Monday, 31 December 2007

Books Read 2007

I did a meme the other day about books read this year - well here's the whole list!
A wonderful new year to you all, see you in 2008...

  1. The Harp in the South – Ruth Park
  2. Cymbeline – William Shakespeare
  3. Pericles – William Shakespeare
  4. The Bookshop at 10 Curzon St.: Letters Between Nancy Mitford & Heywood Hill 1952-73 – ed. John Saumaricz Smith
  5. Troilus and Cressida – William Shakespeare
  6. The Bible
  7. The Philosophy of the Short Story – Brander Matthews
  8. Keynotes – George Egerton
  9. The Bean Trees – Barbara Kingsolver
  10. Watching the English – Kate Fox
  11. The Love Child – Edith Oliver
  12. Troilus and Criseyde – Geoffrey Chaucer
  13. Miss Hargreaves – Frank Baker
  14. The Rover – Aphra Behn
  15. Sir Gawain and the Green Knight – Pearl-poet
  16. Cleanness – Pearl-poet
  17. Patience – Pearl-poet
  18. The Professor’s House – Willa Carther
  19. Extreme Motherhood: The Triplet Diaries – Jackie Clune
  20. The Woman in the Moone – John Lyly
  21. One Pair of Hands – Monica Dickens
  22. Pistache – Sebastian Faulks
  23. Pearl – Pearl-poet
  24. Before I Go Hence – Frank Baker
  25. An Invisible Friendship – Joyce Grenfell & Katharine Moore
  26. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox – Maggie O’Farrell
  27. No Signposts in the Sea – Vita Sackville-West
  28. The Pursuit of Love – Nancy Mitford
  29. A Winter Book – Tove Jansson
  30. One Pair of Feet – Monica Dickens
  31. A Well Full of Leaves – Elizabeth Myers
  32. Human Voices – Penelope Fitzgerald
  33. Katherine Mansfield: A Secret Life – Claire Tomalin
  34. Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – J. K. Rowling
  35. Sarrasine – Honoré de Balzac
  36. Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince – J. K. Rowling
  37. The London Scene – Virginia Woolf
  38. Notes on a Scandal – Zoe Heller
  39. Three Men in A Boat – Jerome K. Jerome
  40. Hunting the Highbrow – Leonard Woolf
  41. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – J. K. Rowling
  42. Sylva – Vercors
  43. Mrs. Miniver – Jan Struther
  44. A Room With A View – E. M. Forster
  45. Work For Four Hands – Margaret Pelling
  46. Doreen – Barbara Noble
  47. The Matisse Stories – A. S. Byatt
  48. Afterwords: Letters on the Death of Virginia Woolf – ed. Sybil Oldfield
  49. Speaking of Love – Angela Young
  50. The Jane Austen Book Club – Karen Joy Fowler
  51. Reading Groups – Jenny Hartley
  52. The Travels of Lady “Bulldog” Burton – Sandi Toksvig
  53. The Loudest Sound and Nothing – Claire Wigfall
  54. The Third Miss Symons – F. M. Mayer
  55. The A46 – Sara Parsons
  56. The Brontës – Alfred Sangster
  57. The Tenderness of Wolves – Stef Penney
  58. Deceived With Kindness – Angelica Garnett
  59. The Go-Between – L. P. Hartley
  60. The Greengage Summer – Rumer Godden
  61. The Uncommon Reader – Alan Bennett
  62. My Turn To Make The Tea – Monica Dickens
  63. On Chesil Beach – Ian McEwan
  64. Crow Lake – Mary Lawson
  65. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead – Barbara Comyns
  66. Christine Kringle – Lynn Brittney
  67. Pigs and Pearls – Margaret Hogge
  68. A Lifetime Burning – Linda Gillard
  69. Fair Play – Tove Jansson
  70. Fair Play – Tove Jansson (again!)
  71. Parties – Tom Lappin
  72. The Stone Angel – Margaret Laurence
  73. The Closed Door and other stories – Dorothy Whipple
  74. A Family Life 1939-45 – Katharine Moore
  75. Tom’s Midnight Garden – Philippa Pearce
  76. Nightingale – Peter Dorward
  77. The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  78. A Proper Family Christmas – Jane Gordon-Cumming
  79. Scar Tissue – Ruth Mary Hills
  80. No Star So Lovely – Alice Howlett
  81. The Most Glorious Strip of Bunting – John McGill
  82. All Passion Spent – Vita Sackville-West
  83. A Month in the Country – J. L. Carr
  84. The Wonderful Years – Reiner Kunze
  85. Findings – Kathleen Jamie
  86. One Good Turn – Kate Atkinson
  87. Shakespeare – Bill Bryson

Friday, 28 December 2007

oh, and...

