Demise of the ‘Phone box’

May 31, 2009 at 8:59 pm (books) (, , , , , )

phoneboxI deliberately use the British Red Telephone Box, because it is so evocative of the ‘way things’ used to be. Yet, my post today specifically targets the American (of course!) phone booth.

It has been a good decade – longer even I suspect, since the old enclosed booths were around. As in the UK, vandalism wrought havoc with booths — and brought about their demise long ago. In their stead, the ‘walk up phone,’ as it seems called in this ad found on the useful site, The Phonebooth). [See below.]

After getting stuck with a whopping $70 phone bills for FIVE (SHORT) calls from JFK when my flight home was grounded in 2007 (gee, thanks! make me spend the night in an airport, then charge all outdoors for me to call home and tell loved ones what’s going on… great end to a trip), I am a proponent of cells phones!

But it wasn’t until yesterday, and a trip to Ballston Spa that it hit me: no phone booths… mean no phone BOOKS!

first-boothI usually do two things on a trip out of town: find a grocery store for food, and find a good used bookstore in the yellow pages of the phone book. Yesterday, I had the name of a store, but hadn’t anticipated being in Ballston Spa — which was next door to my target of Saratoga (‘Then you get off at Saratoga, for the fourteenth time…’). And good thing, I hate to ask for directions,  for the ‘shop’ is in Ballston Lake, it turns out.

Not one phone booth to be seen; the only used bookstore listed in a chamber of commerce brochure had closed up its doors and a ‘for rent’ sign was in the window; and I hate to ask for directions – but as I had no street, the chances of finding anyone who knew the store I was looking for (which sells on the web and may not even have a physical store anyway!), was slim.

 And that’s when it hit me: no booth = no book = no yellow pages.

Kinda sad…

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Another ‘must have’!?

May 28, 2009 at 12:45 am (books) (, , , , , , )

nine maidsAfter receiving Eliza’s comment about her work on the Tupper brothers (see ‘comments’ on the right), I was looking up TUPPER and LE MARCHANT – and surprise! found this book.

Lucky Michael Boyes sounds like a man right up my alley: according to this Cotswold Journal article the seed for his book came ‘after he retrieved diary extracts written by the late Rev. Robert Le Marchant in 1997.’ [Robert was born in 1819 and died in 1915.] How familiar such thoughts as ‘”Although the diary in itself was not enough to make up a book, the entries provided a prompt to find out more about the social life of that particular period.”‘ And what ‘fortune’ Mr Boyes has had: ‘…the discovery of some missing diaries and a collection of journals and letters from the Le Marchant sons serving in the military forces provided a turning point for the author.’ And I’m so jealous when reading such as: ‘”The project took a further twist when I learned that family letters and journals had been auctioned in London [!]. I was able to contact the buyer [!!] and bought them off him [!!!].”‘ (Contrast this to my lack of luck in obtaining Richard Seymour’s diaries; see Where Art Thou?)

More later as I learn more (especially how the Rev. Robert fits into my Le Marchant family tree = whose son was he?). This article makes for interesting reading on the immediate family; and this article mentions the Christies! Though how funny to read ‘…he married Mary Christie, the daughter of a prosperous man from Glyndebourne‘. Indeed! (as an opera fan, I was thrilled to think of Elizabeth Gosling’s relationship to Glyndebourne!!) [Though a £20,000 dowry? Mary Gosling evidently had that amount decades before, in 1826!]

And Boyes is back with a book on five of the six Le Marchant sons (though I must say I have more interest in those Old Maid daughters…). There are also portraits at NGP (see, especially Adm. Evelyn Robert Le Marchant).

GOSH: Michael’s Boyes has an ‘illustrated’ talk on the Ladies of Little Rissington on May 31st!

Oh…. so little money… so little TIME! (and time to go to bed: it’s nearing 1:30 a.m. as I type this.)

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A book by candlelight

May 20, 2009 at 9:52 pm (books)

the readerMary Augusta Austen-Leigh writes of her father (in James Edward Austen-Leigh: A Memoir; private printing, 1911): “Another evening enjoyment was hearing our father read aloud — and this he often did, most admirably as to tone of voice, manner, taste, and judgement. Nothing was wanted in his rendering either of light or of serious authors. When the subject was dramatic, he could always make the characters, to use his Aunt Jane’s expression, ‘speak as they should do,’ yet neither the comic nor the pathetic parts were ever overdone by him.”

