“Hunger is a powerful incentive to introspection.” @renardpress #willacather


If you encounter me at all on social media, you may well have seen me singing the praises of a new indie publishing imprint, Renard Press. Run by Will Dady, Renard has an ambitious publishing programme lined up and has already produced some intriguing titles. Pleasingly, they offer subscriptions and having had lovely experiences with other bookish subs this year, I just couldn’t resist… The first book I received was a beautiful edition of Virginia Woolf’s “A Room of One’s Own” (as well as a gorgeous tote bag); the second package contained two beautiful hand-bound booklets – Tolstoy’s “A Letter to a Hindu” and Willa Cather’s short story “The Burglar’s Christmas”.

Now, Cather is an author I’m familiar with in that I own a number of her books; yet I have actually read very few of them which is silly really, because what I have read I’ve loved. And my BFF J. adores her… So as I was in a vague kind of reading slump, I decided to pick this one up now and I raced through it!

“Burglar’s..” is a simple seasonal tale, first published in 1896. We are in wintry Chicago and as it opens we encounter two men who are on their beam ends. With no money, no food and nowhere to go, Christmas doesn’t seem to hold much promise for the men and as they go their separate ways, we follow the younger one. As his life and character are gradually revealed, it seems he’s struck out on his own away from a comfortable background, yet has failed at every juncture. He decides to hit rock bottom and go for a seasonal burglary in an attempt to stave off starvation, with little hope of carrying on his life much further. However fate, and perhaps the spirit of Christmas, have something else in store for him…

I’m not going to say any more about the story as I don’t want to spoil it; all I will say is that the resolution is unexpected and did bring a bit of a glow to my heart! Cather writes beautifully and evocatively, really bringing her setting to life in such a short work; and I loved the writing so much I went back and read the story again! It’s a tale which would make perfect Christmas reading…

I also have to say something about the loveliness of the little hand-bound booklet. It has a plain blue cover with title band and a patterned lining paper and is just gorgeous. As someone who enjoys making their own hand-bound journals, I really appreciate a lovely object like this which so enhances the reading experience. Renard Press obviously have many strings to their bow, and I do love the fact that they’re releasing such a range of formats.

So encountering this Willa Cather short work was a real joy (and hopefully will impel me to pick up one of the books on my shelves by her sooner rather than later). Kudos to Renard for releasing such a lovely edition; and NB – anyone who knows me and would be likely to want to read this and who’s likely to get a Christmas card from me – don’t rush out and buy it… More than this I cannot say! ;D

The price of love #ViragoAuthoroftheMonth


My Mortal Enemy by Willa Cather

At the beginning of the month, I wittered on about not known which Willa Cather book I should read from the rather imposing pile of books by her that I own. I received lots of lovely comments and suggestions, but as the month rolled on and its end became closer, I was getting no nearer to reading one. So I have to confess that the choice was eventually made in a terrible fashion – I went for the book that was slimmest…. :s

“My Mortal Enemy” was first published in 1926, and if I’m honest at 122 pages of biggish type it really should be classed as a novella. The book is narrated by the wonderfully named Nellie Birdseye, and she tells us the story of Myra Driscoll, later Henshawe, whom she meets at pivotal points in her life.

Their first encounter is when Myra makes a return visit to the (fictional) small town of Parthia. Myra grew up here, friends with Nellie’s aunt Lydia, and has become something of a scandalous figure since her elopement with Oswald Henshawe. Brought up by her great-uncle, Myra always has a wild streak and unfortunately her uncle disapproved violently of her beau. So Myra marries for love and by doing so loses the chance of a decent inheritance from her relative.

Nellie is fascinated by the idea of Myra and her dramatic love affair, and somewhat dazzled by the older, glamorous woman. She and her aunt Lydia are invited to New York to spend Christmas with the Henshawes, and the setting is still rather glittering and exciting to the provincial girl. However, Nellie becomes aware of cracks below the surface; Myra is a jealous woman, money is an issue, and Oswald seems to attract admiring women…

We (and Nellie) finally encounter Myra and Oswald some years later on the Californian coast. Nellie, now grown up (and possibly married?) is teaching and Myra is now a bedridden invalid. Tormented by noisy upstairs neighbours and looking for comfort in a return to her religion, Myra nevertheless still exerts a fascination on those around her. Oswald cares for her faithfully, despite still managing to attract the friendship of younger women, but Myra is a woman wracked with regrets – for having given in to love, cursing herself is a shallow person who should have instead stayed with the money she loved and needed. As her life comes to an end, she looks for fulfilment elsewhere and seems to find a kind of inner peace.

So I may have chosen my shortest Cather but it certainly isn’t a thin read! There are big themes here – whether love or money is most important; whether complete honesty is crucial to a marriage; whether what we receive in this world or the next is most important. I understand that Cather returned to her own religion too, and the comfort Myra draws from this at the end of her life is perhaps taken from her own life.

As to the mortal enemy of the title and to whom this refers, I actually felt that was rather nebulous. Some have taken it to mean her husband; some Myra herself; and some the whole process of love, what we’ll do for it and the havoc it can cause in our lives. Certainly, Myra has suffered for the decision she made, regretting the fact that she left behind a comfortable life with plenty of money; but she has always been victim to her passions and in many ways paid the price.

