Tea with Jane Austen by Kim Wilson – History, Recipes, Quotes – A Post a Day in May

It is entirely possible that many of you already know Tea with Jane Austen as it was a favourite with book bloggers when it came out. That wasn’t exactly yesterday but in 2011. This edition, that is. The original was published in 2004.

Tea with Jane Austen is a delightful and informative book that will charm Jane Austen and tea lovers alike. As the introduction states:

The book examines the role tea played in everyday life for Jane Austen (1775 – 1817) and her characters. Illustrated with extracts from her novels, her letters, and the writings of her contemporaries, each chapter looks at tea in a different context, from taking tea at various times of day to its function in particular aspects of their lives. I also include some recipes of the time, along with adaptations for the modern cook, for tasty fare that was served with tea.

I like that we learn a lot about Austen’s life and the history and importance of tea at the time. The extracts from the letters and the quotes from the books really transport you back in time.

It’s an ideal companion to read alongside the novels, an excellent introduction to her life and work, or a nice way to remember those we’ve already read. But it can also be used to recreate a breakfast, afternoon, or evening tea à la Jane Austen.

Kim Wilson has written other books about Jane Austen. At Home with Jane Austen looks particularly appealing.

 

Night Walks by Charles Dickens – London by Night – A Post a Day in May

Today’s post is very short. We have the most delicious reading weather and I want to make the most of it. Yesterday the thermometer on my shady balcony showed 30°. It was hot and humid, so, as was to be expected, we have rain today. Not just a drizzle, a downpour. The back garden is full of very old trees with dense foliage that is now dripping with rain. It’s wonderful. The best reading weather ever.

Night Walks, one of the titles from the Penguin Great Ideas series, contains several journalistic texts Charles Dickens wrote between 1850 – 1870. I’ve only read the first short piece so far, the one that has given the book it’s title – Night Walks.

During a certain period of his life, Dickens suffered from insomnia. It was due to a “distressing impression” and led to his wandering the streets of London all night during a series of several nights. He never says what distressing impression caused his insomnia, only speaks about the cure. Since he couldn’t sleep, he decided, it would be best to go for long walks. He must have left the house around midnight and only returned after sunrise to, finally, fall into an exhausted sleep.

This is a very short piece but it’s immensely enjoyable. Dickens describes his nightly London so well, creates such an uncanny atmosphere, touches on so many themes like homelessness, social injustice, poverty, mental health, in a mere 15 pages.

But the river had an awful look, the buildings on the bans were muffled in black shrouds, and the reflected lights seemed to originate deep in the water, as if the spectres of suicides were holding them to show where they went down. The wild moon and clouds were as restless as an evil conscience in a tumbled bed, and the very shadow of the immensity of London seemed to lie oppressively upon the river

He starts his walk close to Waterloo Bridge, at the time, a toll bridge, and walks on in the direction of London Bridge, Westminster, and ends at Covent Garden. He passes prisons, asylums, and theatres. After two in the morning, when the last pub closes, it gets very quiet. Only very few people are out and about and he cherishes what little contact he has, with the man on the toll bridge for example. His favourite parts seem to be having a light breakfast at Covent Garden or watching the mail come in at a railway terminus.

I tried to find out what caused Dickens’ insomnia and came across this interesting blog post

The Calligraphers’ Night – La nuit des calligraphes by Yasmine Ghata – A French/Turkish Novel – A Post a Day in May

Yasmine Ghata was born in France to a Turkish father and a Lebanese mother, the famous poet Vénus Khoury-Ghata. Yasmine Ghata studied Islamic Art. The Calligraphers’ Night – La nuit des calligraphes was her first novel. It was published in French in 2004, the Hesperus edition is from 2007. It’s currently sold out but used copies can be found very easily.

