Thanks to book club and the library, I managed to read 8 books (including 2 children’s books and one magazine) in this short month. Here are the opening lines.
Castle Rannoch, Perthshire, Scotland
There are two disadvantages to being a minor royal.
First, one is expected to behave as befits a member of the ruling family, without being given the means to do so. One is expected to kiss babies, open fetes, put in an appearance at Balmoral (suitably kilted), and carry trains at weddings. Ordinary means of employment are frowned upon. One is not, for example, allowed to work on the cosmetics counter at Harrods, as I was about to find out.
When I venture to point out the unfairness of this, I am reminded of the second item on my list. Apparently the only acceptable destiny for a young female member of the house of Windsor is to marry into another of the royal houses that still seem to litter Europe, even though there are precious few reigning monarchs these days.
PROLOGUE · JULY 1956 Darlington Hall It seems increasingly likely that I really will undertake the expedition that has been preoccupying my imagination now for some days. An expedition, I should say, which I will undertake alone, in the comfort of Mr Farraday’s Ford; an expedition which, as I foresee it, will take me through much of the finest countryside of England to the West Country, and may keep me away from Darlington Hall for as much as five or six days.
The man in the brown Harris tweed overcoat – double-breasted with three small leather-covered buttons on the cuffs – made his way slowly along the street that led down the spine of Edinburgh.
In a dark time, the eye begins to see. – Theodore Roethke, “In a Dark Time”
I began [writing] this book in a season of heartbreak – personal and political heartbreak – that soon descended into a dark night of the soul. It took months to find my way back to the light and six years to complete the book. But as I fumbled in the dark, the poet Roethke’s words proved true time and again: my eyes were opened to new insights, and my heart was opened to new life. The evidence will, I hope come clear as this book unfolds.
The scene is strikingly familiar. At a large American university, a graduate student stands at the front of a grand lecture hall drawing graphs and equations on a chalkboard. He may speak proficient English; he may not. The material is dry and mathematical.
A Note from Miss Kelly
Dear Mrs. Peck,
Your son Robert made a rude remark to Miss Boland, our school nurse. Perhaps it was not intended to be as coarse as it sounded.
What If All Could Thrive?
All of us carry labels applied by others. The complimentary ones – “generous,” “funny,” “smart” – are worn with pride. The harsh ones can be lifelong burdens, indictments we try desperately to outrun.
The most enduring label, and arguably the most influential, is the first one most of us got: “It’s a boy!” or “It’s a girl!” Though Sigmund Freud used the word “anatomy” in his famous axiom, in essence he meant that gender is destiny.
Today that and other beliefs about gender are shifting rapidly and radically. That’s why we’re devoting this month’s issue to an exploration of gender – in science, in social systems, and in civilizations throughout history.
Le Mont Saint-Michel
May 1, 1616
Wind, rain, and waves have pounded the rocky coast of Normandy for thousands of years. The forces of nature slowly eroded the vast coastal plains to form a large bay and, in the middle of that bay – apparently oblivious to the onslaught of nature – remained an impossibly large granite rock.
The Titles and Authors
Her Royal Spyness, by Rhys Bowen. A mystery.
Lady Georgiana Rannoch is a penniless “royal” from Scotland who is tasked with spying on the Queen’s son – you know, that son, who is scandalously carrying on with (gasp) an American divorcee. Violation of social norms, murder, breaking of china, peril, and tea drinking ensue. I enjoyed this cozy mystery - there was nothing too strenuous about reading it. I will be looking for the next book in the series.
The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro.
I read this for book club - it was my second time reading it. It is excellent writing. I would like to see the movie again. I recall a scene where the narrator (played by Anthony Hopkins) is ironing a newspaper. As someone who never uses an iron except in the direst of circumstances, that made an impression on me.
Friends, Lovers, Chocolate (Isabel Dalhousie Mysteries Book 2)
by Alexander McCall Smith.
This author is saving my sanity. I would like to go to Edinburgh.
Healing the Heart of Democracy: The Courage to Create a Politics Worthy of the Human Spirit, by Parker J. Palmer.
This book deserves to be quoted more extensively than I am prepared to do here. But part of me fears that what the book recommends is too little, too late.
Naked Economics: Undressing the Dismal Science, by Charles Wheelan.
This book covers basic economic concepts, presented in an easy to read format. Economics is always political, and you can decide for yourself if you agree with the way the author presents things. I thought this was a reasonable overview of some main economic concepts. Here’s a quote that I think is relevant for today:
“reasonable people can disagree sharply over when and how the government should involve itself in a market economy or what kind of safety net we should offer to those whom capitalism treats badly. The economic battles of the twenty-first century will be over how unfettered our markets should be.”
He is right on one thing: people are disagreeing sharply these days.
Soup, by Robert Newton Peck (c 1974, ages 8-12).
I was underwhelmed. Each chapter is just a vignette – there is no plot running throughout the book. I finished it because it was a very short book. Was this supposed to be designed to lure boys who hated books into reading at least something?
Gender Revolution: Special Issue, National Geographic magazine, January 2017.
Okay, strictly speaking, this is not a book, but the whole issue was approximately the length of a short book so I’m counting it. The articles are excellent and fascinating and heartbreaking at times. I recommend that you find a copy and read it.
Secrets of Shakespeare’s Grave (The Letterford Mysteries) by Deron R. Hicks (ages 7-10). I really enjoyed this book. Despite being classified as a book for younger children (compared to Soup, Book 6 above) this one had an actual plot and used words like “oblivious.” It was kind of like The Da Vinci Code except much less annoying, with more likeable characters, and no heresy.
So what’s in your book pile this month, Dear Reader?