Friday, January 30, 2015

Picture Day Friday: A Tour of the Regency Town House

A detailed room-by-room tour of a Regency town house is located here. The picture below is a cross-section of a typical house built in Brunswick Square to the tune of 3000-5000 pounds (in Regency money) with a like outlay for furnishing the interior. (For comparison purposes, servants' wages in those days were 10-65 pounds per year.)

The kitchens, wine cellar, scullery, butler's room, housekeeper's room, etc. were all in the basement. The ground floor comprised of a dining room, a Decker's room, which is a small staging area for keeping the food warm, and a parlor (also called a morning room or a breakfast room). In a small house, the parlor might also be the library. Halfway up the main staircase was a waiting room with an attached water closet. The first floor had two connecting drawing rooms. The ground floor and first floor rooms together made up the formal entertaining rooms of the house and were the most lavishly decorated. The bedrooms were on the second floor and the nursery and servants' rooms were on the third floor. The grooms and coachman slept above the mews (also called the stable block and coach house) in the back. The mews were separated from the main house by a garden. The front steps of the house leading down from the front door ended at street-level.

According to The Regency Town House, "Architects and designers produced Pattern Books, containing all manner of designs, from whole houses to railings, cornices, mirrors and mouldings, wall coverings, curtains, and furniture. Lavishly illustrated magazines, such as Ackermann’s Repository of Arts monitored fashions from the continent and recommended suitable furnishings and how to arrange them in each room."

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

A Look at My Reading in January

In my blogging goals at the beginning of the year, I had mentioned wanting to read less romance, more LitFic, more nonfic, more children's books, more poetry, and more diverse books. Here's how I did with January's reading.

Flower in the Desert by Lavender Parker
Categories: romance, american, contemporary, poc
Diversity: Featured African-American and Native American protagonists. It was a self-published and in eBook format. I'm trying to become a little more adventurous by choosing self-published books, which largely come in eBook format, a format that I read extremely reluctantly.
In a few words: Well-developed characters, plot, and narrative structures despite the short length; first half moved at a cracking pace and was beautiful; too much sex made plot lose pacing in the second half; story resolution was too quick. Overall, I enjoyed it. This was a community read book with @liz_mc2, @sonomalass, @_ridley_, and @meoskop.

Flowers from the Storm by Laura Kinsale
Categories: romance, regency, big fat book, religious
Diversity: I enjoyed reading a big fat book last year and would like to read more in the longer length (>500 pages) this year. I don't read religious books or inspirational ones, since so far I've not been interested in either conversion themes or the influence personal faith has on the story (plot and characters). However, I read this book, and it was an eye-opening experience. (I mean, it's KINSALE, of course!) This book would not exist without the Quaker religion—it's in the threads that weave the fabric of the story—and I loved it. A five-star read.
In a few words: Heartrending. I cried tears of sorrow and tenderness as I read it. The main characters were frustrating at times and sympathetic at others. Despite where each one came from, by the end, I completely believed in their HEA. Read with @__marijana_.

Emily and the Dark Angel by Jo Beverley
Categories: romance, traditional regency
In a few words: Typical traditional Regency; would've liked to have seen more relationship development before declaration of love, but convincing HEA; lovable characters

The Travelling Parsi by Kamal Sunavala
Categories: nonfiction, literary fiction, memoir, anthology
Diversity: Featured Parsi-Indian characters, including the narrator of the stories AKA the author. This is another self-published book in e- format.
In a few words: Humor covered the gamut of funny, tedious, and mean-spirited; some vignettes were nonfiction but all dialog was made up, so a curious amalgam of nonfiction and fiction; all secondary characters sounded the same; loved this look into the Parsi-Indian culture; language tics were interesting. My detailed comments are here.

Viscount Vagabond by Loretta Chase
Categories: romance, traditional regency
In a few words: Typical Chase with silliness, lightness, delightful characters and plot, and marvelous writing. Recommended by __marijana_.

The One Skill: How Mastering the Art of Letting Go Will Change Your Life by Leo Babauta
Categories: nonfiction, male author, life skills
Diversity: Self-published in e- format by a male author.
In a few words: Excellent meditation on how letting go of idealism in life about situations and people leads to a happier, calmer life. This was not a cerebral book, but rather a very practical how-to book. A five-star read. This is my March TBR Challenge book.

