Thursday, March 17, 2016


I love my local library. As a reader, of course I love it! Nowadays it has taken on a fresh new look. Comfortable easy chairs in a sleek art deco style, bright colors, indoor "patio" tables with bright colored umbrellas, a huge teepee, interesting displays, a full-sized plastic skeleton, "trader" paperbacks free for the taking, a wonderful dollhouse for my granddaughter to populate with her choice of toy people, dinosaurs, furniture, and a tiger (her favorite), plus the usual assortment of books, etc. For the past two years or so, I have been using the Library2Go Oregon Digital Library Consortium service too. This comes free with my library card.

I especially like to download audio books that I can listen to as I go about my daily routine. Usually I listen to British mysteries, you know, stories set in "peaceful" country villages where nothing ever happens. Ha!

I like writers such as P.D. James, Dorothy L. Sayers, Ngaio Marsh, M.C. Beaton, Agatha Christie, Elizabeth George and Deborah Crombie. The last two are American writers whose stories are set in Great Britain. There are many more I could list. Besides mysteries set in Great Britain, I also like to listen to Donna Leon's Detective Brunetti mysteries. These are set in Venice so I get a vicarious visit to that magical city with each new story.

 And, I like Andrea Camilleri's Inspector Montalbano series, set in Sicily, so more vicarious travel.

One caveat with my choice of mystery books. I do not like realistic detective fiction. Spare me the autopsies, and psychopaths who build snowmen in the yards of their victims, or put body parts in the car boot. No thanks. Some of my writers throw in gruesome scenes but one is not taken into the mind of the killer. Elizabeth George is an exception, I guess. My "cosy" mysteries, where there IS murder, it is (for the most part) sanitized such that my delicate sensibilities can handle it.

So far in 2016, I have listened to sixteen audio books. They are not all mysteries. I have "read" Rosamunde Pilcher, Emile Zola, Anthony Trollope, and listened to an Arthur Miller play. OK, I'm a dreamer but isn't reading an escape, no matter how it is accomplished? At least with audio books, I get my chores finished!

And, a trip to the library is as easy as picking up my iPod. However, these days, I am making more trips in person to my local library. Sitting in a teepee is fun!

Do you listen to audio books? What have you "read" lately?

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Truth and Vipers

"There are many ways to the recognition of truth, and Burgundy is one of them." -- Isak Dinesan

Earlier today I pulled some books off the bottom shelf of my study bookcase. I had decided it was time to add more books to LibraryThing and these had been lurking in a dusty corner for far too long. As you see, there is a theme:

Back in the day, we were avid home wine makers (and drinkers!). We planted twenty pinot noir (Burgundy) vines in the backyard and took several wine making and tasting classes. It was so fun! We made our own wine for a few years. It was so-so, and eventually we moved on. But one of the best things we did was travel to France. We used "Adventures on the Wine Route" by Berkeley wine importer, Kermit Lynch, as our guide through French wine country. We had many of our own adventures and have never even once been sorry we made the trip.

We traveled by train from Paris to Dijon. In Dijon we picked up a rental car and spent the next two weeks driving around Burgundy, Provence, the Languedoc, and Bordeaux. Here are few pictures of Burgundy:

Wine "growler" shop in Gamay

Burgundy Scenes

The center photo was taken near Savigny-les-Beaune. We were there looking for a particular vineyard, "Les Serpentiers". We were never sure, but hoped this picture was the vineyard. According to the wine making brothers Pichenot, Kermit Lynch tells us in "Adventures on the Wine Route":

"Having always loved the vineyard name, "Les Serpentiers", which goes back to at least the thirteenth century, I ask if they know its origin.

"There are a lot of vipers there."

"Not really. There in the vineyard?"

"It's true Just ten days ago a young woman was bitten and spent a day in the hospital."

We did not encounter any vipers, but we did encounter friendly people, breathtaking scenery, and some fabulous wine. Truly.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

A Horde of Rebels

"...reading, you know, is rather like opening the door to a horde of rebels who swarm out attacking one in twenty places at once..." -- Virginia Woolf

It is past time for an update on where we have been and where we are going on the Road Map journey. I have had the "rebels" on my tail for the past few weeks and I am glad to report they are harmless, and in fact, quite enlightening and entertaining.

