April 17th, 2014
This book, whose subtitle is “Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century,” is refreshingly queer-friendly, kink-friendly, poly-friendly, and body-positive. I’m skeptical about some of the concepts Carrellas presents, but that didn’t really keep me from enjoying the book. Take chakras: I can see the usefulness of them as metaphor/visualization technique, but I’m less convinced about things like blockages of energy in particular chakras as a literal thing—like, if you’re feeling stuck, I can see that it may be extremely useful to think of your stuckness as having a place in your body, and then to visualize your energy moving through that place and getting things unstuck, and I can believe in the efficacy of that kind of visualization, but that’s different from thinking my energy is actually stuck in my throat chakra, or wherever. But, right, I can get behind other things in the book, like this, from a section called “Why Ecstasy is Necessary”:
Ecstasy (also referred to as bliss or ecstatic bliss) is a peak experience. Peak experiences expand our possibilities. They give us permission to reach higher and receive more. (17)
Carrellas takes her readers through the basics of tantra, followed by “tantra for one,” “tantra for two,” “tantra for the adventurous” (this includes group experiences and kink), and “tantra: the next dimension,” which is about what Carrellas calls “sex magic.” Interspersed with tantric exercises that include breathing, movement, and massage are Carrellas’s stories of her own experiences of ecstatic bliss, which are pretty great.
I think the best thing about this book, for me, was the way it made me think more about things I’d maybe thought about before but hadn’t fully articulated. Like: ecstasy as involving a sensation of timelessness, of the present as the only moment; ecstasy as often involving a moment when we feel that “boundaries dissolve” and being “deeply in ourselves and aware and simultaneously outside ourselves and not ourselves” (18). Or the idea that when we match our breath to someone else’s, we “begin to be able to read each other’s bodies” (25). Or the idea of what Carrellas calls the “Resilient Edge of Resistance,” which reminds me of what I think of as “the edge of too much”: as Carrellas puts it:
When pressure is applied to the edge of resistance—whether that pressure is breath, touch, or tension—you expand a bit. This creates a new edge of resistance. Yoga postures are a good example of this. If you are seated on the floor and bend over to try to touch your forehead to your legs, it may at first seem impossible. Then, with each breath, you relax into the stretch a bit more. You don’t force it, you just open up a bit more with each breath.
[…] By staying at the Resilient Edge of Resistance, you are able to go much deeper into the pose than if you had not gone to the edge, or if you had pushed past the edge into pain. The Resilient Edge of Resistance is the place where you feel safe enough to surrender and go deeper. (61)
A number of images and moments recur in more than one of the twelve chapters that make up this memoir: a film with a scene in which an actress wears yellow stockings, snowflakes on the collar of a violet coat, a tube of red lipstick found in a different coat pocket, a bathroom with a skylight over the tub, an apartment with layers of paint that the author idly picked off. That last image, peeling off chips of paint with a fingernail, getting to what’s underneath, and underneath that, and underneath that, seems tied to what this book is doing more generally: looking at the past, and also looking at what’s under the surface of things. Zarin’s writing, which is graceful, full of commas and long sentences, captures a lot of things extremely well: New York moments (mostly from decades ago: apartments and tailors and furriers and restaurants), scenes from travel (including a trip to a coastal town in Italy and trips to Cape Cod), and (maybe best of all) the way life unfurls, the way we move through it knowing some things about ourselves or where we’re going and missing or misjudging others, and the way we reflect on it all. In the book’s first chapter, Zarin writes: “When we first acquire what will become our memories, we do not recognize them or know how and when we will go back to them or what they will mean” (17). Zarin’s tone reminds me, sometimes, of André Aciman, another writer who I think is brilliant at this kind of exploration of the paths that take us to where we end up, and who I think has a similar way of drawing the reader’s attention to the sameness/difference of a person over time: the writing self, the past self.
