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Posts Tagged ‘L.M. Montgomery’

dish rack kitchen

Well, let’s tackle this pile of greasy plates and look as if we liked it.”

“I do like it…I’ve always liked washing dishes. It’s fun to make dirty things clean and shining again.”

“Oh, you ought to be in a museum,” snapped Nora.

—L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Windy Poplars

I thought of these lines last week as I pulled on my rubber gloves to tackle yet another sinkful of dirty dishes, pots and silverware. Even with just the two of us at our house, I’m constantly surprised by the amount of time I spend in front of the kitchen sink, scrubbing and rinsing. (The hubs usually dries and puts away.)

With a full-time job, lots of other things on my mind and no dishwasher, there are definitely times I empathize with Nora Nelson, above. (Though she and Anne Shirley were tackling the aftermath of a big wedding supper – which isn’t on my usual to-do list.) But even if I start out grumbling, I’ve often come around to Anne’s perspective by the time I turn off the hot water. There’s something tangible and satisfying about this work: scrub, soap, rinse, fill the dish rack. I’ve even been known to turn to it as a form of stress relief, like Pacha’s wife in The Emperor’s New Groove. (“I gotta go wash something!”)

I’ve written before about how pottering around the house can lower my blood pressure, or get me out of my head and back into my body after a long day of sitting and clicking at the computer. I am not an immaculate housekeeper and I am fiercely proud of having a career outside the home – which is (still!) not an option for so many women everywhere. Sometimes I find it a bit ironic that I come back to the computer to extol the virtues of housekeeping. But as Kathleen Norris has famously noted, laundry and other household tasks offer instant, visible results – and that is nothing to sneeze at.

Also, crucially, washing dishes is something I choose to do. It is necessary in a sense: we need dishes to eat on, and the dirty plates would eventually take over the kitchen. But I also believe this is part of the work of adulthood, no matter your gender or occupation: making and caring for a home. I chose this life (and these dishes, for that matter) – so I also choose to participate in the work of caring for them.

I’m still not above a hearty Nora-like growl once in a while. But like most people, I love to see the fruits of my labor – and a kitchen full of clean dishes (and, preferably, delicious food) is a pretty good way to do that.

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jane of lantern hill book tulips

Can I help you?” said Jane.

Though Jane herself had no inkling of it, those words were the keynote of her character. Any one else would probably have said, “What is the matter?” But Jane always wanted to help.

—Jane of Lantern Hill, L.M. Montgomery

I’ve been thinking about this quote lately, partly because I’ve been rereading Jane’s story again. It is the perfect early spring book: the story of a young girl discovering, and falling completely in love with, a new life on Prince Edward Island with the father she never knew.

I love watching Jane come into her own as she goes, like Dorothy Gale, from a black-and-white existence in Toronto (where her imperious grandmother rules the roost) to the Technicolor world of the Island, where new friends and experiences are waiting around every corner. (The hubs and I drove to PEI a couple of summers ago, and it is as gorgeous as I always imagined, from years of reading L.M. Montgomery’s rapturous descriptions.)

Jane is a dreamer with a kind heart and a wide practical streak, who takes a deep delight in the joys of everyday life and work. In the scene quoted above, she hears a neighbor girl crying and goes to investigate. Elsewhere in the book, she pitches in to help her neighbors with everything from arranging flowers to shingling the barn roof. But when I reread this scene, it struck me that Jane’s attitude is key. She always wants to help. And she asks if she can help.

I am still settling into a new work routine, and some of my responsibilities are clear, while others are more ambiguous. Sometimes I get nervous about stepping on my colleagues’ toes, or figuring out exactly where I fit in the scheme of things. But most of the time, when I ask if I can help with a story or project, my colleagues respond with gratitude – sometimes even delight. (I tend to respond the same way when someone asks if they can help me.) The key, so often, is remembering – and being brave enough – to ask.

Sometimes, I admit, I’m too wrapped up in my own frustrations (or too overwhelmed by the demands of the to-do list) to think about helping other people. And often I am the one who needs to ask for help. But I am trying to take a leaf out of Jane’s book and remember to ask. Because I want to be a person who helps.

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rilla of ingleside book tulips

I’ve been thinking about Rilla Blythe lately.

Rilla is Anne Shirley Blythe’s youngest daughter, the last of the six children who grew up at Ingleside in the golden years before World War I. In August 1914, she’s nearly fifteen: pretty, pampered, a little spoiled, but still sweet. She’s never had to do many disagreeable things, apart from the occasional household chore. But when war erupts in Europe, it upends her entire world.

Rilla of Ingleside is the story of how the women of Ingleside – Rilla, Anne, their faithful cook-housekeeper Susan, and Miss Oliver, the local schoolteacher – grit their way through the dark days of war. It’s one of the lesser-known Anne books, but it’s one of my favorites. I’ve read it a dozen times, and I love it so much.

As I make my way through both winter and the job hunt, a few lines from Rilla’s story keep coming back to me.

