Sunday, November 12, 2017

Celtic, Viking, and Anglo-Saxon Embroidery

Celtic, Viking, and Anglo-Saxon Embroidery, by Jan Messent

This is such a great book, people.  If you are at all interested in textile arts, or the British Isles a thousand years ago, you've got to find a copy of this and sink into it.


Jan Messent has been doing various forms of textile arts, painting, and design for a long time, and if you look you can find a fairly long list of books to her name, most of which are about design or knitting.  She's also written a lot of historical romances under the name Juliet Landon.  In the 1990s, she produced an entire panel of Bayeux embroidery that was a theoretical fill-in for the missing final panel of the Bayeux tapestry (several people have done this).  And in about 2010, she was amusing herself by making mixed-media embroidered books and items in homage to Celtic, Viking, and Anglo-Saxon styles, which became this book.

Messent gives some nice history about the clothing and textile styles, and she explains what she was doing, but most of the book is large photos and close-ups of the books.  There is, for example, a book dedicated to playing with the Bayeux stitch, one about accessories, one about clothing.  One book features a modern rendition of a part of the Domesday Book.  Another has beautiful quilted Lewis chess knights.  And at the very back, there is the St. Cuthbert Project, a series of quilted pieces using motifs associated with St. Cuthbert, Bishop of Lindisfarne.  These are stunning pieces, which I only wish I could emulate.  (My daughter is hoping I will and then give them to her.  Ha.  Should I ever produce anything remotely that beautiful, I will keep them my own self!)

The work uses mixed-media, combining painting, cut-outs, threadwork, and all sorts of things, often in a sort of collage.  None of it is meant to be completely authentic (how would anyone do such a thing?); it's playing around with and paying homage to the works of the past.

A page of Bayeux stitch
There are very few images of this work online; Messent has a small website but does not have much time or interest in posting galleries on the internet.  So unless you get hold of the book, you're pretty well out of luck.  It's well worth an ILL; I found this book to be a wonderful collection of art and an inspiration.  I'm going to have to buy a copy to keep!

Something on Sunday: 11/12

Last Sunday, I woke up with a nasty tension headache and didn't write a post, but I had some neat stuff to share.  This week has been very long and busy, so maybe it's just as well; I can squeeze one post out of two weeks!

Last weekend was our local quilt show, and my first time exhibiting at said show.  I entered a quilt for judging, and guess what?  It won third place in its category!  (Which would be pieced quilts of medium size.)  I also got to have some fun setting up, taking down, and attending, and admiring  many impressive works of art.


Friday I went to a play with a friend.  The play wasn't much but the company was good.

I went to the symphony too!  Unbelievably, one of the pieces was the first performance of a symphony by a local musician, and it was commissioned.  So somebody out there still likes classical music.  Well, the whole place was full of people who like classical music, but most of them probably couldn't afford to commission a piece.  I do think it's sort of neat that things like that still happen.

Wow, between quilt art, theater, and symphony, this is a pretty artsy post.  Go out and make art, people!

Friday, November 10, 2017

Sixpence House

Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books, by Paul Collins

Years ago -- probably over a decade -- a good friend of mine told me that I really ought to read this great book about a town of books.  I filed it away in my head, and I did kind of mean to read it, but also...books about the greatness of books aren't always my cup of tea, so I wasn't sure I wanted to read it.  Anyway, eventually a copy came into my hands through no effort of my own, and I figured I would read it.  But here's the funny part: if I'd realized that Sixpence House was written by the same guy who wrote Banvard's Folly, I would have gone right out and gotten it.  I loved Banvard's Folly, and if you haven't read it, you should!  So my skepticism just stopped me from enjoying a pretty good book for over 10 years.

This is a sort-of memoir of the months that Collins, his wife Jennifer, and their toddler son spent in Hay on Wye, the little town on the border of England and Wales that specializes in old books.  Hay has a whole lot of used bookstores, a festival, and just generally piles of old books everywhere.  Collins winds up sorting American literature for the self-appointed King of Hay, Richard Booth, whose idea it was in the first place to make used books the hallmark of Hay.  The little family would like to stay, but finding a house (such as Sixpence House, a former pub) is next to impossible.  Meanwhile, though, life in Hay is full of eccentric people, intriguing little incidents, and huge numbers of books, some of which are worth reading.