The Calligraphers’ Night tells a very poetic version of the story of Yasmine Ghata’s grandmother, the first female Turkish master calligrapher Rikkat Kunt. The book is told in first person, from the point of view of Rikkat. Rikkat Kunt was born in 1903 in Istanbul, where she also died in 1986. She was always drawn to calligraphy, the art that captures Allah’s breath, but at first she was married to a man she didn’t love. It wasn’t easy being a calligrapher for a woman but especially difficult at the time because calligraphy was on the way to extinction. Calligraphy and book illustrations were predominately Islamic art forms. But in 1928, attempting to modernize Turkey, Atatürk abolished the use of the Arabic alphabet in favour of a new Europeanized alphabet. The calligrapher’s work was threatened not only because it would lose meaning but also because Atatürk was not in favour of Islam.

Caught between a loveless marriage and those radical changes, Rikkat Kunt had to fight hard to pursue her calling. She finally got a divorce and worked as a calligraphy teacher at a university. Later, she met another man and another unhappy marriage followed. The son of that marriage would be the father of the author of this book.

This is such a beautiful book. The way it’s told is poetic. We really get a sense for this beautiful art and a better understanding for the religion. Everything has meaning in this art. Not only the finished product but the act of drawing the words or decorative borders of the books. The narrator explains, for example that the time the ink needs to dry, less than a minute in winter, several seconds in summer, corresponds to the presence of God.

Calligraphy is not only described as art but as magic. It is holy and without religion meaningless. Later however, Rikkat Kunt, too, began to modernize her calligraphy and strayed from the path of religion.

I mentioned before that Rikkat Kunt is the narrator, but I also need to mention that she begins her story after her death. The pages are populated with the ghosts of her predecessors. The ghosts of famous calligraphers are always presents and guide her. I think this symbolizes the tradition of this art. They all contribute to praise Allah and his prophet and one influences the next.

I loved this book so much. Not only is the writing beautiful and the story fascinating, but I feel like I learned so much about Turkish culture, language, history, and religion. The way this is presented is informative but never dry and fits into the story seamlessly. And I’ve always been fascinated by calligraphy. I also find Arabic so beautiful to look at that I wanted to learn it once.

Because being a calligrapher was so unusual for a women and because women at the time didn’t have a lot of freedom, the book is also about the role and position of women in Turkish culture.

I’ve been to Turkey but not to Istanbul. I always wanted to see it, now more so than ever.

Tell Me A Dragon – The Wonderful Art of Jackie Morris – A Post a Day in May

As you know by now, I’m fond of children’s books. Especially picture books. I only have a small collection, but I cherish every single book. Those I usually like the most are the ones that have been written and illustrated by the same person. When I discovered Jackie Morris and her art on Twitter, I knew immediately that I would love to collect her books. The artwork is just stunning.

She has also done several very interesting collaborations. Lost Words, her collaboration with Robert MacFarlane, garnered a lot of praise.

Fantasy Fans will know her from her cover art of Robin Hobb’s famous series.

Her books are exquisite and appeal to adults just as much as they appeal to children.

Even though I want to collect her books, I have only gotten one so far. The picture book – Tell Me A Dragon.

 

I absolutely love it. The artwork is delicate, the colors so intense.

 

I know I will get the books she did with Robert Macfarlen, Lost Words and Lost Spells, which hasn’t been published yet.

But I would also like to get her other picture books eventually.

Jackie Morris lives in Wales with her children and three cats.  It’s worth following her on Twitter. It’s such a lovely account with photos, kitten pics, and sneak peeks at her art. Here’s the link to her Twitter account and the link to her blog.

Love by Angela Carter – A Post A Day in May

Opening an Angela Carter novel is like entering an opulent, sumptuously decorated room. It’s lush, it’s whimsical, it’s anything but minimalist. Love is no exception; it might even be one of the lusher ones I’ve read. Heroes & Villains has always been my favourite because of the imagery. Love has similar elements. The landscape, the apartment, the people, they are a bit wild, a bit mad, and reflect Angela Carter’s very distinct aesthetic. The book also reminded me of one of Le Douanier Rousseau’s paintings. He used to be my favourite painter as a child.

