Sudden and magnificent, the sun’s broad golden disc showed itself over the horizonKenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (1908).
facing them; and the first rays, shooting across the level water-meadows, took the
animals full in the eyes and dazzled them. When they were able to look once more, the
Vision had vanished, and the air was full of the carol of birds that hailed the dawn.
Wednesday, the 29th of July, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks as well!
This week my pick is non-fiction, The Natural History and Antiquites of Selborne by Gilbert White. This book, first published in 1789 by the author’s brother Benjamin has been continuously in print since, with (according to the Goodreads description) over 300 editions until 2007.
The book is essentially a collection of over a hundred letters written by Gilbert White to Thomas Pennant, a zoologist and Danes Barrington a barrister, though many of these were never actually posted. The letters, among other things, are organised around plant and animal life cycles, and observations on different species including birds, quadrupeds and insects as well as vegetation besides general descriptions of Selborne. There are also some meteorological observations.
Gilbert White was born in July 1720 in his grandfather’s parish in Selborne, Hampshire. In 1749 he was ordained and obtained various curacies thereafter. Besides being a parson, he was also an ecologist, naturalist and ornithologist making detailed observations of nature and animals over years around Selborne where he spent a lot of time, including as a curate. The first edition of the book was illustrated by Swiss artist Samuel Hieronymus Grimm, who stayed at Selborne for about a month.
I have had this one on my TBR for a fairly long time, have downloaded a public domain copy a few years ago. Being interested in nature and animals generally, I thought a book written that long ago would give an interesting perspective. Also being written in letter form, it might be an easier and more interesting read than just text. This year Gilbert White himself turns 300, so it seems a good time for me to pick this one up finally.
Do you enjoy writings on nature? Which are some favourite books? Have you read this one? How did you like it? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!
Find Lisa’s pick this week (here)
I haven’t picked a children’s book to read or talk about for a while now. Since I have been mostly rereading books lately, my children’s book pick this time is a reread as well, and I chose this short charming Beatrix Potter book, The Tale of Mrs Tiggy-Winkle. Published in 1905, this the sixth (seventh according to Wikipedia) of her twenty three (twenty four) stories of various animals. This is a very sweet little tale and as I have written once before (here), is one of the few I have read (I haven’t read them all, yet) in which none of the characters is spanked or eaten (or nearly eaten) or had their tails yanked off or any such (though many of these make an appearance or are mentioned).
The story open with a little girl Lucie who lives in Little-town and has lost ‘three pocket handkins and a pinny’. Looking for these she goes about asking first the kitten, then Sally Henny-Penny and the cock robin, finally finding herself walking away from town where she finds a trail of small foot-marks. Following these, she eventually finds herself in a very tiny house, spick and span, where she meets a little washerwoman, in a print gown and apron, a striped petticoat, and prickles in place of golden curls, who introduces herself as ‘an excellent clear-starcher’. The little washerwoman’s black nose goes ‘sniffle sniffle snuffle’ and eyes ‘twinkle twinkle’. Lucie mentions the things she’s lost and Mrs Tiggy-Winkle begins to go through her laundry, the various different items that she has in her basket, and finally locates Lucie’s things while alongside also doing some ironing.
In the laundry are some rather fun things, from the tabby kitten’s mittens which she ‘washes … herself’ but sends down for ironing to some lambs’ woolly coats to Mrs Rabbit’s handkerchief to things that other Potter characters we know and love have sent in–like Peter Rabbit’s blue jacket and Squirrel Nutkin’s red tail coat, minus the tail (yanked off, just like his tail, one imagines). Reading these descriptions is just so sweet and delightful!
Little Lucie then joins Mrs Tiggy-Winkle for a cup of tea before walking back with her to deliver the clean laundry, and once only Lucie’s bundle is left and handed over, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle seems to run away, and something rather strange happens. Was Mrs Tiggy-Winkle real, or merely Lucie’s dream?
This is a delightful and pleasant tale that brings a smile to one’s face. Perhaps it is set in a time long past, but still the reader can happily walk along with little Lucie tracing her small lost things and spend a little time watching the tiny washer-hedgehog as she goes about her business washing, ironing, and handing back the little items of laundry, tied in neat bundles. With Potter’s gorgeous illustrations, imagining them isn’t too hard either. Mrs Tiggy-Winkle and the other animals that is. Lucie on the other hand, is seen as an ‘artistic failure’ which is explained by Porter’s difficulty in illustrating people (again from Wikipedia: here).
