Monday, August 23, 2010

Thursday At Random

  • Although I promised myself "No More Books," I cheated. A box arrived last Friday with four new ones and I set out immediately to read Becoming Queen Victoria by Kate Williams. The only review I had read about it was by someone who stopped at page 80 because s/he was already one-fifth into the book and no Victoria had as yet appeared. Sometimes I just have to shake my head at people - and wonder. That Victoria should have become queen at all was an unforeseen event that sat on the shoulders of other unforeseen events, i.e. but for this...that. The unfolding of how her reign ever saw the light of day is one of the major themes of the book. I doubt anyone keeping bets in 1796 would have placed favorable odds on the way things ultimately worked themselves out. The first half of the book concerns itself with those twists and turns of fate and establishes Becoming as the operative word in the title. I spent a wonderful weekend reading and enjoying it. Nevertheless, it had a few flaws. I found two typographical errors which jumped out at me like a warts on Mona Lisa's nose. One word "compained" which should obviously have been "complained" would have been easily found with Spellcheck. In addition, there was a very poignant episode that Williams only touched on briefly that I think deserved to be covered in more depth. Victoria (an only child) and her mother, the Duchess of Kent, had a strange and estranged relationship. The Duchess, obviously power hungry, struggled to maintain control over her daughter; Victoria rebelled and tried to push away from her domineering parent with even greater force. Williams spends a great deal of time documenting their troubled relationship. When at last she became queen, Victoria snubbed her mother in small but significant and often cruel ways. Upon the death of the Duchess of Kent, Victoria told her eldest daughter that she never felt her mother loved her. How sad. But as she sorted through her late mother's belongings, she discovered the duchess had kept every little keepsake, every note, every piece of clothing, every lock of hair, every snippet of handwriting which was Victoria's. Obviously, her mother cared very deeply for her. Victoria was such a prolific journal keeper and letter writer, I have to imagine she revisited her relationship with her mother and expressed more fully some feelings of remorse. There's always a human story behind history, isn't there.

  • After finishing Becoming Queen Victoria I jumped right into The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. What fun! I am severely miffed, however. Another great story idea not conceived by me. My copy has a little ribbon bookmark bound into it...the second recently purchased book with such a feature. Is this the rebirth of an old trend in bookbinding? If so, I like it. Until now, I think the only book I have with ribbons in it is my old and obsolete Daily Missal. I can understand why it needed so many ribbons. They were there to keep your place during Mass as you jumped from the Ordinary (which itself is further divided into the Mass of the Catechumens and the Mass of the Faithful) to the Gospel to the Epistle and back again. There's a lot of jumping around in a Catholic missal. The ribbons in my missal are red, yellow, green, black and white but I could never remember which color belonged where, so I was always on the wrong page notwithstanding ribbons. Now most parishes use monthly throw-away magazine-y type things cloyingly called "missalettes." I find them totally unappealing and irksome - much like a ball point pen that gets thrown away when the ink is used up. But, having a ribbon in a novel is lovely. That's something I can get behind. And since there's only one - no confusion.

    • Is there anything more joy provoking, more warmly welcome in the kitchen than the smell of the spice cupboard? Mine is slightly narrow and three-shelved and filled with all sorts of exotica: cumin and cinnamon, sage and rosemary, garam masala, smoked paprika, bay leaves. Thrown together in a pot, all at once, no doubt they would be locked in mortal combat - the culinary equivalent of cacophony in a barnyard. But residing in the cupboard, they live in peaceful harmony: Tellicherry peppercorns rubbing shoulders with coriander...ginger and oregano and nutmeg all getting along. Sometimes I open the spice cupboard solely because I want to inhale. Oh! the evocative smells - of the summer sun, and burning leaves, and Christmas, and the mystery of far-away places all at once. When the mood to organize strikes, I try to coerce them into alphabetical order. It never lasts, though. The dried garlic insists on sitting next to the pumpkin pie spice, and the marjoram always hides in the corner. Just the a wonder. When we seek the spice of life we invariably mean that which makes us happy, which brings us joy. We spice up our love lives, and sometimes use spicey language when angry. Open your spice cupboard and breathe in its warmth. Go ahead. Take a moment. Be transported. As I rummage around to search for just the right flavor - hard on the trail of that elusive chord - the bottles clatter softly in a muffled promise of happiness to be experienced in the perfect dish. But it's the perfume that gets me. Every time - it's the perfume.


    1. Becoming Queen Victoria sounds really good. How sad that her mother was never able to express how much she cared for her. Books with ribbons in them always seem just that much more special, don't they? And oh yes, spices! I love especially the smell of cloves.

    2. I am on my way to my spice cupboard right now! (Actually, I was going there anyway. But now I'll be sure to tke a moment just to smell.) Thanks for that bit of poetry and for the fun book ideas as always.......

    3. I'm glad you are enjoying the Guernsey book -- I had fun with it as well. And the typos are SO annoying! A book I'm reading now has some, and it's so distracting.

    4. Oh, that is very poignant about Queen Vic and her mother - it's so sad! 'Compained' would have bugged me too. For days.

      Thought exactly the same thing about The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - being a letter writer especially. Had the same 'why didn't I think of this??' about Bridget Jones's Diary - having kept a diary for so many years, you might have thought... but no. I too LOVE ribbon bookmarks in novels, they're the height of elegance.

      Spices.. yummy. That makes me want a spiced apple cake.

    5. The Potato Pie book is one I've been meaning to read for ages, but I'm storing it up for a time when I need comforting and soothing (those times come around regularly!). Becoming Victoria sounds wonderful - I tend to have an ambivalent relationship with Queen Victoria, given that I share her name and had to put up for years with people intoning 'I am not amused' around me and thinking it the funniest joke ever. But you've made this account sound fascinating - thank you!

    6. I loved Kate Williams book about Emma Hamilton and am so excited to hear that you liked 'Becoming Queen Victoria'. I'm not a Victorians fan at all, but I thought if anyone could get me interested it might be Williams as she's just the right touch with narrative history, keeping a story flowing while making sure she gets in the relevant historical details and theories.