So I wound up having a lot of fun with this book.  Collins is witty in a way that I really like; he is fascinated by weird little corners of history, and, well, he's just lovely to read.  I was over ten years late in reading the book, but it was worth the wait.

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The House on the Strand

My copy's goofy cover: pure 1970
The House on the Strand, by Daphne du Maurier

I actually read this for RIP a few weeks back, but then I didn't get around to reviewing it in time.  (I had a very busy, but fun, Halloween.  How about you?)  This book has been on my TBR shelf for a little while and I'm no longer sure where I picked it up.  I knew it would be some sort of suspense/thriller/Gothic thing, but I didn't really know what it was about at all.  It turned out to be....well, kind of science fiction?  Maybe?

Dick is alone for a week at an old, small Cornish manor house, but pretty soon his wife and step-sons will arrive.  In the meantime, his friend Magnus wants him to experiment with a drug -- which takes his mind (but not his body) back 600 years into the past.  There, Dick follows Roger, a slightly schemy estate steward, through the complex relations of three local families and an abbey.  As Dick starts to lose his hold on reality, his family arrives and complicates matters, but that doesn't stop his determination to find out what happens, despite the obvious dangers.

It's an intriguing setup, and I got interested in the long-ago family drama just as Dick did.  A modern SF novel would be expected to provide a good deal more explanation of just how a drug could push a mind back in time, but du Maurier has her characters do some hand-waving about genetic memory and leaves it at that.  Nor is a rationale needed; all the suspense is provided.

I actually wound up with a better opinion of this story than I at first expected to have.  It was a neat story that I enjoyed quite a bit.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Classics Club Spin #16!

Hooray, it's my favorite thing, a Classics Club Spin!  I have plenty to choose from now, since I'm on my new list and I've barely made a dent in it.  I spent a good part of the year reading books for my Reading All Around the World project, for one thing.  Some of these titles work for both at once!  My problem is that there is just too darn much good stuff to read....anyway, here are my 20 Spin titles.  You probably know the rules, or you can visit the Spin page to learn them.  Join in!


  1. Palm-Wine Drinkard, by Tutuola
  2. Memoirs of the Crusades
  3. Walls of Jericho, by Rudolph Fisher 
  4.  Henry IV, Part I, by Shakespeare
  5.  Selections of Anglo-Saxon literature (aka The Age of Bede)
  6. The Faithful River, by Stefan Zeromski
  7. Jurgen, by James Branch Cabell 
  8. Rasselas, by Samuel Johnson
  9. Stories/essays of Lu Xun
  10. Lais of Marie de France
  11. Miss MacKenzie, by Anthony Trollope  
  12. First Love and Other Stories, by Turgenev  
  13. The Duchess of Malfi, by John Webster
  14. The Glatstein Chronicles
  15.  The Plague, by Albert Camus
  16.  Plum Bun, by Jessie Redmon Fauset
  17.  Hunger, by Knut Hamsun
  18. Down and Out in Paris and London, by George Orwell
  19.  Walpurgisnacht, by Gustav Meyrink
  20. The Well at the End of the World, by William Morris
 (I've been posting about everything *but* books I've read lately...and I have plenty to talk about!)

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

#AusReadingMonth: Week II

November is here and that means Aussie literature!


Brona is doing a weekly challenge this year.  Last week, she started us off easy with an introduction question, which I didn't post at the time because I'd already done the Q&A:

Who are you? And where in the world are you?

I'm Jean and I'm coming up on 8 years of blogging here at Howling Frog.  I'm a librarian, mom of teens, and enthused quilter/sewist -- and this weekend is the first time I'm entering a quilt show, so wish me luck!  I live in rural-ish northern California, the part everyone forgets about.  There are a lot of almonds and walnuts.

What are your reading goals for this year's #AusReadingMonth?

I'm hoping to read two novels, Cloudstreet and A Descant for Gossips.

The rest of this post is the Aussie Q&A that I already posted!

The Week II challenge is: 

Post a photo (or ten) to show us where in the world you are reading your Australian books. Post on Insta, Litsy, twitter or your blog. Link back to the masterpost here.