Mrs Tiggy-Winkle was apparently inspired by Potter’s own hedgehog of the name name and the Scottish washerwoman, Kitty MacDonald who worked for their family, while Lucie is based on little Lucie Carr one of the daughters of the vicar at Lingholm where Potter went on holiday (here)! This isn’t one of the Potter tales I read as a child. In fact I first read it only well into college, but it is one I love very much, all the same.
Have you read Mrs Tiggy-Winkle? Is she among the Potter characters you like? Which others are your favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts!
Writing about my L.M. Montgomery favourites a couple of weeks ago (here) had me wanting to pick up and read most of them again, and since the Blue Castle was right in front of me, I did just that. Written in 1926, the Blue Castle can be compared at some level with books like The Secret Garden by Frances Hodson Burnett, The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim, and LM Montgomery’s own, Jane of Lantern Hill (even perhaps, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day), but with a difference. While for the characters in those books, it is the change of scene that triggers the change in their lives, in The Blue Castle, an event triggers the change, which then leads to a change of scene and more change, and though certainly not the most positive event, proves to be the magic that our heroine needs.
Valancy Stirling is twenty-nine, unmarried and with no prospects of getting married either. She is drab looking, prone to colds, and lives a dreary life with a rather hard mother, and a not very companionable cousin. She has never had a moment of happiness in her life, for even the smallest joys seem to be snatched from her or she finds herself being told off for even wanting them. Her other, much wealthier relatives (she belongs to the ‘Deerwood Stirlings’) aren’t very much better (a lot worse actually), and her role seems most often to be to listen to their largely adverse comments and observations or to be at the receiving end of jokes; to add to her woes, she is constantly called ‘Doss’, a nickname she hates. Her only solace lies in books, nature books (for her mother wouldn’t permit her to read fiction) by John Foster and escape into the Blue Castle, a world in her imagination where she can be both free and happy. But the worst is, there seems no prospect for anything ever being different.
But when she visits a doctor, for once without her family’s knowing, over a complaint and receives some alarming news, rather than being alarmed, she feels freed—free of all the fears and inhibitions that were holding her back, and suddenly able to tell her family exactly what she feels about them, well, more or less. This freedom also means that she decides to live her life, for all she’s been doing so far is existing, and not very pleasantly at that. To the horror of her relations, she takes up a job, and then takes an even more shocking step. But for her this means finally getting to live her dream life, and find her Blue Castle.
Valancy may not sound the most attractive of characters to start with, but one feels a lot of sympathy for her right from the start. And when she finds herself free and able to deal with her family as she would like, one finds oneself cheering her on and laughing at the thought of the looks on her family’s face when they hear the unexpected from her—one after another and another. And with these changes she finally also finds some friends—people she likes and can talk to, even enjoys spending time with—rather than only those she’s simply been putting up with.
Like the other books I mentioned, and like most of LM Montgomery’s own books, nature of course has a role to play. When Valancy is living at home, she experiences it through the books of John Foster. But when she leaves home, she gets to experience it first hand, living on the banks of lake Mistawis, looking at the beauty all around her, a place where she can not only explore and spend time amidst nature, but have her Blue Castle, complete with cats!
This was a lovely read as always, though I felt as I did before that the ending (though I realise why it was how it was) was a touch melodramatic and even over the top, but still overall, a wonderful and cheerful read, about how anyone can have a little touch of magic in their lives, which can change it completely, and that perhaps even something not so wonderful could lead to something that is unexpectedly so!
p.s. This by the way is L.M. Montgmery’s one book that was meant for older readers.
Have you read this one? How did you find it? Did you like it as much as I did? Looking forward to your thoughts!
