On 10th April 2007, Stuck-in-a-Book was launched… I don’t know whether or not I thought I’d still be blogging six years later, I hadn’t really thought about it, but I certainly hadn’t imagined that I’d meet so many wonderful people (online and offline) or have such fun. Thank you for making my first six years so lovely!
I’ve done a few retrospectives, or thanking posts, at various anniversaries – so I’ll do something a bit different today. It seems appropriate, on a blog birthday of a longstanding blog (six years feels very longstanding in the blogosphere!) to welcome the recent arrival of another beautiful baby blog. Also, although this is far from a unique-to-me quality, I hope that one of the dominant characteristics of Stuck-in-a-Book is an encouragement of community, and a celebration of other bloggers. With that in mind, I have interviewed a new blogger – Washington Wife.
Washington Wife is one of my very dearest friends, and I’m thrilled that she has entered the blogging world. Hers is not a book blog, but she loves books about as much as I do, so I’d be surprised if they don’t make an appearance now and then. Her reasons for starting blogging are below, so I shan’t explain them for her. (And, because she is a journalist, she is keeping herself anonymous on her blog – I will have to work hard to remember not to include her real name, and shall refer to her as Washington Wife, or WW. In the interview below, I am ST – you can decide for yourself whether it’s short for Stuck-in-a-Book or Simon Thomas.) Oh, and do, of course, check out her blog and say hello – it’s really brilliant so far, and I’m not just saying that as a close friend!
ST: So, what made you decide to start blogging, huh? HUH?
WW: Well, at the beginning of February, my husband got a job in Washington D.C, and we’ve just (at the end of March) moved there from Paris, where we’ve both spent three years as journalists. I’m sure there are innumerable ‘new to the US’ and even ‘new to Washington’ blogs (there were certainly lots of ‘Brits abroad’ ones in France) but I thought mine would be an interesting viewpoint given I’m comparing the US not only to my native land, the UK, but also my adopted homeland for the last three years, France.
I think it was also a combination of my wanting to record how I felt about living in such a talked-about country, about which everyone has an opinion, and the fact that it was a lot easier than sending dozens of separate emails to all the people who would want to know said thoughts. I was a bit scared to start though because I’m not always very good at seeing projects through… but I’m really enjoying it so far!
ST: What are your first impressions of living in America?
WW: Well – you’ll have to look at my blog ;) Mainly though, everyone really is helpful and friendly (compared to Paris, where I was living before!) and everything is bigger. The roads are wider, the buildings are taller, the portions are larger, the billboards are higher, the packets in the supermarket are heavier… Paris, and even London, will feel miniature in comparison!
ST: Anything super-amazing-exciting happened to you yet? Just a question out of the BLUE, not something I know about already, obvs.
WW: Well it’s funny you should mention… but (again, see my blog for full account!) on Easter Sunday, my husband and I decided to try a little church not too far from our new flat in downtown D.C. The church is opposite the White House and the website said it has a pew reserved for the President. We thought that was rather sweet…but we arrived to find the whole building sealed off, secret service everywhere and the First Family on the way there! Amazingly, we managed to get in for the service, and, sitting in the gallery, had a wonderful view of Barack Obama, Michelle and the two girls. We even got within a foot of them when we went up to communion. Not bad for our first week in D.C!
ST: Do you have any thoughts about the direction in which you’d like your blog to go?
WW: Well, as I said, I was a bit nervous about beginning as I’m rather feeling the pressure to continue, but I keep finding, as I wend my merry and very uncertain way around Washington, that new ideas and thoughts for blogging keep occurring to me. I think it’s made me a slightly better observer, so that’s a positive thing I’d like to continue. I think eventually it may have to stop being about my perspective as a ‘newcomer’ (I don’t know when you stop being one of those though – in English country villages, I think it takes about half a century) and be more about the city itself and – hopefully – the more unusual, off the beaten track things I’m discovering (if I do!) One thing I don’t want it to be about is work – it’s nice to do something separate from journalism!
ST: Could you pick one thing you miss about England, one thing you miss about France, and one thing you’re loving about America?