Well, it's dark outside, so I can't take any pictures, but here are some photos of my town.  It may be spring in Australia, but it's fall here, so...

Our town boulevard; I drive my kid to school along here.
Just a pretty picture of the agricultural preserve.  The oldest kiwi in the US is here!

Our town founder's mansion.
Part of the city park, but the wild bit.  And in spring.

Thursday, November 2, 2017

Witch Week: Arthurian literature

Witch Week this year is all about the Arthurian literature.  I hope you're following Lory at Emerald City Book Review to read the guest bloggers, enter the giveaway, and all that good stuff.  The readalong is of Kazuo Ishiguro's Buried Giant, which I read a couple of years ago.  So I decided not to read along, but I did really like the book, and if you wish to see my thoughts you can read my review.



I've read a bit of Arthurian literature during the life of Howling Frog, so I thought it might be useful to collect some of the links.  If you're interested in reading some of the older material, this might be helpful.  Some random links:

Yvain, by Chretien de Troyes
Poor Heinrich, by Hermann von Aue
The Fall of Arthur, by J. R. R. Tolkien
Ritual and Romance, by Jessie Weston (old folkloric speculation, now totally discredited, but fun to read)


In 2014, I ran a year-long Arthurian challenge and read some great stuff.  Here is what I said at the time:


The legends and stories of King Arthur and his knights have been popular for over a thousand years, and during that time the stories have changed and developed into a tangle of related tales with wild offshoots all over the place.    Arthur himself may or may not have really existed, but if he did, he wouldn't have been anything like the king in the stories we know now.  Instead, Arthur has served as a figure to which we can pin our ideas about loyalty, love, and duty; the total lack of historical fact lets us embroider as we please and remake him in whatever guise we prefer.
  1. Nennius' Historia Brittonum
  2. Erec et Enide, by Chretien de Troyes
  3. Cliges, by Chretien de Troyes
  4. Lancelot, by Chretien de Troyes
  5. Culhwch and Olwen
  6. The Romance of Tristan, by Beroul 
  7. The Quest of the Holy Grail
  8.  Arthur's Britain, by Leslie Alcock (history)
  9. Arthuriad, by Charles Williams
  10. Tristran, by Thomas of Britain
  11. Tristan, by Gottfried von Strassburg
  12. Parzival, by Wolfram von Eschenbach
  13. The Morte D'Arthur, by Sir Thomas Malory
And still I have so much more I could read!  I hope readers will find this helpful.  And if you want to know my all-time favorite, it's The Quest of the Holy Grail.



Nonfiction November: Week I

Hello, Nonfiction November!  I'm already late, because I was thinking November, and it started at the beginning of the week...anyway, Julie at Julzreads is hosting this week and she says:

Your Year in Nonfiction: Take a look back at your year of nonfiction and reflect on the following questions – What was your favorite nonfiction read of the year? What nonfiction book have you recommended the most? What is one topic or type of nonfiction you haven’t read enough of yet? What are you hoping to get out of participating in Nonfiction November?



At first I thought I hadn't read that much non-fiction, but looking back, I had some great books!   It's very difficult to pick just one; several of them seem to me to be very important books that everybody should read.  So I'll pick Voices From Chernobyl as the top title, though not because it was fun to read.  I'd also like to give a shout-out to Last Things, because it's an excellent and heart-wrenching graphic memoir.

I'm not sure I've really recommended a lot of non-fiction to people this year, besides giving positive reviews and sometimes tagging a book with my "books everyone should read" tag.  

I have not read enough history.  I have so much history on my shelf right now, and I haven't been getting to it as quickly as I want to!  I love reading history, but my choppy reading style does not lend itself well to large, heavy books.  (I don't do a lot of sitting and reading.)  My history TBR is currently Russia-heavy but there are plenty of other topics too: the Cold War, Anglo-Saxons, France, classical Greece....

I just like trading titles with everybody, I guess!  I like to read non-fiction, and I'm always up for more (although my groaning bookshelves are probably none too happy).