Cover image: Goodreads
L.M. Montgomery or Lucy Maud Montgomery (1874-1952) was a Canadian author, best known for Anne of Green Gables, her 1908 book about a little red-headed orphan girl who arrives by mistake at the home of Matthew and Marilla Cuthbert, siblings running a farm who had wanted to adopt a boy. But before long, she wins their hearts and stays, and both their and her lives change. But besides Anne of Green Gables and the seven others in that series that appeared after it (some of these are on my list), L.M. Montgomery wrote many more books. As Wikipedia (here) tells us, she wrote a total of 20 full-length novels, 530 short stories, 500 poems, and 30 essays–quite a prolific lady. I knew and read the first few Anne books in school but it was only some years ago that a book friend pointed me to her other books, which I ended up reading all of (the novels I mean, not all her others works, yet), and have quite a few favourites among them which I’m sharing in this list.
Most of her books are set in Prince Edward Island, and the Island’s beauty, nature–flowers, fruit trees–and general atmosphere has a magical role in many of the stories. She also explores the themes of young girls making their way in the world, Anne as a teacher (at least initially) and writer, and Emily Byrd Starr as a writer. Here are some of her books, other than Anne of Green Gables, that I really enjoyed (I liked them all by the way–all her books are very readable and enjoyable, only A Tangled Web, which is otherwise a lovely story, was spoiled for me by one little incident she put in there).
Jane of Lantern Hill: This is the story of a young girl Jane Stuart loving with her rather strict (and not very likeable) grandmother who doesn’t not like her, and mother in a dreary home in Toronto. But one summer she learns that she is to visit her father (her parents are separated) who lives on Prince Edward Island. She is naturally reluctant but once she gets there, PEI works its magic, and life as she knows it changes much more than she could have ever imagined.
The Emily Books: Emily of New Moon, Emily Climbs, and Emily’s Quest form a trilogy of stories about Emily Byrd Starr, an orphan like Anne, but who is sent to live with relatives. We follow her life from that point as she grows up and tries to make a name for herself as a writer, especially living in a home where her writing is not only not encouraged but disapproved of by her aunt. These stories have a lot of Montgomery’s own experiences worked in, which I realised after reading The Alpine Path, where she writes of her career.
The Story Girl and the Golden Road: These are two connected novels tell of Sara Stanley (the ‘story girl’) who is sent to live on Prince Edward Island at a time when some cousins also come to live there while her father is away for work. Here she entertains them by telling them different stories she has heard and collected. Alongside, we also follow their lives on PEI, with its simple pleasures and also learn of what becomes of them when they grow up.
The Blue Castle: This is the story of Valency Stirling, a twenty-nine-year old unmarried woman living with her rather hard mother, her social life confined to her not particularly pleasant relatives, her only consolation being her favourite books and dreams of a Blue Castle where life will be perfect. For rest she must always listen to her fanily’s taunts and remarks and lead a rather dreary existence. But when she hears some shocking news from her doctor, her life changes, and she begins to try and finally ‘live’ finding not only escape and happiness, but also adventure and love. The end of this one was perhaps a tad over the top, and a bit melodramatic, but I love the book for the way she changes and handles her relatives.
Anne of Avonlea and Anne of the Island: Not strictly Anne of Green Gables, but yes, Anne books, but I couldn’t do without mentioning these in my list. Of the eight Anne books, the first three are my favourites (the last two hardly have Anne in them). In these two which immediately follow the first book, Anne is growing up and begins her career as a teacher, and later heads off to Redmond College. These may not be as funny as the first one, but they are still a great deal of fun with Anne own antics, as well as those of Davy and Dora, twins whom Marilla ends up adopting, and Anne receiving some expected and unexpected marriage proposals.
Montgomery’s other books are worth reading too, and I will do a post on some of the short stories later when I read more of them. But of her novels, these are certainly among my favourites. You can find most of her works in public domain at Project Gutenberg (here) and fadedpage (here)
Have you read any of the ones on my list? Or any not on my list? How did you like them and which are your favourites? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!
Cover images are as always from Goodreads.
Wednesday, the 3rd of June, and time for Shelf Control once again! Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, all you do is pick a book from your TBR pile, and write a post about it–what its about, why you want to read it, and such. If you participate, link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!
