Monday, December 31, 2007

"The Sky is Low"

Submitted for your reading pleasure, this Emily Dickinson poem of winter...

The sky is low, the clouds are mean,
A travelling flake of snow
Across a barn or through a rut
Debates if it will go.

A narrow wind complains all day
How some one treated him;
Nature, like us, is sometimes caught
Without her diadem.

(submitted by Moon Rani)

A Christmas Carol

It's not mid-winter, I know. Why, winter is still in its infancy. But this poem, by Christina Georgina Rosetti, is so nice that I couldn't resist sharing it here. It's a well-known hymn set to a number of musical settings. The best-known setting is probably the one by Gustav Holst. The last stanza is likely the most widely recognized and, arguably, the best loved. But the first stanza is the prettiest or, at least, the most "sense-itive" so to speak. It's just the way winter feels for most of the world.
It may seem too late for a Christmas carol, but Christmas lasts until 6.January (the twelve days of Christmas) for Western churches while the Eastern rite churches have yet to celebrate it.
On a personal note, I have enjoyed the poetry of CGR since I was a schoolgirl.

In the bleak midwinter
Frosty wind made moan,
Earth stood hard as iron,
Water like a stone;
Snow had fallen,
Snow on snow,
Snow on snow,
In the bleak midwinter,
Long ago.

Our God, heaven cannot hold him,
Nor earth sustain;
Heaven and earth shall flee away
When he comes to reign;
In the bleak midwinter
A stable place sufficed
The Lord God incarnate,
Jesus Christ.

Enough for him, whom Cherubim
Worship night and day
A breast full of milk
And a manger full of hay.
Enough for him, whom angels
Fall down before,
The ox and ass and camel
which adore.

Angels and archangels
May have gathered there,
Cherubim and seraphim
Thronged the air;
But his mother only,
In her maiden bliss,
Worshipped the Beloved
With a kiss.

What can I give him,
Poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd
I would bring a lamb,
If I were a wise man
I would do my part,
Yet what I can I give Him —
Give my heart.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Looking to the new year

Is there a book you meant to read this year but never got around to reading? Maybe there's a book like that you've intended for years to read. Here is my sole resolution for the new year: I shall dive into the book I've meant to read since 2006, The Educated Mind: A Guide to the Classical Education You Never Had, by Susan Wise Bauer. At last I'll embark on that plan to further my self-education. Other books came on the scene later but clamored until I read them first. Now I'll make time to read The Educated Mind. And here's hoping I'll get the education I so need!
While it's still available, do try Celestial Seasonings' Sugar Cookie Sleigh Ride Holiday Herb Tea. It's packed with so much flavor I almost bit into the first sip! Let the snowflakes swirl while you sip this tisane through all your winter reading.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Reading to relax

This time of year is busy for most folks, from holiday preparations to end-of-year work projects to goodness-knows-what-all. When I need a break, I usually check several blogs and sites which never fail to cheer me and make me feel more at ease. Being an animal lover, my tastes run to blogs about creatures. Take a look at any of these when your pace is hectic. (follow the link at the bottom to their blog) (a vegetarian cooking blog)
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Friday, December 14, 2007

Two spamkus

[I am the spamku inventor. Spamkus are, of course, haikus made from spam subject lines. ]

12 bottles of Fine
Wine for just $4.99:
a happy present.

Do not feel shy of
you male machine size. Make it
a Whopping Special!

(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, December 06, 2007

Booking through Thursday

Do you have a favourite book, now out of print, that you would like to see become available again?

The White Witch, by Elizabeth Goudge. I've been reading this book (almost) yearly since I was sixteen, and it never has lost its magic. Goude's writing style is simultaneously descriptive and spare, conjuring the intimacy of half-gypsy Froniga's herb-filled cottage, as well as the violent world during the time of Cromwell. To this day, the scent of rose or lavender brings me back to the first time I read the book, and I imagine myself in another life, creating rose-petal conserve, perhaps - melanie

Season's readings

Do you have a favorite thing to read or to hear read at a certain time every year? From early childhood my annual favorite was the Christmas story found in the book Luke. I never minded whether I heard it or read it myself; I liked both. I loved it from Advent throughout the twelve days of Christmas. Nowadays, though I still love that account of Jesus' birth, I prefer hearing and reading the opening chapter of the book of John, my favorite gospel account.

A couple of years ago, I attended a party in early December. It was give by a couple who lived in a home decorated in opulent, Victorian style with modern touches plus original art from local artists. I remember seeing golden cherubs holding up lush draperies in the front room, and a Christmas tree covered in handmade ornaments, among other things. The whole house glowed.

The focal point of the evening was gathering in that front room to hear the host read Truman Capote's "A Christmas Memory." He said it was a personal tradition from when he lived in Virginia, and that he loved continuing it in his new home. The story is always entertaining and always very touching. The company was a pleasant mix of disparate types. After the reading we trotted into the dining room for rich fruitcake that had been shot full of corn liquor and "resting" for a year or so. I remember candlelight and decorations and laughter.

Wouldn't it be fun to have such a tradition? One could add a reading of Dylan Thomas' "A Child's Christmas in Wales" for fun.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, November 29, 2007

My meme

I made up a meme.
Using your first initial to begin each answer, list:
a favorite author
a favorite character in literature (with source)
a favorite book
a favorite topic in fiction
a favorite location in fiction (can be real place so long as it's used in fiction)
a favorite place or time to read
(bonus) a favorite word

My answers, using my given name, not my screen name:
Lovecraft (at one time)
Lysistrata, from the eponymous play by Aristophanes
Little Black Sambo
Life with animals (e.g. - - in books by James Herriott and others)
Lazy days, lounging in bed
Lightning! (I love its combination of tremendous power and tremendous beauty)
Everyone is welcome to answer this meme, too.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Monday, November 19, 2007

Books into movies - take 2

What book would I most want to see filmed? The Ladies, a novel by Doris Grumbach. I've wondered often why it never was filmed. It's such a good story!

In the late 18th century, two Irish women decided to leave their family homes and create a life for themselves in the wider world. Sarah, an orphaned teenager, met Eleanor while on holiday from school. Eleanor, a woman in her thirties whose father had never forgiven her for being a daughter instead of the son he longed for, had dressed as a man from childhood and had enjoyed the kind of freedom that few traditional women could imagine. They became dear friends and companions, and their friendship was considered salutary by their families - until they eloped.

Lesbian love, even (and especially) loving relationships that were true marriages of hearts, minds, and bodies, shocked the families into allowing Sarah and Eleanor to leave their homes. They never returned. Instead, they established themselves in a small Welsh town, Llangollen, where they lived according to their own vows and beliefs. That their love was as natural as any was their first vow of binding. They vowed to create a beautiful home with bountiful gardens to sustain them, and to read and study to develop their minds and hearts.

Dressed in the riding habits and top hats that Eleanor designed as their lifelong fashion, they lived a solitary life in the puzzled town, and refused to allow themselves to be sensationalized when they attracted notice. Gradually, they received the visitors who would make them famous - Wordsworth, Byron, Walter Scott, Edmund Burke, Richard Shackleton, Josiah Wedgewood, and Anna Seward, amongst others. They grew old together, and they died together; their love never faltered.

