I read this book several years ago and then I recently listened to it on CD. Don't expect a standard, chronological autobiography. This is a memoir ofI read this book several years ago and then I recently listened to it on CD. Don't expect a standard, chronological autobiography. This is a memoir of the author's first 12 years, living in pre-WWII Alexandria, Egypt, before she was sent to England to live with a relative. Memories of early childhood are often fragmentary and sometimes unreliable and Lively acknowledges and even enjoys that fact. Actually, a number of her books riff on the unreliability of memory and whether the accuracy of memories is all that important. The first time I read the book, I wasn't a parent. Now that I am and I'm homeschooling my son, I really enjoyed Lively's retelling of her own homeschool experience, being taught by her nanny (Lively's mother was, to say the least, an uninterested parent) using the British education materials that were sent to most "colonial" families living ex-pat lives at that time. It isn't a history of pre-war Egypt or a blow-by-blow account of Lively's life, but it is an intelligent and self-aware memoir of an interesting childhood, by an author who was a curious and observant little girl....more
I really enjoyed this book, although it was slow to get going. If you can make it through the first 50 pages, you'll be hooked. I started the second bI really enjoyed this book, although it was slow to get going. If you can make it through the first 50 pages, you'll be hooked. I started the second book included in this volume, "Three Men on the Bummel," and I really couldn't get into that one. ...more
I originally rated this book 4 stars, based on my memories of reading it in college. But I just re-read it yesterday and have to seriously lower my raI originally rated this book 4 stars, based on my memories of reading it in college. But I just re-read it yesterday and have to seriously lower my rating. What a self-inflated boor. Not that I know a lot more of his history and that of the people he mentions, I see that he wrote this in his embittered later years as a kind of retaliation for his own failures. I kept feeling angry while I read. Don't make the mistake of thinking that this is entirely indicative of how he felt about these people at the time, or that it comes close to mentioning the full story.
The final straw for me was his venomous last few pages about how rich people ruined his life and his marriage. Hah! The people he is referring to are Sara and Gerald Murphy, who were not the kind of hangers-on he makes them out to be. He was good friends with them and they were very supportive of his work. He was close enough friends that he sat by their son's sick bed when he was dying. He was like family. After losing her son, Sara Murphy was devastated by the way Hemingway skewered them in this book. All of their mutual friends knew exactly whom he was talking about. What a jerk. There were others he lambasted too, but his reversal on the Murphys was, for me, unforgivable.
And of course, every scene makes Hemingway seem like a perfect person. No flaws. I was amazed at how he downplayed his own drinking compared to Fitzgerald. They were BOTH alcoholics. Hemingway had his talent and his charm, but I gather from reading widely from people of the time, he could also be a bully and a pedant. He certainly comes off as both in this book.
I only give the book two stars because of the evocation of Paris of that time. Or at least of the Paris inhabited by drunken, largely American, artist types. ...more
I'm not actually a huge fan of Dan Savage's "Savage Love" column, but I really enjoyed this book. In it, Savage gives a heartfelt, funny account of thI'm not actually a huge fan of Dan Savage's "Savage Love" column, but I really enjoyed this book. In it, Savage gives a heartfelt, funny account of the move toward marrying his boyfriend and how that affects him, his friends, and most of all, his family. His mom is really the hero of this book. A staunchly Catholic woman who supports her son all the way, never losing her sense of humor. ...more
Detailed account of Savage and his boyfriend adopting a son. Witty, heart-breaking, and insightful. I got a good sense of how hard this process can beDetailed account of Savage and his boyfriend adopting a son. Witty, heart-breaking, and insightful. I got a good sense of how hard this process can be on both sides: the adoptive families and the biological mothers. Another author might make this maudlin or "educational," but Savage manages to keep you laughing while making you think and care. He'd be a hard act to follow....more
I've enjoyed Highsmith's books and I knew that she was a difficult person. This book portrays her compassionately, but realistically. She wasn't alwayI've enjoyed Highsmith's books and I knew that she was a difficult person. This book portrays her compassionately, but realistically. She wasn't always kind to those around her and she had many anxieties and dark thoughts. If you've read any of her books, you'd guess as much! The 50's were a difficult time to be a lesbian and having to hide her relationships didn't help. The biographer did extensive research, (even going as far as finding out who "Carol," the object of infatuation in The Price of Salt, was based upon) and it shows, although sometimes I found myself skimming over what seemed like excess detail. ...more
I've often dreamed of moving to Europe, so I enjoyed the descriptions in this book of the countryside, the food, and the houses and Mayle is often witI've often dreamed of moving to Europe, so I enjoyed the descriptions in this book of the countryside, the food, and the houses and Mayle is often witty. I'll give him that. But I couldn't help feeling annoyed with his whingeing on about his situation. He and his wife obviously have plenty of money; enough to buy a big, beautiful, old house with a swimming pool and then to pay a bunch of people to work on it while they spend their time eating, drinking wine, and pretending to be locals. What's to complain about? Well, Mayle finds quite a bit: The "tourists"(Mayle's term for non-French people who visit Provence who are not Mayle), visitors who take up his time when he really needs to be drinking wine and supervising his staff, the weather, and the Provencal lifestyle which frustrates Mayle with it's slow pace. It's not surprising that he eventually moves home to Britain. And although it's common to find this attitude in travelogue-type books, I found his descriptions of the local people to be rather condescending in an "oh, aren't they quirky and quaint!?" way. ...more