Love tells the story of a relationship triangle. One could call it a love triangle but whether there really is love among these three people, even though the title might indicate so, is questionable.

Annabel is a fragile, anxious art student who lives in her mind. Everything she sees is fed into her own mythology. Things have value only as far as they somehow fit into this mythology.

She quickly interpreted him into her mythology but if, at first, he was a herbivorous lion, later he became a unicorn devouring raw meat.

Lee, a former literature student and now teacher, is very different. He drifts through life, attracting women with his good looks and dazzling smile. His brother Buzz is more like Annabel. Slightly crazy, definitely wild, delinquent, and unpredictable.

At the beginning of this short novel, Lee and Buzz live together. They are only half-brothers and don’t have a lot in common except for a troubled childhood, but they are close or rather dependent on each other. One morning, after a party, Lee wakes up and a girl he doesn’t know lies next to him. How Annabel landed there, is explained later. This scene shows, they didn’t really choose each other. Fate brought them together. Annabel moves in with Lee. Buzz is travelling at that time, but once he comes back, dynamics change and the relationship becomes problematic.

Before Annabel moves in, Lee lives in white rooms. Her arrival brings colour and disorder. Because she’s an art student, and loves colour, she will soon cover his walls with paintings (see quote at the end of the post).

They rolled all over the pastel crayons scattered on the sheets so her back was variegated with patches and blotches all the colours of the rainbow and Lee was also marked everywhere with brilliant dusts, both here and there also darkly spotted with blood, each a canvas involuntarily patterned by those workings of random chance so much prized by the surrealists.

This is a rich tale of complicated relationships with destructive and self-destructive facets. Upon reading the names Annabel and Lee, anyone who knows Edgar Allan Poe, will immediately think of his poem Annabel Lee. That’s not a coincidence. If you know it, you know this is a tragic story. (You can read the poem here)

Annabel is so frail that a man like Lee, who carelessly drifts through life, seducing one woman after the other, unhinges her. And the friendship with someone like Buzz, who is as unconventional as they come, makes things even worse.

I loved this book so much. It’s one of a few books by her that I hadn’t read when I went through my Angela Carter phase. I’m not sure why. Possibly because of the title. I didn’t expect it to be this good. Reading it was like watching a very trippy movie or exploring a house with rooms that are all decorated in another, but very luxurious way. It’s also fascinating as a character study.

Love has so many symbols, themes, and images that fans of Angela Carter wil recognise from her other novels: rich interiors, leafy nature, passion, mental health, suicide, female sexuality, bourgeoisie, bohème, marriage, free love . . . I could go on and on.

I’m afraid, I’m not doing this complex book any justice. It would deserve an in-depth review but, because of my project, I don’t have the time to go deeper.

Angela Carter wrote an Afterword to Love, in which she imagines the future of her characters. It’s a feminist sequel to Love. Style-wise it was different from the novel, more sarcastic and cheeky.

I’ll leave you with a favourite passage from the beginning of the book (p.7)

In their room, Lee lay face down on the carpet in front of the fire, perhaps asleep. The walls around him were painted a very dark green and from this background emerged all the dreary paraphernalia of romanticism, landscapes of forests, jungles and ruins inhabited by gorillas, trees with breasts, winged men with pig faces and women whose heads were skulls. An enormous bedstead of dull since rarely polished brass, spread with figured Indian cotton, occupied the center of the room which was large and high but so full of bulky furniture in dark woods (chairs, sofas, bookcases, sideboards, a round mahogany table covered with a fringed, red plush cloth, a screen cover with time browned snaps) that one had to move around the room very carefully for fear of tripping over things. Heavy velvet curtains hung at the windows and puffed blue dust at the touch; a light powder of dust covered everything. On the mantelpiece stood the skull of a horse amongst a clutter of small objects such as clockwork toys, stones of many shapes and various bottles and jars.

