Lady of Quality – Georgette Heyer, 1972

The other in the pair of Heyer’s Regency romances which I like enough to have kept and re-read (along with The Grand Sophy). Annis Wychwood, practically “on the shelf” at twenty-nine, takes in and gives countenance to impetuous young Lucilla Carleton, who ‘s run away from home to avoid being married off to Ninian Elmore. Her companion in this escapade? Ninian himself, who doesn’t want to marry her but is being guilted into it by his parents. The inevitable sparks between Annis and Lucilla’s guardian naturally kindle into love, but the many amusing moments come from primarily from Lucilla, Ninian, and Annis’ foolish suitor Lord Beckenham. The plot climax arises when Annis nurses her little niece through influenza and then catches it herself. Heyer’s heroines may be independent, rebellious, and witty, but of course they reveal themselves as Angels at the Sickbed when needed–I guess as part of their competence and clear-headedness in contrast to the other flighty and muddle-headed females (very Austenish), but it’s a bit tarsome, as Georgie Pillson from the Lucia books would say.

The Mapp and Lucia books – E.F. Benson

This must be my fourth or fifth time through this wonderful series of novels, but this is my first reading of them on my Sony Reader. It was great to stick all of them in my purse and take them on vacation. Unlike many feather-light comedies, the more I read these the more I relish every word, and I’m always sorry to get to the end. Their appeal is hard to explain; the characters have no redeeming virtues and in fact are snobbish, fake show-offs; the plot incidents are the most trivial possible minutiae of everyday life; there is no real change or growth. But there are hundreds if not thousands of fans who absolutely adore them, and I’m one of them. It’s mostly Benson’s writing, which extracts the maximum comedy and suspense from the tiniest observations. The titles are:

Queen Lucia (1920) – We’re introduced to Lucia as the Queen of Riseholme society–a small British village with Elizabethan architecture, which Lucia and her husband Peppino make the most of (“Perdita’s garden” full of only Shakespearean flowers, smoky fireplaces, tables that are difficult to sit at). Some wonderful episodes, including the stir caused by an imported Guru with whom Lucia’s rival Daisy Quantock tries to outshine her. Lucia’s victories will become even more satisfactory when she encounters a more formidable opponent.

Miss Mapp (1922) – Introduction to Elizabeth Mapp and Tilling society. Similarly, we’re itching for Lucia to get there and the maximum fun to begin, but Captain Puffin and Benjy’s “duel” is one of many delightful scenes.

Lucia in London (1927) – Lucia and Peppino inherit money and Lucia uses it to claw her way up the social ladder in London. Her snobbery and pretension reach their peak. Also features the wonderful Riseholme museum, with an assortment of junk donated by the residents, including mittens which supposedly belonged to Queen Charlotte. (They would have looked like this and not this.) Peppino falls ill at the end and we glimpse Lucia’s better nature for one brief moment.

Mapp and Lucia (1931) – Finally, the two social titans meet when Lucia and Georgie rent houses in Tilling. The irresistible force encounters the immoveable object! In the climactic episode, the two ladies are swept out to sea on a kitchen table and vanish for three months, but the plot point that dwarfs this minor excitement is that Mapp has copied Lucia’s recipe for Lobster ŕ la Riseholme. The psychological warfare over a recipe mattering more than physical jeopardy epitomizes the feel of these books. Perhaps that’s one reason they’re so appealing–it’s a bizarre kind of escapist fantasy…

Lucia’s Progress (1935) (US title: The Worshipful Lucia) – Contains probably the funniest episode of all, when Lucia thinks she’s discovered Roman remains in her garden.

Trouble for Lucia (1939) – More plot than I remembered, with Susan Wyse’s dead parakeet and Major Benjy’s tiger whip popping up in various places throughout the book.

Oh, how I wish there were more of these! Although on principle I hate sequels by different authors cashing in on the originals, perhaps I’ll try to ILL the two Tom Holt follow-ups, which do seem to have a certain credibility among Bensonites.

The Smartest Investment Book You’ll Ever Read: The Simple, Stress-Free Way to Reach Your Investment Goals – Daniel R. Solin, 2006

Here’s the same basic investment advice you’ll hear from the few smart-and-honest money people out there: index mutual funds with low expenses, folks. So why do we need another book about it? Because people still choose active over passive investments. Why do they do that when study after study has shown that nobody can beat the market consistently?* Because media companies of all kinds make money on financial pornography, and dull doesn’t sell; the very adjectives “active” versus “passive” fit into that paradigm. Solin instead calls them “hyperactive investing” and “smart investing” styles. It’s a quick read and an extremely worthwhile one if you have any money at all to invest. The meat is in the chapter telling you exactly what funds to invest in, and to rebalance twice a year. (For Vanguard, Total Bond Market 80%/60%/40%/20% from low to high risk, rest in Total Stock Market Index and Total International Stock Index, 2.33:1 ratio). If only the library’s 401(3)b was in the “smart” TIAA-CREF instead of the “hyperactive” Putnam Investments (with correspondingly high fees). Aaargh.

