Short Reads For A (Short) Road Trip

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A few of the more interesting things I read during my recent road trip.  Did I like them?  Well . . . .

Do you make New Year’s resolutions?  I do, every year; it’s a little ritual I follow, an annual triumph of hope over history.  This year I resolved to do the usual things:  lose weight; step up the exercise; no more eating potato chips (I even did the farewell ritual recommended by certain therapists: “I love you very much, fried salty things, but I can’t have you in my life anymore”).  I did, however, add a new one for 2022, i.e., to post a little more frequently on my blog.  There would be no more weeks (or even months), I resolved, when I read wonderful books but didn’t write a word about them!  No more holding back the good news from my fellow bloggers about the stunning new works of fiction I was discovering!  Weekly posts, it’s true, might be a little too restrictive, but surely I could manage twice a month?  I am proud to say, dear readers, that my resolution to increase my number of posts actually survived into February!  (By contrast, I’m totally embarrassed to tell you how soon after New Year’s Day I ate my first, utterly delicious potato chip and just how quickly I wolfed it down!)  At any rate, receiving some rather upsetting health news (unpleasant but highly treatable), combined with just a teeny bit of travel does give me an excuse for neglecting to post for the past few weeks.  The travel, while nothing exotic or international, alas, was a nice little interlude away from the palm trees and unrelenting sunshine of the U.S.’ gulf coast (Florida has earned its moniker of “the Sunshine State.”)  My trip was the usual, to Washington, D.C. and, also as usual, combined tedious errands and fun things.

Although I didn’t read quite as much as I usually do on these little jaunts, my trip reading included three wonderful, new-to-me writers.  I’ll discuss their respective works, short in page length but deep in content, in the first part of this post.  I’ll follow with a few travel photos and comments on the sight-seeing; this was quite satisfying, although I missed a few nice things I didn’t have time to see (I still haven’t made it to the Art Museum of the Americas, for example, or re-visited Baltimore’s stunning Matisse collection).  See how easy I make it for you to zero in on what interests you and skip what doesn’t?

A.  BOOKS

Because I’m drawn to tales about artists and/or the creative process generally, Aysegül Savas’ White on White has been on my radar since its publication last December.  How could I resist a novel with a title invoking, deliberately or not, Kazimir Malevich’s great Suprematist painting?  No matter the fact that I already had a copy of Savas’ well-received debut novel, Walking on the Ceiling, which needless to say I haven’t yet read!  This one went (almost) to the top of the TBR pile.

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Clocking in at a mere 175 pages or so, White On White can be read in an afternoon.  Its story lingers, however, and the pleasures of Savas’ elegant prose demand a slow and thoughtful read. 

White’s ostensible plot is simple.  An unnamed graduate student narrator, the lucky recipient of a grant to finish researching and writing a dissertation on medieval sculpture, has taken up residence in an unidentified European city.  The narrator is also lucky (or not) in finding very nice and very affordable lodgings, an apartment belonging to an eminent medieval scholar who makes it available to researchers with the proviso that his wife Agnes, a well-known local painter, will occasionally use the upstairs studio.  Our narrator (I presumed a “she” although gender is never specified) diligently does her research; attentively observes the city that is temporarily home and becomes keenly interested in Agnes, who begins to spend more and more time in the upstairs studio.  The two settle into an increasingly intimate and claustrophobic relationship, one not always welcome to the narrator (after all, she does have all that research to finish and there’s pressure to begin writing as well).  Their roles are seemingly well-defined: the narrator listens and Agnes talks; the narrator receives and Agnes gives — gifts of food, of friendship and of an increasingly detailed portrayal of her marriage; her adult children; her former friends; the beautiful au pair who once worked for her family and her painting.  At the end, Savas leaves us questioning the nature of the narrator’s passivity as well as the reliability of Agnes’ revelations and the generosity that prompted her gifts.

