Friday, July 31, 2015

Friday in Provence

Well, not really IN Provence, but since it is too hot to do much else, I am reading through and enjoying mightily this book:

Provence, 1970

Luke Barr is the grand-nephew of M.F.K. Fisher and writes here about an impromptu convocation in Provence of American food writers who had all, in their own way, introduced French cuisine to the average American table. Times were changing, and America's tastes in cooking and style were changing too. The conversation around their kitchens and tables in Provence was about the direction American cuisine might go and how they could help to shape that journey.

A fellow food writer and American ex-pat entered this scene and apparently the fireworks began!  I think, Richard Olney, you were a very naughty boy!

After Olney and M.F.K. were introduced and shared several wonderful meals with the group, a disgruntled M.F.K. left and went on her own to Arles to have a good hard think about the direction her writing would take going forward. Using M.F.K.'s journal of 1970, letters to and from those who gathered in Provence in December, and from M.F.K.'s own story of her time in Arles, "About Looking Alone At a Place:  Arles", Barr weaves the tale.

An introduction to Richard Olney:

Thursday, July 30, 2015

From the Sublime to the Ridiculous and Back Again

My last post left you here:


I have returned home and it is HOT and DRY here today, and apparently will be so for the near future.  So, I am hunkered down indoors with the AC, my iced tea spiked with blackberries (one of the perks of summer around here!) and busy adding books to my LibraryThing database.

Stack 1

Today I am working on my cookbook shelf in the study.  It is too much hot work to haul them into the room with the photo chair so I am just stacking them up next to my computer here in the study.  I just took a break and see that the thermometer says 99 degrees!  The forecast is for 104 degrees today.  RIDICULOUS!

Stack 2

If you notice a distinct slant to French cooking, you would not be wrong.  I like to try recipes from around the world, but I definitely LOVE French cooking, especially cooking from the South of France.  More about that some other time.

Finally, I mentioned the awful heat wave we are having.  Here is a bit of beauty mixed into the RIDICULOUS!


Monday, July 27, 2015

My Legacy Project Update: MFK Fisher and Colette

As of now, MFK Fisher and I share two books in common according to the Legacy Library listing on LibraryThing.  These are MFK's "As They Were" and "The Collected Stories of Colette".  I have made progress with both books since last week and here are my impressions so far.

As They Were

I meant to be farther along in this book by now as it is a collection of essays.  But I have been savoring every page and have about one hundred pages to go.  It is a beautiful book and is really very good.  From the back cover:

"...In As They Were she has collected a number of essays -- she calls them 'reports' -- into an informal autobiography that wanders from Whittier, California, to the south of France." -- Newsweek

So far, one story stands out, "The Flame and the Ash Thereof".  It is a hauntingly beautiful autobiographical short story about young marrieds vacationing in northeast France in 1931.  It is also a story about the bride's return in 1945, now on her own, after reading about the devastation wrought to her special little town by the Germans in WWII.  The before and after contrast is heartbreaking.  More than parts of the town disappeared, a way of life was also lost.  MFK draws one into both worlds.  It is a story I will never forget.

The little I had read of MFK Fisher before starting this project left me wondering if I would ever "get" her writing.  Now I have no doubts.  She is marvelous.

The Collected Stories of Colette

There are 100 stories in this collection, taken from various books by Colette.  They date from 1908 to 1945. Part I contains the "Early Stories".  The first section of Part I is "Clouk/Cheri", containing seven stories.

You might be familiar with the novella "Cheri", by Colette.  The seven stories in Part I are stand alone stories, but also show the evolution of the character Cheri from "Clouk".  Clouk is a miserable poor little rich boy, physically unattractive and is becoming ever more depressed over the loss of his actress girlfriend to another man. Colette turns Clouk into "Cheri", a young handsome bon vivant who loves an older woman but is forced into an arranged marriage.  The stories are very well-written, evocative of an earlier age, and quite charming in their way.

On my list of things to do as soon as I can fit it in is to watch this movie with Michelle Pfeiffer as "the older woman":


I will check back in on this phase of My Legacy Project in a few weeks.  Also, look for a new page on the blog for MFK Fisher.  I will organize My Reading Road Map using Pages for each person whose Legacy Library I am reading.

Now, I am off for a couple of days so I can spend some family time here:

Peace and Quiet

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Introducing My Friend Samuel

Samuel Pepys

My one-sided friendship with Samuel Pepys ("Peeps") began here:

84 Charing Cross Road

A charming 1987 film starring Anne Bancroft as the New York writer Helene Hanff and Anthony Hopkins as her London bookseller friend, Frank Doel.  My ears perked up in the scene where Helene is writing this to Frank:

"Mr. Doel!  WHAT KIND OF A PEPYS' DIARY DO YOU CALL THIS?  This is not Pepys' Diary, this is some busy-body editor's miserable collection of EXCERPTS from Pepys' Diary may he rot.  I could just spit. Where is January twelfth 1688 where his wife chased him out of bed and around the bedroom with a red hot poker?"