The Recruit by Monica McCarty
Categories: romance, medieval, Scotland
In a few words: Very much a Highlander story with a well-developed warrior whose muscles had been described in detail many times; a delicate, sweet, beauteous woman; a rawr-mine with sex start to the romance, building up to jealous possessiveness; well-done love scenes, superb fight choreography, good research; McCarty is my go-to for a Highlander fix.

The Writer's Life: Insights from The Right to Write by Julia Cameron
Categories: nonfiction, writing
In a few words: I picked up this book at the start of the year when I decided to start writing Morning Pages. It has been very helpful to read a few pages every now and then—it's a short book. Sometimes when I couldn't think of anything to write about, I picked a page from this book and "discussed" it. This is my May TBR Challenge book.

The Alchemyst: The Secrets of the Immortal Nicholas Flamel by Michael Scott
Categories: children's, fantasy, male author
Diversity: Book by male author
In a few words: I admit to a slow start to this book, until I stopped seeing this as a lame adult book and looked at it as the middle-grade novel it is. Then the pace picked up right away. Lots of flashy magic, icky creatures, intrepid child heroes, wise adults, and just plain old-fashioned derring-do. Thoroughly enjoyed it. This is my February TBR Challenge book, recommended by my daughter.

North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell
Categories: literary fiction, victorian
Diversity: Written in the mid-nineteenth century
In a few words: I have loved the miniseries based on this book very much and so was eager to read the book. While the romance is of course there, the focus is more on the culture of the north and the details of Margaret's life. So the book fills in the gaps of the movie storyline marvelously well. In fact, since Netflix is about to lose its contract for the miniseries, I'm re-watching it and enjoying the duality of the experience. Book recommended by @miss_batesreads and Sunita.
Status: Still reading...

Friday, January 23, 2015

Tomorrow is National Readathon Day

According to the National Book Organization, tomorrow is National Readathon Day. It's being sponsored by Penguin-Random House, Goodreads, and Mashable. So tomorrow, January 24, between 12pm and 4pm (in each respective time zone), pick up a book and participate in a national read. I shall be reading Elizabeth Gaskell's North and South.

Today is National Handwriting Day

I'm celebrating National Handwriting Day today by writing my Morning Pages with a Mont Blanc fountain pen with J. Herbin Terre de Feu ink in a Clairefontaine notebook. Ah! The bliss of a good pen in hand gliding over good paper with good ink.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

2015 TBR Reading Challenge: The Travelling Parsi by Kamal Sunavala

2015 TBR Reading Challenge
Book: The Travelling Parsi by Kamal Sunavala
My Categories: nonfiction, memoir, literary fiction, anthology
Wendy Crutcher's Category: We Love Short Shorts

This book was recommended to me by a Parsi friend of mine, and it has been a delight to read. Before this, the only thing I knew about the Parsis was that they'd produced two of the world's best loved musicians: Conductor Maestro Zubin Mehta and Queen's lead singer Freddie Mercury (born Farrokh Bulsara).

A little background. In the seven hundreds, when Islam came to Iran, some of the Zoroastrians fled in boats to the distant shores of India. They landed in the state of Gujarat and settled there, adopting the language, food, clothes, and customs. Not completely, of course. They retained their original religious books and practices, married strictly within themselves, and otherwise behaved as all immigrant minorities do to preserve their old culture.

The Parsis, according to my friend and from reading the book, are also fairly westernized as compared to the average Indian. For instance, when the author was a kid, their parties featured meat dishes, whiskey drinks, and ballroom dancing; kids took piano and elocution lessons; far more women wore dresses as compared to the rest of the Indian population which wears saris; their knowledge of music was also of western classical music, not Indian; etc. So while the main language of communication is English sprinkled with Gujarati for the generation in their 50s now and older, my feeling from reading the book is that the Parsis seem to see themselves as separate from the rest of the Indian population. In fact, and unfortunately so, they seem to see themselves as superior.

This is a very broad outsider's perspective reported second-hand as opposed to a sensitive and accurate picture of the nuanced and complex culture of Indian Zoroastrianism. (By the way, Parsis are distinct from Iranis, though both are Iranian Zoroastrians in India.)

