The Scent of God by Beryl Singleton Bissell

The Scent of God by Beryl Singleton Bissell

The Scent of God
Beryl Singleton Bissell‘s powerful memoir tells of her entry into a cloistered convent in New Jersey and her belated coming of age. Her story is riveting, her writing lyrical. I found her book hard to put down. She tells of her transformation from girl to woman and the tension, guilt and contradiction it involves with such emotional honesty.

The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by Gay Talese

The Bridge: The Building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge by Gay Talese

The Bridge

From the publisher: . . .The Bridge (1964) [is] Gay Talese‘s second volume drawn from his work as a New York Times reporter. On 1 January 1959 he wrote the first of 11 stories on New York bridges which came to focus on the building of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge linking Brooklyn to Staten Island (“Bay Ridge Seethes over Bridge”). Towards the end of 1964, the Verrazano Narrows Bridge—linking the New York City boroughs of Brooklyn and Staten Island with New Jersey—was completed. It remains an engineering marvel almost forty years later—at 13,700 feet (more than two and a half miles), it is still the longest suspension bridge in the United States and the sixth longest in the world.

Talese, then early in his career at Times, closely followed the construction, and soon after the opening his book The Bridge appeared. Never before in paperback, it remains both a riveting human drama of politics and courage, and a demonstration of Talese’s consummate skills as a reporter and storyteller. His memorable narrative—accompanied, as then, by the astonishingly beautiful working drawings of Lili Rethi—will now captivate a new generation of readers.

“If you watch a great construction project, the building of a bridge or a skyscraper, you see this magnificent work being done at high altitudes-and sometimes at great peril,” Talese explained in a 1984 interview. “I knew books had been written about bridges, but never about the people who built them, the obscure people we see from a distance only in silhouette.”

Frost in May by Antonia White

Frost in May

In Antonia White’s semi-autobiographical novel, Nanda Gray, the daughter of a Catholic convert, is nine when she is sent to the Convent of Five Wounds. Quick-witted, resilient, and eager to please, she adapts to this cloistered world, learning rigid conformity and subjection to authority. Passionate friendships are the only deviation from her total obedience. Convent life—the smell of beeswax and incense, the petty cruelty of the nuns, the glamour and eccentricity of Nanda’s friends—is perfectly captured by Antonia White.
Intense, troubling, semi-miraculous … a work of art ~Elizabeth Bowen


Movie portrayals of boarding school run from the classic teacher as mentor story to the magical or scary genre, which I won’t dwell on. No Harry Potter movies here! Instead, I will feature classics and contemporary ones, as well as documentaries. Most movies are set in prep, elite boarding schools–nothing like mine.


Goodbye, Mr. Chips

Goodbye, Mr. Chips
An aged teacher and former headmaster of a boarding school recalls his career and his personal life over the decades. Studio: Warner Home Video Release Date: 07/12/2005 Starring: Robert Donat Terry Kilburn Run time: 114 minutes Rating: Nr Director: Sam Wood


The Prime of Miss Jane Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jane Brodie

Based on Muriel Spark’s best-selling novel, the film The Prime Of Miss Jean Brodie earned a Best Actress Oscar for its star, Maggie Smith, in 1969. An inspiration to the young girls she teaches and a challenge to the 1932 Edinburgh school who retains her services, Jean Brodie (Smith) espouses her wisdom on art and music, defends fascism, and otherwise encourages fiercely independent thinking in her students. As she engages in ongoing battles with the school’s rigid heads and bewilders two men in love with her, Miss Brodie also faces the biggest trial of her life when her career and livelihood become threatened.

Memories of a Catholic Girlhood

Memories of a Catholic Girlhood

Memories of a Catholic Childhood
This unique autobiography begins with Mary McCarthy’s recollections of an indulgent, idyllic childhood tragically altered by the death of her parents in the influenza epidemic of 1918. Tempering the need to fictionalize for the sake of a good story with the need for honesty, she creates interchapters that tell the reader what she has inferred or invented.

Her book is the most incisive contribution to the story of her development as an artist that we shall ever have. ~ The New York Times

One Response to “On My Bookshelf (Films, too!)”

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