Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Shelf Life

Romance, mystery, drama, and other page-turning adventures from a year in a bookstore

I started reading this once, lost interest, forgot about it, and tried again several months later. This is a note to self: even though the concept sounds interesting or intriguing, this book will grate on your eyes because of the voice that just likes to hear itself go on and on. Remember this and do not try again.

Note to everyone else: this may not apply to you. You might really like Suzanne Strempek Shea's voice. She wrote six other books that were published before Shelf Life, so somebody likes her voice. Suzanne worked in a bookstore as a way to get outside of herself after spending a year battling breast cancer, ending in remission. I don't know what happens after that.

Good luck.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Lisa and Lottie

I sought out this book because it is the book upon which The Parent Trap is based. The copy I read, unearthed from the archives of a county library, was published in 1969, a translation by Cyrus Brooks from the original by Erich Kastner.

This juvenile book is short and sweet, less dramatic than the movies, and so a more realistic fantasy. Lisa is bubbly and a bit unruly, who lives with her father, a successful composer and conductor, in Vienna. Serious and domestically talented Lottie lives in Munich with her mother, an overworked editor. When they meet at summer camp, they discover their relationship and switch places per the movies, but what comes next is a little different, but still very satisfying. There is a certain European quality that I cannot quantify, but that I have perceived in certain movies such as Mostly Martha, the German movie that begat the American film No Reservations.

Caution: kids who are not accustomed to reading older novels may find Kastner's style off-putting. You have to know your child. I found it charming, and not least because of the delightful illustrations by Victoria de Larrea.

Dinner is Served

An English Butler's Guide to the Art of the Table

Arthur Inch retired after 50 years of "private service," meaning he worked as a traditional servant in a wealthy British household, culminating in the august position of butler, which he held for decades. Now he consults with people who want to know how it once was, such as the producers of Gosford Park. Inch wrote this book to be a how-to for those who want to give a formal dinner party without embarrassing themselves, but the how-to is liberally interspersed with stories of how it was--what a pain Winston Churchill was, and what a groom of chambers did, back in the day when such a position existed outside of royal households.

As a companion piece for The House: Living at Chatsworth, this would be a complete resource for those who wish to explore the English Great House in its 20th century heyday. But naturally it works very well as a stand-alone.

The House: Living at Chatsworth

or Chatsworth: The House

The book I read is The House: Living at Chatsworth by the Duchess of Devonshire. This book was revised in 2002, and published as Chatsworth: The House, by the Dowager Duchess of Devonshire. Of course, the authors are the same; the former Deborah Mitford (one of the famous Mitford sisters) was the Duchess of Devonshire in the 1980s when she wrote the book originally. By the time the book was rereleased, her husband had died, leaving their son to be the Duke, his wife to be the duchess, and Deborah to be the Dowager Duchess.

I dearly love a book that is a slice of life not my own. The Duchess's engaging style illuminates the world of Chatsworth, one of the Great Houses of England. Chatsworth has avoided becoming part of the National Trust, and has made itself a travel destination, with tours, a shop, restaurants and accommodations. She covers the house in magnificent detail, which makes the book worthwhile by itself, but her irrepressible personality makes it real, not just a house, but a house inhabited by a duchess, with delightful anecdotes, such as the one about trying to buy a picture at auction, being outbid, and so framing the catalog picture and hanging it on her wall so she could enjoy it every day.

I cannot say how the updated version is. But it's worth checking into. And I will.

The House in Good Taste

I have tried to read this interior design classic by Elsie de Wolfe twice. Despite her enormous influence on the way we Americans decorate our homes even today, I find this reprinted compilation of her articles to be tedious.

Perhaps it is because she speaks of things that have nothing to do with my life. The placement of the piano and the writing desk, the blessings of chintz. Wonderful as an abstract, but my piano has to go where it is, and a writing desk? In the drawing room? I don't think drawing rooms are legal on the West coast. And my husband is irrevocably opposed to chintz.

But if you are a fledgling interior designer, interested in the underpinnings of today's fashions, this volume could be of interest to you. But, note to self, not to me.

The Meaning of Sunglasses

And a guide to almost all things fashionable

First, a little background.

Books seek me out. They fill my bookshelves, and bundle themselves into boxes and stacks. Books-to-read accumulate in lists on my computer and on my iPhone, in laborious hand-written notes and scrawled post-its that litter my desktop. In a desperate attempt to organize them, I have created pages of potential reads, organized by library. I carry three library cards, and am negotiating with the holder of a fourth for borrowing rights.

Imagine my shock when one of my libraries announced that, as of July 1, all out-of-area card holders would be charged $80 a year. I am not going to spend $80 a year for a library card.

So I pulled out my list of books available at that library and went to work. After culling and tweaking, I narrowed the list to 25ish books to request from outlying branches, intending to read them before the deadline.

I cannot possibly read 25+ books in six weeks on top of my other responsibilities. The sad truth is that most of these books will be tossed aside after a brief once-over. Some are trivial, outdated, overly academic, or tediously formulaic. Some reflect former interests. I expected to actually read 2 or 3 of the whole list.

So you will understand when I say that this book, The Meaning of Sunglasses, is the one that claimed the most time, that I nibbled from cover to cover, savoring each part. Over time I have read many beauty and fashion books, hoping for something special, accumulating a sparse few over the years. This is one of the best. Hadley Freeman, the author, writes for British Vogue, and she clearly has writing skills on top of fashion credibility. The book consists of essays on fashion topics, organized alphabetically. Thus, Accessories: going to hell in a handbag, to Yoga, detoxes, and other euphemisms for exercise and diets.

Not that I agree with her unilaterally. Her polemic against fur is understandable, if a bit harsh, but against jewelry? Sorry, dear. I cannot recall all the little areas of disagreement, but I like her voice so much, I look over these blips and keep reading.

Just look at this, the last sentence in the essay about boots, which ends with a caution against certain types of boots: And as for pirate boots, my rising wave of despair somewhat swamps the necessary flame of outrage, leaving only mute distress.

Maybe this isn't your thing, but it is certainly mine, and I need that. No, not pirate boots. The Meaning of Sunglasses, by Hadley Freeman.