Now, imagine the movie! Since there will be no more Merchant/Ivory productions, I would like Jane Campion to direct because of her skill in depicting women who make brave and difficult choices amidst natural or social beauty. (Think "The Piano" or "Portrait of a Lady," and imagine the Ladies against the expanses of rural Wales.) Picture Sarah's resplendent gardens, the house that the Ladies decorated, and the immense bed they shared; picture their beloved cow and the artichokes they feasted on with freshly-churned butter. The movie would be a visual treat.

Emma Thompson might be a good choice for the older, more assertive Eleanor. I can imagine Kate Winslett as Sarah, blonde and emotional, comforting Eleanor through her monthly migraines, knitting delicate stockings and gloves, and designing the gardens that would be so admired. Who would portray their famous friends? I'll leave that to you,the casting director, although I might suggest Anthony Hopkins as Sir Walter Scott, and (dare I say) Hugh Laurie as Lord Byron.

Perhaps you are puzzled, wondering why real-life luminaries are including in this fiction. Simple: Doris Grumbach's novel is a fictionalized biography of two very real, very brave women: Sarah Ponsonby and Eleanor Butler, the Ladies of Llangollen. Did Sarah suffer from debilitating dreams and lingering guilt about her sexual preference? Did Eleanor develop a passion for magic in her later years? Grumbach cautions the reader to remember that her book is fiction, her own vision, and not a faithful biography. I think it would make a splendid film, and I recommend the book as a fine romance and a vision of the lives of two pioneering women.


Saturday, November 17, 2007

Books into movies, take #1

Do you picture all the action in book as you read? I do; always have. Sometimes a book leaves me simply panting for a film version, despite Hollywood's mostly miserable track record in doing this.

So let's imagine that it's possible to have a perfect screen adaptation of a terrific book. And let's also imagine that all the casting, directing, costuming, scoring and other production choices are ours, all ours. Which book would you choose?

This is a tough one because I can think of so many answers. But as I pondered this question today, the first book that came to mind was...the Biblical Book of Esther. The setting is in and around the ancient kingdom of Ahasuerus (Xerxes I), about 485-464 B.C. King Ahasueru lived in a fabulous, fortified palace furnished with linen, precious metals, black marble, white marble, alabaster, turquoise and more. He was served on golden vessels. I can just see what is called "the riches of his glorious kingdom and the splendor of his excellent majesty!"

Queen Vashti wasn't interested in her king, so a beauty contest was ordered to find her replacement Imagine all the pageantry there must have been in that contest! We're told that "beauty preparations" were given the young women, and that it took them twelve whole months to prepare for the competition.

The intrigue and suspense begin when beautiful Esther, a Hebrew woman, enters the contest at her uncle's urging. King Ahasuerus is not Hebrew, and Mordecai, Esther's uncle, tells her to keep mum about her heritage for the time being. Mordecai and Esther team up to save the king from a deadly plot on his life. She rises high in the king's estimation.

Enter wicked Haman, a treacherous and conniving man who breathes blood and murder against the Hebrews. Haman puts into motion a plot against them, setting up the king to make a decree that keeps Haman's hands clean yet will, if accomplished, result in all-out genocide.

What happens next to everyone is familiar to everyone who celebrates Purim and to all who remember their Bible history. Some of the characters shall rise and one shall fall in a particular stroke of poetic justice.

What a story - - it has everything! There is opulence, intrigue, romance, action and suspense, outrage and satisfaction, fascinating and fully-rounded characters plus an ending that delivers just deserts to one and all - - everything that plays well on the big screen.
Now let's see, whom do I want to play the leads...?
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Friday, November 16, 2007


Iz bin tagged! [Does it show that I've been at ?]

TeaBird tagged me for a meme. I am to open the book I am reading, turn to page 161, and read the fifth sentence. After I share it with you, dear reader, I am to tag five other bloggers.

I am reading What Went Wrong? The Clash Between Islam and Modernity in the Middle East, by Bernard Lewis. The book itself concludes at page 160, but there is an author's note on 161: "My thanks are due to the organizers of these various events for giving me the opportunity to formulate my views and put them before an informed audience."

Ah, now comes the hard part; finding five other bloggers! I know only one, and that's Diane at . You're it, Diane!
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Booking through Thursday

Would you say that you read about the same amount now as when you were younger? More? Less? Why?

When I first read this question, I wondered...My goodness, how can I quantify my reading? Is "reading more" equal to finishing more books? Spending more time reading? Reading fatter books? Finishing more books?

I've always been a voracious and indelicate reader. I'll read almost anything except (and sorry, I don't mean to be a snob here, I just can't get into...) romances (and that says more about me than about the genre, trust me). I go through binges where I'll read nothing but biographies, or nothing but an entire series of paperback mysteries, or the entire works of Barbara Pym (for the 18th time, at least). Other times, I'll read poetry, or go through art books, or read Barbara Walker's stitch dictionaries as if they were cookbooks. (Actually, I don't read cookbooks. I don't cook.) I'll read Wilkie Collins, Stephen King (love his book on writing!), Charles de Lint, Alfred Bester, Louisa May Alcott...

Is this more or less than I read when I was younger? Well, obviously, I have a full-time job, and a full-time house, and a full-time husband... so I have less time to read. That doesn't mean I read less, and it doesn't mean that I don't get as engrossed in a book as I once did. If anything, I appreciate the time I grab for reading, knitting, and writing letters more than when I was young. (I appreciate everything more now, but that's another post.)

I think that's my answer. I can't really quantify whether I read more or less, but I appreciate my reading and time more.


Thursday, November 01, 2007

"Booking Through Thursday"

Oh, Horror! What with yesterday being Halloween, and all . . . do you read horror? Stories of things that go bump in the night and keep you from sleeping?
Ah, adolescence, when nothing seems too scary or horrible! I read the scariest books I could get my greedy, little hands on then; I devoured Poe and I swallowed Lovecraft whole. This was during a period when I was fascinated by the rogues galleries and chambers of horrors in wax museums, too.
During most of my adulthood so far, I eschewed horror fiction in favor of true crime and murder mysteries. I threw out only one true crime book that was too much for me, and read as many of the rest as I could. I read some Stephen King, but I found myself disappointed by his writing every time. He has a gift for telling stories, but I don't like the stories he tells. I quit reading his works after Cujo and some short story collection of his. I am still baffled by those who enjoy reading about eating oneself or haunted cars or things to do with dead children and other unsavory topics. I guess I had a few standards during my horror reading days
During this autumn, however, I realize that I cannot tolerate that kind of books anymore. I find them incompatible with a truly dedicated Christian life. I also find them depressing to the point of despair. I am reminded of the computer anacronym, GIGO: garbage in, garbage out. It's much harder to maintain an upbeat attitude when I fill my head with horror, true or otherwise.
I was also a decided fan of the mystery novel, but I quit reading fiction a couple of years ago; it wasn't deliberate, it was just that my tastes lay elsewhere. I still enjoy the grand, old masters of mystery - - Sayers, Christie, Marsh and others of their kind for their craft in writing.
As for all-out horror, however, no I've not read anything in that genre in decades. You know what? I don't miss it.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Booking through Thursday

This week's question:

  • I would enjoy reading a meme about people’s abandoned books. The books that you start but don’t finish say as much about you as the ones you actually read, sometimes because of the books themselves or because of the circumstances that prevent you from finishing. So . . . what books have you abandoned and why?

