Sunday Bulletin – November 30


I had a great Thanksgiving with my family on Thursday. I hadn’t seen a few of my siblings (I have 5) for a couple of months so it was good to catch up with them and to spend time with my nieces and nephews. My mom asked me to bring a dessert so I made a pumpkin pie crumble (pictured above) that I saw on Miranda’s Notebook. I am not a fan of traditional pumpkin pie so this seemed a perfect alternative. It was a big hit with my family and I look forward to making it again soon.

A few weeks ago I chose to go on a social media fast. I’ve given up Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads and Instagram until the new year when I’ll reevaluate if and how I want to continue with these sites. The reasons I’ve chosen to avoid them for a while are complex, but it is mostly because they are a huge time suck and I was unhappy with the level of narcissism and attention seeking (mostly on Facebook and none of you, of course) that people just can’t help but exhibit on such a public forum. I do still have to go on Facebook occasionally as I help out with my library’s FB page and I have also logged on to Twitter and Instagram out of habit. But for the most part I’ve avoided them and I am somewhat surprised at how little I miss social media. I thought it would be supremely hard to stay away, but it has honestly been nice to keep to myself except for LibraryThing and blogging, which I seem to enjoy more now that I am off of social media. Funny.  How do you feel about social networking?

Books finished this week:

Bring Up the Bodies by Hilary Mantel – After my fourth try with this sequel to Wolf Hall, I almost thought that this book was just not meant to be for me. With a weary heart I considered giving my copy away to the library book sale, but reluctantly decided to give it another go before escorting it out of my house. And the fifth time was the charm. I finally got past the somewhat slow start and really fell into the story of Henry VIII’s desire to rid himself of La Ana and Thomas Cromwell’s efforts to make that happen. Once again, Mantel works her magic and makes this familiar story feel real and immediate, though we all know how it ends. I don’t think it was quite as cohesive as Wolf Hall – it stuttered several times and almost crumbled into implausibility at a few points, but the overall effect was stunning and left me wanting more of Thomas Cromwell. I shall look forward to the third and final installment in the series, which I’ve heard will be published in 2016.

I did break my Twitter fast yesterday to tweet about being on Simon’s ‘My Life in Books‘ series because it was so darn exciting. I enjoyed having to think about the books that have influenced my reading tastes over the years – after sending off the email I realized I have a slight fondness for over-the-top drama and stubborn female characters!

I was saddened to hear of the death of P.D. James. She was one of the first mystery authors that I loved and I’ve read many of her Adam Dalgliesh novels. My favorite of her novels, however, are her two Cordelia Gray mysteries, An Unsuitable Job for a Woman and The Skull Beneath the Skin. I’ve read both of them a few times and they are just astonishingly good. I highly recommend them.

On my next trip to England I want to go here.

Have a great Sunday!

Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel

I contemplated not writing a post about Wolf Hall because I liked it so much and found it so incredibly wonderful that I know I really can’t convey my admiration for it or communicate the sheer enjoyment I derived from this book. I’ve decided to share my thoughts anyway because part of the purpose of blogging is to spread the news about our favorite reads, right?

Wolf Hall is the story of Thomas Cromwell and his rise to power during the reign of Henry VIII.  Mantel’s Cromwell is charismatic, mysterious, brutish, surprisingly kind, intelligent, manipulative, and has a remarkable ability to see into the human heart. He’s an amazingly complex man and I marveled with each turn of the page as another facet of his character was revealed.

This book is all about character. Historical events are the prism through which we see the decisions and motivations of each major player but they seem fuzzy, a backdrop to a study of human behavior. If you are not a reader who enjoys dissecting the motivations of people or who constantly wonders why someone would make a certain decision or be attracted to a certain person, this book will probably drive you crazy. The plot is there for sure, chugging along, but the real focus is the people.

The characters are almost too human, just as changeable, frightening and maddening as people we know in real life. King Henry is like a child one day, the next a tyrant. Anne Boleyn (my unfortunate namesake) is vengeful, yet lives in fear and finds comfort in her association with the accommodating Cromwell. A majority of the characters operate out of fear; fear of dying, fear of disease,  fear of losing love or fear of losing their influence and power. Even Thomas More is portrayed as going to his death because of his fear of losing face if he signed the King’s Oath.

Because the narrative doesn’t undertake to explain the historical events at all, it is almost a requirement that the reader is somewhat knowledgeable about the period of English history it covers. You don’t have to know it in depth, however; a basic understanding of the events surrounding the divorce of Henry and Katherine of Aragon and Henry’s marriage and relationship to Anne Boleyn will suffice. There were many aspects of the story I had forgotten, but I remembered the gist of it once I started reading. Even if you don’t remember, you can always Google it.

I loved the glimpse Mantel gives into everyday life during the sixteenth century. The clothes, the food, the living arrangements, and even the interior design are all discussed and made part of the story, just as important to these people as they are to us. I think Mantel truly succeeded in bringing the period and the people so vibrantly to life that I was sad when the book ended right after Thomas More’s execution.

The book is written in the limited third-person point of view (I had to look that up) and it was off-putting the first few times I tried to read it, but you eventually get used to the style. Mantel’s writing is very descriptive, colorful and funny and the world she re-creates is so alive and believable that I feel I know what it was like to live in Cromwell’s household.

I didn’t want to like this book. It won the Man Booker Prize in 2009, the same year that The Little Stranger and The Children’s Book were shortlisted and I was peeved that it had taken the prize over those two splendid and treasured books. Now I see that it was entirely worthy of the honor and I am thrilled to bits that a second book in the Cromwell trilogy is coming in May. I have already pre-ordered it on Amazon and am hoping that Bring Up the Bodies will be as wonderful as Wolf Hall. I read an interview with Mantel where she explained that the new book will be shorter and intensely focused on the story of Anne Boleyn’s fall. I can’t wait to live in Cromwell’s household again.