As for Me and My House – Sinclair Ross (1941)

Me and my house bookAlthough referred to by Canadian critics as a “classic”, this book does not seem to receive the same love from the average reader on Good Reads and other reader-review sites. Some of the comments about it are just plain funny:

After careful consideration and a night’s sleep, I’m fairly certain that this is the worst book I have ever read in my life…

Or how about this one:

I would rather poke my eyes out with a rusty needle than read this again…

Or even this one, a reviewer who holds nothing back, it seems:

I know this is supposed to be classic Canadian literature and all, and it wasn’t bad, but good Christ, suicide really should’ve been considered as an option, what with all that tension and misery.

So, perhaps not everyone will appreciate this quiet but desperate epistolary novel from the perspective of a reluctant preacher’s wife stuck in a small town on the Canadian prairie. Although married for twelve years, Mr. Philip Bentley and Mrs. Bentley (no first name given) are unhappy – not unhappy enough to do anything drastic to change the situation, but  unhappy enough to isolate themselves from each other.

It was written in 1941 and is set during the Depression, so life is hard enough in the prairie but really hard if you’re a preacher and his family who are dependent on others for your income, your house, and everything you need. It is this sense of powerlessness that surfaces the most, I think. The husband feels powerless in that he doesn’t really want to be a preacher and is not happy in his relationship with his wife, but sees no other way to support himself (although he’s dying to be an artist). His wife, unhappy in the marriage as well, sees no other options to escape her life: she is doomed to be the supportive “preacher’s wife” out in the middle of nowhere in a community of narrow-minded people with whom she has little in common.  And everyone has secrets that they’re not telling.

And it’s this contrast between the vast openness of the prairie and the winds that sweep down from the north, and the insular life of secrecy and hidden ideas that the husband and wife maintain, both from each other and the community around them. They live in a run-down house next to the church, and both seem to be mired in the social quagmire and tangles of small-town life with its petty squabbles and lack of privacy. They have few friends and nowhere to go, so it’s a life of being trapped in many ways.  Perhaps the house mirrors their marriage and lives in some ways: run-down, uncared-for…

Compounding this is the fact that the couple has no children (although they would have liked to): they had a son early in the marriage, but he died, and since then, the two have sealed themselves from each other, both unhappy but refusing to really talk about it.

It’s very reminiscent (to me) of Evan Connell’s duo of Mr. Bridge and Mrs. Bridge although both written about a decade later. Set in a different community and with options available that were not there for the unhappy Bentley couple in Canada, there is still this same sense of suffocating life, of being trapped like a fly in a jar with no hope of being released. (It also reminded me of the short story The Yellow Wallpaper and the novel The Wind by Dorothy Scarborough.)

The Bentley’s impulsively adopt a 12-year old orphan from the rougher side of town, both secretly hoping that this new arrival will be the solution for their unhappiness. However, it’s not to be. The child is Catholic, the town (and the preacher Protestant), and so this causes a rift in the community. Alongside all this is the drama of both the husband and the wife having affairs of different degrees with people in town, and as this is written from the PoV of the wife, you only read her perspective of the situation. It’s like hearing one side of a phone conversation, but there is enough info to piece the story together without frustration.

This book has been criticized for being slow-moving and boring. It’s true that there is not a lot of action actually happening, but it’s not that sort of book at all. It’s a contemplative story about domestic unhappiness and unfulfilled ambitions. It sounds terribly depressing, and it’s not a happy read, but it is a good read. Perhaps the unhappy reviewers mentioned earlier are younger and do not yet understand or empathize with goals unreached. I do think this book would be wasted on the teenager set, not because they are uneducated and idiots, but because their life experience has not allowed them to actually have these events occur to them, generally speaking. How can you understand being trapped in a relationship or a job when you still have the optimism of youth on your side?

So – good read. It did get better as I read it more and I was sucked into the narrative. I think it helps to live in a similar prairie environment and to know what the wind sounds like as it whistles across the level land in a rural world.  But I don’t think that should stop anyone from reading this. The writing is excellent at describing the seasons in such a wide open space. I enjoyed this, and the high skill level of the writing. (See below.)