I think the year in this transcript has a typo as the Diary ends in 1669 but still, wouldn't you like to have seen that?

The words "Pepys' Diary" grabbed me.  I remembered I owned "The Diary of Samuel Pepys".  Part of the big library I purchased in 1977 and languishing someplace in the stacks.  I pulled out the books and started reading. Of course I was instantly hooked because I love anything British and I love diaries, letters, etc. Whenever I could find a bit of time to read without interruption, usually on a Sunday, I would pick up the Diary and read through as many entries as I could.  It was slow going but I made good progress over time.
Also over time, I collected a few books about Restoration London, a fictional Mrs. Pepys Diary, and the definitive 11-volume set.

Pepys Shelf

I discovered that the Pepys Diary is one of the works I have in common with Helene Hanff's Legacy Library on LibraryThing.  I just love how things connect, don't you?

Today you are only meeting Samuel.  Now and then I will tell you more about Samuel, his wife Elizabeth, the wondrous decade he wrote about and give you an update on my progress through the Diary.  I am reading the year's entries for 1668 now, the next to last year.  And, I will tell you about these pictures.

Pepys Walk

And, here is a teaser for you.

The Great Fire of London

If you want to get a flavor of Pepys' world, check out this wonderful movie.


Do you like diaries and letters?


Saturday, July 25, 2015

Menu Planning

I love to cook.  At least, I used to love to cook. For many, many years I spent an hour or so every Saturday morning planning the menu for the coming week.  I made a grocery list based on the required ingredients for various dishes on the week's menu and then I went shopping.  I always tried to incorporate at least one or two new dishes to keep my family (and me) interested in meal time.  I began collecting cookbooks for inspiration.

My collection of cookbooks grew over the years to include not only books but cooking magazines, especially old issues of Gourmet and Saveur magazines.  I wrote about Gourmet here:

Old Gourmet Magazines

Nowadays, with just the two of us, and time on my hands, one would think I would be spending a lot of creative time in the kitchen.  Sadly, I seem to have lost my kitchen "mojo". Cooking sometimes feels like a "chore".  So maybe I need to get back into the menu-planning habit.

I am going to take a little trip through these magazines looking for inspiration today.  I keep my cooking magazines stored by season.

They look a little ratty, but truly for someone who enjoys cooking this row of magazines is a treasure trove.  The missing box is "July-Aug" and is where I found these:

Gourmet magazines were about so much more than food.  Gourmet really was "The Magazine of Good Living".  I am sad it is no longer published, but honestly, after about 1990 it had become a shadow of its old self.  The articles were shorter, the recipes were focused more on bistro-style food rather than elegant dining.  And, travel articles were like abridged versions of the old ones. Sigh.

So today, I will plan our menu for the week.  We might visit a hotel in England's Garden and Lake District if I choose "Herbed Cheese and Chicken Terrine Miller Howe".

A Lake District Hotel in Windermere

Or, if it is hot, we might enjoy Lemon and Basil Poached Chicken Breasts with a Smoked Mozzarella and Tomato Salad and Sesame Ginger Toasts for a cool kitchen meal.

The danger for me is getting sidetracked while menu planning with Gourmet.  It is quite likely I will spend a lot of time in Austria while reading "Austria's Narrow-Gauge Railways", an 11-page article with recipes in the August 1984 issue. But it will not be time wasted.  There is a wonderful recipe for Poppy Seed Cake on page 128.

England's Lake District

Narrow Gauge Railway in Austria

Friday, July 24, 2015

Dreaming of the Arctic and Africa

On Fridays My Reading Road Map will go outdoors.  We will visit far away places or nearby gardens. We will investigate the natural world.  I found two books in the stacks Wednesday that shout "faraway places" so I want to give them a mention today.

Arctic Dreams

The first book is "Arctic Dreams:  Imagination and Desire in a Northern Landscape" by Barry Lopez, a philosophical nature writer who lives nearby in the Cascade foothills of western Oregon.  Lopez won the 1986 National Book Award for Nonfiction for this book.

My copy is a well-used 1986 Scribner's large paperback, and a whopping 464 pages.  I am on page 313, so on the home stretch to the finish.  I have started this book and put it down several times over the years.  For some reason it was never the right time.  Now I know to read it is a privilege and this is why.

