Thursday, March 31

Honest to Goodness

One midmorning, we climbed into our little French rental car - Paul behind the wheel, Jim seated Buddha-like next to him (still in kimono), and me accordioned into the backseat.  Then we bumped down our old rutted driveway - the kind of road known as "a jeepable track" during the war - around the corner and up the hill to Placassier. 

Chapter 9, Part 1: Ma Cherie, My Life in France

Her use of words - words that aren't special or particularly elegant or anything like that, but just say what she means - makes me feel like I'm sitting beside her.  I am better friends with her than with many, many writers.  She's more honest, more human.  I was reading this to my dad yesterday afternoon, and putting on a voice that was big and expressive and warm to get us more into it.  Anyway, I reached this point, got to about "accordioned" and then we burst out laughing and laughed like naughty kids for five minutes.  It got to him, too.  He gets that she is honest, and I think that there is something about just knowing this that makes us more open to her.  We're in love.

Wednesday, March 30

The Language of Loonies

Mastering the Art of French Cooking continued to sell.  With our first royaly check, we bought a book on how not to let plants die (for me), a dry-mount press (for Paul), and the latest edition of Webster's dictionary (for both of us), which led us to scream at each other about the proper use of language.  He was a language-by-use type, while I was an against-the-prostitution-of-language type.  We also bought our first television set, a smallish square plastic-and-metal box that was so ugly we hid it in an unused fireplace.

Chapter 6, Part 3: I've Been Reading, My Life in France

Well, I can relate to this... perhaps even too much.  In the first unfolding corner of the day, there was a discussion between members of the 'Middle Table' on language (merging on accent).  To my friends, it is no secret that I use long words.  Now, for once and for all, I don't try.  For Pete's sake (poor Pete - I bring him into things too often), I have read more books than is normal for someone my age to have read, and the majority of them with beautiful language. 

What I did for nearly a year was that every SINGLE TIME that I came across a word I didn't understand when I was reading, I wrote it down, looked it up, and then entered it into an index book, (which I still keep today).  Anyway, the result of this was that I have a good vocabulary, and speak... I suppose you could say, with a tad over-the-top proper...ness.  Add to this a great articulation (if I do say so myself) developed by hours and hours of reading novels aloud to Dad, and I suppose I can say that my language is good, and I enjoy using it.  There's nothing wrong with that.  In any langauge.

Tuesday, March 29

A Taste of the French Chef

Eh bien, ma cheri.  I bet you've been inspired to just drop everything and race to the library to grab a copy of My Life in France, or in the very least, to hire out Julie and Julia from the video library.  But I would like to give you a little taste of the real life lovely - Julia Child herself. 

If you are an older one, you would have seen this sort of thing before, but us newbies to the world, (me, at the very least), are just starting to fall in love with this big, ingenuos, enchanting woman.  This is a small taste of her to whet your appetite.  (The French Chef, a snippet from episode 28 - The Potato Show.)

I am in earnest when I say that I very much expect to bawl my eyes out when I've finished My Life in France.  In the short amount of time that I've been reading it, I have fallen so very head over heels in love with Julia and Paul.  The end is going to be the severing between close friends! 

(On a hopeful note, we're starting George Orwell's 1984 in less than a week so grab a copy!)

Monday, March 28

The Importance of People

"Remember: 'No once's more important than people'!"  In other words, friendship is the most important thing - not career or housework, or one's fatigue - and it needs to be tended and nurtured. 

Chapter 6, Part 5: La Peetch, My Life in France.

The simplest of all Julia's many messages, and needless to say, powerful.  My dears, I have just come home from performing as part of an assessment for my drama studies, and I don't think that I have ever been more in tune with how much I love my friends.  No matter what I say, or do, I am the luckiest little goose on the planet - my friends are the most beautiful people!  Your smiles, your hugs, your gritty smirks and rude giggles have made me feel so loved.  Not one of you probably realize how much I enjoy your company, but I do.  I go to bed at night and want to cry just thinking about that lovely little pat on the back M. gave me or that laugh J. had when I told her about it!  O., K., M., M., J., A., S., S., T., H., J., M., A., Y., E., and all of the rest of the alphabet, thankyou.  I feel worthwhile.  It's 90% your fault!

Sunday, March 27

Paul Child's Belly Control System

"No man shall lose weight who eats paella topped with Apfell Strudel," Paul notes, after doing exactly that. 

We had been horrified to notice that baby blubber seemed to bounce on so many people in the States.  In Germany, meanwhile, a large figure denotes social status.  Our goal was to eat well, but sensibly like the French did.  This meant keeping our helpings small, eating a great variety of foods, and avoiding snacks.  But the best diet tip of all was Paul's fully patented Belly Control System: "Just don't eat so damn much!"

