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Austen to Zafón

Reading widely since 1972.

Currently reading

A London Family, 1870-1900: A Trilogy
Molly Hughes
The Cellist of Sarajevo
Steven Galloway
Lives of a Cell: Notes of a Biology Watcher
Lewis Thomas
All the Names
José Saramago, Margaret Jull Costa
A History of the World in 100 Objects
Neil MacGregor
Down the Garden Path
Beverley Nichols
Virtue Betray'd, Or, Anna Bullen
John Banks
Year of Wonders
Geraldine Brooks
Swallows and Amazons
Arthur Ransome
Illusion in java
Gene Fowler

importing doesn't import everything

I'm still very confused about importing books from Goodreads. I keep trying. I've re-exported from GR and re-imported to Booklikes several times and I am still missing 155 books.  And it's not just in one category; it's throughout. A few titles missing in each of my categories. I asked about this before, but didn't really get an answer. Is anyone else having this problem? I don't want to shut my GR account down unless I know for sure I can get everything out of it. Trying to go through 1500+ titles to figure out what exactly is missing is not an option. 

Paris - Germany: Europäische Reportagen 1931-1950

An American in Paris; profile of an interlude between two wars - Janet Flanner Janet Flanner was an American correspondent in Paris for the New Yorker magazine from 1925 to 1975. She was an expatriate partly because she had little respect or love for her home country, describing it as "our plain and tasteless republic." She is full of snark about Americans, in fact. In describing the American author Edith Wharton, she says, "Fortunately...she was repeatedly sent as a child to the Continent, where governesses taught her French, German, and Italian. Something very close to English she had already learned in her correct American home." In another chapter, she describes American tastes in music thus: "a land bred on 'Turkey in the Straw.'"

She loved Paris though and it really shows in the stories and mini biographies in this book, all written before 1940, and published in a variety of places including Vanity Fair, the New Yorker, and Harper's Bazaar. I enjoyed most of them. I also found her very dated bio of Hitler, written in 1935 before we knew much about him, interesting from a historical perspective.

Bertie Plays the Blues: A 44 Scotland Street Novel (7)

Bertie Plays the Blues: A 44 Scotland Street Novel  - Alexander McCall Smith I skipped a couple of books in the series to read this one, which a friend loaned me. It didn't really matter; the characters are consistent and the plot moves slowly, so I wasn't confused. I enjoy these books; they're good comfort reads. That said, I do get tired of McCall Smith trumpeting his views via his characters. It's so clear that he can't stand a certain type of person when he makes a character with those traits pretty much unendurable. Most of his characters are either nearly perfect (Bertie, Angus, Domenica, Matthew) or awful enough that you wouldn't want them in your life (Bruce, Irene, Dr. Fairbairn, Olive, Tofu). There are a few in-betweens, but in general, McCall Smith knows how to hit you over the head repeatedly with his views on what makes a good person and a good life. And he's a master of mockery where he doesn't agree.

Mister Pip

Mister Pip - Lloyd Jones I started out liking this book, but was blindsided by the horrific ending. I try to avoid that kind of thing, but it seems that these days, your book just won't be taken seriously unless you throw in some rape, child abuse, incest, or molestation to make it about things that are Important. It's kind of like how mid-century coming-of-age books had to include growing-up-via-death-of-animal. Wish I'd never read this book. I'll never get the images from the last scenes out of my head.

The Mountain Lion (New York Review Books Classics)

The Mountain Lion (New York Review Books Classic) - Jean Stafford I'm not sure what to think about this 1940s coming-of-age novel. I found it difficult to like or care about any of the characters and so I wasn't moved by the various betrayals and tragedies. And yet the descriptions of complicated sibling co-dependence and rivalry, sexual tension, family dynamics, and cultural expectations of boys and girls were compelling and illuminating. I tried to think of my mother being a young girl in that era, in California and in a relatively wealthy family with certain social constraints and obligations. She was much younger than these characters by about 10 years, but going into the 1950s, I think there were still a lot of the same rules and norms. It was interesting, as the story moved from L.A. to a Colorado ranch, to learn about how ranch life worked, how cold the people could be about the animals in their care and the people in their employ. No one gave anyone else much quarter. An interesting read, but not a favorite.