One more thing, as an addendum to today's other post...

Just thought you ought to know - I'm having a little difficulty using one letter on my keypad. Often I press it and it doesn't seem to respond. Just wanted to let you know, in case words don't many any sense, or I seem to have turned into a phenomenonally poor speller. Want to know which letter it is? Well, I haven't used it yet in today's post...

And I wonder why it has worn out so much? Perhaps it's owing to my use of these words:

and so to ed...

Not forgetting ook. So now you know... please don't lame me, it's not my fault.

A Little End-of-Year Meme

I think I'll probably end the year with a list of everything I read in 2007, but before that, here's a little 'meme' to give you a few hints and teasers... I shan't tag any other blogs, but if anyone else wants to have a go, it's good fun - leave a link in the comments!

In the parlance of newspapers, all this was true at the time of going to press! Who knows how much I'll have read by the end of the year... three good days left!

-How many books read in 2007?
87 (so far!)

n ratio?
63 Fiction/14 Non-Fiction, mostly letters or literary biography

-Male/Female authors?
27 male, 57 female, 3 where there were mixed or anonymous contributors

-Favourite book read?
Top ten listed here...

-Least favourite?
Don't think that's very fair to say... nothing this year which I've really loathed. And I tend to only blog criticism about the ones which are either a)by authors now dead or b)dead rich! Either way, they won't much care if I don't like their work.

-Oldest book read?
That would be the Bible - though the oldest book I read in English (well, I read the Bible in English, bu
t obviously it's a translation) was Pearl. Or whichever of the Pearl/Cleanness/Patience/Sir Gawain and the Green Knight manuscript was first written. Or MS Cotton X Zero or something... whatever we're supposed to call it.

That would be Claire Wigfall's very excellent The Loudest Sound and Nothing which I read before it wa
s published!

-Longest book title?

Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, by J. K. Rowling, actually. If I include subtitles, then it's The Bookshop at 10 Curzon St.: Letters Between Nancy Mitford & Heywood Hill 1952-73 – ed. John Saumaricz Smith.

-Shortest title?
Sylva by Vercors.

-How many re-reads?
I was surprised to discover that I re-read six books this year, given that I thought I rarely re-read anything. Miss Hargreaves, a couple of Harry Potters, Reading Groups by Jenny Hartley, Fair Play by Tove Jansson (re-read al
most immediately) and Aphra Behn's The Rover.

-Most books read by one author this year?
The 'Pearl-poet', or 'Gawain'poet' if you prefer, comes in top with four. Next up, step forward Monica Dickens,
William Shakespeare and J. K. Rowling on three each.

-Any in translation?
Yep, 6. The Bible, A Winter Book and Fair Play by Tove Jansson, Sarrasine by Balzac, Sylva by Vercors, The Wonderful Years by Reiner Kunze.

-And how many of this year's books were from the library?
Erm, (shamefacedly) none... That's not quite true, actually - three came from University libraries. But I haven't used a public library in some years... which will probably be the topic of another post sometime...

Tuesday, 25 December 2007


"For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David's throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and for ever" [Isaiah 9:6-7]

Amen! A very wonderful Christmas to you all.

Sunday, 23 December 2007

And They Call Me Mellow Yellow...

Thanks for all your sympathy and encouragement with The Challenge! I know, in the grand scheme of things, that a month without buying books isn't a biggie... but it might well be the first for a few years, and strain my self-discipline. This isn't about buying books to read immediately - otherwise Peter's suggestion about using the local library would, of course, meet with my cheerful approval - but more a magpie instinct which could do with calming...

And another book sneaked/snuck into my hands before the ban starts. Well, actually, this book wasn't an impulse buy. I saw it in one of Crewkerne's bookshops a few months ago, and decided I couldn't *really* afford it... but the fact that
I'm still thinking about it all this while later suggested that it wouldn't be an unrewarding purchase.