Although short on action (a warning to dedicated plot hounds: you’ll need to go elsewhere), White on White is a novel of echos & resonances; of character and connections.  Just as the narrator studies the medieval consciousness that created the Gothic sculpture of her dissertation, so Agnes explains her art, “white paintings of the human figure * * *  with expressions like those seen * * * from the medieval period.”  The two are interested in the same period, but from the different perspectives of an academic interpreter and an artist-creator.  Is one way to be preferred over another?  At a very deep level the novel is also about change and mutability.  Characters and relationships shift and even a painting in the narrator’s apartment appears to mutate as the story progresses.  The novel’s structure, a double narration, is equally deceptive.  Is the unnamed graduate student who ostensibly relates the tale actually the narrator, or is it Agnes, who speaks to us directly at times and whose life provides the novel’s structure? Can either, neither or both be trusted?

As a former wanna-be medievalist and an adult student of art history, this novel pushed all my buttons.  Although I obviously loved it, however, it’s not without flaws.  How significant these are depends on your own personal preferences.  (I found the ending, for example, rather unsatisfying and a little melodramatic but neither fact detracted from my overall enjoyment.)  I’ve already mentioned that the novel isn’t heavy on plot; if this is of paramount importance to you, I’m afraid Savas’ character driven tale won’t be your best choice for an enjoyable afternoon.  Keep in mind as well that this is a very visual novel whose characters are closely associated with the arts; certain readers may feel that Savas’ descriptions of art and nature are too digressive.  I, on the other hand, was hooked in from the novel’s opening paragraphs (pages 1-2):

Mornings, the apartment expanded with light.  Light flitted across the walls and curtains, streaked the wooden floorboards, lay dappled on the sheets, as if a luminous brush had left its mark upon my awakening.

From my bed, I could see out onto the small, trellised balcony, lush with the thick foliage and purple flowers of a clematis climbing up a stone wall.  White geraniums lined the railing.  There was a single forged iron chair and a round table * * *

On the dressing table beneath a mirror stood a green ceramic bowl; in the hallway, the dark, rounded arms of the coatrack were bare.

Still, everything was marked with life, rich and varied.  Each room echoed a story of unknown proportion, appearing and disappearing out of focus.  The sparsity gave the place its character, so distinct and so fleeting.   

Gentle readers, I wanted to live in that apartment.  Do you think it’s the purple clematis?

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My first novel by Sarah Moss, Summerwater was a tale of almost unbearable tension.  Let’s hope, gentle readers, that we never experience similar vacations  . . .

Turning to my second short read (second only in a chronological sense, that is), I’m happy to report I was equally satisfied in an entirely different way.  For some time now, I’ve been intending to check out the increasingly well-known British writer, Sarah Moss.  We all know, however, what paves that road to hell, don’t we?  But then, what are road trips for, if not to haul around a big pile of books, some of which you actually read?  I’m happy to report that after a year of gathering dust on the shelf, Summerwater received my long overdue attention.  It did not disappoint.

Summerwind takes place in a remote Scottish vacation park, located on a rather menacing loch; it begins before dawn and concludes late the following night.  The vacation cabins — some owned, others rented — are occupied by a motley assortment of families and couples whose outdoor activities have been frustrated by the torrential, unnatural, unceasing rain:

Although there’s no distance between cloud and land, nowhere for rain to fall, it is raining; the sounds of water on leaves and bark, on roofs and stones, windows and cars, become as constant as the sounds of blood and air in your own body.

The rain, a character in its own right, reinforces the feeling of nature being out of joint.  Moss links the human and natural worlds by interspersing sections dealing with a fawn, an ant hive, a starving falcon and geological time with the sections centered on her human characters.  It’s a wonderful touch that lends a great deal of depth to her story.

Cut off from the outside world by the terrible weather and equally terrible internet access, the would-be vacationers become increasingly unmoored in their isolation.  Middle class and British (mostly Scottish, with one English couple in the mix), they are united in only one thing, i.e., their distaste and distrust of the “foreign” family occupying one of the cabins.  Variously described as Poles, Gypsies or Ukrainians, their music is loud, their manners uncouth and their ways are not the ways of their temporary neighbors.

It’s clear from the beginning of the story that something dreadful is going to occur; the suspense lies in what will it be, when will it happen and who will get the ax.  Will it be the obsessive runner who persists in her solitary and grueling runs despite her bad heart or the quietly resentful retired doctor who drives just a little too fast in his “boomer mobile”?  The kid who’s taken his kayak too far from land when the storm hits or his bored sister who slips away from her family to meet a stranger in the woods?  Or one of the many other characters in this ensemble cast?  By switching the point of view from one character to another, Moss gives the reader wonderfully realistic depictions of each (no one does teenagers better) while ratcheting up the suspense to an almost unbearable level.  About midway through the novel, I had to stop and read the end simply so I could relax enough to enjoy the rest of the story.  Highly recommended, except perhaps for the morbidly timid.

