A Year in Books/Day 123: Within Tuscany

  • Title: Within Tuscany Reflections on a Time and Place
  • Author: Matthew Spender
  • Year Published: 1992/This Edition: 1993 (Viking Press/Penguin Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2004/2005
  • Source: A bookstore in Upstate New York
  • About: This book got off to an agonizingly slow start. Whatever a snail’s pace is in reading lingo, that’s what it was. S-l-o-o-o-o-w-w. I plodded away a few pages at a time, absolutely determined to keep at it until I hit the sweet spot where my interest was finally piqued. That eventually happened about half-way through. It took a long few months for that day to arrive. I read at least three dozen other books during the wait. Was it worth my stubborn insistence? Eh. Yes and no. The over-all feel of the book is marvelous; the individual stories and anecdotes of English transplant Matthew Spender and his wife raising their two daughters deep in the heart of Tuscany are hit-and-miss. If that seems like a contradictory feat, it is: yet, as a whole, it works. Don’t expect it to be an edge-of-your-seat or limitlessly engaging read, and you’ll likely enjoy find it enjoyable.
  • Motivation: It was cheap and looked interesting.
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 91: “I was unused to the etiquette of sitting up with the dead. There are rules to this social ritual, the principal one being that neither the body nor the family should ever be left alone. You arrive: whoever is there leaves, and you remain until someone else appears who can take over from you.”
  • Happiness Scale: 7

A Year in Books/Day 122: Swingin’ Chicks of the ’60s

  • Title: Swingin’ Chicks of the ’60s A Tribute to 101 of the Decade’s defining women
  • Author: Chris Strodder/Foreword by Angie Dickinson
  • Year Published: 2000 (Cedco Publishing Company)
  • Year Purchased: 2001/2002
  • Source: Barnes & Noble clearance rack
  • About: I owned the calender before the book. It was so cheery and bright-and full of fun facts-that I was sold on this volume as soon as I saw it at Barnes & Noble. It profiles 101 ‘It Girls’ of the ’60s: from Annette Funicello to Ursula Andress, Capucine to Hayley Mills, Nico to Diahann Carroll, every major show business medium is represented by a bevy of talented ladies. Each entry includes a short biography, relevant dates, trivia and, of course, deliciously swingin’ photos.
  • Motivation: The title says it all. How could you not want to read this eye candy, pop culture gem?
  • Times Read: 3
  • Random Excerpt/Page 12: “In the late ’60s, every American soldier knew Chris Noel. More accurately, they knew her voice. It’s still the first thing one notices about her, that marvelously husky, tomboyish voice that cracks then soothes with the warmth of a summer afternoon. To hear her is to remember a picnic on a sunny California hillside, or a swimmin’ hole on a Midwest river, or white sand on a hot Florida beach.”
  • Happiness Scale: A very cheesy, wholesome 9++
    Screenshot of Capucine from the trailer for th...

    Screenshot of Capucine from the trailer for the film The Pink Panther (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A Year in Books/Day 121: The Artist’s Way

  • Title: The Artist’s Way A Spiritual Path to Creativity
  • Author: Julia Cameron
  • Year Published: 1992 (G.P Putnam’s Sons)
  • Year Purchased: 1998
  • Source: Unknown
  • About: If you’re an artist, writer or other creative type you’ve likely heard of this book; it’s a classic of its kind. I have a confession: I’ve read it at least four times (maybe five) but have never done the exercises for more than a week. I know, I know. Reading it (the easy part) but not following through by actually putting in the work (the tough part) entirely defeats the purpose. I don’t know why I always stop at around the same point in the program: the whole thing makes sense, it is inspiring, my brain knows that it would probably be helpful. Maybe it’s because I’m not very good at following directions (I’m a control freak) and don’t like to be locked into anything with such an open-ended outcome. Given that it’s only a twelve-week program, maybe I will give it another whirl. On the plus side-for me, anyway-is the relative structure involved. I can get behind free writing every morning; that’s a sound discipline to have. I also love the quotes in the margins of nearly every page. The program seems to encourage artistic empowerment and creative openness, both good things. Whether it skews , in actual practice, to the side of personal revelation or empty promise remains to be seen.
  • Motivation: It is an attractive concept and was all the rage for the whole of the 1990s and into this century, when I was a very young aspiring writer.
  • Times Read: 4 or 5
  • Random Excerpt/Page 123: “Jealousy is a map. Each of our jealousy maps differs. Each of us will probably be surprised by some of the things we discover on our own. I, for example, have never been eaten alive with resentment over the success of women novelists. But I took an unhealthy interest in the fortunes and misfortunes of women playwrights. I was their harshest critic, until I wrote my first play.”
  • Happiness Scale: My jury of one is still out.

