Sunday Evening Book Post: Roses, Housekeeping, and the Internet

Last week I said that I was going to try to write a regular “Sunday Afternoon Book Post,” but let’s be realistic; there’s no way I’ll ever get it posted in the afternoon! So instead, how about a “Sunday Evening Book Post”?

I only finished one book this week, and it was really too small to be called a real book.  But it was lovely and it made me happy:

Old Roses

Old Roses p 1

Old Roses p 2

I picked it up on an Instagram book sale.  It was a little “extra”.  I’m trying not to do too many “little extras”, but I’m glad I got this one.  We keep saying year after year that we are going to yank out the ungainly, overgrown bushes in the front of the house and plant roses, but usually the vegetable garden takes precedence and rose-planting season comes and goes without a new rose bush.   A long time ago, I heard about David Austin roses (I’m linking to the American site, but if you go back to the main page there are sites for other countries, too) and decided that what I wanted was old English roses, not the spindly tea roses, which are — as I understand it — hard to grown down South anyway.

Old Roses is a handy little book for gardeners who want to know about the older rose cultivars from whence our modern roses come, but what I liked most about it were the conversational bits of history and art that were liberally woven through it. Biographies of the artists (most of the paintings, but not all, are by Redoute, the famous 18th century painter of roses), little discussions about the roses of the War of the Roses, and old recipes (“receipts”) to show how roses were used in the past made this book a really nice way to spend a quiet half-hour as I was putting the toddler to bed.  Rosarians, I think, have a reputation for being rather passionate and nit-picky about the history of their flowers, but this book was a nice introduction and I added another book about old roses to my ever-growing Goodreads to-read list:

Although this book looks good as well, and is more history than gardening:

I imagine it will need to be added to my TBR list on Goodreads, too. I have 171 books on that list, beginning with books I added in 2009 when I first joined.  It’s where I put books I hear about that sound interesting so I won’t forget them. But then, too often, I go on acquiring and reading still other books and the TBR books continue to languish unread. I noticed recently that my TBR shelf looks more interesting than my “read” shelf, which put me out a bit. I think I’m going to have expand my goals to whittle that list down as well. As soon as I return to the library the Christmas book that magically appeared under somebody’s bed.

The other reading I did this week was (as usual) a jumble of genres, fiction and non-fiction, but I did pull it all from my own shelves.  Unhappy with the house, I took down Home Comforts: The Art and Science of Keeping House, by Cheryl Mendelson for help.  I bought this book years ago when I was still nauseous in early pregnancy with the twins, and we had just moved a thousand miles to take up temporary residence in an old rented farmhouse on a working dairy farm in upstate New York.  It sounds much more romantic than it actually was.  The farmhouse — originally built by a family with twelve children in 1900 — had been made into a duplex.  The old floors had all been carpeted with shag carpet some time in the 1970’s (an upstairs bedroom was day-glo orange) and were infested with fleas.  The owner left me a pile of cluster flies on the bedroom floor because I “would need to get used to them.”  And the neighbors — the owner’s son and his girlfriend — screamed at each other constantly.

So Cheryl Mendelson’s book, with its calm, common-sense tone and its practical instructions about how to set up housekeeping routines, was a balm to my soul.  My copy has become rather battered…

Home Comforts

… but I haven’t read it in a while.  It’s time now to revamp my housekeeping routines because some parts of our house have gotten out of hand for too long, and I’m once again enjoying Mendelson’s unflappable prose.

I also picked up The Song of Bernadette by Franz Werfel from my shelves.  It’s been sitting there, whispering to me that I should read it, for over a year.  So I started it and became immediately absorbed in Werfel’s descriptions of Lourdes and his characterization of Bernadette and her family and then… promptly lost the book.  I couldn’t find it anywhere.  It turned up a few days later underneath the couch, but by then I had pulled Nicholas Carr’s The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains out of my tote bag where it had been languishing since November.  I feel guilty about not reading this one straight through, because it’s sort of the point of the book: Internet usage is rewiring our brains so that it’s harder to sustain our attention long enough to actually read a book.  I definitely read differently than I did pre-2005, especially novels, which I find it really hard to sink into.  That’s pretty ironic, considering that I have written fiction since I was twelve years old.  But it’s gotten much harder to sustain the attention it takes to write fiction since 2005, too, and I’m not sure how much blame to put on the multitude of “stuff” that comes with being the mother of a large family and how much to lay at the feet of the Internet with its emphasis on hyperlinks and “groupiness” — a term Carr quotes from another essayist to describe how reading is becoming less a private act and more about being part of a group.  He is rather gloomy about the prospects of the book and writing in general; I’m not sure I want to sound the death knell of reading just yet, although it’s easy to see the new “groupiness” in just about everything.

And as for Kristin Lavransdatter, which I mentioned last week?  I didn’t pick it up this week even though it sat there on the couch looking at me.  It’s just too huge and unwieldy in this combined edition to manage while I’m nursing.  I’m going to have to hunt down my Kindle and download it if I want to read it.  I


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