Now that Spanish Lit Month is winding down, and Women’s Lit in Translation Month is gearing up, I really should get busy on those reviews. After all, I want to be ready for Simon and Kaggsy’s 1976 Club, don’t I? Wait!!! Are these events already over? Are you saying it’s not August? What happened to August? And September? It can’t possibly be October, can it, with November beginning tomorrow? Oh, Halloween horrors! Have I been in a time warp or something?
Well, the answer to my non-rhetorical question is — yes! At the best of times, it’s difficult to stay focused down here in the U.S. of A.’s semi-tropics, a land of palm trees, sunshine and delightful concoctions embellished with little pink umbrellas and chunks of tropical fruit. And these, dear readers, have not been the best of times for your scribe. For several months I’d been staring at a surgery date, elective stuff, nothing too serious and certainly not life-threatening, but still . . . . Yuck! Doctors! Needles! Nasty medicines! Like the consummate ex-professional that I sometimes pretend to be, however, I decided to make productive use of both my pre- and post-surgery time. Never waste a minute, that’s my motto! (which explains those wonderfully invigorating filing days, driving around urban Washington at 11:45 P.M. in search of a post office where I could date stamp my brief, thereby proving it was “filed” on its due date. Ah, memory …) I made a neat little grid of my putative late summer and early autumn activities. While waiting for my surgery date (which didn’t worry me at all; not one little bit) I’d catch up on writing reviews and participate in a limited way in the blogging events I mentioned above. I’d do my medical thing, or, rather, have it done to me, then use my recovery period to finish reading my various Challenge books; complete my zoom art history classes; and (finally) get started on that intensive Spanish review I’d been contemplating for some time (nothing like getting a grip on something other than the present tense, is there?) Seriously. I really, honestly thought I’d be doing all these things. As I listen to the sounds of your gentle laughter, vibrating through cyber space, I’ll draw a merciful curtain over these severely delusional plans. In reality I spent August and September sitting on my nice, shady lanai reading escapist lit of some type or other (Elizabeth Hand, anyone? bHer Cass Neary series is a great & very creepy read). And October? Well, I passed much of October sleeping, taking extra strength tylenol and watching some seriously good television. In my more intellectual moments I also dipped into and out of various bookish blogs, since it’s a well established fact that it’s much, much easier to read & comment on other people’s posts than to write one’s own reviews.
Aside from the fact that I’ve now almost recovered, October did offer a bright spot in the form of a return trip to Washington, D.C. (my doctor’s located there), which happens to be an area where I’d lived for many years and that I still love in many respects. Although I visited Washington late last spring, severe covid restrictions were still the order of the day and most of the museums remained closed. Since the area’s vaccination rates were up, and many attractions were now reopening, I decided to arrive a few days early to enjoy the sights and sample some ethnic fare (although not the rival of many cities, D.C. does have a wide variety of ethnic cuisines; it seems to get a new one every time there’s a new world crisis. During this visit, I noticed that one of the Maryland suburbs now has an Uyghur restaurant). I hate to pack, so I usually just throw a few things in a bag:
One of my very first stops when I’m in the Washington area is always Second Story Books’ warehouse, located in Rockville, Maryland, just a stone’s throw from downtown D.C. I’ve written about Second Story before (because I’ve visited many times) but its wonders never pall.
As you can see, a trip to SSB’s warehouse is akin to a treasure hunt, as you never know just what you’ll discover; naturally, some visits are more fruitful than others, depending on turnover. This time I hit the jackpot (hence the overflowing box in my first photo) as I found numerous novels by Penelope Lively, Anita Brookner and Louis Begley (an American writer I’ve been fond of in the past), along with some unexpected things such as works by Laurie Colwin (brought to my attention by Jacquiwine’s recent & excellent review of her work). I was a little disappointed not to find much by Louis Auchincloss, one of my favorite authors when I’m in the mood for a traditional, well-written tale of life among my country’s elite but — there’s always the next visit! (A note to those who may be visiting D.C. but staying closer to downtown, Second Story also has a store inside the city proper, in a very lovely and walkable area. The setting is more genteel and the selection is great but IMO prices are a bit higher.)
After rooting around Second Story Books for several blissful hours, the following day it was off to D.C.’s great independent bookstore, Politics & Prose. When I first moved to Washington in the mid-1980s, there were a great many wonderful small bookstores catering to a variety of tastes. Although many of these have disappeared, Politics & Prose seems to be thriving.
I can never totally skip the museums when I’m in D.C. and this trip was no exception. Thankfully, most museums have reopened and while the number of visitors seemed a little down to me, life is returning. Nothing’s sadder than an art museum with no visitors to look at the paintings.
