Oh Yes – another Challenge – Soup’s On!

This Challenge is hosted by Ex Libris (Sharon). It runs from April 1, 2008 to March 31, 2009. Sharon writes: All you have to do is select six cookbooks to read (enough to give an overview of the book) and make at least one of the recipes. These can be any cookbooks of your choice – brand new ones, old stand-bys that you can’t live (or cook) without, or even heirlooms. You do not have to decide on the cookbooks ahead of time (unless you want to, of course).

I love cooking, that’s my reason for joining this challenge. I’m always buying and looking at cookbooks, and watching TV cookery programmes. I’ve only written a couple of posts on cooking, so this is a great way to write more. I’m not sure yet which books I’ll be writing about between now and the end of March next year but it could be these:

The Ration Book Diet by Mike Brown, Carol Harris and C J Jackson, because I bought it a few months ago, scan read it and thought oh yes I must cook some of these recipes, but haven’t done so yet. It’s full of information about the Second World War years in Britain, photos and cartoons from the Forties as well as beautiful modern photos.

The Good Food magazine 101 Meals For Two. This is a great little book and I’ve made a few of the recipes, but lots more to try out.

How To Eat by Nigella Lawson. She’s one of my favourite TV cooks and I love this book, even though it has no photos.

Great British Menu from the first TV show of that name. Extravagant ingredients, but fantastic food.

After Work, a WHSmith publication. Another favourite book with quick recipes that work.

The Country Kitchen by Jocasta Innes. I’ve had this book for years; it’s full of information about cooking with cream, butter, game – trussing and plucking a pheasant, making raised pies, terrines and galantines and preserving food. I haven’t ventured much yet out of this book, but I’d love to have a go.

I’m looking forward to reading all the other reviews!

The Sunday Salon in the Snow

It’s the Sunday Salon in the snow here today. The snow is melting now, but when I woke up this morning my world had turned white. So I’ve put a picture of the view from the window in the header. It’s not a lot of snow, but enough to bother Lucy. She ventured outside and dashed back in.

She was at the top of the steps when I started to take the photo, but I wasn’t quick enough to catch her.

This week I finished reading Consequences – more about that later – and I read The Secret Garden. I’m still reading Eat, Pray, Love. I thought I had to return it to the library because someone else had reserved it but when I took it back they let me renew it.

I’m now reading the Pray section and am really glad that I never decided to go to an Ashram. For some years I too practised Yoga. I was very keen and trained to be a teacher, so I’m very interested in this section of the book. Elizabeth Gilbert certainly had a hard time, adjusting to the ways of the Ashram and struggled with the meditation. The schedule sounds gruelling – the day begins at 3.00am and ends at 9.00pm. There are hours of meditation and contemplation;before breakfast there is an hour of meditation, twenty-minute chanting of the first morning hymn and then the Gurigita, an excerpt from a holy ancient Yogic scripture is chanted. This is 182 verses long in Sanscrit and takes an hour and half to perform. Elizabeth writes

“Over the few weeks that I’ve been here, my feelings about the Gurugita have shifted from simple dislike to solid dread. I’ve started skipping it and doing other things with my morning that I think are much better for my spiritual growth, like writing in my journal or taking a shower, or calling my sister back in Pennsylvania and seeing how her kids are doing.”

This is one of the things I like about this book, she’s down to earth and open about her feelings. It also gives a balanced view. When I taught Yoga I was rather shocked by some people’s ideas and attitudes towards it. I was told by some Christians that by doing the Yoga postures you are worshipping “gods” or “evil spirits”. I like what Elizabeth says:

“While some of these practices tend to look rather Hindu in their derivation, Yoga is not synonymous with Hinduism. True Yoga neither competes with nor precludes any other religion. You may use your Yoga – your disciplined practices of sacred union – to get closer to Krishna, Jesus, Mohammad, Budda or Yahweh.”