Firstly, I can tick two of my 2016 To Be Read books off the list:

Millions of words have been written about Virginia Woolf, one of the early 20th century's vanguard novelists. She helped to bring the stream of consciousness style into being and because of this, her work is considered difficult. The Virginia Woolf Reader is like a See's Candy Christmas box. We get to taste bits from here and there, every one wrapped in bright foil paper with plenty of bows. Editor Mitchell Leaska chose well. There are bits from essays, novels, short stories, diaries, and letters. I did not read the diaries section because of this:

I really do not like to read extracts from diaries. I want the whole life story, as written by the diarist. This is Volume One of the definitive 4-volume set edited by Anne Bell with an introduction by her husband, Quentin Bell. Quentin is Virginia's nephew, son of her artist sister Vanessa. Quentin wrote this excellent biography:

Many years ago, I read To the Lighthouse and Mrs. Dalloway, two of VW's most well-known works. I then read this biography and have been a "fan" (aka "Bloomsberry") ever since. Much more to come about Bloomsbury at a later date. VW lived in a time of great upheaval. She experienced the pain of loss at an early age and suffered from intermittent mental and emotional instability. This instability led to VW's suicide by drowning in 1941. Speculation has ranged from bi polar to schizophrenia. In the early 20th century, her malady was called "insanity". She was fortunate to have been born into the upper middle class or she might have spent her life in an asylum. Instead, she was cared for in hospitals and at home with private nurses. She was lucid most of the time and was a founding member of the Bloomsbury Group, the famous set of authors, artists, intellectuals, and hangers-on who lived or met in the Bloomsbury area of London in the early years of the 20th century. Her life was rich, her writing was sublime, and I encourage you to investigate VW. Do not be "afraid".

In the 1920's, Virginia began a mild love affair with Vita Sackville-West. Vita was an aristocrat. Her family, the Sackvilles, have lived at Knole, one of England's largest country houses, since 1603. The vast estate was given to Vita's ancestor, Thomas Sackville by his cousin Queen Elizabeth I in 1566. The house dates to the late 15th century, with many additions over time. Vita became a celebrity in England in the early 20th century because of two famous court cases. In the first, Vita's mother was proven to be the legal heir to her father Lord Sackville (there was a question as to whether Lord Sackville ever married the Spanish dancer, "Pepita", Vita's grandmother). In the second, Vita's mother was proven to be entitled to a bequest made to her by one of her admirers. The English public was enamoured with Vita, the beautiful young heiress, and could not get enough of her and her family's public humiliation followed by triumph in the courts.

Vita was also a prolific writer. Her best known work these days is the novel, All Passion Spent. She married the diplomat, Harold Nicolson, at Knole in 1913. They were both bi-sexual and each had love affairs with both sexes. Vita and Virginia's affair was mild, mostly a meeting of great minds, as Vita was aware of Virginia's fragile emotional state, and did not want to harm her in any way.

In Portrait of a Marriage, Nigel Nicolson, Vita's son, presents us with a view of the unusual marital arrangement between his parents, Harold and Vita. Theirs was an unbreakable love, a bond strong enough to withstand the emotional turmoil of passionate love affairs. By agreement, they gave each other the room to live their own separate lives, knowing they were each other's ROCK.

The book is divided into parts written by Vita and by Nigel, as well as excerpts of letters written by Vita and Harold. Vita had written an autobiography but locked it away in her tower writing room, unseen by anyone until after her death in 1962. Her son Nigel includes Vita's autobiography and his wider-view version of the same events Vita writes about. Most of the book is taken up with the drama around Vita's passionate love affair with Violet Keppel, which lasted over two years. Vita and Violet wanted to live together but had to run away from England to do so. This planned arrangement created turmoil and tremendous upheaval for everyone involved. Finally, getting as far as France, they break up and Vita returns to her family and begins a much quieter life of seclusion in the Kentish countryside. She and Violet were to meet and travel together a few more times, but the affair gradually wound down.

Vita and Harold had two sons, and created one of England's great tourist attractions: the gardens at Sissinghurst castle, their family home. Now owned by the National Trust, Sissinghurst was a refuge and the gardens their major project after the stormy first years of their marriage. As a female, Vita could not inherit Knole due to the laws of primogeniture. She mourned the loss of her family home to a male cousin. Virginia Woolf was aware of Vita's great sadness over the loss of Knole. She penned Orlando, her well-known novel of gender bending and time travel with Vita and Knole as her inspiration. I am currently reading Orlando and will give you my thoughts on it at a later date.

Sissinghurst Castle
(note the tower, upper center -- Vita's writing domain)

Finally, Portrait of a Marriage is a lasting tribute to a great love. The love of a man and woman for each other -- come what may. To most, it seems scandalous and a bit naughty that they were tolerant of each other's affairs, and they even refer to this perceived naughtiness in their letters to one another (Harold, as a diplomat, traveled extensively). In their view it was not naughty, rather a mature and generous agreement to allow each other the freedom to live, really live, their own one life in this world.

Referring to Vita's feelings for Virginia and for the effects on her husband Leonard, Harold says in his 2 December 1926 letter to Vita:

"I am far more worried for Virginia's and Leonard's sake than for ours. I know that for each of us the other is the magnetic north, and that though the needle may flicker and even get stuck at the other points, it will come back to the pole sooner or later."

Quite civilized, I must say.

Reading update:

Listened to two cosy mysteries using my library's digital download feature.

Read my cousin's first novel, The Wish and the Waterfall. Quite the good book, and a post on it to come at a later date. Way to go, Ken!

Currently reading A Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek, also on the 2016 TBR challenge and Orlando by Virginia Woolf.

I think that is it for now. I am not worried about the hordes! Ciao!