This anthology of short humorous memoir vignettes about the Zoroastrian Parsi community is narrated through the satirical voice of a Parsi girl. It talks about community, and the joys, wisdoms, customs, and prejudices that are contain therein. The book starts out as being a memoir of stories, but there's no way Sunavala could've accurately recalled all that dialogue that's sprinkled throughout the book. And given that all Parsi characters in their 50s in her book sound exactly alike, she made those conversations up out of whole cloth.

So this book is a curious amalgam of half-remembered incidences and pure fiction for dramatic purposes. There's no category box you can tick to make this book fit, and yet, the book pulls together and is an entertaining read for the most part. It's also informative—you get a good flavor of this minority culture from India.

I did find a few of the vignettes to be downright mean-spirited, which is the danger of humor. What is uproariously funny can quickly turn into uncomfortable silence. It felt like Sunavala had a couple of ideas, got carried away, and ran down rabbit holes with them. Judicious editing would've helped curb this tendency.

I also felt that overall, Sunavala didn't mean to portray a sympathetic or empathetic look at her culture, but a more satirical and pointedly critical one. This also made the humor come across as mean-spirited. Sometimes, vignettes written in this vein were wrapped up with upbeat conclusions, which were out-of-sync with the tone and content of the pieces. A pity.

That said, I enjoyed this little book. I recommend it to anyone wondering about India's Parsi culture or just wanting a quick light read.

Friday, January 16, 2015

Picture Day Friday: First Edition of Emma by Jane Austen

John Murray’s three-volume first edition (1816) of Emma by Jane Austen.

[Image copyrighted by The Paris Review.]

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

Mission Statements, Life Lists, Goals, Schedules: define, design, discharge

Here are four of my posts that have proven to be among the most popular on this blog. They have all to do with architecting your life starting with small daily steps.

A Personal Mission Statement is a set of mottoes for your life that define the boundaries of who you are, what your deepest held beliefs are, how you interact with others, and what you think of yourself.

A Life List is a mondo-beyondo list of your life's dreams. There are no limits as to how many items there can be on this list. It's a personal list, so don't be shy of wishing for the most outrageous, the most selfish, the most greedy, the most anything. Every deeply held desire needs to be on this list. Don't compromise on your dreams.

Goals Making and Keeping and committing to bringing your resolutions to fruition. Goals give you something concrete to work towards and to measure progress against. Goals also give you a sense of accomplisment once you've reached them.

Scheduling Your Life is important, because if you don't label your time to dedicated actions, then that piece of time is either attached to another task or frittered away. The most basic rule of thumb when keeping to a schedule is: There is no making up lost time.

Friday, January 9, 2015

Picture Day Friday: Lindisfarne Gospels

From the British Library: "The Lindisfarne Gospels, one of the greatest treasures in the British Library’s collections, is now back on display in The Sir John Ritblat Gallery. This Latin Gospel-book is thought to be the work of one remarkably gifted scribe and artist, who created it around 700 on the Holy Island of Lindisfarne, Northumbria. Its importance lies not only in the beauty of its carpet-pages and its miniatures of the four Evangelists, but also in the tenth-century gloss of its text that is the earliest example of the Gospels in the English language."

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Resolute About Resolving Your Resolutions

Are you resolute about resolving your new year's resolutions this year? Here are some tips to help you on your way that have helped me tremendously. This blog is a repeat from last January.

Don't make generalized resolutions, such as "Be Happy." Instead make specific, measurable ones, such as "Do a yoga retreat in Hawaii over the summer"—you can measure whether you achieved this goal or not and how you felt about it.

By all means, make smaller sub-goals with deadlines that will keep the bigger goal on track to being finished.

Work on only one habit at a time. Say, in January, you'll work on X and on Y in February.

Start with the smallest, easiest habit first. And do it just for a few minutes once a day. Feeling a sense of accomplishment from the very start is what keeps the habit of habit-forming (heh!) going.

And the first step in starting a habit is to simply start. Inertia, procrastination, a feeling of being overwhelmed can all lead to a tendency to want to only imagine you having the habit, but afraid to start the work in forming the habit. So, just start!

Write it down. Well, the mind's not good about keeping everything in the foreground. Old things often get pushed into the background, even though when the thoughts first came in, they were deemed high priority. We forget; we fall into old habits by, well, habit; new issues crop up that require our immediate attention; we're tired so we say we'll do it tomorrow; etc.