If you’ve actually read the book AND completed the program, I’d love to hear from you. Did it help in any practical way? What did you get from the program?

A Year in Books/Day 119: I Care About Your Happiness

  • Title: I Care About Your Happiness Quotations from the Love Letters of Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell
  • Selected by: Susan Polis Schutz
  • Year Published: Seventh Printing-February 1979 (Blue Mountain Press)
  • Year Purchased: I have no idea. This is a hand-me-down book from my mom.
  • Source: My mom
  • About: Kahlil Gibran and Mary Haskell lived at a time when communication was more meaningful and deliberate. Their love letters are intense and a bit flowery (as was typical of that period) and beautifully unrestrained. The intervening century has not dimmed their effectiveness.
  • Motivation: I read everything I could get my hands on when I was growing up. This first made its way into my hands when I was 10 or 11. When I moved out as a young adult, it *accidentally* came with me. Ahem. It was well worth it, though, as one of Gibran’s poems was incorporated into my wedding vows in 2010.
  • Times Read: Countless
  • Random Excerpt/Page 30: “What difference does it make, whether you live in a big city or in a community of homes? The real life is within.”
  • Happiness Scale: An unabashed, soppy, sentimental 10

A Year in Books/Day 118: The Garden Party and Other Stories

  • Title: The Garden Party and Other Stories
  • Author: Katherine Mansfield
  • Year Published: 1922/This Edition: 1997 (Constable & Co./Penguin Books)
  • Year Purchased: 2003/2004
  • Source: Unknown
  • About: It’s almost enough to state that “Katherine Mansfield wrote short stories. The end.” It’s fitting that the genre she helped make a singularly modern medium was, largely, her only medium. If you require action (fast-paced or otherwise) from your fiction, then her quiet, introspective, internal and often plotless stories aren’t for you. The book is just long enough to help pass a lonely afternoon; its perhaps best read with a cup of tea to hand and feet up, on a languorously rainy Saturday. You probably won’t walk away any happier, but you’ll be richer for the experience.
  • Motivation: I’m that rarest of creatures: a fiction writer with no real ambition to write the Great American Novel-or any novel. Short stories are my talent’s natural home. Katherine Mansfield should be respected by any writer of short fiction.
  • Times Read: 2
  • Random Excerpt/Page 114: “On her way home she usually bought a slice of honey-cake at the baker’s. It was her Sunday treat. Sometimes there was an almond in her slice, sometimes not. It made a great difference. If there was an almond it was like carrying home a tiny present-a surprise-something that might very well not have been there. She hurried on the almond Sundays and struck the match for the kettle in quite a dashing way.”
  • Happiness Scale: 9
    Alumna, Katherine Mansfield

    Katherine Mansfield (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A Year in Books/Day 117: Miss Cranston’s Omnibus

  • Title: Miss Cranston’s Omnibus
  • Author: Anna Blair
  • Year Published: 1998 (Shepheard-Walwyn (Publishers) Ltd. for LOMOND BOOKS)
  • Year Purchased: 2002/2003
  • Source: Unknown
  • About: What is it about old folks reminiscing that cuts straight to the bone, brain and heart? Is it because there’s no excess of thought, no emotional grandstanding? There’s a realness that remains-sometimes raw and sorrowful, sometimes light and joyous-but no heaviness. Whatever it is, it’s on stunning display in Miss Cranston’s Omnibus. Author Anna Blair interviewed hundreds of aging Glaswegians about their lifestyles and experiences during the first half of the twentieth century. She wove that material into a larger historical narrative, allowing for as true and clear a picture of the place and time as we’ll ever have. This edition is comprised of two earlier volumes (Tea at Miss Cranston’s and More Tea at Miss Cranston’s), originally published in 1985 and 1991.