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Two works that I’ve recently read by Claire Keegan, a new personal favorite.  I’ve just added Walk the Blue Fields, one of her short story collections, to my Mount TBR.

The third in my most excellent trifecta of excellent fiction writers is Claire Keegan, whom I read for the first time earlier this month.  As even the most casual visitor to the bookish internet must know by now, Keegan’s Small Things Like These has been widely and very favorably reviewed on numerous blogs.  Although I was mildly curious about Keegan, whose work was unfamiliar to me, I initially had no intention of reading her novella; I’ve read a fair amount of reporting on Ireland’s notorious Magdalene Laundries and didn’t feel I could emotionally handle the subject even in a work of fiction.  After reading the third (or was it fourth?) highly favorable review of Small Things, however, all written by bloggers whose opinions I respected, I decided to give it a go.  After all, I was curious.  Was it possible for any writer to be that good, for any short story/novella to be that morally perceptive or for any fictional character like its protagonist to be that sensitively portrayed in all his glorious, fallible humanity?  Well, yes.  It’s been many years since I’ve read William Trevor, my own personal god of the short story, but I’d rank Small Things as equal to the best of his work.

Since I’ve nothing new to add to the many fine reviews I’ve read of Small Things, however, I’ve decided to limit my comments to Foster, an earlier Keegan work.  Originally published as a short story in The New Yorker, Foster was later published in an expanded form by Faber and Faber (a most unusual step in the publishing world).  A simpler, less morally complicated tale than Small Things, it’s the story of a neglected child, temporarily abandoned by her family for the summer to grieving foster parents.  Despite the notorious difficulty of creating a believable child narrator, Keegan never gets a note wrong in her portrayal of her wary young girl narrator (her age is never specified, but she appears to be around eight years old).  In a beautiful, utterly realistic way that depends as much on what’s left out as on what is said, Keegan shows how the child slowly gains a sense of trust and belonging when she is given attention and nurturing in a home “where there is room and time to think.”  Although Foster lacks the moral complexity and drama of Small Things, I actually preferred its beautiful but utterly unsentimental depiction of human nature, the petty and malicious as well as the good.

I’ll conclude my short reads section with a word or two about Slightly Foxed, a quarterly periodical to which I’m mildly addicted.  If you’re on my side of the Atlantic, it is a bit of an indulgence, but it’s such a perfect way to pass the time between novels, while discovering some half-forgotten treasures from yesteryear, that I justify it as a birthday or Christmas gift, from Janakay to Janakay, so to speak.  The articles are short and beautifully written, often by well-known writers; and the format lends itself to dipping and skipping, so it’s perfect for short attention spans.   If any of you are current or former readers, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this pricey-but-worth-it gem.

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This recent jackpot issue had a number of articles on my favorites, including Trollope’s Barsetshire Novels; Flora Thompson’s Lark Rise; Penelope Fitzgerald’s The Bookshop & Mary Renault’s Last of the Wine.  Oh, and a Patricia Highsmith novel I haven’t yet read ….

B.  TRAVEL

Because Washington is such a city of museums, my first stop is almost always . . .

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Washington’s National Gallery of Art.  Not a great photo (drat that truck!), but it nevertheless conveys the scale & size of the entrance to the West Building, the original part of the museum.

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Whenever I visit the National Gallery, these two paintings by Giorgio Morandi are mandatory must-sees.  While I think they’re sublime, Mr. Janakay considers them a bit dull (but then, there’s no accounting for taste, is there?)

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This New York street scene (1902) by the American realist painter Robert Henri is one of Mr. J’s favorites.  I find it (yawn) somewhat interesting . . . .                            

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The National Gallery’s enormous blue chicken contemplates Washington’s skyline.  The Museum’s founder, a very serious robber baron & admirer of traditional European painting, would not have been amused  . . . .