The Death of Ivan Ilych by Leo Tolstoy – Classic Russian Literature – A Post a Day in May

Leo Tolstoy’s novella The Death of Ivan Ilych was published in 1886, roughly thirty years after War and Peace and twenty years after Anna Karenina.

I have read this before but felt it was time to reread it. I didn’t realize when starting it, what an excellent companion piece to Flaubert’s A Simple Heart this is. Both novellas tell the story of a life. One the story of a simple, uneducated woman, the other the story of a highly educated, successful man. Both stories are tragic.

The Death of Ivan Ilych starts with the discussion of a few lawyers, one of which just read their colleague, Ivan Ilych, has died. This intro chapter sets the tone. The reaction of the men tells us everything about them, their way of life, and Ivan Ilych’s life. Not one of them is saddened. They are only upset because it briefly reminds them of death. They soon console themselves though.

The very fact of the death of someone close to them aroused in all who heard about it, as always, a feeling of delight that he had died, and they hadn’t.

Only one of the men feels he should pay the widow a visit. Seeing the dead man makes him feel uncomfortable. He’s glad when he can escape again and go back to his life, his “friends” and playing bridge, a game Ivan Ilych had enjoyed and been very good at.

After this intro chapter follows the story of Ilych’s life. This is how it begins:

Ivan Ilych’s life had been most simple and most ordinary and therefore most terrible.

This is so short and cruel and tells us in one sentence everything that we need to know about Ivan Ilych. It condenses what we will read in the next chapters in more detail.

Ivan Ilych was a successful lawyer. He made a stunning career, even though he wasn’t always happy with the developments, especially not after he got married. What at first looked like a good idea, settling down with someone who had a bit of money and was nice to look at, soon proved to have been a mistake. She was jealous and never happy with what they had, always pushing him to make more and more money. He did so, not only for her and domestic peace, but because he, too, measured success in terms of financial and professional success. And he also liked power.

In his work itself, especially in his examinations, he very soon acquired a method of eliminating all considerations irrelevant to the legal aspect of the case, and reducing even the most complicated case to a form in which it would be presented on paper only in its externals, completely excluding his personal opinion of the matter, while above all observing every prescribed formality.

After living in provincial towns for many years, he finally gets offered a very good position in St Petersburg. He buys a house and furnishes it the way he always wanted. In his eyes it is perfection. But the author tells us otherwise.

In reality it was just what is usually seen in the houses of people of moderate means who want to appear rich, and therefore succeed only in resembling others like themselves: there are damasks, dark wood, plants, rugs, and dull and polished bronzes — all the things people of a certain class have in order to resemble other people of that class. His house was so like the others that it would never have been noticed, but to him it all seemed to be quite exceptional.

Ivan Ilych, who has never done any manual thing in his life, enjoys decorating his new home but then something happens. He has a minor accident and feels some pain in his side.

Soon after this, he notices that the pain won’t go and that he has other symptoms. He knows he’s seriously ill, even fears he might die.

Over the next months, Ivan Ilych deteriorates more and more, is misdiagnosed and misunderstood and dies a lonely painful death.

Ilych’s illness and death are slow and agonizing and give him time to think about his life. He realizes that something had been missing, that he had measured success in the wrong way.

‘Maybe I did not live as I ought to have done,’ it suddenly occurred to him. ‘But how could that be, when I did everything properly?’ he replied, and immediately dismissed from his mind this, the sole solution of all the riddles of life and death, as something quite impossible.

The tragedy is that the doctors who are incapable of empathy, are just like he was with the criminals— pompous and condescending. His entire world, he discovers is full of falsehood.

What tormented Ivan Ilych most was the deception, the lie, which for some reason they all accepted, that he was not dying but was simply ill, and that he only needs keep quiet and undergo a treatment and then something very good would result.

