In this episode of On My Bookshelf I reach for a cookbook.
“How do you make Toad in the Hole?” asked my 8 year old grandson. “Well, first I send you boys into the woods to find some toads while I make the holes,” I replied. “Then you drop the toads into the holes and we’re done.” The 6 year old looked confused but 8 was on to me. “That’s not true!” he protested. So I explained that the English give weird names to their foods but basically Toad in the Hole is just sausages in Yorkshire Pudding. That drew blank stares so I revised it to a sausage pancake. They liked the sound of that and agreed to help me, though once the Yorkshire Pudding batter was mixed they lost interest. I have the recipe for this and more odd sounding foods in Great British Cooking by Jane Garmey. I bought the book when it was first published in 1981, a time when the title was indeed an oxymoron. This was before the age of celebrity chefs like Gordon Ramsay and Jamie Oliver, before pubs turned into gastropubs, and before the Great British Bake Off came to America. British cooking really did have a terrible reputation, especially with Continental Europeans.
I bought this book on impulse because I will read anything about Bruegel. Perhaps it is my Flemish heritage that draws me to his work. I imagine my ancestors among the peasant crowds in his village scenes. It was only when I held the book in my hands that I recognized the author’s name. Toby Ferris wrote for The Dabbler, the site that first hosted my Dispatches, and he created Anatomy of Norbiton, a web site “exploring suburban life and universal failure as seen through the lens of Renaissance art.” My brother, the writer Frank Key, called it “a thing of strange and terrible beauty.” So I opened this book with heightened expectations. It would be no ordinary book about Bruegel.
There are 42 surviving paintings by Pieter Bruegel the Elder. He lived about 42 years, his birth year of 1525 is an approximation. Ferris was 42 and had recently lost his father when Continue reading “Reading Bruegel”→
Perhaps it was the restlessness induced by quarantine that had me prowling my own bookshelves in search of diversion. I needed a break from the world of Thomas Cromwell in Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light. (I know it is tantamount to sacrilege to criticize Miss Mantel, whose Cromwell trilogy I agree is a magnificent achievement, but did we need the menu for his every meal in the year leading up to his execution, surely the last meal would have been sufficient?) In this grumpy mood I came upon The Singing Game by Iona and Peter Opie, the legendary English folklorists, a book I hadn’t picked up Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – The Singing Game”→
Witchfinders – no, not characters in our contemporary political drama. But it could be that hearing cries of “Witch Hunt” almost every day for two years was what led me to this particular book on my shelf.Witchfinders by Malcolm Gaskillis a mesmerizing account of a seventeenth century English witch hunt, one of the most vicious on record, led by two Essex gentlemen, Matthew Hopkins and John Stearne. Hopkins earned the title Witchfinder General and became something of a folk hero in the villages and towns of East Anglia. Through torture and intimidation he extracted confessions and false witness accounts from terrified people, mostly women, arresting a total of 250 presumed witches. Over a hundred were publicly hanged.Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Witchfinders”→
Myths of Power: A Marxist Study of the Brontes by Terry Eagleton, published in 1975. Quite what this book is doing on my bookshelf I have no idea. I must have acquired it long, long ago judging by the antique fashion in literary criticism it represents. Back in the 1960’s when I was educated at an English university the term “dialectical materialism” was tossed around with abandon by anyone wishing to seem a true intellectual. Marx was dragged into analysis of just about anything. But the Brontes? Surely not. The wild romantic moors of Yorkshire seem a world away from theories of an oppressed proletariat and dominant bourgeoisie locked in class struggle. Or are they? I don’t remember reading the book in the past but I decided to dig in and see if Marx can really shed light on the Bronte novels. Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – The Marxist Brontes?”→
Subtitled Catholics and the Left this worn little paperback sits on my bookshelf like a relic of another age. It was a time when English Catholics looked to Marxist thought to inspire a full expression of their faith. Released in 1966 by the Catholic publishers Sheed and Ward, Slant Manifesto is a compilation of writings by the founders of Slant. Slant was a journal published from 1964 to 1970 by a group of Catholic Cambridge undergraduates and Dominican priests, many of whom went on to become leading intellectuals and theologians. In the introduction to the Manifesto Neil Middleton explains that the group “is engaged in the exploration of the idea that Christian commitment at the moment carries with it the obligation to be socialist.” A sample of the chapter headings is a rough Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Slant Manifesto”→
In honor of St. Patrick’s Day I pulled from my shelf this book of Stories and Myths from the North West of Ireland by Michael B. Roberts. Last summer I bought it at the Liber Bookshop in Sligo just a few days after we had the privilege of touring ancient sites in the area with the author. Roberts is an anthropologist and storyteller who has dedicated his life to preserving and renewing the myths of his people for future generations. We could Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – The Cailleach of Sligo”→
A Flap of Nuns isn’t the title of a book on my bookshelf. The term is one of the collective nouns in James Lipton’s classic An Exaltation of Larks. I use it here as a means of confession that I own far too many books about nuns than you would expect of a lapsed Catholic and firm agnostic. But once a convent schoolgirl always a convent schoolgirl in some sense. I was educated by nuns from the age of seven to eighteen, first at St. Mary’s Convent in Romford and then at Brentwood Ursuline Convent High School. If it were up to me the collective noun for nuns would not be Flap, it would be Clack, for the distinctive sound of rosary beads, worn hanging from the waist, rattling and clacking as Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – A Flap of Nuns”→
My favorite childhood book was never on my own childhood bookshelf. I borrowed Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome from my local library and enjoyed it so much that in subsequent weeks I checked out all the other books in the series. I do own a copy now, though it is currently on loan to my grandsons. This year was our fourth spending a week together at Deep Creek Lake in Maryland. I’m hoping the lake experience will draw Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – Swallows and Amazons”→
Quite why my eyes should rest on The Domesday Book out of all my history books this morning I can’t quite say. But perhaps it had something to do with the fact that yesterday I inadvertently ended up watching the Press Conference/Reality Show of our Dear Leader. Perhaps it was his casual reference to nuclear holocaust and joking threat to “shoot that (Russian) ship that’s 30 miles offshore right out of the water.” Perhaps it was the fact that The Domesday Book records a civilization at the moment of its demise. In the years after 1066 the Anglo-Saxons mounted a heroic resistance to their Norman conquerors but in Continue reading “On My Bookshelf – The Domesday Book”→