The following day it was off to the Phillips Collection, which bills itself as “America’s first museum of modern art.” The Phillips began life in the 1920s as the private art collection of Duncan Phillips, who had access to one of America’s great steel fortunes. Working from an eclectic definition of “modern” (his collection contains an El Greco), Phillips used his impeccable taste and private fortune to build an amazing, not-to-be missed collection.
Between one thing and another, it had been some time since my last visit to the Phillips. I was a little disappointed to see that much of the collection had been temporarily rearranged to accommodate some new exhibitions but — not to worry! Everything was still on view, even if located in an unfamiliar spot.
After so much art, and so many books, it was time for a little nature viewing. Before the yucky medical stuff, I did have a couple of wonderful afternoons in the Maryland countryside, checking out a few of my old birding spots:
Finally, after a few days of recovery, it was time to return home . . . .
26 thoughts on “There and Back Again (with books and art along the way)”
My goodness you have been having an adventurous time. I hope you are on the mend now. You certainly have plenty of reading matter. I managed one review for the 1976 club, having thought I would read and review three books. C’est la vie. We will never run out of things to read.
I’m definitely on the mend, thanks! (and yes, I’ve had quite enough adventures for now). I AM currently drowning in reading matter, assuming that one can drown in books, but what can I say? It’s a nice way to go! One of the blessings/curses of our particular addiction is indeed that we’ll never run out of interesting things tempting us to load up those shelves.
One a somewhat different note, I remember a discussion last summer on your blog about China Miéville’s The City and The City, particularly in connection with a BBC miniseries. During my escapist phase in September I finally got around to reading it (my first novel by Miéville) and absolutely loved it! Now I’ll have to check out the miniseries, although it can’t possibly live up to the book.
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Be interested to have your comments on the series. I thought the world was well done, but got annoyed about unnecessary additions to the plot. I now have Perdido Street Station by Mieville to read . It’s a whopper.
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You are so fortunate to have access to such enormous, varied, well-stocked bookstores! I wish ….
Ah, Alison, I totally agree that I’m lucky in this regard. Absolutely nothing is as much fun as browsing in an interesting bookstore, not to mention the sense of community they provide. But — this access for me only comes a couple of times a year, when/if I visit the big city. In my year round home, the pickings are much, much slimmer and are mostly limited to a very small indy and a pretty good chain, both some distance away. I lived for a good many years in areas that were very poorly served by bookstores, so Washington’s bookstore scene when I first moved there was heaven. Even so, the big chains plowed right through many of my favorites back in the 1980s-90s. These days, thankfully, there seems to be something of a resurgence and Politics & Prose appears to be thriving (during normal times, it’s a great place to spot the movers & shakers browsing the books!). I do hope my home area will eventually have a little more to offer those of us who still love to physically browse!
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Hi. I remember the Phillips. Great collection. Have you been to the Barnes, in Philadelphia? Its holdings are amazing too.
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Yes!!! The Barnes is wonderful and I have visited a few times (not living in Philly, my access has always been a bit limited). The thing I enjoy the most, about both museums, is that they reflect the personalities (very vivid ones) of their founders. I don’t know if you’re a Renoir fan, but there’s a (probably not true) story that Dr. Barnes very much wanted Renoir’s Luncheon of the Boating Party, but Phillips managed to cut him out of the sale!
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Golly, what a trip! I do hope you’re fully recovered now and able to enjoy the spoils of your visit. Some lovely finds there – I’m a huge fan of the ivy Litvinov, and she also did a Virago Crime title set in Soviet Russia which is great fun. Thank you for sharing the highlights of the trip with us!
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Thanks, Kaggsy! I must admit that I immediately thought of your fondness for the Russians when I found the Litvinov. What an exotic life she had — and thanks for the tip about her crime title.
My little trip was indeed fun and one of my few bright notes in the last couple of months. The art museums, old favorites I haven’t visited in almost two years, were a real treat.
Oof, I had no idea about your surgery but am very pleased to hear that you’re now well and truly on the mend. It’s lovely to hear (and see!) what you’ve been up to, particularly the books and gallery visits. I’ve been to a few exhibitions in London recently, and it’s been lovely to enjoy wandering around a gallery again. And thanks also for posting a link to my Laurie Colwin piece. I’ll be interested to hear how you get on with your new acquisitions!
Isn’t it wonderful, to be out & about in even a limited way after the past terrible months? My few hours this month, strolling through two of my favorite museums made me realize just how much I’ve missed this activity. Although online viewing offers some compensations, it just isn’t the same as physically looking at the paintings.