It was clear and glittering today, and when the sun went down the frost-mist made the sky up nearly to the zenith red and savage like a fire. I watched it with [the dog], huddled cold against the grain elevator. A team and sleigh went past while we were there, the horses snorting at the cold and blowing little clouds of steam. The bells and creaking runners left a white cold silence for a minute, like a field of snow that no one has left a footprint on; then a coyote somewhere loped across it with its fluty howl, and [the dog] bristled up his back, and pressing close against me bayed off after it in floundering pursuit.

A Celibate Season – Carol Shields and Blanche Howard (1991)

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This was an epistolary novel whose title popped up somewhere on one of the blogs I crossed by the other day. You know that I can’t resist an epistolary book so, of course, I had to get this. This Canadian novel focuses on the letters sent between a married couple when the wife (who is a newly minted lawyer after having been a stay-at-home mum for years) is given a temporary posting as legal counsel for a government commission on the other side of the country.

As the weeks of the assignment turn into months and the couple continue to correspond through letters, the relationship sours for a variety of reasons. One of the big reasons (clued in by the title) is that both individuals decide to remain celibate whilst they are separated (which they sorta should since they’re, like, you know, married and apart…) and this turns into a BIG deal for the couple.

When she leaves home, the house goes to he** — why? Because the husband can’t cope as he is a caveman. This book is soooo dated even though it was only written in 1991.  He doesn’t pay the phone bill so the phone is disconnected for weeks making it difficult for the wife to call home when a letter won’t do. He can’t cook properly and won’t clean…

He’s unemployed so moons around doing nothing in particular (although he does sign up for a poetry class). Even though he has all this spare time, he has to hire a (female) cleaner and then go on about her in his letters to the wife – none of which she is happy about. Additionally, there are two adolescent kids who seem to have secret lives going on which the husband/father doesn’t address despite the mother’s request to do so. (And with the phone disconnected, she can’t do anything about it.)

The format of letter-writing really helped to emphasize the slow speed at which their whole world changed and how they reacted (or didn’t, as the case may be). (I imagine it would be a different set-up with communication as it is now.)

It sounds like it was rather an annoying read (and it was at times), but then I put some thought into it and realized that, generally, this is how small incremental changes become life-changing events – very gradually – so it was effective in the end.

However, the book is soooooooooooooo dated. (It reminded me of Atwood’s Surfacing (novel) which was written in 1971 and was all about swinging hippies etc.) The characters in this book also engage in weird sexual parties on occasion and both end up having sexual flings. I was in my 30’s during the 1990’s, but I don’t remember being invited to any weird sex parties or anything (which is fine), but was Canada like this back then? Additionally, the book was set in Vancouver which Shields refers to as Lotus-land presumably because of the hippie connection.

So – this was an OK read. Good strong epistolary set up – rather dated characters who do rather dated things. I’ve read stronger work by Shields.

Reading Catch-Up Time…

catch_upSo – it’s time to do a catch-up post to chat a bit about some of the books that I have been reading, but that haven’t quite earned enough cachet to warrant a full post in and of themselves. This is not necessarily a negative thing to say about the books: some books trigger a lot of thought after the read and some don’t. These were in that latter group (generally speaking).

Logavina Street - Barbara DemickLogavina Street: Life and Death in a Sarajevo Neighborhood – Barbara Demick (2012)

Just a good solid non-fiction read from a “boots on the ground” perspective of the genocide that took place in the 1990’s in former Yugoslavia. Not an easy read by any means, but Demick has maintained her authorial distance without giving up her passion about the people and the subject with whom she spent a lot of time. Interesting and hard to believe that the rest of the world took so long to get caught up on what was actually happening to these poor folk at that time.

Aufgust Folly - Angela ThirkellAugust Folly – Angela Thirkell (1936). Another fictional village romp with the inhabitants of Barsetshire. (See post here for more info.)

Where'd You Go, Bernadette?Where’d You Go, Bernadette? – Maria Semple (2012). This was quite a fast read composed in an epistolary style of emails, reports, and journal entries from the PoV of a young woman who is trying to work out why her mother disappeared two days before Christmas. (All a bit weird, but not bad. It also included some good descriptions of Antarctica which was interesting. Nothing too mind-blowing though.)

The Stand-In - Deborah MoggachThe Stand-In – Deborah Moggach (1991).