Chapter 5, Part 1: Situation Confused, My Life in France.

And so such is the risk one takes when one is writing a cook book!  I feel fairly like Paul at the moment!  I had a massive lunch for my Mum's birthday celebration (the birthday was not actually today), and in a truly celebratory mood, we consumed (as a family of five plus a grandmother): two breadsticks with a block of mango and melon fruit cheese; a huge bowl of salad; a caramel and macadamia tart; a pack of apple juice poppas; a thermos of tea; a packet of Malteser chocolates; and last (and definitely least) a bag of Starbursts snakes which were promising but ordinary. 

I love fruit cheese.  I so definitely have got to go to France and try the cheeses just like in the excerpt of my post, Say Cheese! where the woman selects the perfect cheese by touch.  It would be extradinary! 

I realize I haven't given you much information about the progress of Julia's "cookery-bookery", but if I did, the vital storyline would be all given away and those of you who are NOT READING ALONG will be put off from ever turning around and actually reading it, and I so want you to read it.  So Bouquets of Sharpened Pencils currently functions to whet your appetite and show you just what it is that I so love about a book!  Of course, once I have you all following along with me, we'll be able to talk more and deeper.  Anyway, at this stage, I would love to hear your thoughts and anecdotes. 

Don't forget to pick up a copy of George Orwell's 1984 sometime this week for an early next week start!

Saturday, March 26

Simca, La Super-Francaise

Simca was a strong girl with a good work ethic.  I began to call her La Super-Francaise, because she so typified a dynamic, self-reliant, bullheaded kind of Frenchwoman that I admired.  Even when sick, she's equip her bed like and office, with a telephone, typewriter, piles of books, and stacks of papers.  She's sit ther like a queen, calling out to her visitors, planning meals, and correcting manuscript pages. 

Chapter 3, Part 6: Soup, My Life in France.

Julia and Simca
Simca sounds like a funny bird, does she not?  I cannot help but like her - the way Julia portrays her as such a confident woman, with a purpose and a plan - quite a model, really, in a way. 

My dears, please don't forget to suggest a book for the Top 100 Books to Read Before You Die list!  And if you would like to join me in reading 1984 in maybe... a week or so's time, I totally encourage you!  Maybe you would like to get it ready this week.  We don't have heaps left to go on My Life in France.

Friday, March 25

Simply Tuna

One evening in May, we heard a lot of excited shouting from the street below.  The fishing fleet had gotten into a big run of tuna.  Boats kept pulling up to the quay outside, and until midnight there was a continuous shouting and the wet Smack! Smack! Smack! of heavy fish being heaved off the boats onto the stones below, then reheaved into trucks packed with ice.   ...  It was a beautiful scene to look down on from our balcony at night - thousands of flashing silver tuna, all about the same size, slithering this way and that in  blood-pinkened water under the arc lights, while big bow-legged guys in sou'wester pants and bare feet lifted and pushed with a sort of primal urgency.

I couldn't resist, and bought a big slice of tuna, its flesh bright red.  The market ladies said to soak it in vinegar and water, to avoid the overly fishy taste, which I did for five hours.  The flesh turned almost white.  Then I braised it with a puree de tomates, oignons etuves a l'huile, champignons, vin blanc, and quelques herbes.  Marvelous!

Chapter 4, Part 5: Mistral, My Life in France.

Old Port, Marseille (Where Julia is Living at the Moment)
Julia has a great way of saying something.  First she tells us what it was exactly that happened.  Then she tells us what she did about it.  Finally she tells us how it all tasted when she cooked it!  She's priceless! 

What I love especially is that she uses very simple language, that is extremely powerful.  She doesn't try to flatter our intelligence with poetic long words, but tells the story just exactly how it happened, using the perfect simple words to describe it.  It's informal, like a story told straight to a friend, but honest and unpretentious.  I'm in love!

By the way, Lyn suggested yesterday that in Julia's phrase: to spit on "the old Underwood", she was refering to an Underwood Typewriter.  I think she could be onto something!  I know that such a thing exists at least.

And, of course, my dears, if you've made it this far, please suggest us a book (a novel) that you think deserves a place in the Top 100 Books to Read Before You Die. 

Bon appetit! 

Thursday, March 24

Gird Your Loins

If my co-authors agreed, not one of the recipes would stand as written.  I'd turn this from a rewrite job into an entirely new book.  I girded my loins, spat on the old Underwood, and began to type up my suggestions - clickety-clack - like a determined woodpecker. 

Chapter 3, Part 7: Operational Proof, My Life in France.