Another quote:

“Yoga is about self-mastery and the dedicate effort to haul your attention away from your endless brooding over he past and your nonstop worrying about the future so that you can seek, instead, a place of eternal presence from which you may regard yourself and your surroundings with poise. Only from that point of even-mindedness will the true nature of the world (and yourself) be revealed to you.”

Later today I’m hoping to read some more of Les Miserables but as I’ve started to read Revelation, C J Sansom’s latest book, I may continue with that. I’d also like to start reading Oliver Twist because I was watching I’d Do Anything last night – the search for Nancy and Oliver for the West End show. I haven’t read this and want to know how Dickens portrayed Nancy.

I don’t think I’ll manage all this but I’m always wanting to read more.

One last photo showing mysterious tracks round the bird feeder on the front lawn.

Not really mysterious – I think it was one of the two wood pigeons who regularly pay a visit.

Read More! Not Today!

Yesterday I thought I’™d write about Consequences by Penelope Lively. Then I had a good idea (not!) ‘“ I’d write it as an expandable post, as I’™ve seen this feature on other blogs. The idea is that you display a small amount of the post at the beginning and then users who want to read the rest of the post can click on a link like “Read More” to see the full text. I looked in Blogger Help and there is an article explaining how to do this.

Well, I can’™t get it to work and I’™ve wasted most of yesterday afternoon, and a big chunk out of today trying to get it to work and it just won’™t. I’™m getting quite frustrated with Blogger. It puts spaces in my posts where I don’™t want them or moves paragraphs together when I want them apart. I write the post in Word first, but inserting photos in the post is a nightmare ‘“ it’™s so difficult to make them go where I want them and then the spacing has gone wild again.

So the Consequence is that there is no post on Consequences today. Maybe another day.

Booking Through Thursday “Lit-Ra-Chur”

Today’s question from Booking Through Thursday is:

When somebody mentions ‘œliterature,’ what’™s the first thing you think of? (Dickens? Tolstoy? Shakespeare?)
Do you read ‘œliterature’ (however you define it) for pleasure? Or is it something that you read only when you must?

The first thing I think of is of course books and reading. I don’™t think of any particular author or period or type of book ‘“ I just think books! A more considered thought is more complex. I may be reminded of school and English Literature lessons. These were a mixture of pain and pleasure. Pain because sometimes I got so bored with analysis of the texts that I came to dislike them, particularly Shakespeare; pleasure because I really loved the stories and the way they were written, I just wanted to read more and more. I suppose that is the measure of ‘œliterature’. I used to hate those questions such as ‘œdefine literature, culture etc, etc’; over-analysis can kill a book.

I also think of a course I took on ‘œLiterature in the Modern World’, which covered the twentieth century before 1990 and considered what comprises the ‘˜canon’™, the novel, poetry and drama and ‘˜literary theory’™. It was Literature in English, not English Literature and opened up a whole new world of reading to me, including Terry Eagleton’™s writings on literary theory. In considering what is meant by ‘˜fine writing’™ he wrote, ‘œValue-judgements would certainly seem to have a lot to do with what is judged literature and what isn’™t ‘¦’. My thoughts are who is making the value-judgement and why should we take any notice anyway? My English teacher at school once told me I should be less sceptical – sorry, I still am.

I have A Dictionary of Literary Terms by Martin Gray (I bought this for the course). This defines literature as

‘œA vague, all-inclusive term for poetry, novels, drama, short stories, prose: anything written, in fact, with an apparently artistic purpose, rather than to merely communicate information; or anything written and examined as if it had an artistic purpose.’™ Literature’™ also an evaluative word: to say that a novel not is ‘˜not literature’™ is to imply that it is badly written, or has for some other reason failed to achieve the status of art.’

We’™re back to the value-judgement again and there is much disagreement over what is accepted as being worthy of being read.

Anyway, I do enjoy reading books by Dickens, Tolstoy, and the rest, just so long as I don’™t have to subject them to minute analysis and literary criticism. I prefer to watch Shakespeare’™s plays rather than read them, in fact I prefer to watch any drama rather than reading a play, because after all they were written to be performed.