Was hoping for more brilliance in fiction from Moggach from this read, but this one did not rate as highly as her other works. This is more of a character study with a psychological thriller twist so was very different from my usual choice of reading fare. What I like about Moggach’s work is that you never quite know what you’re going to get from book to book, which is both good and bad. This was ok, but not as enjoyable as some of her other works that I have read.

Upstairs and DownstairsUpstairs and Downstairs – Sarah Warwick (2012).

And speaking of Downton Abbey, I have just picked up a shoddily edited and shoddily compiled tie-in book called “Upstairs and Downstairs: The Illustrated Guide to the Real World of Downton Abbey” by Sarah Warwick. My recommendation if you pick this title up is to put it down. Do not pass Go. Do not pick up $200. Just put it down.

This is such an obvious weak tie-in that has been thrown out to cash in on the Lord and Lady Grantham craze, so poor that I would be embarrassed to have my name as author (if I did). Lots of lovely photos and pictures to look at but marred by such useless captions as “A husband and wife look at the river as it passes by.” What. The. Heck? No citation, no helpful info to identify the pic or its artist or who’s in it. No context. And did I mention the careless editing?….

I think, perhaps, that the publishers are focusing on people who may have only very superficial knowledge of social history at this time, but you know what? Even if these readers read this book, they wouldn’t have learned much more by the end of it. I think I have been spoiled by the skillful writing of Judith Flanders and Amanda Vickery, but apart from the pics in this book, there is very little to recommend this to other readers.

So a mixed bag overall, but mostly good.

Diary Dates…

Diaries

Every now and then, I get the urge to write and be creative with words, and that time has come for this year. I am never quite sure what to write, as it’s rare that I write creatively (as in fiction), but there comes a time each year when the sap rises and I start to think about this more seriously than at other times.

As part of this project, I started to read “Bird by Bird” by Anne Lamott, and then I dug up some old writing from when I was about twelve years old in England and composing my pre-teenagery thoughts in my diary. Lots of minutiae from a pre-teen perspective, but still fun to look at. I am impressed at my young self for keeping this diary up as I wrote almost every day from about 1976 (when I was 12) until I moved to the US when I was 20. I don’t have the later editions, but I do have the earlier versions (which are probably more funny and less serious).

Virginia Woolf was a big diary-keeper person:

But what is more to the point is my belief that the habit of writing thus for my own eye only is good practice. It loosens the ligaments. Never mind the misses and the stumbles. Going at such a pace as I do I must make the most direct and instant shots at my object, and thus have to lay hands on words, choose them and shoot them with no more pause than is needed to put my pen in the ink.

And I really connect with her description of how she wanted her diary to be:

What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk, or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through.

A “capacious hold-all” – what a fabulous description of such a document! And I can see overlaps between a diary and what’s called a commonplace book (a la Victorians), except that I think diaries have more personal reflection and thoughts in as opposed to those of other people.

I still keep a journal, although it’s a bit sporadic and digital nowadays. I don’t also tend to keep the documents for a while afterwards, as most of the time, it’s usually me trying to sort out something in my head and so I think it would be either mortifying for someone else to read it and/or boring. But I really enjoy the act of writing out my thoughts, much more clarifying than trying to have an actual conversation with a real human in present time. I am much more comfortable writing words than saying them out loud, and perhaps it’s because I have always been an avid reader since I was a child.

Despite the fact that I don’t let others see my journal entries, I do enjoy reading others, ranging from Adrian Mole to anthologies such as The Assassin’s Cloak or A Year in the English Countryside .

I am also relentlessly drawn to epistolary novels (see this post here), and in fact, one of the fiction books that I have just finished was epistolary in nature (Where’d you Go, Bernadette?)

So – what about you? Are you a regular diary or journal keeper?

Letters from Father Christmas – JRR Tolkien (edited by Baillie Tolkien) (1976)

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That was the sound of my socks being charmed off when I read this adorable collection of letters which J. R. R. Tolkien wrote to his kids from 1920 to 1942. Each letter comes from Father Christmas and each is a link in a long chain of narrative that continues from one year to the next. It’s actually really funny in places, and Tolkien really put his heart into the project.

It’s lovely to go through his correspondence and learn what happens as his four kids grow up and gradually stop sending letters to Father Christmas. FC is very stoic about this change, of course, but it was poignant to see the number of kids’ names on the envelopes dwindle over time.

