Autumn light…is perfect for reading

jean arthur andrew loomisI believe this is a portrait of Jean Arthur, by a master of 20th century illustration art, Andrew Loomis. See the clear intensity of the colors? They remind me of autumn in L.A. This is one of my favorite times of year, the angle of the sun is lower, the weather is cooler. We’re deep into a drought so seeing deer coming down from the hills in the middle of the afternoon shouldn’t surprise me, but it always does. It’s time to pick avocados, and the orange trees are covered with fruit that will be ripe in time for Christmas.

Next week I appear at my first book club meeting and it seems to me especially fitting that the club is mostly comprised of teachers. The fall always brings back memories of school, and one English teacher in particular. Frankly, she looked Elizabethan. Rail thin, inevitably wearing a high collared dress, the papery skin on her face always covered with the palest foundation makeup, lips carmined, hair a bright unnatural red worn in tight curls like a cap on her head. Her gaze was direct and questioning, she moved her hands sparingly, elegantly, and pointedly. She’d turn her attention toward you and ask, hands palm to palm, head cocked forward, “And what are you reading?” As if the answer were vital. I loved her for it.

I’ve just finished reading, All the Light We Cannot See, by Anthony Doerr, Leave it to Psmith, by P.G. Wodehouse, and I Look Divine by Christopher Coe, with an introduction by David Leavitt.

All the Light takes place in WWII, the world is broken; but the lives of two children—one blind and seeking, one gifted but schooled by monsters—merge with startling beauty.

Leave it to Psmith is pure Wodehouse fun, a comedy of manners set in Blandings Castle, where jewels go missing, and mates are found.

I Look Divine is a portrait drawn with a diamond edge by an author who died of AIDS in 1994. The high life of two brothers is recounted by the elder, who lives to see the younger feed on the desire of other men, and self-destruct at the first hint of age.

Okay. Really different stories, but what these books have in common is the divine clarity of the author’s prose. Beautifully, beautifully, written books.

What are you reading?



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  1. October 16, 2014

    The colors are beautiful.

    • October 16, 2014

      I can’t tell if the portrait is painting or a pastel, but I do know pastel chalks are vivid right out of the box…

      • October 16, 2014

        I ought to ask my husband. His mother worked mainly in pastels. It’s hard to imagine those eyes could be done with pastels, but what do I know!

  2. October 16, 2014

    Such amazing use of colour.

  3. October 16, 2014

    Love Jean Arthur and although it doesn’t really look like her, it is a wonderful illustration. I went immediately to Amazon to put All the Light We Cannot See on my wish list only to find it’s already there! I’m currently trudging through Lulu in Marrakech by Diane Johnson (Le Divorce etc). I’ve not read her before. I want to know what’s going to happen but the heroine’s interior life is boring me to tears.

    • October 16, 2014

      You’ve sent me cackling over my breakfast cereal! Put Lulu down and read something else! xox, V

      • October 16, 2014

        This is a writer that I’m going to keep an eye on, Ellen Ann Fentress: The Divorcée’s French Class
        Maternally yours, V

      • October 16, 2014

        Fentress sounds well worth keeping tabs on. Gratefully yours, S. xx

  4. October 16, 2014

    This is a beautiful illustration and looking very closely, the “tooth” of the surface appears to be canvas and the blue above her right hand appears to be brush strokes! That implies oil paint – but the drying time of oils implies that it was not a quick deadline! Unlike several of my Over-Nighters!

  5. George Kaplan
    October 16, 2014

    A delightful post, Ms Lester. I am sure there will be much wowing and knocking off of socks at the book club! I adore the description of your tutor.
    Recently, I been reading To Say Nothing of the Dog, an extremely witty and imaginative novel by Connie Willis which I received as a gift from a lady of taste and distinction! It is very funny, a farcical time travel about a character suffering from “timelag” who finds himself sent back the England of Three Men In A Boat whilst not in his right mind to prevent a destructive paradox, romance and shenanigans follow. Wodehouse and Wilde are pronounced influences, also; there is a domineering character from the future named Lady Schrapnell, who wishes to build a perfect replica of pre-WWII Coventry Cathedral and rides roughshod over all!
    The image to this post is divine!

    • October 18, 2014

      Wodehouse, Wilde, and Willis—sign me up!

  6. October 16, 2014

    The book club is to discuss your book?? I have been reading magazines; the light weight kind. But last night I returned to proper reading and my latest Kindle download “Let Sleeping Gods Lie” by writer/blogger Dianne Gray Having just returned from Cairns, the setting of the novel, I should feel alarmed at leaving my family to the dangerous world of cults and cane fields. 😉

    • October 18, 2014

      To discuss my book…it’s kind of a funny thought. Since they’re teachers I’m wondering if they are going to ask more questions about the writing process, or…? I’ll find out and report back 😉 .

      • October 18, 2014

        Looking forward to your report.

  7. October 17, 2014

    I love history and am reading Stephen Ambrose’s account of the Lewis and Clark Expedition, Undaunted Courage. They’ve finally reached the Pacific!!! It really is amazing how they got over those Bitterroot Mountains, and only one man on the entire trip died-illness laid him low. Jefferson had a wacky idea to gather all the tribes west of the Mississippi into one land area and train them to farm, be good trading partners(consumers) and as they met different tribes, Lewis, from his journals, could tell just how “wacky” Jefferson’s idea was.

    • October 18, 2014

      I’m going to have to put that on my reading list, love historical accounts based on journals. I’ve just started “In the Heart of the Sea: the Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex” by Nathaniel Philbrick…in 1821 the Essex was rammed and sunk by a whale, only eight men survived, among them the first mate and the youngest to sail, a fourteen year-old; both left written accounts. But the most famous work to come from this disaster was “Moby Dick,” by Herman Melville…

      • October 18, 2014

        I read that book by Philbrick 3 years ago. Good read but haunting for all that they had to endure to survive, heartbreaking, too.

  8. October 20, 2014

    “The Wind-Up Girl” by Paolo Bacigalupi. Bacigalupi means “kiss of the wolf”, in case anyone is interested. If I ever change my last name, it will be to Bacigalupi.

  9. October 22, 2014

    Such a beautiful woman and colourful painting. Just finished the “Incredible Lives of Greta Wells;” lovely.

  10. October 23, 2014

    My hairdresser made an interesting observation a few months ago. She said that people always look better in the late summer/fall. Here, in our northern climate, everyone looks rather pasty after the winter months, but she talked out the lovely colours everyone’s skin has in the autumn. I had never really thought about that before but, as the summer and fall progressed, I saw that she was right.

  11. September 20, 2015

    Re-reading Psmith in the City, the n-th time!

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