Today, my pick is non-fiction, a memoir of life away from the world, surrounded by nature–Walden by Henry David Thoreau. Walden or Life in the Woods was first published in 1854, and is a reflection of the author’s experiences living in the woods for a period of ‘two years, two months, and two days’ (I wonder whether he chose it so, or it became so by coincidence) in a cabin near Walden Pond on property owned by Ralph Waldo Emerson, who was his mentor. The work is described as ‘part personal declaration of independence, social experiment, voyage of spiritual discovery, satire, and manual for self-reliance’. Thoreau spends this time living self-sufficiently (growing his own food as well), immersing himself in nature, and reflecting from this space on life and society–a variety of aspects from reading to solitude and visitors to the seasons and nature itself–really, on simple living.
I’m not really sure this pick entirely qualifies for Shelf Control but I am including it since it is on my TBR. I actually read part of this book many years ago (at least 7) when I came across and issued this from the library at university. Then for one reason or another, though I started and was enjoying the book, I ran out of time and the book had to be returned. I wanted to continue, but didn’t end up buying the book; rather I downloaded a public domain copy but I am yet to read it. Now of course, I will start from the beginning since its been so long.
I have noticed in other reviews of the book (Goodreads) that this starts off well, filling the reader with enthusiasm (probably the impression I remember it having on me) but then turns somewhat dull along the way. Even if this may be the case, I do still want to give this one a read all the way through. Even though very different, it kind of reminds me of R.L. Stevenson’s Travels with a Donkey in the Cevennes, where Stevenson not only writes about his actual travels and places he visits, but also reflects on various issues including religion, and which was in fact published a couple of decades after this one.
Have you read Walden? or Do you plan to? How did you like it if you did? Looking forward to your thoughts!
The beauty of winter is that it makes you appreciate spring.L.M. Montgomery, The Story Girl (1911)
Image source: Pexels
Besides fiction, I also enjoy picking up non-fiction reads from time to time, though I don’t do it as often as I’d like. History is one genre I like to read, but I also like at times to read popular science books (nothing too technical, though), and of course since I like both these, I also enjoy a combination of the two. Today, I’m sharing a few favourite reads that are both history and science, talking about people who contributed to science as well as the contributions they made. (One in my list is fiction, though).
To start off with, one of my absolute favourites (although this list isn’t in any order/ranking, as such), The Age of Wonder: How the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science by Richard Holmes (2008). This book focuses on the lives of a few scientists/explorers, specifically Joseph Banks who made a voyage to Tahiti, William and Caroline Herschel with their discoveries in the skies, Humphry Davy and his work with the miner’s lamp, and again in the laboratory, Mungo Park’s adventures in Africa, and balloonists in England. But it is not only these people that he focuses on but life and discoveries in the time period that they lived in, their interactions with and influences on poets and writers of the time including Mary Shelley, John Keats, and Samuel Coleridge. Of course, these ‘scientists’ were themselves also not focused on science alone–they wrote poetry like Davy (even if not very good), or played music like William Herschel, and were truly part of the ‘Romantic’ Generation. I had come across this book in a newspaper review and felt I would like it, and when I read it finally I really enjoyed it very much–the writing, the stories themselves, also the range of references, which also extend to poetry, art, and fiction, and of course the pictures. This is a really wonderful read.
The Philosophical Breakfast Club: Four Remarkable Friends Who Transformed Science and Changed the World by Laura J. Snyder (2011) was recommended to me by a friend, and pretty much picks up where Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder left off. It focuses on Charles Babbage (Homes too touches on his story), John Herschel (son of William Herschel), Richard Jones, and William Whewell, four friends with a shared love of science, who met at Cambridge, and formed a sort of breakfast club where they met every week to discuss science and share a good meal. Like the romantic scientists in Holmes’ books, these too were interested in poetry, architecture, and music besides science, and went on in their lives to contribute to a range of fields–architecture, economics, photography, astronomy, chemistry, biology, computers, and cryptography. Their contributions also professionalised the sciences.
Fermat’s Last Theorem by Simon Singh (1997), traces the journey of several mathematicians to solve a proposition in number theory given by lawyer and mathematician Pierre de Fermat in 1637 in a marginal note in his copy of Arithmetica, also mentioning that he had proof that wouldn’t fit in the margins. Essentially the book follows the quest of an English Mathematician, Andrew Wiles, who first came across the problem at the age of ten, and later after seven years of dedicated focus managed to crack the puzzle. But the book isn’t restricted to just Wiles, but also traces various others’ attempts at solving it over the ages, as well as developments and contributions to the field of mathematics alongside.
