Stuff Up To Which We’ve Been

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Just trying to not end my sentence (or my post title) in a preposition, à la Winston Churchill. Ha. At least I thought it was Churchill who made the snarky comment to a pompous pedant whinging on about ending one’s sentences with a preposition. As one version has it, he said: “This is the type of errant pedantry up with which I will not put.” But according to this article, while Churchill may have used the awkward rephrasing, intending to be ironic, he was not the only one, nor the first. Who knew, eh?

And since I don’t usually resort to pompous pedantry unless I’m trying to be funny, let’s just say that today my post will be about nothing important. Just stuff Hubby and I have been up to. Our ongoing pandemic pastimes.

Our spring flower garden.
Moody skies and cheerful spring flowers

Spring in Manotick is here one day and gone the next. Today is a non-spring day. It’s cool and the skies are moody. Hubby and I just finished covering some of his early plantings in the vegetable garden. We are supposed to get snow tonight. Oh, joy. But since many of you have had the same weather, I won’t whine. We do have daffodils and hyacinths and narcissus in the garden. And the apple blossoms outside my window right now are trying very hard to come out. But not succeeding just yet.

Hubby and I have been walking, of course. The ubiquitous pandemic pastime. Good thing it’s also something we enjoy and would do anyway. But because of the stay-at-home order we are sticking fairly close to home. Not driving down to Kemptville, say, to walk the Ferguson Forest trails and stop for chip wagon hotdogs and fries on the way home. Ah well, the fries and hotdogs can wait. And will be all the more special for our having waited. Or that’s what I keep telling myself. Yesterday was a magnificent day and we ventured over to Osgoode, a village near us, to walk some of the woodland trails there. We had a great walk and spied our very first trillium of the year, and lots of dogtooth violets besides.

The first trillium of the year seen on our regular pandemic pastime, walking.
Our first trillium sighting this year.

While we walked we talked about lots of stuff we’ve been up to. Hubby’s garden. My blog. Fashion. I know, eh? And of course, what we’ve been reading.

Hubby just finished the Peter May book Blacklight Blue, one of May’s earlier Enzo Files series. He loved it. Finding Peter May books we haven’t read is a bit of a boon for us. Now he’s reading a new Susan Hill The Benefit of Hindsight, the latest in her Simon Serrailler mystery series. We both enjoy Hill’s books.

I’m reading a book suggested by a reader a couple of weeks ago. The Hills Is Lonely by Lillian Beckwith is about an ailing teacher from the north of England who goes to the Hebrides for a rest cure. The title of the book comes from a letter written to the narrator by her potential landlady describing the peace of her village of Bruach: “Surely its that quiet here even the sheeps themselves on the hills is lonely.” In fact, it is the oddity of Morag McDugan’s phraseology as much as her description of the attractions of Bruach that persuades the narrator to forgo a lovely Kentish farmhouse for a croft in the Hebrides. Beckwith’s novel is semi-autobiographical and based on her own experiences living on the Isle of Skye, but the book is presented as fiction.

Anyway, I am enjoying life in the Hebrides with “Miss Peckwitt” immensely. Last night I stayed up reading after Hubby went to bed and had to smother my guffaws so I didn’t wake him. Beckwith’s tales of wayward sheep, broody hens, and the reaction of the crofters to the presence of an Englishwoman among them is lovely. Her style is more dated than D.E. Stevenson’s or Dorothy Whipple’s, but I am still loving this book. Beckwith’s narrator is a keen observer of island life and her self-deprecating humour is charming. It makes good pandemic reading. I am dipping into it, and also pairing it with Trevor Noah’s memoir Born a Crime, which we are reading for book club. I’m not far enough into Noah’s book to comment on it. Except to say that these are two very, very different books, which works well for me, actually.

Dogtooth violets on our walk in Osgoode.
Dogtooth violets and sunny skies yesterday.

I recently finished If We Were Villains by M.L. Rio. Hmm. Where to start talking about this book? I enjoyed it, mostly, this story about seven dedicated, talented, and passionate drama students whose lives go wildly off track in their final year of drama school. The story begins with the release of Oliver, one of the seven, from prison after ten years, and flashes back as he recounts and relives the events of that fateful last year of college which lead to his imprisonment. Ms. Rio is a really good writer. But as a former actor and Shakespearean scholar, she seems to have a slightly skewed view of how much knowledge of Shakespeare the general reading public has.

Shakespeare is not my forte. But I was an English teacher, so I taught it a lot. And luckily for me, Rio focuses on plays which I know well, ones that I taught many times, namely Julius Caesar, Macbeth, and King Lear. So, for example, the scene in the novel where the professor, Frederic, casts sensitive James as Edmund in King Lear and the students are gobsmacked makes sense to me. I think the characters overreact, but, still, I get it.