And so The Book begins!  Julia Child's famous book!

For those of you just like me who do not know what 'gird your loins' and 'spit on underwood' mean, I bet you'll be interested to know.  I've looked it up just now, and am interested, but not at all surprised with my finds.

'gird your loins' - phrase meaning to prepare or draw up strength.  The literal meaning is taken from the Bible where travellers would raise their tunics and fix them to their belts so that they could have freedom of movement. 

To 'spit on the old Underwood'... that I have NOT been able to discover.  Perhaps one of you knows the answer?  There was no clear (and by clear I mean intelligible) answer when I googled it! 

Anyway, on topic, isn't this excerpt lovely?  She reminds me a lot of myself, in a way.  If I get put to a rewriting or editting task, I seem to inevitably turn it into something else, despite my intentions.  I'm either flowing, typing away furiously, "like a woodpecker", or slothfully dabbing the keys here and there when a drifting inspiration lands.  This latter image is the most often true to me.  So Julia Child is an inspiration, even if purely because she flows with ideas!  Maybe I ought to gird my loins in case inspiration is coming my way...

Wednesday, March 23

The Spiciest Life

'"If variety is the spice of life, then my life must be one of the spiciest you ever heard of.  A curry of a life."'

Chapter 3, Part 10: A Curry of a Life, My Life in France.

Well, Paul, I can safely say that my life is also pretty spicy, and I have Nanny S-A to thank.  She spoke about me in her blog, today, and I am in a whirlwind of delight!  I cried and laughed hysterically when I read it!  So thankyou Nanny so much, and please, everyone who is reading this, go and read her blog and get cheered up, because she has a gorgeous sense of humour and a beautiful illustration style that makes it impossible to feel depressed. 

Nanny, I have been REALLY and sincerely enjoying your blog, so thankyou so much for spicing up my life with your post! 

Bon Appetite!

Tuesday, March 22

Glorious Julia!

It was such fun!  And I learned so much by teaching.  I would have gladly paid Solange for the chance to teach pate feuilletee rather than vice versa. 

Chapter 3, Part 6: Le Prince, My Life in France.

While we're here, here is a picture of Julia in her kitchen.  After reading a thing like that, I just GET why I want to be a teacher - I'm going to really enjoy doing English and Drama and I'll learn so much, about the subjects, and of course myself.  Also just that Julia felt this way makes me love her all the more - she was teachable, passionate and humble, all without loosing an inch of herself!  Glorious Julia!  Isn't she just screaming bon appetite at life?

The Jane Austen Scandal

Isn't it just the most typical thing for a girl to be swept away by the enchanting romance of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice?  Is it not absolute scandal for a girl to not have read or not enjoy Jane Austen's work?  Isn't it totally against feminine nature to not be adoring of Elizabeth Bennet? 

Well, I stand here against convention.  In words from my favourite source (You've Got Mail): "I'm a lone reed".  I have read Sense and Sensibility and, don't get me wrong, I tried to find it interesting.  For some reason, however, I just couldn't get into it.  I just didn't enjoy it. 

I am trying to plough my way through Pride and Prejudice, but I am experiencing the exact same dilemma.  It started well, and I contentedly followed for some 60 pages.  I like Elizabeth Bennet.  I don't argue against that.  I think her character is excellent, and Mr Darcy is an intrigue, but oh, how meaningless and drudgenous the talk can be after everything else I've read.  I understand that it is a scandal, but I seriously don't think that I'm a Jane Austen type of girl.  That simple!  I don't find it fascinating.  A good friend of mine once told me, and very firmly, too, that "if you aren't enjoying it, stuff reading it!"  Well, I would, but it's Jane Austen.  To not like Jane Austen is a scandal!  (Then again, if I don't like Jane Austen, won't I feel like such a rebel!)

To go or or not to go on!  That is the question!  Whether tis nobler in the mind to suffer the long-winded conversations of two people who definitely will get together no matter what...  What dreams may come!

Monday, March 21

I Talk Only to Italians

Our pupils had not had much exposure to wine, and kept making uninformed statements like "Oh, wine, I don't like it."  When Mary Ward said "I never drink red wine; I like only dry white," Paul took it as a personal insult.  "That's like saying, 'I never talk to French people; I only talk to Italians,'" he said.  Then he offered her a glass of red wine he considered quite good, a Chateau Chauvin '29, a flowery, well-rounded Bordeaux.  Mary took one sip and said, "Hey, I never realized wine could taste like that!" 

Chapter 3, Part 5: L'Ecole, My Life in  France. 

