Monday, 12 January 2009

A little more about me

Since it is my birth-week,
I am going to indulge in the pleasure
of talking about myself!

Did anyone else have this book as a child?

I think that blogging must be
the grown-up equivalent.

Blogger Interviews
have been making the rounds this week. Two of my favorite bloggers, Willow and Elizabeth, have both participated . . . and so I have slightly deviated from the rules of the game by asking them both for a few questions.

We all drop bits and pieces of ourselves into our writing . . . and it is interesting to find out what blanks someone else might want us to fill in.

How did you manage to end up in the UK from deep in the heart of Texas?
In the spring of 1992, I was a graduate student at Rice University in Houston. With some misgivings, I allowed myself to be set up on a blind date with a “charming English man.” I had three pieces of information about him: he was a great cook, he wore old-fashioned pajamas and he had a “cute accent.” (Two of the three turned out to be true.) Not only was Sigmund witty, charming, thoughtful, intelligent and gainfully employed, but he also wined and dined me. The first year we were dating, he took me skiing, to Paris and the Loire Valley, and all over California. It was heady stuff. By the end of 1994, I was married, pregnant and living near Reading.

Tell me about the lovely barn, pictured on your sidebar.
The Barn is your typical two-hundred-year-old Money Pit. Although it was originally a barn, it is quite unlike most dwellings of that former usage. More than one person has described it as a “Tardis.” It has always been lovely from the outside, but it was hideous and dated on the inside when we bought it. We had two very small children at the time and I really, really didn’t want to take on a fixer-upper, but luckily Sigmund persisted. (At the time, he thought it was great value for money. However, we have lavished so much money on it that I’m not sure that is still the case.) We renovated it for a year, lived in it for a year, and rented it out for five years while we lived in Houston. When we moved back to England in 2005, we started renovating it again. In fact, I spent two hours this afternoon meeting with the people who are going to replace about half of the old wooden windows. (That should be fun!)

The first 12 years of my oldest daughter’s life we moved almost every year – the one exception being the three years we spent in Trinidad. We are planning on putting down some roots here now, mostly for the children’s sake. It is a good house for childhood. The walls are thick, there are lots of bedrooms (seven) and strange little cupboards, and it has an eccentric floor plan.

Which three books do you think have affected your life most?
This is probably the most difficult question to answer, as I have read so many books!

Inevitably, I turned to childhood and adolescence for the answer – mostly because that was the time in which my tastes started to form. First of all, I am going to nominate Helen Corbitt’s Cookbook. I developed a taste for cookbook reading at approximately the age of 10, and this book was my favorite. Corbitt was a larger-than-life character who worked at the Houston Country Club, the Driskill Hotel in Austin, and Neiman Marcus in Dallas. She liked food to be lavish, wholesome and beautiful. Her recipes were accompanied by all sorts of colorful anecdotes, and her writing had a very specific, very charming “voice.” (Later, when I was 23, I discovered Laurie Colwin’s Home Cooking and it had that same combination of food and memoir, except with less of the former and more of the latter.) Cookbooks are the bridge between my two greatest loves – cooking and reading.

My second book has to be Charlotte Brontë ’s Jane Eyre. I did a book report on it in the fourth grade – (How did I even know about this book? Where did I get it from?) – and I clearly remember my teacher telling me it was an “inappropriate” book for a 10 year old. I’ve read it so many times that I cannot properly recall that first-time readerly impression – but I do know that it kicked off my lifelong love affair with English literature, not to mention my keen interest in inappropriate books!

After much hesitation, I’m going to pick Joseph Heller’s Catch-22 as my third book. I read this one when I was a senior in high school, and unlike all of my other “favorites,” I haven’t reread it. I would describe it as influential, though, in the sense that it opened up my brain to a whole new world of narrative possibilities. It took the linear plot structure and reliable narrator that I was familiar with and turned them on their heads. And speaking of heads, it examined all sorts of big questions whilst still having emotional and psychological acuity in terms of the protagonist. I also remember this book for its mordant humor – something that I particularly enjoyed in The Confederacy of Dunces, a favorite from the same reading era. (I keep trying to sneak in other favorites!)

Apart from your loved ones, what is your most treasured tangible possession? I’m not very good at choosing just one thing! I have three most treasured things, really: my sapphire and diamond engagement ring (which I was given), my diamond drop necklace (which I inherited) and my desk (which I bought for myself). They are all so special to me, in different ways, but the desk is a kind of promise to myself.