London Was Yesterday, 1934-1939 (A Studio Book)

London Was Yesterday, 1934-1939 (A Studio Book) - Janet Flanner Janet Flanner, an American ex-pat, wrote the bi-weekly "Letter from Paris" column for the New Yorker for 50 years; 1925 to 1975. But from 1934-39, the New Yorker asked her to also write the "Letter from London." Apparently she split her time between the two capitals, which can't have been easy. I read her [b:Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939|19571|Paris Was Yesterday, 1925-1939|Janet Flanner|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1388204585s/19571.jpg|244542] and this book just doesn't have the same passion. The Paris letters focus more on the raucous jazz age shenanigans and some politics, and while a lot of it (especially the name dropping) went over my head, it was clear she loved Paris and Paris loved her. Her London letters, or at least the scant selection here, are almost exclusively about the royal family and the theater crowd, with a little about politics thrown in. I didn't get much feel for what it was like to be an average Londoner living in the city in that era.

Perhaps I'm spoiled by Mollie Panter-Downes who succeeded Flanner and wrote the "Letter from London" column for the next 45 years (The New Yorker must've been really good to its writers!). Her letters, which I read in [b:London War Notes, 1939-1945|1683766|London War Notes, 1939-1945|Mollie Panter-Downes|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1387726325s/1683766.jpg|234232], give a good feel for the time and place and not just what it was like for the wealthy and socially privileged. She was a Londoner and right at home, but able to communicate that particular culture to the American reader.

I give this book three stars for its stellar, although somewhat obsequious, portrait of Queen Elizabeth (mother of the current Queen) and her reports on the love affair and abdication of King Edward VIII (Duke of Windsor). She paints a sympathetic portrait of Wallis Simpson.

The Summer Book (New York Review Books Classics)

The Summer Book - Tove Jansson, Thomas Teal, Kathryn Davis The short of it is that this is the best book I've read in at least a year, maybe longer. The story of a young girl, Sophia, spending the summer on a small island in Finland. Like the setting of her famous Moomin books, this book's island is based on the one where Jansson spend 30 summers.


The writing is poetry. One review said, "[Jansson's] writing is all magical deception, her sentences simple and loaded; the novel reads like looking through clear water and seeing, suddenly, the depth." Exactly. It's amazing how such clear, simple prose can hold so much meaning. The main event that pervades this particular summer is the death of Sophia's mother:

"Sophia woke up and remembered that they had come back to the island and that she had a bed to herself because her mother was dead."

It's the only time the death is mentioned, but you feel it in every chapter, you see how the family is coping with it, absorbing it, and moving forward.

The relationship between the young girl, Sophia, and her grandmother is lovely; they are so close they can get mad at one another and shout and it's fine because they are deeply, irretrievably connected. It's safe to show one another their true selves. They share the feeling of needing to escape the confines of Sophia's father, who naturally worries about them both taking unsafe risks. They each indulge in small rebellions.

Here is a sample. (Note: In a previous chapter, Sophia takes to saying "bloody" all the time and she and her grandmother discuss it. It becomes kind of a joke.]:

The channel marker was a high wall of well-spaced horizontal planks, like a section of picket fence turned on its side...The distance from one plank to the next was so great that Sophia's legs just barely reached, and after each step her knees began to shake--not much, just enough so that she had to wait until they stopped. Then came the next rung. Sophia had made it almost to the top before Grandmother saw her. Grandmother realized right away that she mustn't scream. She would have to wait for the child to come back down. It wasn't dangerous. Children have a lot of ape in them; they're good climbers and never fall unless they're startled.

