Tea and Chekhov

Autumnal Tea: smoked salmon and cucumber and cream cheese sandwiches; quails’ eggs with sea or celery salt; scones; brownies and an iced pumpkin spice cake. 

I had a fabulous time over the weekend hosting a Book Blogger Tea Party with Rachel, SimonPolly and my Mum. I felt a bit of a fraud as I can’t claim to have ever written a book blog, but I am at least an enthusiastic reader! Although I am in the same book group as Polly, have met Simon several times and have found a ‘kindred spirit’ in Rachel, it was wonderful to spend an afternoon all together, having a proper chat, laughing a lot and munching on the treats pictured above.

Simon brought along a game that he bemoaned none of his (non-bookish) friends would play; I can’t remember the name but it was lots of fun! You have a pack of cards with a book title, author and plot summary written on each of them, and everyone has to write down what they think is the first or last line of the book. These are all then read aloud (including the real first/last line) – whoever guesses which is the true one gets a point, and if anyone guesses your version in mistake for the real one, then you get a point too. Often, it was harder than you might think – for instance, no doubt everyone can rattle off the first line of Pride & Prejudice, but what about the last? I amazed myself by winning, as I’m generally useless at games, but I’m not sure how I’d fare in another round…!

Polly, Simon, Rachel and Me. 

After tea, Rachel and I went on to the Young Vic as we had tickets to see their production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters. What a disappointment! I was expecting something quite special, as had read some excellent reviews, and was still thrilling from having seen Hedda Gabler at the Old Vic (a truly fabulous production). Far from finding Benedict Andrew’s version of Three Sisters particularly radical or inspired, Rachel and I were simply bored stiff. Olga, Irina and Masha’s longing for Moscow paled against my desire to be out of the theatre. Indeed, I was only jerked out of my ennui-induced stupor when the people in front of us periodically leapt about 5 feet into the air, dramatically covering their ears whenever a large bell was rung onstage. Despite copious ‘shocking’ swear words strewn throughout the dialogue and a rather dreadful rendition of Nirvana’s Smells Like Teen Spirit, the play failed to grip.

Gala Gordon, Mariah Gale and Vanessa Kirby in Three Sisters, Young Vic, London. Image via here

Fortunately, although the production was a disappointment, the company certainly wasn’t, and Rachel and I still had a fun night out, although I hope our next theatre outing will be more successful!

All in all, it was a lovely weekend, and being in the company of such lovely bloggers has inspired me to do a bit better with my own blog. I’m currently ploughing my way through the PGCE course at Roehampton University and recently moved to Kingston so life has been a bit of a whirlwind lately, but I feel I could at least do better than a post every few months…!

And now I’m off to bake yet more brownies for my next set of visitors this weekend. Happy Thursday, everyone!

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Reading List

Portrait of a Young Woman Reading, Dean Cornwell (American, 1892-1960)

At the moment, I spend about 2 hours and 20 minutes a day commuting. The good thing about this daily journey is that I get to spend a lot of it reading. Here are some books that have captured my interest lately:

Recently finished: For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway

I so much enjoyed For Whom the Bell Tolls. I haven’t read any other books by Hemingway, but now realise I must. I was gripped from the start of the novel and found the expertly crafted build-up of  tension to the climactic ending almost unbearable. Hemingway, through use of incredible dialogue and powerful description, transported me to a country torn apart by the Spanish Civil War, to snowy mountains where an American Spanish professor turned dynamiter joins forces with Republican guerrillas to play out their own small act in the war against the fascists: that of blowing a bridge. As well as a brutal telling of the destruction and cruelty of war, For Whom the Bell Tolls is also a powerful love story, and the backdrop of war, chaos and inevitable tragedy lent even more poignancy to the not quite 3 days shared by Robert Jordan and Maria.

Many years ago, I saw the film of  For Whom the Bell Tolls,  starring Ingrid Bergman and Gary Cooper. I remember I very much enjoyed it, although can’t recollect any details so I shall have to watch it again soon.

Does anyone have any recommendations for which Hemingway to read next?

Currently reading: Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking by Susan Cain

I have almost finished Quiet and am finding it such a fascinating read. I believe introverts and extroverts alike would find much of interest in this book. As an introvert, I was intrigued to find the answers to so many questions that no doubt many other introverts find themselves asking, living as we do under the ‘extrovert ideal.’ For instance:  to what extent should you pretend extroversion, if at all?  How come extroverts get so panicked at the thought of time alone?  Why do introverts often get sick if they don’t get enough down time? Why are introverts better listeners, and, often, have a deeper connection with friends and family than extroverts? Why is it that I enjoy hosting parties, but sometimes have to force myself to go to other people’s? Why is public speaking often so hard for introverts? Is it ok to cancel a social engagement if you just don’t feel like it?

Susan Cain explores these questions and many others with authority and skill. The answers she proposes, backed up by convincing scientific evidence, are wonderfully thought-provoking. I found one simple difference between extroverts and introverts that she explains quite illuminating: extroverts gain their energy and inspiration from contact with other people; an introvert’s source of power is from within. In order to ‘recharge’ and tap into their rich inner life, introverts need to spend time alone, which explains why I feel so burnt-out if I get too crazy a social schedule.

As a tool for gaining further understanding of yourself, and your own strengths and limitations, whether as an introvert or an extrovert, this book is invaluable.

(If you’re not sure whether you’re an introvert or an extrovert, try this simple test.)

Dipping in and out: Occasions by Kate Spade

My Grandmother sent me this book (frankly I feel flattered that she thinks of me when she sees the name Kate Spade!). Occasions is a delightful guide to party giving and going, from what to wear, drink and eat, to how to decorate your home and the best party playlists. I’m enjoying it so much that I’ve ordered some second hand copies of Kate Spade’s other books: Manners and Style, which look equally entertaining.

Looking Forward to 2012

Rather than reflecting much on the past year, my mind is already reaching ahead, excited by the possibilities that 2012 holds. Here are a few things I plan to do in the coming months.

1. Complete unfinished projects and start some new ones. Last year, I concentrated on getting better at knitting (i.e. being able to knit at all). This year, I’d love to develop my embroidery skills.

2. Go to the theatre. I particularly want to see this and this. A real highlight of 2011 was seeing Richard III at the Old Vic – a truly fabulous production (if you are in New York, you have the chance to see it here from January 2012  – do go, Kevin Spacey’s performance is quite awe-inspiring).

3. Visit some new-to-me restaurants and cafes. Described as a ‘kind of Jewish deli with cocktails,’ Mishkin’s sounds like my kind of place. A Moroccan afternoon tea might be rather fun, and the cakes here and here certainly sound worth sampling.

4. Work my way through my TBR pile which includes: Bleak House (2012 marks the bicentenary of Dickens’ birth so I feel now is a good opportunity to read more of his novels); For Whom the Bell Tolls; Quiet: the Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking and Greenbanks. These should keep me going on my daily London overground commute to work.

David Hockney, 'Woldgate Woods, 21, 23 & 29 November 2006', 2006. Oil on 6 canvases. 182 x 366 cm. Courtesy of the Artist. © David Hockney. Photo credit: Richard Schmidt

5. See some art. I am particularly looking forward to the David Hockney exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts.

Well, it seems to me that if all goes to plan 2012 should be off to a pretty good start!