Some sentences I really liked:
Each evening as dusk inked in first the lintels of the doorways and then the alleyways between the buildings, the fountain was circled by swallows, who rose like smoke signals over the jet of water that arced from the dragon’s mouth: a dragon who put out his own fire. (28)
I found myself thinking, wildly, for a moment, that we could not get home because we were stuck in time—there was no way to get from the cool glade of that pool, and the waiter and the silver domes, and the toothpicks, to the next place we were meant to be, meeting her brother at a pizza place, in West Harlem, where we live. (123)
A number of years before, a writer affiliated with the magazine had made his way without touching the sidewalk from the office to the Chrysler Building, six blocks away, through a series of catwalks, overpasses, and tunnels: in the lore of the magazine this was viewed as an enviable, even emblematic, achievement, as then a reigning idea behind the magazine itself, implicit in its character, which reflected the life of its editor, was the primacy of secret routes and the power of the inner life, which was viewed as an Escher landscape, with stairways that went nowhere, punctuated by moments of transcendence in which life, usually opaque, opened by means of a hidden switch. (172-173)
And I thought of the story I had read so long ago, in which the story the characters were reading was the story they had asked for, scribbling themselves into a book that they read aloud to themselves as it happened. (219)
April 8th, 2014
I read Relish in the middle of a week-long vacation that started with amazing food in New Orleans (still-warm house-made potato chips! fried oyster slider! maple sriracha donut with candied thyme! lamb neck and beet green curry! condensed-milk cake with chicory ice cream and Meyer lemon sauce!) and proceeded to less-than-amazing food on Grand Cayman (with the exception of an Australian-fusion restaurant where I had a perfect Aussie-style burger, complete with beet, pineapple, bacon, cheese, and fried egg). We didn’t have a kitchen in New Orleans and only had a microwave and toaster in Grand Cayman: it was a week in which I ate every meal out and sometimes (particularly toward the end of it) thought longingly about my kitchen at home, although to be honest, before vacation I’d been spending more time climbing at Brooklyn Boulders (and going out to eat afterwards) than I had grocery shopping and cooking.
Relish is a memoir in comic-strip form, with recipes, though the recipes weren’t the main draw for me. Which isn’t to say there aren’t some delicious-sounding recipes in this book, but many of them felt not quite right for my kitchen. The marinated lamb looks amazing, but a five-pound cut of lamb is definitely a meal for more people than I cook for; I love huevos rancheros but they seem pretty labor-intensive for a meal that doesn’t produce leftovers; sweet-potato sushi is great, but I’m pretty sure the cheap sushi place around the block does it better than I could. I don’t really need recipes for mushrooms sauteed in butter and oil, or pesto, or pickles; I don’t see myself making sangria, or vegan shepherd’s pie (I don’t like seitan, or margarine, for that matter). Which leaves me with three recipes I wanted to make: chai, chocolate chip cookies with coconut flakes, and spaghetti carbonara.
I made the cookies first, and found myself wondering about a lot of things as I went. Salted butter, or unsalted? Light brown sugar, or dark brown sugar? Sweetened, moistened coconut flakes, or the organic unsweetened kind, which aren’t moistened? “Drop onto an ungreased baking pan” – by the what? Tablespoon? Heaping, or not? How far apart should I put them? How many cookies is this recipe meant to make? (I ended up with 52!) Having made cookies before, I made educated guesses, and the cookies turned out delicious (maybe it’s a very forgiving recipe) and I’m very much in favor of cookie recipes that use melted butter/don’t assume you have an electric mixer, but if I were totally new to baking, this wouldn’t be the recipe I’d want to start with. Next came the spaghetti carbonara: this recipe, too, was not as clear as I would have liked (what heat am I cooking things over? how long does it take pancetta to cook?), but it was amazing comfort food: salty and cheesy and hearty. I haven’t made the chai yet, but I will, and I’m excited to have chai concentrate with anise and cinnamon and cardamom and cloves in my fridge waiting to be heated up.
But, like I said, the recipes weren’t even why I wanted to read this book. Knisley clearly knows and loves food, and her food-related stories from her childhood and young adulthood were what I was most interested in. Knisley writes about how food memories are her most vivid, and she writes about some of them evocatively. “I can remember exactly the look and taste of a precious honey stick, balanced between my berry-stained fingers,” she writes, near the start of the book, and I thought about summer warmth and honey sweetness and the way the plastic straw of a honey stick feels between your teeth. Knisley spent her early childhood in New York City and writes about a Tribeca that’s long vanished, and also writes about the Hudson Valley (where she moved with her mom when she was seven) and Chicago (where she went to school), with chapters about trips to Mexico, Japan, and Italy, too. She writes about how her chef mother made crème brûlée for her school birthday when she was seven, and about milking goats and starting to like the country after initially hating it, and about eating corn on a stick with lime and hot sauce in Mexico, and about the apricot-jam-filled croissants she ate in Venice, but couldn’t recreate at home. Possibly my favorite part of the book isn’t really about food, though it’s a story that happened because Knisley was working for her mom’s catering company: before she left for art school, Knisley helped out at the DIA Beacon preopening reception, and had a chance to be alone with the big Richard Serra sculptures, whose size and presence she captures well in one full page panel and two half-page panels.