Patricia Highsmith fascinates me, probably not in a good way. I love her novels and short stories (she wrote a lot more than just the Mr. Ripley booksPatricia Highsmith fascinates me, probably not in a good way. I love her novels and short stories (she wrote a lot more than just the Mr. Ripley books), which are dark and tense. Following her life as a closeted lesbian and misogynist through years of the mid-twentieth century is like watching a train wreck, but gives a lot of insight into her stories. This particular biography was quite long and needed some serious editing for repetition and extraneous detail. I forgave that though because the biographer was braver that most in showing what a nasty piece of work Highsmith could sometimes be, even and especially to her friends. She was a tortured, broken person and to get close to her was to get sucked into her darkness. Satisfying read even if I did skim quite a bit ...more
This was the beginning of my love of the 1920s and 30s expatriate life and of the idea of hospitality. In fact, because of this book, my college art pThis was the beginning of my love of the 1920s and 30s expatriate life and of the idea of hospitality. In fact, because of this book, my college art portfolio was based on the theme of hospitality. Gerald was a talented artist in his own right and it's a pity he's not more famous. Sara was a flame that drew writers and artists of that period like moths. Written by their daughter, it reads like an homage. I'm interesed in other biographies of Sara and Gerald and it looks like there are some now. ...more
Why: A friend said that this book was a pleasure and an inspiration. In the 1920s and 30s, the author loaded her kids onto a 25' motorboat for severalWhy: A friend said that this book was a pleasure and an inspiration. In the 1920s and 30s, the author loaded her kids onto a 25' motorboat for several months of exploring all the bays and inlets near Vancouver Island off the coast of British Columbia each summer. She visits still-used winter Indian villages and remote logging camps, sees abundant wildlife, and enjoys the stillness and wildness of the coastline. Another reviewer said, "the fact that she repeatedly finds herself on adventures of the zero-visibility-fog-on-a-thousand-foot-cliff, cougars-in-the-immediate-vicinity order (with young children in tow) unquestionably earns her a place in the Badass category and makes this book fun to read." Sounds like a great example for homeschoolers!...more
In college, I was obsessed with owning the full multi-volume OED. But with my income, the closest I could get was the 2-volume set in a box witha drawIn college, I was obsessed with owning the full multi-volume OED. But with my income, the closest I could get was the 2-volume set in a box witha drawer containing the necessary magnifying glass for the microscopic print required to reduce the dictionary to such a size. When I saw this book about the making of the OED, I was excited to read it and it was better than I expected. The mystery and the sad history of the "madman" made for an engrossing page-turner!...more
This book as probably done more to preserve the memory of what it was like to be hunted like an animal in Nazi Germany than any other book. Because itThis book as probably done more to preserve the memory of what it was like to be hunted like an animal in Nazi Germany than any other book. Because it's accessible to kids, it gives us that first taste that other people's lives aren't so safe or comfortable as our own and the first inkling of the cruelty that exists. I remember my 4th grade teacher reading this aloud and the whole class was spellbound....more
I wanted to really love this book. And I did, until the irritatingly gushy chapters about the guy she meets online who is a fan of her web site, OrangI wanted to really love this book. And I did, until the irritatingly gushy chapters about the guy she meets online who is a fan of her web site, Orangette. She's a good writer, but her writing took a significant turn for the precious when she wrote about her "magic" boyfriend/fiance/husband. I got the feeling that those chapters were designed to impress him with all the wonderful things she had to say about him. When she got to the part where she described how they have these dialogs where they pretend there's never been anyone else ever in their whole lives, I cringed with embarrassment. That said, the earlier chapters about her family and her time in France were entertaining. And I loved her writing about her dad, which somehow reminded me of Anne Lamott writing about *her* dad. And the recipes I've tried so far have been pretty good: Butternut Squash Soup with Pear, Cider & Vanilla Bean; Slow-Roasted Tomatoes; and Chana Masala. Overall, I'm glad I read it, but I skimmed the sappy chapters, only pausing long enough to read the recipes....more
Fictional diary of an upper-middle class lady living in a small English village between the wars, trying to keep up appearances on a too-small budget;Fictional diary of an upper-middle class lady living in a small English village between the wars, trying to keep up appearances on a too-small budget; manage her moody servants; and deal with high-spirited children, a flighty French governess, and a cold, bored husband. It doesn't sound like it should be funny, but it is, in that dry, deprecating, witty English way. As one reviewer said, "For its time, it's quite subversive, with the Provincial Lady chafing against the restrictions placed on her by her gender and position. Delafield displays a marvellous ear for dialogue and a deft sense of the social requirements of 1930s Britain."