The Magician’s Assistant by Ann Patchett

I read this book way back in January. It’™s the third book on the theme of illusion that I’™ve read. I wrote about the other two The Book of Illusions by Paul Auster here and The Illusionist by Jennifer Johnston here. They’™re all good reads, although quite different books in different styles.

The opening sentences of The Magician’™s Assistant introduce the illusion: ‘œParsifal is dead. That is the end of the story’ – it’™s an illusion, because of course this is only the beginning of the story and Parsifal pervades the book. Parsifal was a magician and Sabine had been his assistant for twenty years. She and Parsifal had been married for less than a year when he died suddenly of an aneurysm, leaving her alone in their large house in Los Angeles, apart from a large white rabbit, called Rabbit, who was retired from the stage as he was too big to be pulled out of a hat. To her surprise she discovered that he wasn’™t who she had believed him to be. He had told her he had left home when he was seventeen and that his family was dead. But his mother Kitty Fetters and sisters, Bertie and Kitty contacted her after his death. They knew he had become a magician as they had seen him on the Johnny Carson Show ‘“ indeed they watched a recording of it most nights, entranced by his fame. They had no idea of his life, that he was gay, or that he had married Sabine. When Kitty and Bertie visit Sabine and invite her back to their home in Alliance, Nebraska, the truth is gradually revealed.

Interspersed with the action are Sabine’™s dream sequences with Phan, Parsifal’™s lover. Sabine thinks of these as contact with Parsifal and Phan and learns about their lives at the same time as during the day she is learning about his past family life. There is an out-of-world feel to these sequences, calming Sabine’™s turmoil and confusion, which I liked. There is a lot in this book about identity, what and who a person actually is; about how the world is in fact illusory; and the importance of family. Sabine’™s family life as the only child of Jewish parents who adore her forms a contrast with Parsifal’™s but even here all is not what it seems.

After Parsifal’™s death Sabine is lost, lonely and inconsolable and it is through Parsifal’™s family and in particular through Kitty his sister, who she sees as a representation of him that she begins to cope with her loss. The scenes in Alliance form a complete contrast to life in LA, where everything seems perfect. None of the Kitty’™s family has had life easy, they all have problems. I found the sequences with Kitty’™s sons some of the most realistic in the book; the two teenagers came to life for me. If I have a criticism of the book it is of the ending. It all seems a bit too tidy, a bit ‘œarranged’. But I did enjoy it ‘“ it’™s a moving story about love, and grief and family.

Also reviewed by Gautami Tripathy at the Reading Room

Reading Notes for April

I’™ve been sorting out my books ‘“ the fiction, that is. I had arranged it an a-z author order, but it had got rather out of hand as I haven’™t got enough bookcases. They are double shelved and because it’™s a bit difficult to get to the back whenever I bought a new book I’™d tried to slot it in to the right place but it had all got higgledy-piggledy. So, I decided to separate the books I haven’™t read yet and put them in a separate bookcase. I really shouldn’™t buy any more books for a while, now I can actually see how many unread books I own. I’m planning to restrict my reading in April to these books – well that’s my aim, but as I really like to read what I want when I want, this could all be changed.

The books listed below are all books that fit into various reading Challenges. For the Celebrate the Author Challenge I’m going to choose a book by Ian Rankin, whose birthday it is on 28 April, ‘“ I have four to choose from:

The Black Book
The Hanging Garden
Resurrection Men
A Good Hanging and Other Stories

For the Chunkster Challenge I’™ve just started to read C J Sansom’™s Revolution. It’™s 546 pages long, so it easily meets the criteria of being 450 pages. I’™ve only had this book a few days, but I’™m bringing it forward over other to-be-read books, as I’™m an avid fan of Sansom’™s books.