And Tolkien doesn’t just stick to the typical Santa fare: he has a (not-very-helpful) helper in the form of North Polar Bear (NPB as he’s called) who ends up causing lots of inconveniences (such as uncontrolled fireworks being set off that catch the house on fire) and problems (such as flooding the bathroom), but really means well. He is one of the toughest fighters during the Goblin Wars and helps to train his two nephew Polar Cubs who come to live with him.

The home the Tolkien kids grew up in Oxfordshire.

The home the Tolkien kids grew up in Oxfordshire.

What was also really nice was that Tolkien also drew illustrations which he sent with the letters that depict some of what happened that year before.  You can also see his affinity for words and languages as his NPB invents his own alphabet and the Elf Secretary he has writes some Elvish.  There’s also a brief mention of the Hobbit being published in 1937. (The LOTR trilogy came later in his life, but I think an aficionado could probably see future mentions in these letters. I’m not that familiar with them though.)

Interesting bio fact about Tolkien: once freed from WWI service, his first job was working at the Oxford English Dictionary where he focused on the history and etymology of words of Germanic origin beginning with the letter “W”…

Seeing that it covers the pre-WWII years (and then continues for some of those after), Father Christmas’ correspondence reflects some of the world events going on so it wasn’t all jolliness and ho-ho-ho. There was meaningful mention of kids and families who were in need and who weren’t going to receive any presents. I’d be interested to know how Tolkien’s kids responded to this: did they take it for the lesson it was meant to be, or, as early teens, would they have secretly rolled their eyes and sighed?… I hope it was the former.

Tolkien seems to have really gone above and beyond his role of FC here – it was obviously a tradition that was important to him (and perhaps to his kids), and the last letter that FC writes had me with tears in my eyes…

Lovely and charming read.

Himalaya – Michael Palin (2004)

An interesting and witty collection of diary entries (my favorite!) from Michael Palin as he and his BBC film crew travel along the flanks of the Himalaya mountain range. (Note: Not HimalayaN mountains. Reasons unknown. Wiki says that their name means “abode of the snow.”)

Palin’s journey takes him across parts of Pakistan, Northern India, Nepal, Southern China (and Tibet) and a few more places, each written about and reflected on with humor and respect. Palin meets a wide range of people from the working class (and below) to the Dalai Llama and a king or two, and Palin is so charming about everyone. Not obsequious, but just seems like a friendly kind guy. (There is none of the idiocy of his Monty Python legacy, thank goodness.)

 Palin and his crew began their journey on May 12 2002, and ended on April 7 2004, although this was not done all at one go due to calendar and weather challenges. It can’t have been easy. Yes, Palin is a celebrity who had a team of minders and camera crew to smooth out the irregularities of foreign travel, but he still ended up sleeping in damp cold and leaky sleeping quarters (sometimes a tent) getting cold (or hot, depending on climate). It wasn’t all glasses of champagne and air-conditioned/heated buildings, so, as a reader, I admired his optimism and his sense of adventure. He was also tons braver than I would be with regard to what he ate. I am not half as adventurous as he was, culinarily speaking, so it was interesting to read as there is an extremely low (read “no”) chance of me even trying some of his diet.

I think the journey was also quite physically demanding with long walks/hikes at really high altitude (like at Everest base camp) and the weather wasn’t always lovely.

Palin’s photographer Basil Pao was also stupendous – his work featured strongly throughout the book and the photos were truly world class.

Overall, a fun read about travel in parts of the world way off the typical tourist path. (His other travel books are just as good, FYI.) This was armchair traveling at its best.

(Above):  The Taktshang Monastery, also known as the “Tiger’s Nest.” It’s a prominent Himalayan Buddhist sacred site and is in upper Paro Valley in Bhutan. The temple complex is built into a cliff side. (First built in 1692.)

Love Among the Butterflies – Margaret Fountaine (W. F. Cater, editor) (1978)

Full title being “Love Among the Butterflies: The Travels and Adventures of a Victorian Lady”, this was a beautifully produced book, a collection of the diaries from Margaret Fountaine, a fairly wealthy Victorian/Edwardian woman who started a serious butterfly collection which led to her traveling widely around the world.