I like the stories, and I like Knisley’s drawing style, particularly in the chapter on Japan (which is looser than the rectangular grid of much of the book, and has some great images, like a cluster of “jewel-color umbrellas”) and when she’s drawing places (her uncle’s store in Tribeca, DIA Beacon, San Miguel de Allende seen from above, the kitchens at Alinea). The episodic structure of the book meant that some chapters felt a lot stronger than others, or maybe I just like reading about travel more than I like reading about cheese. Another problem: when Knisley tries to speak broadly rather than strictly personally (e.g. about junk food and the possible place it has in all our lives, as opposed to just the place it has/has had in her life) she sometimes comes off as preachy or overreaching (like: “Most of us seem to have problems with moderation, but junk food shouldn’t be written off entirely!” – above a drawing of angry overweight people shouting “It’s all McDonald’s fault!”), Still, I enjoyed Relish, for Knisley’s stories about food, and for the way the book made me want to engage with my kitchen again.
April 7th, 2014
Three Parts Dead is set in a world where gods exist, and where the power of a god can power a city. That’s literal in the case of Alt Coulumb, where the power of the fire-god Kos fuels the steam furnaces that heat the city and make its trains run. In this world, gods gain power by making contracts: they get power from worship, and lend that power to others with the proviso that it will be repaid, with interest. But gods aren’t immortal: if they make contracts they can’t support, their power can be sapped, and they can die. Which seems, at the start of the book, to be what has happened to Kos, whose Everburning flame has disappeared from his altar during the watch of a young monk named Abelard.
When a god dies, in this world, things don’t just stop running all at once. Contracts come due at the new moon, but Kos’s church has until then to try to sort things out. Which they do by calling in Elayne Kevarian, a partner at a renowned Craft firm, which is like contract law + magic. Elayne arrives in Alt Coulumb with her new associate, Tara Abernathy, a recent graduate who was literally thrown out of school, but who impressed Kevarian with her nerve first.
So: Elayne and Tara have to figure out why Kos died—whether it was from negligence on his part/the part of his church, or whether it was something else. Meanwhile, a judge is murdered, and a gargoyle is the prime suspect: the gargoyles were guardians of the dead goddess Seril, former lover of Kos, and were banished from the city after her death: is the judge’s death related to the god’s death, and, if so, how?
There’s a whole lot going on in this book: I’ve failed to mention Abelard’s friend Cat, who’s a junkie for getting her blood sucked by vampires. And I’ve failed to mention Justice, the successor to the dead goddess Seril, or her police force, the Blacksuits, of whom Cat is one. I’ve failed to mention Tara and Elayne’s antagonist, the counsel for Kos’s creditors, who’s also a professor and the reason Tara was thrown out of school. But somehow it’s not too much: the plot and the world-building of this book were really satisfying, as were the characters: I like Tara and her intelligence and determination, and Abelard and his crisis of faith.
The writing was mostly serviceable, with bits I found overwritten or awkward and bits I found totally great. I could have done without bits like this:
It was too nice a morning for Al Cabot to die. The storm had passed in the night, leaving shredded clouds to catch red fire as the sun swelled on the horizon. (21)
Elayne Kevarian meditated on the rooftop of the Sanctum of Kos as the sun declined behind its mask of thick clouds. Before her and beneath her, Alt Coulumb hungered for the coming night. (87)
but I’m all over this:
Dancers in second-story windows shook their hips in time with music barely audible above the crowd’s din. An ermine-robed man vomited in a gutter while his friends laughed; a candy seller blew tiny elegant animals out of molten sugar and breathed a touch of Craft into them so they glowed from inside out. (117)
It’s been a week since I finished this book, and it was a vacation read for me—I started it at home in New York, continued it in New Orleans, and finished it on Grand Cayman, on a balcony with a view of the beach and the waves of the Caribbean, so I’m probably not doing it justice. Ah well: I liked it enough that I’m planning on reading the next book in the series, even though it apparently doesn’t center on Tara (which is too bad, ’cause I liked her lots).