The book that comes to mind: Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections. I became interested in it when Oprah announced it.
  • No, I do not read all of Oprah's books. I don't even like Oprah. In fact, sometimes I really dislike Oprah. But that's another story. Oprah has chosen some fine books. The Reader, for example, and We Were the Mulvaneys. I read the translation of Anna Karenina she chose because it had been years since I'd read AK and I wanted to experience her through a newer sensibility than Constance Garnett's.
Another admission: sometimes I allow my feelings about an author to color my response to the book. If Joyce Carol Oates or Cynthia Ozick has written it, I'm predisposed to love it. In this case, the whole Franzen/Oprah flap predisposed me to disliking the book because, much as I don't like Oprah, I think that any author who chucks an opportunity to meet a huge and hungry audience is foolish.

And dislike it I did - on its lack of merit. I got through, maybe, 70 pages before I chucked it. I hated every character, I didn't care about what they were doing or where, and I found myself thinking that Franzen should have been very grateful indeed to have had such mass exposure.


Tuesday, October 23, 2007

"Happyness," and the pursuit thereof

Becoming homeless frightens me. Those who live without homes and those who used to do so amaze me. It is hard for me to imagine forging ahead with life in the face of such a circumstance, never mind going on to overcome it and to found a multimillion-dollar firm. But that is what Chris Gardner, founder of Gardner Rich & Company, did. The Pursuit of Happyness is Mr. Gardner's memoir of his rise from a poor childhood with a brutal stepfather and loving but defeated mother through his colorful adulthood, through his year of living homeless with a young son, and onward to his eventual triumph as a stockbroker and founder of a brokerage firm. Mr. Gardner, along with ghostwriter Quincy Troupe, do not flinch in relating the most heart-wrenching details of Mr. Gardner's life, not even when his choices are poor in the extreme.

Mr. Gardner's story of abandonment, deprivation and brutality during childhood is far from uncommon. But what saved him from becoming another heartbreaking failure? A combination of his mother's love and encouragement combined with his own intellectual superiority and curiosity plus some extremely lucky breaks drove him, as did his ability to see potential in opportunities, and his ability to focus on what he wanted.

Mr. Gardner's lack of a loving father-figure during childhood made him an intensely involved father to his own son, even when that meant a year of homelessness with his little boy. There were no dramatic resolutions to their living status, rather a long, gradual ascent that came from very hard work and sacrifice. Mr. Gardner thanks San Francisco's Glide Memorial Church for much of his rise to success. In fact, he is an active partner with that church even now, sponsoring the church's continuing commitment to those who live on the edge.

Mr. Gardner's riveting story is told in his own words, the language of the streets. I'm not a fan of such language, but this story was so compelling that I stayed with it. I like stories of people who rise above their circumstances, becoming victors, not victims, thus I am glad I read The Pursuit of Happyness.
Oh, and when you read this book, you'll find out why "happiness" is misspelled.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, October 18, 2007


Booking Through Thursday:"You may or may not have seen my post at Punctuality Rules Tuesday, about a book I recently bought that had the actual TITLE misspelled on the spine of the book. A glaring typographical error that really (really!) should have been caught. So, using that as a springboard, today’s question: What’s the worst typographical error you’ve ever found in (or on) a book?"

An impossible task this is, naming the worst typographical error I have found. Errors in grammar, punctuation, structure and fact abound nowadays. True-crime books, which - - I suspect - - get rushed into print for fast bucks, are among the worst books I have seen. [Paging Ann Rule...] I have gotten rid of books without finishing them because their numerous errors made it impossible for me to concentrate on what I was reading. Does anyone know why this happens so often now? Is it just laziness, or is it ignorance, or a combination?
Ah, well that is enough of that. Longtime readers of this blog will recognize this as a post from the avatar of curmudgeonry, Moon Rani.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

High Tea, Darjeeling Style

The travel section of today's New York Times has a wonderful article about tea - High Tea, Darjeeling Style.

Flying to a remote corner of India and braving the long drive into the Himalayas may seem like an awful lot of effort for a good cup of tea, but Darjeeling tea isn't simply good. It's about the best in the world, fetching record prices at auctions in Calcutta and Shanghai, and kick-starting the salivary glands of tea lovers from London to Manhattan.

(Cross-posted from the Knitters Tea Swap 4 -- melanie

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Booking Through Thursday

The reverse of last week’s question:
Imagine that everything is going just swimmingly. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and all’s right with the world. You’re practically bouncing from health and have money in your pocket. The kids are playing and laughing, the puppy is chewing in the cutest possible manner on an officially-sanctioned chew toy, and in between moments of laughter for pure joy, you pick up a book to read .
What is it?

Although last week's question discouraged us from answering "the Bible," I have to say that I do, indeed, turn to my Bible and other devotional books in times of trouble. I also pull out my Pennypress magazine of puzzles (one magazine lasts months!). Those puzzle magazines saw me through a lot of difficult times. But I enjoy pen and paper puzzles so much that I like to do them when things are going well, too. I also get my Bible and devotional books when things are bright and happy.

But as for fiction...let me see. For dark times, I would start with Louisa May Alcott's Little Women, at least until I became so irritated with Mr. March, as I always do, that I packed the book off for donation. After that I would choose anything by Shakespeare. The glorious language is enough to get lost in and to love every minute of it. A favorite? MacBeth. I enjoy that play on many levels. For both good and bad times I might also choose poetry by John Donne or humor by S.J. Perelman or Robert Benchley. One last choice: Alexander Woollcott; although he tends toward purple in his prose, I still find myself enjoying the trips through his reviews and reminiscences.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Booking through Thursday

Okay . . . picture this (really) worst-case scenario: It’s cold and raining, your boyfriend/girlfriend has just dumped you, you’ve just been fired, the pile of unpaid bills is sky-high, your beloved pet has recently died, and you think you’re coming down with a cold. All you want to do (other than hiding under the covers) is to curl up with a good book, something warm and comforting that will make you feel better.

What do you read?

(Any bets on how quickly somebody says the Bible or some other religious text? A good choice, to be sure, but to be honest, I was thinking more along the lines of fiction…. Unless I laid it on a little strong in the string of catastrophes? Maybe I should have just stuck to catching a cold on a rainy day….)

This one is easy. I read Emily Dickinson. She has been through it all, and can see me through all. (Fiction Just Will Not Do!)

The soul has moments of Escape-
When bursting all the doors-
She dances like a Bomb, abroad-
And swings upon the Hours,

As do the Bee - delirious borne-
Long Dungeoned from his rose-
Touch Liberty- then know no more
But Noon, and Paradise -


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

book meme

Here's a meme I stole from Chris at Book-a-rama: go to the advanced book search on Amazon, type your first name into the Title field, and post the most interesting/amusing cover that shows up.

I've been meaning to read this book!

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Booking through Thursday

Are you a Goldilocks kind of reader?

Do you need the light just right, the background noise just so loud but not too loud, the chair just right, the distractions at a minimum?

Or can you open a book at any time and dip right in, whether it’s for twenty seconds, while waiting for the kettle to boil, or indefinitely, like while waiting interminably at the hospital–as long as the book is open in front of your nose, you’re happy to read?

I am neither Goldilocks nor the Princess and the Pea. I can read anywhere, anytime, in any situation - unless the light is bad, in which case I become The Beast (only without his more attractive qualities...)