I sat down beside her, and we watched the sun dropping toward his final plunge into the Pacific. “I’d love to see this place at dawn,” Myra said suddenly. “That is always such a forgiving time. When that first cold, bright streak comes over the water, it’s as if all our sins were pardoned; as if the sky leaned over the earth and gave it absolution.

Cather’s writing is lovely throughout, and in such a short book she manages to paint nuanced portraits of all the characters. In particular, the relationship between the Henshawes is subtly rendered, and Cather captures brilliantly the delicate balancing act they go through to keep the marriage on track.

So my Willa Cather read for this month turned out to be a good choice in the end. “My Mortal Enemy”, despite its short length, is a thought-provoking and enjoyable read and if it’s any indication of the quality of Cather’s work, I’m definitely up for more! 🙂

#ViragoAuthorOfTheMonth – an even wider choice…. !


If I thought it was difficult choosing which book to read for April’s Virago author, Elizabeth von Arnim, the one for May is going to make things even harder…

The writer in question is Willa Cather, and a quick examination of the stacks revealed that I own a significant number of her books….

However, what it also revealed was how few of her works I’ve actually read. If I’m honest, I think the only one I can be sure of is the short story “Come, Aphrodite” – which is pretty terrible when you consider how many of her books I have in the house.

I’ve picked most of these up when I happened to come across them in charity and second-hand book shops, although I did specifically search out “One of Us” for a Virago group read along – which I never actually ended up taking part in…. Typical me!

The beautiful edition of “My Antonia” came thanks to a giveaway by the lovely HeavenAli and I should be ashamed that I haven’t read it yet. But the others are so appealing as well – “Alexander’s Bridge” comes highly recommended, and “A Lost Lady” sounds fascinating.

So the question is, which to read in May? There are some lovely editions there, and some very highly regarded works and deciding will be difficult. Any suggestions, please???? 🙂

…in which it becomes clear that I have something of a reputation!


Not a really bad one, I should hasten to add! However, it’s obviously known in the Samaritans Book Cave that I am a bit of a Virago collector. So much so that the lovely folk who run it always look out for vintage green volumes when they’re gathering donations for the shop. They’d mentioned a few weeks ago that there would very likely be a few Virago titles coming soon but nothing had turned up yet. However, when I walked in today and said a cheery hello, I did get the impression that they were kind of waiting for a reaction… And this has got something to do with why!

virago finds

Quite a *lot* of Virago green originals had arrived!! And I had rather foolishly come out without any lists of what I had an hadn’t got. However, I was able to choose some I knew I didn’t already own and some I knew needed an upgrade and brought home seven lovely books!

The top row are the upgrades – and in fact the Comyns is one I only have in a modern version so I was very happy to find a green! The bottom row are new titles – lots of lovely Willa Cather and an intriguing sounding Enid Bagnold. The spares from the upgrade will be offered on to the Virago Group on LibraryThing; and I really, *really* must update my Virago list and remember to take it with me next week…. 🙂



An Interesting-Looking Pile of Books….


… and I would be fibbing if I said they didn’t arrive over the weekend….

I *have* been doing quite well with reading from the TBR, and last month’s books were a mixture of new volumes and ones I’ve had for a while. And my current reads are also from the stacks. However, this hasn’t stopped a few bargains from making their way into the house!

First up is something rather special: my first burgundy coloured Virago/Beacon Travellers volume:

I was keen to pick this up having read up about Amelia Edwards and what a pioneer she was in the field of exploration and also detective stories, so I confess to sending away for this!

These two bargains came from the British Heart Foundation charity shop – I spotted the copy of Stoner last week and as it keeps coming up on blogs, I figured I really should read it! Likewise The Hare With Amber Eyes, which looks like it’s the kind of non-fiction I would like!

Alexander’s Bridge came from the Claude Cox bookshop – a bargain at £2, and I’m keen to read this after Ali’s wonderful review of it.

And finally – a Persephone and a Brian Aldiss from the Oxfam! The Persephone is The Making of a Marchioness in very nice condition. The Brian Aldiss is a little left-field, but I’ve been intrigued by him for a while and as I’m not so good with hard sci-fi, I thought this would fit the bill – The Brightfount Diaries is apparently a series of witty diary entries by a bookseller living in a bed sit.

But I *shall* try to read more from the stacks before I get onto these… :s

All change! and a (very) small diversion…


It has been a bit quiet here on the Ramblings recently for a number of reasons – not just because I’m in the middle of a 900 page chunkster! There’s been a lot going on around here: from health and care issues with Aged Relative, which are incredibly time consuming; busy-busy-busy at work; and taking Youngest Child, the baby of the family, off to university – which was emotional and also involved masses of clearing out of years of old junk……….:s


So I have been trying to keep sane by reading when there is a moment, and managed to finish a strange short story (before embarking on the chunkster) – a tale from a slim Hesperus volume called “A Simple Story” by Leonardo Sciascia. He’s not an author I’d heard of until I read that he had been brought to publication by Italo Calvino and Wikipedia says rather baldly:

“Leonardo Sciascia (January 8, 1921 – November 20, 1989) was an Italian writer, novelist, essayist, playwright and politician.”

