Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Home again, with books and stories

Home again, home again, jiggity jig...

(Incidentally, does anyone know where that comes from?)

Anyway.  I'm back home again after a lovely week in New Hampshire, visiting family and friends and putting on a show to raise money for my barbershop quartet to perform in Portland, Oregon in two weeks.  It was wonderful to spend time with such amazing people, but it's always nice to be home again.  I miss people already, and also the weather - New Hampshire is so much cooler and less humid than Missouri!

I did surprisingly little reading on this trip.  I had saved Gaskell's Wives and Daughters specifically for this vacation, but I didn't end up opening it even a single time!  I did start a musicology book that's been on my to-read list for a long while now: The Rest is Noise by Alex Ross, music critic of the New Yorker.  It's a history of 20th-century classical music, and I'm enjoying it a lot despite a few minor complaints that I'll write about when I finish the book.

I had several exciting adventures in Boston on this trip!  To celebrate their 100th anniversary, my mother's company set up several events for its employees.  Thus, my mother and a guest (me! aren't I lucky!) were invited to attend dinner and a performance by the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall.  Everything about the evening was amazing - the food and wine, the violinists playing from the balcony as we ate, and of course, the music performed by the Boston Pops, which was Western (as in cowboy)-themed and concluded with their famous rendition of the Stars and Stripes Forever.  The next day, her company rented out the entirety of Fenway Park (home of the Boston Red Sox) for employees and their families.  So together with her husband and one of his sons, my mom and I got to explore Fenway Park!  We saw the Green Monster and were able to walk the warning track (the strip of gravel around the edge of the field), and all of the food in the entire stadium was free!  It was really fun but really crowded, and I ended up being really grateful that I'd planned a small excursion in the afternoon: I left the park and walked about a mile to Raven Used Books, my husband's and my favorite store in Boston.  It's an academic used bookstore, though it also has some fiction - ideal for a pair of academics!  Last time I was there, I came home with John Harper's phenomenal The Forms and Orders of Western Liturgy from the Tenth to the Eighteenth Century.  This time around, nothing on their classical music shelf cried out to me to take it home, but I did find a few other treasures:

The Pilgrim's Progress, John Bunyan -I've tried to read this book once before; you can read about that little adventure here.  Thank you to those who suggested better editions!  At Raven, I found the Oxford World's Classics edition, which looks like a faithful reproduction and even has the scriptural references I wanted.

The Mill on the Floss, George Eliot - Book bloggers have convinced me that I've got to read Eliot!  I've been dying to try her novels for a while now.  Somewhere I read that Middlemarch is Eliot's masterpiece, but that it's worth reading this one first to get a feel for her style.  My copy is also the Oxford World's Classics edition, which is hopefully a decent one.

The Summer Book, Tove Jansson - The best book I've read all year, hand's down.  I read this novel over winter break in a single sitting, shivering on my couch under a thick blanket with morning light streaming in through my living room window.  This may sound like a strange way to read a book about the summer adventures of a young girl and her grandmother, but somehow, this setting was perfect!  The Summer Book is at once beautifully simple and full of meaning, asking questions about life and offering glimpses of answers.  As soon as I read it, I knew I had to get my own copy, because I'm pretty sure I'll read it at least once a year, gleaning new ideas from it each time.  Here's my facebook review from many months ago:

This book has a very simple premise: Sophia, an inquisitive, caring, realistically selfish little girl, spends summers on an island in the Gulf of Finland with her unnamed grandmother. But it is so much more than that. This book sparkles. Its simplicity disguises its depth. This is a book I’m dying to own and read again and again, considering it each time from new angles and from new perspectives as my own life experiences change (Isaac says this is called the “hermeneutic circle”). Each chapter features beautiful descriptions of the island landscape. Man-made objects, like the cottage, boats, and channel markers, aren’t foreign, but join rocks, plants, and water to illustrate the island as it is and as it should be. The child’s explorations with her grandmother serve as a vehicle for discussion of life and death, family and relationships between people, God, tolerance, change, and wisdom. Parts of it made me laugh out loud, and I frequently read excerpts to Isaac. The Summer Book is one of my new favorites.

I'm thrilled with these new books, but buying them also made me come to a decision.  We're moving in a little over a month, and foolishly, I keep buying new books!  These aren't useless purchases - I'm reading books constantly, these days, and intend to continue reading fiction and non-musicological texts in graduate school - but continuing to add to the number of things we have to pack in boxes and move across the country is just a bad idea.  Thus, I'm on a self-imposed book-buying ban until the start of August, with two exceptions.  First, if a book I've wish-listed on Paperback Swap comes available, I'll feel okay ordering it, especially since most of my wish list is made up of academic books rather than fiction.  And second, my husband and I have agreed upon a compromise that will enable a very exciting book-related adventure in two weeks when I travel to Portland to perform with my barbershop quartet.  Portland is the home of Powell's Books, the largest independent bookstore in the world.  It covers an entire city block!  And it sells new, used, rare, out-of-print, you name it.  I'm so excited to take a field trip to see what must be a fantastic store, and I recognize that I'll find it totally unfair to take a trip to Powell's without being able to even consider buying anything.  So I'll bend my ban for this one bookstore, but anything I buy there has to replace an existing book on my shelf, so that the number of books I own doesn't increase.  I think that's fair, don't you?

Do any of you have advice on reading The Mill on the Floss?  Without giving spoilers, what should I pay attention to while I read it?  Is this the sort of book you should read in large gulps, or very slowly in bits and pieces?

Have any of you ever been to Powell's Books?  Is it as awesome as it sounds?  Is it accessible via public transportation?


  1. I have been to Powell's several times. My advice to you: prepare a list of wants! It is not a store to be browsed casually in just one visit; it's simply too overwhelming. I always go with a plan to visit certain sections: the VAST fiction and literature, travel, Italian (since I study it), children's, and the rare book room, are musts on every visit. The first couple of visits, I found a good number of Viragos (one of my favorite presses), but not as many lately. I ALWAYS find a surprise or two, or a gem I thought I'd never find. My only complaints: they need a much bigger tearoom, and a faster elevator! You can have your purchases mailed to you, which is great. Have fun!!!

    1. That's great advice; thank you! Do you remember if new and used books are mixed in together? And hopefully it's organized enough that literary fiction is separated from contemporary fiction - I find it much easier to find interesting books that way! And I didn't know they had a tearoom - that sounds completely lovely. :-)

  2. I know most people like Middlemarch best, but Mill is my favorite of the Eliot novels I've read. It's wonderful and a very good place to start. I don't have any specific advice for how to read it--I read it in big gulps, but that's how I usually read unless there's a good reason not to. It's a novel you can just read for the story, but keeping an eye on how Eliot talks about nature could enrich the reading.

    And I'm glad to hear you loved The Summer Book so much. I got a copy at the Borders closing sale last year, where I snatched up most of the NYRB books I could find that I'd heard good things about, but I haven't read it yet.

    1. You simply must read The Summer Book! I've been recommending it nonstop since I read it. I wonder if your experience of it, should you read it in the summer, will be much different than my experience reading it in the dead of winter. I'd love to know what you think of it.

  3. My trip to Powell's was limited to fiction, mystery, and sci-fi/fantasy. Trust me when I say I rarely buy books and I came home with a huge stack of them: I kept finding things I thought I'd never see in a bookstore. Squeal after squeal of delighted pleasure. I could have spent days!

    I loved Mill on the Floss. Teresa got me to read it just last year in our annual book swap, and I adored it. Keep an eye on water imagery, and just for fun, hair!