I liked it much better than the book it reminded me of: Bridget Jones' Diary. All I got from *that* book was a strong desire to smack Bridget up-side the head and tell her to get a life. I'd never want to spend time with irritating & shallow Bridget. But I think I'd enjoy being friends with the PL, who is intelligent & insightful, if a bit lacking in confidence and time to do any reading. I sympathized with her preoccupations (kids, household, neighbors, husband, lack of time for herself) more than Bridget's (dating, drinking, smoking & obsessing about her weight.) I don't think it had the same effect on me that it had at the time of publication (1931) though. While I laughed out loud several times at her observations about the human condition, I was also saddened by how women were viewed then and what narrow worlds they inhabited. A number of reviews have called the Lady whiney & shallow, but I think we'd all seem that way if we had to live in those circumstances and with her morose, hypercritical jerk of a husband. The saving grace of the book is her observations and asides about what she's really thinking. Here are some examples:
At a party given by the insufferably superior Lady B, "Lady B asks me at tea how the children are, and adds, to the table at large, that I am "A Perfect Mother." Am naturally avoided, conversationally, after this, by everybody at the tea-table" and later, "Shall she, Lady B, ring for my car? Refrain from replying that no amount of ringing will bring my car to the door all by itself, and say instead that I walked. Lady B exclaims that this is Impossible, and that I am Too Marvelous, Altogether. Take my leave before she can add that I am such a Perfect Countrywoman, which I feel is coming next."
"(Mem.: Theory that mothers think their own children superior to any others Absolute Nonsense. Can see only too plainly that Micky easily surpasses Robin and Vicky in looks, charm, and good manner – and am very much annoyed about it.)"
"Weather cold and disagreeable, and I complain. Robert [her husband:] asserts that it is really quite warm, only I don't take enough exercise. Have often noticed curious and prevalent masculine delusion, t othe effect that smypahy should never, on any account, be offered when minor ills of life are in question."
"To all enquiries as to whether [her children:] are cold, they invariably reply, with aggrieved expressions, that they are Boiling. Should like scientific or psychological explanation of this singular state of affairs, and mentally reserve the question for bringing forward on the next occasion of finding myself in intellectual society. This, however, seems at the moment remote in the extreme."
A great-granddaughter of Charles, Monica Dickens was a debutante from a wealthy family in the 1930's. As a young woman, she grew bored of "going out tA great-granddaughter of Charles, Monica Dickens was a debutante from a wealthy family in the 1930's. As a young woman, she grew bored of "going out to parties that one doesn't enjoy, with people one doesn't even like." Much to her family's surprise, she decides to "go into service," working as a cook-general for the wealthy "on the other side of the green baize door." This memoir covers her day-to-day life during the year and a half she spent going from job to job. It's quite funny, but it's also a social commentary on British life at the time, class distinctions, and the difference between working and a life of leisure. She's quite honest about the fact that, as a servant, she (and other servants) listens in on her employers' conversations, goes through their personal things, and uses up their food and drink for herself and her co-workers. She also doesn't worry too much about the quality of her work, admitting to sweeping stuff under beds, accidentally dripping soap into soup, and dropping food on the floor and serving it anyway. As she says, "what a mercy it is that mistresses don't see the back-stage details of a dinner party, they probably wouldn't eat a thing if they did." The employers are presented with the same honesty. Some are downright rude and obnoxious, some are nicer, but even the good ones can be condescending. "It's a curious game that people like to play sometimes, drawing out a maid...in order to get amusement out of the screamingly funny idea that she may have some sort of a human life of her own. Nice people like the Vaughans laugh with you, others laugh at you; but it comes to the same thing in the end...You have to humour them by saying amusing and slightly outrageous things so they can retail them to their friends, or 'dine out' on quotations from your conversation." On the whole, I was fascinated by this book and plan to try to find some of her other ones. She was prolific and took on many other interesting jobs before finally devoting her self to charitable work. ...more
I read and loved Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat," so I picked up this series of his essays on a variety of topics. Pub'd in 1886, before "Three Men inI read and loved Jerome's "Three Men in a Boat," so I picked up this series of his essays on a variety of topics. Pub'd in 1886, before "Three Men in a Boat," it was the intro by the author that sold me:
"One or two friends to whom I showed these papers in MS having observed that they were not half bad, and some of my relations having promised to buy the book if it ever came out, I feel I have no right to longer delay its issue. But for this, as one may say, public demand, I perhaps should not have ventured to offer these mere 'idle thoughts' of mine as mental food for the English-speaking peoples of the earth. What readers ask nowadays in a book is that it should improve, instruct and elevate. This book wouldn't elevate a cow. I cannot conscientiously recommend it for any useful purposes whatever. All I can suggest is that when you get tired of reading 'the best hundred books', you may take this up for half an hour. It will be a change."
I thoroughly enjoyed his humor and his insights into such topics as "being hard up," "furnished apartments," "dress and deportment," and "memory." Several times I laughed aloud. As you might expect, given the publication date, some of his ideas about women are a bit dated and sexist, but for a man of his era, I thought he was fairer than most.