March 25th, 2014
I like the humor and matter-of-fact tone of a lot of the sixty-five poems in this book, like the great simile below, which comes from “How we came to live where we live”:
as when you stand before a painting
in a museum for as long as you hope
says something good about you, even
when you’re not sure what that good thing is,
that you’re considerate of red or appreciate
the historical significance of the brocade
or know that the woman in the foreground
holding the scythe was the painter’s lover
Many of these poems are elegies, or include death in various forms, but never in ways that feel heavy-handed, and often in ways that are surprisingly lovely: in “Excerpts from mourning,” the speaker talks about
Carrying ash of you to the Atlantic
(Kittery), bonebits to the Pacific (Point Lobos), giving you
to seals and otters and pollution, to waves and forgetting
Other highlights for me were Pilgrimage (that last stanza especially), Desire, and Equine Aubade. I was less fond of the poems where sound and rhyme are more prominent, like “Owe is to ode as whatever is to I don’t know,” with rhymes like “I owe the crow, I know” and “When I’m dead, I want my head/to be ashtray/in a bus station, tagged/at will by slugs and mugs,” but when Hicok is writing more prosily, while still playing with poetic form, he’s great, like in this bit from “The days are getting longer”:
[…] it’s hard
to help the dead be dead
before they are. Mourning
doves, cardinals, chickadees
strip the cupboard bare
in a matter of hours,
Witch Week by Diana Wynne Jones
in The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume II
Eos (HarperCollins), 2007 (originally 2001)
March 22nd, 2014
Witch Week was published in 1982 and is therefore the third, in publication order, of the Chrestomanci books, but it’s the fourth one presented in the two volume set of The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, and that set determined my reading order of the books. Actually, you could read Witch Week on its own, but it worked for me as the fourth book: Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant both feature Christopher Chant and Chrestomanci Castle; The Magicians of Caprona is set in the same world but in Italy, and Christopher Chant (as Chrestomanci) appears, but only briefly; Witch Week is set in a different world, but Christopher Chant/Chrestomanci appears again, more solidly and satisfyingly.
So: the story: it’s set in a world very much like ours in the early ’80s, except that witches exist, and witchcraft is illegal: witches are burned at the stake. The book’s action takes place at and around Larwood House, an English “boarding school run by the government for witch-orphans and children with other problems” (280). At the start of the book, one of the teachers discovers an anonymous note saying that someone in class 6B is a witch: as the story proceeds and magic starts happening, it becomes apparent that 6B may actually have more than one witch: but who?
One of the strengths of this book, for me, was how well it works both as a boarding-school story and as a story about magic: things both ordinary and magical are wonderfully described. There’s a wide cast of characters, a number of whose perspectives we get to see through excerpts of the journal entries they have to write for school, and the descriptions of bullying, social structures/class hierarchies (e.g. how the less popular kids take it out on the even more unpopular kids), and the everyday difficulties of school life, from minor injustices to PE class, are captured well. The descriptions of PE class are especially great, from one character’s inability to climb the rope (“She had been born without the proper muscles or something”) to a great scene about the boys’ PE class/running:
They were divided into little groups of laboring legs. The quick group of legs in front, with muscles, belonged to Simon Silverson and his friends, and to Brian Wentworth. […] The group of legs behind these were paler and moved without enthusiasm. These belonged to Dan Smith and his friends. All of them could have run at least as fast as Simon Silverson, but they were saving themselves for better things. […] Behind these again labored an assorted group of legs: mauve legs, fat legs, bright white legs, legs with no muscles at all, and the great brown legs of Nirupam Singh, which seemed too heavy for the rest of Nirupam’s skinny body to lift. Everyone in this group was too breathless to talk. Their faces wore assorted expressions of woe. (298)
And oh, the magic! There’s magic with birds streaming into a classroom, and magic with all the shoes in the school ending up in the great hall overnight, and magic where everything a student says comes true (which leads to some particularly hilarious/distressing moments).
But amidst all the humor, there’s worry and danger, too: will an inquisitor come to the school, and will someone be arrested and killed? That, not surprisingly, is where the enchanter Chrestomanci, summoned from his own world to this one, comes in. He’s vague and elegant and hilarious and stern and really just perfect, as he was in Charmed Life, and of course he manages to help the protagonists figure out how to put things right.