Sophia was climbing very slowly now, with long pauses between steps. Grandmother could see she was scared. The old woman stood up too quickly. Her walking stick rolled down into the pool, and the whole rock became an uncertain, hostile surface, arching and twisting in front of her. Sophia took another step.
"You're doing fine," Grandmother called. "You're almost there!"
Sophia took another step. She got her hands over the topmost plank and didn't move.

"Now come back down here," Grandmother said.

But the child didn't move. It was so hot in the sun that the channel marker shimmered and quaked in the waves.

"Sophia!" Grandmother called. "My stick fell down in the pool and I can't walk." She waited and then called again, "It's bloody awful, do you hear me? My balance is bloody awful today, and I've got to have my cane!"

Sophia started down. She moved steadily, one step at a time.

Damned child, Grandmother thought. Confounded children. But that's what happens when people won't let you do anything fun. The people who are old enough.

Sophia was back down on the rock. She waded out into the pool for the stick and handed it to Grandmother without looking at her.

"You're a very good climber," said Grandmother sternly. "And brave, too, because I could see you were scared. Shall I tell him about it? Or shouldn't I?"

Sophia shrugged one shoulder and looked at her grandmother. "I guess maybe not," she said. "But you can tell it on your deathbed so it doesn't go to waste."

"That's a bloody good idea," Grandmother said. She walked off across the rock and sat down beside the air mattress, just outside the shade of the violet parasol.

My favorite chapters are the one in which they create a miniature Venice in a marsh pool, including a palace in which a family lives; and the one one in which Grandmother and Sophia trespass on a neighbor's island.

101 Animal Stories

101 Animal Stories - Anne-Marie Dalmais,  Benvenuti,  Glynis E. Holland,  Brenda Uttley This was one of my favorite books as a kid. The stories all seemed a little odd, in a fascinating way that drew me to re-read them. I figured out later that they'd been translated from French and they do have a French feel to them. But what makes this book such a stand-out for me is the amazing watercolors. As a teen, I tried to reproduce many of them. My one success was an illustration of a bee visiting a wild rose. I want my son to have a copy, but I couldn't bear to part with my own, so I found one for him on ebay.


Catland - Louis Wain,  Rodney Dale I loved Wain's art for many years before I knew much about him. Poor guy. He declined into mental illness. I wish this book had been longer to allow for a LOT more pictures, but I like it nonetheless.

The Voice of the Wood

The Voice of the Wood - Claude Clément, Frédéric Clément Haunting and beautiful. I love how the cello maker manages to capture in his instrument the spirit of the tree and the birds who sang in it.

Medieval World: 300-1300 (Ideas & Institutions in W.Civilization)

Medieval World, 300-1300 - Norman F. Cantor A collection of documents written between 300-1300, each with a contextual intro. Not a page-turner, but great resource for the time period.

Mrs. Peter Rabbit

Mrs. Peter Rabbit - Thornton W. Burgess Can't find my copy at the moment, but it's a vintage hardcover, maybe 1940s.

Mother West Wind 'When' Stories

Mother West Wind 'When' Stories - Thornton W. Burgess,  Harrison Cady The 1941 copy I have was my mother's when she was a child.

The Annotated Alice: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland & Through the Looking Glass

Annotated Alice: Complete Text and Original Illustrations in Only Fully Annotated Edition - Lewis Carroll, Martin Gardner, John Tenniel I have read through this version many times and I love all the great extra information Gardner gives that enhances the understanding of the jokes, the rhymes, and the back history of the time, the characters, and the author.

Eyewitness to History

Eyewitness to History - John Carey I like books of historical source documents. These are eyewitness accounts of historical events.

Lady Audley's Secret

Lady Audley's Secret - Mary Elizabeth Braddon Poor Lady Audley. I felt terrible for her! Juicy gothic tale of a woman cornered into doing something quite regrettable, something many of us would do in the same circumstance. She pays of course, as most women in these Victorian dramas do. Poor dear. This is often compared to Wilkie Collins' The Woman in White, but I found it more readable.