Book Look - Brideshead Revisited, by Evelyn Waugh

Like Ethan Frome and Age of Innocence, Brideshead Revisited features sympathetic but heartbreakingly human protagonists, possessing both grace and flaws, placed in a setting rife with rigid societal/religious constraints and then forced to choose between societal/religious conformity or personal happiness. I keep hoping the protagonists will choose personal happiness, but they never do.

This novel features a trio of perhaps the most charismatic and tragic protagonists in literary history: gay, tormented Sebestian Flyte, his beautiful sister Julia, and family friend Charles Ryder. In Age of Innocence, it’s the rigid constructs of society that eventually bruise and break the characters. In this outing, Catholicism is the wall against which each character, one after another, tragically dashes themselves: first, Sebestian’s father, trapped by Catholicism in a loveless marriage; next, his heartbreakingly fragile son Sebastian, trying desperately to repress his homosexuality; after that Julia, who tragically discovers her love for Charles after she has married another; and finally Charles who, though a non-believer, is swept up by the tide of Marchmont tragedy and himself broken.

All of which would have you thinking of this story as rampantly anti-Catholic, except that Waugh was himself a convert to Catholicism and, accordingly, ensures that each character, though deprived of earthly happiness, ultimately rescues their hope of ultimate grace. Even Charles, the skeptic and non-believer, has by the end of the tale begun to pray. Which, I suppose, is meant to provide consolation of a sort, though not enough to keep me from tearing up throughout the final chapters.

Provided you can deal with all the tragedy, there’s much in this novel to admire and, yes, to love. The writing is gorgeous. The evocation of period is brilliant. And each of the three protagonists is hauntingly memorable – especially Sebestian, whose transformation from dazzlingly charismatic schoolboy to gentle but ravaged alcoholic adulthood is wholly riveting.

You know how some books don’t seem particularly notable at the time but as the years pass you come gradually to comprehend their wisdom and insight? I have a feeling this is going to be one of those books, and that Waugh’s insights into faith, duty, loyalty, morality, beauty, friendship and love are destined to haunt me for years to come.


20+ Ways to Amuse Yourself at the Public Library

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I personally can't imagine ever running out of things to do at the library, but in honor of library week (2nd week in April), here's a tongue-in-cheek list of non-traditional ways to amuse yourself at the public library.
  1. Reposition books so that their names form sentences; ex., insert a copy of Forest in between two copies of Run.
  2. Wait until no one is watching. Turn all the nonfiction books about ghosts upsidedown
  3. Spray perfume between the pages of a romance book
  4. Leave mysterious notes pressed between the pages of particularly dated tests: ex., "Things to research: how much arsenic in rat poison? will coffee cover taste? what is fatal dose?"
  5. Pair wine books with cheese books
  6. Find out if anyone with your name has written a book. Volunteer to sign copies.
  7. Turn all the mysteries backwards, so their titles can't be seen
  8. Juxtaposition suggestive titles and abandon them at carols for the librarians to find; ex., Estate Law and Infamous Poisoning Trials; Teach Yourself to Fly and Managing Your Alcoholism; Spotting Forgeries and a newspaper article about that painting that recently sold for $16.8M
  9. Tear out the final chapter of the mystery books
  10. Replace all the books on the "We Recommend" shelf with your own recommendations
  11. Find the microfiche files for old newspapers and look up what was happening in the world exactly 100 years ago
  12. Find a college SAT prep book and take a practice test to see what you'd get now
  13. Browse the foreign language book section and teach yourself how to say something useless in various different languages; ex., "The father of my brother likes yams."
  14. Interlace desert cookbooks among the weight loss books
  15. Ask someone to watch your computer for a minute while you go to the bathroom. See how long it takes before they start looking pissed off
  16. Find a librarian and ask them if they can help you find "that book that was so popular a few years ago ... you think it had a blue cover ..."
  17. Remove all the books from the "New Fiction" section and replace them with tragically dated volumes from the '60s or '70s.
  18. Rearrange books on a shelf so that the first letters of their titles form an acronym; ex., "youareanerd"
  19. Invent a question so obscure, even the reference librarian can't figure it out
  20. Turn a study carol into a book display that pays homage to a bemusing passion; ex., beekeeping, pirate romances, or the history of gloves
  21. Play library bingo. Items to include on your card:
    1. child meeting with tutor
    2. homeless person sleeping
    3. child with stack of picture books taller than themselves
    4. someone furtively watching pron on library computer
    5. patron arguing that they turned in that overdue book "months ago"
    6. senior citizen reading something in large print


10 Historical Fashion Trends That Need to Come Back

Some fashion trends last decades, others last the length of a season. Here are some fashion trends that I think we may have abandoned too soon!

Vintage turquoise chiffon 50s dress
1. 1950s cocktail dresses for women. They were simultaneously decorous and flirty, with their daring necklines, tiny waists, flouncing fabrics, perky petticoats, and gorgeous colors. True, you need the figure of a Cosmopolitan model to pull the look off, but what rewards! SO much classier than the skin-tight, bland, black cocktail dresses they sell today. 

2. Fedoras for men. Can we all agree that men should never have given up fedoras?
They bring out the inner Humphrey Bogart in every man.

3. Top hats for everyone! They were a must for the Edwardian gentleman,
but women wore them for riding and, if I say so myself, totally carried the look off.

4. Zoot suits for men. Seriously, have clothes for men ever been more swag? Those oversized jackets with exaggerated shoulders,those cinched-waist slacks narrowing at the ankle, those short, square-cropped ties!  In this case, there's a reason other than the vagaries of style to explain why zoot suits disappeared: they were actually banned during WW2 due to their "wasteful" use of excess fabric.  More zoot suit trivia: in 1943, so called "Zoot Suit Riots" - conflicts between American sailors and Latino youths (recognizable by their penchant for zoot suits) broke out in California, resulting in several deaths. 

5.  Gowns for women.  When did elegant transform from THIS to what passes for elegance on the runway these days - strips of fabric glued over strategic bits of anatomy? Speaking of which, why do women only wear gowns to inagural balls anymore? What happened to dressing up for dinner and/or theater? Why wouldn't women want to wear gorgeous gowns like this as often as possible?

6. Pantaloons for men. Because a well-turned calf NEVER goes out of style.

Blazer 1928 The Museum at FIT: 1920 S, Fashion 1920, Blazers 1928, 1920S Fashion, 1920 1929, 1920 Fashion, 1920S But, Flannels Blazers, Cotton Flannels
7. Striped jackets for men.  Playful, youthful, and gay in the very best sense of the word.

8. Turtlenecks for men (and women). All the old Hollywood stars and starlets were photographed in turtlenecks. What did they know that we've forgotten?  That sometimes sexy isn't what you reveal, but what you don't reveal. Plus, turtlenecks of men remind me of cravats, and I do love a man in a cravat.

9. Fur for women. Now that we have such a vast selection of synthetic alternatives,
isn't it time to bring fur back?  Fur collars, fur stoles, fur cuffs, fur muffs .... so elegant!

10. Straw boaters for all.  I do love the fresh, casual look of a straw boater with a jaunty ribbon.
Add a more feminine bow and the look works equally great on women.