*Unless they are actually getting involved in the company’s future, like Warren Buffett. Thas was fascinating to read about–I think it might have been Andrew Tobias who explained it, but I can’t remember.

Slackjaw – Jim Knipfel, 1999

Years ago I went through a phase of reading the New York Press when we visited New York, and my memory of that publication boils down to Jim Knipfel’s column, Slackjaw–kind of fascinating, kind of repellent. When the book came out, I noted the positive reviews, but never had an opportunity to read it. Then it turned up as a donation at the library, and I’m the first to check it out. He’s a brave, articulate, cynically funny man who’s had more bad breaks already than another ten people put together, from retinitis pigmentosa to a brain lesion. His descriptions of dealing with the various agencies helping the blind in New York City–particularly the way they valued him symbolically for holding down a full-time job, yet continually expected him to have time during the day for their bureaucratic paper chase–are both entertaining and enlightening. I enjoyed the writing and the anecdotes, admired Knipfel’s resilience, and identified to a certain extent with his misanthropy. But overall, I can’t say I loved it, and I was glad to part ways with him at the end. Sometimes the person who moves into my head when I read a biography or memoir turns out to be somebody I just don’t click with long-term; no reflection on the book itself. My favorite passage, about a stint at the Whitney when they decided to hire impoverished artists as museum guards:

This is what my fellow guards and I experienced, during a typical ten-hour day: Packs of wild grade-school children on a field trip, running rough-shod over Giacometti sculptures. Tourists protesting, “But I am French!” when told not to touch the paintings. American visitors demanding their money back, arguing that there was no real art in the museum.

Oh, and Thomas Pynchon loves him! I thought blurbs from Pynchon must be pretty rare, but perhaps I’m wrong.

Blog Rules: A Business Guide to Managing Policy, Public Relations, and Legal Issues – Nancy Flynn, 2006

This is the one book on blogs we had at the library, and I wanted to read up before teaching my Montrose Adult School class. It’s OK, not great, and could have been edited down to a much shorter book. Two problems that jumped out at me: quite a few of the author’s examples of trouble that can be caused by blogs were actually email issues, and she seems to have misunderstood what permalinks are: “posts…typically remain accessible forever via the permalink (unlike web pages, which are subject to change and removal).” Ummm…unless the post or entire site is taken down, which happens not infrequently! But for a large organization, this does provide a helpful overview of pitfalls, best practices, and the importance of including blogs and relationships with bloggers in crisis communication plans.

The Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer, 1950

Continuing on my Heyer kick–this time one of the few Regency romances I like. Now that I’ve finally become an Austen fan, I can understand the desire to create works like hers, but not the veneration of the Regency period itself as a setting. What makes Austen delightful to read, for me, is primarily her humor and subtle observations–she was not writing historical fiction. As in most Regencies, proof of research is laid on with a trowel; every page is studded with period detail and every speech is stuffed with period slang, ironically far more than in all of Austen put together. But this book is so delightful that it doesn’t bother me too much–and even thought I don’t think it works well artistically, I do enjoy the vocabulary itself, from “great gaby” to “puptons of fruit.” Sophy Stanton-Lacy is a wonderful heroine–independent, wise, funny, and kind–but there are lots of great minor characters as well, like the impractical poet Augustus Fawnhope and the interfering fiancĂ©e of the male protagonist, whose appearance gives rise to my favorite exchange (between the two leads):

“Since you have brought up Miss Wraxton’s name, I shall be much obliged to you, cousin, if you will refrain from telling my sisters that she has a face like a horse!”
“But, Charles, no blame attaches to Miss Wraxton! She cannot help it, and that, I assure you, I have always pointed out to your sisters!”
“I consider Miss Wraxton’s countenance particularly well-bred!”
“Yes, indeed, but you have quite misunderstood the matter! I meant a particularly well-bred horse!”
“You meant, as I am perfectly aware, to belittle Miss Wraxton!”
“No, no! I am very fond of horses!” Sophy said earnestly.

I hadn’t noticed the profusion of exclamation points in the dialogue until typing it up. !

Fair warning: on top of the usual classism, there’s a very offensive (anti-Semitic) scene with a money-lender.