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I can’t be in the D.C. area without a nature walk in one of my favorite spots. This lovely, if stark, photo is from Maryland’s Little Bennett Regional Park, a short drive from downtown Washington and a nice break from all those museums.  The photo was taken a few weeks ago; by now there’ll actually be a little green here and there.
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It’s equally vital to visit Politics & Prose, one of the leading independent bookstores in the U.S.

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Just a smidgen of P&P’s riches; most of the fiction is in an adjacent room.

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Since I had visited P&P only a few months before, my haul this time was relatively restrained. The two military histories (shudder) are Mr. Janakay’s selections.  He’s very picky about his nonfiction and seldom buys from a non-specialist source; I included them in the photo to give you an idea of the selections available in this marvelous bookstore.

For the last bit of sightseeing, it was back to a museum, albeit one I seldom have time to visit.  Nestled in the heart of Washington’s estate area, Hillwood Museum & Gardens remains something of an unexplored treasure for most tourists.  A former residence belonging to Marjorie Post, the sole heiress of the founder of what later became General Foods (jello, cereal or frozen veggies, anyone?), I think of Hillwood as an American equivalent to a British stately home, albeit one associated with oodles of dollars rather than aristocratic descent.  Hillwood is a treasure trove of French antiques and porcelain, as well as Russian imperial relics; Ms. Post was the wife of the U.S. ambassador to the Soviet Union when the Bolsheviks were happily trading Romanov bling for western currency.  If you don’t care for Fabergé eggs or the nuptial crowns worn by Russian princesses, Hillwood’s magnificent gardens provide a wonderful respite from the huge and bustling city that seems (but isn’t) a million miles away.

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One of Mr. J’s photos of Hillwood’s exterior.  Although I don’t often visit, I generally enjoy myself when I do; the museum’s contents are a feast for the eye, the cafe is quite good and the gardens are stunning at any time of the year.

After several days of unseasonably warm weather, the mercurial Washington climate decided that it was winter after all on the day of my Hillwood visit.  Although it was too rainy and cold to walk in the gardens, the greenhouses were open and the orchids were almost, if not quite, in full bloom.  Since I enjoy gaudy tropical flowers very much, I’ll leave you with several shots of blinding color, courtesy of Mr. J:

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After the excitement of the big city, it’s home again, where two of our resident aliens were getting ready to levitate up to their space ship:

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That it for now (and I’m still working on that review of Stella Gibbons’ Nightingale Wood . . . .)

35 thoughts on “Short Reads For A (Short) Road Trip

  1. That’s such a fun post! I haven’t read anything by Claire Keegan yet nor have I read Summerwater but I do subscribe to Slightly Foxed and agree that it’s a real gem!

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  2. Ah, Jane — so nice to discover we share a love for the Fox! Although I’ve let my subscription lapse here and there, I’ve followed it for years. The articles are so much fun and so easy to read between longer works. There’s also the thrill of reading someone else’s take on an old favorite; it’s like discovering the two of you share a wonderful mutual acquaintance!

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    1. I did enjoy the trip and a visit to a real bookstore is, as you say, such a treat. I’ve actually found a couple of indies near my new home, but Politics & Prose is not to be replaced. Best of all, however, was finally getting around to those new writers, as I’m always very slow about these things . . .

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  3. All of your reads sound wonderful; while I have read some novels based around painting or artists, only recently have I started reading some art history, and its helping me get new insights into meaning and expression so White on White immediately jumped out at me. The Sarah Moss too seems interesting in the different perspectives it captures. Small Things I have been reading so many good things about, I’m definitely going to get to it one of these days.

    Glad your Washington trip proved so good. The flowers look so lovely too!

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    1. Hi Mallika — as always, nice to hear your perspective. I must warn you that art history is addictive — once you start, it’s hard to stop! (I began as a casual museum visitor and ended up entolling as a full time university student). I think my interest in fiction involving painters/artists grew as I simply learned more; as you say, learning art history really generates a greater interest in fiction associated with artists.
      If you do get to White on White, I’ll be very interested to learn what you think of it. Although a short novel, it really lends itself to analysis; there’s a great deal that could be said about many of its themes, including that title.
      Sarah Moss is wonderful at depicting her different characters. In some sense, Summerwater is almost a linked set of short stories, each centering around a different family/couple. One thing I regret not stressing in my post was just how funny Moss can be. I did say that no one does teenagers better, which is an understatement; Moss perfectly captures that combination of their strength & fragility.
      I’m glad you enjoyed the flower photos. The day they were taken was truly miserable weather-wise (cold, windy and wet) and the colors of those gorgeous orchids were an instant mood booster.

