Monday Miscellany (Moving! Books! Nature!)

Hello there, dear readers, assuming there are any of you left after my months of silence!  Never one to overburden others with my written words (many, many years of turning out legal tootle on schedule finally induced me to take pity on myself and others in this respect), I was nevertheless shocked, positively shocked, to see that it’s been almost three months since I’ve posted anything on my moribund little blog.  However did the blogosphere survive my absence?  (Rest assured that my question here is satirical!)  Although I’ve not been posting I have spent the last few weeks catching up on my blog reading and have no doubt annoyed some of you very much indeed by leaving long, rambling comments on your blogs.  You may consider yourself revenged by the fact that your excellent reviews have caused me to add several new peaks to my own Mount TBR of unread books.  I’ve simply lacked the energy and concentration, however, to contribute to the online bookish discussion by writing my own reviews.  But all this is slowly, slowly changing, now that life is settling down and the boxes are (mostly) unpacked.  Because I’ve practically forgotten how to type, much less arrange my thoughts in a coherent structure, I thought I’d ease myself back into things through the forgiving medium of a “miscellany” rather than a formal book review (hopefully the latter will start trickling in during the next few weeks, as I’ve been reading some lovely things).

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A collection of most (not all) of the things I’ve read this year, beginning way, way back in January.  Although I enjoyed some more than others (surprise), there really isn’t a dud in the stack . . . more below!

Because the following sections are totally unrelated to each other, if you find one boring you aren’t missing a thing by scrolling down to the next.

A.   MOVING (of most interest to those having a sadistic turn of mind)

Have you ever moved, dear reader?  I don’t mean a student move, where you leave the plant at your mom’s, stuff the dirty undies (would one say “knickers” in the U.K. or is this term dated? If you’re British, please enlighten me here) in your backpack and — presto! — off you go!  I mean a real, honest-to-god move involving a houseful of furniture; several thousand books; three snarling, foul-tempered cats who were perfectly happy in their old home and a stressed out Mr. Janakay.  If you’ve done this, or something comparable, you can understand the trauma of my last twelve months, in which I’ve moved twice, the first a long-distance move to temporary quarters followed just recently by a move to my new and hopefully permanent home, thankfully located in the same city as my temporary abode.  After surviving these physical relocations, and living out of boxes and suitcases for almost fourteen months, I can truthfully say “never again, dear reader, never again!”

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A would-be deserter from the family unit, which is preparing to move from temporary to permanent quarters.  Not to worry, dear reader, Maxine reconsidered her escape plans and was scooped up and moved with her little feline frenemies!
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Percy says “you can move these stupid birds if you want, Janakay!  I’m not going anywhere!”  Unbeknownst to Percy the horrors of the cat carrier awaited him . . . .
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My new kitchen, three weeks before move-in date.  Not to worry, however, as R., the kitchen guy, assured me he’d return to finish up as soon as he completed his second quarantine period (R. has many relatives who love large family gatherings . . . . .  not the best strategy during a pandemic).  All did in fact go well, after move-in dates were adjusted a couple of times!
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My new home at last!  Surely those boxes will unpack themselves?
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Just when needed most, professional help arrives!
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A major reason for all this moving business:  new shelves!  Miles and . . .
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miles of new shelves!  And what do new shelves need, dear book bloggers?  If you have to ponder the answer you should definitely take up another hobby!
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Slowly, slowly, progress is made.  Fiction is generally arranged alphabetically by author’s last name but how to organize the art books?  Alphabetical by artist doesn’t quite work . . . .
Completion at last!  (Well, mostly. There are still a few boxes of unpacked books in the garage.)
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As we adjust to our new home, we’re each finding our favorite space.  Although Percy enjoys watching basketball in a mild kind of way, he’s far more interested in sitting under the TV than watching it when a boring old baseball game is in progress  . . . .
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As life settles down, we’re also beginning to indulge again in our favorite activities, which in Maxine’s case involves going off on a little toot now & again (the pink thing is stuffed with catnip, to which she is quite addicted).
Despite many fundamental differences among members of the household (we disagree, for example, on whether new rugs make the best claw sharpeners), we do agree on one thing: moving is totally exhausting and requires a really good recovery nap!

