The Solitary Summer, by Elizabeth von Arnim is a short and lovely summer read. It is a sequel to her famous book, Elizabeth and Her German Garden, which I read years ago and loved. Click here to read my review. Elizabeth’s idea for her solitary summer is described in the quote below from the book:
Last night after dinner, when we were in the garden, I said, “I want to be alone for a whole summer, and get to the very dregs of life. I want to be as idle as I can, so that my soul may have time to grow. Nobody shall be invited to stay with me, and if any one calls they will be told that I am out, or away, or sick. I shall spend the months in the garden, and on the plain, and in the forests. I shall watch the things that happen in my garden, and see where I have made mistakes. On wet days I will go into the thickest parts of the forests, where the pine needles are everlastingly dry, and when the sun shines I’ll lie on the heath and see how the broom flares against the clouds. I shall be perpetually happy, because there will be no one to worry me. Out there on the plain there is silence, and where there is silence I have discovered there is peace.”
She did indeed have her solitary summer, even though husband and family were there at home with her. But she spent her days outdoors in the gardens and reading, and she had the freedom she so desired. Her ruminations on the books she read, and the flowers and plants she loves, are life-affirming. Her descriptions are lovely, and I felt as though I was there with her savoring that magical summer. All the way through the book I kept thinking of the saying: “If you have a library and a garden, you have everything you need.” And she said it even more eloquently in the book:
What a blessing it is to love books. Everybody must love something, and I know of no objects of love that give such substantial and unfailing returns as books and a garden.
I also chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “WANDERLUST: Reading the World,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each of the countries of the world. This book took place in Germany.
This book is also part of My Garden Reading.
I read Excellent Women, by Barbara Pym, many years ago. It was the first book I read by her and I remember liking it very much. Since then, I have read many of her other books, but it had been so long since I read this one that I decided to include it on my list of 50 books to read in 5 years for The Classics Club. Last month, it came up as my “Classics Club Spin” book for May. I’m glad I reread it, and I’m happy to spend time reading anything written by Barbara Pym.
“Excellent Women” is a term referring to unmarried women who are considered spinsters. In this story, which takes place in the 1950s, the main character, Mildred Lathbury, is just over 30, and well established in the community as a spinster. As the daughter of a clergyman, she devotes much of her time to helping at her church, and just helping people in general. She is capable and independent, and quite satisfied with her life as a single person. But new neighbors, a married couple, complicate her predictable daily existence, and she gets drawn in to the drama of their lives. She is good friends with the pastor of her church and his sister, (who has always taken good care of him), but when he gets engaged to the widow of another clergyman, that further complicates Mildred’s ordered life.
Throughout this story, I felt that Mildred was the only “adult in the room.” Everyone else was needy in one way or another, or selfish and unable to really care about others. I felt sorry for Mildred because of the demands placed on her, and when others took advantage of her I wanted her to stand up to them and just say “No.” It took her quite awhile to be able to do that, but she weathers all the demands and drama, and in the end appreciates her single life, her solitude, and her independence even more than before.
I suppose an unmarried woman just over thirty, who lives alone and has no apparent ties, must expect to find herself involved or interested in other people’s business, and if she is also a clergyman’s daughter then one might really say that there is no hope for her.
There is always a lot of subtle humor in Barbara Pym’s novels, which is very entertaining. I liked the main character, Mildred Lathbury, more and more as the book progressed and appreciated her intelligence and her insightfulness into the humans around her. This was a novel well worth re-reading.
Excellent Women was one of my choices for my 50-books-in-5-years for The Classics Club.
Kim Stafford is the Poet Laureate of Oregon. He’s a wonderful poet, as was his father, William Stafford. He’s been publishing on InstaGram a series of poems during this pandemic and time of quarantine, and I’ve looked forward to reading each one.
Here is his poem that greeted me this morning. He introduces it by saying, “In the web of our connections now, there are no random strangers. All become kin in our mutual concern.”
His work is another one of the beautifully creative endeavors that are helping us get through this crazy time with compassion and understanding.
CLICK HERE to visit his own website.
CLICK HERE to visit his InstaGram page.
This garden is really too demanding for me at this stage in my life, but I know I shall never be able to restrict myself there. It has to be accepted that gardening is a madness, a folly that does not go away with age. Quite the contrary.
~ May Sarton, At Seventy
Catching up on some of my reviews at the end of the year here. A few months ago, I read The Moonspinners, by Mary Stewart. I should say I re-read it, because I remember reading it in high school and loving it. I also remember seeing the movie with Hayley Mills in it!
