A Year in Books/Day 54: The Prospect Before Her

  • Title: The Prospect Before Her A History of Women in Western Europe Volume One 1500-1800
  • Author: Olwen Hufton
  • Year Published: 1995 (Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.)
  • Year Purchased: 2002-2004
  • Source: Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller Company
  • About: A lengthy, serious study of what girls could expect from their lives, from the cradle to the grave, between the years 1500-1800 in Western Europe. This isn’t the most well-made volume, and is falling apart at the binding, but the scholarship and writing are first-class.
  • Motivation: I’m a feminist. I dig history and women’s studies.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 91: “The women involved were drawn not from the city of Lyons, unless they were the master’s daughters, but from the mountainous villages of the Forez, Besse and Bugey and parts of the Dauphine. They were known as silk-maker’s servants because they lived in (often sleeping under the looms) and like domestic servants they were paid on an annual basis or when they left the employment of the master. Like servants they started in their early teens and expected to work for about fifteen years before having saved enough to embark on matrimony.”
  • Happiness Scale: 9

A Year in Books/Day 29: The Gashlycrumb Tinies

  • Title: The Gashlycrumb Tinies or, After the Outing
  • Author: Edward Gorey
  • Year Published: 1963/This Edition: 1991 (Harcourt Brace & Company)
  • Year Purchased: 1999/2000
  • Source: Gift from a friend
  • About: The delightfully macabre master’s most famous, and oddly eloquent, Edwardian-esque alphabet.
  • Motivation: I’m a squealing, hand-clapping Gorey fangirl.
  • Times Read: Countless
  • Random Excerpt: “H is for Hector done in by a thug.”
  • Happiness Scale: Off the charts

A Year in Books/Day 27: Vera

  • Title: Vera [Mrs. Vladimir Nabokov]
  • Author: Stacy Schiff
  • Year Published: 1999/This Edition: 2000 (Modern Library Paperback Edition)
  • Year Purchased: 2002/2003
  • Source: Barnes & Noble Clearance Rack
  • About: Vera Slonim Nabokov was never a writer. Nor, as far as it is known, did she ever harbor that ambition. She was, by a series of disturbing historical circumstances, something of a professional refugee. Although she held a number of jobs, the impossibility-and ultimate imprudence-of separating Vera from her husband and their famous 52-year-marriage jumps starkly from the page. To her husband and posterity’s great good fortune, she quietly trespassed outside the bounds of musedom: it is every bit as impossible to separate Vladimir from his wife and her contributions to his psyche and soul and, eventually, his literature.
  • Motivation: Nabokov, Nabokov, Nabokov! So fantastic, revolutionary, disquieting (eh, I know his opinions on women writers and still I return to his words). This was a literary biography by proxy, in a way, as I knew it would be. The upshot was becoming acquainted with the enigmatic Vera.
  • Times Read: 2
  • Random Excerpt/Page 24: “Some things were to be insisted upon, on the other hand. Vera Slonim learned a great number of lessons from her father, only one of which was how to how to hold a thirteen-year-grudge, a lesson she would put to good use.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10
    Signature of Vladimir Nabokov

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A Year in Books/Day 26: Door Wide Open

  • Title: Door Wide Open Jack Kerouac & Joyce Johnson A Beat Love Affair in Letters 1957-1958
  • Author: Introduction and commentary by Joyce Johnson
  • Year Published: 2000 (Penguin Books)

    Signature of Jack Kerouac

    Image via Wikipedia

  • Year Purchased: 2003/2004
  • Source: Unknown
  • About: When 21-year-old novelist Joyce Johnson (then Glassman) embarked on a relationship with Jack Kerouac, she met all of the surface requirements of non-conformity. In her letters, she made a calculated, mighty effort to match her peripatetic lover’s passionate, friendly detachment; as if writing it down made it so. But her commentary, written in her sixties, reveals the truth of a young woman desperately trying to break free of the gendered emotional conventions of the 1950s.
  • Motivation: I love the intimacy, and sense of immediacy, found in the personal letters of famous people (especially writers and artists). When the correspondence is between one of the leading-and most controversial-icons of his time and one of the few women artistically associated with the Beat Generation, then I’m extra intrigued.
  • Times Read: 2
  • Random Excerpt/Page 45: “The need and love Jack finally declared obliterated from my mind any consideration of the consequences of the earthquake. Nor did I take sufficient note of the fact that Jack had written this letter, so different in tone from all the others, during one of the few periods in recent years when he was completely sober. I only knew there suddenly seemed to be a profound change in our relationship. Here were the feelings, the “real” feelings, he had always held back.”
  • Happiness Scale: 8

A Year in Books/Day 25: Beginning Again

  • Title: Beginning Again An Autobiography of the Years 1911 to 1918
  • Author: Leonard Woolf
  • Year Published: 1963/This Edition 1975 (A Harvest/HBJ Book)
  • Year Purchased: 2002/2003
  • Source: Barnes & Noble clearance rack
  • About: The third installment of Woolf’s 5-volume autobiography covers the early years of his marriage to budding novelist Virginia Stephen and the start of their famous Hogarth Press. Famous spouse Leonard Woolf gave more than a name to his famous wife. He was complex, fascinating and incredibly well-respected in more than one field.
  • Motivation: Although I am a fan of Virginia’s writing, and find her character and life more than a bit riveting, I have always been drawn to the deep, intellectual and exacting nature of her husband. He was also a damn fine writer.
  • Times Read: 2
  • Random Excerpt/Page 16: “I was born an introspective intellectual, and the man or woman who is by nature addicted to introspection gets into the habit, after the age of 15 or 16, of feeling himself, often intensely, as ‘I’ and yet at the same time of seeing himself out of the corner of his eye as ‘not I’, a stranger acting a part upon a stage.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10