Here are my non-fiction titles for 2017 so far:

The Biggest Estate on Earth: How Aborigines Made Australia, by Bill Gammage.  Amazing.
The Skies Belong to Us: Love and Terror in the Golden Age of Hijacking, by Brendan I. Koerner.  Gripping, and jaw-dropping to those of us who didn't live through it.
Germania: In Wayward Pursuit of the Germans and Their History, by Simon Winder.  A lot of fun.
The Man Who Saved Britain: A Personal Journey Into the Disturbing World of James Bond, ibid.  Not so much fun, but wow did I learn things.
Last Things, by Marissa Moss.  ALS memoir.
Reflections: On the Magic of Writing, by Diana Wynne Jones.  Wonderful, as ever.
Excellent Sheep, by William Deresiewicz.  Eh, it was OK.
All Natural, by Nathanael Johnson.  Pretty fun, and learned some good stuff.
Where Nothing is Long Ago: Memories of a Mormon Childhood, by Virginia Sorenson.  Lovely.
How Not to Hate Your Husband After Kids, by Jancee Dunn.  Not all relevant, but some good stuff.
The Power of Glamour, by Virginia Postrel.  Wow, a great read!
The Histories, by Herodotus.  I feel so accomplished. :)
Against Empathy: The Case for Rational Compassion, by Paul Bloom.  Interesting!
At the Pulpit, ed. Reeder and Holbrook.  Women's history, my favorite.
Uncle Boris in the Yukon, by Daniel Pinkwater.  My kind of dog book.  
The Durrells of Corfu, by Michael Haag.  Pretty interesting.
The Burning Point, by Tracy McKay.   Wow.  Amazing memoir.  
To Destroy You is No Loss, by Teeda Butt Mam.  Cambodian memoir.
Stolen Words, by Mark Glickman.  Oh wow, stolen Jewish libraries!
On Tyranny, by Timothy Snyder.  A very short must-read.
Blue Remembered Hills, by Rosemary Sutcliff.  Lovely.
The Treasure of the City of Ladies, by Christine de Pisan.  A favorite!
The Young Ardizzone, by Edward Ardizzone.  Really lovely.
Voices From Chernobyl, by Svetlana Alexievich.  Horrifying and necessary.
A Deadly Wandering, by Matt Richtel.  Don't text and drive, people.
Bad News, by Anjam Sundaram.  Rwanda: more of a mess than we'd like to think.


Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Merlin and the Grail

Merlin and the Grail: Joseph of Arimathea, Merlin, Perceval, by Robert de Boron

It's Witch Week!  The focus this year is on Arthurian literature, a favorite of mine, and so I read Merlin and the Grail, which I've been saving up for a treat.  This one was new to me, and I found out that it's an important piece in the Arthurian jigsaw puzzle, so read on.

We don't know much about Robert de Boron, but he was writing right after Chretien de Troyes, around the 1180s, and he was the first writer to write the Arthurian cycle -- the whole story from beginning to end.  He managed to smush the important elements into just three tales (two, really), and he added a whole lot as well with Joseph of Arimathea.  He also converted the Grail into an overtly Christian relic. Chretien had a Grail that was a kind of platter, which served a host, and there was a spear dripping blood; these were obviously Christian allusions.  Chretien's audience would have immediately thought of that spear as the famous lance of Longinus, and of the Grail as serving communion, but it was not made explicit.  Robert changed the Grail into the vessel used at the Last Supper and then for the blood of Christ, and he comes right out and says the spear is Longinus'.  So wow, this is important stuff!  Just think, without Robert, maybe there wouldn't have been an Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.

Joseph of Arimathea is entirely Robert's invention, and gives us the backstory of the Grail, starting with the life of Christ.  After his resurrection, Joseph is imprisoned and Christ appears to him, explaining how Joseph will be the guardian of the Grail and needs to have companions.  A little community of believers is established, and from that come the "rich Fisher King" and his descendants, of whom Perceval will be one.  (Robert even tries to provide an explanation of the name and idea of the Fisher King, but the Fisher King comes from Chretien, who doesn't explain it, and who may have gotten it from older Celtic myth sources such as the Mabinogion.)