This one I’ve written quite often about on this page, and is one I discovered only after seeing it’s TV adaptation. Longitude: The True Story of a lone Genius Who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of His Time by Dava Sobel (1995) tells the tale of John Harisson, a watchmaker who spent much of his life perfecting the marine chronometer, the first one that helped sailors fairly accurately calculate longitudes when at sea, saving precious lives and time. Of course, as with the other stories I’ve talked about above, it also goes into efforts in other quarters and by other people towards solving the same problem, and the contributions these made. Incidentally, the Reverend Nevil Maskelyne, fifth Astronomer Royal, who is pretty much the ‘villain’ of sorts of this piece (despite his contributions) comes across in much better light in Richard Holmes’ The Age of Wonder.
A Short History of Nearly Everything by Bill Bryson (2003) is not very short but a very interesting read, taking us into the Universe from when it began to how it is today, through contributions of scholars and scientists, amateurs and professionals. The book highlights human intelligence, but also obstinacy at not wanting to accept new things, as well as the mindless destruction that human beings are constantly bringing about. It also brings to attention how much of our home, our planet earth, still remains a mystery (including what lies in its waters) leaving one with feelings of wonder and awe, curiosity, but also anger at our actions.
Measuring the World by Daniel Kehlmann (2006), translated by Carol Brown Janeway is different from the others in my list since this is a novel and not non-fiction, but I am still including it in my list since it involves history and science, and is largely based on fact. This book, in a humorous way, tells the story of geographer, naturalist, explorer Alexander von Humboldt and mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss–two very different personalities who made great contributions to the world of science. While von Humboldt is out and about exploring (and measuring) the world, actually travelling, Gauss does so with his extraordinary mind and mathematical skills; they eventually meet in 1828. This was also recommended by a friend, and I enjoyed it very much.
These were a few of my favourite history of science reads. Do you like reading books with science themes? Which are some of your favourites? Have you read any of the ones in my list? What did you think of them? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!
Image source: Pexels; All book cover images: Goodreads
Wednesday the 4th of December–time again for Shelf Control, the first one this month. Shelf Control is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies, and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles/mountains. To participate, simply pick a book from your TBR pile and write a post about it. Link back to Lisa’s page, and do also leave your links in the comments below as I’d love to check out your picks!
Like last week, this week too I have picked a non-fiction read to feature in this post, but something quite different from last week (which was Modern India, a travelogue of sorts written in 1903-find that post here), My Husband & Other Animals by Janaki Lenin. Published in 2012, this is a collection of stories by the author describing what’s its like being married to Rom Whitaker, herpetologist, wildlife conservationist, and founder of the Madras Snake Park and Madras Crocodile Bank. From battling tree frogs colonising their house, to travelling to the wild in pursuit of snakes and enormous crocodiles, to playing with porcupines, and various other trysts with nature, they’ve certainly had an interesting and entertaining life.
The Author: Janaki Lenin is a former film editor who is now a freelance journalist. She started writing in 2004, beginning with articles in wildlife magazines, and in 2010 starting a series of columns in the newspaper, The Hindu titled My Husband and Other Animals. It is a collection of these columns that forms this book. A sequel, My Husband and Other Animals 2 appeared in 2018. The author has also been working on issues relating to the management of human-wildlife conflict situations, contributing to various action plans and guidelines. (More about her on her page here).
I enjoy reading nature books in general (total tangent but Enid Blyton also wrote some wonderful ones) and this one being nature stories from closer home made me want to pick this up. Also, the title of the book and the fact that it has a foreword by Lee Durrell is making me think this collection is going to be something on the lines of Gerald Durrell’s writings which I really enjoy–both My Family and Other Animals which I loved and some of his other writings as well. I haven’t read anything by the author before but the collection has been described as ‘entertaining, playful, and downright amusing’. So I am certainly looking forward to reading this. The only thing that worries me is that while I love animals, snakes do give me the chills! I picked the book up, by the way, on kindle when it was on sale a while ago.
Do you enjoy reading nature books? Which ones are some of your favourites? have you read this one? How did you find it? Looking forward to your thoughts and recommendations!
“There is no such thing as a really calm sea. Always, always, there is motion.”Agatha Christie, Evil under the Sun (1941)
Image source: Pexels