Paul's a funny thing, isn't he?  But sweet and accepting and compassionate, as you no doubt will know if you are reading along with me, as I so encourage you to do.  As a matter of fact, you would know that if you'd seen Julie and Julia, the movie by Nora Ephron.  (That is something I am definitely going to do when I finished reading.) 

This passage  is interesting and truthful.  Like so many people about so many things, there just isnt enough openness.  There is nothing I adore more than meeting someone who has seen or read the same thing as me and will discuss it, and tell me what they liked and didn't like.  What I seriously cannot stand is when we've read of seen the same thing but the second party will not take my opinion, but argues their own until I could just hit them with the book itself.  I suppose, though, that I can be like that myself, saying "I don't read modern fiction; just classics."  I guess then that I am also guilty of "only talk(ing) to Italians".  When, oh, when will someone come and show me that modern fiction isn't that dodge after all?  (I don't think anyone will.)

Sunday, March 20

A New Kind of Appreciation

Ah me!  The meal was just as sublime the second time around, only now I could identify the smells in the air quicker than Paul, order my own food without help, and truly appreciate the artistry of the kitchen.  La Couronne was the same, but I had become a different person.

Chapter 3, Part 2: Home Leave, My Life in France.

I feel this way about so many things - like it's the same but I appreciate it in a different manner because I have changed myself.  I'm like that with books and music, even people, if I haven't seen them for a while.  When I was younger, I would always have in my mind a certain book I couldn't wait to read, and it was often that people would say to me: "why don't you read it now?".  My answer to them was that my 'literary maturity' was not at a suitable height.  I took it very seriously.  I wanted to be older so that I might read the book and enjoy it from a more mature and understanding perspective.  This works both ways.  I look back now and wish I'd read certain books as a child because if I go and read them now, my appreciation of them will be completely different.  Sometimes it's a great thing, like growing up.  Sometimes its a sad thing, like growing apart.

Saturday, March 19

Books to Read

Please, my dears, try not to forget to suggest a book to add to the list of 100 Books to Read Before You Die. 

Ce Merde-Monsieur!

One day, my sister was driving through the Place de la Concorde in her Citroen when a Frenchman rammed her bumper.  It wasn't much of a bump, and the man sped off without bothering to see if he'd done any damage.  Dort was enraged by the man's callous insensitivity.  Light's flashing, horn tooting, engine revving, and tires squealing, she gave chase.  Finally, about ten blocks later, she manage to corner the man in front of a flic (a cop).  Standing up through the Citroen's open sunroof, my six-foot-three-inch, red-cheeked sister pointed a long, trembling finger at the perpetrator and with maximum indignation yelled: "ce merde-monsieur a justement crache dans ma derriere!"  Her intended meaning was obvious, but what she said was: "this sh*t man just spat up my butt!"

Chapter 2, Part 2: Never Apologize, My Life in France. 

Something tells me that when I'm off to France myself, I'll do a lot of this sort of thing!  I love Julia Child's humour though.  The book is just full of it; it's bursting with humour and is an absolute delight to read. 

Thursday, March 17

Fish Taken Seriously

Oh, those were such fine, fat, full-flavoured birds from Bresse - one taste, and I realized that I had long ago forgotten what real chicken tasted like!  But La Truite's true glory was its sole a la normande, a poem of poached and flavoured sole fillets surrounded by oysters and mussels, and napped with a wonder-sauce of wine, cream, and butter, and topped with fluted mushrooms.  "Voluptuous" was the word.  I had never imagined that fish could be taken so seriously, or taste so heavenly.

Chapter 1, Part 4: Ali-Bab

I adore that!  "Voluptuous!"  "A poem of poached and flavoured sole fillets!"  She uses just the right words to get to me - make me shiver and laugh softly and indulgently to myself as though it's an inside joke between us.  Isn't her last sentence just a dream!  Go on - read it again.  Isn't it just?

Say Cheese!

Madame was a whiz at judging the ripeness of cheese.  If you asked for a Camembert, she would cock an eyebrow and ask at what time you wished to serve it: would you be eating it for lunch today, or at dinner tonight, or would you be enjoying it a few days hence?  Once you had answered, she'd open several boxes, press each cheese intently with her thumbs, take a big sniff, and - voila! - she'd hand you just the right one.  I marveled at her ability to calibrate a cheese's readiness down to the hour, and would even order cheese when I didn't need it just to watch her in action.  I never knew her to be wrong. 

Chapter 1, Part 4: Ali-Bab.  

Isn't this a beautiful picture? 

Wednesday, March 16

Our Life in France Begins

Chapter 1 was full of pleasant little surprises.  I think that the movie, (Julie and Julia) is incredibly spot on, at least so far.  Julia Child has such a readable style, and such an enchanting, loveable voice.  It's early on yet to tell you much, but I could already see, within these first pages, that I was going to have a great time.  After detoxing with The Great Gatsby, how about some dessert and perhaps a glass of red in France?

