Thanks to the reviews at Bookshelves of Doom, I recently read the Vicky Bliss mysteries by Elizabeth Peters and absolutely loved them (especially the later few). The thing is, although I certainly love Vicky, and Schmidt, and Sir John Smythe, and even creepy Max, I love Munich more, and I'm incredibly jealous of Vicky being able to live there. I want to live in Munich, and drink kafe mit schlag in old cafes, and ride an old bicycle through the park, and read Goethe (in German, of course- I should probably start learning). Then my sister had to go and post pictures of our Central European trip this past summer, and now I have an absolutely overwhelming craving for the metropolises (metropoli?) of old Mitteleuropa. So if you'll excuse me, I'm going to go find some whipped cream for my coffee.
The other night, while wandering about the back yard with my trusty candle-lantern (yes, I still do that- I keep hoping something or someone out of the ordinary will come speak to me, but so far the only creatures I've attracted have been cats. A common dilemma, I hear.), I decided that I wanted a hook in my room on which to hang said lantern. I knew that I wanted to use a particular apple branch I'd been saving, and I knew where on the bookshelf I wanted to locate this branch, but I wasn't at all sure how I was going to make the branch stay where I wanted it while bearing the lantern's weight. It isn't very heavy, but a burning candle dropping onto the carpet is not my idea of a laugh. I have more refined tastes in humor.
Luckily for me, we have plenty of duct tape in the house. And when I say plenty, I do mean it- I must have used at least a yard to hold that ruddy stick in place, but I wasn't taking any chances, and the end certainly justified the mean. Doesn't it look nice and woodsy?
These last few days have been hot. Really hot. I don't like hot days under any circumstances, but a hot, dry, windy day in late October is an abomination, truly it is. Even hot, dry, windy days have their compensations, however, and the atmosphere these last few nights has been unbelievably clear. Since the moon is waning and doesn't rise till quite late, this means that a great many more stars have been visible than usual for our heavily-populated area. Two nights ago I saw Orion for the first time this fall. True, he was practically lying on his back along the eastern horizon, but it was Orion nonetheless, and seeing Orion always makes me feel that it's properly fall regardless of the weather. It helps that the wind cools down considerably at night. It isn't exactly cool, but neither is it hot, and the fact that this wind blows from the desert always makes it feel a bit wilder in its dryness. Windy autumn nights are, in my opinion, glorious (I completely agree with Mrs Whatsit about wild nights) and meant for flying. I'd like to fly around being towed by a flock of pigeons just like the Little Prince, or ride a broomstick like Kiki. Really I feel like this all the time, but on these windy, starry nights I feel that it might just be possible to do so if only I could develop the knack.
* Grab the nearest book. * Open it to page 56. * Find the fifth sentence. * Post the text of the next few sentences. * Don't dig for your favorite book, the cool book, or the intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.
For instance, a man turned a handle on a box, and music came out, while a small being, half-animal and half-man, danced about on the street and collected things in his hat. Peter Lake tried to talk to him. The man turning the handle said it would be wise to give the creature money. "What's money?" asked Peter Lake.
From Winter's Tale by Mark Helprin (this was the fifth book I tried- the first four only had one or two sentences on page 56. How's that for odds?)
I've been on a bit of a kick about courtesy lately, most likely due to the fact that I've been reading Angela Thirkell's Barsetshire books and re-reading the Anne of Green Gables series (for the millionth or so time- my new goal in life is to be just like Miss Lavender Lewis). I feel very nostalgic for the days of good manners and proper behaviour. Even when I was a child the standards of behaviour were much stricter- which is a very spinster-like thing to say, I know. A few years ago there was a spate of new etiquette books on the market, all purporting to teach their readers how to use proper etiquette in the modern world. I'm sure many of those books were quite useful, but I think there is a very great distinction between etiquette and courtesy. Etiquette is a set of rules or guidelines that teaches one how to behave, while courtesy is a way of living that springs (or ought to spring) from a conviction of the essential importance and worth of every human being. I'm not denying that etiquette is very useful; like every old-fashioned girl and spinster-in-training, I asked for and received my Emily Post Guide to Etiquette for Christmas many years ago. Even the most stringent following of those rules, however, seems hollow without that underlying charity. My autumnal resolution is to practice this sort of courtesy always, even to impertinent teenagers and the very trying people who talk too loudly in bookstores.
Everyone needs to go to the Stainless Steel Droppings blog and see this old post about book art featuring the artist Su Blackwell. Ms. Blackwell creates fairytale scenes out of old books- they're amazingly beautiful and clever. This scene from The Secret Garden may be my favorite.