“I finished my sixth pair of socks today,” Rilla writes in her diary one evening. “With the first three I got Susan to set the heel for me. Then I thought that was a bit of shirking, so I learned to do it myself. I hate it – but I have done so many things I hate since 4th of August [when war was declared] that one more or less doesn’t make any difference.”

When war comes, both Susan and Rilla resolve, separately but with similar motivations, to be “as brave and heroic and unselfish” as they can be. Rilla’s declaration comes with italics and drama (she is fifteen, after all); Susan’s comes with a plain, old-fashioned sense of duty. They, and the entire village of Glen St. Mary, spend the next four years adjusting to new realities and, in the face of tragedy, simply doing what must be done.

They are no saints: they get frustrated, tired and worn down, and Rilla shares her troubles with the reader as she blows off steam in her diary. Even Miss Oliver says one day, in a rare moment of desperation, “There’s nothing heroic about me today. I’ve slumped.” But they always pick up courage and go on, helped in no small measure by letters from their boys at the front, and by one another.

I am in the middle of a few long, hard struggles, notably winter (we are now in the grit-your-teeth phase) and the continuing job hunt. I have to do a lot of things I’d rather not do, these days. But often, thinking about Rilla and her umpteen pairs of socks (and the many other tasks of wartime) helps me pluck up a bit of gumption to keep going. As she says to herself on a particularly difficult evening, “I must stay here and see things through.”

I’ve written often about how my fictional heroines keep me company or inspire me when things are rough. Do you have any fictional characters (or good words in general) that you draw on when you need wisdom or strength?

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more new books sign brick wall

More of all these things? Yes, please. (Spotted at The Bookstore in Lenox, MA.)

Sorcerer to the Crown, Zen Cho
I heard about this fantasy novel on the All the Books podcast, and then Jaclyn raved about it. I did not love it quite as much as they did, but still enjoyed it. Unruly mermaids, issues of race and class, the magical education of women in Regency England and a fast-paced, clever plot add up to a lot of fun.

A Curious Beginning, Deanna Raybourn
Left alone in the world when her spinster aunts die, Veronica Speedwell plans to pursue her passion for lepidoptery. But a break-in and attempted abduction plunge Veronica into the mystery of her own identity – and into close quarters with a very interesting man. A rip-roaring historical mystery that sparkles with witty dialogue. So fun.

Anne of the Island, L.M. Montgomery
I picked up this old favorite because I needed a few evenings with Anne and the girls at Patty’s Place. I love their college adventures and the cozy home they make together. Always a treat.

The Secret Chord, Geraldine Brooks
Musician. Warrior. Poet. Adulterer. Divinely anointed, yet undeniably human. King David was a man of deep contradictions, and Brooks explores them all in this richly imagined novel, narrated by the prophet Nathan. I loved Brooks’ language – vivid and lyrical – though I still found David himself unknowable. Gritty and compelling.

Georgia, Dawn Tripp
Though Georgia O’Keeffe is best known today for her stunning outsize flowers and Southwestern landscapes, there was much more to the woman, and to her art. Tripp explores O’Keeffe’s evolution as an artist, her long and prickly marriage to the photographer Alfred Stieglitz, and her complicated relationship with the publicity and recognition she received. Gorgeously written; immersive. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Feb. 9).

Murder Most Malicious, Alyssa Maxwell
December, 1918, Foxwood Hall, England. When a visiting marquess is murdered, Lady Phoebe Renshaw and her maid, Eva, put their heads together to investigate. I’ve enjoyed Maxwell’s Gilded Newport mysteries. This first book in her new series had promise (and a Downtonesque setting), but I didn’t love it.  To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 29).

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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fall books window mcnally jackson nyc

(Window display at McNally Jackson in NYC)

The Genius of Language: Fifteen Writers Reflect on Their Mother Tongues, ed. Wendy Lesser
A fascinating, varied collection of essays by writers – most of whom write in English – on the (often fraught) relationship between English and their native tongues. Found at McNally Jackson on our NYC trip.

Anne of Windy Poplars, L.M. Montgomery
I have read this book so many times, but I always reach for it in the fall. I love Anne’s adventures in Summerside – befriending the proud Pringles, doing a bit of matchmaking, spending many quiet evenings in her wonderful tower room.

Lila, Marilynne Robinson
I adore Gilead and Home, Robinson’s previous two novels. This book views some of the same characters from a different angle, telling the life story of Lila, Reverend John Ames’ wife. Heartbreaking and beautiful, and an unflinching look at Dust Bowl poverty.

Death in Four Courses, Lucy Burdette
Key West food critic Hayley Snow’s second adventure (I recently read book #5) finds her at a food writing seminar where the star speaker turns up dead. Full of backstabbing foodies, yummy meals and quirky characters.

Sidney Chambers and the Problem of Evil, James Runcie
Newlywed priest Sidney Chambers continues solving crimes in 1960s Cambridge and musing on the universe’s big questions. The cases are slow-paced and never too hard to solve, but still enjoyable.

The Song of the Lark, Willa Cather
A gorgeous, sweeping novel telling the life story of Thea Kronborg, a Colorado girl who becomes a famous opera singer. So much here about art and passion, love and striving. And I love Cather’s lyrical prose.

