Thursday, October 28, 2010

Queen Victoria

Here I am in front of Kensington Palace, childhood home of Queen Victoria and many other members of the Royal Family, including Princess Diana. Currently, the palace is under renovation and will be quite spectacular by 2012 with new tours and tour guides, a historic garden, and better accessibility for all visitors. Because of the renovations, the palace had a different tour than usual, called "The Enchanted Palace," which encouraged visitors to learn all the palace's secrets, featured the lives of seven princesses who lived there, as well as other Royal Family members. 

Here is the Orangery, which was a greenhouse during Victoria's time, and is now a restaurant and a great place for afternoon tea.
Here's a closer picture.

Here's the garden as it is now. In two years it will be renovated to be like the garden that was here during the 18th century.

In graduate school, I took Victorian Literature, which turned out to be one of my favorite graduate school classes. We read wonderful books of course, but one of the things that I liked so much was that our professor spent a good part of time giving us an overview of what life was like in England during Victoria's reign (1837-1901). It was a time of great change and modernization, but many social problems as well.

I'd been meaning to watch the movie, The Young Victoria, before heading to London, but that didn't quite happen. I did, however, notice that they sell the DVD in the store at Kensington Palace, so I figured it must be good.

Earlier this week I got The Young Victoria from Netflix and enjoyed every second of it. I'm a fan of Emily Blunt anyway, so I figured I'd like it and I did. The costuming is beautiful, and the movie painted a wonderful portrait of what Queen Victoria may have been like. I particularly liked the development of her relationship with her husband, Prince Albert; this relationship had a central focus in the movie. I also liked that Queen Victoria had concern for those living in poverty in her country, which is something we see in, for example, the work of Charles Dickens.

Overall, The Young Victoria was a wonderful movie. I'm going to have to find something to read about Queen Victoria to supplement.

While I'm on this topic, here is the Queen Victoria Memorial, just outside Buckingham Palace. We saw this the following day when we attended the Changing of the Guard.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Charles Dickens Museum

While in London, we visited the Charles Dickens Museum, located at 48 Doughty Street in a quiet (comparatively speaking) residential section of London called Bloomsbury. Dickens grew up in poverty, and such a life is reflected in many of the stories he wrote later as an adult. He and his growing family moved several times once he gained acclaim for his books, and this home was where he lived near the beginning of his career. He shared the home with his wife and his first child. Two other children were born during the two and a half years Dickens and his family lived here. His home has been a museum since 1925.

The house has many pieces of furniture and personal items that belonged to the Dickens family, and lots of interesting information about the life and works of Charles Dickens. There is a special display of Oliver Twist and the subsequent musical, Oliver! Oliver Twist was written while Dickens lived at this address, as were several other works, including Pickwick Papers and Nicholas Nickleby. And, in the spirit of manuscripts (see the British Library post), a manuscript of some of Pickwick Papers is on display at the Charles Dickens Museum. Many of his other manuscripts can be found at the Victoria and Albert Museum (which I didn't get to visit this time). In fact, the Victoria and Albert is actively seeking funds right now for the preservation of three of Dickens' novels. To contribute, click here.

I except we'll be hearing more about Dickens and his contributions to literature, as 2012 marks the 300th anniversary of his birth. The Charles Dickens Museum is gearing up for some special events to celebrate, called the Great Expectation Vision. To learn more about that, click here.

The museum had a beautiful garden out back. Here I am.

The Travel Bookshop

Of course right now I'm about all things London. Now that I'm back I'm reading and watching movies that relate to that city. Last night, my husband and I watched Notting Hill (I love any movie with Hugh Grant). Notting Hill is one area of London my friend and I did not go to while we were there, but at the end of the movie when the group of friends took a car ride to the Savoy, I recognized a few things, as we stayed across the street from the Savoy in the West End. It's been so long since I've seen the movie that I'd forgotten the name of the bookshop until we started watching it. If you didn't already know, The Travel Bookshop is a real place. Come to find out, I was already following them on Twitter and being followed back. You can check them out @travelbookshop, or visit them at

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Rare Books and Manuscripts

Yesterday I finished my third of three books about books (you can see my thoughts on the first two here and here), titled simply, Books by Larry McMurtry. I was hoping it would be much like one of these recent reads, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop by Lewis Buzbee. Instead, it covered decades of McMurtry's life as book scout and seller of rare and valuable books. It was interesting enough, though he dropped only a few names I recognized and many, many I didn't. However, I really enjoyed hearing about all the rare books he's found over the years in basements, on bookshelves of both regular people and the rich and famous, and the ones he's sold himself and been paid a pretty penny for.