The Magicians of Caprona by Diana Wynne Jones
Beech Tree Books (William Morrow & Co.), 1999 (Originally Macmillan, 1980)
March 18th, 2014
This book is set in the same world as Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant, except instead of taking place in a magical version of England, it’s in a magical version of Italy. Caprona, where the action takes place, is known for the quality of the magic spells it produces and sells. The best spells from Caprona come from two eminent families, Casa Montana and Casa Petrocchi: the two houses are equally talented at magic and equally full of antipathy towards one another: they’ve been feuding for two hundred years. The story centers mostly on Tonino, the youngest Montana boy, who is slow at learning spells/doesn’t think of himself as very magically talented, though he does effortlessly communicate with cats. He’s not too fond of school, either, though he does love to read: amusingly, he is a fan of “fantasy,” which, in a magical world, consists of books where the protagonists have “wild adventures with no magic to help or hinder them” (28).
Meanwhile, all is not well in Caprona: the Old Bridge, which is protected partly by magic, has been damaged by winter floods, and the Duke of Caprona (in this world, Italy isn’t unified) fears that the neighboring areas of Florence, Pisa, and Siena, which have united against Caprona, are paying an enchanter to harm the town. The Montanas and Petrocchis have to work together to mend the bridge, and the Duke also tasks them with finding the true words to the town’s anthem, the Angel of Caprona, which is said to have been delivered by a divine messenger to save the town from an enemy in a troubled time in its past, and should therefore help the situation now, too.
In the midst of all this, Tonino gets an unexpected package, which turns out to be a book, which he reads cover to cover as soon as he has the chance. (He keeps getting interrupted just when he’s about to start, and there’s a great moment when he starts “to think he would die of book-frustration,” which made me giggle. (81)) But the day he finishes the book, he goes missing, and it becomes clear that the book has something to do with his disappearance. His family thinks the Petrocchis have kidnapped him, but at the same time, Angelica, the youngest Petrocchi daughter, has gone missing as well. There’s a great magical fight between the two families, complete with a duel between Tonino’s father and Angelica’s father; meanwhile, elsewhere, Angelica and Tonino find themselves trapped together, and have to get past their distrust of one another and use their wits and their magic (though Angelica has trouble with spells, too—hers always turn out differently than she intended them to) to escape, with some help from sources both expected and not.
I felt like this book got off to a slow start, particularly because it felt like there wasn’t enough magic in the beginning, but once the plot picked up I was totally delighted by it. I like Tonino lots, and his siblings and cousins and aunts, and their bustling household. The magic in this book centers around spells that are sung—the words and the tune both have to be right—and I loved how vivid the description of the fight between the two families was, with the family members of each house making music together to make things rain from the sky, or to protect themselves from the other family’s spells.
The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, Volume 1, by Diana Wynne Jones
Eos (HarperCollins), 2007 (originally 2001)
March 11th, 2014
This volume contains two separate books, Charmed Life, which I read multiple times as a kid, and The Lives of Christopher Chant, which I read for the first time about six years ago. Last month, I was at an amazing used book sale in my neighborhood and found a copy of another book in the same series, which prompted me to re-read these.
Both Charmed Life and The Lives of Christopher Chant are set in the world “next door to us,” where “magic is as common as music is with us.” Charmed Life is the story of Eric (Cat) Chant and his older sister Gwendolen, who are orphaned when their parents drown. Cat can’t do magic at all; Gwendolen is a witch who wants to rule the world. Eventually the two are sent to live at Chrestomanci Castle—Chrestomanci, a nine-lived enchanter who’s in charge of making sure magic isn’t misused, is a cousin of their parents, and has other reasons besides for wanting Cat and Gwendolen nearby. The book is a pleasing mix of family/schoolroom drama and magical excitement/intrigue, with Gwendolen clashing with Chrestomanci’s kids, Julia and Roger, and pushing Cat around, and getting involved in a very grown-up plot to open up the gates to other worlds, and eventually running off to another world, which then drags Janet, her double in the next world over, to Chrestomanci Castle to take her place. I love the humor of passages like this:
“Someone’s been opening my letters,” said Gwendolen. “And I don’t care who it is, but I’m not having it! Do you hear?”
Cat gasped at the way she spoke. Chrestomanci seemed perplexed. “How are you not having it?” he said.
“I won’t put up with it!” Gwendolen shouted at him. “In future, my letters are going to come to me closed!”