WW: Hmmm… one thing in each category is difficult! I think I most miss English understatement and sarcasm (I missed it in France too!), because here everyone is very sincere and a bit earnest and sometimes I just long for a little putdown or self-mockery.
I rather miss the Paris metro – it smelt of wee, but it was very efficient and there was a train every 3 minutes most of the time. The other day here I had to wait 10 minutes for a metro train, and it took a bus I was on over an HOUR to get from downtown to the National Cathedral, a distance of about four miles, because of the ridiculous amount of traffic and lack of public transport options.
But one thing I am really enjoying about America is how convenient everything is (apart from public transport!) Everything’s open all the time, the customer service people really do attempt to help you, the roads are easy to cross… everything is designed to make your life a little bit better. And that is refreshing.
ST: And, since Stuck-in-a-Book is a book blog, cards on the table: what are the best English novel, French novel, and American novel?
WW: Ooooh. Toughie. Best French and American novels are hard because I’m woefully under-read in those categories, and English because there are too many to choose from. I’d say that the novel that had me most gripped at a young age, and I always love re-reading, is Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca. Stylistically, it might not be Middlemarch, but the plot is superb and the narrator compelling.
Regarding French novels, can I cheat? It’s not really a novel, but when I was a child, my Godmother gave me one copy of Antoine de Saint Exupéry’s book Le Petit Prince in French, and another in English. I loved the English version at the time, but, later on, was doubly delighted by its whimsy in French. But it’s definitely not just for children!
As for American novels, although I loved The Great Gatsby and Lolita, and Little Women will always remain one of my favourite children’s books (I especially remember my childish British puzzlement at some of the quaint American words and traditions!) I might have to pick one I know Simon hates… The Catcher in the Rye. It had a real effect on my writing style for a while after I read it – not necessarily for the better! – and Holden Caulfield continued to intrigue me long after I put the book down. But I also loved The Old Man and the Sea and For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway.
ST: Now choose one English author, one French author, and one American author that you’re looking forward to trying out.
WW: Now this is easier! My ‘to be read’ list is huge.
In French, I always meant to try out Michel Houllebecq, in translation OR in the original… I just never got round to it. So I’d probably start with Les Particules Elémentaires (or Atomized, in English), which won several international awards.
As for American authors, there are so many! I have joined the local library here and browsing the shelves made me realise just how much I have to catch up on… For starters, I borrowed one Anne Tyler (Digging to America) and one Gore Vidal (appropriately enough, Washington, D.C – I didn’t realise he’d written a series of historical novels.) But also keen to start reading more Philip Roth (only ever read Portnoy’s Complaint!) and Jonathan Franzen.
And an English author I don’t yet know… Well, my policy when trying to cut down the number of books for shipping over here was mainly to bring ones I hadn’t yet read. So there are plenty to choose from! Including A House and Its Head by Ivy Compton Burnett, an author much recommended by a certain friend who’s always StuckInABook. So I’m hoping to start enjoying that one soon. Another book I’m really excited about – and this is cheating a bit – is by an author I already know and deeply love, Elizabeth Jane Howard. Apparently, the fifth volume in her series The Cazalets is coming out in the autumn; I can’t wait!
ST: And the question I ask everyone – what are you reading at the moment?
WW: Well, slightly naughtily, given everything I wrote above, I’m reading an author who’s neither French, nor English, nor yet American, but Israeli. It’s a book I borrowed from the library near our new flat, called The People of Forever Are Not Afraid, by Shani Boianjiu, and it’s about three Israeli girls who are conscripted into the army, and how they get on. Given that for much of the time, they are very bored, the book itself is quite a page turner, and very strangely and beautifully written. It certainly gives you an insight into the lives of Israeli teenagers.
The photo, by the way, shows the ONLY books we currently have on our new living room bookshelf (The People of Forever Are Not Afraid being upstairs!) This state of affairs won’t last, once all our worldly goods arrive by ship from Paris via Bristol via New York City… I thought Simon would be pleased to note the stack of OUP Very Short Introductions as well… on offer in W.H Smith on the rue de Rivoli…