Barry Lopez writes about Arctic land and seascapes, the creatures who populate them, and the history of Western exploration and exploitation of them with a quiet contemplative voice. Maybe I needed to be quiet to read it.

Here is a small sample from the preface.  Lopez is writing about a summer evening walk through the tundra in the western Brooks Range of Alaska.

“…it was on that evening that I went on a walk for the first time among the tundra birds.  They all build their nests on the ground, so their vulnerability is extreme.  I gazed down at a single horned lark no bigger than my fist.  She stared back resolute as iron.  As I approached, golden plovers abandoned their nests in hysterical ploys, artfully feigning a broken wing to distract me from the woven grass cups that couched their pale, darkly speckled eggs.  Their eggs glowed with a soft, pure light, like the window light in a Vermeer painting…I took to bowing on these evening walks.  I would bow slightly with my hands in my pockets, toward the birds and the evidence of life in their nests—because of their fecundity, unexpected in this remote region, and because of the serene arctic light that came down over the land like breath, like breathing.”

He "took to bowing" to the birds.  The profoundness of this has stayed with me throughout this book.  I will never forget the quiet reverence of those words.

Soon we will return to the Arctic.  We will talk about musk oxen and polar bears, narwhals and ring seals.  We will discuss ice and northern lights, the Thule people and ancient willow and birch forests so short one can walk over the top of them.  We will also think about this artwork by Frederic Edwin Church.

Finally, the chapter I am reading now is titled "The Intent of Monks".  Quietness indeed.

Mountains of the Moon

The second book from Wednesday's stacks is "Mountains of the Moon:  An Expedition to the Equatorial Mountains of Africa." by Patrick M. Synge.  Another book I have had for decades, in this case still unread.

As you see in the picture, this book came from Fermin Lasuen High School library in San Pedro, California.  It is one of my original 3,000 volume library and is considered an "ex-library" book to collectors.  These are looked down upon as much as Book Club editions in that world.  Mine is a third edition, printed in London in 1938.  It is badly damaged but contains two beautiful "coloured plates" one of which you can see in the picture, "The Lake of Death", Seventh Nyamgasani Lake.  There are 91 "collotype plate" illustrations and two maps, one a pull-out folding map.

Right now all I know about this book is the physical description I have shared with you.  From a book review on Goodreads:

“In 1934, Patrick Synge travelled on an expedition sponsored by the British Museum of Natural History to the Ruwenzori range in East Africa, purported to be the "mountains of the moon" spoken of by Herodotus.  Synge, a botanist, was immediately enchanted by the place. His book is, in large part, an enthusiastic and good-natured account of the things that most impressed him. Being a botanist, his most vivid writing concerns plants, but I must say that seldom have I read more captivating descriptions of local scenery, flora, and fauna.”

We will return to the "Mountains of the Moon" again, I promise.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Adding Books to LibraryThing

Today is an admin day.  The goal is to add 50 books to my online LibraryThing database.  The more books in the database, the more I can see what I have in common with my favorite Legacy Libraries.

Stack One -- Done!

The old brown book with no cover on the spine is from the original 3,000 volume library I purchased in 1977.  I wrote about the library here:

In 1977 I Bought a 3,000 Volume Library

I am excited to share the old brown book with you but I need to read it first!

Stack Two - - Done!

We will be talking a bit about Arctic Dreams tomorrow, just a bit though as I am reading it now.

Stack Three- - Done!

As you see, I am working through the "reference" section of my library right now.  There will be future posts about London maps and British rail journeys.

Stack Four - - Done!

Now that was some heavy lifting.  Not to mention heavy reading!  I do love looking through reference materials though.  And I wrote about the Roget's Thesaurus you see in this stack here:

Ralph's Roget's Thesaurus

My husband gave me the Oxford English Dictionary set for my birthday one year.  This is the same man who moved my 3,000 volume library at least four or five times.  I am a very lucky woman.

Stack Five - - Done!

More books about books.

OK, I met my goal of 50 books today, actually entered 52.  Now I need a cool drink and my recliner!

Tuesday, July 21, 2015


On the LibraryThing home page there is an interesting "On This Day" feature.  It is a very long list of births and deaths coinciding with the current date.  I like day books and almanacs so this is a resource I will definitely use.

In mapping out the schedule for this blog, I designated Tuesday as a day to talk about Fiction.  On LibraryThing I see that Ernest Hemingway was born on July 21, 1899.

Happy Birthday Ernest!  Don't you look spiffy sitting in your Paris apartment!

