordicware. I'd hoped for pineapples, but they only had roses in stock. It makes very pretty cakes. American friends rave about the food in local farmers' markets or in Trader Joe's. Then again, food shopping takes on new excitements when travelling as you negotiate any language barriers, see new packaging and find new flavours, if not new foods. Candy Nevill did mention Sally's Kitchens by May Worthington. This appears too rare to even be on sale. Is this worth tracking down for a read? Anyone?

New titles? Well, I'm still in a haze of rights and permissions, though with very interesting emails about writer relatives. It can take up to eighteen months to ascertain exactly who owns the rights to certain novels and some rights-holders are easier to track down than others. I'm doing the usual corporate treasure hunt to find out which arm of the conglomerate held the rights last in a few cases at the moment, so there'll be more news when I can give it to you.