But would it make sense to a reader who doesn’t know that Edmund is the evil villain of King Lear? And would the reader who doesn’t understand the character of blameless and selfless Edgar in King Lear understand the meaning of Oliver’s quoting his lines as Edgar in certain volatile situations where he seems to feel it is his duty to make things right for the other students? I don’t mean to malign the ability of readers to understand Shakespeare’s words. I’m just questioning how easily people who haven’t read King Lear like twenty times can pick up from those words subtle parallels between the play and the plot of the novel.

And let’s talk about all the back and forth between the students whose heads literally swim with Shakespeare 24/7, and who more often than not resort to Shakespeare’s words to express themselves rather than their own. There is so much Shakespeare quoting in this novel that it’s downright annoying. And pretentious. And this from someone who has herself at times been annoying by quoting Shakespearean too much.

I refer, of course, to Hubby’s and my trip to Scotland. Where we visited every castle mentioned in Macbeth. And so many lines from the play which I had taught too many times to count kept bubbling to the surface. Like when we arrived at Castle Cawdor, and I hissed at Hubby as we approached the door, “Thou hast it now. King, Cawdor, Glamis all/ As the weird women promised, and I fear/ Thou play’dst most foully for it.” Hubby just rolled his eyes.

Then there was the day we were all alone walking around the ruins of Dunnottar Castle. I had wended my way up into the ramparts, and I stuck my head through a hole and yelled down to Hubby “Then fly, false thanes./ And mingle with the English epicures.” I think that was the moment when he said if I didn’t stop quoting from Macbeth he was going to leave me there.

I remember relating that story to my grade eleven class one day the following year, while we were studying Macbeth. And a burly kid, one of the school’s hockey players, who sat in the front row and had earlier informed me that while he “liked me and all” he hated Shakespeare, just chuckled and shook his head. “I think me and your husband would get along fine, Miss.” Ha. I love that story.

Anyway, all this is to say that I kind of liked this novel. At times. The rest of the time it annoyed me, but I kept reading to find out what happened. So I do not recommend If We Were Villains unless you love Shakespeare. Great swaths of Shakespeare. And have unlimited tolerance for the dramatics of, well, drama students. Ha. I know that I grew exasperated with the characters: so emotional, so hyperbolic about EVERYTHING. And I actually like dramatic teenagers. Usually.

So this week, Hubby and I have been pretty much sticking to our tried and true pandemic pastimes. Walking, reading, blogging, and talking about reading and blogging.

Hubby has been practicing his golf swing and I have been filming him with my phone so he can see the flaws in his swing. I even filmed him in slow motion. That was pretty cool. I was looking at the videos this morning. You know, he’s still in pretty good nick for an old guy. But don’t tell him I said that.

So what have you been up to my lovely well-read readers? Any good books you want to tell us about. Not too Shakespearean, nor too angsty either, mind.

P.S. The book links in this post are affiliate links. If you make a purchase after clicking my link I will earn a small commission.

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42 thoughts on “Stuff Up To Which We’ve Been”

  1. I think I’d struggle with the Shakespeare book – school put me off him rather . Though It always surprises me how many of our everyday expressions were originally coined by Shakespeare . I like wandering round old castles too & it sounds like you add just a little extra drama to the proceedings ( though I can see it might pall after a day or two Stu 😁 )
    Yesterday was a lovely sunny spring day so we drove to Fountains Abbey ( 25 miles ) for a dog walk . Not a castle but a lovely old ruin , 12th century , set in picturesque countryside – usually pretty busy but not yesterday . No overseas visitors of course & not that many British ones either . It’s so nice to travel a little again & enjoy some of our favourite spots . We’ve been extremely restricted since all this began . We saw lots of wildflowers but none like yours . That Trillium is spectacular.
    My latest book , as I’ve just been telling Frances , was The Disappearance of Lydia Harvey by Julia Laite . History but with the feeling of a novel . I enjoyed it .

    1. I’ve heard of Fountains Abbey. I’ll bet that day out felt wonderful. When we staying in Boltby, we went to Rievaulx Abbey. It was lovely too. One of my favourite days of our trip. Second only to fish and chips in Whitby.

  2. Can I just ask, how do read two books at once? I’ve been an avid reader all my life but just can’t do it.
    Thank you for keeping us entertained during this horrendous year. I’m always happy when I see a new posting and now especially love your monthly vlog .
    I live in Leeds and it’s so lovely to know that Wendy in York is a friend of yours and only lives about 20 miles away. The magic of blogging.
    Susan D

    1. I can easily alternate between two books if that are sufficiently different. Especially if one is not too plot oriented. Always love to see more readers from Yorkshire, Susan. One of my favourite places.