Two little snippets that I think portray her beautifully are these:

I was a six-foot-two-inch, thirty-six year-old, rather loud and unserious Californian.  The sight of France in my porthole was like a giant question mark.

...I could barely say anything interesting at all to them.  I am a talker, and my ability to communicate was hugely frustrating.  When we got back to the hotel that night, I declared: "I've had it!  I'm going to learn to speak this language, come hell or high water!"... Paul who was a lover of word games, made up sentences to help my pronounciation: for the rolling French "r"s and extended "u"s, he had me repeat the phrase "Le serrurier sur la Rue de Rivoli" ("The locksmith on the Rue de Rivoli") over and over.

This snippets are from Chapter 1 and Chapter 3. 

Everything is described. Not just food, although it is described with decadant detail, but France itself, her husband, Paul, the car (The Blue Flash, which is used constantly to make little jokes such as "Back in The Flash..."), and the people.  The descriptions of the people are very beautiful, and very humble, respectful and accepting, at the same time as painting a picture of a country just full of food for thought (and taste) and stimulation for the senses.  Also, photos actually taken at the time are sown throughout the book, and are such a treat!  This one:

is from the Introduction, (which you really should read because it is just as much a part of the story as any chapter).  I'm going to try and show you as many of the photos as I possibly can.  They really do enliven the journey. 
Anyway,it all makes me want to be there.  I'm very seriously taking it into my head to learn French, too, as to live there was a dream of mine even before Julia came along with her watering can and nourished it.   Really, I don't want to deprive myself from reading any longer.  I earnestly encourage you, my dears, to join me.

"Bon appetit!"

My Life in France

Well, last night at 9:30, I finished The Great Gatsby, and I'm missing it already, to tell you the truth.  But, I'm onto another book, in true reader style.  (Please, my dears, read the book and we'll all watch the new movie when it comes out.  We'll hold a count down closer to the date.) 

The new book is Julia Child's My Life In France.  For those who have watched the charming and glorious movie, Julie and Julia, you will recognize this book as being Julia Child's side of the story.  I adored the movie, and so am reading the book.  Maybe for some of you, this will be more up your ally, so if you can, why don't you join me in reading it?  I think that it will be a heart-warming journey, if Meryl Streep was anything to judge by!  And please, my dears, don't forget to contribute to our list of 100 Books to Read Before You Die!

Tuesday, March 15

The Romances of Daisy

He went to her house, at first with other officers from Camp Taylor, then alone.  It amazed him - he had never been in such a beautiful house before.  But what gave it an air of breathless intensity, was that Daisy lived there - it was as casual a thing to her as his tent out at camp was to him.  There was a ripe mystery about it, a hint of bedrooms upstairs more beautiful and cool than other bedrooms, of gay and radiant activities taking place through its corridors, and of romance that were not musty and laid away already in lavender, but fresh and breathing and redolent of this year's motor-cars and of dances whose flowers were scarcely withered.  It excited him, too, that many men had already loved Daisy - it increased her value in his eyes.  He felt their presence all about the house, pervading the air with the shades and echoes of still vibrant emotions.

Chapter 8, The Great Gatsby, (1926). 

I love how Fitzgerald refers to the 'romances'.  He mentions romances 'laid away already in lavender'.  Doesn't this have such a great idea of perfumed pressed flowers, pot-puri sachets in pillowslips and other dear, quaint, old-fashioned things that reserve a beautiful thing.  It is such an exhilarating turn around, however, when he goes on to say how her romances were 'fresh and breathing and redolent of... motor-cars and dances...'.  He just paints her up as a fresh, vibrant little slip of life.  Aren't the words and images used just exciting?

Books to Read Before You Die - The First Suggestion

I knew it was a pending inevitability. 

The Harry Potter books.

This is your first suggestion as to what should be on the list of Books to Read Before You Die.  Come on and give me some more.  We'll make a Top 100 list, and it will go down the side of my blog, (I almost called it a 'flog' just then).

The list, as it stands to date consists of this:
  • The Sherlock Holmes books, (this is my contribution to the list), and
  • The Harry Potter books.
Take it out on bad literature and help us get this thing happening.

Books to Read Before You Die

Today, one of my classes was in the library, and I stumbled upon the book 1001 Books to Read Before You Die.  Now, generally, must-read book lists contain modern junk and hardly ever a single classic.  This one, however, had a section for each century, beginning with Before 1700s and going up to 2000s.