The Yellow Book: A Selection comes, unsurprisingly, from The Yellow Book - I wrote about this quite a bit in my Special Topic thesis on Victorian Short Stories. It was around in the 1890s and published fin-de-siecle stories, poetry and art in a beautiful yellow, good quality format. The 1949 anthology followed these pointers, and this book is a delight to both behold and hold. What's more, the contents are great - although set up with the amusing purposes of a)avoiding advertising in periodicals and b)avoiding Oscar Wilde altogether, The Yellow Book witnessed some of that very early Modernism, alongside some very late Victorianism. Writers include Henry James, Arthur Symons, George Gissing, Kenneth Grahame, Yeats, Edmund Gosse, George Moore, Max Beerbohm, Richard Garnett. I know rather less about the art of the period (or, indeed, any period) but recognised Walter Sickert's name and, of course, Aubrey Beardsley.

Lots of copies from cheaper than I paid (The Bodley Head edition) and definitely a work of art as well as literature - a great coffee table book too, it must be admitted. Especially if your walls are yellow.

Friday, 21 December 2007

Mission Impossible

What have I done?

It all started out so innocently. I was having lunch a week or so ago with my library cronies, Lucy and Clare, and the topic of my book-buying came up. These gals aren't foreigners to the world of book buying, believe me, but for some reason they thought I took the art to excess. And somehow, in the course of this conversation, I managed to agree to a bet that I wouldn't be able to abstain from book-buying throughout January. Once again, in bold, I will not buy any books in January. Goodness.

A couple exceptions. I can buy gifts; I can receive gifts. I just can't buy books for myself. For a whole month. Eek.

Yes, I do have something of a backlog to get through. But popping into a charity shop and buying a couple of 20p books - this is like oxygen to me. So will I manage a whole month? Will I forget and order something from Amazon? I'll let you know, and perhaps post a photograph of the monies I receive from/give to Lucy...

These are a couple I bought today, making the most of my last days as a book buyer. Tara talked about Chatterton Square by E. H. Young a while ago, and couldn't this Jonathan Cape publication. He also published Elizabeth Cambridge's
Hostages to Fortune originally, and since then I've been drawn to that entrancing typeface used on covers... never seen a dustjacket, though. Also had to buy the sequel to Three Men in a Boat, especially with that nice cover...

Oh, and I went carol singing with Paddy Ashdown for the second time this evening... that might mean nothing to non-UK/Irish readers.

Thursday, 20 December 2007

All Passion Spent

I don't know if any of you joined in on Cornflower's first ever Book Group read, All Passion Spent, but here's the link if you wanted to follow the animated conversation. Lots of strong opinions and lots of people contributing - can't quite match the fun and furore of a real live book group, but comes a close second.

You may remember that I got All Passion Spent as my Secret Santa present - and I Woolfed it down. Yes, I know Woolf didn't write the novel , but there wasn't a great deal of punning potential in 'Sackville-West'... unless some sort of badinage on 'string-vest'...

I was a little surprised that not everyone loved the novel, but I must assure you that it is brilliant. I had 22 contenders for my top ten books (well, I read a great deal more than that, but there were 22 on my shortlist) and All Passion Spent came in about twelfth. It's the tale of Lady Slane, a widow who deci
des to buck her troublesome family (which does include, however, the rather lovely dreamer Ethel) and live alone for the first time in her life. She quietly moves to a house she first saw thirty years previously, refuses to see her grandchildren and great-grandchildren (though, again, in a quiet and calm way) and reminisces about her childhood, courtship, and marriage. In many ways the old-woman-seeking-dependence plot is like The Stone Angel, which I wrote about here, but where Hagar was undeniably selfish and bitter, Lady Slane is dignified, sensible and kind throughout.

A background of great, slightly eccentric, characters such as Mr. Bucktrout and FitzGeorge complete this witty, calming, beautiful novel. Above all, the writing is wonderful, wonderful, wonderful - each sentence is constructed with care and humanity. Would make excellent Boxing Day reading.

Tuesday, 18 December 2007

Top Ten... of 2007

And here we are!
I've spent my day in the kitchen, making my vegetarian Christmas dinner to freeze (artichoke and wild mushroom pie) so I don't get in Our Vicar'
s Wife's way come Christmas Eve. Also made some mince pies (and variants with syrup and with honey as the Carbon Copy doesn't like mince pies) and something made entirely of cream, chocolate and Baileys. Mmm.
At the end of that, which was great fun, seems right to share 2007's top reads. I know you've thought of little else for the past week...
Here goes...

