My Aunt Connie gave me a short stack of Josephine Tey mysteries when I was a teenager, informing me succinctly that "These are smarter," as she gestured at the Agatha Christie in which I was engrossed. And she was of course correct as she always seemed to be in her book recommendations to me. I had little clue at fifteen what it was exactly about Tey that appealed to me. I only knew that I felt more adult-like reading the books which is, of course, everything to a teenage girl. It would be a few years before I realized that Tey (a pseudonym for Elizabeth Mackintosh) wrote books where the stereotypical components of murder mysteries were remote concerns when compared with her probing psychological insights into her characters. I felt more like an adult because I was given access to the inner workings of more mature minds through her books.
An Expert in Murder by Nicola Upson is the first in a series of mysteries (of which two have been published so far) in which a semi-fictionalized Tey is the protagonist. The novel begins with Tey traveling on the train from her home in Scotland to London to be in attendance for the final week of her hit play Richard of Bordeaux. She is taken with the simple charms of a young fan who approaches her, and spends the duration of the trip in conversation with the girl. When the girl is murdered shortly after arriving in London, Tey becomes embroiled in the investigation as the path to solution weaves through some atmospheric and charming descriptions of post World War I theatre life in London.
The elegant prose and even pacing would be enough here to satisfy most mystery readers, but these attributes are secondary to Upson's real achievement here - echoing the language and penetrating character development of Tey's mysteries. Many reviews have made comparisons between Upson's writing in this novel and the writing of P.D. James. I have not read enough of James to say whether or not this is true, but I have read enough of Tey to wonder if perhaps both James and Upson owe a bit to their predecessor at least stylistically, and in the case of Upson, for subject matter as well.
Everything is filtered through the sadness of loss in An Expert in Murder but it is not the current crimes being investigated that form the bulk of that hollowness experienced by almost all of the characters. It is the shadow of World War I. This mystery serves as a device through which the characters attempt to exorcise those ghosts. For this sensitive treatment of what could have been commonplace analysis, I would have enjoyed the book, but when coupled with the aspects of tribute to a favorite writer, I couldn't put it down. Hopefully, time will permit me to get to the second installment, Angel With Two Faces, soon.
If these images are calling out to you, click over to Cara Barer's website and navigate through her portfolio. You are in for a true visual treat. She assures us all that "no important books have been injured during the making of any of these photographs." Now, of course, I am lusting after the Striphas book too whose content assures us that the printed word will not disappear, just morph a bit. Good thing I already have the Greenberg or my wish list would have grown by two. The Siphas is available now and the Greenberg will be available September 8. One more image:
Today I am deep into the fourth part of 2666 as part of a shared read. The gruesome nature of the crimes is beginning to weigh on me a bit, and the temptation to skim through graphic detail is growing. But I won't. I think. Think of me. Eeeek. Ever been engaged and repulsed by a book at the same time?
NOTE: Cara Barer was kind enough to stop by and comment (very exciting):
"Hey, thanks! Appreciate all this attention. However, everyone seems to have missed the ones that came before these two latest covers. "Bound to Please," by Michael Dirda, and also you probably wouldn't know about this one - "Method and Madness," by Alice La Plante (a textbook/how to write a story)" Cara
So, Weekly Geeksters, tell us, do you have a collection, (or are you starting a collection,) of one particular book title? If so, what's your story? Why that book, and how many do you have, and what editions are they? Share pictures and give us all the details.
This is a lovely and inspiring idea - to collect all available (and possibly unavailable) editions of a beloved book. If I were to do this, I would go for a giant collection of Roald Dahl works or maybe various editions of The Damnation of Theron Ware by Harold Frederic, one of my favorite books and the subject of my graduate thesis in English literature. But at the current time, I have no collection plans or carefully culled assemblage with which to wow you here. What I have are my accidental collections.
Come on, don't you have accidental one title collections of your own? Everyone has five editions of Jane Eyre and four of Swann's Way, right? And the really sad part, my book loving friends? These photos represent just two random examples of my accidental collections. Maybe I required a specific edition for academic work. Maybe I fell in love with the UK cover of a book after already acquiring the US edition. Maybe I was young and moving about, and forgot I already had a few copies of something left at the parental digs. Maybe I am just the most unlibrarianish of librarians.
Do you have a one title collection story of your own? Feel free to share here and over at Weekly Geeks. And please tell me you have accidental collections of your own. I will feel less guilt.
All the kids came back to the school where I work yesterday. And quite a few new ones to boot. The first week of school is exciting, crazy, happy, frustrating, full of hugs and kisses, and guaranteed to leave a teacher temporarily sleep deprived. We just want to get it right, to deliver the best of ourselves for these great kids. But we rarely say that out loud for fear that either it won't happen as we hope or we will be thought of as a bunch of mushballs (a word I heard uttered today to describe a very emotional classmate). So please excuse the temporarily spotty blogging as I spend a few days occupied at the bottom of this slide. Happy reading everyone!
I think just about every reader has a least one book that they've been meaning to read for awhile (months or even years) but, for one reason or another, they just haven't gotten around to it. Maybe it's a book a friend recommended last year, or a title you've flirted with in a bookstore on more than one occasion, or maybe it's a book that's sitting right there on your bookshelf, patiently waiting for you to pick it up -- but the thought is always there, in the back of your mind: Why haven't I read this yet?