B.  Books Old and Books New; Books Read, Unread and (Maybe) Never to be Read

Despite the difficulties of the last two months or so, I did manage to keep reading.  After all, isn’t that what we’re all about?  Admittedly, there were disappointments; these primarily centered on my sheer inability to write any reviews for the Japanese Literature in Translation or Independent Publishers months despite reading a few books for both events.  Ah, well, that’s what next year is for, isn’t it?  My reading choices this year have been all over the place, or perhaps more accurately, more all over the plan than usual (if you’ve read my blog at all, you can see that my taste tends to be, ahem, “eclectic”).  As my opening photo demonstrates,  my little pile of completed books includes pop pulp (The Godfather, special 50th anniversary edition); a few classics (Henry James’ Spoils of Poynton and Saki’s The Unbearable Bassington); a little literature in translation (Sayaka Murata’s Earthlings, for example) and a few fairly obscure offerings from an independent publisher or two, prompted by Kaggsy’s February event (Doon Arbus’ The Caretaker, published by New Directions, is a good example here).  During the worst of my move I spent a great deal of time with Joe Abercrombie, an inexplicable choice, no doubt, to those who don’t share my taste for his fantastical grimdark world.  What can I say?  You either like this stuff or you don’t and, honestly, it was light relief to turn from movers, boxes and home contractors with Covid-19 problems to the exploits of Glotka the torturer.  Although I generally enjoyed everything in my pile, some choices were particularly rewarding:

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My first book of the New Year, completed on January 4th.  Although I generally struggle a bit with short stories, Matsuda’s (translator Polly Barton) feminist, idiosyncratic and original treatments of Japanese folk tales deserved its glowing reviews.  Added bonus:  publisher is Soft Skull Press, a small indy publisher “at war with the obvious” since 1992 and located in New York City.
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Jean Stafford has been one of my great discoveries this year.  After years of dodging The Mountain Lion, her best known novel, I read The Catherine Wheel on a whim.  It’s a family drama set in the upper class New England of the 1930s and displays to the full Stafford’s elegant style, eye for character and ability to evoke atmosphere.  A proper review is coming (sometime) on this one.
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Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet was my first encounter with a surrealist literary work.  Although I was mildly apprehensive at first, I soon settled in for a wild adventure with a nonagenarian like no other, a cross-dressing abbess, the goddess Venus and the Holy Grail.  As subversive as it’s wildly funny, I hope to review it in the next few months.
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Despite some ambivalence about Elizabeth Bowen (there are times when she’s just a bit too refined for my taste), I’ve been slowly but steadily working my way through her novels.  Eva Trout, Bowen’s final novel published in 1970, turned out to be one of my favorites. Very, very funny in some spots, tragic in others and with some very heavy things to say about communication, or lack thereof, among its characters.  Put this one on your Elizabeth Bowen list.
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Anita Brookner’s The Misalliance was a trip down memory lane, as I first read it shortly after its publication in the late 1980s.  Jacquiwine has been doing some incredible reviews of Brookner’s novels, which prompted me to pull this old favorite down from its home on my new shelves.  Blanche Vernon, an excellent woman of a certain age, consoles herself with a little too much wine and lots of visits to London’s National Gallery after losing her husband to a much younger rival (pet name: “Mousey”).  I enjoyed Brookner’s elegant style and dry wit as much this time around as I did initially and can’t wait until Jacquiwine’s review!

Although I have (almost literally) tons of books I want to get through this year as a result of various challenges, I have two or three in particular that I’ve added to my 2021 list:

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I’ve been eagerly following Simon’s reviews of the British Library’s Women Writers series.  Although all the titles look great,  I’m particularly eager to try Rose Macauly’s Dangerous Ages.  On a different note entirely (remember!  I said my tastes were ecletic) is Damon Galgut’s The Promise, a family saga/fable set in contemporary South Africa.  I first “met” Galgut in 2010, when I read his haunting and beautiful novel, In A Strange Room, short listed for that year’s Booker.  Despite my good intentions, I have never managed to get back to his work.  As for Paula Fox, I’ve been intending to sample her novels for ages now and I’m resolved to begin this year with her highly acclaimed and best known work!

Are any of you, dear readers, fans of Proust?  If so, you absolutely owe it to yourself to at least spend an hour or so with:

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I’m sure I’m the last Proust fan on the planet to be aware of this book, which I happened upon while browsing on that internet platform we all love to hate. Pricey, but worth every penny, it’s a wonderful way to dip into and out of Proust’s great masterpiece.  I’ve paired it with Mr. Janakay’s great photo of a Blackburnian warbler, which I’ll miss seeing for the second year in a row because of the pandemic.  Why this particular pairing?  The Proust reminds me that even a plague year has some compensations . . . .

Visual art was very important to Proust (“My book is a painting”), which is readily apparent from the literally hundreds of artists and paintings discussed at various points by the many, many characters who appear, disappear and reappear in In Search of Lost Time.  Karpeles’ “visual companion” groups these many art works into chapters that correspond to Proust’s volumes; each entry has a brief introduction, a long quotation from the relevant passage in Proust and an illustration of the art, usually in color.  Did you know, for example, that Swann “had the nerve to try and make” the Duc de Guermantes buy a painting “of a bundle of asparagus  . . .  exactly like the ones” the Duc and his guest were having for dinner?  Quelle horreur!  Thanks to Karpeles, you can see (and compare) Manet’s rejected Bundle of Asparagus with the Duc’s preferred painting, a “little study by M. Vibert” of a “sleek prelate who’s making his little dog do tricks.”  Guess what, dear readers?  The Duc should have followed Swann’s advice!