Merlin is largely sourced from Geoffrey of Monmouth's History of the Kings of Britain, which has a long section on Merlin and includes a book of Merlin's prophecies that was popular all on its own for centuries (like Nostradamus).  Robert elaborates heavily on Geoffrey's tale.  Merlin is the son of a demon and a devout maiden; as half-demon, he knows all the past, but as a saved Christian, he is given even more power by Christ and knows all the future, plus plenty of magic.  Merlin helps Vortigern with building his tower, and then goes on to advise future kings.  He builds Stonehenge and arranges for Utherpendragon to establish the Round Table and trick Igerne, and he fosters out the infant Arthur.  Finally, Arthur takes the sword from the stone and is proclaimed King through Merlin's help.

Robert's Perceval has a similar beginning to Chretien's, but he is not so blatantly innocent and clueless.  Indeed, this Perceval messes up on a regular basis and does all sorts of fairly awful things.  He goes to see his grandfather, the Fisher King, and fails to ask the questions, so he's doomed to spend years questing around trying to find the castle again.  Unlike in Chretien (whose tale is unfinished), Perceval does find it again and does ask the question, healing his grandfather.  But that's not all: there is also a lot of Arthur in this story, and he goes to conquer France and then Rome.  While he's gone, Mordred takes over, so we get the final battle as in other stories, though without Lancelot and Guenevere.

An interesting detail about Arthur's fosterage is that Sir Entor (Ector, as we usually know him) gives Arthur a reason for Kay's bad temper.  Merlin had stipulated that Entor's own son be put out to nurse, while Arthur would be nursed by Entor's wife:
Entor said to him that if he became king he should make Kay his seneschal; and that Kay should not lose that office no matter what wrong he might do.  "If he's ever wicked or foolish you must bear with him, for whatever faults he may have came to him only from the woman who nursed him -- and it was on your account that his nature was changed."
Arthur actually refers back to that at one point when Kay is being a jerk.

The combats can get pretty gruesome, as here with Arthur vs. King Floire of France:
With sword clutched tight in his right hand he dealt a blow upon Arthur's shield, splitting it and hacking off a great piece; so mighty was the blow that as it flashed down it smashed three hundred rings from Arthur's mailcoat and cut into his thigh, taking with it a handful or more of flesh, and down it came still, severing a spur and three toes from his foot before it plunged a full yard into the earth.
Robert always keeps in mind that his work is to be read aloud.  It was written in octosyllabic verse, which I gather looks kind of clunky on the page, but (so says the editor) when spoken aloud, gave wonderful opportunity to infuse emotion and drama into the words.  He says that Robert's writing often been derided, but it must be spoken aloud to be appreciated.  (I wouldn't know, since I can't speak Old French.)


I'm so happy I found this book; I enjoyed it so much.  I love figuring out these little bits and pieces of the story.  Originally I was looking for the rest of the prose Lancelot, which The Quest of the Holy Grail is part of, but apparently it's only found in a massive ten-volume edition, with each volume costing over $30.  So that's pretty depressing.  I haven't even been able to ILL it.  But I did find this, and the Perlesvaus, so that is a good deal of consolation.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Something on Sunday, 10/28

Hey, it's time for Something on Sunday, Jenny's meme where we share good things about the week because goodness knows we need it.

I had a humor grenade last night.  We were watching some of Ghostbusters, one of the greatest movies ever made, and you know at the beginning the librarian gets scared, and Venkman asks her if any of her relatives have mental problems.  Her answer: "My uncle thought he was St. Jerome."  I was laughing about that later on and my husband was not familiar with Jerome, so he looked him up.

Jerome is the patron saint of librarians.

_______________________

I went to a free concert featuring a brass quintet and it was great!  Lovely music, including Bach, some modern stuff, some jazz, and all the songs of the five branches of the military.  Because it was an Air Force quintet, part of the Air Force Band of the Golden West, a fancy name if ever I heard one.  

My daughter and I got all inspired about altered books and we each want to make one, so we're having a good time collecting papers and ribbons and oddments.  We can think of lots of good subjects, but focusing in on one topic is a bit of a problem.  She wants Gorey, and I'm thinking the seven planets.

Nicer than all these nice things, however, is that this week my husband started his new job, and he really likes it a lot.  His last couple of jobs have been stressful at best, so this is a very pleasant change.