Sunday, August 02, 2009

Roads/Tea at Four O'Clock

Spoiled from years of riding flat rails-to-trails, I had forgotten how difficult it is to bike long distances on country roads. It was uphill...then another swerving and rushing by...another uphill...more cars...a precarious crack next to the shoulder of the road...a wooden church with a “Gospel Festival” sign...cows, but no chickens or pigs anymore...people waving from cars...another long, long uphill...and my legs ached in every muscle.

The book in my pannier was Janet McNeill’s Tea at Four O’Clock. I was in the mood for a Virago, so whimsically threw it in at the last minute. Sitting in exhaustion on a restaurant terrace opposite a bicycle sculpture (made of a bicycle), I read while I waited for my LARGE chocolate ice cream cone. (Last time they served teeny-tiny cones, so this time we both ordered a large.) Tea at Four O'Clock is an Irish novel, which begins with the funeral of a chilly spinster, Mildred, the dominatrix of her family. Her funeral is a relief, especially to her nervous younger spinster sister, Laura. After the funeral their brother, George, not on time, a ne’er-do-well in Mildred's eyes, returns for a reunion with Laura, the first in 20 years, and happy though he is to see her, he immediately worries that he has been too friendly and that she might come live with his family.

OK, that’s as far as I’ve got. Dinner at Panera; then I fell into bed at 7 and slept.

I got up a little later to read Byatt’s The Children’s Book, then fell asleep on the couch, then stumbled to bed, and slept some more. It’s the bike ride, not the book, that put me to sleep. I can’t recommend this book too highly - remember, it SHOULD get the Booker Prize - but I couldn’t stay awake after that bike ride.


I'm in the final stretches of Ursula Perrin's Old Devotions, an out-of-print women's novel. It's an excellent wry, self-conscious, humorous novel, the story of the thoughtful, ironic Isabel, a writer who finds herself single in her mid-thirties, and unfortunately falls in love with her dying best friend Morgan's husband and difficult suburban family way of life when she is called in to help with the children.

I started reading E. Nesbit’s The Red House, one of her adult novels. It’s available at and Gutenberg, and I downloaded it onto our out-of-date PalmPilot. Because Olive Wellwood (an E. Nesbit prototype) is one of the main characters in The Children’s Book, I decided to read one of Nesbit's adult books to understand more about her. (I read almost all of her children’s books as a child, my favorite being The Enchanted Castle.)

I don’t have a Kindle. Occasionally I’ve thought about it - but I really prefer books in book form. The nice thing about the PalmPilot - and I suppose about the Kindle - is that one can find odd out-of-print books online and read them for free. The screen isn’t that good: one can only read for an hour or so on the Palm. But it works in a pinch.

And I have discovered some wonderful authors online. I read an intriguing early novel by Enid Bagnold about witchcraft, which started me on a Bagnold spree a few years ago. (P.S. I tried to look this up, and came up with nothing, so apparently the novel about witches in World War I was by another writer.)

There is a hysterically funny series of “The Kindle vs. the Book” videos available from Green Apple Books in San Francisco. I was alerted to these via Jacket Copy, the L. A. Times blog. Enjoy!


Danielle said...

After all those hills you deserved a large ice cream cone! That would likely be my main temptation to riding a long ride! :) I love Viragos--this is not one I've heard of, but it sounds interesting!

Mad Housewife said...

I once rode my bike through three states, something to do before I turned 30, and lost one pound. That tells you all about my bike-riding! You have to eat tons of pancakes to keep going. Somebody must lose weight on bikes, but not me!

The McNeill one is pretty good so far. I wish there were a Virago book club online, but I would probably have found out about it if there were.

Ellen said...

Ah, the only way to lose weight is to eat much much less than you need calorically. Is there such a word? I've been going to the gym this summer, but for the next two weeks, the pool is closed :(

I loved the Virago cover of your central book. I've finally posted on my blog about Phoebe Junior and included the cover illustration too.



Yes, weight loss is work. But some sports are different. Runners can drop weight without caloric cut-backs: they run off those hot fudge sundaes. (Life is so unfair.) Perhaps it's like that for swimmers, too?

There's something about biking, perhaps because you go on for hours and need fuel - especially carbs - to keep going. There are slim and overweight riders on the road, pedaling strongly.

I look forward to reading your blog on Phoebe, Jr. I haven't read an Oliphant this year and should try to fit one in. I read several of her novels last year and was very pleased.

StuckInABook said...

I bought Tea at Four O'Clock about five years ago, and still haven't read it... one day!

Frisbee said...

It's not my favorite Virago, but it's pretty good.