Category Archives: writing

Squirrels to the Nuts – Cluny Brown on Margery Sharp Day

clunybrown-1My journey to author Margery Sharp – whose birthday it is today – was complicated.  After reading about her on a fellow reader’s website (Beyond Eden Rock), I tried to find her books but only one consistently appeared in the library and from online booksellers – The Rescuers, known to modern audiences through the Disney animated movie. Her other books were out of print or relegated to rare book collections.

Suddenly, Early Bird Books offered one of her books online for $2.99.  Then, a late night movie on Starz – She’s Funny That Way with Jennifer Aniston – cited the storyline (“squirrels to the nuts”) as being stolen from an old Charles Boyer movie titled Cluny Brown, based on the 1944 book of the same title by Sharp.  Margery Sharp, the forgotten prolific writer,  was making a comeback. Today she would be 111 years old.

Cluny Brown is a charming novel about a young woman in Britain in the late 1930’s who is sent off to be a housemaid at a country estate “to find her place.”  With the same upstairs/downstairs formula as Downton Abbey, the film story used the theme of Margery Sharp’s character in its plot – but I could not find the quote “squirrels to the nuts” in her book.

“Nobody can tell you where your place is…Wherever you’re happy, that’s your place, And happiness is a matter of purely personal adjustment to your environment.  You’re the sole judge. In Hyde Park for instance. Some people like to feed nuts to the squirrels.  But if it makes you happy to feed squirrels to the nuts, who am I to say nuts to the squirrels?”  Charles Boyer in director Ernst Lubitsch’s rendition of Cluny Brown

In the book, Cluny Brown scandalizes her uncle when she goes to tea at the Ritz by herself – just for the experience. She tries to stay in bed for a whole day, eating oranges because it’s good for her energy.   She defies convention and asks so many questions, and her uncle is fearful of her future.  unknownSo he sends her off to the country to be a housemaid to a clueless old wealthy couple.

Although her uncle had hoped learning how to clean and serve would sober her, Cluny, of course, brings her zest and curiosity with her – and changes the lives of everyone around her, including a few gentlemen who are not prepared for her influence – one in particular.  Of course, the ending is happily ever after – but with a surprising twist.

unknown-1I spent an afternoon eating oranges and happily immersed in Cluny’s outlook on life; now I am a fan, and have found another of her charming books available through iBooks to read.  I wonder if I have enough oranges.

 

The President on Books and Reading

President giving a speech clipartAs one of the most literate United States Presidents, Obama discussed books with Michiko Kakutani, the chief book critic for the New York Times. In an interview as he leaves office,  Obama noted “…the power of words as a way to figure out who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.”

Citing books he has recommended for his daughter as she prepares for college – how many have you read? –  he included:

  • The Naked and the Dead
  • One Hundred Years of Solitude
  • The Golden Notebook 
  • The Woman Warrior
  • The Moveable Feast

From some of his favorite authors, I found a few familiar names and two new ones I might try:

  • Marilynne Robinson
  • science fiction writer, Liu Cixin (The Three-Body Problem)
  • Lauren Groff (Fates and Furies)
  • Toni Morrison (Song of Solomon)
  • V.S. Naipaul (A Bend in the River)
  • Jhumpa Lahiri
  • Junot Diaz
  • and leaders: Mandela, Martin Luther King, Churchill, Gandhi, Teddy Rossevelt, Abraham Lincoln

And he offered a clue about what he might be doing after January 20th, when a new President will be inaugurated:

“…and so in my post-presidency, in addition to training the next generation of leaders to work on issues like climate change or gun violence or criminal justice reform, my hope is to link them up with their peers who see fiction or nonfiction as an important part of that process.”

