Welcome to the weekly round-up of what the BookNerd is reading and how many points I scored (or lost) in Library Chicken. To recap, you get a point for returning a library book that you’ve read, you lose a point for returning a book unread, and while returning a book past the due date is technically legal, you do lose half a point. If you want to play along, leave your score in the comments!
Happy Thanksgiving! All of us at Library Chicken HQ wish all of you a delicious turkey dinner (or vegetarian entree of your choice) and a stack of fresh library books to keep you occupied while you’re digesting. And now, to the books!
All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West
I love reading stories about older women who reach a point in their lives (after the children are grown) where they get to decide what they want to do without considering anyone else’s needs or feelings. (Maybe that says something about my life, after spending nearly 20 years as a stay-at-home mom. But nah, probably not.) This novel falls into that category: an 88-year-old matriarch, for many years a diplomatic and political hostess at her accomplished (and now deceased) husband’s side, is finally able to direct her own life. Predictably, her adult children are horrified by her choices. In the hands of another writer (maybe Angela Thirkell?), this could be a charming tale of eccentricity, with a pair or two of young folks getting married off along the way; as written by Sackville-West, it’s more contemplative and philosophical, but still charming. (LC Score: +1)
Behind the Mask: The Life of Vita Sackville-West by Matthew Dennison
After reading Virginia Woolf’s biography, I had to find a biography about the inspiration for Woolf’s Orlando, the scandalous Vita Sackville-West, who became a popular and successful author while juggling her many lovers. Unfortunately, I found Dennison’s narrative of Vita’s life often muddled and confusing, and while that may be a reflection of her admittedly confusing affairs, it’s hard to believe this lackluster biography could have been inspired by such a fascinating woman. I get the sense that Dennison doesn’t actually like Vita all that much. This was fine for an introduction, but I’ll have to go on the hunt for a book that does a better job of showing Vita’s charm and attractiveness. (LC Score: +1)
Below Stairs by Margaret Powell
Servants’ Hall by Margaret Powell
From the lady of the manor to the kitchen staff: as the subtitle will tell you, Below Stairs is “The Classic Kitchen Maid’s Memoir That Inspired Upstairs, Downstairs and Downton Abbey.” Published in 1968, it was an immediate hit and led to Powell’s follow-up, Servants’ Hall. In this second book, Powell shares the story of a real-life “upstairs downstairs” romance (and eventual marriage) between a beautiful housemaid and the much older son of the house. Since this is not, in fact, a gorgeously produced BBC epic, things do not end well. (LC Score: +2)
Minding the Manor: The Memoirs of a 1930s English Kitchen Maid by Mollie Moran
Moran is a much more recent author; this memoir of her downstairs life wasn’t published until 2014, when the former kitchen maid turned 97 (!!!). I actually found Moran’s account more enjoyable than Powell’s better known books, perhaps because Moran herself is great fun and actually seems to like her fellow servants and (at least some of) her former employers. (LC Score: +1)
The Long Weekend: Life in the English Country House 1918-1939 by Adrian Tinniswood
Humph. I was all ready for more tales from the manor and the subtitle here led me to believe that this book would dive into the wonderfulness that was English country house life between the wars (which apparently was awesome, as long as you were white, titled, and rich, but hey, who doesn’t like to spend the occasional hour imagining themselves as one of the fortunate few at the local stately home), but instead it was mostly about ARCHITECTURE. With the occasional chapter on INTERIOR DESIGN. The Amazon description even says, “Drawing on thousands of memoirs, letters, and diaries, as well as the eye-witness testimonies of belted earls and bibulous butlers, Tinniswood brings the stately homes of England to life as never before,” but DO NOT BE FOOLED. I was promised “aristocratic soirées” and I got modernist layouts in Country Life. Not cool, Tinniswood, not cool at all. (LC Score: +1)
The Secrets of Wishtide by Kate Saunders
I’m giving up on the Edwardians and going back to hang out with the Victorians. In this mystery, widowed Laetitia Rodd acts as sleuth, investigating cases for her lawyer brother. Amy recommended this one and as usual, she was right! Now we just need Saunders to finish up the sequel. (LC Score: +1)
Library Chicken Score for 11/21/17: 7
Running Score: 116 ½
On the to-read/still-reading stack for next week
- This House is Haunted by John Boyne (my Halloween reading has finally made it to the top of the stack)
- Slade House by David Mitchell (another mysterious house from my fav Mitchell)
- House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski (finally getting to this and I have no idea what to expect)
- The Opposite House by Helen Oyeyemi (I love a good theme)
SUZANNE REZELMAN is home | school | life magazine’s Book Nerd. Subscribe to home/school/life to read her brilliant book recommendations and literary musings every issue. Your library list will thank you.
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