"Goldilocks" Booking Through Thursday

Okay, so the other day, a friend was commenting on my monthly reading list and asked when I found the time to read. In the ensuing discussion, she described herself as a “goldilocks” when it comes to reading–she needs to have everything juuuuuust right to be able to focus. This caught my attention because, first, I thought that was a charming way of describing the condition, but, two, while we’ve talked about our reading habits, this is an interesting wrinkle. I’d never really thought about it that way.
So, this is my question to you–are you a Goldilocks kind of reader?
Do you need the light just right, the background noise just so loud but not too loud, the chair just right, the distractions at a minimum?
Or can you open a book at any time and dip right in, whether it’s for twenty seconds, while waiting for the kettle to boil, or indefinitely, like while waiting interminably at the hospital–as long as the book is open in front of your nose, you’re happy to read?

A "Goldilocks reader" - - what a clever phrase! This reader is no Goldilocks, at least not most of the time. I slip into books like a swimmer into a bath-warm pool, and I luxuriate in my reading submersion as long as possible. I am an overly sensitive person, always have been, and everything but everything bothers, distracts or irritates me. But reading usually takes me into the world of the book so that I am a step removed from the real world.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Tuesday, September 04, 2007


Taste is the latest offering from America's longtime etiquette and protocol expert, Leticia Baldridge. It is subtitled, Acquiring What Money Can't Buy. Mrs. Baldridge is a Vassar-educated woman who served as chief of staff to the Jackie Kennedy. Mrs. Baldridge also advised four other First Ladies. She worked closely with the American ambasador to Italy and his wife in the 1940s, and she worked in publicity for Tiffany's. Mrs. Baldridge has written two dozen book and operates a consulitng business. Her credentials are not to be sneezed at by any means. So why did I find this book a disappointment?

When I first heard of this book, I took its subtitle at its word. Developing my aesthetic sense of taste by reading? Sign me up! But the advice and guidance on doing this were few and far between. Much of the book consists of reminiscences of the late Mrs. Onassis and of other people who were once big names in style and entertaining. Mrs. Baldridge and Mrs. Onassis knew one another since adolescence. This longtime friendship shows in every line written about the Kennedys and their household. The passages about them are virtual paeans to Jackie. Even the brief passage ostensibly written about Grace Kelly's sense of style turns out to be more Jackie worship along a put-down of Her Serene Highness' taste and behavior. The word "tacky" came to mind.

I found the book contradictory, too. Some paragraphs say that money is no guarantee of taste, and that having excellent taste is within the reach of anyone. Directly after that are (more) descriptions of opulent living and entertaining served up along with encouragement to live tastefully with Baccarat crystal, fine wine and spirits and other pricey material goods.

The directions on acquiring and improving one's taste consisted of telling readers to go to museums at every opportunity, to read magazines that show tasteful things and to observe beauty wherever one is. Then one ought to contemplate what makes beautiful things beautiful, and to look for patterns in beauty and taste. One ought also to peruse books on different cultures and what was considered beautiful in different times and places. None of this is new or even very helpful.

One last thing: this book suffers from a common ailment, and that is an acute lack of editing. A sharp editor would have shaped and brightened this book by untangling the memoir aspects from the advice aspects from the personal taste aspects. As it is, they all lie there in a heap, and not a very tasteful heap.

Taste is subjective, as Mrs. Baldridge acknowledges. This alone makes writing about it at all a challenge. Instructing people how to develop taste is trickier still. Still, I had hopes of reading something substantive. This book is not that. If you enjoy reading memories of grand times and places, and if you, too, cannot get enough of Mrs. Onassis, then you will enjoy Taste.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, August 30, 2007

Booking Through Thursday: "Statistics"

There was a widely bruited-about statistic reported last week, stating that 1 in 4 Americans did not read a single book last year. Clearly, we don’t fall into that category, but . . . how many of our friends do? Do you have friends/family who read as much as you do? Or are you the only person you know who has a serious reading habit?

My very dear friend is a voracious reader. She inspires me. She devours quantities of books, and she slogs through books that I would toss onto the floor without compunction. Her incisive mind dissects the books, sees symbolism where my poor brain sees none, understands allusions, ferrets out abstruse meanings and gets enormous information and entertainment in everything. Sound familiar? She should; she's TeaBird. I admire TeaBird extravagantly.

Janet reads a lot too, as befits a librarian. She's plenty sharp, too. I admire her madly for managing her household, extended-family duties, her job and her personal pursuits which include reading. I couldn't do it.

My family? I really don't know because we are not in close contact. But we all read a lot during childhood. I was the only one Mom called a "bookaholic," but we all read, and I was not the only one who read the dictionary for sport.

I recall afternoons spent in a friend's room with an old appliance box full of comic books. We'd pull and read one after another, pausing to read aloud bits and to swap good comic books. This friend and I read science fiction in those days, and we'd trade paperbacks, too. Whatever we read we also discussed every which way. We were schoolgirls then, and - - alas! - - my friend reads no more. I have fond memories of reading with her, and I wish she read still.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Booking through Thursday

There was a widely bruited-about statistic reported last week, stating that 1 in 4 Americans did not read a single book last year. Clearly, we don’t fall into that category, but . . . how many of our friends do? Do you have friends/family who read as much as you do? Or are you the only person you know who has a serious reading habit?

I was not surprised by the statistic. As a librarian for almost thirty years, I have seen how reading habits have changed. Where once, patrons would stagger to the circulation desk with a dozen books to check out, now they have three or four. Where once, we would have to buy a dozen copies of the latest bestseller, now we buy three or four. Perhaps, some of this trend can be attributed to the online booksellers, whose deeply-discounted prices make it more attractive to buy a best-seller than to wait for 3-4 weeks to get it from the library. More likely, people who once were casual readers have become less likely to read for any of a million reasons - I won't bore you with my cynical list of possibilities.

One of the details in the MSN article caught my attention - the notion that women are less likely than men to read biographies . I won't generalize from myself, since I'm a fiend for biographies, especially if they're about literary or intrepid women. (I'm itching to read the new biography of Gertrude Bell, for example.) I will generalize from my women friends, though - they (we) all read history, biographies, science, all manner of nonfiction, and we discuss amongst ourselves.

Another detail - or omission - from the article made me wonder whether the survey included audio books. I've seen discussions and debates on whether audio books count as "reading" - for example, check out this excellent post by Moonfrog and the comments below - and I've been rather surprised by some of the conclusions. For the record, I think that any medium that lets you absorb the author's words qualifies as reading - and I wonder who amongst the scoffers would tell, say, blind people that they aren't reading their "Books on Tape."

So, do my friends and family read as much as I do? Friends, yes, but wouldn't you expect that we'd choose friends whose passions complement our own? In fact, some friends astound me with the number of books they read, especially since they also knit amazing things, create and sustain splendid gardens, raise excellent children, work time-intensive jobs....Would that I had the energy and time-management skills to keep up with them!

(Family - not as much. Alas.)


Thursday, August 23, 2007

Uncommon Arrangements - Katie Roiphe


Have you ever seen those mind-map-like charts that begin with one celebrity and radiate / branch out to show who has had (ahem) relationships with whom? That's this book.

In no particular order, these are some of the linked literati: H.G. Wells, Rebecca West, Elizabeth Von Arnim, Katherine Mansfield, Lady Ottoline Morrell, Bertrand Russell, Clive Bell, Virginia Woolf, Vera Brittain, D.H. Lawrence, Vanessa Bell, Radclyff Hall, E. M Forster, Rebecca West - (no, wait, I already listed her - she finds her way into an amazing number of these stories!) -

Some had children with each other. Some were jealous of others. Some were not jealous of others.

