Category Archives: Biographical

A Few Books I’ve Finished Reading, Gertruda’s Oath, Random Commentary, The Preacher

I enjoyed reading all these books.  A WWII biography, Dorothy Whipple’s Commentary, very interesting insight into the writer and a mystery set in Sweden.



Loving Frank, By Nancy Horan

Loving Frank is of course is about a love affair. An illicit  love affair between Frank Lloyd Wright and Mamah Borthwick.

I had no idea that Frank Lloyd Wright was such a bounder.  You see books of his architecture and visit his houses, you see interviews of him on TV and you haven’t a clue of what he was really like.  I think this book gives you some idea.  Frank Lloyd Wright was egotistical and self centered. But maybe those very traits produced his wonderful eye riveting architecture, but in human relationships led to a lot of broken hearts and grief.

Edward Cheney commissions Frank to build him a house in the Chicago suburbs.  Mamah, wife and mother of his two children, is somewhat bored with her life.  The youngest child who has done well for herself, who’s sister lives with them and has a housekeeper too, really does not have too much to do.  She is an intellectual and is interested in philosophies of the day, including Ellen Kaye the Swedish feminist.  Edward is good, loving and to her boring.

She starts an affair with Frank, eventually they both leave their respective partners under a great cloud of scandal in 1907-1914 era and cruise to Europe where they take up residency in Italy.  Here although a free thinking Mamah has to conform to Frank’s idea of the traditional wife, although not married, because Frank’s wife will not give him a divorce.  She must take second fiddle to his creative time and desire, he must shine, she must support him.

Eventually they go back to Frank’s hometown and he starts to build a beautiful house on the family property, Taliesen in Wisconsin.  He recruits local builders and artisans to carry out his every whim of creation.  It is a showpiece it is their house, it is beautiful.

It is at this time that Mamah starts to see Frank in his more narrow aspect of pettiness.  His buying of expensive furniture, when he hasn’t even paid the local lumber store, his workers, or the grocery bills.  Frank feels it is his unalienable right to be surrounded by beauty,even luxuriousness, never mind that the local carpenter is not paid.

Frank is away on other projects and all the trades people, and that is how Frank views them “Trades People”  not an artist, creative person that he is.  Mamah has to take things in hand and start the mundane every day life of paying these huge debts.  A new side of Frank is revealed to her.

She has left everything for Frank and is willing to make a go of it, especially since here children have now been allowed to visit her.  At this point a terrible tragedy happens.  All lives of the people involved are burnt up in fire, except for Frank, who seems to come through in an asbestos suite.  To live in the house of his creative dreams with a new love.

Read the book it’s quite riveting.


Passionate Nomad, The Life of Freya Stark, biography by Jane Fletcher Geniesse

Freya Stark a biography of her nomadic life.  As famous as Freya Stark was in her time and only having died in September 1993, I had never heard of her.  Maybe if I had been living in England at the time of her funeral which was attended by many titled people I might have caught a whiff of her name on the news.
She was known as a prolific travel writer traveling extensively in the Middle East, and having a complete command of many Arabic languages.  Lawrence of Arabia called her “a gallant creature.”  She was not afraid to travel with just a couple of local guides and ruff it.  Speaking freely with the local people and gaining their confidence.
Her reputation began in 1927 when she was captured by the French military police after penetrating the rebellious Druze.  She explored the mountainous area of the mysterious Assassins of Persia.  Followed the Frankincense route of early traders and found many areas of archaeological interest.  Including traveling in many places the name of which we are familiar with today because of the Iraqi War.
During WWII she was used extensively by the British military and diplomatic core, with an instinct for listening, gleaning information, plus her map making abilities and organizing skills.
Who was she?  Well her parents were English, but after her dominant mother divorced her father and aligned herself with an Italian count and a rug manufacturing venture. Her life drastically changed, shaping a lot of her emotional inner turmoils. Taken from a west country childhood of privilege to a small untutored life of poverty,  in northern Italy. This led to her receiving very little schooling and being brought up speaking English with an Italian accent, which was she felt a bane of her life.  Never quite being accepted in the circles to which she aspired and the background from which she really came from.
She did not extricate herself from her mother and the count until she was 34, but when she did break lose it was in a big way.  Traveling and writing and always falling in love with the wrong men.  Her career and travels spanned over 60 years, having published, 22 books of travels and poetic prose.  She was over 100 years old when she died.
A biography of a fascinating intrepid woman traveler of the  old school. I would recommend this book to read.
Also on the side line it touches on some interesting history of Iraq and what has led up to the problems there, along with the Palestinian problems of today.