“You mean you want me to steam them open and stick them down afterward?” Chrestomanci asked doubtfully. “It’s more trouble, but I’ll do that if it makes you happier.” (85-86)
There are lots of other great bits, too: the kids playing toy soldiers and making the soldiers move by magic, and Janet failing miserably at history lessons because she’s from a different world where history went differently, and a talking dragon who’s very proud of himself, and a very exciting magical battle where Cat finally comes into his own.
The Lives of Christopher Chant takes place more than twenty-five years earlier, and is about the childhood of the man who has grown up to become Chrestomanci in Charmed Life. Christopher Chant lives in London with his parents, whose relationship with each other is so strained they only speak through the servants. Christopher has dreams, at night, of places he thinks of as the Anywheres—when he tells his uncle Ralph about these dreams, his uncle knows that the boy is able to travel to other worlds, and has him meet up with Tacroy, another spirit-traveller. Without fully realizing or examining what he’s doing, Christopher helps Tacroy and his uncle smuggle dragons’ blood and other dangerous magical things back from other worlds. There are a number of excellent subplots, including one with a child-Goddess in a temple full of cats, another with Christopher being sent to school, and another with Christopher finally learning magic, including a great scene where he accidentally levitates everything in an entire house. And then there are those lives of the title: Christopher has nine of them, and is eventually sent to Chrestomanci Castle because he will be the next Chrestomanci someday. When the current Chrestomanci is temporarily out of commission, Christopher ends up taking charge, and realizing just how well suited to being Chrestomanci he is.
One of the great things about both books is the way that, in both, the young protagonists learn about themselves and about other people, and about things like trustworthiness and deceit, in ways that feel gradual and true to growing up, interesting rather than preachy.
March 3rd, 2014
In this mystery, set in London in 1875, Charles Lenox, member of Parliament, is yet again drawn back to detective work: at the start of the book his former protégé, Lord Dallington, asks him to go to a meeting with a potential client in his stead. (Dallington is too ill to go himself, and the client contacted him via an anonymous letter, so he can’t reschedule.) Lenox of course agrees, and of course ends up involved in the whole case, which at first looks only to be blackmail, but soon turns more sinister. The pleasure of this series, for me, lies more in the setting and the characters than in the plot of any given crime: I like Lenox and his circle, and how solid the bonds of love and friendship and loyalty between them are, and I like the descriptions of London and its streets and houses and weather and light. In this book, I was really pleased by this pair of descriptions, the first of a morning and the second of an evening:
It was a crisp, white-skied spring morning, with a firm breeze minutely rearranging the world every few seconds as it gusted, a collar flicked up before it settled again, weak new petals scattered from their branches into the streets. (19)
Jenkins lit his pipe; the smell of fire and tobacco made the room feel closer, a small lamplit vessel afloat in the great unending gray of the day’s weather. (252)
February 26th, 2014
The Daylight Gate, which uses the basic circumstances of a 1612 witch trial in Lancashire as its starting point (“but with necessary speculations and inventions,” as Winterson puts it in the introduction) is much more bleak and gruesome than I tend to like my fiction. There are rapes; there is torture; there is a severed head dug up from a grave, and a tongue bitten out of someone’s mouth. Though there are some supernatural moments, the horror in this book is pretty solidly of the human variety: the poor and powerless “intoxicating themselves with the thought of power,” and those in power using it to persecute others (35). What beauty and hope exists is mostly of the human variety, too: love, and choice, and connection, and loyalty. “I think we are worlds compressed into human form,” the protagonist says at one point (72). Another character thinks about how “at every moment the chances change”—how life is a series of “ifs” that could have gone differently, that could go differently until they don’t (168). There are questions of fate and choice, images of people as being trapped in a set of circumstances, or not, and I think those were the bits of this book I liked best.
Meanwhile, because it is too pleasing not to share, here is a description of London from this book: oh man I love list-paragraphs like this:
Stables, kennels, breweries, carpenters’ shops, pudding dens, low-roofed sheds where they sewed jerkins or rolled candles. Inns, taverns, bakers, cook shops, men and women smoking clay pipes carrying fish baskets on their heads. Dogs running in and out of the cartwheels, a parrot on a perch, a women selling bolts of cloth from a cart. A tinker with pots and pans hung round his thin body. A fiddler playing a melody. A sheep on a rope, the smell of mutton flesh cooking, the smell of iron being heated till it glowed. A little boy with bare feet, a girl carrying a baby, two soldiers, ragged and thin. (177-178)