  3. I’ve jotted down some of the titles you’ve summarized. I especially want to read The Hills is Lonely, by Lillian Beckwith. I take that it must be an older book because none of the libraries in Orange County, California have it on their shelves. I’ll start searching used book stores. Thank you for some recommendations, I always enjoy your posts.
    xo
    Karen

    1. Please tell Karen that most North American libraries have Inter Library Loan and that older titles are frequently available. For free.

  4. I like Shakespeare, but it has been many years since I have read his plays. I was an English major in college and took a Shakespeare class. I still have my Complete Works of Shakespeare text and reading all the plays is a goal, albeit one I have not started. I think that We Were Villians would irritate me.
    I am reading a funny book about aging, life in a retirement village – Love in the Late Edition by Reg Henry. It has made me laugh while illuminating “that” time of life. It would probably not be interesting to a younger reader.
    Up next is a book my son sent me – The Disordered Cosmos by Chanda Prescod-Weinstein. The subtitle (why do so many, especially non-fiction books now have these long subtitles?) is “A Journey Into Dark Matter, Spacetime, & Dreams Deferred.” Way, way out of my comfort zone, but I am looking forward to reading it, while hoping it is not too far above my comprehension. Although they are usually not books I would have picked for myself, I generally like the books my son gives me.

  5. Glad you enjoyed the Lillizn Beckwith book. She has written several and they are all very entertaining. Husband is reading all the Bernard Cornwall books about life in medieval England. They are historically interesting but make for a bit of a grim or depressing read.
    I have helped put on a reasonable number of Shakespearean plays and the students were interested to hear I attended the Rotal School of Dunkeld which was in Birnam and that there was a very old oak tree which was reputed to have supplied Macbeth with camouflage in the famous Scottish play mentioned in the li e ” until Birnam Wood shall march upon Dunsinane”. May or may not have been true but a good story.

  6. It is a cool day here in NE FLorida. I would come to Canada,but they want 2 weeks of quarantine and we can afford the hotel bill,but at least you have al the lovely spring flowers there which do not bloom here! Too hot!I am forbidden to read Janet Evanovitch in bed. I laugh too much. Your Shakespeare stories brought back memories of my encouraging my student to Learn the “et tu Brute” speech and reciting it for extra credit! Wonder how many now really hate Shakespeare?If it is one for one, then perhaps I made(Or Sakespeare made) a difference! It will be nice when restrictions are lifted. Currently rereading :Gone with the Wind”. I killed my Kindle and need to wait until I can buy a new one.GWTW is so long it will fill that time. Stay safe!

  7. I was an elementary school librarian for many years and my head is filled with characters and silly phrases. At this age I would prefer some Shakespeare. If I had to read Bark George one more time my eyes were going to pop out of my head! But I can recite it word for word! I just finished Meet Me at the Museum by Anne Youngson. Lovely story.

  8. Your initial comment about ending sentences in prepositions had me remembering a scene in the old TV series, Designing Women. One of the characters, Charlene, usually a sunny-natured woman, is standing in a line when she decides to start a friendly conversation with a well dressed woman standing behind her. She asks the woman, “Where do you come from?” The snooty woman coldly replies, “I come from a place where people don’t end their sentences with prepositions.” Charlene pauses for a second and then rephrases her question to the woman, “Where do you come from, B!tch?” 🙂

    1. You beat me to it! I play this classic scene in my mind whenever I come across the preposition rule. Speaking of DW actors–Jean Smart is playing a great-grandmother on HBO’s Mare of Easttown. Watched the first episode last night and WOW.

  9. Our latest restrictions are not as tough as yours (and at least Paul and I have had our first shots), but it’s still all more than a bit discouraging. Possibilities for outings are much reduced beginning Friday, and I won’t be seeing my island family and friends for at least another six weeks. So. . . thank goodness for books!
    I just finished posting my March reading (I’m always tardy) and I’m halfway through a goofily optimistic April stack — so what did I do as soon as I read that Susan Hill has another Simon Serrailler book out? Immediately hopped over to my library website and put a copy on hold — thank you!! I like this series very much.
    Oh, right, current reading. . . . really enjoying Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love, framed around a performance by Marina Abramovič. I get to swan around, vicariously, in the New York art scene. Before that I was hanging out in Florence with Sandro Cellini (Christobel Kent’s The Dead Season. . . .another very good series.

    1. Stu is enjoying the Susan Hill book. I’m bogged down reading book club choices at the moment. Sigh. And I still haven’t read the Hilary Mantel that I planned to read in November.