Some are old literary friends of mine. I already knew all of the tidbits herein. I did not learn anything new. Had I not known anything about these people, all I would now know is that writers have libidos.

Not recommended. Not.



Booking through Thursday : Indoctrination

When growing up did your family share your love of books? If so, did one person get you into reading? And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or parent, etc.)

My family reads. Always read. Always will read. It's our nature to read. No matter what else we do or don't do, that remains constant.
My best family-oriented book memory is a trip to the big Barnes & Noble store on Fifth Avenue in the late 1950s. While my mother was looking for art books about The Floating World, I wandered around the used-book section, where I found a lovely Everyman's Library copy of Jane Eyre, bound in red cloth, and only a dollar or two. I had a dollar or two. Reader, I bought it, read it, and still read it.



from Booking Through Thursday:
"When growing up did your family share your love of books? If so, did one person get you into reading? And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or parent, etc.)"

I come from a family of readers. Although my mother steadfastly refused to teach me to read and write, she did take my siblings and me to the library when I was older. Getting a library card felt like an important step. She took us there often.

Mom loved books from childhood onward. When we were growing up, she took us to her favorite discount store occasionally, and gave us each five dollars to spend as we wished. Such wealth! I was always thrilled. Invariably I used my money to buy as many paperback books as possible. I remember standing in front of the book-laden racks figuring and re-figuring how to buy as many books as possible without going one penny over the dollar bills clenched in my hand.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Booking through Thursday

One book at a time? Or more than one? If more, are they different types/genres? Or similar?

(We’re talking recreational reading, here—books for work or school don’t really count since they’re not optional.)

Monogamy? HAH! No way. I have no discipline, no plan, almost no discernment. Whatever comes along, if it looks delectable, I will taste it.

As for what I read - No rhyme, no reason - No, that's not true, because I am apt to be reading poetry and non-fiction together, along with fiction, which can be anything from classics to children's books.

(In fact, I have just joined a read-and-knit-along for Anne of Green Gables, and I'm looking forward to it as I would look forward to curling up with ice water and peppermints... no, that's A Tree Grows in Brooklyn, which I also want to reread...)


Monday, August 06, 2007

Summer chiller!

For a crisply cool treat with which to face these waning days of summer, try this: brew your favorite tea or tisane extra strong. When it cools, pour it into popsicle molds, or make your own with Dixie cups and spoons. Freeze several hours or overnight before slurping a delicious ice pop that is definitely out of the ordinary. Make these without sugar for the ultimate in guilt-free splurging. You'll be able to make flavors never found in your grocer's freezer. These would be fun at barbecues, afternoon teas, impromptu get-togethers and anywhere you'd like a treat.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Sunday, August 05, 2007

You must see this!

Trot on over to to see the most appealing Website! Tea lovers are well familiar with the trusty PG Tips brand, the tea in the pyramid-shaped bags. If you've never tried it, you owe it to yourself to try some today. In metropolitan areas, PG Tips is carried at many grocery stores, tea shops and gift shops while the rest of us must order it online (from an American site).
Brew a bracing cuppa to sip while you visit this site. If you don't fall in love with the monkey, well, there's just no hope for you. The site is clean-cut, well organized and easy to navigate. The colors and layout refresh the eye. I even learned where the "PG" comes from, while visiting. In addition to product information and health tips, there are games and a monkey gift shop, too, though the prices are all Pounds Sterling, not dollars. By the way, it's a gift shop that sells toy monkeys, not a shop that sells gifts for monkeys.
Thanks to TeaBird for putting me on to this site.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, August 02, 2007

"Letters, We Get Letters"

"Booking Through Thursday"
Have you ever written an author a fan letter?
Did you get an answer?
Did it spark a conversation? A meeting?
(And, sure, I suppose that e-mails DO count . . . but I’d say no to something like a message board on which the author happens to participate.)

Yes and yes, but it feels a little goofy to tell. Remember the country-and-western comic, Minnie Pearl? She wrote her autobiography in the 1980s. I knew her comic persona, but knew nothing about her true self. It turned out that she was an educated, cultured lady who, among other things, toured with other entertainers for our troops during World War II. Her real name was Ophelia Cannon. I wrote her a brief letter after reading her book. She sent a thank you note on a postcard. I have it, somewhere.

I am not a country-and-western fan. I don't know what caught my interest in her autobiography, but I found it interesting. It just feels funny to say that I wrote a fan letter to Minnie Pearl. For the record, No, I don't leave the price tags on my hats.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Booking through Thursday

Have you ever written an author a fan letter?
Did you get an answer?
Did it spark a conversation? A meeting?

I've written to a few authors, but only received three responses. Joseph Epstein, whose collection of essays, The Middle of My Tether, delighted me, sent a typed postcard thanking me for my comments. Laurie Colwin wrote a short note. And Joan Didion, to whom I sent a letter of condolence on the death of her husband, sent a personal note on her lovely blue stationery.

I've met authors, but not through letters, only at book signings: Joyce Carol Oates, Alexandra Stoddard, Dominick Dunne, Alan Dershowitz, Marvin Kitman...

(Have you read Carolyn See's Making a Literary Life? One of the suggestions she makes is to write letters to authors. I really should write one to her.)


Sunday, July 29, 2007

Summer cooler update

In a June post, I promised to write about the delights of iced masala (spicy Indian) tea. Try making a pitcher of Celestial Seasonings' Bengal Spice. I used to brew these summer tisanes before chilling them, but now I just splash cold water into a pitcher in the morning, throw in four bags of any flavor and leave it all in the refrigerator to make itself by late afternoon.
Bengal Spice offers a reasonably good version of masala tea in handy bags at a price that is affordable to most folks. It can be found at most grocery stores and it is free of caffeine. I recommend this version of iced masala as the most easily accessible, most convenient and quickest method for most people

My housemate gave this drink his lip-smacking seal of approval, and I like it, too. If I were to serve this to guests, I might add frozen berries or other fruit, but I would probably freeze cubes of this beverage and add them to ice the drink. Bengal Spice would make a good foil for a green salad as well as for chicken/tuna/egg/legume salad.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Booking through Thursday

Who’s the worst fictional villain you can think of? As in, the one you hate the most, find the most evil, are happiest to see defeated? Not the cardboard, two-dimensional variety, but the most deliciously-written, most entertaining, best villain? Not necessarily the most “evil,” so much as the best-conceived on the part of the author…oh, you know what I mean!

The worst villain: Gilbert Osmond in
The Portrait of a Lady. He devours innocence and freedom for sheer sport - ruining Isobel's life, Pansy's life - even Ralph Touchett's, in a way, as his sufferings are multiplied by his generosity. Osmond's delight in the trappings of wealth and culture makes his heartlessness even more ironic.


Saturday, July 21, 2007

Quotable Friday, on Saturday

Heather, at Orange Blossom Goddess, does "Quotable Friday" posts. I'm one day late.

Herman Melville:
"Tea: a decoction that lightly floats the spirit for a while and at least lands it in a dry place."

(Hiss.........One more reason NEVER to read Moby-Dick!)