10. Three Men In A Boat - Jerome K. Jerome
Wonderfully funny, and must read the sequel before too long. More here.

9. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead - Barbara Comyns

Surreal but special - in the 50 Books... here.

8. Watching the English - Kate Fox

Fascinating pop-anthropology about my very own English people. Also in th
e 50 Books... back when I took much effort over my photgraphs... here.

7. The London Scene - Virginia Woolf

Our friend Ginny has appeared in '04, '05, '06 and '07. What an accolade for the lass.

6. Cymbeline - William Shakespeare

Not one of his most popular plays, but read the final scene as comedy and you're away.

5. Speaking of Love - Angela Young

Neighbour to Billybob, Angela! Another 50 Books... entrant; look out for the paperback in 2008.

4. A Winter Book - Tove Jansson
Read it on a beautiful beach - maybe I should give this book a re-rea
d in more wintery temperatures. More here...

3. The Love Child - Edith Olivier
A bit like Miss Hargreaves in that it's domestic life with a fantasy twist, the protagonist conjures to life an imaginary childhood companion, but power tussels ensue... more on The Love Child soon.

2. One Pair of Hands - Monica Dickens
Been ages that I'd intended to read some Monica Dickens, and what a treat I'd been missing. Makes the fourth 50 Books... this year. So what beat it?

1. The Bible
No, not the first year I read any of the Bible, of course, but I did finish reading it this year. Started with "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" and ended with "The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God's people. Amen". Not really going to be any competition, is there?

Monday, 17 December 2007

Top Ten... of 2006

Getting very close to this year's list, but before I let you in on 2007's top ten, here's what made the grade last year. As always, it is ones I've enjoyed most, rather than those which are most meritworthy. Otherwise I might have some trouble justifying my choice of no.1 over my choice for no.5...

10. A House and Its Head - Ivy Compton-Burnett
ICB is a love-or-loathe author, and luckily I love her. Preferred Mother and Son, but this is quite wonderful too.

9. There Were No Windows - Norah Hoult
Another Persephone Book (not often they aren't good enough for my top ten) and one which is both heart-rending and very funny - about an authoress with dementia.

8. The Two Doctors - Elizabeth Cambridge
She appeared on my 2004 list, and this is a worthy follower.

7. Discipline - Mary Brunton
Jane Austen mentions Mary B a couple of times in her letters, quite sardonically, and she is certainly worth reading. The 1980s introduction to my copy kind of misses the point...

6. The Vicar of Wakefield - Oliver Goldsmith
Very funny, and finger-on-the-pulse theologically too. Nice combination.

5. All's Well That Ends Well - William Shakespeare
Saw this with Dame Judi Dench in it, which probably helped me choose this Billybob play. No two entries by the same author, doncha know.

4. We Have Always Lived in the Castle - Shirley Jackson
Lisa (Bluestalking Reader) sent this one in the dovegreybooks postal group - we don't often disagree on books. Brilliantly Gothic and a classy page-turner.

3. Evelina - Frances Burney
See here...

2. A Writer's Diary - Virginia Woolf
Leonard Woolf edited Woolf's diaries into this book, which deals mainly with her literary output. Good place to start with Ginny.

1. The Letters of... - Elizabeth Myers
Only from Myers side, these letters are to all sorts of people (including Walter de la Mare) and reveal a gentle, humorous and ultimately slightly tragic figure. Myers died quite young, and, as the letters are divided into sections for each recipient, you feel this death coming on again and again and again... Still, this collection has a fragile beauty which cannot be forged.

Sunday, 16 December 2007

Top Five... of 2005

2005 wasn't a great year for reading. Not for me, that is. Somehow I only managed to compile a top five of the year, since nothing else I'd read qualified... shame. It was the first full year of university, and I suppose that meant I read mainly chapters of things and so forth. Did get through Ulysses, but that didn't come close to making the top 5, believe you me... anyway, without further ado:

5. Lady Into Fox - David Garnett
Which I talked about here...

4. Jacob's Room - Virginia Woolf

Ginny strikes again.

3. The Mill on the Floss - George Eliot

Still the only Eliot I've finished, and surprised I only placed this at number three, since it's one of my favourite novels. Very strange title, if you think about it.

2. The Long Afternoon - Giles Waterfield

Angela sent this out on the dovegreybooks postal book group, and I thank her for it. Look out for it in my 50 Books...