Anyway, my immediate thoughts, being a book junkie, was "whoa, I wonder how many of these 1001 books, I've ACTUALLY READ!"  So I went back during lunch break to see.

I flipped through the pages and took a tally.  You will all be so proud of me!  Of the 1001 books to read before you die, I have officially perused a grand total of 22!  Anyway, I've obviously got a long life ahead of me.

In all seriousness, though, as I went through the book, I couldn't help but notice that it lacked several books that I believe to be incredibly significant.  I think this is due to the fact that there was a noticeable lack of children's books, among which I believe to lie some of the greatest works of fiction.  Things like, Anne of Green Gables, Peter Pan, The Secret Garden,  and The Trumpet of the Swan.  They're SO important!  I can't stress how important children's books like these are! 

Anyway, if I had to have a list of books to read before you die, it would include:
  • All the Sherlock Holmes books (my favourites of all times)
  • The Lord of the Rings
  • The Anne of Green Gables books
  • The Chronicles of Narnia,
  • All books by E. Nesbit
  • All books by Virginia Woolf
  • All books by F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • National Velvet
  • The Trumpet of the Swan
  • Anna Karenina
  • The Moonstone
  • Wuthering Heights
  • and many more which presently aren't balancing on my brain's frontal lobe. 
I honestly and eagerly question you, my dears, what books do you believe are among the most essential books ever?  If you give me your answers, I'll get them all together, and we'll see what 'funny fruits' we get.

Monday, March 14

Funny Fruits in the Big Apple

'I love New York on summer afternoons when everyone's away.  There's something very sensuous about it - over-ripe, as if all sorts of funny fruits were going to fall into your hands.'

Chapter 7, The Great Gatsby, (1926). 

I love the picture that these words paint.  It's very aromatic, maybe of dense bakery smells falling on empty streets where the dusk shadows glide heavily and orange.  Intriguing isn't it?

Her Voice

'She's got an indiscreet voice,' I remarked.  'It's full of-'.  I hesitated.

'Her voice is full of money,' he said suddenly. 

That was it.  I'd never understood before.  It was full of money - that was the inexhaustible charm that rose and fell in it, the jingle of it, the cymbals' song of it... High in a white palace a king's daughter, the golden girl...

Chapter 7, The Great Gatsby, (1926). 

Everyone, I am so enjoying this book, and I'm nearly finished too.  This copy is only 170 something pages long, and I'm already up to 120 something.  I really don't want it to end, though.  It's way too much fun to end!

Any Statement At All...?

About this time an ambitious young reporter from New York arrived one morning at Gatsby's door and asked him if he had anything to say.

'Anything to say about what?' inquired Gatsby politely.

'Why - any statement to give out.'

Chapter 4, The Great Gatsby, (1926).

Sunday, March 13

Orwell and the Cuttlefish

My tradition, I think, will be this.  I will (try to): 
  • Put a new quote up every week,
  • Have a poll going (hopefully) almost always, and
  • Put a new book cover up, whenever I start a new book.
That's sustainable.  Anyway, it is consequently time for a new quote.  I will miss George Orwell, though, and I can totally imagine a you all sitting in bed with the quilt all wrapped up with your laptop on your knees, gently sobbing to yourself about the loss.  So I'll write the quote down here for you, so you will always remember it. 
"The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns, as it were, instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish squirting out ink," - George Orwell.

Isn't it lovely?  I really think it's true.  I'll try to put quite a few quotes from George Orwell up as we go.  They really are all extremely clever. 

Here he is, in fact.  Looking wistfull.  Can't wait until we start 1984 and actually hear him speak. 

First Thoughts on Fitzgerald

Now this might sound strange but in all seriousness, I'm not interested in what F. Scott Fitzgerald writes about, when it's written by anyone else.  It's full of parties and alcohol and people and stuff that feels uncomfortable or just plain uninteresting to read about, but there is something incredible about his style that draws me in on a keen hook.  He paints this world of 1910s America, full of 'jazz babies' and 'shakers and movers', in a way that I feel like another girl out there in New York, full of independence, jaunty flair and feminine pizazz.  It is always so refreshing and exhilarating to read his books!  

Oh how he rivets me!  I never get bored.   His style prevents me from ever experiencing a dull second, and I can just read for hours on end without tiring.  He says things that make me just smile as I go.  Things like:

"...up toward the frosted wedding-cake of the ceiling..."


"For a moment the last sunshine fell with romantic affection under her glowing face - then the glow faded, each light deserting her with lingering regret, like children leaving a pleasant street at dusk"

Both of these little joys were plucked straight out of Chapter 1 of The Great Gatsby, (published 1926).  Do  you get what I mean?  Maybe you should be detoxing your reading life and picking up Fitzgerald with me!