It is therefore of interest to me (who reads aloud to herself, sometimes…), to see the recent New York Times article by Verlyn Klinkenborg, with the rather prosaic title “Some Thoughts on the Lost Art of Reading Aloud.” The thrust of her article centers on audio books (my father loves them, especially when on a long-distance trip; I am less enthusiastic – but more on that subject below). Yet her argument includes this provoking thought: “…from the perspective of a reader in, say, the early 19th century, about the time of Jane Austen, there is something peculiar about it, even lonely. In those days, literate families and friends read aloud to each other as a matter of habit. Books were still relatively scarce and expensive [not a problem for the Smiths or Goslings!]…. [T]he thought of all those solitary 21st-century individuals hearkening to earbuds and car radios would seem isolating.” Never thought about reading in that manner, but we do treat reading as a ‘solitary’ pursuit, rather than a group activity (think back to Gone With the Wind, when in the film Melanie reads from David Copperfield while Scarlett’s husband, Ashley and Klansmen have gone out to avenge Scarlett…).

Klinkenborg then raises the spector of music-making at home, versus listening on the radio &c. As a non-musician (but exceptionally interested in classical music and opera), I envy the singing and playing Emma, Mary and their siblings are able to do during the odd evening home.

The main reason for this post, however, is Klinkenborg’s comment that “But listening aloud, valuable as it is, isn’t the same as reading aloud.” She adds the point that “…one of the most basic tests of comprehension is to ask someone to read aloud from a book. It reveals far more than whether the reader understands the words. It reveals how far into the words — and the pattern of the words — the reader really sees. Reading aloud recaptures the physicality of words.”

Yes, yes, and again, YES!

I must confess that I read aloud, especially my own work. There is something about the ‘drama’ behind the spoken word that alerts me (quickly) if a phrase needs a little ‘umph’, or the pacing or rhythm of a sentence works — or doesn’t. Cadences, in speech as in music, are of utmost importance!

Klinkenborg’s article also makes me envision old books.  The ones I have interlibrary loaned are small, the perfect size to fit in the palm of the hand. They are not heavy, probably could even have been slipped into the linen pocket of a young lady, yet (coming in multi-volumes) are not the slim nothing books often published today. The lines per page are also well laid out, uncramped. And what I love the most: that dangling word on the bottom of the page, giving a glimpse of the word to come so that the rhythm of the reader isn’t interrupted by the turning of the page!

Pity that publishing ever progressed from the multi-volume book to the trade paperback and now to the Kindle. I would be the first to applaud an entire library on one little hand-held device, but what a pain endnotes must be – even footnotes, if you can’t see an entire page at one glance! The best description of a book and how it feels in the reader’s hands just has to be the opening of A.S. Byatt’s Possession! There’s a writer who is also a reader, for she explains the passion for a book, its feel and smell, with such true feeling!

One part of Klinkenborg I must disagree with is her inclusion of Mansfield Park and the reading scene where Henry Crawford picks up Shakespeare. Klinkenborg’s assessment of Henry’s character is not in question, but the fact that she highlights this scene in which a PLAY is read aloud. Not quite the same thing as reading a novel, where one must become not only diverse characters, but the narrator as well.

I like best Klinkenborg’s comment that when one reads to oneself you lose ‘the life of the language’ — something Austen and Shakespeare each have brought to their audiences. The ‘life of the language’ is particularly important when reading diaries (very private thoughts) and letters (semi-private thoughts); we cannot always know what a writer means, given their shorthand, lack of punctuation, inner-thoughts, and also the language of their time when it differs (even slightly) from our own. Then there is the England English versus American English! I cannot always anticipate when my Norfolk friend Kate might take in when we read the same pieces; she brings her English background while I only bring my knowledge.

Anyway, I invite readers to delve into an Austen (see her first editions on; links at right), and read her aloud! Even if only to yourself.