Bel Canto, Ann Patchett
I read this book years ago and fell in love with the gorgeous language and unusual storyline. I reread it for book club and found it as beautiful and heartbreaking as ever.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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books travel book house summertown oxford england

(Found at The Book House in Summertown, Oxford)

The Rosie Effect, Graeme Simsion
This sequel to The Rosie Project (which I loved) finds Don Tillman, ultra-logical genetics researcher, and his wife Rosie living in New York. When Rosie unexpectedly gets pregnant, chaos ensues as Don struggles to figure out how to support her. Hilarious, poignant and moving. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Dec. 30).

Emily Climbs, L.M. Montgomery
Emily Byrd Starr goes to high school in Shrewsbury, boarding with sniffy Aunt Ruth and working hard at her craft as a writer. I love watching Emily grow into herself, and I love the camaraderie with her three best friends. (And I wish I had a teacher-critic-friend like Mr. Carpenter.)

Emily’s Quest, L.M. Montgomery
Emily settles down to the serious work of writing – and nearly loses true love not once, but twice. Bittersweet and often solemn, but still lovely and haunting. (And she gets her double happy ending after all.)

Sidney Chambers and the Shadow of Death, James Runcie
A young priest at Grantchester (a village outside Cambridge) finds himself solving various mysteries alongside his police inspector friend. Leisurely, erudite and well plotted. First in a series. Found at Blackwells in Oxford.

Silas Marner, George Eliot
When the titular character, a solitary weaver, is robbed of his hoard of gold, he believes life isn’t worth living – until an abandoned child shows up on his doorstep. A sweet little story (and my first Eliot), but I didn’t love it.

One Evening in Paris, Nicolas Barreau
The owner of a Paris art house cinema falls in love with a mysterious woman – but she disappears after a Hollywood director begins filming his new movie at the cinema. Quirky and sweet, but predictable. Would be better as a movie.

Greenglass House, Kate Milford
Milo Pine is expecting a quiet Christmas at the titular house. But when you live in a smugglers’ hotel, unexpected guests have a habit of turning up. A smart, fun, mysterious middle-grade novel, with a great adventurer’s yarn related to the house. Found at McNally Jackson in NYC.

Links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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bookshop window books charing cross road london
(Books on Charing Cross Road in London)

The Late Scholar, Jill Paton Walsh
I usually don’t like fanfiction. But Walsh’s mysteries featuring Lord Peter Wimsey and Harriet Vane, Dorothy Sayers’ erudite pair of detectives, are well done and so fun. I loved this one because they return to Oxford, my beloved city and scene of my favorite Sayers book, Gaudy Night.

At Risk, Stella Rimington
This book introduces Liz Carlyle, MI5 agent, as she and her team attempt to stop a pair of terrorists bent on destruction and revenge. Grim, but compelling. Pretty good plane reading.

A Fatal Waltz, Tasha Alexander
Lady Emily Ashton’s third case finds her trying to exonerate a friend suspected of murder, while struggling not to be jealous of her fiance’s elegant ex-lover, an Austrian countess. An engaging setting (Vienna), though the plot did go on a bit.

The Heart Has Its Reasons, Maria Dueñas
I adored Dueñas’ debut, The Time in Between, but was disappointed by this, her second novel. The characters and plot had potential, but they – and the writing – didn’t grip me. (I wonder if the translation is partly to blame.)

Murder Most Unladylike, Robin Stevens
Two students at Deepdean School for Girls form a Detective Society – but are shocked when they find a real murder to investigate. Fun, witty and well-plotted. Found at Blackwell’s. (To be published in the U.S. as Murder is Bad Manners.)

Isla and the Happily Ever After, Stephanie Perkins
I wanted to love this teenage love story set in Paris, but I found it melodramatic and lacking in substance. (I did enjoy Perkins’ debut, Anna and the French Kiss, several of whose characters reappear here.)

The Laws of Murder, Charles Finch
The eighth Charles Lenox mystery finds Lenox investigating the murder of a friend and colleague, while worrying he’s lost his detective edge. A leisurely, well-plotted mystery and a new stage in Lenox’s career. To review for Shelf Awareness (out Nov. 11).

A Bear Called Paddington, Michael Bond
I picked up this old favorite at the Paddington Bear Shop in London, and thoroughly enjoyed getting reacquainted with Paddington. Such fun and funny adventures.

Emily of New Moon, L.M. Montgomery
I’ve made it a fall goal to reread this lovely, haunting series. This first book introduces the cast of characters and starts Emily on the path to becoming a writer. Full of gorgeous descriptions of PEI, old family legends and bits of whimsy and wonder.

Away Off Shore: Nantucket Island and its People, 1602-1890, Nathaniel Philbrick
I loved Philbrick’s Bunker Hill and enjoyed this account of Nantucket’s early history, told via mini-biographies of colorful local characters. Occasionally gets bogged down in detail, but mostly quite interesting. Found in Gloucester.

Most links (not affiliate links) are to my favorite local bookstore, Brookline Booksmith.

What are you reading?

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