At first, as the months went by, it was shameful to me when I would realize that without my consent, almost without my knowledge, something had made me happy. And then I learned to think, when those times would come, “Well, go ahead. If you’re happy, then be happy.” No big happiness came to me yet, but little happinesses did come, and they came from ordinary pleasures in ordinary things: the baby, sunlight, breezes, animals and birds, daily work, rest when I was tired, food, strands of fog in the hollows early in the morning, butterflies, flowers. ~ Hannah Coulter (my Book of the Year) by Wendell Berry
If you are suffering from the flu, please forgive this next quote from Barbara Pym’s Quartet in Autumn, but it busts me up.
‘Of course David is here for his health,’ said Marjorie, coming back into the room and entering eagerly into the conversation.
‘Do you find the country is doing you good?’ Letty asked.
‘I’ve had diarrhoea (sic) all this week,’ came the disconcerting reply. There was a momentary—perhaps no more than a split second’s—pause, but if the women had been temporarily taken aback, they were by no means at a loss.
‘Diarrhoea,’ Letty repeated, in a clear, thoughtful tone. She was never certain how to spell the word, but felt that such a trivial admission was lacking in proper seriousness so she said no more.
‘Strong drink would do you more good than the eternal parish cups of tea,’ Marjorie suggested boldly. ‘Brandy, perhaps.’
He smiled pityingly, ‘All those English on package tours on the Costa Brava may find it helpful, but my case is rather different…’ The sentence trailed off, leaving the difference to be imagined.
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Soon after discovering Barbara Pym, I was delighted to find this reference to her in Margaret Visser’s Much Depends on Dinner .
Barbara Pym’s novels are full of sly insights into culinary anthropology; in them, “a bird’ is for when clergymen are invited for dinner: elevated, not too fleshly, and with a skin “gold-embroidered like a chasuble” as Proust put it.
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This travel quote doubles as philosophy:
There is no bad weather, only inappropriate clothing. ~ Rick Steves
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Leslie Thomas’ elegant prose in Some Lovely Islands arrested me. I thought he might be my “best new author” but after further research, he is not. Still, I loved this book.
The mountain and sky fell upon each other like black wrestlers locked in a hold;
The church, which was halfway, like a cheerful slice of cream cake in the day, was a big shrouded thing at this dark hour…
Fat banks of fog…with a certain politeness stopped short and stood around just outside the harbour.
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Eleni Gage wrote North of Ithaka about returning to the village in Greece where her grandmother had been killed by the Communists.
In the middle of one hymn, Costa yelled,”A car’s coming!” We stayed put, singing, figuring that any car could wait for the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. That’s the risk you take driving the one road through the Mourgana mountains; sheep or saints could stop you at any turn. I was flushed with the thrill of power. Lia may be small, poor, and remote, but when we got together to make a joyful noise unto the Agia Triada, we stopped traffic.
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If either politics, Ireland, or the Victorian era interest you, I offer you my dear Anthony Trollope’s Phineas Finn: The Irish Member, where you will read Violet Effingham’s assessment:
“I hate a stupid man who can’t talk to me; and I hate a clever man who talks me down. I don’t like a man who is too lazy to make any effort to shine; but I particularly dislike the man who is always striving for effect.
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Another new author (to me) is Mark Helprin, a storyteller par excellence. I can’t wholeheartedly embrace Helprin’s writing; I certainly appreciate and enjoy it. I plan to re-read A Soldier of the Great War at least once again, which is ironic in light of this quote:
Perhaps he was a fool, but he thought that if a work were truly great you would only have to read it once and you would be stolen from yourself, desperately moved, changed forever.
Music is the one thing that tells me time and time again that God exists and that He’ll take care.
In a great aria, purity and perfection of form are joined to the commanding frailty of a human soul, and when those elements are knit, an arresting battle follows.
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Finally, it is my goal to read through David McCullough’s oeuvre. Tack on Barbara Tuchman’s books to that plan. Those two are my favorite writers of popular history. Forget about sentences; check out Tuchman’s phrases from The Guns of August:
…the indifference of a mind so shallow as to be all surface…
…their relentless talent for the tactless…
…scatter generals like chaff…
…spending lives like bullets…