Monday, August 8, 2016

At the Altar: Matrimonial Tales

The title: At the Altar: Matrimonial Tales
The author: L.M. Montgomery
Publication: McClelland & Stewart, 1994
Got it from: NB, 1995

On days when I just want a feel-good, happy ending story, I re-read one of L.M. Montgomery's books and everything feels right again. They are my comfort stories, and I have loved rediscovering them after first reading them about twenty years ago.  Of course there's nothing I love more than a good romance and these 18 stories have them aplenty.  What I especially love about them is that most of the characters aren't the "romantic" sorts that the characters themselves dream of.  Often they are middle aged and practical, but Montgomery somehow manages to bring out their romantic sides.

Stories I particularly love in this anthology: "Jessamine": a woman languishing in the city is visited by a farmer who restores her soul by taking her out to see his farm.  He rescues her from having to move west by his proposal.  "Miss Cordelia's Accomodation": an old maid takes a group of factory children to the country for a holiday, and meets a rather accommodating farmer.  "A Dinner of Herbs": a 33-year-old woman who faces having to share a room with a stupid teenaged relative makes a desperate proposal to a reclusive neighbour to avoid having to marry an unpalatable widower.  "The Dissipation of Miss Ponsonby" (my favourite): a 35-year-old woman who was separated from the man she loved 15 years earlier by her father is aided in making a daring escape to a dance when he returns from the west, helped by two younger neighbours who give her a makeover. 

Of course some of these stories were better than others, but every single one was enjoyable.  What can I say about Montgomery's works that I haven't already?  I'll let the editor describe it herself from the afterward: "I read them year in and year out, again and again.  I never tired of their apparent simplicity, finding them more complex than they seemed, their emotions true and believable.  They were part of my innermost being.  But there weren't enough of them."

Monday, August 1, 2016

The Atlas of Lost Cities

The title: Atlas of Lost Cities
The author: Aude de Toqueville
Publication: Hachette, 2016
Got it from: The library

I love reading travel books, but not the normal kind, more like the kind about really weird places almost no one goes to or wants to go to.  It gives me a strange thrill, like when I'm alone in a deserted part of a museum looking at some forgotten display that suddenly transports me to another time and place.  In some ways this book reminds me of Unruly Places, a book I still like to think about from time to time.  The title of Atlas is misleading, because this book is not really an atlas, nor is it solely about cities, and they're not lost, except in the sense that they aren't what they once were (which, really, what place isn't?)

I read this book cover to cover, which is kind of a weird way to read it, since it's not very organized.  The sections are roughly based around continents, but they jump around in  time and place depending on the author's whim.  There's no rhyme or reason to the author's choices, and they're really just little snippets of the history of these places, not encyclopedia entries.  There's not even any real pictures, just drawings, which might disappoint some people but kind of reminded me of a charming Victorian travel guide.  If you're okay with the randomness of it all, you'll probably enjoy this book.  I learned quite a bit about places I knew nothing about, like the town in Pennsylvania that's been on fire since some fireworks were foolishly set off in the 1960s.  There's a lot of weird ghost towns in this book, like places that were built and expected to prosper but were never lived in and just abandoned.  There's also some underwater towns, although sadly no mention of the towns lost to the St. Lawrence seaway.  The author seemed to stick more to lesser-known places that spark the imagination rather than famous lost places, although Pompeii is in here (the only one of the "lost cities" I've actually been to.)