Accountability is the sticky glue that binds us to our resolutions on paper. If you have to report in to a friend or a group of like-minded individual or even to your online journal, it serves as a reasonably pressured deadline that has to be achieved.

Don't have only negative or "you-must"s resolutions. Have fun ones as well, such as the yoga retreat mentioned above. If you plan only drudgery for the year, then it's guaranteed that your list of resolutions will have nary a checkmark. This is the main reason, I call them goals, not resolutions.

And the complementary one to the above is that you should feel free to abandon a resolution part-way through or even before beginning, if you feel that it's something that's never going to happen no matter how many years it shows up on your list. For me, that would mean giving up on reading Tolstoy's War and Peace in this life at least.

Revisit your list constantly to revise, add to, or subtract from the litany. It keeps the energy alive about what needs to be achieved next and it keeps the list fresh and current.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

My Reading Goals & Blogging Perspective

I'm not a blogger. That is, I'm not a book blogger by the commonly-held definition of book bloggers. I don't comment on the publishing industry and trends, nor do I review books or critique reader perspectives and trends. My blogging is eclectic: books mais oui, but also history, humor, craft, conferences, the writing life, and so on. I'm a reader most certainly, but I'm also an aspiring writer, an editor, and a proofreader. So when I do comment on books online, I usually do so rarely and I go for my gut reactions as opposed to a detailed analysis.

However last year, I commented on fourteen books since I participated in Wendy Crutcher's TBR Reading Challenge and also talked about book gifts by Connie Brockway and Joanna Bourne. My blogging became more readerly.

When I first joined Romancelandia in 2006, it was as a reader. I joined Squawk Radio, a group blog by close writer friends; the Risky Regencies, a historical writers' blog; and the Word Wenches, another historical writers' blog. I became a Bluestocking at Candice Hern's message board and a Bon-Bon at Eloiosa James's (later Eloisa James's and Julia Quinn's) message board. I launched this blog, Cogitations & Meditations, that same year. I later became part of the Romance Novel TV community and blogged for them.

As I immersed myself in the community of other aspiring writers, published writers, and famous writers and their generous advising, I became entranced with the idea of becoming a romance writer myself. I was trained for other types of writing, editing, and proofreading, but I had never before thought to combine my reading love with my writing love. It took courage to admit to reading, much less writing, romance. My first step in this direction was to attend the Romance Writers of America annual conference. My blogging reflected my interests, veering away from reading to writerly interests.

And that's where my blogging stayed until last year.

Last year, many of my new Twitter friendships were readers. Suddenly I was involved in the reading side of Romancelandia. I became involved in kerfuffles, read reader blogs, and discussed books on blogs and on Twitter. Where kerfuffles were concerned, I quickly learned to step smartly over rabbit holes to avoid the stress of them all. However, I was totally seduced by book discussions with really smart bookish people.

So while I still wear all the other hats (writer, editor, proofreader), I'm pleased that my reader hat has come of age and is thriving.

Naturally, I now have reading goals.

1. More non-romance
2. More literary fiction
3. More nonfiction
4. More children's fiction AKA my daughter's recommendations
5. More poetry
6. More diversity
7. Wendy's TBR reading challenge

I achieved some of these goals last year. My detailed reading analysis post coming in February will show some trends as compared with previous years. However, I want the trends to go up exponentially this year. I already have a giant list of books I want to read this year, and it is most likely going to take me all the way through December.

I made a good start on #6 with Flower in the Desert by Lavendar Parker, thanks to tweets by Sonomalass, Liz, Ridley, and Meoskop. It was a complete departure for me—American contemporary romance featuring an African American heroine and a part Native American hero—and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

I've made a start on #3 and #7 with a very interesting little book on vignettes of life in a minority community in India: The Travelling Parsi by Kamal Sunavala.

I've made a start on #4 with another of my daughter's recommendations: The Alchemyst by Michael Scott.

I just finished re-reading Flowers From The Storm by Laura Kinsale—read it with Marijiana. Religion plays a large part in the book—but this is not an inspirational—and this to me falls in the #6 category.

I've made a start on #2 with North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell.

I have The Writer's Life by Julia Cameron waiting in the wings for #3.

So far, 2015's off to a good reading start. And my reading list for the year is healthy (perhaps a tad overweight), but at least, it's robust.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

A New Beginning...