A Year in Books/Day 24: Beneath the Diamond Sky

  • Title: Beneath the Diamond in the Sky Haight Ashbury 1965-1970
  • Author: Barney Hoskyns
  • Year Published: 1997 (Simon & Schuster Editions)
  • Year Purchased: 2001/2002
  • Source: Barnes & Noble clearance rack
  • About: A history of the ascent of the Haight Ashbury district of San Francisco into the world’s greatest, if short-lived, hippie mecca. It is equal parts text and photos.
  • Motivation: Although my Mom was a hippie, and I have a natural kinship for this subject, I bought the book for a friend then living in the Bay Area. I decided to read it before popping it into the mail. I did, and ended up keeping it for my collection!
  • Times Read: 2 (with another reading on the horizon)
  • Random Excerpt/Page 31: “Kesey, thirty-one, married with three children, had already begun to assert himself as the charismatic ringleader of an anarchic post-beatnik scene around Palo Alto. A rugged, curly-haired farm boy from Oregon, he had arrived at Stanford University on a creative-writing fellowship in 1958, later moving into the artsy-boho enclave that was Perry Lane and helping himself to samples of LSD and mescaline during the Veterans’ Hospital tests. It was while working as a night attendant on the hospital’s psych ward that he conceived the idea for ‘One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest’.
  • Happiness Scale: 9
    Haight-Ashbury, San Francisco, California, USA

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A Year in Books/Day 23: Leave Her to Heaven

  • Title: Leave Her to Heaven
  • Author: Ben Ames Williams
  • Year Published: 1945/This Edition-1947 (The Sun Dial Press)
  • Year Purchased: 1990/1991
  • Source: The Columbus Public Library, Library Sale
  • About: This melodramatic tale shows the unstable Ellen Berent’s twisted devolution from lovely, beguiling and charming young woman into a jealous, devious and vindictive murderess.
    English: Screenshot of Gene Tierney from the f...

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  • Motivation: I caught the 1945 film adaptation on television at 16. It stars the gorgeous, under-rated Gene Tierney, Vincent Price and Cornel Wilde. I found this book at the bottom of a pile of $1.00 clearance books at the annual library sale a couple of years later.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 72: “She knew better than Harland how serious this might be; nevertheless perversely she delayed to clean up their picnic ground; prolonging in every possible fashion these pregnant hours. She gathered the paper in which his lunch had been wrapped, burning it in the embers of the little fire, wetting down the ashes till not even steam arose.”
  • Happiness Scale: 6 (writing)/7 (plot)

A Year in Books/Day 21: Stanislavski A Biography

  • Title: Stanislavski A Biography
  • Author: Jean Benedetti
  • Year Published: 1988/This Edition 1990 (A Routledge Book)
  • Year Purchased: 1992/1993
  • Source: The Book Harbor, Columbus
  • About: An exhaustive account of the theatrical genius’ influential life.
  • Motivation: I was a theatre student and, as an extension of my great love for the nation’s literature, infatuated with all things Russian.
  • Times Read: 3
  • Random Excerpt/Page 106: “The enthusiasm, the passions which the production aroused were unprecedented. Stanislavski experienced in full measure that electric flow of energy which passes from stage to auditorium and back not only when the
    English: Russian Constantin Stanislavski Русск...

    Image via Wikipedia

    performance is exciting but when ideas, feelings and convictions are shared.”

  • Happiness Scale: 10

A Year in Books/Bonus Full-Length Review: The Outermost House*

With its breathtakingly evocative retelling of a year spent living on a remote Cape Cod beach wedded to solid and careful craftsmanship, ‘The Outermost House’, first published in 1928, is an indispensable classic. It contains a treasure-trove of amateur naturalist Beston’s descriptions of the local terrain and animal-life, especially the many species of migrating birds, set side-by-side with his lush and emotional reactions to the never-still life force unfolding around him. It is sated, brim-full, with the author’s uncanny yet non-judgmental wonder at his milieu. Beston dwells magnificently on the minutia of his surroundings, firing his awed and reverent accounts of the movements of the tides and peregrinations of diverse animal species with soaring, deft prose. From the changing sound of the surf to the ages-old tragedy of ship-wreck, ‘The Outermost House’ is a vivid and vigorous representation of the rhythm of coastal life in its many forms. It is a broad yet hypnotically intimate account of the primitive and plenary pageant of life that was even then slipping into the confines of the modern world. Beston’s lovely and enduring masterpiece never bows to sentimentality but maintains an instinctive and sympathetic understanding of the enigmatic ordering of nature.

 

*First published in the Atomic Tomorrow, February 2005.

 

A Year in Books/Day 20: The Outermost House

  • Title: The Outermost House A Year of Life on the Great beach of Cape Cod
  • Author: Henry Beston
  • Year Published: Original Edition-1928/This Edition-2003 (An Owl Book Henry Holt and Company)
  • Year Purchased: 2004
  • Source: Bas Bleu
  • About:
    Cape Cod

    Image via Wikipedia

    Henry Beston’s classic masterpiece details his year spent on Cape Cod ,in a house of his own design, amidst nature’s ever-changing cruelty and splendor.

  • Motivation: I was moved by a really stellar reader review in the Bas Bleu catalogue. I’m immensely satisfied that I did, as it subtly yet powerfully changed my life.
  • Times Read: 2
  • Random Excerpt/Page 118: “One great sea drowned all the five. Men on the beach saw it coming and shouted, the men on the deckhouse shouted and were heard, and then the wave broke, hiding the tragic fragment in a sluice of foam and wreckage. When this had poured away, the men on the afterhouse were gone. A head was visible for a minute, and then another drifting southward, and then there was nothing but sea.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10++