The story takes place on the island of Crete, and Mary Stewart tells a terrific story of intrigue and suspense, with a dash of romance.
from the publisher:
While on a walking holiday through the beautiful, deserted hills of Crete, Nicola Ferris stumbles across a critically injured Englishman, guarded by a fierce Greek. Nicola cannot abandon them and so sets off on a perilous search for their lost companion – all the while being pursued by someone who wants to make sure none of them leave the island . . .
I was caught by the suspense and read through the book very quickly, but not too fast to savor the way that Mary Stewart writes. Here’s an example of the kind of description she includes in her books. I feel like I’m there, in the heat and the dust and the beauty of the area.
But, when the big white bird flew suddenly up among the glossy leaves and the lemon flowers, and wheeled into the mountain, I followed it. What else is there to do when such a thing happens on a brilliant April noonday at the foot of the White Mountains of Crete; when the road is hot and dusty, but the gorge is green, and full of the sound of water, and the white wings, flying ahead, flicker in and out of deep shadow, and the air is full of the scent of lemon blossom?
I’m going to see if I can find the old movie and watch it again. I’ve always liked Hayley Mills, and it would be fun to revisit the film version of this story, too.
I chose this book to read for my personal challenge, “Wanderlust,” an effort to read books that are from or take place in each country of the world. This was a book from Greece.
The novella, Christmas at Thompson Hall, by Anthony Trollope, made me laugh out loud! It’s just a fun read for the holidays or for any time!
from The Trollope Society:
…Mrs. Brown, journeying with her husband from the south of France to her old home in England for the Christmas holidays, spent the night in Paris where Mr. Brown developed a sore throat. Thinking to make a mustard poultice from a pot of mustard she had seen in the salon, Mrs. Brown lost her way on her return and, entering the wrong room, discovered after the poultice had been applied that the patient was not her husband…
I am enjoying some holiday reading!
I’ve only been to New York City once in my life, long ago, and I would love to return, especially after reading E.B. White’s Here is New York! E.B. White is a wonderful author and one of my favorites. I’ve loved everything I’ve ever read by him, and this little book was another one I thoroughly enjoyed.
It is a love letter to New York and it captured the city of my imagination and my long ago experience there. The book was written 70 years ago, so of course much has changed, but even so, I think he described in many beautiful passages, the essence of the city.
There are roughly three New Yorks. There is, first, the New York of the man or woman who was born here, who takes the city for granted and accepts its size and its turbulence as natural and inevitable. Second, there is the New York of the commuter — the city that is devoured by locusts each day and spat out each night. Third, there is the New York of the person who was born somewhere else and came to New York in quest of something…Commuters give the city its tidal restlessness; natives give it solidity and continuity; but the settlers give it passion.
…New York blends the gift of privacy with the excitement of participation; and better than most dense communities it succeeds in insulating the individual (if he wants it, and almost everybody wants or needs it) against all enormous and violent and wonderful events that are taking place every minute.
This book is a must-read for anyone who loves New York, or who is interested in it, or who has always wanted to visit there, or who visited it long ago and needs to return!
I read this book as part of my year-long celebration of turning 70 years old.
Nevil Shute is one of my favorite authors. I love his books, so it felt a bit strange when I started Lonely Road and struggled to get into it at first. I actually started it twice, because the first time I set it aside for another time. The time came and, in the beginning, I was once again very confused and didn’t much care for the main character. I stuck with it this time, however, and it became clear that the confusion I felt was actually the confusion the main character was feeling after a car crash and serious head injury. The mystery of the story was to sort through what actually happened that night on that lonely road. And alongside and intertwined with that mystery was a love story of a lonely man.
A short summary from the publisher:
Malcolm Stevenson, a wealthy ex-naval officer haunted by his memories of the war, finds his lonely life turned upside down one night when he runs into trouble on a road near the coast. What at first appears to be an accident leads him to discover an international conspiracy against his country—and to fall in love with a dance hostess who seems to have something to do with it. Malcolm’s determination to expose the plot will put his life—and that of the only person who has brought him any happiness—in grave danger.
It ended up being an interesting read, but is not my favorite of Shute’s works. I still love his writing, and I think this book will stick with me for awhile…anyway, I keep thinking about it. I admire Shute for experimenting with different ways to tell his stories, and I do think this was a worthy creative effort.
I read this book for my 2019 TBR Pile Challenge.