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  4. Ha, I think I’m with Mr Janakay on the paintings, though maybe your picks look better in real life… 😉 Sorry to hear you’ve encountered a health issue but I’m glad to hear it’s treatable – hope you’re back to normal soon! And I’m delighted you failed to give up potato chips (or crisps, as we call them) – life is too short for that level of self-denial… 😀

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    1. Hello FF! Glad you stopped by, particularly as I much enjoyed your comment about the paintings! Sad to say, I’m afraid that the photo of my favs is actually quite a good representation of the Morandi paintings! I’m always very amused by how I and others react to certain art; while Mr. J. thinks these are merely a bit dull, I once had quite an artsy colleague who hated, absolutely hated, Morandi’s work! Such a strong reaction to those nice little bottles! I actually don’t know why I like those paintings so much, although I suspect those pale colors have a lot to do with it, combined with that air of unchanging serenity. All very zen. As for Mr. J’s wintery street scene — well, it’s o.k. A bit busy, perhaps and quite a lot of things in it, perhaps but — reasonably o.k.!!! It’s these differences in taste, art as well as book, that make the world so interesting, yes?
      Thanks for the kind words about the health issue. It gives me an excuse for another trip to “our nation’s capital” although I won’t have much time to do anything fun. Hopefully those moronic truckers & MAGA zealots will have gone home by then and won’t be making the horrific traffic even worse.
      Ah, the crisp! We are agreed that it’s one of the world’s great culinary achievements. And, yes, I agree with you — giving them up is a bridge too far. In fact, there’s a half finished bag in the kitchen right now, calling my name . . . .

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      1. Haha, I love busy paintings, especially street scenes. I have a horrible feeling it’s because I enjoy both jigsaws and cross-stitch, and they’re so much more fun if there’s lots happening in them – I fear I’m a dreadful philistine when it comes to art! 😉
        I’ll keep my fingers crossed that you get an easier journey – these protestors who block traffic are maddening!

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    1. I keep forgetting SF’S podcast, which I’ve yet to try (I do get emails, reminding me they exist). Thanks for reminding me about them; I’ll definitely check them out at some point, although I’m a little resistant to pod casts (they take too long).
      It IS such a hassle, trying to get books/mags/journals across international lines. A few times I’ve tried getting a book from Australia and found the shipping costs were unbelievable. At least for me, it’s relatively easy, if a bit pricey, to get things from the U.K.
      Do you ever manage to get your Leonora Carrington novel? I hope your project there is going o.k.

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  5. So happy to hear that the farewell to chips didn’t work. Life without them wouldn’t be worth living.
    Now I’m busting to read Summer Water.
    Glad you enjoyed your trip. Very happy that you shared it with us, too 🙂

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    1. Hi Rose — glad you enjoyed the trip photos. As some point in my life, I really must travel to a place that I haven’t yet been visited, rather than return to a city where I lived most of my adult life! Although I was happy to leave, I obviously really like the place.
      I do hope you like Summerwater. There’s so much that could be said about it, it really deserved a longer review (although I feel sure that it received several, on all the many book blogs). I totally failed to mention how funny it is in spot, not that Moss is trying to be comical, but she just captures personalities and relatioships so perfectly. Her portrayal of a bored teenage girl is priceless.
      And, yes, my love affair with the chip continues . . . .

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      1. If returning to a city that you love brings you pleasure, that’s fine. Other places will still be there when you want to go to them.
        I’m already looking forward to the teenage girl’s portrayal. I’m going to sound ageist, but bored teenage girls have to be laughed at otherwise you couldn’t cope with them! (Having been one myself and brought up several).
        Yay for chips!

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      2. Being Sarah Moss, there’s always darkness under the humor, but I did think the imaginary post (paraphrased) “rain on trees, more rain, more trees, hashtag summer holiday family fun” was pretty funny!
        Yes, I will always have a soft spot for the Washington metropolitan area (I worked downtown but lived in Maryland; it’s all one big city)
        Totally agree about the chip/crisps!

