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Posts tagged ‘books’

Musings | One of those women

My Mitford phase from earlier this year is back! One of the books I hadn’t managed to finish in wave one was The Blessing. It’s full of the amusing aristocratic chroniclings for which Mitford is known so naturally I recommend it. But you already knew that.

In my view, a sign of a great writer is the ability to capture a perspective or emotion in such a way that it stands out for the reader as a great truth or insight. When I read this statement from a dramatic dowager character, it struck me and I immediately emailed it to my sister. It seems to be the kind of thing that any hostess would want to live up to, this notion of atmosphere over arrangement. Beautiful decorating is terrific and we’re all about it, but that’s why good hostesses stand out. They make the house a home with the way they live in their space. I hope friends who squeeze into my little nugget of an apartment (a little over 300 sq. ft. can be challenging!) feel a warmth and happiness when they come over — and not just because it’s small.

That’s enough from my soapbox tonight, it’s Friday baby! Time to have a cocktail and not see Outlook in my field of vision for two whole days! Good luck to all the hosts and hostesses bringing Halloween to life this weekend.

Jackie O tells almost all

ABC had a special last night on Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis. The tapes she made with Arthur Schlesinger four months after her first husband’s assassination are being released as a book, and the 2-hour Diana Sawyer special brought some of the quotes and comments to life with historical and personal context, primarily with sound bytes from Caroline Kennedy. I think the book, Jacqueline Kennedy: Historic Conversations on Life with John F. Kennedy, sounds fascinating and I would love to read it, but here are some of the interesting things I took away from the ABC program.

Jackie spoke 4 languages fluently (Spanish, French, Italian and English). So impressive – she even had de Gaulle hooked.

She pronounced her name à la française – “jack-leen”

When she asked JFK how he defined himself he said, “An idealist without illusions.”

She was the first First Lady who looked like a movie star and her husband’s team harnessed this popular power to push forward in the political arena.

And I quote: “I loathe the French. They’re really not very nice; they’re all for themselves.”

When insulting someone, she liked to use fruit analogies. These quotes are based on her impression of Indira Ghandi.
“She always looks like she’s been sucking a lemon.”
“She was just such a prune.”

The last thing I noticed was how ABC used footage from Kennedy family videos to help round out the TV special. I hope my family will create lots of videos. Photographs are phenomenal, but with video people live on and their most endearing modes of expression, ticks and mannerisms aren’t lost.

Rain? C’est chic!

The weather here in New York has been pretty wet for the past couple days and is set to continue its soggy course for the next several days. People are morose about it, but I just finished reading D.V.,  Diana Vreeland’s autobiography, and she has a great passage about rain:

“One thing I hold against Americans is that they have no flair for the rain. They seem unsettled by it; it’s against them: they take it as an assault, an inconvenience! But rain is so wonderfully cleansing, so refreshing, so calming…”

The book overall is a great read particularly because I find the lives of the aristocratic and legendary endlessly fascinating. Vreeland, former Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar EIC and former director the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute, lived a truly fabulous life amongst this set  — royal friends, custom clothes from Chanel, unlimited travels, chauffeured Bugattis, photography sessions with Andy Warhol… you name it, she lived it.  The book captures her voice and her personality with many words in italics to emphasize her intonation and cadence. Her stories and observations range from sibylline to totally flighty (comments and opinions only someone with no worldly worries could declare), but  it was fun to be transported into a different era and living style.

Here are some Vreeland gems (tracked on my fabulous Nook):

“Good cooks, jolly fellows–that’s what make a dinner.”

“A new dress doesn’t get you anywhere; it’s the life you’re living in the dress, and the sort of life you have lived before, and what you will do in it later.”

“Unshined shoes are the end of civilization.”

“As you know, all émigrés speak French.” (pip, pip)

Agatha’s all-time favorite book

Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher, 1995

Our mother bought this book in an airport ages ago and I picked the well-worn mass-market paperback off her shelf probably 10 years ago. I’ve reread it multiple times since (and I’m not generally a re-reader). Each time I finish the book, I’m fully satisfied by the story. It’s not challenging; it’s not deeply intellectual; there is no hidden meaning; but it has the glamor and travails of a by-gone era, family saga, sweeping romances (with a happy ending no less) and beautiful descriptions of Cornwall countryside and everyday life for the upper crust in pre-WWII England. What’s not to love about all of that?

In a nutshell, the book follows Cornwall native Judith Dunbar through the youth and beginnings of adulthood. She’s a 13-year-old schoolgirl in 1935 at the outset of the novel. She is sent to boarding school in Cornwall when her parents move to Singapore and becomes friends with Loveday Carey-Lewis, who introduces Judith to her family and their estate, Nancherrow, that sets the stage for the rest of her life.  Though there are moments of tragedy, Judith has the most lucky life – in connections, money and love.  I won’t give any more details other than to say it’s delicious.

Looks like some or all of the book is available for free on Google Books.

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