Patricia Wentworth’s “The Chinese Shawl” & Hooked on Booktube’s #Victobia

I absolutely love Patricia Wentworth’s Miss Silver mystery series.  Years ago when I took the train from Chicago to New York (you can imagine the length of the journey), I escaped into these well-written mysteries with great pleasure.

If you’re a fan of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple, you’ll like Miss Silver:  I actually prefer her.  That’s because Wentworth is a deeper writer than Christie. ( Well, I think it’s true, even if you don’t agree.)   For those who don’t know Wentworth’s work, Miss Silver is an ex-governess turned private investigator.  Like Miss Marple, she is always knitting, and seems so innocuous that people trust her.

I recently whiled away a rainy day with The Chinese Shawl, the fifth book in the Miss Silver series, published in 1943.  The best thing about it? It is more than a mystery.  In the first 100 pages (the murder doesn’t take place till page 106), she fascinatingly portrays a group of socialites dominated by a beautiful, cruel actress, Tanis Fane.  Tanis is a man-eater who steals other women’s men,  and then  rejects them.  Yes, she’s a stereotype, but we’ve all known the type.

A young man tries to explain Tanis’ character to her country cousin, Laura, who has just turned 21 and come up to London.  Tanis, whom Laura has never met,  has invited her to a party.

“You just wait.  She specializes in other girls’ boyfriends.”

“It sounds revolting.”

“Not a bit of it–it’s all done with kindness.  I’ve watched her at it for years.  She’s kind to the girl, and she’s kind to the chap, and she goes on being kind to him till the girl gets crowded out, and then after a bit she gets bored and he gets crowded out too.  She doesn’t want any of them for keeps, you know.  She just wants half a dozen of them trailing round, licking her boots and paying for taxis, and ready to cut each others’ throats.  She enjoys that part a lot.”

As you can imagine, Laura is an innocent.   She finds Tanis glamorous.  At the party, one of Tanis’s ex-boyfriends, Carey Desborough, falls in love with Laura at first sight.   But when Tanis sees he wants Laura, she isn’t inclined to let him go.  And things become more complicated when Laura and the others are invited to a house party at The Priory, the Fane family estate, which Laura recently inherited.   Agnes has rented it for years and wants to buy it.  But does Laura want to sell?

From the beginning you know Tanis will be murdered.  It’s that kind of book.  But she has so many enemies.  They’re all suspects, as you can imagine, and Miss Silver figures it out by reading character as well as the clues.  The police officer is one of her ex-charges!

Completely absorbing!  and there are 32 of them in the series.

NOT LONG AGO I WROTE ABOUT HOW SILLY I FIND BOOKTUBE.  Well, you will be happy to know that I  found one channel I like,  Books and Things by Katie Lumsden.   And I very much enjoyed her video on “Underrated Victorian Authors,” in which she talks about some of my favorites, like George Gissing and Margaret Oliphant, as well as two I haven’t read, Geraldine Jewsbury and Amy Elizabeth Dilwyn.

In general, I do find Booktube trite, but her “vlog” is enthusiastic and smart.

And do let me know if there are other good Booktube channels, because I have otherwise struck out!

Bibliobits: Book Clubs & BookTube

I’m not unsociable. I am chatty.  Sure, I’m a bit prim.   My idea of fun is going to the library, or reading Juvenal in Latin with my husband at Cafe Diem, a coffeehouse in Ames.

I do think my diversions are comical.  Who in this day and age has a Latin club?

And I belong to many other book clubs, too, because I’m kind of geeky.

My “real-life” book club is currently reading Olive Higgins Prouty’s Now, Voyager (in the Femmes Fatales series at the Feminist Press).

I also love online book groups, and have read dozens (literally) of Trollope’s books for groups.  But for the next few months, many excellent groups are reading books I’ve already read.  For instance,

  1. Ellen Moody’s Trollope19thCStudies group at Yahoo Groups is reading Anna Karenina.  I love this brilliant novel, but have already reread it this year, and  have posted about it at this blog seven times.
  2. The Inimitable-Boz group at Yahoo Groups is reading Bleak House, my favorite Dickens novel, which I  have read at least seven times.
  3. The European Literature in Translation group at Goodreads recently read Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualites, Vol. 1 and Vol. 2.  Unfortunately, I joined too late.  They are currently reading Balzac’s Grand Illusions, which I have read three times and blogged about once.  And in October they’re reading Celine’s Journey into Night, which I’ve also read.
  4. Blogger readalongs are problematic for me, because so often they discuss books I’ve already read.  Several bloggers read Galsworthy’s The Forsyte Saga, all three trilogies, a few years ago.  It’s not that I’m not crazy about Galsworthy, but I’ve read the saga three times.
  5. I do participate in Women in Translation Month (August), an annual event celebrated by booksellers, librarians, reviewers, publishers, bloggers, and journalists.  Only 30% of new books in English translation are by women.  And so we try to read women writers.

I wish I’d read this with the group!

But I may participate in Emily Asher-Perrin’s  Dune reread at Tor (the science fiction site).  I reread Dune last year (a  classic), and the group is now on the third book, Children of Dune.

Please let me know of other good online book groups.  The ones I mentioned are excellent.

Is BookTube the Next Worst Thing?

The very good blogger, I Prefer Reading, mentioned BookTube before  she went on break last spring.

Well, I love I Prefer Reading, but BookTube is not for me. I  couldn’t find anything!   My heart sank as I watched monotonous videos that make PBS look like action films.  BookTube is like very, very bad TV.  The “vloggers” ramble, there is often no script, and obviously no editing.  It’s Narcissist City!

The sincerity is evident, but the segments are too long:   eight to twelve minutes of  babbling. My advice: Cut the first three or four minutes and get straight to the books.  And, if you’re chatting about seven books (and seven is the magic number in “vlogs” about “Favorite Books of the Year So Far”),  limit the chat to 30 seconds per book.  Let your model be the PBS “Summer Reading” interview with writers and bookstore owners Louise Erdrich and Emma Straub, who recommend 19 books in eight minutes.  Sure, Jeffrey Brown asks a few questions, but both these writers are very well prepared.

Louise Erdrich at her bookstore, Birchbark Books.

Here’s an excerpt from the superb PBS transcript of this superb video, which you can watch here:

LOUISE ERDRICH:  I don’t think people usually take poetry to the beach to read, but this book has been sold by its cover for quite some time.

JEFFREY BROWN: And we should say, it’s called “When My Brother Was an Aztec,” right, by Natalie Diaz.


Natalie Diaz is a powerhouse of a writer. And this book is a wild ride. It has headlong rushes of ecstatic, beautiful language, small details about life on Mojave Reservation. Natalie Diaz is Mojave.

And this is set in Arizona mainly, but it’s also, of course, set in her heart and her head. And there’s a sensibility that is so dark, but so funny. It’s just such a rich, compelling piece of literature. You know, it’s just the kind of book that you want to live with each poem for a while.

I’ve got it on reserve at the library.