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  6. White on White sounds really interesting – I always like books about visual art. I’ve liked many of Sarah Moss’s earlier books but I’ve struggled a bit since her turn to novellas. They never quite deliver for me; in Summerwater’s case, I felt like it was building up to something that never arrived. I agree about her character studies, though.

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  7. Hi Laura — glad you stopped by, particularly as I found your take on Moss very interesting. I see your point about Summerwater — the whole novel is this total buildup to catastrophic, so that emotionally you expect some cataclysmic, end-of-the-world, earth shattering event. When the horrific does happen, it seemed to me that Waters did play it down. I thought it quite interesting, how she handled it. I totally agree with you that the strength of the novel lies in her character studies, which were incredibly perceptive (those teenagers! I think she has kids, if so, she must be taking detailed observations). In some ways, I think SW is almost a collection of linked short stories. I’ve yet to read anything else by Moss but I think I’m headed for her backlist. Any recommendations? I was thinking of Cold Earth, which sounds pretty intriguing.
    I liked White on White much more than I expected to, although as I said it isn’t without flaws. If you do get to it, I’d love to hear your take.

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  8. William Trevor is a very good reference point for Claire Keegan’s Small Things Like These, especially his short stories and later novels (e.g. Love and Summer). I’m glad you decided to decide to try it – as you say it’s note perfect.

    Those Morandi artworks are gorgeous, aren’t they – so calming and restful, yet beautifully portrayed. London’s Tate Modern held an exhibition of his work (maybe 20 years ago), and it was wonderful to see so many pieces collected together. If you ever happen to find yourself in Bologna, the Museo Morandi is definitely worth a trip!

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  9. Hi Jacqui! I was just getting ready to pop over and catch up with my blog reading (I’ve been saving your Lahiri piece for a time when I could enjoy it). I’m glad you liked my William Trevor comparison. I love Trevor’s work and, for a few years, worked my way through huge chunks of it. I don’t know why I stopped, exactly; could I possibly be fickle? I suspect that, as usual, I simply became distraced by the next shiny new writer who caught my attention (and this was BEFORE book blogging, which has multipled distractions to an unbelievable extent). I must say that seeing Trevor’s work pop up on the blogs has reminded me of just how great he is and how much I’ve enjoyed reading his work. It’s also made me regretful that I was just too disorganized to do the Reading Ireland event this year.
    It’s so nice to find a fellow Morandi fan. It’s probably a bit overboard to say so, but I find those “bottles” of his unbelievably spiritual; almost as though they’re hovering between our own plane of reality and some ideal, Platonic realm. I envy you that exhibition at the Tate Modern, although I was able to see a good exhibition myself, around a decade ago, held by the Philips Collection in Washington. I believe many of paintings came from Italian collections, supplemented by some of the best available in the U.S.. I wasn’t aware that Bologna had its own Morandi museum, so thanks for the info. Maybe one day . . .

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  10. Totally enjoyed your informative, interesting and humorous post! I have a weakness too for potato chips and gaudy flowers. My resolution is to get rid of the first and focus more on the second- devote time and energy to growing a few tropical beauties. Thank you for the book recommendations!

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  11. Hello, LT — always a pleasure when you drop by! I’m glad you enjoyed the post and found the recommendations useful. I’m also glad to have discovered a fellow aficionado of the potato chip, not to mention large, colorful flowers. Are you a gardener? I, alas, have an almost uncanny lack of talent in that regard, but, since moving to a semi-tropical climate have become much more interested in growing things (although my experiments are usually not too successful). I dream of trying orchids . . . .
    What are you reading these days? (I loved your review of Interior Chinatown, which I’m frustrated I haven’t yet gotten to. Sometimes I feel totally overwhelmed by the immense number of wonderful books out there)

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  12. Such a varied and interesting post. I loved the orchid pix – gorgeous exotic blooms. And I drooled over the P&P bookstore; Stella Gibbon’s Cold Comfort Farm is a lifetime favourite of mine. Looking forward to your review of Nightingale Wood. And as for the splendid blue chicken, it made my day!