This week, tell us about a book (or books) you have been meaning to read. What is it? How long have you wanted to read it? And, why haven't you read it yet?
Sigh. This list is so long but three titles jump immediately to mind. Books that I own, and still have not read. The first, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance has been on my shelves so long that I can't even remember when I acquired it. The second two, The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo and The Enchantress of Florence, were purchased in hardcover the weeks of their release because I simply had to have them immediately. So of course I have yet to read them. And they are now out in paperback.
Some will answer this today, and not own the titles they list. Then, I suspect, there will be even more, like me, who own the titles they have long meant to read. And why do we buy books and then not read them for quite a while or maybe never? Treats for ourselves? A type of consumerism we can't free ourselves from? A feeling that if we own the book then we will not forget it amongst all the other books that cross our path? Sometimes when the subject matter appeals to me, I just want to own the book as a means of connecting to the idea and sometimes as a means of connecting to the book as object. A feeling of satisfaction I still cannot imagine deriving from a Kindle. Holding that desired books in your hands. Again the Basbanes, A gentle madness.
The updates on the Penguin UK blog are not frequent but always engaging. Check out this entry to reveal, among other things, how a simple sketch like the one above becomes this design concept:
Then interpreted in this manner:
Before all components meld in this proof:
Fascinating to me. Not even that thrilled with the final product, but just enjoy seeing the process. Go read the whole post by Penguin Press art director, Jim Stoddard for insights and more interesting images.
Bookaholism is an uninspired idea but Geek the Library is, to my mind, exceptionally appealing. OCLC, with a fistful of Gates Foundation money, launched pilot programs in Georgia and Iowa as a community-based public awareness campaign for public libraries. Hop over to the sight and peek around at the great images, and take a moment to sign the geek wall. I see all kinds of fun applications possible here. For instance, what kid wouldn't love to see his face on a poster like this in his school with his choice of what he geeks? The message is clear though. No matter what you geek, your local library has got your back. Love it.
There was a book on top of my husband's commuter backpack this morning, encased in one of the very bright, patterned book sox my daughter likes. It was The Time Traveler's Wife. Seems that the husband wants to read the book before we see the movie, but does not want to be SEEN reading it on the train. So cute it really makes me love him even more. (Oops - he does not appreciate being described as "cute," so please don't tell him.) Have you read a book recently that you would prefer no one knew about? Or are you planning to read something on the sly in the near future? (Think Dan Brown.)
Luxe, calme, et volupte - richness, calm, and pleasure. That which Baudelaire describes as a state of bliss, and Michael Steinberger invokes in the introduction to Au Revoir to All That: Food, Wine, and the End of France. Tomorrow, I will be back at school preparing for the following week's arrival of the wee ones, but today, I still have the possibility of those three beautiful words as I finish Steinberger's fascinating and personal look into the demise of French cuisine. And cook a little. And open that promising bottle of petite syrah that keeps whispering my name.
Many foodies were discontent with the now wildly popular Julie and Julia because it was less about the food than the author's personal journey - cooking through a crisis in a way. If you were among those searching for the devotional descriptions of sole or the near euphoric state achieved in the consumption of artisanal cheese, consider this passage from Au Revoir to All That:
"... the real magic ... had lain in the ordinary, the routine - in the quotidian act of taking impeccable ingredients and swiftly, respectfully turning them into food of the most glorious quality. In Savoy's account, this was not merely cooking; it was ritual suffused with beauty and spirituality. Consider, he said, a freshly caught turbot that has just arrived in the kitchen. 'It is a fat, perfect turbot - magnificent to look at, to smell, to touch. It is maybe twenty or thirty years old, with a story of its own. In a matter of minutes, we entirely change its story. We cut it, we season it, we cook it; we instantly turn something that was completely primordial into something refined and sensual; a thing of pleasure. This transformation - for me, that was the magic.' "
In other food related pleasure this week, friend Molly and I finally made it to see Julie and Julia. But just barely. In typical Molly and Frances fashion, we were browsing the food memoir section at the bookstore, caught up in all the possibilities when my husband called to inform me that our movie was starting at 7:15, not the 7:45 start time that we had thought. It was 7:15. Mad dash through checkout (you can't actually leave the bookstore without books can you?) and over to the movie. Just starting but it was pitch black in there - couldn't see a thing. So in a theatre of lush, comfy seats, we somehow wound up in folding chairs in the back row by the handicapped accessible section. Hilarious. But in minutes, we were both so into the film that we did not notice the chairs. I loved this movie. For many reasons but especially because it celebrates the joy found in simple pleasures against the backdrop of life's more challenging moments.
So, for the moment, I am celebrating those simple pleasures that are easily undervalued - food, friends, family, quiet moments caught in a book reading about other people's pursuits of simple pleasures (kind of funny when I think about it). Keep looking at Gourmet Rhapsody and wondering if that is where I will read next. Continuing the trip through culinary France.
Giveaway copy of Richard Russo's That Old Cape Magic by Richard Russo is up for grabs courtesy of the lovely folks at Knopf. Just comment here by August 31 with your favorite beach for a chance to win. Ship anywhere. See my thoughts here or go to dozens of other review sites for a peek into this book of the moment. Good luck!