Oh yes! Audio books: I heartily recommend the couple chapters of Austen as read by Chris Goringe. Is it his accent? Partly. His enthusiastic rendering? Definitely! Pity he didn’t record the entire Pride & Prejudice! But thank goodness for the few chapters (especially the opening chapters) he did record. Find the online audio book at LibriVox. I adore his rendering of the line “She is the most beautiful creature I ever beheld!” (Bingley; about Jane Bennet, of course!)

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A Trunk full of Letters

May 17, 2009 at 10:54 am (books) (, , , )

Dear Miss Heber2A couple years ago — thanks to the bibliography listed in Helen Lefroy and Gavin Turner’s (eds.) Letters of Mrs Lefroy, I purchased a hard-found copy of “Dear Miss Heber…” an eighteenth century correspondence (ed. Francis Bamford). This was not my first taste of Bamford’s editorial work. What a lucky life he must have led to work on the books that I have come across, never mind others I have never seen.

In the last few weeks I have been hard at work on an article about the Knyvetts (untangling Papa Charles and son Charles has not been easy), but in the past few days I have also been thinking about an article centering on the friendship of Charlotte Lucas and Elizabeth Bennet, for submission to Persuasions (since no one at JASNA wanted to hear my paper proposed on the topic of friends being akin to sisters [the AGM’s theme being “Austen’s Brothers and Sisters in the City of Brotherly Love {Philadelphia}]). And something last night made me pull from the shelves my Miss Heber.

What a delight! And so many sentiments a propos to discussions on our JASNA blog (, especially the comments of Sylwia, about marriages and the state of singlehood; as well female friendships.

I am curious (although I plan, of course, to search!) to know if anyone has ever come across the ‘further publications’ that Francis Bamford promises when telling readers about the trunks and trunks and trunks of correspondence found by Georgia and Sacheverell Sitwell at their home, Weston Hall (Northants.). Please post, if you have knowledge of more in this vein, whether from Weston Hall or not. Am always interested in finding what I never knew existed.

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Useful (published) diaries

May 3, 2009 at 11:41 am (books) (, , , , , , , )

Just a quick word to say that I *finally* broke down and purchased the first volume of both The Complete Diary of a Cotswold Lady (by Agnes Witts) and the diary of her son The Complete Diary of a Cotswold Parson (Francis Edward Witts).

They are really lovely books! Large (especially Francis’ — at just over 700 pages!), with many illustrations. Wish I could afford the entire set (still in the act of being published, by the way) — but my pocket book is exceptionally empty these days, and these were extravagances – though, purchased used, they were more affordable. (Agnes vol 1 sells for £25; Francis vol 1 for £50.)

cotswoldlady1The first thing that struck me was how Agnes is described on the inside dust jacket flap: “Agnes Witts was a remarkable woman with great zest for life. She required constant amusement and bored easily. Her favourite pastimes were cards and stimulating conversation, her social circle was wide and well-connected…

Imagine my surprise, upon beginning to read the actual diary entries (ie, after the introduction on Agnes and her family) to see they were quite COMPARABLE to those written by Mary Smith, Emma Smith/Austen, and Eliza Smith/Chute!! More a surprise, because I never would have dreamed that their diaries would hold anyone’s attention for long, if simply published verbatim.

Then sank in this idea: if Agnes was  in need of “constant amusement” and “bored easily”, what does that say of Eliza Chute — who’s diaries (especially) carry the same type of information, especially as regards card playing and visiting?? But the further into the introductions to both volumes I read (the intro to Francis Witt’s diary runs to 200 pages!), the more I see a subtle creeping in of the EDITOR’s thoughts and feelings about these people in these introductions… Maybe I will change my mind, after taking in more of the actual diaries. We shall see.

cotswoldparson1One thing I do wish is, that Alan Sutton (the editor and publisher) had employed a good proof-reader! I’ve never seen such blatant (and easily caught — so why weren’t they caught before going to press?) mistakes: misspellings, additional punctuation (like two periods at the end of a sentence), and sentences that, with slight differentiations, relate exactly the same information. Then, just this morning, I read TWO paragraphs (one followed the other) that were EXACTLY the same, word for word. The word for this is sloppy.

But the ideas and history contained within the diaries continue to fascinate me – which is a good thing, considering the cost just to get these books sent from England! I hope to read the two rather in tandem: Mrs Witts covers the period 1788-1793 and Francis Witts covers 1795-1805.

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