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February 2012

January 2012

A memoir for the Anglophiles.

It hasn't been all doom and gloom around here as far as nonfiction reading is concerned. In the last few weeks there have been several bright spots in my reading, and one of them was Michael Frayn's memoir My Father's Fortune: A Life.

FraynFrayn is a British playwright and novelist, although I have never read any of his plays or novels. In fact, why I requested this book from the library on one of my regular browses through the new nonfiction releases in the catalog, I'll never know. I think I was aware he's British, and so, of course, I might be interested in his book.

Frayn recounts the life of his father, Tom Frayn, from birth to death. (Making this a blend of biography and memoir, although the majority of the book is told from Frayn's point of view as a child growing up in his father's household.) And he does a really nice job of showing how even the ordinary life of a British salesman and father, is anything but ordinary.

My favorite parts of the book actually came in the beginning, with Frayn describing his father's life as the beloved baby of the family, growing up among family members who were all either completely or almost completely deaf. The circumstances in which his father grew up certainly gave me pause:

 "My grandparents' house had four rooms, apart from the kitchen, and according to the 1901 census there were two other couples also living there. Presumably each of these couples occupied one of the rooms. So my grandparents and their four teenage children must have been living in the two remaining rooms. Two adults and four adolescents in two rooms--and all ten residents, presumably, sharing the kitchen...And now here's the new baby chucking his food under the table and screaming his lungs out, with his nappies being boiled on the copper...In the morning everyone trying to get their breakfast, and hot water for shaving, and their clothes pressed and ready for work.* All of them wanting the one lavatory, which at that time was presumably a privy in the back garden." (pp. 13-14.)

Really. Just PICTURE all that. It is a credit to Frayn's writing that he makes it easy to picture.

And the whole book is like that. It's a great picture of life in Great Britain, life in the lower middle class trying to cling to respectability, life as a child in England during World War II, and life as a family member in any number of relationships (as father, as son, as nephew, etc.). It's a great book, and I had to stop several times while I was reading it and just savor it. That, to me, is one of the marks of a very fine book indeed.

*Boiling nappies on the stove AND still having to press your clothes. Christ, I can barely make it in life even with disposable diapers and wrinkle-free shirts. People were made of sterner stuff then.

Bill Moyers is back.

Last night I was flipping through channels and remembered, when I saw PBS, that Bill Moyers is back on TV with a program called Moyers and Company.

I called my mother to let her know he was on, and she was tickled that he was back, but annoyed that he was on at the same time as 60 Minutes and Dateline. Then she called back later to let me know she'd left Moyers on, and it was a super-interesting program. So there's a tagline the new Moyers program can use--"Moyers and Company: Sufficiently interesting to tear the old folks away from Dateline!"

Why write a book when you can just copy and paste and sell someone else's?

If you've got a spare moment, you might find this article* about rampant plagiarism going on under the heading of "self-publishing" at Amazon interesting. Sad, but interesting.

This is my favorite line, personally: "Perhaps, though, Amazon doesn't care if it sells plagiarized works; it benefits from the sale whether it holds back an author's royalties or not."

Hm. Perhaps.

*Via Bookslut.


It's official: I am Not Myself.

It's now been weeks since I have plowed through any quantities of nonfiction. I did read Gene Weingarten's The Fiddler in the Subway, and have been reading magazines, but for me that's kind of the equivalent of not reading any nonfiction at all. I like to have at least three books going or I feel at sea.

On the other hand, I have been plowing through the Anne of Green Gables series, and have lately been considering getting more mysteries and perhaps some other fiction from the library. Of course I forget the titles now but I have been seeing some fiction titles pop up that at least seem interesting (and I'm very eager to get John Green's new book The Fault in Our Stars, but I'm a ways down the hold list for that one).

This has led me to think of what I need from reading. Over the course of the last ten years or so I have not been an escapist reader. (I've actually been a little disdainful of escapist, particularly genre, reading--just ask Mr. CR, as I pick on his genre bookshelves just for fun.) But just lately I find I have been craving reading from an escapism standpoint. Typically I love current affairs and investigative and history books, but lately every one of them I see just makes me think: Ugh. I do not know why this is. I'm not particularly stressed and actually have enjoyed good health for some time. So why do I need to escape now?

Part of me is wondering if it's just the nature of the beast when you are a girl. Really. That sounds horribly sexist but it's definitely a theory. Perhaps women, tired of juggling thoughts of work, home care, child and other family care, and friendship management, just do not have the strength left over for nonfiction (most of the time). This would partially explain why studies show that women tend to read (and buy) more fiction than men. Which is not to say men don't have concerns--they do. But I think men might be better about not having concerns about one thing (say, home) while they're dealing with another thing (say, work). What think you? Tell me in the comments.


A bit of housekeeping this morning that probably should have been done last week. Barely two weeks into 2012 and I'm already behind. Sigh.

First, many thanks to everyone who shared holiday and new year wishes over the past few weeks. I appreciated it, very much.

Secondly, I am sorry for the lack of posting. It is part of a greater, multi-part problem, which primarily consists of:

1. I have read hardly any nonfiction over the past month.

2. I have read hardly anything, a re-read of Anne of the Island (by Lucy Maud Montgomery) at bedtime notwithstanding, over the past month.

3. I am not finding anything I want to read, fiction or non, and the coming crop of 2012 books bores me to tears. More on this later.

4. When I am not reading, I am not sure what to do with the blog. This will most likely be a bit of a long-term problem, as I quite simply do not have as much time for reading (or blog writing) as I used to. I could blame CRjr for this, as it turns out it is work to care for another human being, even a blessedly healthy, happy, little one. Instead I will blame the universe for not letting me be born into an independently very wealthy family. You know, the kind of family with copious spare time and the financial wherewithal to hire nannies with backgrounds in childhood development and a second language they could teach my child.

So, what to do? Well, one immediate solution that comes to mind was suggested by a commenter (thank you--you know who you are): it is time to have a Book Menage. But I'm currently at low ebb on ideas. Does anyone have any nonfiction or fiction titles they'd like to suggest, or possible themes? Please list them in the comments, and we'll schedule a Menage discussion. Beyond that there will be some other posts this week about reading and nonfiction in general--stay tuned!