Fountaine was a vicar’s daughter (I think) who grew up at the tail end of Victoria and the beginning of Edwardian days, and as she was not married, she found herself somewhat unoccupied. She started to collect butterflies, and after a while, became a serious entomologist and traveled across the world adding pieces to her large collection. (Lots of overlaps with Edith Holden here minus the world traveling.)

So – clearly, this is an unorthodox woman for the times: she travels widely to countries not familiar to a lot of people back then, she ends up having a long-term relationship (and traveling with) a man from Syria, she becomes an expert in butterflies… It’s quite admirable just how far she pushed acceptability in female terms back then, but it did come with a price. She really struggles to reconcile her love of freedom with the cultural expectations of the time with regard to spinsters and marriage and “suitable” partners.

Despite all her travel experience, she stays curiously unhappy throughout her life (at least as told in these entries). She is very defensive all the time, but was heartless to those who kept her close to their hearts.

Her Syrian lover could not be publicly acknowledged for many years, and although they travel and work well together, she insisted on them having different rooms and standards (despite their relationship), and she could never grasp that he was in love with her for realz. In their rather frequent separations, she would drive herself to distraction imagining various horrible scenes involving him and an accident or another woman etc., and facing such pressure, I am surprised the guy ever came back (apart from the fact that she was rather wealthy and they traveled with her money paying for everything.)

Fountaine does acknowledge in her diaries that she adores her freedom, but anything that seems to threaten that state of affairs immediately puts her into a tailspin of being mean to her family, friends and lovers, of acting selfishly and generally being a bit of a pinhead.

However, just because she was rather an unkind person doesn’t make this book any less fascinating. The illustrations taken from her diary pages are intriguing to look at: her writing is immaculate with very few errors and she justifies her handwriting margins on every page. (Goodness – how to do that without making a crossing-out every now and then, who knows?). She had volumes of diaries and numerous boxes of butterfly specimens that she bequeathed to a museum, but only with the condition that the museum administration do not open the diary box for 40 years after her death. This agreement was stuck to, and so they waited for the correct time. Thus were found the diaries.

A lovely book to look at, with gorgeous illustrations. The editor also slips in very funny comments about Fountaine every now and then, and these clearly add some sparkle to the read (at least it did for me). It’s all a bit serious otherwise.

The Country Diaries: A Year in the British Countryside – Alan Taylor (ed.) (2009)

“Diarists create by accumulation, putting into print what they see and hear and think daily.”

Alan Taylor, editor.

A day-by-day year-round anthology of diaries from writers whose lives revolve around the life of the British countryside (so not just England). This is a fascinating trip across fields and centuries from 1672 to the early 2000’s, and covers all social classes from rather poor (via literate curates) to stinking rich so the collection covers the gamut of life. With such a wide range of description of the appreciations of country life, it would be easy for the editor to choose the sort of bucolic “Cider with Rosie” descriptions, but he has included both the highs and the lows of everyday life.

Admittedly, this is a collection of (mostly) white males, but I would bet that that is due to the sample of available writing more than any bias of the editor. Female diarists include Beatrix Potter (who is truly hilarious in places), one Elizabeth M. Harland (who was first published in 1950 – not heard of her), Emily Smith (1817-1877, a contemporary of Thos. Hardy and not heard of her before) and one Alice Dudeney, all of whom were pretty prolific in their writings. I will definitely be searching for some of their work if I can track it down.

Reading about inclement weather when it’s been a really hot August in West Texas was a real treat, and I had quite forgotten how short British summers could be – and how wet! Day after day of rainy weather, chilly temperatures and cloudy skies – pretty much the opposite of here and fun to contrast the two… It also took me back to English childhood and adolescence, a time that seems so far away and yet also seems to have happened yesterday in some cases…

Two rather funny excerpts:

30 April 1830, Radnorshire.  Rev. Francis Kilvert.

“This evening being May Eve I ought to have put some birch and wittan [mountain ash] over the door to keep out the “old witch.” But I was too lazy to go out and get it. Let us hope the old witch will not come in during the night. Young witches are welcome.”

11 November 1799, Somerset. William Holland (rector).

“Rain last night too and the morning not very promising, tis surely dreadful weather. Briffet is here to kill the sow.  A horrible looking fellow, his very countenance is sufficient to kill anything, a large hulky fellow, a face absolutely furrowed with the small pox (a very uncommon things in these days of inoculations), two ferret eyes and little turned up nose with a mouth as wide as a barn door and lips as thick and projecting like two rollers of raw beef bolstered up to guard against, as it were, the approach to his ragged rotten teeth. However, he is a good pig killer.”

