I’m recovering from a bit of a reading slump and have mostly been lost in Shakespeare’s plays and studying. I guess you could say it was a tactical retreat from the depressing election result and the polished but chilling dystopia, Station Eleven, which I found remarkably well-written but loathed by the end. Anyhow. Since I don’t plan to write about the Shakespeare plays here and am only slowly progressing bit-by-bit through the study texts, here’s what else I have recently managed to read:
Sorcery and Cecilia: or The Enchanted Chocolate Pot was a collaborative project between two fantasy authors who wrote letters to each other about a group of characters they created – without planning the plot out beforehand. They did a little editing of the letters afterwards, to tidy up loose threads and remove sub-plots that hadn’t been expanded, but essentially the book is the letters in the order they were written as the two authors revealed their plot ideas to each other. It’s a fun experiment and I rather like the set up – two young female characters, one in the country and the other in London for her first season, both getting tangled in a plot that involves a Mysterious Marquis, wizards (both secret and famous) and (of course) Austenesque suitors, lots of period slang and a magical chocolate pot. I first read it in the mid-2000s because an Irish bookcrossing friend declared it her favourite book from childhood and, when I said I’d never heard of it, she sent me a copy. It’s perfectly fine for an adult reader but I think it’s aimed at mid-teen readers who will know of some of the historical locations and recognise some of the social rules of the period (who can’t be left alone with who in a room, for example).
It’s been years since I last read Sorcery and Cecilia so my original plan was to pull it off the shelf, quickly whirl through it on a lazy afternoon, see if I still wanted to keep my copy or pass it on and at the same time claim it for 1988 in my 20th century of books. The only problem is that with it being fantasy in a historical setting, written by American authors who love the setting but don’t *know* it, and not entirely aimed at adult readers… I am not willing to count it for my century. The book’s 1988ishness is lost through the style, the setting, the intended audience and so on. It doesn’t warrant a full review here on the blog either really as it’s fairly frothy, but it did cheer me up one dark afternoon. :)
Another book I won’t be reviewing in full but is worth a mention was on the subject of zentangles. A ‘zentangle’ is essentially a proprietary method for doodling. There’s a prescribed size of square to doodle in and a number of named ways of filling in blank spaces within the format. The idea is that you learn these patterns and then fill in your zentangle square or other zentangle-inspired shape with any combination of them to relax and improve your creativity. I like the idea well enough and drawing patterns over a week of lunch hours was interesting but I confess, it’s not for me. The silly, silly names for each doodle style were incredibly irritating and I prefer the idea of learning to draw specific things rather than just improving my doodling patterns. (The one above is the pattern ‘Crescent Moon’, one of the less silly named patterns. This video of a bird being filled in gives an idea of what you can do with the patterns once you learn them though.)
I do plan to write a full review of a book of essays on the formidable Mrs Delany which I finished this week. Mrs Delany began creating very intricate paper portraits of flowers in her seventies (like these winter cherries which look painted but are in fact constructed from cut out pieces of paper), but the essays looked at her life and work from every angle and as I have been reading the essays at the rate of one a night instead of racing through them I need to pull my various thoughts together. I’ve read about her before but this book was far more informative and surprising than anything I’ve previously encountered. I think Mary Delany is one of those historical women who has been ‘defused’ by Victorian authors until you think she must always have been a sweet, little old lady, harmless and doddering about with her pictures of flowers because she was in need of something to do on cold, wet afternoons. It turns out she is much more interesting a personality than that and that her ‘paper mosaicks’ are far more a part of the eighteenth century’s scientific culture too.
I know that given a time machine we’re all supposed to want to go back and kill Hitler/talk to Shakespeare/solve mysteries but personally I’d like to go back and bop a few Victorian commentators and historians on the nose for lying about various historical women and the importance of their work. Perhaps not as dramatic a goal but, I think, a noble one.