Granny's Good Reads 

Sonia Lee is one of our most treasured customers and a voracious reader.

February 2018

Gleebooks Bookshop - Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Patricia Lockwood caused a sensation when her prose-poem Rape Joke appeared online. Now she’s written Priestdaddy—a dazzling, lyrical, comico-serious memoir about her unusual family. Her father, a Lutheran pastor, converted to Catholicism and was permitted to become a priest despite having a wife and, eventually, five children. After moving from parish to parish in Cincinnati and the suburbs of St Louis, Father Greg and family settled in Kansas City. Lockwood recalls from childhood ‘the polluted, hell-bender-coloured Ohio river’, the landfill site used as a dumping ground for radioactive waste from the Manhattan Project and the elevated rates of rare cancers and stillbirths in the district. As a child she freaked out after being taken to picket an abortion clinic. At sixteen, she overdosed on Tylenol. At seventeen she visited a Carmelite monastery with the idea of devoting her life to prayer and contemplation, something Granny, too, did at the same age. At nineteen she met online a poet named Jason, the son of Baptist missionaries, and accepted when he proposed in a car park. Her parents cautioned that she might be ‘marrying a murderer’, but her sister said: ‘We are the ones who aren’t normal’. Twelve years later, accompanied by Jason and cat, Lockwood returned home for nine months, looked afresh at her family and produced this touching portrait. Her dad, for instance, is a Republican and fan of Rush Limbaugh and Fox News who collects guns and guitars, believes, though married, that priests should be single, refuses to wear a seat belt, likes sports cars and hates cats, who he says are Democrats—‘little Hillary Clintons with hairy legs’. Though Lockwood’s risqué metaphors can occasionally be off-putting (the New York Times reviewer likens her to ‘Betty Boop in a pas de deux with David Sedaris’) they serve in part to mask her anger at the church’s male-dominated structure, the relative powerlessness of its women and the abuse of children by its deviant clergy. A great read, whatever your beliefs—but if you, like me, recited Three Hail Marys for the Gift of Holy Purity every day at school, then Priestdaddy is certainly for you.

I’ve just read two excellent books about Jane Austen: The Genius of Jane Austen by Paula  Byrne, and Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley. Byrne must have read every 18th century play and Jane Austen saw many of them. In the Steventon rectory she and her family put on private theatricals and, while living in Bath, she went as often as she could to see her favourite actor William Elliston. When she went to London to stay with brother Henry and his wife there were many outings to the theatre to see Dora Jordan or Mrs Siddons. Dora, by the way, was the mistress of the Duke of Clarence and had ten of his children, whose Fitzclarence descendants include John Julius Norwich and ex-PM David Cameron. (Claire Tomalin’s life of Dora titled Mrs Jordan’s Profession is well worth reading.) 
Byrne discusses at length the popular play Lovers’ Vows, which the young Bertrams and their friends are depicted rehearsing in Mansfield Park. Because their cousin Fanny is portrayed as disapproving this venture some critics have concluded that Austen herself must have had an aversion to the theatre. Byrne counters that, on the contrary, Austen went to the theatre whenever she had the chance, was deeply influenced by what she saw there and exploited many dramatic techniques in her fiction. Because of this, says Byrne, it’s hardly surprising that Austen’s novels have been adapted so often for film and TV. 
Lucy Worsley’s book is both chatty and informative about such things as houses, furniture and 18th century manners and customs. She takes us on a literary tour of the places where Austen lived most of her life: Steventon rectory in Hampshire, where she shared a bedroom with sister Cassandra; the Abbey School at Reading, which both Jane Austen and, two centuries later, Lucy Worsley attended; the rented rooms in Bath where the Revd Mr Austen lived with his wife and two daughters after he retired; and finally Chawton Cottage, the small house in Hampshire where Austen, courtesy of her affluent brother Edward, spent the last years of her life. She was an avid reader, especially of novels, who began writing as a teenager, and one of her keenest losses occurred when her father retired from the parsonage and gave his library to her brother James, his successor in the living. She received one marriage proposal but refused after thinking it over. Novels, says Worsley, rather than children, are her progeny, for which she has earned our undying gratitude, but the rickety writing desk and the three hard chairs she lay on as a makeshift sofa in her last illness still bring a lump to the throat.  Sonia

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