While I was in London, I, too, got a taste of rare books and manuscripts by visiting the British Library. This facility houses 14 million books, 920,000 magazines and journals, 58 million patents and three million sound recordings, according to their website, which you can visit here. I knew before I went that I'd see a Gutenberg Bible, several versions of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and some other things. I wasn't prepared, though, for feeling overwhelmed by seeing so many world-changing works all housed in one place. It was so much that I knew I'd forget a lot of it, so I started jotting down notes while I was there. Here's a sampling of what I saw/heard:
  • A recording of James Joyce reading from Finnegan's Wake

  • Jane Austen's third volume of a journal she wrote from age 12 to 17 with writings composed for her family's enjoyment
  • Jane Austen's writing desk, given to her by her father. It was kind of like a lap desk that held supplies in compartments.
  • Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre manuscript
  • A notebook containing writings by Virginia Woolf that she used to write Mrs. Dalloway
  • Original sheet music by Handel for Messiah and the Wedding March he created for A Midsummer Night's Dream (which just so happens to be my favorite Shakespeare play, and the musical selection I chose to walk out of the church to with my new husband in 2007 at our wedding)
  • The beginnings of Beatles songs scribbled on napkins, paper scraps and other things that eventually became hit songs
  • Notebooks from Leonardo Da Vinci
  • The Magna Carta
  • A letter from Charles Darwin to a friend which became the basis for Origin of Species
  • A lecture draft written by Sigmund Freud
  • A version of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland illustrated by Salvador Dali
  • Shakespeare's first folio, which was open to Henry VI Part I
And that's just a sampling of all that is there and on display. It was truly amazing to see. Of course there's no picture taking on the inside, but here is the library from the outside:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

It's Teen Read Week

Monday began Teen Read Week. To recognize it, I've tried to remember what I was reading as a teenager. Truthfully, apart from a few things, I'm not sure it was a whole lot different from what I'm reading now. I read Amy Tan, Anne Frank, Anne Rivers Siddons, and I liked most everything that came my way in my English classes. Somehow it seems easier to remember what I was reading when I was about 10 and younger. Wonder why that is? My guess is that I did most of my reading for class and not for fun. And, what I like to read hasn't changed much. I was reading many of the same kinds of things in my teens as what I'm still reading now.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Travel Reading

Besides Homer and Langley, I also read a large part of Frances Mayes' A Year in the World: Journeys of a Passionate Traveller, while I was on vacation. This is truly the perfect vacation book, either for reading while you're on vacation or while you'd like to be. Mayes is the author of Under the Tuscan Sun, which I loved, and a follow-up, Bella Tuscany, about her home in Cortona, Italy.

Mayes describes in beautiful detail the year that she and husband Ed spent traveling while renovations were underway at their Italian home. The detail and description was such that I nearly felt as though I traveled with her to the places she visited like Greece, Morocco, Turkey, Spain, Portugal, the English countryside, the Burgundy region of France, southern Italy and other places. This really was the perfect book for me to read right now, as I have most definitely been bitten by the travel bug, and am trying to think of all the ways I can both revisit London and travel to other places around the globe.

While in London, we ventured out one of our six days and took a train to Bath for the day. Mayes stopped here briefly on her travels to see the gardens of Great Britain and described it over about three pages. She, like me, noted that Jane Austen once lived here, visited the Royal Crescent (a curved row of townhouses) and saw a beautiful garden. Though I'll be covering Bath in a more detailed account later, here are a few pictures of the day spent there:

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Homer and Langley

While I was away, I got to read a book I won through a Goodreads giveaway (many thanks, Random House!). Homer and Langley by E.L. Doctorow has just come out in paperback. I relished every word of this book about two compulsively hoarding brothers and their life inside a New York City brownstone. The best thing about this book is that I could visualize all of the items piled high inside their home. The thing that made this even better is that it was all described by Homer, the brother who was blind. The ending of the book will throw you for a loop. It left me wanting to know more about these brothers (the book is based on two real brothers), so I hope to do some more reading on them soon.