Saturday, March 12


72 Views!  Six days I've been up today, and already 72 views!  I know who my five followers are, (most of them are related to me), and I can't imagine they've been clicking me up 72 times in six days.  That is ludicrous.  So my train of deduction leads me to suspect there are what we insensitively label 'randoms' going around.  Now that thought has put me in so much suspense! 

Some of you will be interested to know that I finished reading To The Lighthouse on Thursday, and began reading The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald last night.  It won't be too long before I have something to say.  Actually, check that.  I do have something I might mention.  If any one is thinking about reading something by Virginia Woolf, I will enourage them heartily not to be daunted by her style.  I'm very aware that it can be quite hard to 'get into' it at the start, but once you allow yourself to settle down, and you stop trying to make sense of everything, all of a sudden, you will get it.  Then it just flows.  Her style is a very strange, but wonderful thing.

Also, Virginia Woolf is really good for reading aloud.  Her sentences are very long, and are often interjected into by bracketted comments, which can be disorientating if you're concentrating really hard.  If you're finding it difficult to read, read it aloud, let yourself use the commas to pause for emphasis and I'm confident that you'll find it much easier to understand and more comfortable to read.  I think reading Virginia Woolf aloud to somebody would be one of the funnest things I could do.

Friday, March 11

A Way of Knowing People

She did not know what he had done, when he heard that Andrew was killed, but still she felt it in him all the same.  They only mumbled at each other on staircases; they looked up at the sky and said it will be fine or it won't be fine.  But this was one way of knowing people, she thought: to know the outline, not the detail, to sit in one's garden and look at the slopes of a hill running purple down into the distant heather.  She knew him in that way.  She knew that he had changed somehow.  She had never read a line of his poetry.  She thought that she knew how it went though, slowly and sonorously.  It was seasoned and mellow.  It was about the desert and the camel.  It was about the palm tree and the sunset.  It was extremely impersonal; it said something about death; it said very little about love.

To The Lighthouse, (first published 1928) Chapter 11, Part Three: The Lighthouse.

When I was reading this, even without knowing how or why, I felt that this was important.  I felt that there was something vital in this that I must grasp at all costs.  I believe that I have one finger around it now.  Hopefully by the end of my life my whole fist will encircle it. 

I think that this is the way with me a lot of the time.  Knowing someone by the outline - assuming how the rest of them will follow.  And then it also occured to me that this is probably how many people see me, and their friends, and so many other people.  Obviously and trying hard to be unchliched, it is the simplest thing in the world to get the 'gist' of someone.  Get the general idea.  Or not even that.  Get a glimpse of an idea.  And then like a colour by numbers, we fill in the rest of that person with our imagination.  I can't tell you that you know what I mean, but I would imagine that a lot of people do.

With the rest of the person, we add whatever seems fitting.  Whats-his-face said this and then did that, so I think that they are...  It's a kind of knowing, but it's a kind of guessing, and of course the person gets no credit for personality.  We fixed them up with a disposition that is, chances are, ridiculously wrong. 

I think that the point that I'm trying or failing to make is not that you shouldn't do this.  I think that it happens without our consent.  I think it's more along the lines of being open.  That is chliched, isn't it?  Uggh.  Not too much I can fix about that.

Thursday, March 10

'Sitting on the World'

Here sitting on the world, she thought, for she could not shake herself free from the sense that everything this morning was happening for the first time, perhaps for the last time, as a traveller, even though he is half asleep, knows, looking out of the train window, that he must look now, for he will never see that town, or that mule cart, or that woman in the fields again.  The lawn was the world; they were up here together, on this exalted station, she thought, looking at old Mr. Carmichael, who seemed (though they had not said a word all this time) to share her thoughts.  And she would never see him again perhaps.  He was growing old.  Also, she remembered, smiling at the slipper that dangled from his foot, he was growing famous. 

This is a an excerpt from Chapter 11 of Part Three: The Lighthouse, of Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse.  My dears, don't wait for me to give you an idea.  Think about what you have just read.  Did you really read it? 

I love to share my thoughts with you, but my dears, I don't want you to depend on me.  This paragraph contains some very heavy ideas, that caused me to sigh sadly and heavily as I rethought them. 

I love the idea of 'sitting on the world'.  This is a thought that I have so often mused, even as a young child.  I would just think about it.  Think about the world as a ball.  Think of it rotating, orbiting.  Think of myself planted on the surface, going around with it, going upside down, gravity and I just going around and upside down.  It is a thought which has the effect of making me feel incredibly small and alone, and yet in awe of size and time which no one can control.  Maybe the only thing that NO ONE can control.