I think my favorite things in the natural world are those which are twisty and bumpy and seemingly misshapen (hence my love of parsnips). Driftwood, for instance, is fascinating to look at because of its oddity of form. Pinecones and branches are also wonderfully knobbly, like these that I've brought indoors: This lovely bit of branch actually traveled all the way from Virginia with me- I love it so that I couldn't bring myself to leave it behind. In light of how much I love all things strangely and wonderfully shaped, imagine my delight when I discovered that the high winds we had this past weekend had precipitated the fall of all the spiky seedpods from our sweetgum trees. In the usual way of things they don't fall until they're quite brown and dry, but the wind knocked them to the ground while they still were that incredible vibrant green. I gathered up all the pods and decided that I wanted to hang some on my apple branch, so I glued the stems into a loop and attached ribbon loops to them. Now they're hanging in the tree next to the paper sparrow and wooden owl, and they look very nice- like outer space christmas ornaments or miniature green fireworks.
Like all proper spinsters, I have a cat. His name is Lord Peter Wimsey, and he is vain, neurotic, needy, and still manages to be completely adorable. He is quite fond of insinuating himself into spaces much too small for him, like the way he managed to finagle himself (and his mouse) onto the lowest shelf of this bookcase. Peter shares my room with me, although he seems to think it's the other way around. I've recently moved back into the room I had in my early teen years, which is both odd and oddly comforting. Fortunately the decor is almost completely different. As you can see, much of the space is taken up with books, books, and more books. I still have about four and a half boxes of books in storage, but I ran out of both shelves and wall space, so they'll have to remain there for now. I wanted this room to feel as if it were part of the outdoors, an extension of the view from my lovely large windows which look out onto a sunken lawn surrounded by pines, river birches, and a California oak. The botanical prints on the walls and the various natural ephemerae that collects on my bookshelves helps, as does the windblown-leaf mural I created above the windows, but the best part of all is the lovely branch I stole when my father cut down one of our dying apple trees. It has an exceedingly odd shape, reaches all the way to the ceiling, and is the next best thing to living in a treehouse or conservatory (it's long been a dream of mine to live in one of the Victorian wrought-iron conservatories at Kew Gardens in London).
The parsnip is, I am convinced, one of nature's perfect vegetables. As this picture (from Wikipedia, no less) illustrates, it is a pleasingly pale yellow in color, much knobblier than a carrot, with a distinctive taste that yet goes well with a great many other vegetables and meats. Parsnips taste of fall, just as peaches taste of summer and asparagus tastes of spring. They seem to go perfectly with crisp days and smoky evenings- cool, but not too cold. Our southern California October has been on the warm side, but this past weekend was a set of three very blustery days, with enough bite in the wind to warrent a sweater and stockings. In honor of our first hint of fall I made herbed chicken and an enormous dish of roasted root vegetables for Sunday lunch, along with three kinds of homemade bread. Sunday lunch for our family means everyone invites friends, especially my younger siblings still in college who bring home their friends whose families live too far away for regular visits. This past Sunday felt almost like Thanksgiving, with so many people and the counter piled with food (there were even enough leftovers to make soup). I think that may be why fall is my favourite season- there are so many occasions for celebrating over a meal with family and friends. Now if the weather gods could just send us a bit of real fall weather, I'd have nothing more to ask for.
Two nights ago I had the very great privilege of hearing Neil Gaiman read a portion of his new book, The Graveyard Book. Since he read the first half of Chapter 7 and ended with an enormous cliffhanger, I naturally had to rush out the next day and buy the book so that I could find out what happened next.
I loved this book. It's the story of a young boy who is adopted by the dead in a graveyard after his family are murdered. He is given the name Nobody (because he looks like nobody) and called Bod for short. The story is a reworking of Kipling's Jungle Books, and Gaiman does a wonderful job taking the classic elements of those stories and changing them to fit the graveyard setting. There are a great many nods to the original hidden in the descriptive language, and the way in which so many elements of the story are both strange and familiar makes it a pleasure to read.
Perhaps the best thing about this book is that it is so unlike anything else typically offered to readers in its target age range, which is roughly late elementary school through junior high. It is clever and exciting, full of action and adventure, yet it is at heart about all the important things- life and death, truth and friendship and love, good and evil- without ever becoming pedantic or dogmatic. This book confirms me in my opinion that Gaiman is one of the best writers writing today. If you've never read anything by him, go and do so immediately.