Wednesday, December 30, 2009

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme

I'm not sure how they accomplished such a magical feat of writing, but Julia Child and Alex Prud'homme's My Life in France has the feeling that you are always right there, cooking with Julia, exploring Paris, watching loutish Cohn and Schine "interview" Paul Child, tasting and baking and befriending and living life. I can barely put this book down. An unconventional couple lead an completely enchanting and unconventional life. This isn't just an autobiographical account of Julia's life in France either; it's a slice of time history of what France was like right after the end of World War II and the during the first freezing birth pangs of the Cold War. I'm utterly charmed with Julia Child and I want her life and chutzpah.

I'm just over half way done, and I don't want it to end.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

The Snake Agent by Liz Williams, Night Shade Books, 2005

The trouble with Hell... was not so much the palpable miasma of evil... but the bureaucracy." (from The Snake Agent by Liz Williams, Night Shade Books, 2005, 159780018X).

After my frustrating and annoying experience with the US Post Office this afternoon, I can fully agree that if there is indeed a Hell, it's full of almost endlessly long lines, public service windows that unexpectedly open and close, and unresponsive, unhelpful stone faced bureaucrats when you finally get to the front of the line.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme (Knopf, 2006

I am reading My Life in France by Julia Child with Alex Prud'homme (Knopf, 2006, 1400043468) and thoroughly loving it. If the real Julia is indeed writing the book, then she definitely sounds like a wonderful character full of joy of life and living. I can hardly put the book down, I'm loving (and envying?) her life so much!

I certainly didn't know that she took up cooking at the age of 37 -- just a few years younger than I am right now. Gives me spark of a glimmer of hope that the world out there is always waiting for you to march right in an change it (by changing yourself !) and a person isn't stuck doing the same thing for ever and ever. Not that I want to change careers or anything drastic; but Julia Child's story can provide hope (and longing).

Another life lesson to be gleaned from Julia Child: she failed her first exit exam at Le Cordon Bleu. Not because she wasn't good (she was) but because she concentrated so much on the difficult, interesting techniques that she forgot to memorize and became adept at the basic techniques, and that was the exam! Master the basics of something, and everything else will fall into place.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother, some last words

My review on Facebook Visual Booshelf:

"If only this book had stopped at World War II. But then, the author warned us that Queen Elizabeth's decades in the 50's 60's 70's 80's 90's tended to blend one into the other. Indeed they did. I have to admit - I skimmed a whole bunch of do-goodery volunteerism and Commonwealth tours to get to Diana's funeral et al. The first part of this book was wonderful though. What a woman, thrust into the limelight completely against her will, and then bravely facing the dangers of World War II at her husband's side. Queen Wallis - never! Read up to the king's death and skim the rest (even then, if you skim the large boring parts, there are bits and pieces that still illustrate what a lovely, witty, and charming woman the Queen Mother really was; but I still be her blood was sometimes ice when she was pissed off at you, isn't that right King Edward?)."

She never wanted to be queen, but will probably go down in history as one of the most beloved.

Her consumption of so many cocktails was admirable, to say the least, and somewhat enviable to say the most.

"When the Princess of Wales said to her, 'We're all so looking forward to your hundredth birthday,' Queen Elizabeth replied, 'Oh, you musn't say that, it's unucky. I mean, I might be run over by a big red bus.' [The organizer of her 80th and 90th birthday celebrations, Michael Parker, who was there during this conversations] said "he thought it was very unlikely, to which Queen Elizabeth replied, 'No, no, it's the principle of the thing. Wouldn't it be terrible if you'd spent all your life doing everything you were supposed to do, didn't drink, didn't smoke, didn't eat things, too lots of exercise, all the things you didn't want to do, and suddenly one day you were run over by a big red bus, and as the wheels were crunching into you you'd say 'Oh my God, I could have got so drunk last night!" That's the way you should live your life, as if tomorrow you'll be run over by a big red bus."

She treated every day as a lovely surprise that was going to be wonderful.
What better way to live?

Friday, December 18, 2009

It's Magic

Philosopher and historian Isaiah Berlin writing of a dinner party he attended. Queen Elizabeth (the Queen Mother) and Maria Callas were among the guests. "They were like two prima donnas, one emitting white and the other black magic. "

I love the image of the two, calm but eyes blazing, in a Merlin vs. Madame Mim type of battle, only a comedy of manners rather than a battle of actual enchantment (enchanting and bewitching as the two women obviously were, both beloved in their own way). This whole image might make a kind of cool fantasy story.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross

"There is something very inhuman & beastly about death dealing missiles being launched in such an indiscriminate manner." Beastly indeed. It still is.

Monday, December 14, 2009

The Light Years Beneath My Feet by Alan Dean Foster

About the only good thing about this book was the title. My mind wandered light years away every time I tried to read this one.

You know what? Character names are REALLY important, particularly in science fiction and fantasy. If they sound too "bullshit," then it ruins the book. TL-YBMF was full of bullshitty made up alien names, full of too many consonants and not enough vowels. That alone starts my mind wandering away, wondering what's going to happen in the dozen other books I have waiting on the shelf.

Too bad too, because Lost and Found, the first book in this series (?) was at the very least mildly enjoyable. I remember some of the finer plot points, the names were not excruciating, and I would recommend it. But Book Two stinks. I've never been overly impressed with the works of Alan Dean Foster - frothy hack work is a good term for his ouvre -- and TL-YBMF certainly falls within that.

The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross

"On 13 May the King was woken at 5 a.m. by an unprecedented phone call -- another monarch beseeching help. Queen Wilhelmina of the Netherlands begged him to send the Royal Air Force to help defend her country, which was being overrun by the Germans."

