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The Tatty Cover

The love of learning, the sequestered nooks, and all the sweet serenity of books. ~Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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Books

The Tangled Web of Bloomsbury

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One thought comes to mind with Priya Parmar’s “Vanessa and Her Sister,” and that is Sir Walter Scott’s all too fitting quote “Oh, what a tangled web we weave.” Parmar’s novel is an unflinching look at sisters Virginia Woolf and Vanessa Bell, their involvement and entanglements within the Bloomsbury Group and the shattering consequences that ensued. For anyone interested in Woolf, or the group as a whole, Parmar’s is an absorbing read.

I became interested in the Bloomsbury Set due to my fixation with George Mallory, who danced around the edges of their lives while at Cambridge. But, the more I learned about the key members of the group, the more appealing they became in and of themselves.

They were a collection of young artists, writers and philosophers who met weekly beginning in 1906 to discuss modern ideas on politics, society, art and philosophy. The Stephen siblings (Thoby, Vanessa, Virginia and Adrian) were at the group’s core, and the Stephen home in Bloomsbury quickly became the group’s nucleus. Notable original members included E.M. Forster, Lytton Strachey, Duncan Grant and John Maynard Keynes—Virginia and Vanessa held court as the only two women.

by Unknown photographer, vintage snapshot print, July 1915
Strachey, Grant and Bell

Parmar’s book follows the set mostly through Vanessa’s eyes. It is her journal and letters that chronicle the group’s entanglements as they unfold. “Entanglements,” here, being the operative word. The Bloomsbury Group makes Peyton Place look like child’s play. The only difference being there were no sordid secrets among the Bloomsbury members. The group valued pleasure from their personal relationships first and foremost, and they took a sophisticated view of monogamy. But they also held truthful self-exploration and honesty with one another as guiding principles.

Though Virginia Woolf once said that they had worked out a view of life that kept them grounded as friends, one has to think that some of the exit wounds didn’t fully heal. Parmar’s book examines the consequences of their spurred and spurned love affairs and the hard-hitting brutality of their honesty. The book also gives us a look into Virginia Woolf’s mental illness and its toll on those who loved and cared for her.

While Parmar’s book paints Woolf in a less than favorable light (she comes across as extremely self-centered and greedy), it remains a good read and a fascinating look into the inner workings of this infamous group. Defying convention, they became accomplished and influencial individuals in their own right, with the support of one another, and they did it on their own terms.

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No One Says It Like Hardy

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It’s no secret that I love Thomas Hardy. My favorite poem remains his Neutral Tones, which I memorized in high school and have never forgotten. But, Hardy’s verse doesn’t end in his poems. Readers of his other works would be hard pressed not to find beautiful, lyrical passages there as well. For example, this, taken from Tess of the d’Urbervilles, on a woman’s past being brought to light:

“The figure near at hand suffers on such occasion, because it shows up its sorriness without shade; while vague figures afar off are honoured, in that their distance makes artistic virtues of their stains.”

So simple, yet so elegant. Hardy was always on point in observing everyday life. Perhaps that, coupled with his beautiful use of language, is why his work has endured for so long.

Back in the Saddle

I am getting back into the swing of things. After more than a year’s hiatus from my beloved Tatty Cover, I am back. I didn’t stop reading during that time. In fact far from it. I finished all of Shakespeare’s work, which I set out to do at the beginning of last year; finished the WV Reads 150 (again), in honor of the state’s birthday; and am now taking park in a new book club being offered by the Kanawha County Library called the 12×12. The goal is to chose a book based on a prescribed topic every month. My personal goal to to read what I already own–books that have been sitting on my shelves for years–and in doing so kill two birds with one stone. Here’s a look so far at my selections:

January (A book by an author that’s new to you); Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway

February (A book someone else loves); White Dog Fell From the Sky, E. Morse

March (A book with a title or name that shares your first or last name); The Gravity of Birds, Tracy Guzeman

April (A book with a one-word title); #GIRLBOSS, S. Amoruso —-LOVED THIS!

May (A book set in a different country); In a Strange Room, D. Galmut

June (A book about an artist or musician); A Rockwell Portrait, D. Walton

July (A book about a hero); Our Daily Bread about Norman Borlaug, N. Vietmayer

August (A book that’s the first in a series new to you); Nancy Drew and the Secret of the Old Clock, C. Keene

Here’s the rest if you would like to join along:

September (A book on a subject you know very little)

October (A book with a title or author’s name that begins with O)

November (A book about an animal)

December (A book set at least 25 years in the past)

All Things Irish

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“I dreamt I reach’d the Irish shore and felt my heart rebound. From wall to wall within my breast, as I trod that holy ground.”

-Thomas D’Arcy McGee

It’ s no secret that I love Ireland. For as long as I remember, I’ve heavily identified with the land, the people and the culture.  And while I visit as often as I can, it’s not the same as living there (as I one day plan to do–just waiting for the hubby to agree). In the meantime, I do what every other Irish-wannabe American does…read Irish lit and poetry.  Ireland has a rich and robust literary heritage.  Just think, without Irish writers we’d never have Dorian Gray, Leopold Bloom or even Dracula.

Hands down, William Trevor is my favorite Irish writer. His books and short stories are heartbreakingly beautiful.  Other contemporary writers I like include Colum McCann, Sebastian Barry, Frank Delaney and Colm Toibin.

In honor of Paddy’s Day, I encourage you to try an Irish author or poet you’ve not read before. I guarantee you’ll be hooked.

Did the Printing Press Kill Beautiful Architecture?