Thursday, July 19, 2007

Booking through Thursday

Okay, love him or loathe him, you’d have to live under a rock not to know that J.K. Rowling’s final Harry Potter book, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, comes out on Saturday… Are you going to read it? This Ravenclaw will be reading Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows the moment it arrives from If I don't get it by Saturday, I'll have to hide in my closet to keep from being spoiled.
  1. If so, right away? Or just, you know, eventually, when you get around to it? Are you attending any of the midnight parties? See above. I won't attend parties, but I will talk with my stuffed Hedwigs. It will be a comfort to us both.
  2. If you’re not going to read it, why not?
  3. And, for the record… what do you think? Will Harry survive the series? What are you most looking forward to? I am in the "Snape is a good guy" queue because I trust Dumbledore completely. I think he took Harry on the quest for the Horcrux as a rite of passage, to toughen him and to ensure that he could do anything necessary to vanquish (hiss) Voldemort. It was Harry's Bardo, facing what he feared, and he got through it.


No "Booking Through Thursday" from Moon Rani this week, folks, because the topic is Harry Potter. I'm a rare person in that I haven't read any HP.

Thursday, July 12, 2007


"Booking Through Thursday
"1. In your opinion, what is the best translation of a book to a movie?
"2. The worst?
"3. Had you read the book before seeing the movie, and did that make a difference? (Personally, all other things being equal, I usually prefer whichever I was introduced to first.)
"And, by all means, expand this to as long a list as you like. I’m notoriously awful myself at narrowing down to one favorite ANYTHING. So, feel free to list as many “good” or “bad” movie-from-books as you like. (Heaven knows that’s what I’ll be doing….)"

How about a book that was made into a television series? I choose I, Claudius by Robert Graves, a book which tells the stories of the ancient Roman Caesars in all their wicked and cunning glory. The series was top-drawer, a classy, production that was, mostly, faithful to the book. I saw the series years before I read the book. Each is superlative in its own right. I doubt it would have made a difference to my opinion if I'd read the book first. I consider them both so far above average reading and viewing fare that I cannot recommend them too heartily.

This is, arguably, my choice for the worst screen adaptation: Midnight In the Garden of Good and Evil, by John Berendt. The book is a good diversion; in fact, I recommend it as a beach book. I'll call the book historical fiction, meaning that the author took a true murder case, added personal interviews and a fat dollop of secondhand information, mixed in a lot of wild imagination and served it up as a book that made the New York Times bestseller list about fifteen years ago.

The movie version was directed by Clint Eastwood, who was not the right man for the job. The film was tired and anemic with the exception of the actor who portrayed himself, a drag-queen named Chablis. The story takes place in Savannah (Georgia), a city I know well. Despite the vividly colorful city and people, the movie was lackluster. Mr. Eastwood needed to take time to get to know Savannah and her citizens. Savannah doesn't give herself easily, but she is well worth the time and the effort as she rewards the patient person with her riches.

Robert Altman directed a screen adaptation of The Gingerbread Man. Like Midnight, it was shot largely in and around Savannah around the same time as Mr. Eastwood shot his film. The word on the street was that Mr. Altman and Mr. Eastwood ought to have switched positions because neither was suited for the film he chose, but each would have succeeded admirably with the other's movie.

(submitted by Moon Rani)

Booking through Thursday

1. In your opinion, what is the best translation of a book to a movie?
2. The worst?
3. Had you read the book before seeing the movie, and did that make a difference? (Personally, all other things being equal, I usually prefer whichever I was introduced to first.)

The best: Brideshead Revisited. (I'm prejudiced: I like anything with Jeremy Irons.)
The worst: The DaVinci Code.
Had I read the books the books first and did it make a difference? Yes for Brideshead, and the adaptation enhanced it so much that I've both read the book and watched the series many, many times. Yes for DaVinci, and it didn't make that much of a difference because I loathed them both. The film was so much sillier, though...

posted by melanie

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Booking through Thursday

What with yesterday being the Fourth of July and all, I’m feeling a little patriotic, and so have a simple question:What, in your opinion, is the (mythical) Great American Novel? At least to date. A “classic,” or a current one–either would be fine. Mark Twain? J.D. Salinger? F. Scott Fitzgerald? Stephen King? Laura Ingalls Wilder?It doesn’t have to be your favorite book, mind you. “Citizen Kane” may be the “best” film, and I concede its merits, but it’s not my favorite. You don’t have to love something to know that it’s good.Now, I know that not all of you are American–but you can play, too! What I want from you is to know what you consider to the best novel of YOUR country. It might be someone the rest of us haven’t heard of and, frankly, I think we’d all like to get some new authors to read.In fact, while we’re at it–I’m curious about the geographical make-up of this meme. So, while you’re leaving your link to your post, tell us where in the world you are! (For the record, I’m in New Jersey, USA.)

My choice for the Great American Novel may not even
be a novel ( it might be a novella): Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote. On one level, it's a light story about a golddigger who befriends a writer, moves into his apartment, and shows him the decidedly atypical slice of American life she has tried to enter.

Glam, bohemian parties present a background for a lonely, lovely woman who loves the glitter and freedom she found when she left her home, but fears attachments. She calls the men who give her the "tips" she lives on "rats," and she calls her cat "Cat" because a real name for the animal would represent too much of an attachment. Despite the patina of sophistication, she remains a naive, small-town girl who misses her brother and who allows herself to become an unwitting carrier of information for a jailed mobster.

I've always thought of Breakfast at Tiffany's as another iteration of the themes that F. Scott Fitzgerald iterated in The Great Gatsby. Like Jay Gatsby, Holly Golightly has come east to establish a glittering life for herself. Where Gatsby stared at the green light at the end of the pier where his unattainable Daisy lived and flung jewel-toned shirts to impress her, Holly stares at the unattainable jewels behind the windows of Tiffany's and tries to impress with witticisms. Both Holly and Gatsby are victims of the criminals and wastelands that underlie the glamour of New York.

(Incidentally, I love the film except for the gruesome, goggle-eyed, bucktoothed-gargoyle depiction of the Chinese landlord. Was such a depiction ever acceptable, or funny?)

I'm from Long Island, New York, which explains my affinity for both of Gatsby's Eggs and Holly's Manhattan.

posted by melanie

"Booking Through Thursday"

"What, in your opinion, is the (mythical) Great American Novel?"
This is an impossible question for me. I could no more choose the great American novel than I could choose a single great American writer. Instead, I shall offer some authors as contenders for having written the great American novel: Mark Twain, William Faulkner, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Louisa May Alcott, and Toni Morrison. Each evokes a distinct time and place from a distinctly American perspective, and each tells involving stories that require deliberation. None serves up mere pablum but, rather, real food for thought. I chose the first six authors who came into my head, but I could fill a page with more
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Meeting a newly-minted author

It started with a notice for a book-signing that I saw at our library. It ended with my own, private audience with that author - - and his mother.
I believe in supporting new writers and other artists. If I were wealthy, I would become a patron of the arts, but as it is, I offer a wealth of praise and encouragement along with a few modest purchases. That's why I just had to meet the young man whose recently published novel I read last night.
I made telephone contact with the writer's mom, which sounds funny until you understand that the young man is a 2007 high school graduate. His book, Danger In the House, was published in October 2006. It isn't available anywhere but in my town because it doesn't even has the ISBN yet, but all that is in the works.
Danger In the House is a horror novel, not my usual choice. But Nicholas Brady's book provided me with chills and thrills and a certain spooky atmosphere on a soft summer evening. Young Nicholas has many writing basics in hand, and turned out several nifty phrases in his story of a haunted house and its new inhabitants. It was not scary enough to make me turn on every light in the house, but I consider that a plus as I'm a regular scaredy cat. His book is told from the perspective of the teenaged protagonist who finds herself struggling against possessed parents, ghosts and a malacious house while trying to protect herself and her hapless younger brother.
Ms. Brady, Nicholas' mother, provided his transportation to our meeting place yesterday. Her persistence won me over in deciding to buy the book. I had a pleasant chat with mother and son, asking the usual questions about inspiration, method and future plans. I was amused to see Ms. Brady superintend her son while he inscribed my book, telling him where and how to sign and what to say.
Nicholas has the potential to be a crowd-pleaser if he carries on his intention to major in writing arts when he enters college this autumn. In fact, I look forward to being scared by Nicholas many times more in the future.