For the Heart of the Child Challenge I’™m reading The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson-Burnett. I still have the copy I had as a child, now yellowing and a bit battered, but still in one piece. In the description at the front of the book the editor writes: ‘œGirls like it most, and between the ages of nine and fourteen ‘“ and, be warned, keep your copy carefully. You will want to go back and read it over and over again.’

I’™m also reading Victor Hugo’™s Les Miserables. I suppose could add this in to the Chunkster Challenge, as it’™s 1200 pages without counting the appendices. There’™s a blog Introducing the Parisian Underworld where we can discuss the book and there’™s no time limit on this!

For the Once Upon a Time Challenge I’d like to get on with reading Dante’™s The Divine Comedy or at least The Descent into Hell.

Then there is Our Longest Days, real diaries from the Second World War period, that I’™m itching to read. I have started that too.

It will be a miracle if I actually stick to any reading plan, but at least these books are all ones I already own. Now if I could stop myself going to the library and borrowing more books that would be good, but yesterday I returned two books and borrowed yet another one ‘“ at least it was only one.

Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert

I’™ve now finished the ‘œEat’ section of this book, or in other words the section in Elizabeth Gilbert’™s book about her stay in Italy. The book is growing on me, or maybe I’™m becoming accustomed to her style of writing. I’™ve already written about her comments on how Italians cheer themselves up after their football team has lost a match by eating cream puffs, but there a couple of other things caught my attention in this section.

The first is a reference to Dante ‘“ I’™ve written several posts on Dante’™s The Divine Comedy and Florence. Elizabeth goes to an Italian class to help her learn the language. She explains how for centuries there was no ‘œItalian’ language – Italians wrote and spoke in different local dialects ‘“ and it was only in the 16th century that a gathering of intellectuals decided that the official Italian language (in its written form at least) was the language used by Dante; the language in which he had published The Divine comedy in 1321; the language spoken by his fellow Florentines.

The other most interesting discovery I made in reading ‘œEat’ is about the Augusteum ‘“ a big round ruin near the Ara Pacis, the Altar to Peace. I didn’™t know its name before, nor its history. I first visited Rome in 1992. I had been doing an Open University course on Roman History and wanted to see various sites, including the Roman Forum, the Coliseum and the Ara Pacis. This large round ruin intrigued me; it’™s such a contrast to the Ara Pacis, which is an enormous, gleaming white marble altar, showing the Emperor Augustus’™ triumphal entry into Rome, consecrated in 9BC. The Museo dell’Ara Pacis website gives the history of the altar and details of its renovation.

The entrance to the ruin was gated and locked and all we could see were some wild cats ‘“ there are lots in Rome – and a lady who had come with some food for the cats. It looked a really mysterious and forbidding place and I wanted to know its history.

Elizabeth Gilbert explains that this is the Augusteum, which was originally a mausoleum built by the Emperor Augustus to house his remains and those of his family. It fell into ruins after the fall of the Roman Empire and his ashes were stolen. By the 12th century it had been turned into a fortress for the Colonna family, then later became a vineyard, a Renaissance garden, a bullring in the 18th century, a fireworks depository, then a concert hall. In the 1930s Mussolini restored it to its classical foundations and intended it to house his remains.

Elizabeth Gilbert doesn’™t mention the Ara Pacis, but says that the Augusteum ‘œis one of the quietest and loneliest place in Rome, buried deep in the ground. The city has grown up around it over centuries. (One inch a year is the general rule of thumb for the accumulation of time’™s debris.) Traffic above the monument spins in a hectic circle, and nobody ever goes down there ‘“ from what I can tell ‘“ except to use the place as a public bathroom. But the building still exists, holding its Roman ground with dignity, waiting for its next incarnation.’

Yes, it was lonely went we went there (and it did smell, too). Both the Augusteum and the Ara Pacis were very quiet and with very few people around. We went back to Rome in 2003 and again both sites were very quiet, we were the only people there ‘“ a treat in such a crowded, busy city.