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Victor Hugo believed that the printing press killed beautiful architecture, that when people started writing their stories in books they stopped carving them in buildings.  I am reminiscing about my Paris trip taken several years ago, particularly the afternoon we spent just sitting outside of the magnificent Notre Dame taking it all in: the hand-carved statues and gargoyle rain spouts, the magnificent flying buttresses, the intricately detailed ornamentation… As much as I love books, I do believe Hugo was onto something.

Loving The Luminaries

luminaries

I just began Eleanor Catton’s “The Luminaries,” winner of the 2013 Man Booker prize, and am loving it.  I received it as a Christmas gift and can’t believe its taken me this long to settle into it. Has anyone else read it?

Meeting on the Roof of the World

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“Our business was to fight the mountain, not to worship it.”

It’s no secret I’m a huge George Mallory fan. And its through reading about him that I’ve come to have a great appreciation for all of the early British explorers, including John Baptist Lucius Noel. A mountaineer, photographer and filmmaker, Noel in 1922 and 1924 captured Everest in photographs and motion picture at heights thought impossible. For the 1924 expedition, he bought all photographic rights from the Everest Committee at a staggering £8,000, helping to fund the trip.

The British Film Institute last year restored and re-released Noel’s incredible 1924 documentary, ‘The Epic of Everest.’ Filmed in the coldest, highest and harshest of circumstances (-30 degrees at 23,000 feet), the documentary chronicles the fateful exploration where Mallory and Sandy Irvine lost their lives. It’s an up-close look at the conditions on Everest and one of the first looks on film at Tibet. Seeing the dramatic Everest footage is amazing. Seeing Mallory in motion picture is, well,…swoon…

In anticipation of the movie’s arrival, I read Noel’s book, ‘Through Tibet to Everest,’ written shortly after the 1924 expedition.  Noel first traveled to Tibet in 1913 and was able to get as close as 40 miles near Everest before being forced at gunpoint to leave–a feat in that day since it was not legal for foreigners to travel within the country. Tibetans lived their lives according  to horoscopes, superstitions, demons and gods. They shunned outsiders, technology and progress (an earlier explorer who trailed a telegraph line behind him told the locals it was string for him to find his way home, so they would not destroy it). They worshiped Everest as the Mother Goddess of the World. In Noel’s book, he talks about the merging of the Tibetans and British explorers with the 1924 expedition: “This was the country and these the people among it whom we wished to penetrate with a scientific expedition,” said Noel. “The inert East and the inquisitive impertinent West were there to meet on the roof of the world.”

Noel’s is a fascinating read and incredible documentary. I highly recommend both.

Classic Club Spin–David Copperfield it is

copperfield-01

So, 20 is the magic number, which  means ‘David Copperfield’ is my Classic Club Spin book to read by April 2 (see how it works below). The Classic Club decided on this lucky number today. I’m actually excited about this. I’ve picked it up before, and actually got about 100 pages into it, but had to leave it for something else that was pressing at the time.

Original post below:

I am participating in the Classic Club Spin #5 throughout Feb. & March. The goal is to read a classic that’s been on your to-do list for a while. Simply, you numerically list 20 books and come Feb. 10, CC will throw out a number. That’s the book you read! More detailed rules are below.

And my 20 are:

1.      Oliver Twist

2.      Howard’s End

3.      Watership Down

4.      Rabbit, Run

5.      The Scarlet Letter

6.      The Hound of the Baskervilles

7.      Shakespeare’s Sonnets

8.      Picture of Dorian Gray

9.      Jude the Obscure

10.  Villette

11.  Mayor of Casterbridge

12.  Age of Innocence

13.  The Bride of Lammermoore

14.  Saturday Night & Sunday Morning

15.  Mrs. Dalloway

16.  The Bell Jar

17.  Little Women

18.  Of Mice and Men

19.  For Whom the Bell Tolls

20.  David Copperfield

CC Rules:

It’s easy. At your blog, by next Monday, Feb 10, list your choice of any classic 20 books.

This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these 20 books in February & March. (Details follow.) So, try to challenge yourself. For example, you could list five Classics Club books you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)

Next Monday, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by April 2. We’ll have a check in here in April, to see who made it the whole way and finished the spin book.

Twitter hashtag: #ccspin

Classic Club Spin–What Will You Read?

classicsclub.jpg w=474

I am participating in the Classic Club Spin #5 throughout Feb. & March. The goal is to read a classic that’s been on your to-do list for a while. Simply, you numerically list 20 books and come Feb. 10, CC will throw out a number. That’s the book you read! More detailed rules are below.

And my 20 are:

1.      Oliver Twist

2.      Howard’s End

3.      Watership Down

4.      Rabbit, Run

5.      The Scarlet Letter

6.      The Hound of the Baskervilles

7.      Shakespeare’s Sonnets

8.      Picture of Dorian Gray

9.      Jude the Obscure

10.  Villette

11.  Mayor of Casterbridge

12.  Age of Innocence

13.  The Bride of Lammermoore

14.  Saturday Night & Sunday Morning

15.  Mrs. Dalloway

16.  The Bell Jar

17.  Little Women

18.  Of Mice and Men

19.  For Whom the Bell Tolls

20.  David Copperfield

CC Rules:

It’s easy. At your blog, by next Monday, Feb 10, list your choice of any classic 20 books.

This is your Spin List. You have to read one of these 20 books in February & March. (Details follow.) So, try to challenge yourself. For example, you could list five Classics Club books you are dreading/hesitant to read, five you can’t WAIT to read, five you are neutral about, and five free choice (favorite author, rereads, ancients — whatever you choose.)

Next Monday, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by April 2. We’ll have a check in here in April, to see who made it the whole way and finished the spin book.

Twitter hashtag: #ccspin

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