(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, June 28, 2007

Tea reading suggestion

While clicking around (following links to sites, finding more links there to follow, etc.), I found a spot that might interest our readers. Take a look at TeaGuy is a freelance writer as well as a tea lover. You have just enough time to enter a tea book giveaway there.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Booking through Thursday

What’s the most desperate thing you’ve read because it was the only available reading material?If it was longer than a cereal box or an advertisement, did it turn out to be worth your while?

Yes, it was. I was on vacation in Vermont, and there was almost nothing to read in the cabin. (It was bad enough being in the cabin, for reasons I rather would forget.) I'd brought along quite a few books, and I had read them all, so I started to examine the shelves, hoping I'd missed something readable amongst the fishing, hunting, and small-engine-repair manuals -- and I had :
Island by Aldous Huxley. It was, as you can imagine, worth reading.
(It's been 27 years since I read it, and I have included it on my Dystopian Challenge for this summer, because it will be, as you can imagine, worth re-visiting -- especially since I won't be reading it while suffering through a my own, isolated dystopia.)

"Booking Through Thursday"

"What’s the most desperate thing you’ve read because it was the only available reading material? If it was longer than a cereal box or an advertisement, did it turn out to be worth your while? "

Labels! Toothpaste tubes, shampoo bottles, food labels of every sort, vacuum cleaner manuals, appliance warnings - - I've read them all and more in times of wild-eyed, panting, hair-on-end reading desperation. Many of those times were during adolescence when I was literally unable to do without reading something every waking moment.
Did it ever turn out to be worth my while? Sometimes. I found recipes on food labels, including one very tasty recipe that I've never been able to locate again in thirty years. I found some hilarious warning labels over the years, warnings that could almost cause one to despair over the state of mankind. I mean, really, who knew there were enough people who tried to use blow-dryers while showering or bathing to make warning labels necessary, or that enough people used shop vacs to pick up hazardous waste so that the manual had to tell us not do that? Thanks to my desperation reading, I learned that there is a myriad of misuses of everyday things.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Omnivore's Dilemma - Michael Pollan

IF you want to read a book that may put you off your feed permanently, try The Omnivore's Dilemma. I listened to the (excellent) audiobook in my car, which might not have been the best venue, since some of the descriptions (gutting a wild boar, for example, or descriptions of the conditions of hens in commercial egg factories) are so vivid and disgusting that I nearly was ill in the car.
Michael Pollan's dual quests were to discover the precise provenance of food, and to create a meal from ingredients he had grown, caught, killed, or foraged -- in other words, to become mindful of his food. Mindfulness itself can be interpreted as mind-full, as in fact-gathering, or mindful, as in granting the current experience the respect of full attention.

Some of the facts and experiences that Pollan shares are delightful -- the subculture of mushroom-hunters, for example, itinerants who inhabit the sub-culture of forests in search of their strange crops, or the beauty of the yolk of one fresh, perfect egg. Other facts about the way our industrial/agricultural system grows and harvests its food (our food) (particularly the meats) are so horrific that I can not imagine how they can be legal, no less government-subsidized.
Pollan spares us nothing, neither the horrific nor the beautiful, in this combination of investigative reporting and memoir. Fortunately, he is a personable and reasonable writer who can poke fun at himself without becoming cute. The meal he prepares at the end of the book is not quite what he had intended, since he was forced into some compromises -- the salt he had gathered from the ocean tasted so toxic that it was unusable, for example. It certainly did not tickle my appetite, since the idea of eating any meat, no less from a wild pig, is too revolting to consider! But the point of his meal, the mindfulness of its preparation, can be relished by all.

(Cross-posted from Tea Leaves...)


Monday, June 25, 2007

Mystery of the century!

The Kitchen Boy, A Novel of the Last Tsar, by Robert Alexander, offers a fictional answer to one of the twentieth century's most intriguing mysteries, namely, what really happened to Tsar Nikolai II and his family in July 1918.
That the Tsar was forced to abdicate is historical fact. That the Tsar and Tsaritsa, their four daughters and only son were held under house arrest in Ipatiev House in Siberia for almost two years is fact. It is also fact that all seven, plus four family retainers, were shot in a cellar one gruesome morning by Communist soldiers. But speculation as to details surrounding that mass assassination has swirled ever since then.
Many of us recall the women who, from time to time in the last century, have claimed to be the Grand Duchess Anastasiya, survivor of the Romanov family murders. Ingrid Bergman starred in a movie based on such a premise. Such fancy captures the imagination - - what if?
What if a rescue plan had been launched by loyalists? What if the Russian Imperial family did not all die that cruel morning? Why did a simple execution become an hour long bloodbath? What if some Romanovs managed the improbable and escaped? How could such a thing occur?
Teasing bits of information survived the years and added to the tantalizing speculation: anonymous notes that breathe hope of rescue from unknown quarters, missing jewels which may have been taken by a royal or royal loyalist to finance royal survival, rumors of inconsistencies in the burial site of the family, and - - most enigmatic - - the fact that not all the Romanovs were found when their remains were exhumed.
What became of the missing White Russians? Who was missing? Why? Why was one member of the tiny Romanov retinue whisked away from Ipatiev House just a day before the murders? Could that person have known what really transpired?
Robert Alexander does a competent job in creating the world inside Ipatiev House. Clearly he performed extraordinary research. He writes from the perspective of the kitchen boy who served the family in exile, a boy about the age of the Heir to the throne, Aleksei Nikolaevich. As a domestic servant, Leonka, the kitchen boy, has an inside track on life inside the prison house. He sees the Romanovs not as semi-divine royals, but as a fully human family.

Mr. Alexander adds many authentic touches as he draws the reader a picture of the final two weeks the family lived. Sometimes this makes for tedious reading because of Leonka's position as an observer only, as someone outside the family intimacies, and because the very nature of imprisonment tends to be tedious. To counteract this, Mr. Alexander drops little bits and pieces along the way, then gathers those bits and pieces later to weave both the fictional resolution and the factual incidents.
This book is receiving much praise, and I expect any day to read that the movie rights have been sold. It provided me several hours of diversion during a sleepless night, and would make good vacation reading. If I were to criticize anything, I would say that more colorful details would have made the book even better. Don't just mention late in the book that Ipatiev House is surrounded by two palisades; tell us early on, and tell us how they looked, how they affected air circulation during a stifling summer, how it affected the sounds from outside. Don't just tell us that there was black tea and sour black bread, tell us about the tang and coarseness of the bread, the scorching, strong tannin bite of the tea, the way the fragrance assails the nostrils long before the tea swims past the tongue. I am a reader who loves lush details such as these. They add richness and interest, but they also serve to enhance believability.