Time continues.  Blink and you missed it.  I think my darling Woolf has a better grasp of Time as time than anyone I have ever known.  She talks of watching and seeing things because it might never be seen again.  Things get old.  Things grow away.  Things become famous and so get old and grow away at the same time.  I am only extremely young to the world, and so don't you dare suspect me of knowing much, but still.  I hear what Woolf says, and though I may not have a mature understanding of it just yet, I look forward to twenty years time for when I can re-listen to her voice and learn the meaning.  Perhaps that will be the both of us.

Wednesday, March 9

Spring and Summer in 'To The Lighthouse'

The Spring without a leaf to toss, bare and bright like a virgin fierce in her chastity, scornful in her purity, was laid out on fields wide-eyed and watchful and entirely careless of what was done or thought by the beholders.

And now in the heat of summer the wind sent its spies about the house again. Flies wove a web in the sunny rooms; weeds that had grown close to the glass in the night tapped methodically at the window pane. When darkness fell, the stroke of the Lighthouse, which had laid itself with such authority upon the carpet in the darkness, tracing its pattern, came now in the softer light of spring mixed with moonlight gliding gently as if it laid its caress and lingered stealthily and looked and came lovingly again. But in the very lull of this loving caress, as the long stroke leant upon the bed, the rock was rent asunder; another fold of the shawl loosened; there it hung, and swayed. Through the short summer nights and the long summer days, when the empty rooms seemed to murmur with the echoes of the fields and the hum of flies, the long streamer waved gently, swayed aimlessly; while the sun so striped and barred the rooms and filled them with yellow haze that Mrs McNab, when she broke in and lurched about, dusting, sweeping, looked like a tropical fish oaring its way through sun-lanced waters.

My dears, these two paragraph that you have just read are two excerpts from Chapter 6, Part 2: Time Passes, of Virginia Woolf's To The Lighthouse, (first published 1927).  I apologize for this long-winding way of siting the paragraphs, but I must do so in the case that there are copyright complications. 

I feel that Virginia Woolf's way of describing Spring is so vibrant and fresh.  It paints a picture in my mind of Spring as a fierce, vivacious, girl.  I can just see her twirling in an emerald green dress, all spattered with laughing daisies, chin up, eyes ingenuously open, hands spread wide to receive bunches of grass and leaves.  I really love it.  She is innocent, but she is also strong.  That is how I see her.  Don't those short and simple words just paint a picture that is so complex and profound? 

...while the sun so striped and barred the rooms and filled them with yellow haze that Mrs McNab, when she broke in and lurched about, dusting, sweeping, looked like a tropical fish oaring its way through sun-lanced waters.

I love this.  Isn't there so much story in it?  I can smell honey and fresh cut grass on a salty breeze.  It reminds me so much of when I think of home when I'm on holiday.  I think about it sitting silent and empty, full of sunlight and emotions fossilised in time until our return.  This excerpt depicts a period when nobody is in the house, and a single maid maintains it.  She looks after it and keeps it exactly as it was for when  the family comes homes, but years pass.  It is exactly as though the emotions and events that were felt and experienced in that house are fossilised in time, and kept clean and ready for them by Mrs McNab.  Isn't it full of story?

Savage Irony?

Here is a fleeting thought to think with me. 

sesquipedalophobia - (n) the fear of long words

Savage irony?  Spite?  Some guy in the language-office had a tad too much coffee for breakfast?

My Title

I think there are many sides to my title.
Bouquets of Sharpened Pencils to me stands for a handful of really good points. 
Or a clump of something fresh and cheering, like not-yet-used pencils. 
Or a gift of inspiration - the "means to express" amd "receive and enjoy" creativity.
Or something given in love from one person to another - a beautiful word or phrase that changes their perspective, and perhaps even opens up a new road for thought or passion.

Monday, March 7

Shall We Begin?

Everyone says that the first blog is the hardest.  Of course it is.  The key, they say, is to state all the things that I aim to achieve through the publishing of a blog.  Well, I reply, I would like people to get to know me better. 

THEY: Yes, what else? 
ME: Oh, also, I would like to encourage people to read classic literature. 
THEY: Indeed, that's a good one; is there anything else? 
ME: Well yes, I would like to journey through the books I read and share with people the things that deeply delight me. 
THEY: Genius!  Now put it into words.

Here lies my dilemma.  I could wrack my brains for creativity that is finally and frankly not home at the moment, or I could present the situation to you in exactly the light it has occurred to me.  There you go.  Here is the first oppertunity for me to lie to you, but in all honesty, my dears, I'll start being creative tomorrow.  Tonight, I'm just bothered with beginning. 
So shall we?