E.L. Doctorow's website has several author interviews; in the spirit of just having returned from England, I listened to the interview conducted by BBC Radio, which you can listen to here. In addition, here is the book's review from the New York Times.

Monday, October 11, 2010


All writing, editing, blogging, networking, freelancing and other professional endeavors came to a halt last week as I visited London for the first time with a friend. I hope you enjoyed Lori's entries during my time off.

As I do with many of my travels, I read and watched related movies ahead of my trip that relate to London in preparation. I soaked up everything I could and read a lot while I was there, so it's no surprise to me that the list of "homework" I've given myself to do now that I'm back in the States is lengthy.

Before I went, I read Alice's Adventures in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass, and watched Tim Burton's recent movie version (I recently blogged about that here). I listened to Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens and Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest on my iPod. I watched the Hugh Grant/Emma Thompson/Kate Winslet movie version of Sense and Sensibility. I watched Robert Downey, Jr. and Jude Law's version of Sherlock Holmes that came out a couple years ago. I watched Great Expectations starring Gwyneth Paltrow and Ethan Hawke (I don't recommend it). I watched PBS' recent productions of Emma and Northanger Abbey. So, as you can see, I went feeling prepared to experience Literary London.

I picked up about 10 books while I was there, found new subjects to read about, got book recommendations from my travel buddy, and listed out additional books and movies I hadn't gotten to before the trip, but that I intend to watch and read now that I'm back.

In the coming weeks I'll be blogging about my trip as it relates to literature, and reporting on my related reading. Keep checking back for more!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Revisiting My Childhood

Miss Helen was the preschool teacher for me and my three siblings. Each one of us had a special graduation note in our childhood boxes signed by Miss Helen. In this letter she talked about the world of reading - something SO great and amazing to learn in Kindergarten. She spoke of the many worlds, people, and places we would 'see' when we had the ability and love to read. I still remember how excited I was to transport myself to this world she spoke of.

My oldest daughter is now 7 and I'm able to watch her transformation as she has acquired the skill of reading. Not only can she reads, but she devours books and loves them with all her heart. Reminds me of me as a child....well, and frankly as an adult. I still get engrossed in a book and the rest of the world stands still. Now my daughter is embarking on chapter books I'm able to share with her many worlds, people, and places I went as a youngster. My short list of must-have young child chapter books:

Witches, Ronald Dahl
James & The Giant Peach, Ronald Dahl
Ramona Series, Beverly Cleary
Ralph Series, Beverly Cleary
Boxcar Children Series, Gertrude Warner
Nancy Drew Series, Edward Stratemeyer

What are your childhood favorite books?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Reading Styles

Sometime in middle school I was introduced to the idea of speed reading. By nature, I like things faster - I'd rather get my bang for my buck and stack many things into my day. Same rule applies with reading, I felt if I could get the same information from a book in less the time why not? I could read 3 books in the time it took someone to read 1! Score! Thus, for the last fifteen years or so I have consistently sped-read. There have been some books that have been entirely too difficult to read that way (Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand comes to mind), but overall my reading has been on 5th gear. I generally devour a book and think about it after. Despite it's convenience I have found that I've missed out on small -yet important- information. I remember sitting in the movie theater watching "Twilight" (don't judge) and my friend leans over to me and says something about how handsome Jacob is. I reply "I always imagined him blond." She thought that was the most hilarious thing she'd heard....Somewhere along the lines I never read about his repeatedly referenced deep, thick, long black hair. Most likely because it fell within the space in the sentence you tend to skip while speed reading.

I've never understood the interest in slow, digestive reading until my daughter was old enough to read. For teach-ability sake I had to slow down and read at her pace, slowly working our way through chapter books - taking upwards of months to finish one book. We've been reading the Harry Potter books and I've found myself learning something new each chapter. Because I am forced to slow down, read each sentence carefully and take time to think about the story I am enjoying a new style of reading comprehension.

Not sure which way I enjoy best. I may have to try both styles out for bookclub over the course of the next few months. How do you read?

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Introducing Lori

I'll be taking a break from blogging for the next week or so, but I've arranged a guest blogger, Lori, who will be writing about reading. She's a friend and fellow freelance writer/editor, and we're in a book club together. Months ago we started to realize how much we have in common when she and I attended a performance of The Canterbury Tales at The New American Shakespeare Tavern in Atlanta. Be sure to check back to see what Lori has to say.