Read the full interview – here

A List of Fluff to Feel Better

Although heavy tomes can be thought provoking and force analytic thinking in our dusty brains, sometimes a book needs to be a mindless diversion.  When we need an escape from reality, award winning books forcing us to acknowledge the dire consequences of the greenhouse effect or the misery of our fellow man can only drop us deeper into the abyss.  Every now and then, a happy, fluffy, even ridiculous, book is the needed antidote.

images   In the spirit of the list giving season, here are a few authors I turn to for solace, smiles, and silliness:

  • Maria Semple (Today Will Be Different)
  • Sophie Kinsella (Remember Me?)
  • Alan Bradley (The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie)
  • Sarah Addison Allen (Garden Spells)
  • Jojo Moyes (One Plus One)
  • Mitch Albom (The Time Keeper)
  • Louise Miller (A City Baker’s Guide to Country Living)

What books can you recommend to brighten a day?

 

Jojo Moyes – the Modern O. Henry

9780735221079_p0_v6_s192x300 While reading Jojo Moyes Paris for One and Other Stories, I could not help thinking of William Sidney Porter’s short stories.  Better know as O. Henry, Porter’s romantic tales always ended with a surprise, whether in the selfless romance of The Gift of the Magi or in the story of a sick woman hanging on with The Last Leaf.  In this collection, Moyes offers her wry outlook and, like O.Henry, ends each with a jolt.

The title story, “Paris for One,” is the longest – all 150 pages – and could easily be an hour long Christmas special.  When Nell’s boyfriend is not at the London station, she gets on the train anyway, hoping he is just late for their romantic weekend in Paris. Feeling alone in a strange city, Nell receives his message that he is not coming and decides to return to London. In a series of serendipitous occurrences, the story evolves into Nell’s emergence as a determined woman who finds true love in Paris.  Only Moyes could transform a melodramatic interlude into a funny and heart-warming story, leaving the reader satisfied and smiling at the ending.

The “Other Stories” include brief tales, peeking into the windows of familiar lives: the has-been actor who is being tortured with racy tweets, the frumpy mother who finds a pair of expensive shoes that change her outlook, the taxi driver who gives a harried woman the courage to live her own life, the jewelry store clerk who saves a burglar, the husband who buys his wife a coat they cannot afford, the couple who find their afternoon delight again after years of marriage, the woman who meets her old lover at a party, and the secret communication of a woman with a stranger’s phone.

If you enjoyed Moyes’ novels (see my reviews below), you will be delighted with this collection.  Not all the stories have happy endings but each has the author’s trademark wit and charm.

Reviews of Other Moyes Books:

 

Who Won?

Although the outcome of the Presidential election in the United States remains in the minds of most Americans, tonight the National Book Award ceremony, hosted by Larry Wilmore, affirmed the power of books. The host wryly noted: “Books may be our only evidence of a civilized society at some point.”

Live streaming the National Book Award today on my iPhone was an easy way to rub elbows with literary luminaries. A few of my favorite authors were at tables eating dinner together; judges included Katherine Paterson (The Bridge to Terabithia) and Karen Joy Fowler (We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves).

unknown  I saw an emotional U.S. Congressman John Lewis, civil rights activist and Freedom Rider, win the award for Young People’s Literature for  his graphic novel about the civil rights movement in March: Book Three.  I heard Daniel Borzutzky acceptance when he won the poetry prize for The Performance of Becoming Human – a book published in a New York apartment.

9780385542364_p0_v3_s192x300 The award for fiction was awarded to Colson Whitehead for The Underground Railroad.  Michiko Kakutani called the book “…a potent, almost hallucinatory novel that leaves the reader with a devastating understanding of the terrible human costs of slavery” in a review for the New York Times.  Whitehead is a MacArthur Fellow but also had the dubious honor of being placed on the Oprah Book Club list.

Lynn Neary for National Public Radio offered a succinct assessment of the National Book Award and its influence…

The bitter presidential campaign exposed a fault line in the United States that will not easily be repaired. And while there’s no one simple answer, Lisa Lucas, head of the National Book Foundation, recommends one way to understand the other side: read.

“My life is small” she says, “and I think books are a way to make your life larger…We all need to be reading across the lines we’ve drawn in our lives…a book is a great connector, so the next time you’re looking for something to read, don’t just read the thing that you think is for you … read the thing that’s not.”