Now that was something I learned today that I did not know!

What a different war it could have been, if the Nazi-symphathizing Edward VIII and Queen Wallis had come to the throne. Even Churchill said "King George and Queen Elizabeth are far finer, more popular and more inspiringly helpful pair than other (my italics) would have been."

Friday, December 11, 2009

The Moffats by Eleanor Estes (1941)

I tried to read The Moffats by Eleanor Estes (Harcourt, Brace & World, Inc, 1941) with very raw illustrations by Louis Slobodkin (he's done far better illustrations) but failed miserably! The Moffats are no Pyes, my friends. Estes must have really honed her style and sophistication between this earliest of books and later masterpieces like Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye. Practice does make perfect, I guess. What I find most bothersome - about myself - is that I think I'm supposed to really love this venerable beloved old classic, but instead found it old, old fashioned (in a bad way, not a good way), very "dick and jane" -y, and frankly boring. Disappointing, because I was hoping to love it as much as her Pye books. Look at that cover too -- doesn't it look like one of those old fashioned (in a good way not a bad way) books that you should snuggle up with and love to death?

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross

Duke and Duchess of York.

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The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross

Mrs. Simpson makes her first appearance 353 pages in.

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The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross

Different: the Duke and Duchess of York (the future King and Queen of England) leave their young daughter, Elizabeth (the future queen of Engalnd) almost newly born, with her grandparents King George and Queen Mary, while they make a six month official tour of New Zealand and Australia. While they are gone, Elizabeth says her cuts her first teeth, says her first words, and celebrates her first birthday.

If a public figure did something like this today, the press would crucify them on the cross of negligence and bad parenting.

Same: Elizabeth believed "encouragement and understanding vital to [Elizabeth and Margaret Rose's] development -- something she felt her husband's upbringing had lacked. Among her private papers is a note she wrote for him, 'in case of anything happening to me...'" The last point to her husband was: "Remember how yoru father, by shouting at you, & making you feel uncomfortable lost all your real affection. None of his sons are his friends (my italics here), because he is not understanding and helpful to them."

Even in the 1920's, parents (except, I guess, for King George V) wanted to be friends with their children. Or at the very least, understanding and encouraging!

Monday, December 7, 2009

The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross

Great words of sympathy from the (then) Duchess of York to King George V on the death of his mother :

"Words, I know, are useless in a tragic time, but I hope you will allow me to send you my deepest & truest sympathy from the very bottom of my heart."

I will definitely steal these lovely words to use on some future sad occasion!

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Queen Mother by William Shawcross (2009)

I am reading The Queen Mother: The Official Biography by William Shawcross (Knopf, 2009, 9781400043040).

The chapters on the early portions of Elizabeth and Prince Bertie's married life seems to show the real sense that the Duchess of York was the Princess Diana of her day, blowing fresh air into a stale monarchy. Of course, it's clear that if two paths diverged in a wood for both of these commoner princesses, Diana took one path and Elizabeth took another. But I'm going to keep Diana in mind as I read along (and pay close attention to how different the two eras in which these women grew up in were).

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Pinky Pye by Eleanor Estes (1958)

Here is my review from Facebook LivingSocial Book Review:

Even after 50 years on the shelf, Eleanor Estes writing is still crisp and fresh. A seemingly simple family adventure at the beach is also a cute kitten story (who doesn't love the antics of a cute kitten?) and a small but engaging mystery story (what is up in the attic?). It's a slice of time as well, when life (and stories) were a bit more uncomplicated and small events were more exciting. Pinky Pye was one of my favorite books growing up; it still is.

The Pyes are spending summer vacation at Fire Island and although I've never actually been to Fire Island, as a gay man, I know it's a gay mecca. I wonder if it was in 1958? Were the Pyes sharing their beach with the gays?

I hope there are still families like the Pyes out there, children who can still be fascinated by crickets and watching a man catch a 2 lb fish in the surf, who build wagons from junk drifted to shore after a storm, who teach their dogs to count, who are content (or even allowed) to sit on the roof and watch whatever needs to be watched.

Maybe by the time Estes wrote Ginger Pye and Pinky Pye (and the Moffats, which I have not yet read), the Pye family were already idealized figures of a then not so distant past; Estes writing in 1958 of family life in pre-World War II Connecticut that in all likelihood was already gone by the time she started writing about the Pyes and the Moffats.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Just a poem

A Plea

Stop and listen.
Stop and listen.
Be still for just a moment
and listen.
Your soul needs us.
You need us.
Hear us sing.
Hear us sing. Watch us swim
And fly and float and flutter.
Watch us hunt and play and struggle
To survive.

We're silently crying out
In a million different ways
We can not speak to you but
We need you to listen to us.
Open your hearts and souls to us.
We need you back in our lives.
Remember us?
You lived among us
Long ago.
It's happening again.
The deluge. The flood.
Listen to us crying in the wilderness.
Under the sea.
Over the mountain.
Over the river
And in the woods.
In the deep
In the dark dark forest.
Stop and listen.

to silence.
No more peepers welcome the spring.
No more bats or butterflies take wing
No more larks left to sing.

We do not speak in convetional ways.
so you must listen with your heart and mind.
Our mother is trying to tell you something.

Ginger Pye by Eleanor Estes (1951)

Utterly beautiful passages:

Ginger's eyes had always been beautiful, gay, sparkling, laughing, and intelligent. Now they were even more beautiful for there were sadness and pleading, an anxious questioning, in them, too.


Ginger twitched his ears and the loose skin on his back and legs to let Jerry know he was here and he was happy. Then he lowered his head down on his paws again and he let out a deep sigh that sounded almost like a sob, there was in it so much relief and pain and pleasure and remembering.

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