Some of the quotes and all the images from “The Great Conversation – Amended…” will follow in the next few posts, but while getting them ready I thought about my summer reading – books that readers here might also enjoy.
On my dedicated hammock and deck afternoons (two) I read (it’s short) William Deresiewicz’s “A Jane Austen Education” – a memoir of his life-changing encounter with Austen’s novels. In the book, a dollop of self-help mingles with the confessional, but the author has a self-deprecating sense of humor and his passion for Austen makes enjoyable reading – and sent me right back to Austen’s novels.
Describing “Emma”’s concern with everyday things, because they are important, Deresiewicz says: “The novel had a name for this gossipy texture of daily life, a word I stumbled on again and again. ‘Many little particulars!; I am impatient for a thousand particulars’; ‘She will give you all the minute particulars.’ Not just ‘particulars’ but ‘minute’ particulars. Life is lived at the level of the little.”
“Minute particulars” pile up in Stewart O’Nan’s books. I wrote a title on my hand, one day in the car, after hearing the Seattle Librarian Nancy Pearl recommend “Emily, Alone.” (If you don’t know Pearl, she’s a librarian who became a genuine action figure, and her website is a great source for books.) I ordered the book from the bookstore on Bainbridge, and then realized I had to read its predecessor first, “Wish You Were Here.”
In that book O’Nan chronicles a week at a lake, and in “Emily, Alone,” a season from autumn to summer – not much happens, but O’Nan shapes rich characters from daily detail. Eating, arguing, worrying, I feel like I spent summer with these people, and now wonder about their winter.
I’ve just begun, but I’m thrilled by, a gift from the wordsmith – “The Paper Garden: An Artist (Begins Her Life’s Work) at 72” by Molly Peacock. The artist was a minor British noblewoman named Mary Delaney, known now 200 years later as Mrs. Delaney.
Married off at 16, widowed by 25, part of a love match for 23 years, and widowed again, Mrs. Delaney picked up her scissors then (at 72), and cut exquisite, botanically accurate flowers from paper. She “invented an art form.” Peacock collages her own honest memoir with Mrs. Delaney’s story, 18th century historical detail, and a careful, imaginative study of Mrs. D’s images. In the process, the book explores and encourages the pursuit of creativity, no matter the time in one’s life.
The book is fat and full – a plucky Jane Austen heroine, a little “Wolf Hall” scene setting, and thoroughly modern language and approach – total fall comfort!