What skill/ability/characteristic would you love to have? I have always wanted to be a jazz singer. I think that being able to express your emotions in that way would be the biggest kick. (Before blogging, what, if any, was your main mode of personal expression?) I’ve never thought of myself as a creative person, and I actually think that I lacked a meaningful mode of personal expression. Blogging has allowed me to express myself with writing, and it has also exposed me to so many creative people – and that in itself is most infectious!

If anyone else is interested in being interviewed, here are the rules for the game.


1. Leave me a comment saying, "Interview me."
2. I will respond by emailing you five questions. (I get to pick the
3. You will update your blog with the answers to the questions.
4. You will include this explanation and an offer to interview
someone else in the same post.
5. When others comment asking to be interviewed, you will ask them five questions.
Audrey at Multitude
Anne at Beyond Ramen


Elizabeth said...

So interesting.
Such wanderings.
You make Sigmund sound very nice.
I think you are probably right not to reread things that bowled you over at 18.
Your house does sound wonderful indeed.
Have you ever read the original Mrs.Beeton? In it, amongst other things, she says that a tray for an invalid should have food os several different colors on it - to tempt the appetite.

Word verification: mixion
a minx, mixed-up, Nixon?

CashmereLibrarian said...

Bee--OF COURSE you know I have that Dr. Seuss book! I scrupulously filled it out too back in the day; it's very fun to re-read. I find I was as eccentric then as I am now!

I LOVE your house. That's a thatched roof, is it not?

Tess Kincaid said...

This was wonderful Bee! I thoroughly enjoyed this interview and thanks for letting me be a snoop! I love the story of Sigmund and of the Barn. ((sigh))

I've added your blog link to my post. :)

Alyson | New England Living said...

Your barn sounds like a dream to me. I want a historic home so badly. I think I will be less ambitious than you, though. I'll wait until my youngest is much older.

Loved learning about you, Bee! Those interviews were a great idea!

Brave Sir Robin said...

Oh me!

Bee said...

Elizabeth - I think that you are right about the book! The more profound you think something is, at 18, the more likely you are to disapppointed at 42.

I haven't read Mrs. Beeton, but I got a wonderful Mrs. Beeton card for my birthday! I do think that a beautiful sickbed tray is always appreciated. I also appreciate a cup of tea and two rich tea biscuits - and they are exactly the same color!

Cashmere - Do try and find your book! I would adore seeing some examples of your child-self eccentricity.

Actually, we don't have a thatched roof. (It does look it in the picture.) The roof is tiled.

Willow - You and Elizabeth have been troupers to provide so many questions. I just read Reya's - so fine.

Alyson - I bet that someday you WILL have a historic home. Ours isn't the precious sort at all; it is really lived in -- by us and lots of others!


Anne said...

I devoured all sorts of Dr. Seuss books when I was small, but I don't think I'm familiar with that one.

What a sweet little history of you and Sigmund!

And I second what Alyson said about wanting a historic home. The closest I've come is living in Snell Hall at UofC (adjacent and connected to Hitchcock, which is on the National Register of Historic Places), which isn't very close at all. California's probably not the best place to find a historic house. Maybe I'll have to move to France...

lisahgolden said...

I love these personal glimpses of a blogger. Your life abroad sounds so interesting and the Barn seems like something right out of all those British programs I watch. One day, if you're at really loose ends and have nothing to blog about, describe the inside, will you? I know, I'm obsessing.

I've read Jane Eyre multiple times and each time, it's like a trip back to the first time I read it out under the trees in the backyard of my childhood home....

TBM said...

This is a fantastic post, Bee! I loved learning about your book loves. I read "Jane Eyre" at a young age as well (might have been 9, 10 or 11). I used to go to the library, stroll through the fiction aisles, and select the thickest books with the most interesting covers. I think I read "Rebecca" around the same time. Haha!

Beth said...

Nice to get to know you better!
And I love Laurie Colwin - hope you've managed to read her fiction as well. Excellent.

Audrey said...

Lovely post.

Go on then, I'm up for an interview.

Bee said...

Anne, what was your favorite Dr. Seuss? We were very partial to The Sleep Book and If I Ran the Circus. This is a great present for small kids. I wonder if you can still get it?

France is always an idea worth considering, particularly if you are a foodie!

Lisa - No doubt the Barn will feature again in these pages!