The Death of Ivan Ilych is an upsetting story. It’s dreadful to see how much he suffers and how nobody cares. I think one can also feel that Tolstoy didn’t like his character and that might be the biggest difference to Flaubert’s story. Flaubert didn’t judge Felicité. He felt compassion. Tolstoy doesnt feel compassion for Ilych as he seems to stand for everything Tolstoy abhors – bureaucracy, nepotism and arrivistes.

As I mentioned before, I read this twice and it feels like I’ve been reading two different stories just because my own life has changed so much. The first time, I’ve read it right after my dad’s death. This time around the sections on illness got to me more because the doctor’s reminded me so much of some of the doctor’s I’ve seen in the last couple of months. They just didn’t listen and had their idea about why I was in pain but very clearly they were wrong.

A lot has been speculated about Ivan Ilych’s illness. It’s never said what he has and might not be important. There are also many theories about the meaning of this story. To me, it is the story of a man who wanted only pleasant things in life, who hated change, and let himself drift until he hit a major obstacle, which he was incapable of overcoming. In that, and verything else, he is indeed mediocre.

100 Must-Read Life-Changing Books by Nick Rennison – Bloomsbury Reading Guide – A Post a Day in May

I’m very fond of these little Bloomsbury Reading Guides. I say little because they are just a bit bigger than a hand. I own quite a few of them. I find them well-done, informative, and a good introduction to different kinds of books and genres.

Now “life-changing” might make a few people roll their eyes thinking this is about self-help books. But it’s not. It’s about books that have had a major impact on people’s lives for various reasons. Either because they were ground-breaking, or because the author wrote about something in a new way. Because they talk about social injustice, philosophy, or psychological ideas. Many are novels that were highly influential. Some of these books literally changed a lot of people’s lives. Because they made them see the world in a new way or understand things better. In his introduction, Nick Rennison writes that this isn’t meant to be a best of. Just a varied list.

The idea that there can be a definitive list of the books most likely to change lives, and change them for the better, is a ludicrous one. Books can change lives but they do so in a wide variety of often subtle ways. Very different books can, in different ways, be life-changing and the selection of titles in this book reflects that. 100 Must-Read Life-Changing Books finds space for, amongst others, a children’s novel about a young girl who discovers a key to a secret garden, a Chinese text on a war from the sixth century BC, a black comedy set in WWII, the autobiography of one of the twentieth century’s most remarkable statesmen, a handbook on happiness by one of the world’s great religious leaders and a fable about a pilot who meets a story-telling child in the Sahara desert.

The authors and their book are presented in alphabetical order. Author and book are then presented in a short bio, summary and history of the influence of the book. These chapters are followed by Read on lists, which either contain other books by the author or books by other authors that are similar.

Throughout the book you can find themed boxes with lists of books.

Here are some of the authors you can find in this book – I’m picking two for every letter:

Isabel Allende, Marcus Aurelius, Frances Hodgson Burnett, Albert Camus, Jung Chang, Dalai Lama, Simone de Beauvoir, Anne Frank, Sigmund Freud, Ghandi, Jean Giono, Stephen Hawking, Hermann Hesse, C.G. Jung, Helen Keller, Barbara Kingsolver, Harper Lee, Primo Levi, Nelson Mandela, Alice Miller, Friedrich Nietzsche, Boris Pasternak, Sylvia Plath, Sogyal Rinpoche, J.K Rowling, J. D. Salinger, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Henry David Thoreau, Sun Tzu, Kurt Vonnegut, Edmund White, Naomi Wolf, Paramahansa Yogananda

As for the books – you’ll find titles as varied as The Little Prince, Siddharta, The Origin of Species, Walden, The Beauty Myth, A Room of One’s Own, Life of Pi, The Outsiders, On the Road, The Art of War and many more.

Because I have already read many of the books that are mentioned here, I like to use it as a refresher or when I’m in the mood to read books on a theme or books that might be similar.

If this kind of book appeals to you – here is a link to an older post about the Bloomsbury Guide on Historical Novels. It’s excellent as well.