Some may remember him best for this book:

It has been years since I read "The Old Man and the Sea".  The back cover of this Scribner paperback says "Written in 1952, this hugely successful novella confirmed his power and presence in the literary world and played a large part in his winning the 1954 Nobel Prize for Literature.  My English Composition instructor told our class that "The Old Man and the Sea" is the most perfectly written novel in the English language. She said there is not a single grammatical error in the entire book.  I do not know if this is really true, but it sounds pretty impressive.

We will be visiting Ernest again. 

The Chair

One day I was looking through the books and such at my wonderful local used book shop when I spied this chair.

It was on sale for $40.  Some might consider it an ugly chair but I fell instantly in love!  It is horribly uncomfortable but I bought it anyway.  You will be seeing a lot of this chair because I think the seat makes a lovely background for pictures I take for the blog.

Here is a link to one of the better used book (and sometime furniture) shops around.

Monday, July 20, 2015

M.F.K. Fisher

Imagine yourself hiking through the hills of central France, a woman on her own in the 1930s.  A common enough thing to be doing at that time, in that place.  Midday and time for a break.  You come upon an unlikely restaurant in a renovated old mill next to a stream.  This is the setting for the first Mary Frances Kennedy Fisher (MFK) story I ever read, "I Was Really Very Hungry".  I have no idea when or where I read it but it made an impression.

Before embarking on the My Reading Road Map journey, I was reading MFK's "Sister Age", a small volume of essays and short stories around the theme of aging.  I did some digging around on the internet and learned about her life and her "Last House" in Glen Ellen, California, the home she designed and had built on land given to her by a friend for her lifetime use.  This is where she lived and wrote for the last two decades of her life.  She died in 1992.  As usual for me, I had to know more so I ordered this book from you-know-who.
 And, I remembered that many years ago I had acquired two other books by MFK.  A second edition hardback "Serve it Forth" published in 1937, and  "Two Towns in Provence", "a celebration of Aix-En-Provence & Marseille" according to the cover blurb. I still have not read either of these.

So now I owned four MFK books and she was on my mind front and center.  I had ordered a fifth book, again from you-know-who (a habit I am giving up, I promise!), "As They Were", and a book written by MFK's great-nephew Luke Barr, "Provence, 1970".  So now I have five of her books and one by her great-nephew about MFK's collaboration with other celebrated food writers one winter in Provence.

This is pretty normal for me.  I get obsessed with an author or subject and want to know everything there is to know.  All of this is going on while I am "supposed" to be entering my books online into the LibraryThing database.  So, I got cracking.  Here is where the Legacy Library idea was born.  I discovered that I share two books in common with MFK's Legacy Library.  Hers is "in-progress" as is mine, so there is hope for more.

These are the two books:
I am reading "As They Were" now.  It is a book of essays, part memoir, part voluptuous food writing.  "The Collected Stories of Colette" has been on my bookshelf for years.  I have dipped into it, but have not read all one hundred short stories.  So, for the next few weeks on Monday, I will check in here with progress reports on both books.

To whet your "appetite" for MFK Fisher, here is a recording, and according to Julia Child in her introduction, the only known recording, of MFK Fisher reading one of her stories.  It is "I Was Really Very Hungry".  Now, prepare to get off the dusty trail and sit down to a meal you will never forget.

I Was Really Very Hungry

Sunday, July 19, 2015

New Beginnings and My Legacy Library Project

First, you should know I am shutting down my old blog, The Cottage Bookseller (see link below blog archives).  I am also shutting down my very quiet book selling business.  I posted about this on the old blog.  It is time to begin a new journey in my reading life.

I have spent the past few weeks adding books I own to the online site LibraryThing.  Two hundred and eighty so far, with at least one thousand to go!  I am very impressed with the scope of LibraryThing.  If you are a reader and own a lot of books, LibraryThing is a good way to keep your library organized.  One of the features I discovered is "Legacy Libraries".  Here is a link to the page.

LibraryThing Legacy Libraries

As I enter books I see that LibraryThing tells me if I share a book in common with a historical figure whose library has been entered into LibraryThing.  As a real book geek, I find this very interesting.  Wheels begin to turn and the next thing you know, I realize there is a path to follow to actually read the books in my library.  I am calling this path My Reading Road Map, and Ta Dah!, my new blog.

I am going to read and write about books I have in common with Legacy Library writers, musicians, artists, and other historical figures.  I will also write about the people and jump on to any discovery about connections in time and place.  There will be posts about great literary fiction, nonfiction, biography, travel, food, art, music, and life in general.

Let's travel this Road together.  I promise many delights, digressions and detours.  We leave right now!

Friday, July 17, 2015

New Project

A new project is in the works.  I am very busy behind the scenes here, pardon my dust!

If you want to be part of an interesting journey, join me here in a few days.