Confidential note to Robert Alexander: "seldomly" is not a word.
Because the narrator is an ignorant kitchen boy, his perspective is limited to what is apparent. I suspect The Kitchen Boy will send many readers to their libraries and to the Internet for more information. The Tsar and Tsaritsa are fascinating players on the world history stage. Theirs is a story of Classic Greek tragedy proportions. They engineered their own hard downfall with the very things they did to preserve themselves and their country. Passionately devoted to Russia and to one another, they nevertheless stand accountable for a blood soaked reign.

This book should please mystery-lovers. I can tell you that, despite my best efforts, I did not guess the ending.
For summer entertainment, make yourself some black tea, pour it into a glass (for authenticity, don't use a cup) and pick up Robert Alexander's historical novel.
For further intrigue, you might try to figure out what really happened to the Romanovs. There is, even today, disagreement among the scientists who examined the DNA in the remains as to whether the bones in the grave really are Romanov family members at all. Almost a century later, so many questions remain.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Booking through Thursday

Since school is out for the summer (in most places, at least), here’s a school-themed question for the week:

  1. Do you have any old school books? Did you keep yours from college? Old textbooks from garage sales? Old workbooks from classes gone by?
  2. How about your old notes, exams, papers? Do you save them? Or have they long since gone to the great Locker-in-the-sky?
Old school books - yes, I have some - a collection of Victorian prose, in case I want to dip into Carlyle and Pater again, a book about archetypes in literature for the course I took in Irish literature, a Donald Keene collection of Japanese fiction for a one-person seminar with a professor who was almost too grateful to have a captive student, The Riverside Shakespeare, and various science fiction novels written by women for a dissertation proposal. The novels are the only books I kept from my Masters, which some might find odd, since my Masters is in Library Science, and some might think the texts would have been useful. Some might be wrong wrong wrong.

Notes, exams, papers - some. I have a box of notebooks in the garage from my fifth undergrad stint. (No, I don't have five undergrad degrees. I took the long way.) Since I haven't opened the box since 1974, it's hard to know exactly what's in them, but I imagine I kept the notes from various lit courses, and from the only course I've ever taken that actually changed the way I think: biomedical ethics.


Booking Through Thursday, 21.June

"School Days, Golden Rule Days
"Since school is out for the summer (in most places, at least), here’s a school-themed question for the week:
"Do you have any old school books? Did you keep yours from college? Old textbooks from garage sales? Old workbooks from classes gone by?
"How about your old notes, exams, papers? Do you save them? Or have they long since gone to the great Locker-in-the-sky? "

I have only memories from my school days. I sold college texts and never kept other assorted school papers or books. What with moving house several times, experiencing a house fire, vandalism, thefts and weather-related damages to my possessions, I have little of anything that predates the past year or two. Perhaps my lesson is to lessen, that is to say that perhaps it is good for me to decrease my attachment to possessions.
I never kept much besides high school year books, anyway. I miss those yearbooks, but I don't miss lugging them - - and all my other many erstwhile mementos - - from home to home, then searching for places to put them. What I miss most are (1) the dictionary my grandmother gave me, and the Shakespeare collection my mother gave me, both as high school graduation gifts, and (2) the science fiction short story a friend and I wrote in high school, starring our set of friends and a few faculty members.

(submitted by Moon Rani)

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Booking through Thursday

  1. Do you cheat and peek ahead at the end of your books? Or do you resolutely read in sequence, as the author intended?
  2. And, if you don’t peek, do you ever feel tempted?

I'd like to say no, I don't cheat, because I'd like to honor the intent of the author. After all, she labored to put the words and sentences into a particular sequence to express her own particular and linear storyline, whether fictional or not.

However -

I do cheat, though not if I'm reading a mystery - what would be the point of spoiling the ending of a mystery?

I cheat a lot when I'm reading nonfiction - especially biographies - by attacking the index and plates before anything else. I make up for this egregious sin, however - I read every word of acknowledgements!


"Dessert First"

Booking Through Thursday, 14.June
"Do you cheat and peek ahead at the end of your books? Or do you resolutely read in sequence, as the author intended?
"And, if you don’t peek, do you ever feel tempted? "

I never - - but never - - peek ahead at my books. Well, there was yesterday, when I saw an intriguing chapter title further ahead in my book...and again while flipping to that page, a word on another page caught my eye, so I skipped ahead there, too...then there are the times when the book is so bad or so dull that I know I won't waste time finishing it, so I look at the ending. But, no! I absolutely, positively never peek ahead.
(submitted by Moon Rani)

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Summer coolers

Longtime readers of this blog know that I, Moon Rani, submit reviews of teas as well of books, being true to the name of the blog. Today I shall expand the definition of tea to conform with current standards, but first, a confession: I am a purist in the realm of camelia senensis. I know that most people call an herbal tisane a "tea," but I don't. I can't help it, really, it's just that I'm a born snob.
But for this post, "herbal tea" it is. When I cannot indulge in one more drop of a caffeinated drink, I do, on occasion, make herbal tea. The herbals I have at this time are from the "big boys" in the herbal tea world, Celestial Seasonings. I recall thinking myself sophisticated the first time I found and tried a CS product. It was popular among my set of female friends. We loved the colorful boxes with their quotations and fun illustrations. We loved having something different to the usual tea. CS teas seemed exotic then, and far outside our small, suburban norm.
Today I think of Celestial Seasonings as a maker of reliable, flavorful herbal teas. They offer a bounty of varieties to please most people. I am less fond of the "zinger" flavors, but I like many others.
When Housemate, who gets hot when temperatures rise above 65'F, was looking for an alternative to ice water, I turned to longtime friend, Celestial Seasonings.
First I brewed a pitcherful of True Blueberry. After it cooled, I loaded it with frozen mixed berries instead of ice. What a pretty alternative that was! Housemate had little hearts in his eyes - - for this iced tea. Once home from work, he heads directly for the refrigerator for a long, cool draught of True Blue Tea.
All that drinking led to the inevitable - - we ran out! Not to worry, however. Today I followed the same procedure with Tropic of Strawberry. It's in the fridge chilling even as I write. Soon I shall pour a shower of frozen berries into the pitcher, and serve it up to Housemate. It's small payment for his washing my car today.
I recommend, wholeheartedly, your making your summer cooler with herbal tea this summer. I promise you will be delighted with shivery coolness from your first sip! We like our tea without sweetening, but adding a splash of honey to the tea when it is hot and brewing would make a delicious drink even more so. Once I have my large pot of mint thriving, I'll add some fresh sprigs to one flavor or another when it has cooled. My next iced herbal tea shall be Country Apple Spice, also from Celestial Seasonings. I'm thinking I'll add cinnamon sticks and frozen apple slices, skins on, to that one.
Oh, and should you be asked to provide something for a refreshment table or a picnic, take an iced herbal tea. It's simplicity itself, yet so tasty. Depending on your plans, you could serve it in a clear pitcher or in a punch bowl. Add frozen fruit, or make an ice ring from the tea and add fruit to that. Edible flowers make striking additions to ice rings, too.
For another time and another post: the sensuous delights of chilled masala tea!
Here I raise my glass and say, "Cheers!" as I close this post.
(submitted by Moon Rani)