(Back-handed compliment, methinks. :-))

The Joys of the Epistolary Novel

So, as you are probably a fellow book nerd comme moi, I bet you enjoy lists as much as I do. So, in an idle moment one day, I was thinking how I love epistolary* novels and thought I would compile a list to see how many epistolary novels (and similar non-fiction) I had either read or had on the TBR pile right now.

This is what I have come up with so far (in no particular order):

Others that you think of from your reading experience? Just try to remember without googling. More fun that way!

*Epistolary (defined according to Miriam-Webster): of, relating to, suitable to a letter; contained or carried on by letters. Other acceptable formats: diary entries, newspaper clippings, emails etc.

Updated: 10/01/2019.

Gone with the Windsors – Laurie Graham (2006)

This book had been well recommended at one of my favorite hang-outs on the interwebs which is Readers’ Paradise . Trusting my reading friends there, I ordered it with anticipation and then once it arrived, duly placed it on the tottering TBR pile to sit there for ages gathering dust. I had a hankering for an epistolary novel and a royal related one, and if it could be light-hearted and rather English, that would be great as well.

Graham’s novel fits the bill on all levels. It’s focused on the love affair of American divorcee Mrs. Wallace Simpson and the abdicated King Edward and is from the hilarious (although accidentally funny) view of one of Wallace’s close childhood friends from the US.  Maybell Brumby, the author of the fictional diary we are reading, is extremely funny in places, but is even funnier because she doesn’t mean to be hilarious. Others have compared her to the role of Bertie Wooster in P. G. Wodehouse and I think that is a fitting comparison – a sort of “blundering but well meaning idiot” type.

Maybell is a newly widowed wealthy lady from the bluestockings of Baltimore and has known Wallace (or Wally as she calls her) since they were school friends and Wally was a charity student at their posh school. Always having been filled with dreams of a grand life, Maybell achieved it through marriage, and then had watched Wally aim for the same thing. “Grand life” and “rich English men” rather went together as they had, much as they had during Victorian times (a la Downton Abbey), and so the book follows Maybell moving to England (at the behest of her sister who was also there) and then what happens when Wally arrives on those distant shores, meets the Prince and changes the path of the British Constitution and royalty for ever.

Maybell is an ideal foil for the canny and manipulative Wally who seems ruthless and determined to live the life of wealth and ease signified by marriage into the Royal Family. However, the path of love is not simple and as is commonly known (especially since the film, The King’s Speech was released), Wally was not crowned Queen and David (who was previously called King Edward the something) was forced to choose between throne and love. He chose love, which, according to this book, really really annoyed Wally who had much higher aspirations than living in exile with an excommunicated prince.

The names were a bit confusing at first as the royal men seemed to have constantly changing first names. Edward was also David was also Prince of Wales was also Duke when he abdicated. Bertie was Albert who was also King George the something and was his younger less well prepared brother. I did have to keep referring to the royal family tree to keep these straight and work out where the current Queen of England fitted in, but that was the only downside to the whole book.

Oh, and it could have been edited towards to the end. Once the abdication had occurred and the former royal couple were in exile, it was also the start of World War II and Graham has a great grasp of all the players, both big and small. But again, it was a bit confusing about who was who and doing what. Various equerries popped up and popped down and then there were also other members of staff who had roles. Minor quibble though.

It was very clear that Graham had done her research as the plot was detailed and spot-on as far as I could tell. (However, I am not an expert in these areas. Seemed good to me though.) And there were places when I just snorted out laughing in reaction to what Maybell writes in her mistakenly oblivious and very human way  — Edna Piaf, for example, was one of these errors and Harrold’s the department shop.  Close enough but no cigar as they say, and these ongoing errors were purposely made by the author and helped to make Maybell very human and real to me.

I am wondering if Graham is as hilarious in other books. I have previously read (pre-blog) her The Future Homemakers of America, but don’t remember much so may have to reread that. And then I have just ordered Perfect Meringues which was one of her back list books. Regardless of whether she is as funny in her other work, she gets a tip of the hat for being hilariously wicked in this one.

🙂