Does Jane Eyre work for most girls, do you think, or do you have to "get" that outsider feeling to really love it?

JAPRA - Rebecca!! Now that IS inappropriate. Did you see that program last year on Daphne d-M? I was a library girl, too.

Beth - I've read every word of Colwin multiple times. Does this surprise you? She is one of the writers I turn to for fictional comfort.

Audrey - Oh, good. I will try to think up some meaty questions for you.

Anne said...

Oh goodness, it's hard to choose! Probably One Fish Two Fish Red Fish Blue Fish early on and The Lorax a bit later.

Oh, and count me in for the interview.

su said...

Interview me
I stumbled upon you from Merrily Down the Stream. My middle daughter read To Kill a Mockingbird for a school book report in 6th grade. She was told the same thing... How silly. Everyone takes from Lit something very personal at their own level.

A Cuban In London said...

I love Dr Seuss. But only read it as a grown-up, to my children, in Spanish (although the book was in English, believe me, it made for fun times). Thanks for your interview with yourself :-).

Greetings from London.

Peggy said...

Bee, I enjoyed my first visit to your blog. How nice to be greeted by your interview, which was a joy to read!

su said...

Bee I did not remember or connect to you re the Saratoga Hatties suggestion.

Reya Mellicker said...

I am loving these blog interviews! Yours, too of course.

Happy birth week, month and year. Celebrate!!

Liza B. Gonzalez said...

Happy Birthday Bee! My husband is a capricorn, as well. Great people!

I loved the interview, your house sounds like a dream, however, I'm sure the renos turn it into a nightmare from time to time. Again, thanks for sharing more of yourself and for the lovely compliments about my photography. It's my new obsession.

By the way, what is Bee short for? My "bee" is from my maiden name.

Take care.

Lucy said...

I grew up in a house a bit like that, with the thick walls, eccentric floor plan and lots of little cupboards, and it was wondeful, to me anyway. My brother remembers it as old and dusty and full of cats, which it was too, and the source of snuffles and allergies for him (I am about the most allergy-free person I know).

I can never answer the question about the life-changing books.

I loved the card about shutting the thin woman up with cookies, btw!

Bee said...

Anne - I will link you in as soon as your interview is ready! I have been reading "One Fish" and other Seuss to the little boy I tutor.

Su - I do think that people vary wildly in terms of mental/emotional maturity. I believe in letting people follow their own appetites when it comes to reading.

Cuban in London - Dr. Seuss is obligatory for an American childhood! I'm glad that your children are getting so many cross-cultural references (and hopefully the best from them all).

Peggy - Thank you; I really enjoyed your interview as well, and look forward to reading LOTS more from you.

Su - Well, I remember you!

Reya - It IS fun. I sometimes feel that I already have as many favorites as I can handle, but I now I'm going to have to fit a few more in.

Liza - The "Bee" come from the Bee Drunken poem from Baudelaire. When I was 21, my best friend and I discovered this poem and she started calling me Bee. My initials are all B's, too. BBB is my monogram.

Lucy - I also got lucky in the no-allergy department! Our house really isn't dusty, but the spiderwebs can be a problem.

Sigh. Yes, it's difficult (ie, impossible) to choose favorite or life-altering books. I've thought of at least three since I wrote this which I would/should substitute for Catch-22; number #1 being May Sarton's Diary of a Solitude.

I suppose one of the pleasures of getting older is that the greeting cards get a lot sassier!

Barrie said...

Great getting to know you better!! Happy Birthday Week!

Anonymous said...

So with you on the intersection of reading and cooking...

Bee said...

Barrie - I feel like I've gotten to know you better today, too. Fun interviews over at your place.

Susanna - I (almost) think that reading about food is better than eating it.

JaneyV said...

Oh Bee - so sorry to be late to the party. This is such a wonderful interview. I love hearing stories of how people meet their loved ones. It made me chuckle that one of the only things you knew about him was that he wore old fashioned PJs. Please God let that be one of the true facts! ;0)
I also adore that your favourite present to yourself was an old writing desk. I imagine it a warm and friendly and filled with the ghosts of writers past.

The Cat In The Hat was my first Dr Seuss. It has a very special place in my memory but I would have a very hard time picking out the most significant books in my life - there are so many for so many different reasons.

Bee said...

Janey - The untrue fact turned out to be the good cook bit. He has hardly boiled water since we met!!

Sigh; I know what you mean about choosing books. Impossible!!

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