  10. Love the photos of wildflowers and settings. Here on the coast below Santa Barbara my native plants are wildly in bloom as well as my roses…so lucky. Books I have loved: Sue Monk Kidd’s Traveling with Pomegranites, written with her daughter, Ann Kidd Taylor, and her novel based on a true story, The Invention of Wings….News of the World by Paulette Jiles, and A Walk in the Woods, by Bill Bryson about hiking the Appalachian Trail. Hope your spring really gets a move on, Sue…I enjoy your blog.

  11. Hmmm, “If We Were Villians.” I am going to recommend that to my youngest daughter. At a very young age, third grade, she just ‘got Shakespeare. Now she is a great reader, but never loved it until Harry Potter, in sixth-grade. But Shakespeare she understood, acted in the Shakespeare drama club productions all through school. Thank you for the recommend. Love the flower photos…my daffodils lasted one day…snow and more snow.

  12. Lovely photos, beautiful flowers!
    Looking forward to Peter May’s Enzo series and The Hills Are Lonely-love to read about island life
    Here is pretty similar-walking when weather permitts and reading all the time (more listening lately,as well),running errands as long as it is possible. I’ve seen Macbeth and have read it in Croatian,but not an expert at all,especially in original….
    I’m now enjoying the language, listening to Ian Rankin’s A Song for the Dark Times,John Rebus beeing retired…..
    I liked Lucy Foley’s The Guest List much more than The Hunting Party.
    From the books I wrote about at Materfamilias Reads,I’ll mention here Angie Cruz’ Dominicana
    And,for the end(although I’ve promised this story to Frances-but I know that she reads and comments here as well,so,my apologies :)……)
    You were so enthusiastic when reading Thomas King’s novels and there were no digital editions for us in Croatia on Amazon,so,after a long searching,I decided to buy “real” books at Amazon.de (Germany) and to send them to my son in Vienna. He and his girlfriend were here for Easter and I’ve got the first one, “Dunkle Wolken Über Alberta” ….lol…. naturally,I knew it was in German,but nevertheless,I’ll have to practice my German(the second one is in English,though)
    Take care
    Dottoressa

    1. Oh, this cracks me up! I suspect it would amuse King as well — his fiction often refers to the German fascination with Canadian First Nations and American (native) Indian culture.

  13. Your story about touring the castles made me laugh. And I loved seeing the red trillium in the woods. Our trillium here in Tennessee are beautiful; the dog-tooth violet (a.k.a. trout lily) has already come and gone. Thank you for keeping us entertained in such an intelligent way.

  14. This particular post made me laugh out loud because my husband wants me to film his golf swing as well.
    I always enjoy knowing what you are reading and recommending!

  15. I suspect your blog fills for so many of us the void left by letters from friends & family – first the handwritten, then long, chatty emails. Facebook & IG posts, and texts can never take their place. I don’t always make time to read every one of your posts, but I’m always glad I did, and even gladder when I take the time to reply. We’d have so much to talk about over tea or a glass of wine, starting with books and clothes. In the meantime, enjoy your reluctant spring, and keep up those walks that your body is thanking you for…

  16. I won’t brag about our weather here in BC. It’s supposed to start raining Friday and probably won’t stop for days.

    I loved The Hills Is Lonely. I found it in my Scottish mother’s bookcase when she passed away in California in 2006. Very old copy, no idea where she got it. I read it in 2019 finally getting ready for a 2020 trip to Scotland, which of course didn’t happen.

    I’m just finishing Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s In My Own Words. Not what I expected and a bit heavy going at times, but very educational. Ready to start Kate Quinn’s latest The Rose Code.

    First vaccines done here but still being very cautious. The variants are scary.

    1. Funny isn’t it how many people are familiar with this old book? I’ve set it aside for a couple of days to focus on book club choices, and Hubby is reading it now.

  17. I hope your Spring weather settles down – we’ve been having glorious autumn weather – crisp, clear and very invigorating. I’ve “Spring cleaned” my kitchen and next will be the pantry and laundry storage areas. Yesterday I finished the excellent 5 week, online course on Women in Art and Design that I think I mentioned before and I’m thinking about what I might do next. I’ve also been shopping! I’ve added a new camel wool jacket and some fancy sneakers to my wardrobe so I’m set for the cooler weather.

  18. More book recommendations for me to check out, thank you! I picked up a Margaret Yorke mystery at a thrift shop. I had never heard of her before; she has died and I tracked down some of her books set in the 70’s and 80’s. Quite gentle reads but surprisingly insightful into human behaviour and social mores.

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