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    1. Hi Alison — glad you liked the post/photos. Those orchids did a lot to enliven my day, which was classic Washington spring, i.e., cold, wet & windy, and all the more cruel because the beginning of the week had been wonderfully warn & pleasant. I had looked forward to walking through Hillwood’s wonderful gardens, which couldn’t be done; the greenhouses almost made up for it!
      P&P is indeed a wonderful book store and I miss it a lot. On the other hand, I do have some access in my new home to two much smaller but very nice indy stores, have gotten back to D.C. on a fairly regular basis due to some medical issues and, well, there’s that platform we all love to hate (pssh — don’t tell anyone I use it . . . )
      The gigantic blue chicken is indeed happiness inducing. Being something of a traditionalist in my art, I was a little skeptical about it at first, but after watching all the museum goers (including myself) interact with it, I’ve changed my mind. I don’t know if you’ve ever visited D.C., but IMO it can be a little pompous in its public spaces, which take themselves very seriously indeed. That blue chicken is just what it needs!
      Like you, Cold Comfort Farm is one of my lifetime favorites. This new edition has a great cover: little drawings of the characters’ faces, with their best known lines under underneath. It’s hard to top Aunt Ada Doom, but I think Amos’ drawing/comment does it: “there’ll be no butter in hell!”

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  13. Hi Janakay. Sorry to hear about the unpleasant but totally treatable health issue. Wishing you the best of luck and recovery there. Indulge, if you can, afterwards with some delicious potato chips. I am partial to sour cream and onion chips, myself.

    I have never read any Sarah Moss and like you have heard so many rave reviews of her books. I really would like to get my feet wet at some point and thought I would begin with one of her earlier novels. Summer Water does sound unbearably tense. I would flip to the end too. I do that fairly often now, just to know the worst. I am not sure if I would have read in this manner when younger, but then I also read far fewer books when younger.

    I have Small Things Like These on my library holds list but keep pushing it out for other books I “must” read first. Again, I have heard so many raves about her work.

    Lovely photos of DC, thanks for sharing. I’ve only been twice and the second time only for a half day. So I have only visited the Smithsonian and the Air and Space Museum decades ago.

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    1. Ruthiella! Delighted as always that you dropped by. Thanks for the good wishes; when my little ordeal is over, I’ll eat my first chip in your honor (although sour cream is a wonderful flavor, my southern roots show themselves in my preference for barbecue).
      I won’t say I’m now a Sara Moss fan, but Summerwater definitely committed me to exploring more of her work. One of her early novels looked very intriguing; I think it’s called Cold Earth or something like that. The setting is an archaelogical dig in a remote corner of Greenland, where apparently there are demons aplenty. Sounds like it’s right up my alley (I love creepy, psychological/horror/character driven tales).
      As for reading the end of a novel first, well, I’ve always done that, as I’m very sensitive to suspense. I do it less often now. In my youth, I’d generally just skip the middle unless the writer was very, very good. Now I’m more patient.
      I was surprised at how much I liked Keegan’s work. I actually preferred Foster to Small Things, as I thinnk I indicated in my review, but Small Things has a bit more of a plot. Have you read WIlliam Trevor? If so, you probably already have a good idea of what Keegan’s fiction is like (she’s that good).
      Glad you liked the photos. The DC area has some severe flaws if you’re living there but — it’s a great tourist town. The Air & Space is quite the fav attraction although I prefer the art museums.
      I miss your posts on your fiction reading these days! Anything interesting?

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  14. What a rich and gorgeous post. And I too enjoyed Summerwater a great deal: so brilliantly crafted and you can hardly breathe by the end of it all. Have you thought of making your own potato chips to take away some of the negatives of the snack (they are much healthier than store-bought and preserved)? That way you still have your pleasure, but it requires a different kind of effort so you temper it just a little, in a natural way not a mean way, and it’s all about the joy of it. Slightly Foxed is amazing. There is a library branch nearby that has a subscription but I haven’t been able to enjoy it since March 2020 there. Just reading your summary of this new issue made me lean forward in my seat! Haha (For reals.)