I’m so glad I read your Colwin review before my visit to Second Story Books, which seemed particularly well-stocked on Colwin’s works this time around. It’s nice to know that Colwin’s works are being re-issued, but this can be a slow process and it will be nice to have a book or two available if I get the urge! I think I mentioned in commenting on your review that I’d actually read Colwin’s Good-bye Without Leaving many years ago, had liked it but moved on to other things. I, too, will be interested to see how I react to her work at this so much later stage of my life.
Also, not to pressure you or anything (wouldn’t dream of doing that!) I can’t wait to see how you like Brookner’s A Friend From England, which I believe is next on your Brookner list . . .
So lovely to see a post from you! Hope you are feeling better! Wishing you a speedy and complete recovery! These book stores sound wonderful. I have to visit them when in the area. And the museums too!
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Thanks so much for the good wishes! (I am indeed much better) You would absolutely love Politics & Prose; Second Story is also a lot of fun if you’re in the mood for a treasure hunt. If you’re in the city and don’t feel like visiting SSB’s warehouse in Rockville, there’s a very nice retail outlet in Dupont Circle, which is one of my favorite parts of downtown Washington. https://dupontcirclebid.org/go/second-story-books
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Glad to hear you’re recovering well and managed to fit in some lovely bookshops and museums along the way. I very much enjoyed reading about your trip and seeing the photos.
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Hi Rose! Glad you stopped by and that you enjoyed the photos. Like many, my little outings have fallen off considerably since the pandemic, so I really, really enjoy the ones I do get. Thanks also for the godd wishes about my health; I’m mostly recovered and am slowly catching up on my reading, both books and blogs. If I remember, I think you reviewed Thackeray’s Vanity Fair, which I’ve been saving as a treat! (it’s been a long time since I read it, but I went through a period when it was one of my favorite books!)
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Melbourne has only just come out of lockdown, so I’ve been living vicariously through other people’s outings via blogs for a while now. You visited the places I most like to go to (bookshops, art galleries/museums), really the only place you missed for me was a bakery/cake shop!
The review-along of Vanity Fair was fun. All of the readers had interesting points to make and it was good to see the story through their eyes. I’m already looking forward to reading your review of VF when you come to it 🙂
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What wonderful bookshops, I did enjoy visiting them with you, thank you! I had an operation a few years ago and I will blame the fact it turned out to be more complicated than I’d thought but a) the book I was reading around the op disappeared from my memory completely, and b) I could only read magazines and then really really light novels for ages afterwards!
I’m glad you enjoyed the cyber visit! Like most people pre-Covid, I’m afraid I took for granted many of the things that I now regard as incredible treats: a trip to a different city, walking through an art gallery, browsing in a real bookstore. Although my late spring trip to D.C. was nice, the area was still noticeably subdued; it was really nice this time around to see that it’s recovered a semblance of its pre-pandemic energy.
Speaking of which, it’s nice to know that others have experienced a post-procedure lull in their reading . . .
So glad to read your reports on the bookshops themselves. I think we all have an obligation to remind each other that they DO STILL EXIST! I need to write more about the ones we have in Adelaide, which is still fairly loyal to the concept of the secondhand bookshop.
You’re very lucky to live in an area where this is part of the culture — I’m totally envious! And I’d very much enjoy reading about what Adelaide has to offer in this respect. I love reading blog pieces about book store visits and the results of bloggers’ various treasure hunts.
It was really sad to see so many interesting, off-beat little bookstores vanish during my early years in D.C. Luckily, they seem to be making a bit of a resurgence; hopefully on some trip or other I’ll have a chance to check out a few. There was a very good secondhand store reasonably close to my current location (not as good as Second Story, but good) that, unfortunately, closed in the early days of the pandemic and hasn’t reopened (and probably won’t). As you say, we need to cherish the bookstores we have!
Glad that you are feeling better now and have felt comfortable enough to share some of your photos and memories with us. I’ve imagined visiting Politics and Prose; it sounds amazing. And I love revisiting fave second-hand shops, especially those I know as well as you know these two (which locations have certain strengths, etc.): what luck that you found a sale underway. It’s funny how sometimes we think that the most famous and popular artworks aren’t going to be “all that” but, then, once we confront them, they somehow manage to charm us anyway. Your cats are bee-yoo-tee-full. You’re very lucky to be owned by them. 🙂
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Thanks for the good health wishes! I must admit that recovery time, while not terribly onerous (I had BIG stacks of books) has taken a bit longer than I had anticipated.
