Friday, 21 January 2011

Careful Reading

Dorothy, one of the ladies in my sewing group, was reading a Danielle Steele novel a few weeks ago.  When we met up for our Christmas lunch together, she'd brought a piece of paper with a list of 'American terms' she wanted to understand better.  She explained that the book was set in San Francisco and the background had to do with the stock exchange.  I could tell her that the SEC was the Securities Exchange Commission, a sort of watchdog organisation, but I couldn't tell her about IPO (turns out that was Initial Public Offering) and I wasn't confident in describing a presidio other than it was a big building, which she'd figured out from the context. 

I'm conscious that for most of my life, I've just ripped through books, grasping at the characters, consuming the plot and hurrying along to the denouement without pausing to ponder much along the way.  Now that I tend to chose books for the time period in which they are set, I treat them more like the gourmet meals they are and - indulging in my natural tendency - take notes about unfamiliar words or to keep an interesting idea for later digestion.  For example, I just finished reading Queen of the Flowers, a Phryne Fisher novel by Kerry Greenwood.

In it, I thought about how elegant a menu sounds written in French:

hors d'oeuvres froids (cold appetisers)
a soup (unspecified soup)
poulet a la diva  (Australian version of Chicken Divan)
haricot flageolets (flageolet beans)
pomme de terre fondantes (fondant potatoes)
glace Alhambra (ice Alhambra, but beyond that I'm stumped)

A Celebration Feast (with dishes named for female royalty)
The soup: consumme printanier Imperatrice (Spring Empress soup)
The fish:  sole a la Reine (Sole with sauce of the Queen)
The meat: selle d'agneau Duchesse (Saddle of Lamb Duchess)
The dessert: pêche Dame Blanche (White lady peaches)

I also learned that a tarn is a small glacial lake and that one is mentioned in the plot of The Fall of the House of Usher, a story written in 1839 by Edgar Allen Poe.

I remembered Siegfried Sassoon from reading the biography of Vera Brittain, but not Wilfred Owen, judged by the characters to have been the better poet, also sadly that he fell in battle a week before WWI ended.

Apparently a sherry cobbler is not a fruit pastry but an alcoholic beverage.  The lyrebird has to be seen (heard) to be believed.  Violet cachous are a Victorian breath mint or candy.  The Castle of Otranto is a novel (free from the Project Gutenburg, if you're interested) by Horace Walpole who lived in the 1700s, is thought to have been a forerunner of Poe and his ilk, and is quoted as saying that
"This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel."  
He also coined one of my favourite words: serendipity.

Finally, I could tell you the recipe for Mr. Butler's Refreshing Cocktail, made with equal parts cherry brandy and gin with a splash of Cointreau...but why spoil the book for you?

How would you describe your reading style:  rapturous or rapacious?

1 comment:

Jg. for FatScribe said...

definitely rapacious ... and ravenous ... and then i feel rapturous.

okay, so if you and your friend have enjoyed etymology of words, and if you love a good yarn, then you should check out "The Professor and the Madman" about the creation (75 years or so) of the OED. It involves a crazy Yank (are there any others) and a Brit and some interesting words.