    drawing, poster design for Miss Cranston's Tea...

    drawing, poster design for Miss Cranston's Tearooms. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

  • Motivation: Glasgow! History! Nostalgic old people!
  • Times Read: 1
  • Random Excerpt/Page 11: “The photographer of the 1880s swoops under his dark velvet cloth and snaps his fingers at the family group. Breaths are held and, as the cliche says, a moment in time is captured for ever, and with it an array of that era’s fashion from infants’ to grandparents’. Repeat the process every decade and you have a century of change from bonnet to Princess of Wales’ feather, button boot to pink sneaker. Well…You’d have the gamut right enough, as far as the bien-provided were concerned, but for much of that hundred years there was a broad swathe of Glasgow folk a world away from wool and velvet and starched pinafores.”
  • Happiness Scale: 8

A Year in Books/Day 116: The Thin Man

  • Title: The Thin Man
  • Author: Dashiell Hammett
  • Year Published: 1933/This Edition: 1989 (Alfred A. Knopf/Vintage Books Edition)
  • Year Purchased: 1990
  • Source: Doubleday Book Shops
  • About: Oh, Hammett. Hammett. Dashiell Hammett. I had such a teenage crush on you. This book, right here, this exact volume, started it all. This is where phrases like ‘hard-boiled’ and ‘tough as nails’ usually come into play. His characters are certainly that, but Nick and Nora Charles are so much more besides: sly, witty, elegant, sophisticated, sexy, bewitching. His prose is streamlined, sleek, purposeful, entertaining; as you would expect from a good crime story, there is not one unnecessary word or action to be found. He was a master of dialogue, real-world, genuine, fresh dialogue. Hammett was a very fine writer-and not just for a detective novelist. The Thin Man is a quick read in the best sense: it’s intelligent and fast-paced, with a smart plot and interesting characters. He knew how to hook you and, just as importantly, he knew when to let you go.
  • Motivation: The 1934 film version. I like to read books before seeing film adaptations but I was introduced to The Thin Man in reverse order; I caught it on television when I was 14 or 15. Instant love, of course. Who can resist William Powell and Myrna Loy? No one I’ve ever met.
  • Times Read: 4 or 5
  • Random Excerpt/Page 12: “That afternoon I took Asta for a walk, explained to two people that she was a Schnauzer and not a cross between a Scottie and an Irish terrier, stopped at Jim’s for a couple of drinks, ran into Larry Crowley, and brought him back to the Normandie with me. Nora was pouring cocktails for the Quinns, Margot Innes, a man whose name I did not catch, and Dorothy Wynant. Dorothy said she wanted to talk to me, so we carried our cocktails into the bedroom.”
  • Happiness Scale: 10
    Dashiell Hammett (1894-1961)

    Dashiell Hammett, teen idol (1894-1961). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


A Year in Books/Day 107: Redheads

  • Title: Redheads
  • Author: Joel Meyerowitz
  • Year Published: 1991 (Rizzoli International Publications, Inc.)
  • Year Purchased: 2000?
  • Source: Edward R. Hamilton Bookseller Company
  • About: This photography book is a visual declaration of love to all redheads. The subjects are real people-male and female, of all ages. No models, no insane airbrushing. There are freckles, wrinkles, imperfections and wildly different personal styles. The images are easily dated to the period of publication but are otherwise lovely.
  • Motivation: Ahem. I’m a natural ginger.
  • Times Read: Several.
  • Random Excerpt/Page 17: “Photography quite often overturns preconceptions. In this burst of curiosity about what a portrait is and how to go about making it, I discovered that, out of a hundred or so portraits I had made during an intensive month’s work some summers ago, thirty-five were of redheads. How had that happened?”
  • Happiness Scale: 7