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  15. Hello Marcie — so glad you dropped by and my apologies for my late response (I’ve been planting my poor little petunias in various containers before they utterly give up the ghost. I’m afraid a few potted plants are the extent of my gardening but even that is a lot of work).
    So nice to meet a fellow enthusiast for Summerwater & Slightly Foxed. Moss really is a brilliant writer and, as you say, SW’s tension was almost unbearable at times. You knew something awful was going to happen but — when? to whom? and what would it be? I must say Moss fooled me time and again, hence my peak at the ending. Moss was also brilliant at showing the details and inadvertent humor in her ill-assorted group of unhappy campers. And, of course, there’s the deeper moral message. For all its brevity (or perhaps because of it) it was really a rather profound book and deserved a much more detailed review than what I gave to it.
    Slightly Foxed IS fun, isn’t it? So literate and civilized, such a wonderful way to say hello to old friends and even to meet a few new ones. Hopefully, you’ll be able to enjoy your library’s copy in the not too distance future.
    As for a healthy version of the chip — you are, of course correct. I’ve actually tried the baked ones, which aren’t too bad and I do a version of what I call “oven fries” (sliced, tossed in olive oil and baked at a high temperature) that are actually quite tasty. But — sometimes the sweetest fruits are the forbidden ones, n’est-ce pas?

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  16. Love the photos, especially the book shop; just needed a photo of a pot of tea to complete the tableau.
    Finished Cold Enough for Snow. What impressed me most was the form of the novel; so reflective of Japan, of quietness, rectitude, a steadfast unflappability. A book to think about, to ponder and to come back to, which is the best praise for a book, when you know there is more to get out of it. Thanks.

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    1. Michelle: so glad you liked the photos, as they were fun to take. As for the book shop, yes, it IS just the place to unwind, browse & meditate on wonderful things to read (it’s hard not to get greedy). Losing easy access to Politics & Prose is one of my regrets about leaving the Washington, D.C. area. On a brighter note, I’ve gotten back fairly often, my credit card is in better shape and I now have six species of palm trees (along with some great hibiscus) around my house. I like both palms and big showy flowers very much.
      As for Cold Enough for Snow, you’ve really picked up on one of the things I most liked, but didn’t discuss in my review, i.e., its sense of quietness and reflection, and the wonderful way it conveyed Japanese culture, particularly its descriptions of art and food. And — the rain! Didn’t you think the rain was almost another character in the novel? As you said, it’s definitely a book to ponder and come back to; I hope to re-read in another year or two.

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  17. Ha! The rain. Funny. I’m so used to rain, living in the UK, that I barely noticed it. But now you mention it, yes the rain was integral in the mood and tone because it wasn’t lashing rain but the slow Celtic type that’s more penetrative and fundamental. Thanks.

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  18. Janakay. So fun to read this your current last post in May!
    Your pictures of books paired with collectibles in the shelf spaces are beautiful.
    I am so very drawn to the first book specially. I love your enthusiasm for the possibilities each of your reads afforded to you. I share that love for character driven books and the descriptions of art. I would love to live in that apartment as well.
    The other one that you read the end, not for me, it sounds intense.
    I usually love the not obvious art, but those two still nature they were? too depressing. Maybe in person they have something else. Then the winter in NY is fascinating. The blue roster is amazing, LOL.
    I am glad to have been told that your setback is been resolved. I will keep catching up with reading your posts.
    I also have an incurable weakness for potato chips.

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  19. Hello Silvia, my fellow potato chip enthusiast! So glad you enjoyed the post; I really must get to work on another, as I’ve read some very good things since this one.
    Given your interest in character driven fiction, lovely prose and the visual arts, you might find White on White a very enjoyable way to pass a few hours. For a short work, it does function on a number of levels; but if you want to ignore these (as I largely did in my review) it’s very enjoyable simply as a character driven little study. I do think you’d appreciate Keegan as well. Her prose and psychological insight are really something exceptional.
    I had to laugh at your reaction to Morandi’s still lifes! I’d say it was identical to Mr. Janakay’s except for the fact that he finds them too boring to be depressing. I actually do like the New York winter painting by Henri, although on the whole I’m not a big fan of that particular school of American realism. As for the big blue chicken — well, it took me a few years but now it’s usually a stopover on any visit to the museum. Washington’s such a serious (the unkind might say pompous) city; the blue chicken does much to lighten the mood.
    I look forward to your resuming your blog; can’t wait to see what you’re reading these days!

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