Tag Archives: The Paper Garden

Reading the old year out…

31st December 2011

And I must say, I’m not at all sad to see the back end of 2011. It was a very tumultuous year, and I am very happy to be ringing in a new year this evening with a mini-readathon cooked up by two other bloggers (Becky and Tasha) and myself. There will be champagne, so in the infinite wisdom and singing voice of Bing Crosby, let’s start the new year right.

But. Before we get to that, I wanted to do a year end post. As of midnight on December 30, I have read 121 books. Of these, 46 were written by men and 75 written by women (wow!); 109 fiction and 12 nonfiction. This year I read 9 audiobooks, and considering I read none last year, that’s quite a jump. Also, just so you can see my habits, 42 of these books came from the publisher/author/publicist, but I bought 52 and checked out 26 from the library, a pretty decent statistic. Now down to brass tacks….

Least favorite books of the year: Let’s just get this one out of the way. I only really disliked two books this year, and if you’ve been around for a bit, you can probably guess the first one: The Magicians by Lev Grossman. The other I just finished this morning: Jesus, My Father, the CIA, and Me by Ian Morgan Cron. I’ll put up a review next week with details. Suffice it to say, memoirs are tricky.

Best New-to-Me Series: Well, obviously I love the Patricia Wentworth Miss Silver books, but seeing as they were written in the last century, I won’t call them new. If you’re looking for a vintage mystery, give these a go. Also consider joining me for Miss Silver Saturdays through 2012.

Best New Series: I just finished Discovery of Witches and am pretty much in love with it. I can’t wait for the next one. Many compare it to Twilight, but for me, it was much more reminiscent of the Outlander series by Diana Gabaldon. I loved it!

Funniest Book: Hands down, Domestic Violets by Matthew Norman. In fact, this is a book that I plan to re-read soon, I liked it that much. Definitely keep an eye out for debut author Matt Norman.

Best Dark Comedy: Funny Man by John Warner. I’m really surprised this book hasn’t gotten more attention, as I think it’s pretty genius in a lot of ways. I’m really eager to see what else Warner writes.

Book that Made Me Think Rainbow Rowell stole my life and wrote about it: Attachments. Runner up for funniest book of the year, it was just so perfectly me. Sadly, many other bloggers have said the same thing, so obviously I ain’t anything special. Distinctive? Pshaw.

Book That Seriously Creeped Me Out and Blew My Mind: The Magus by John Fowles. Review next week, and boy howdy, what a book. Thanks so much to Sean at Read Heavily for the gift.

Best Middle Grade Book: Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes by Jonathan Auxier. Absolute fun and super smart. Reminds me of books written when I was young.

Book that Made Me Cry: Thankfully there were only two of these this year (one sparked this post about crying in reading). The other is A Train in Winter by Caroline Moorehead. This is nonfiction and about the women of the French Resistance. It’s incredibly moving to see just how much the human spirit can endure.

Most Beautiful Book: The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock. This is physically just a beautiful, beautiful specimen of a book. The cover art, the inside art, the paper. It’s technically the biography of a woman artist, but it’s so much more than that.

Biggest Surprise: Ian Fleming’s Bond series. Yes, he can be a misogynistic, slightly-racist ass, but damn, these books are good. If you think you know Bond from the films, think again and join Lit Housewife’s Shaken Not Stirred challenge. You won’t be disappointed.

~and last but not least~

Best Book of 2011: Galore by Michael Crummey. I read this book in April, but it will not leave me. The story is timeless, the writing superb. If you haven’t read it, make sure you add it to your list for the new year. I compare it to East of Eden by Steinbeck and House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende. One of my favorite passages from the book is below:

~Watching Judah emerge from the whale’s guts, King-me felt the widow was birthing everything he despised in the country, laying it out before him like a taunt. Irish nor English, Jerseyman nor bushborn nor savage, not Roman or Episcopalian or apostate, Judah was the wilderness on two legs, mute and unknowable, a blankness that could drown a man.

So that’s my list. I wish you all the best in 2012 and hope to see you back here. Thank you all for reading, commenting, emailing, etc. I so enjoy your company.

And on that note, what was your favorite book this year?

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock

23rd May 2011

**UPDATE** Giveaway over. Using Random.org, number one commenter, Yvette, won! Congrats. I have sent an email to you to get your address. Thanks to all who left comments!

I can[not] conceive of how a person can process the material of a life, and by that I mean love and death and every insect bite in between, without practicing an art.

The Paper Garden by Molly Peacock is and isn’t a biography of a woman, Mary Delaney. What it is about is the quote above, about making art in the everyday, about life itself being a work of art.

As a young girl, Mary Granville is married off to a much older man. She is unhappy; he is a jealous (but wealthy) drunk who dies, leaving Mary to blossom in the independence of widowhood. She is unwilling to take another husband until Dr. Patrick Delaney proposes many years later. He is of low birth; her family does not approve, but Mary knows her heart, and as Peacock writes, Patrick encourages her craft: “She became his brilliant focus – and he became her vista, the expansive background that his generosity of spirit provided.”

The subtitle, though, is misleading for two reasons: An Artist Begins Her Life’s Work at 72. First, as I mentioned, this book is and is not a biography because Peacock inserts herself into the writing, tracing the origins and processes of her research. To be frank, I could have done without this aspect of the book, but let me get that out of the way now because I adored this book. Second, I would argue Mrs. Delaney is an artist from a young age, designing dresses, embroidering, painting, even letter writing extensively (though Peacock is referring to the work for which Delaney is remembered).

Mary’s artistic endeavors remain in these areas for most of her life, but in 1772, “she noticed how a piece of colored paper matched the dropped petal of a geranium. After making that vital imaginative connection between paper and petal …. she began … carefully cutting the exact geranium petal shape from the scarlet paper. Then she snipped out another.”

To me, the magic of this book is in moments like this. What is Mrs. Delaney hadn’t snipped a second petal? Peacock deftly extricates the moments in Mrs. Delaney’s life she wants to highlight, and in the same breath, she reflects on the creative process.

For example, each of Mrs. Delaney’s collages is cut paper on top of a black background, like so, and Peacock observes:

But whatever the composition of the dry crystals she ground … its source is something burnt …. Is being burnt a requisite for the making of art? …. It is a privilege to have, somewhere within you, a capacity for making something speak from your own seared experience.

And, noting Mary’s copious notes and letters to and from her sister, Anne:

In a way, Mary’s letters to Anne are a paper mosaick of days and weeks, hundreds into the thousands of sentences cut in organic shapes to form the art of living.

And aren’t her letters art? As Peacock points out to a friend who asked why Mary Delaney “really” made these mosaicks:

It evolved, first from silhouettes, and then from handiwork and collecting shells … and then from drawing and painting and gardening….and lastly from not being able to paint, from a feeling of the world dimming…

And from the last page, referring to the artistic spark when Mrs. Delaney spies the geranium petal:

Her whole life flowed to the place where she plucked that moment.

Isn’t that an incredibly beautiful thought?

jenn aka the picky girl

P.S. Thanks to TLC Book Tours and specifically Lisa Munley for seeking me out for this tour. Lisa, you were dead on with this recommendation.

P.P.S. If you would like to enter for a chance to win a copy of this gorgeous book, please leave a comment below (by June 1) and answer this question: What is artistic and beautiful in your own life?