I’m glad you enjoyed the cyber visits to the bookstores! I grew up in an area that had no general bookstores & lived for a period in one that was even more poorly served. All this primed me for a life-long addiction to the physical bookstore (although I do shop a lot online). I’m not sure of your geography, but if you’re ever in Washington P&P really is amazing. During good times (i.e., non-pandemic) it’s a pretty good place to people spot (some lucky people have seen Barrack and the girls browsing around!). As for the sale, at SS’s warehouse store in the burbs there’s ALWAYS a sale. I don’t think, however, this is true in their fancier retail space in the city.
I totally agree with you about art and its impact when we physically view it. In my second career as an art history student, I once heard a fellow student on a field trip explain to her boy friend how it wasn’t simply enuogh to view a painting online, that the impact of seeing it in person was totally different (I’m not sure he got it, but he was trying!) An easy example for me is the way I feel about the few paintings by Leonardo I’ve actually been lucky enough to see. Online or in an art book — “oh yeah, they’re great” (yawn).” Seeing them in person — well, HOW does he do that with the skin? and the bluish tinge in the atmosphere? and the expressions?” And it’s almost hynoptic, because they’re just so beautiful. When I’m in D.C.’s National Gallery, I almost never miss a chance to spend at least a minute or two with Ginevra!
As for the cats, well — I have been authorized by my feline overlords (exacting but gracious owners) to acknowledge your compliment, which they regard as appropriate and fitting. They do regret, however, that the photographs by their human minions didn’t quite capture their best profiles! Seriously, the cats eally do run my house, pretty much along their desired lines . . . .
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So glad to see you back again and I hope you’re recovering well! 💕
I think you should have packed your cat. I’m sure she would have loved the museums, as well as all those lovely bookstores. I love finding little bookstore gems but they are sadly becoming few and far between anymore. I have to do a trip west or south to find any. Usually I find my books at thriftstores now. I do love bookstores that are entirely messy …. so much fun searching for treasures!!
Thanks so much for sharing photos of the lovely art. I’m not a fan of THAT Renoir painting but I do like some of his others. Franz Marc is a general favourite of mine. I have dreams of visiting the National Gallery one day.
Did you see any birds at your birding spots? I keep seeing hummingbirds here and I’m hoping they go south quickly or we don’t have a very cold winter. Yikes!
I, too, have found it easier to “be” than to write in the last while. I’m recovering from Covid and then we had an horrific storm here that caused the worst flooding ever seen. We’re cut off from the rest of Canada, our port is closed, the gas stations have very little gas (perhaps none, I haven’t checked in the last few days) and more rain is expected. Fortunately my mind is open to reading but not so much to writing. I do hope that changes though.
In any case, take care of yourself and please give your cat friends a pet from me! 🐱
Cleo — thanks so much for the kind wishes and please forgive the delay in responding. Between the holidays and post-surgery blahs I just can’t seem to get back to the blogging thing these days. I’m so glad you’re making a good recovery from Covid (and I do hope you had a “mild” case, although I understand that even these can be pretty horrific). I’m sure your health concerns haven’t been helped by the weather conditions in your part of Canada (where are you located, if I may ask?). It makes me feel very fortunate that my own biggest concern right now is scooping up the dead fronds from the palm trees in the front yard! So far I’ve been very lucky in my new home’s climate, as my part of Gulf Coast Florida has yet to experience a hurricane since I relocated. Of course, in these days of climate disasters, it’s just a matter of time until our luck runs out.
Although I haven’t been blogging, I have been reading quite a bit. Mostly escapist stuff for the last two months but I did squeeze in a few more “serious” items, several classical in nature. On my third third (or is it fourth?) attempt I finally made it through Arnold Bennett’s The Old Wives Tale. To my intense surprise, I loved it! I’ve a particular weakness for big, sprawling, realistic 19th century novels and this one hit all the targets, despite being published around 1908 or so. I’m baffled by its absence from the book blogs or the fact that it seems so seldom read these days. I’ve also been on a bit of an Edith Wharton kick. Remembering your fondness for Wharton, which I share BTW, you might be particularly interested in NYRB Classic’s recent publication of Wharton’s Ghosts, selected by Edith herself towards the end of her life, and published with her own preface. Although I still struggle a bit with short stories, I found these very enjoyable and just the thing for my currently fractured ability to concentrate. I’ve moved on to Wharton’s Old New York, a great selection of her novellas. Have you read The Old Maid? I stayed up until 1 pm last night, because I had to see how it ended. What a wonderful writer Wharton is! As much as I love her work, however, there are times when I can’t emotionally deal with the bleakness of some of her outcomes, which is why I prefer Age of Innocence (not that it had a happy ending) to House of Mirth (which, as I recall, is your own favorite). I think my cowardice in this regard is the main reason I’ve never read Ethan Frome.