At 40 pages, this has to be one of the shortest crime books I’ve read, but despite its abbreviated length it was surprisingly effective! The story is set in Sicily, and tells the tale of the murder in a small town of a local diplomat who has discreetly returned to his house, after having been away for many years, and who is found shot. At first it seems to be suicide, but thanks to the efforts of a keen young sergeant, the higher-ups are persuaded it really was a murder and have to investigate.

For such a brief story there really is a lot going on! There’s a generous cast of characters, from the diplomat and his family, the local police, the local Carabinieri (a kind of military police, I think) plus the local people and various passers-by. The locations, the people and the events are conjured vividly and convincingly and despite its brevity, you really get involved with this mystery and its solution.

As to the latter, I’m going to say very little because there are some wonderful surprises in store for any reader. Highly recommended!

(“A Simple Story” is accompanied in the book by another, longer tale, “Candido” which I haven’t yet read – just in case anyone was thinking that 40 pages is a bit short for a book!)

Recent arrivals

Alarmingly, despite trying very hard not to buy any books, I seem to have a significant amount of recent arrivals – though fortunately, at no great cost (except for space….)

I read Mary Stewart in my teens, but only the Arthurian books, and so the recent spate of reviews during Mary Stewart Reading Week piqued my interest. These two titles came from ReadItSwapIt, which I have got rather attached to recently, having had some very succesful swaps – so no cost except for postage in sending away books I didn’t want any more!

I discovered Irmgard Keun recently, and having found “After Midnight” really rewarding, had a little browse on RISI. That’s where this lovely book comes from – a hardback Penguin classic!

Well, there’s a little saga attached to this. Liz at Adventures in full-time self-employment reviewed this one recently, and I loved the sound of it but decided I wanted it in a Virago green edition. I was seduced again by A****n – a copy from a reseller described as “Very Good” and only £1.94 with delivery – but I should have known better. It arrived with a heavily creased spine, looking as if somebody had tried to bend it across their knee – NOT IMPRESSED! A quick look on RISI revealed a copy which the owner was willing to trade, and it just arrived and is much lovelier condition. I still have to decide whether or not I want the bother of returning the other copy, or whether I shall offer it on LibraryThing!


Another new Virago, this time from the local Oxfam charity shop – £2.49 and in lovely condition so that isn’t too extravagant! And it sounds fascinating too – Cather’s last book!


One side-effect of visiting the Aged Relative in hospital is the fact that one of the departments has old books for sale as a fund-raiser. These two were snagged for a small donation, and although they’re a little battered (particularly the Rubens), they’re much better off at home with me! (It’s also a quick, cheap way for me to find out if I like her as an author…)

Annabel’s lovely blog celebrated its 5th birthday recently and she ran a giveaway – I was lucky enough to be one of the winners and so Mrs. Bridge arrived here via Annabel and the Book Depository – thanks, Annabel!!

best book
One of my favourite publishers, Hesperus Press, have started a book club here, and this is the October book which has arrived for review. It sounds right up my street – can’t wait to get started!


And finally – phew! – one of the few clickety-click on-impulse buys recently. I was fascinated by the Vulpes Libris post here and so snapped up one of the reasonably priced copies (hardback! decent dustjacket!) before they all vanished (as we have seen in the past when book blogs start trends).

So, I think that the massive clear-out started by Youngest Child’s move needs to carry on – I really need to reduce the amount of stuff in the house, and unfortunately that includes books…………

A Big Book!

And so to the chunkster! My love of Dostoevsky’s work will be well known to any reader of this blog, but I’ve tended towards his shorter works recently. However, since starting the Ramblings I’ve managed two really huge works in the form of Solzhenitsyn’s “In the First Circle” and Tolstoy’s “Anna Karenina” – interesting how they’re both Russian! So I have plunged into “The Brothers Karamazov”, in the Penguin David McDuff translation, and am about 400 pages in. It’s remarkably readable despite being quite dense – fortunately the chapters are relatively short and although there is much debate and discussion, it somehow isn’t as ponderous as parts of Karenina were. Watch this space to see how I get on!

Mothering Sunday fun!


Yesterday was Mothering Sunday in the UK, and I was rather spoiled I must say (even though all three offspring were away – two local ones visiting Middle Child in Leicester). They left gifts and instructions with Other Half and so I was treated to breakfast in bed and pressies anyway!

Eldest and Youngest got me lovely things (book tokens, notebooks, things from my wish list) but Middle Child rather surpassed herself by finding four lovely Green Viragos I don’t have – and here they are:

Lovely new (old) green Viragos!

Lovely new (old) green Viragos!

I was chuffed to say the least – the Willa Cather sounds fascinating; I’ve always wanted to read “Roman Fever”; the Molly Keane is one I don’t have; and I’m trying to get the set of Antonia Whites so this helps a lot!

Well done offspring!


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