Writer’s House in Wales

Morris, Jan. A Writer’s House in Wales. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2002.

Reason read: for the Portland Public Library 2020 Reading challenge. I needed a book for the category of transgender or nonbinary author. Jan was James until the 1970s. I love how Morris makes mention of her transition and how the Welsh have “kindly pretended that nothing ever happened” (p 59). The way it should be.

Everyone loves a funky house. Trefan Morys is as unique as they get: imagine a converted old stone barn with wood beams and a slate roof. Now imagine this: the horse stalls converted into two rooms, both being floor to ceiling libraries (because “the Internet is no substitute” for a good book). Model ships, strategically scattered everywhere. More books piled on the floor. I picture this house being cozy yet drafty with its upstairs view of the wild Irish sea; cozy yet sprawling with all of its secret nooks and crannies.
Confessional: I grew up surrounded by houses with charming names. Not the last names of owners, but fanciful [names] such as Treetops, Fairhaven, and Inkspot. Trefan Morys as the name of Morris’s house in Wales seems perfect.
Morris’s focus is not just on her house, but on her country’s people as well. She speaks of geographic history and how Indigenous Wales continues to struggle to keep an identity in the face of a barrage of British influence.
The hidden bonus is learning more about Morris as a person and not just a Welsh author who changed gender. She has a sense of humor. She has a partner who has stuck with her throughout it all. She is fearless: Morris is not one to back down from a challenge, climbing Everest to write about Edmund Hillary’s ascent, for example. Then there’s Ibsen, the cat. It’s all so charming.

There were so many lines I liked. It was extremely hard to narrow it down to just a few, but here are the ones I connected with the most: “I always think of music as means of communication across the continents and the ages” (p 97), “Music also seems to me one of life’s great reconcilers, an instrument of universal good” (p 98),

Author fact: Morris had a cat named Ibsen. Perfect. But…I should also tell you Morris is better known as a historian. The Pax Trilogy is also on my list.

Book trivia: I would have loved to see photographs of Trefan Morys. It just sounds like the perfect house. I did find a picture in a recent edition of ‘The Guardian’ and it only left me wanting more.

Nancy said: Pearl said A Writer’s House in Wales is “distinguished by [Morris’s] keen eye for detail, her fine writing, and her enthusiasm for her subject” (Book Lust To Go p 248).

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Wales Welcomes You” (p 248).


Crazy Days of October

I don’t know where to begin with trying to explain October. From the beginning, I guess. It started with a trip home; a lovely week off with lots of reading accomplished. Then it was a New England Patriots football game followed by two Phish shows and a political rally for a state in which I do not live. If that wasn’t weird enough, I hung out with a person who could have raped or killed or loved me to death. Take your pick. Any one of those scenarios was more than possible. It was a truly bizarre month.
But, enough of that. Here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Playing for Pizza by John Grisham. Quick but cute read.
  • Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (AB/print). Sad.
  • The Chronoliths by Robert C. Wilson. Interesting.
  • Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (EB). Boring.

Nonfiction:

  • Oxford Book of Oxford edited by Jan Morris (EB/print). Only slightly less boring than Bridge.
  • Always a Distant Anchorage by Hal Roth. Really interesting.
  • African Laughter by Doris Lessing. Okay.

Series continuations:

  • The Race of Scorpions by Dorothy Dunnett (EB/print). Detailed.
  • Finding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB). Cute but glad the series is over.

Fun:

  • We Inspire Me by Andrea Pippins. Cute.

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Gardening Under Lights by Leslie F. Halleck. When I set up the reads for October I didn’t include this because it hadn’t arrived yet.

I should add that October was a really frustrating month for books. I never really liked anything I was reading.


Oxford Book of Oxford

Morris, Jan, ed. The Oxford Book of Oxford. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1978.

Reason read: Morris’s birth month is in October. Read in her honor.

The grand and illustrious Oxford University. What can you aay about an institution which has its foundation firmly planted in the Middle Ages? Jan Morris carefully selected the best documentation across history to give readers an accurate portrayal of one of the world’s oldest and respected institutions. Using a comprehensive inclusion of journal entries, letters, poetry, newspaper articles, institution records and recollections, memoirs and memories Oxford University from 1200 – 1945 is exposed and celebrated.
Favorite anecdotes:

  • Professor Buckland, the legendary carnivore supposedly ate the one of the Kings of France’s carefully preserved heart.
  • Theologian and president of Magdalen for 63 years, Martin Routh, was extremely funny.

Quotes to quote, “Proud Prelate, you know what you were before I made you; if you do not immediately comply with my request, by G-d I will unfrock you. Elizabeth.” (p 46), “I really think, if anyone should ask me what qualifications were necessary for Trinity College, I should say there was only one, Drink, drink, drink” (p 182).

Author fact: Jan also wrote under the name James and was transgender. She underwent sex “reassignment” in 1972, way before Bruce Jenner made it a television event.

Book trivia: The Oxford Book of Oxford has some great photographs of the buildings that make up Oxford. My copy had a stamp from the San Mateo Public Library which on the book pocket read, “Questions answered.” I wish they could tell me the one exception to Morris’s dedication!

Nancy said: The Oxford Book of Oxford “is a good place to get an overview of the city” (Book Lust To Go p 170). I would slightly disagree inasmuch that The Oxford Book of Oxford (EDITED by Morris) is predominantly about the institution and the colleges that make up Oxford rather than the city itself. I would like to think Pearl meant to include the travel book simply called Oxford written BY Morris. Maybe she did. At the end of the chapter she references Morris’s Oxford which is a different book and yet NOT in the index of Book Lust To Go.

BookLust Twist: from Book Lust To Go in the chapter called “Oxford” (p 170). See my ramblings in “Nancy said” for more.


Turn the Page October

Fiction:

  • The Chronoliths by Robert Charles Wilson – in honor of October being Star Man month.
  • Bridge on the Drina by Ivo Andric (EB) – in memory of Mehmed Pasa Sokollu’s passing. He designed the bridge over the Drina river.
  • Playing for Pizza by John Grisham (EB) – in honor of the Verdi Fest in Parma that takes place every October.
  • Call It Sleep by Henry Roth (AB) – to remember the Tom Kippur War.

Nonfiction:

  • Oxford Book of Oxford edited by Jan Morris – in honor of Morris’s birth month.
  • African Laughter by Doris Lessing – in honor of Lessing’s birth month.
  • Always a Distant Anchorage by Hal Roth – October is Library Friend Month & I had to borrow this from a distant library.

Series continuations:

  • Tandia by Bryce Courtenay – to finish the series started in September in honor of Courtenay’s birth month.
  • The Race of the Scorpion by Dorothy Dunnett (EB) – to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
  • Finding the Dream by Nora Roberts (EB) – to finish the series started in August in honor of Dream Month.

Fun:

  • Joey Goes to Sea by Alan Villiers – a gift from my aunt Jennifer.

Early Review for LibraryThing: nada. I have the promise of three different books but they haven’t arrived yet.