I’m happy to find a fellow art enthusiast! Like you, I’m quite fond of certain individual Renoir paintings; on the whole, however, I dislike much of his work despite its obvious beauty. I think I just find it “too easy” and prefer art that’s just a bit darker (one of my favorite US. painters is Edward Hopper). Although there are a couple of o.k. museums near my new location, I must admit that I really miss my easy access to the wealth of museums in my old home. One of the few good things emerging from the pandemic is the increased willingness and ability of museums to make their riches available online, which I’m increasingly thankful for as I get slightly more technologically adept.
I’ll pass along your good wishes to my charming but demanding feline companions; I’m afraid they’d describe me more as a rather unsatisfactory factotum than as a “friend.” Stay well and keep those wonderful reviews coming; although I haven’t been blogging I’ve very much enjoyed reading what others are up to!
Hi Janakay! I do sympathize with feeling somewhat uninspired for blogging. I’ve felt that way on and off. Life has become more busy from when I started my blog which has taken over my blogging and writing time but I’m committed to my blog so in spite of being MIA sometimes, I will definitely keep it going. (boy, that was a long sentence!)
Interesting. Personally I found CO VID was a mild cold with few symptoms that just lasted slightly longer than I’m used to. If it wasn’t for all the media coverage, I wouldn’t have thought twice about it. I’m not sure about other places but I’m trying to focus on what’s happening in my area (it keeps one more grounded and feeling less stressed or panicked) and the age of death is still 83 years old with most cases being pretty mild. The government tries to panic people but if you look at the Center for Disease Control statistics, it gives a more clear picture. I get bothered because there are things you can do to treat it but the health authority is more interested in with whom you’ve been in contact. They asked us nothing about our symptoms, whether they were mild or more serious, gave us no instructions on how to treat it and were completely unconcerned. So I suspect from their reaction (or lack of it) that most cases they come across get better pretty easily. Other areas may be different though.
I’m from just outside of Vancouver, B.C. Canada. A nice temperate climate with beautiful scenery but a little too much rain! Let’s hope your introduction to hurricanes is indefinitely delayed!! 😳
Oh, I’m going to read The Old Wives Tale based on your recommendation (I get him mixed up with William J. Bennett) It sounds fabulous!
I love art! When my daughter was 9, we went to France and Italy and visited The Louvre, Le Musée d’Orsay and the Uffizi. It was such an amazing experience!!! I was homeschooling her and we had a card game that was called Go Fish For Art so I pulled the cards that had art from each museum and we had a treasure hunt to find the originals. So much fun! In fact, I was thinking of getting myself a Taschen art book for Christmas.
I hope you and your family have a very merry Christmas!
Clio — so nice you dropped by! I’m glad to hear that your case of Covid was mild and that you’re fully recovered. I totally agree with you about the media coverage, which does tend to get quite excited, so much so that objective facts tend to get lost in the shuffle. I live in Florida (as of spring 2020, my move coincided with the outset of the pandemic) where all things covid suffer from a slightly different problem, i.e., it’s so politicized that objectivity is impossible. I moved from the Maryland suburbs of Washington, D.C., where the same issues were also highly politicized, albeit in the opposite direction, if you see what I mean.
I’m very happy that you’re going to continue with your blog, as I enjoy it very much. I thought a couple of times about throwing in the towel on mine because, like you, I’ve felt totally uninspired at times. But it IS fun, I love the interactions and I enjoy participating in the discussions. So — I carry on, even if in a rather half baked way.
One of my few trips to Canada was to Vancouver but it was many, many years ago. I agree with you about the climate except that I actually didn’t mind the rain (Mr J differed with me on this, howevr). I loved Vancouver and always intended to return. A personal dream is to do so, then visit Banff via the train.
I hope you enjoy Old Wives Tale. As I said, the beginning did put me off, with the geography and allusions to the history of the Five Towns. This aspect of any older novel is, I think, always a bit difficult for U.S. types such as myself, as these things just isn’t familiar to us in the same way as the would be for a reader from the U.K. or possibly the Commonwealth.
It’s so nice to connect with a fellow art lover. I was always mildly interested in art and occasionally attend a museum or make a little effort to see an exhibition but nothing much beyond that. After I retired, however, I actually went back to college as a full-time undergraduate student, majoring in art history. It was stressful — papers! exams! projects! class presentations! — and fabulous. I became totally hooked on painting.
Your trip to Europe with your daughter sounds incredible and I am green with envy! Doing something comparable is another of mine. In addition to the museums you mention, I’m dying to see the riches of the Prado and the Brueghel paintings in Vienna.