Just finished Dandelion Cottage, by Carroll Watson Rankin. 1904, middle-grade by today’s categories: four girls get to use a delapidated cottage, owned by the church on their block, as a summer play-house. I checked it out because Beverly Cleary mentioned in A Girl from Yamhill that it was a childhood favorite of hers. (And I see, browsing Goodreads, that I’m not the only one who read it for that reason.) There is lots of housecleaning! And entertaining a real live boarder for three weeks, and a culminating dinner party for the kindly landlord and favorite neighbor.
One thing stood out compared to contemporary books: the rotten new girl who steals, wrecks stuff, and otherwise makes things no fun doesn’t get the note of sympathy or redemption that would be required now. Laura’s parents are mean and negligent, and although the four Dandelion Cottage girls keep reminding each other not to sink to her level, no adult or narrator points out that Laura hasn’t really had friends before, has a tough family life, et cetera. I wonder when sympathy for bullies and “bad kids” became de rigueur– sometime before Mary Stolz’ A Dog on Barkam Street led to The Bully of Barkham Street in 1963?
There are two brief mentions of playing Indian, early in the book. No other content warnings that I can recall.
Dandelion Cottage would make a lovely pair with Elizabeth Enright’s 1958 Gone-Away Lake. And it has a school-story sequel called Girls of Highland Hall, which I have snagged to read on my phone.
The rest of my current reads:
- The Swan and the Seal, by Kristi Lee. She went indie with her sequel to the m/m novella Surprised At Nothing and changed the point of view to my favorite character!
- The Amulet of Samarkand, by Jonathan Stroud. Audiobook. I like the relatively subtle questioning of right-and-wrong, and Simon Jones does a wonderful sardonic Bartimeus! The disappointment is that I was sure Martha Underwood would turn out to be sneaky and powerful. She got Nathan’s real name out of him in the first five minutes! She walked right in on her husband’s meeting with Lovelace! But no, apparently not. :(
- The Boy in the Black Suit, by Jason Reynolds. He has such a strong, easy prose style. It makes me feel like I know the characters, like we hang out all the time.
- Year of the Griffin, by Diana Wynne Jones. I think I’ll always have a book of hers at hand for odd moments, because something interesting happens on every single page. Moment-to-moment interestingness.
Just finished: Glory O’Brien’s History of the Future, by A.S. King. I liked it more than any of hers since Please Ignore Vera Dietz. Yes, the future that Glory sees is implausible in its facts, and yes, I do think the book partakes in the character’s slut-shaming, or at least doesn’t counter-write it. But the questions about friendship and how to cope when your vision of the world isn’t shared by anyone else redeem it for me.
Just started: Stuff Matters: Exploring the Marvelous Materials That Shape Our Man-Made World, by Mark Miodownik. Going to get educated on some materials science at $0.25 a day until I can turn this overdue book back in! Started with a great origin story of being stabbed on the subway as an adolescent and becoming obsessed with steel as he examined the weapon at the police station.
Bedside book: Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones. …Again. I finished it and turned right to the beginning again. At least in ten-minute installments, it never seems to get stale.
Bathroom book: Syllabus, by Lynda Barry. Induced me to seek out Staedtler non-photo blue pencils, and I have never bothered to pencil before inking drawings or comics before.
I just found my bookmark for making wordcount progress bars, so here’s Biosquid‘s current stats:
As soon as she came in from the garden, Peter came and took the book out of her hands and presented her with a cloth to tie round her waist instead. Then he led her to the kitchen, where the mysterious and horrible process began. Peter thrust another cloth into her hands. “You wipe and I’ll wash,” he said, lifting the steaming saucepan off the fire and pouring half the hot water on the soapflakes sprinkled in the sink. He heaved up a bucket of cold water from the pump and poured half of that in the sink too.
“Why are you doing that?” Charmain asked.
“So as not to get scalded,” Peter replied, plunging knives and forks into his mixture and following those with a stack of plates. “Don’t you know anything?”
“No,” Charmain said. She thought irritably that not one of the many books she had read had so much as mentioned washing dishes, let alone explained how you did it.
DWJ, out to rectify this. <3 <3 <3
Authors whose books I admire greatly but have to read over and over again because I never quite get a complete understanding of them:
Diana Wynne Jones
Authors whose books I read over and over because they are transparent to me and show me myself (they feel too close to me to say I admire them greatly…though of course I do):
ETA: when I typed tags for this entry, all the authors on the opaque list were already in my tags. Only DMP from the second list was already there. I guess there is a trying-to-understand motive when I blog about books? (unless it’s a showing-off motive.)
#omgyouguys! In today’s surf I found What Kind of Tree Is That (mis)attributed to Nabokov! Here it is via Robert Day in the September 5, 1993, Washington Post (Mr. Day notes that it’s probably apocryphal):
Nabokov. Vladimir. American novelist and literature professor who once had something like the following conversation with a student at Cornell University:
‘Mr. Nabokov, I want to be a writer.’ Nabokov looks up from his reading he points to a tree outside his office window.
‘What kind of tree is that?’ he asks the student.
‘What is the name of that tree?’ asks Nabokov. ‘The one outside my window.’
‘I don’t know,’says the student.
‘You’ll never be a writer.’ says Nabokov.
It’s like my literary dead boyfriend sent me a love note.
I’m also reading Cleaning Nabokov’s House, by Leslie Daniels. It has that extravagant, “throw it all in yes the kitchen sink too!” energy that I associate with some first novels (Virginia Lanier’s first bloodhound mystery Death in Bloodhound Red is a great example). And at least in stretches it’s stuffed with wit and wry insights at such a pace I have trouble taking them all in.
It’s a new release, but I ran across it by chance, so there’s that little thrill of added value too. Well, “by chance” with respect to Nabokov. I had been thinking about Diana Wynne Jones and how much I like to read about housecleaning, so I did a keyword search. I’d already read Esmerelda Santiago’s America’s Dream and the Blanche White mystery series by Barbara Neely; I put another mystery, Maid for Murder by Barbara Colley, on my library list.
Apparently Leslie Daniels really does live in a house the Nabokovs rented. I expect he’s her literary dead boyfriend too.