Vitrines in a San Francisco jewelry store.
Three book recommendations for these last weeks of summer:
A Place in My Country by Ian Walthew - I have a confession to make. I was invited to a book-signing for Ian in Paris and had emailed him, saying I'd be there. He wrote back and said I could bring a friend. Then I came down with a virus and thought it best not to expose the party-goers. Not only did I miss meeting Ian, I didn't get a signed copy of his book. So I did the next best thing and ordered the book online. I read it and was knocked out by his writing.
This is the review that first made me want to read A Place in My Country:
"Ian Walthew was a newspaper executive with a career that took him round the world, who one day did a mad thing. He saw a for-sale sign on a cottage in the Cotswolds, bought it, resigned and moved in. For the first few weeks he just lay on the grass in a daze. Then he started talking to his neighbours and digging into the rich history of this beautiful part of England. Out of his inquiries grew this affecting and inspiring memoir. What sets it apart from others of its ilk is the author’s enviable immunity to cliché and his determination to love his homeland better than he used to. His elegiac account of relearning how to be an Englishman should be required reading for anyone who claims to know or love this country." - Melissa Katsoulis, Financial TimesMy clever blogging friend Helen (Antipo Deesse) has written a terrific review of A Place in My Country and posted it on Amazon. I'm sure she won't mind if I quote an excerpt:
"The author’s story of two journeys – his own, and that of the English countryside – has resulted in an eye-opening book that is extremely satisfying for this reader on two different levels: namely a personal, emotive one and also intellectually, dealing as it does, with the serious problems facing farmers in the UK today.
"My personal enjoyment springs from the fact that the book is a cracking good read. Walthew’s search for a rural dream is shot through with a glittering, humorous thread, but also overlaid with a cloak of sadness, caused by the loss, in childhood, of his father and brother and his yearning to remember them."
"...Walthew is a master of metaphor and a true wordsmith. His sentences are long and complex, but perfectly balanced... He evokes the glorious wildlife and vegetation of the English countryside beautifully, with sentiment but not mawkishness... His repeated use of the moon as a leitmotif confers a pearly sheen of melancholy over many scenes. An almost unbearably poignant memory concerns his older brother protecting a hoard of sweets for both boys to share..."
"Some of his imagery is pure poetry: “A scintillation of memory from behind the curtain of night” and “Is the present a moon-cast shadow of the past?” A “basin full of shattered stone and rotting wood” evokes violence and despair. I will certainly enjoy the re-reading of it as much as the first one. Walthew is to be congratulated for having succeeded in the aim of taking his readers to a world of “breathless beauty, full of devilment, humour and rich untold histories.”
I Was Told There'd Be Cake by Sloan Crosley - "As most New Yorkers have done, I have given serious and generous thought to the state of my apartment should I get killed during the day." From that first sentence, the witty and wise essays of Crosley captivate and entertain. The writer Jonathan Ames called Crosley" a 21st-century Dorothy Parker." Reading this book, I wouldn't disagree.
Petite Anglais by Catherine Sanderson - A deeply-personal memoir by blogger Catherine Sanderson. The book explores Sanderson's life in Paris and her unexpected romance with a reader - for whom she left her partner.
One has to admire Sanderson for writing so bluntly about her private life. I was surprised the book does not explore the story about Sanderson being sacked from her administrative job, after her accounting firm employer discovered her blog. The ensuing publicity about her being fired, then winning an employment tribunal appeal resulted in a book deal. But the book, like her blog, focuses on Sanderson's love life and the challenges of raising a bilingual child in Paris.
Sanderson's book is well-written and entertaining and contains some touching, as well as hilarious passages. She also isn't afraid to let herself be seen in a less-than-flattering light and deserves credit for not glossing over difficult choices. A great weekend read.
As an aside, I was taken aback by Sanderson's relevation that she sometimes embellishes her blog posts for dramatic effect. In a blog with the writer's personal life as the focus, one would imagine readers expect the truth, rather than a fictionalised version of it. Sanderson writes in her book that she came to regard "Petite Anglais" as a character outside herself. Of course that makes her writing no less appreciated by her many readers.
Early in July, I was reading Petite Anglais at a Paris hairdresser's. A young woman asked me when the book is coming out in French, as she'd heard about Sanderson's story and was anxious to read the book. Obviously, the book has widespread appeal.
As Random House very kindly sent me an American edition of Petite Anglais - after I'd already bought the UK version at WH Smith in Paris - I have an extra copy. Please leave a comment and on Wednesday, I'll pick a name from a hat and mail the book to the winner.
Don't try this at home
Update Sunday afternoon: When you have no hot water for four days and the gardien finally shows up to fix it - but can't, saying the electrician will have to try - do not, repeat DO NOT pour a recently-boiled kettle of water over your head, when washing your hair. This will result in painful burns to the scalp, neck and shoulders. If this should happen to you - while considering whether or not to dash to the emergency room at the hospital conveniently located around the corner - pour Body Shop's Aloe Calming Toner over the affected area, then apply an ice pack to the top of your head. Take two aspirin and keep the ice pack on your head until the pain becomes bearable. It is hoped that next time, a cooler head prevails. Sigh.