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There’s a very good introduction, notes and an index listing the artists alphabetically and keyed to three different Proust editions.  It’s been many years since I’ve read Proust and I’d forgotten the wonders of In Search of Lost Time.  After a few hours of browsing Karpeles, however, I’m tempted to re-read at least a volume or two.  After all, there are several different editions!

On a last Proustian note:  The New Yorker recently did a very good piece on “Conjuring the Music of Proust’s Salons,” in which Alex Ross reviews two recent recordings paying homage to an actual concert organized by Proust on July 1, 1907.  Since Proust was as attuned to music as he was to literature and visual art, both recordings sound very interesting indeed.  The New Yorker has, alas, a pay wall, but if you haven’t clicked too much this month the article is available at https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2021/03/22/conjuring-the-music-of-prousts-salons.

C.  Nature

What’s a miscellany without a few nature photos, thanks to Mr. J?  Although I miss some of the parks and preserves that were reasonably accessible to my old home, my new one is located little more than a mile (about 1.5 km) from a nature preserve and some very lovely scenery.  Nothing dramatic, you understand, or particularly historic (if you crave history and/or dramatic scenery, you should pop over and read about some of Simon’s lovely excursions) but still — nice.

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The nature preserve’s boardwalk as viewed from the observation tower, the only high spot around in a very flat landscape! The basic circuit is around three miles (close to 5km) and there’s always something to see . . . .
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A view from the boardwalk, across the salt marsh. Unfortunately, the bird in the tree is too far away to make out, but I always see numerous ospreys and a variety of herons and egrets when doing the circuit; if I’m lucky, there’s the occasional kingfisher as well.
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If you look closely, you can see the large great blue heron standing in the water.

If you’ve read this far, dear readers, you  no doubt agree with me that it’s time for this particular miscellany to end.  I hope to post a real review later on in the week; until then au revoir.

15 thoughts on “Monday Miscellany (Moving! Books! Nature!)

  1. Enjoyed reading your post! Welcome back! You’ve had your hands full with the move. The bookshelves look great. We recently renovated a room and had built in bookshelves made. I can imagine your joy in filling them up with your treasures.

    As a Proust fan and also someone who has an interest in art history, I am intrigued by “ Paintings in Proust” and will definitely add it to my TBR list.

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    1. Dear LG: thanks for the “welcome back” as I do indeed feel like I’ve been living in limbo for a few months. I am definitely enjoying my new bookshelves. It’s an incredible luxury to have room for books (after many frustrating years of not having room for the books). There WAS a small downside, however — there actually IS some empty space, which I found to be quite traumatic as this has never before occurred!
      Given your combined interest in Proust and visual art, I’d definitely recommend checking out Karpeles’ Visual Companion. It’s lot of fun to just dip and choose, put aside and dip again when there’s a few minutes — like spreading out nibbles of delicious little bonbons. It’s also an easy way to recall just how wonderful Proust’s writing can be.

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  2. Goodness me – how stressful! The idea of moving terrifies me (because of all the books, of course) and I hope you and Mr. J and the feline posse have now settled in. Those shelves are just wonderful, though – I long for more dedicated space instead of shelves in various spare and ex-children’s bedrooms. Your local area looks lovely, though…

    And I was very intrigued to see you’d read a book translated by Polly Barton; I just finished reading her fascinating memoir of her travels in Japan the country and Japanese the language – “Fifty Sounds”. A review will be up later this week but it’s an absorbing read! 😀

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  3. Moving the books was indeed a terrifying thought, so much so that it delayed the relocation project by at least a couple of years (until the “now or never” point!). The shelves are indeed wonderful. This is the first time I’ve had a real, dedicated “book space” and I’m enjoying every minute (imagine, if you can bear to, me unpacking my books at midnight, fondling each one as I shelve it in alphabetical order). We are all slowly recovering, although the cat posse is being a bit difficult about the rugs. I don’t know why I bother to contest the matter, as they always win.
    I very much look forward to your review on Barton’s book. I’d read something about “Fifty Sounds” and thought it sounded very interesting, then promptly forgot about it. How exciting to learn that she’s Matsuda’s translator! Judging from Wild Women, she’s wonderful at the job and I’ll be very interested to hear more about her.

