I know it’s been a while, but I’ve actually used my “time off” productively. I’ve read a slew of books — more books than I have in a while, and that can only be a Good Thing.
First off, I finally got to re-start (and then finish) The Cello Suites by Eric Siblin. It’s outstanding. Siblin is a former rock writer for the Montréal Gazette who, when he discovered Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, became obsessed with them. He traveled the world to learn more about Bach, the Suites themselves and Pablo Casals, who found a copy in a tiny music shop in Barcelona in the late 19th century and gave them back to the world. Bach has long been my favorite composer and, while I prefer his orchestral work to these Suites, the book is a great read. Here is an interview with Silbin at Harper’s that includes some clips of Casals playing the Suites.
Next up was R.A. Dickey’s memoir, Wherever I Wind Up. Dickey is the sole knuckleballer left in the major leagues, but that’s only a small part of who he is as a person. He had a rather awful childhood, and it affected him until he was able to get help facing the demons. I love him as a Met, and have a lot of respect for him as a man since I learned more about him. And, speaking of the Mets, they are looking so much better than anyone (including yours truly) could have predicted. As of right now, they are 5 games over .500 and are only 2 games back of the division-leading Nationals. As of right now, life is good, and I am actually looking forward to seeing them play the Rays next month. Hopefully the good times will continue and they won’t embarrass the Blue-and-Orange faithful who are going to convene at the Trop next month.
Then there was Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey by Fiona, Countess of Carnarvon. I’m not sure why they call her “Lady”Almina, considering she was not the daughter of a Duke, an Earl or a Marquess, but the mistake was not just for the North American market. The title of this book is the same in the UK, which truly boggles my mind. Anyway, once I forgot the title, I could get interested in the book. I liked it. Almina Wombwell was a Countess of Carnarvon at the turn of the last century. She was the illegitimate daughter of Marie Wombwell and Alfred Rothschild. Her mother was married, but everyone knew that she and Rothschild were “an item” and that Almina was their daughter. He was officially her godfather, but he left her his entire estate, and also gave her the enormous dowry that enabled her to marry the Earl. This particular Earl of Carnarvon was avid Egyptologist and played a role in discovering King Tut’s tomb. So, why is the title Lady Almina and the Real Downton Abbey? Because Highclere Castle, which plays Downton Abbey in the series, is the ancestral home of the Earls of Carnarvon.
As a follow-up to this, I read through Jessica Fellowes’s book The World of Downton Abbey. This book talks about the series Downton Abbey but in terms of what would have happened to the characters in real life. For example, what were a footman’s duties? What uniform did a housemaid wear? Etc. I already knew a lot of the material covered, but for those who don’t, I think the book is worth reading.
I’ve mentioned before that Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God is one of my comfort reads. Before it went into storage, I read it at least once a year. Unfortunately for me, I’ve only been able to read it once (via interlibrary loan) since I moved here. I’ll have to see about buying a paperback to tide me over until I can get my original copy back in my hands. Winner’s latest, Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis is a completely different experience. It’s more about re-finding God than finding Him in the first place. Since Girl Meets God, Winner has gotten married, lost her mother, gotten divorced and lost her way spiritually. She’s now an ordained priest in the Episcopal church and a professor at the Duke Divinity School, and her mid-faith crisis was especially discombobulating. Most people of faith have gone through a period when they aren’t sure God is really there, including priests and professors of divinity. This book is not quite a memoir, and not a self-help book either. It didn’t affect me as much as Girl Meets God, but I do think I will read it again at some point to see what else I can get out of it.
In an example of perfect timing, just as I was ready to start Andrew Ferguson’s Crazy U, I learned that the library was ready to lend me a copy of Natural Woman, Carole King’s memoir. In short, I loved it. I have been a fan of King’s music for decades, and could hardly wait to read her story. OK, so she glosses over a few things, but not the things I cared about. She doesn’t go into detail about how she and Gerry Goffin “had to get married” while she was a 17-year-old student at Queens College. All I cared about was learning about how and why they created the music. It’s always been about the music for me. As for the music, I also downloaded Carole King’s Legendary Demos from iTunes. I’d never heard her sing some of these songs before (such as “Pleasant Valley Sunday,” or “Crying in the Rain”), and it’s a real treat to be able to hear the writer’s take on songs that other artists turned into classics.
There is, however, a book that has more personal details about King’s life, and I took that out of the library as I was returning Natural Woman. This one is Girls Like Us, by Sheila Weller. It deals with 3 of the great women singer-songwriters of our era: Carole King, Joni Mitchell and Carly Simon. It contains more intimate details of these women’s lives than does Natural Woman, but it doesn’t appear to be unauthorized, so I imagine that the stories are all true. I’m only about 1/4 of the way through, and am finding it thoroughly engrossing.
I’m still waiting for the library to tell me that Victoria Thompson’s latest, Murder on Fifth Avenue, is ready for me to pick up. I’ll report back when I’m done with it.
Another thing I want to do is to get back to stitching. There are times when stitching helps me clear my mind of work-related stress; it’s nice to be able to put aside the craziness I deal with every day and to spend my time concentrating on creating something beautiful. I’m also looking into buying my own place, and have been scouring various websites and newspaper articles to see what’s out there that answers my 2 basic questions: 1) can I afford it and 2) is the neighborhood safe?