The Blue Hour, A Life Jean Rhys, by Lillian Pizzichini

After a far too long hiatus I am back.  I’ll just say life.  It reminds me of a postcard I received as a child, from a dear older friend of the family who we always call auntie Gladys.  The postcard was from Wales and called the Ups and Downs.  Little caricature type people going up and down the mountains of Wales; which made me think of life, the ups and downs.  But I digress.
I have been reading, I never stop reading.  I rush into my local library and usually go no further than the newly published book section right at the front; which is were I picked up ‘The Blue Hour.’  I can’t say that I knew who Jean Rhys was until it mentioned in the fly leaf that she had written ‘Wide Sargasso Sea’, not that I knew what it was about but the title rang a bell.
I don’t know about you but I like to read biographies, and this one proved to be quite interesting, evoking a whole era.  Rhys was born in 1890 in the island of Dominica, I thought I knew all the Caribbean islands, but I kept thinking of the Dominican Republic; which I knew could not be right, so I looked it up on the map.  I have to visualize geographic place and time in history.  Rhys father was a Welsh physician and her mother of Creole-Scottish descent. 
Her childhood was isolated, living on a small island of lush green tropical foliage, humming background of insects and bursting strong colours.  At seventeen as was the done thing for families of her socio-economic background, she was sent to England for finishing-off, this would have been around 1907.  To a small girls boarding school in Cambridge.  Can you imagine the contrast.  I don’t think she ever felt warm again, cast across the Sargasso Sea to grey, rainy England.  She lasted about a year, flung herself into the London chorus line show girl and making money as an artists’ model. From where fate led her to married men and what they could give her.  Betrayed by love, she falls into marriage and life in the Paris of the 1920s.  Sinking deeper and deeper into her drinking and paranoia, burying one child and abandoning another, her therapy seems to be her writing.  Her life is written into a series of novels. It’s as if she can totally recall whole scenes and conversations that happened to her and put them right down in the sentences of a book
Rhys had two more failed marriages and an affair with Madox Ford; during this time she wrote five novels.  Her affair with Ford ended, but through him she was able to secure an introduction to his publisher in 1927.  Who published her first collection of short stories. The trajectory of her life rose and fell into obscurity, living in a boarding house in Cornwall.  Then in 1957 the BBC aired a presentation of her 1939 Novel, ‘Good Morning, Midnight.’  Most people had forgotten her and even wondered that she was alive.
In 1978 she received the CBE, a year before she died.  Rhys said that this had all come too late in her life.
Although she looked backed on her childhood with clouded, rose coloured glasses, you feel that it was her life here where the root was of her despair and aspirations, never fitting in, always on the periphery looking in. Just her heritage of knowing she was part Creole, gave her discomfort.  I think that this is hard to understand in Europe, but if one has ever been down to the southern states of the USA, you will have somewhat of an understanding of what even a taint of Creole means.  Even the definition of Creole is ambiguous, there are soo many definitions.  In Rhys’s case it was very distant, a great, great grandmother from Cuba on her mother’s Scottish side.  Take this along with the sugar plantations, slavery and superstitious customs, of black magic.  Along with black nanny’s who terrorized her with voodoo like haunting, and a long term abuse from an elderly man.  One might see why her life never came to be what she longed for.
It seemed she longed for money and the perceived security that money brings, along with love and being looked after, but always sabotaged it, by her shadier longings for all the things that would destroy that.  She never found the Lord to marry while working in the chorus line, although two of her chorus line companions did, both becoming Lady so-and so.  Her looks left her as she aged, but she still found two men to marry and put up with her extreme mood swings, bordering on manic.  Rhys was right the CBE came too late to make the difference she would have revelled in when younger.
‘Wide Sargasso Sea’ is based on Bertha Rochester’s life, of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte, fame.  In fact she had in mind to write this book for decades before she actually did.  Rhys knew what life was like being brought up on a Caribbean Island, visiting her grandfather’s sugar plantation, and she wove this into her story of how Bertha Rochester came to be locked up as a madwoman.
I do want to read some of her books.  But I feel that they will be dark.  The Blue Hour is well written.  The title refers to twilight time of day in Paris, that Rhys referred to and the French called L’heure Bleue or The Blue Hour

My 2009 Year End Reading Summary from Christy

  • How many books read in 2009? 24
  • How many fiction? 14
  • How many non-fiction? 10
  • How many biographical or auto-biographical? 8
  • How many travel books? 2
  • Female authors? 16
  • Male authors? 8
  • Most favourite? Someone at a Distance, by Dorothy Whipple
  • Least favourite? The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet, by Colleen McCullough
  • Any I simply couldn’t read all the way through? The Independence of Miss Mary Bennet. I was amazed that the writer of Thornbirds could write such a dreadful book.
  • Oldest book read? The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery
  • Newest book read? Persona non Grata, by Ruth Downie
  • Longest read? The Lost, A search for six of six million, by Daniel Mendelsohn
  • Shortest read? The Blue Castle, by L.M. Montgomery
  • How may books from the library? 18
  • Translated books? 3
  • Most read author of the year? Dorothy Whipple
  • How many by that author? 3
  • Any re-reads? No
  • Favourite character? Charlotte Gray
  • How many countries were visited, through the read page? Australia, USA, Canada, Russia, Poland, Germany, Monrovia, France, United Kingdom, Rhodesia (Zimbabwe), Kenya, South Africa, Botswana
  • Which books would you not have read without a recommendation? The Memory Keeper’s Daughter, Someone at a Distance, Mrs Pettigrew Lives for a Day, Little Boy Lost, Facing the Lion.
  • Which author was new to me, and I want to read all that author’s works? Dorothy Whipple
  • Read any books I always meant to read? The Blue Castle, L.M. Montgomery
  • Any books I’m annoyed I didn’t read? The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

I have never kept a statistical record of the books I have read. And I don’t think this was my best year for reading books. I averaged two books per month. I think I’m going to try for three books per month next year. But I read for the love of it, so what takes my fancy or comes to my attention, will be read.

I seem to especially like books fiction or biographical, that are set in the first or second world war time period, but I’m not stuck there.

I have sorely neglected our library, book reading club and every time I run into someone they say “when are you coming back?” Just life gets in the way. So will work harder to keep up and participate in that.

Reading, what a joy, what a transportation, through time and distance from ones own fireside.

Well signing off from my American fireside reading.


P.S. Found this meme on Paperback Reader