In the Past Week…

It truly felt like spring was on the way. Temperatures were in the mid-fifties (I’ve never really gotten to grips with Centigrade) and the daffodils in our back garden were trying their best to join the snowdrops decorating the churchyard in town. I started reading this pair of books to look to the seasons ahead instead of dreading that winter might return in earnest:

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Some lovely things have happened in the past week.

  • I’ve delighted from afar as my sister, a widow for just over two years, precipitously falls in love with a pastor she met through a dating website.
  • I had my second yoga class and, after the one other participant had to leave early, got what was essentially a private lesson. Many of the poses feel right at the edge of what my flexibility and balance will allow, which is surely a sign that the exercise is doing me good.
  • (This one’s not so much lovely as annoying yet amusing.) The cat, already a connoisseur of cereal milk, discovered the illicit pleasure of melted butter in a dish we unthinkingly left on the counter, and now will not rest in his search for it. This is bad news as he’s already quite the butterball. He’s also ramped up his efforts to access all of the house’s secret spaces, including the airing cupboard, the under-stairs cupboard, and the crawlspace under the bath. [Stay tuned for tomorrow’s mini-reviews of yet more cat books, including one about some very mischievous Siamese cats.]
  • On Friday I got an e-mail out of the blue asking me to review a book for the Times Literary Supplement. It was October 2015 when I first wrote for them, but that ended poorly: they said they’d run out space in the magazine for my review and paid me a “kill fee” instead, but it made me doubt myself – was that code for them not thinking my writing was good enough to publish? So hearing back from them five months after I’d last gotten in touch asking for work was a great surprise. And I get to read History of Wolves, which I’ve heard marvelous things about.
  • We went to a brilliant gig by folk artists Phillip Henry and Hannah Martin in a hole-in-the-wall venue 10 minutes from our house. It was doubtless the first time I’d seen beatboxing and a classical Indian sitar/guitar used in folk music, and Henry’s harmonica skills were literally unbelievable. You had to have been there. I was impressed anew at how folk, arising as it does from liberal working-class traditions, is unafraid to tackle social issues. They had songs about his cotton mill-working grandfather, the war in Syria, immigration, and a detention center in the Midlands. My favorite, though, was “Landlocked,” about a real woman from the eighteenth century who went to sea with her naval husband but ended up right back where she started: selling fish at Exmouth harbor. I loved Martin’s deep, rich voice and the complex interplay of guitar, banjo, pedal steel and fiddle in many of their songs.
  • With one of our leftover jars of homemade mincemeat we made a decadent mincemeat cheesecake from this Nigel Slater recipe. What with the shortbread crust and crumbs and the orange zest in the topping, it was very much like having mince pies – but also cheesecake. Yum.

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  • This morning we attended a service led by a former archbishop. We knew that George Carey was a parishioner at the Berkshire church we’ve been frequenting since December, but hadn’t seen him at the pulpit yet. He’s one of various retired and lay clergy who have been filling in while the church seeks to appoint a new vicar. Carey gave a damn fine sermon (I guess he’s had plenty of practice) on the enormous topic of why bad things happen to good people, refuting the prosperity gospel and telling the tragically fascinating story behind the hymn “It Is Well with My Soul.”

And, of course, I’ve been reading some brilliant books. This week’s ongoing reading has included three terrific novels: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi, Spaceman of Bohemia by Jaroslav Kalfař, and Narcissism for Beginners by Martine McDonagh.

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How was your week – in terms of reading and otherwise?

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28 thoughts on “In the Past Week…

    1. Thanks! I would love to review regularly for them.

      I meant to tell you that blurbs from your reviews of her previous books are in the front of my review copy — but you probably already know that 🙂

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  1. What a great week! Congrats on hearing back from the TLS. So many lovely things in your post!

    I’m still happily indulging in Melissa Harrison’s Winter; I’m in no rush for the anthology to end. I have just finished the last of my trio of ‘snowy’ books, though – moving on to less chilly climes next. Love the cat misadventures – ours is also a touch on the portly side and is now being rationed. No melted butter for her!

    But what I’m most interested in is the Nigel Slater cheesecake: I have been trying to decide what to do with my leftover mincemeat and I love his recipes. A quick online peek – and I have the recipe! Now that’s something to look forward to – as is tomorrow’s cat post 🙂

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    1. The whole Seasons anthology series is wonderful. I came to it a bit late, so Spring will be the last of the four for me even though it was the first published.

      Ah, thanks for letting me know the mincemeat cheesecake recipe is online. I’ll go back and link to it. We used an old photocopy from one of his cookbooks.

      We knew our cat had a penchant for milk, but never thought he’d go for butter. Now we know! We’ll have to cover everything and be better about washing up straightaway after meals.