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    1. Hi Nan! So glad you enjoyed the post; I actually had fun writing it (not always the case, as I’m a slow, tortured-type writer) especially my little barbed comments about the cats (believe me, they’ll get their revenge!) I really do love my shelves (the cats, too, but . . .) which for us bookish types are a luxury beyond belief. I especially enjoy them because, at one point, some of my books were in a storage unit; the shelves compensate a great deal for a stressful move.
      Wasn’t Convenience Store Woman an incredible read? I discovered it last year, during the Japanese Lit in Translation month. As you said, it’s not quite like anything else. Like you, I enjoyed it a great deal but I did find it quite unsettling in some respects. “Earthlings” is somewhat along the same lines, i.e., how outlier personalties fit, or don’t, into the demands of a society that’s alien to them. Although it’s just as funny in spots as “Convenience Store” It’s much, much darker in tone and IMO not quite at the level of “Convenience Store.” It’s definitely worth checking out if you like Murata but it does have a gruesome aspect and the ending didn’t quite work for me.
      I checked out your painting at the Currier Museum and have to agree that it looks quite similar to the one favored by Monsieur le Duc! All that red, maybe?

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  4. Love all the photos Janakay, especially the beautiful book shelves. I have been so terrible about visiting blogs lately, I am only seeing this now. : ( I have a copy of Dangerous Ages as well. Maybe I will read it for the “Classic by a woman author” category of the Back to the Classics Challenge 2021…

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  5. Hi Ruthiella — I’ve missed you! So glad you’ve stopped by! I know exactly what you mean about visiting the blogs, as I basically took a very long break myself and am only slowly working my way back into things.
    I’m glad you liked the photos, which show the area around my new home at its absolute best. There’s a great deal of commercial (over) development here, which is anything but scenic. I prefer to ignore when possible.
    I do love my shelves. Sometimes at night I’ll just go into the room, flip on the track lighting and gloat. If I’m being super energetic, I then fondle a book or two. For a book blogger, lots of books with adequate shelving is as good as it gets.
    I still haven’t gotten to “Dangerous Ages,” which really looks great. I do hope you review it, as I always enjoy your reviews — you have an incredible way of just getting to the essence of a book, which I very much envy. I did notice that the British Library has now added Diana Tutton’s novel “Mamma” to the series, which looks even better. Then Sylvia Townsend Warner week is coming up and I very much want to read at least one of her novels and then . . . well, you know how it goes!

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  6. I very much enjoyed reading this, especially seeing another cat called Percy! Our Percy is more of a mog, a tabby-and-white, much larger than his sister, Willa, a plain brown tabby, both the offspring of a kitten herself. And our last move was 15 years ago but I recall the horrors very well. I do like all that shelving, however!

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    1. Ohhhh how exciting! Another feline Percy in the universe. My own cats are muts (I think this is the U.S. equivalent of “mog”), obviously some Siamese but with other indefinable admixtures to give that rather scruffy coat. Florida Percy, I am happy to say, likes his new environment very much. Instead of sleeping his usual 22 hours a day, he now spends most of his time watching a crack in the fence around the patio, hoping for a lizard (we haven’t told him we’ve cut off his supply).
      I love tabbies but wasn’t ever able to get one. There is, however, a very nice tabby across the street of my new house who is paying regularly visits.
      Glad you like the shelves. I am in still in a state of awe and wonder about them myself. No more books stored under the bed!!!
      As for moving — never again . . . . .

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  7. Just got round to reading this fully: thanks for the link to my blog. What exciting birdlife! I’m happy to say I haven’t moved house for 17 years – didn’t enjoy the experience, so don’t intend repeating it. As for your query about ‘knickers’ (don’t think I saw any other English comments on this): yes, this is the standard term used here for that particular ladies’ undergarment…There’s a nice expression: ‘don’t get your knickers in a twist’, meaning something like, calm down, don’t get agitated about this.

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  8. No thanks necessary, Simon. For lovely scenery, not to mention great reviews, it’s very difficult to top your blog. I am,BTW, very envious of that dramatic landscape of yours. Mr. J’s photos in this post show the absolute best available around here — I spared y’all photos of the tourist shops and strip malls.
    Moving was indeed horrible. I will not move again. Ever (“god willin’ and the crick don’t rise” as we say back home. That’s a southern U.S. expression!)
    The bird life in Florida is pretty good. You will always see something, usually a big wading or sea bird (herons, egrets, brown pelicans, that kind of thing) with a scattering of something unusual if you’re lucky. For the last few days, for example, Roseate Spoonbills have been hanging around this preserve. They’re big, pink and slow moving. Perfect. https://charlestonmag.com/features/follow_the_colorful_life_of_the_roseate_spoonbill
    I am relieved to know that the term “knickers” is still being used. Thanks for enlightening me on this point. I get most of my British slang from reading and, since some of the things I read date from the early 19th century, I never know if they’re still common usage! I suspect that Tallyho, old chap probably isn’t! (LOL)

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