      Glad I can tempt you with the idea of books about cats 🙂

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  2. How exciting to get that request from TLS – they must have rated your review even if it wasnt published otherwise they wouldnt be contacting you now.
    Homegoing is on my pile to read too but first I have to deal with Mr Trollope’s Dr Thorne which has been neglected for about 5 years

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  3. Such a lovely post, Rebecca, and a timely reminder that whatever’s happening out there in the big wide world there’s joy to be had in our personal lives. Congrats on the TLS gig, and the very best of luck to your sister. As for that mincemeat cheesecake, it looks like the stuff of dreams!

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  4. Oh joy, joy, joy! For your sister, for you with the TLS, for that gorgeous cheesecake and for lovely George Carey. What a fantastic week.

    Also, I have thoroughly enjoyed Homegoing, and as for the Barsetshire Chronicles, they ARE worth it! So are the Pallisers, but you might want to tackle them later…

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    1. Whoops, I’ve just Googled George Carey and I’ve decided I don’t like him very much. At least not his politics. So, because WordPress won’t let me edit my posts (WHY?!), strike “lovely” from comments above, although I’m sure his sermon was erudite!

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      1. I can’t say I know much about George Carey, but I appreciated a very well-crafted Anglican sermon and a dig at Joel Osteen. The previous week we had a full-on bashing of current American and British foreign policy from another preacher, so that was good 😉

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    2. Thanks for sharing my joy at a good week 🙂 I read one of the Pallisers (Phineas Finn) during my MA year and wasn’t taken with it, but since that’s now been over a decade I really need to give Trollope another chance.

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      1. Phineas Finn isn’t my favourite—The Eustace Diamonds is pretty great, though, and I think book 1 of the Palliser series (Can You Forgive Her) is actually a pretty good introduction both to the series and the author.

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  5. What a great week, congrats on the TLS opportunity that’s wonderful news and that cheesecake looks fabulous!

    I’ve just finished Homegoing, happily reading it over the last week and wow, what a fabulous read it was, outstanding in all that she challenges herself to achieve and does so through that interweaving of the strands of the family line. Original, powerful, intelligent and so moving, wonderful.

    I hope you have another good week this week!

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    1. I’m halfway through Homegoing and I’m impressed so far by how many aspects of the African and African-American experience she’s been able to draw in, and by the links between generations (fire, blood, etc.). Definitely deserves the hype!

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  6. You mentioned seven wonderful, noteworthy things about your week; I’ll do the same:
    * I, too, delighted to watch my eldest (your big sis) fall in love. Then she and I watched episode three of “The Crown” together.
    * got good news that I don’t have to file income taxes for 2016 since I didn’t make enough
    * started as a member of a women’s Study group meeting in Nancy’s home. We’re exploring “Encouraging Others.”
    * gave and received Valentine gifts and cards
    * came to peace about my decision to go back to my husband (your dad) after a 2 1/2 yr. separation and freely shared the news with others. At the same time I witnessed my husband reach out to our eldest in reconciliation while she received him. Both miracles.
    * power-walked for the 1st time since Fall, though without my i-pod, which I have lost/misplaced. (We have a heat wave here) But at the same time I came down with a dandy case of conjunctivitis.
    * lastly, I’m reading Janet Evanovich’s Smokin’ Seventeen, in which Stephanie is the most horny yet( I believe Brits call it “Randy”). I’m so embarrassed, I chose John Grisham’s The Whistler for my next read.

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    1. You crack me up, Mom (the ‘randy’ book, etc.)! Not having to file taxes is good news indeed. Sorry to hear about the conjunctivitis, though. I forgot to thank you for our Valentine’s cards. Very sweet of you 🙂

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  7. Your cat story made me laugh. Our cats also love the cereal milk, and every morning they sit waiting for the leftovers while my kids eat their cereal. I’m sure they get way more than is good for them, but they’re just so cute we can’t resist. And they also love butter. I’m pretty sure they know by now the smell of popcorn and the fact that it means there is a small pot of melted butter on the back of the stove. That’s not quite as cute, as sometimes we’re not done with it.

    Yay for the TLS review and your sister and your cheesecake and Homegoing (which I so loved)!

    My week? We had a snow day Monday and Tuesday, then again on Thursday, and Friday the teachers went on strike for the day. We also had two snow days the week before on Wednesday and Friday. Today (Monday) is the February holiday (called Heritage Day in Nova Scotia), but we certainly don’t need it right now. It hasn’t been all bad, though – all the snow means snowshoeing, skiing and sledding! But it will be nice to have some quiet time again… hopefully tomorrow. 🙂

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    1. Boy do I miss snow days! There was no better childhood feeling than waking up late, seeing the snow coming down, and realizing my mom had crept in and turned off my alarm to let me sleep. I’ve only ever had one snow day since I moved to England, and that was way back in 2008. I think we had around two feet, such that I could not actually get a train into London for work. Apart from that it’s mostly just the occasional flurry, and every once in a while enough to attempt a pathetic snowman.

      I don’t know why it had never occurred to me that a cat who loves milk might also love other dairy products…

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