1. Blind Man's Buff - Richmal Crompton
Must eulogise about Ms. Crompton at greater length, one of these days...

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Top Ten... of 2004

Here we are, then, with the Top Ten as decided in December 2004... I'll work my way up to this year's list bit by bit. Sadly three of the books are currently in Oxford, and one has gone astray - if anyone out there borrowed the Richmal Crompton, just let me know! Must emphasise again that the lists are how much I enjoyed/valued the books, not anything else...

10. The Haunted Woman - David Lindsay
Entered the 50 Books... only the other day.

9. Cranford - Elizabeth Gaskell
And three years later, the rest of the BBC-watching world agrees...

8. Someone at a Distance - Dorothy Whipple

See this post for more Whipple/Persephone Books musings.

7. Hostages to Fortune - Elizabeth Cambridge
Another Persephone Book, still one of my favourites, though the copy photographed is actually an original hardback edition.

6. The Awakening - Kate Chopin

Thanks Lynne (dovegreyreader) for introducing me to this one

5. The Gypsy's Baby - Richmal Crompton
LOVE her novels, and though this one isn't one of her best, my year of Crompton-gorging was 2003

4. The Waves - Virginia Woolf

Sublime. For more on Woolf... well, most of my posts seem to mention the lady.

3. Agnes Grey - Anne Bronte

My copy is in Oxford, and this remains my favourite of all the Bronte novels. Just wish I could remember how to get the accent in.

2. Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier

What a great year for novels this was... and what a shame I immediately followed this classic with the abysmal Rebecca's Tale.

1. Northanger Abbey - Jane Austen
The final Austen for me to read, and of course it is utterly brilliant.

For 2005, come back tomorrow...

Friday, 14 December 2007

Back in the 'hood

Very nice to be back in the rural idyll that is Chiselborough, Somerset, England. I'm not back to work until January 10th, by which time I might have forgotten quite how early 7.30am feels. Since most of the people reading this probably rise at 6 or thereabouts, so I shan't moan - but nor shall I get up early for the next couple of weeks if I have anything to say about it.

So why have I taken leave and come home to Somerset early? Well, since you ask - for the West Chinnock Christmas Extravaganza. In case you're compiling a catalogue of my various abilities, don't pop acting on the list. Before you think I'm being modest, the crowd at West Chinnock Christmas Extravaganza wholly agree with me. We've just come back from delivering our sketch, and it was rather a tough crib - but lots of nice people said they enjoyed it afterwards. The Carbon Copy penned the script, which was very funny, and we all played ourselves, preparing for the Extravaganza. A bit of metatheatre, if you will. Lots of bits of sketches and awful puns and the sorts of things which village shows require - though we refused to provide their favourite fare of semi-nudity and toilet humour. They'd have loved Renaissance drama...

I've been busy compiling my Top Ten Books of the Year, more difficult this year than I remember it being before, but I'm going to whet your appetite over the next few days with 2004, 2005 and 2006's top tens. And I might even give you a run down of all the books I've read this year. Something to look out for...

Wednesday, 12 December 2007

The Poet

A while ago my friend Mel set up a website called The Pygmy Giant - not entirely sure (or at all sure) where the name came from, possibly Mel's diminuitive stature, but that needn't worry us right now. The website is for flash fiction - which Wikipedia describes as "fiction characterised by its extreme brevity". Poems or stories of under 2000 words, more or less, which one can read easily in one go, and which generally has some quick, singular impact. Great fun, and interesting to see what people can do with few words.

Anyway, I submitted a poem the other day, and it is now in place. Not the most cheery ditty in the world, but I quite liked it. If any of you are budding writers, or just fancy the challenge of seeing what you can write in a short space, then I'm sure Mel would love to hear from you. Email but do check the submission guidelines first; for one thing, I think everyone submitting work is British, or at least living in Britain. That's because there are lots of American flash fiction websites out there, and Mel wanted to try something a bit different.

Do go and check out the site, there's some really interesting stuff going on over there. And if I ever performed by friendship role better, I might even be an assistant editor. I'll settle with contributor for now.

Tuesday, 11 December 2007

Month In, Month Out

I saw the Magna Carta today.

I also learnt that there are more than one - dozens of the things, actually, since it was issued several times, and each time one was sent to every county. Frankly, I'm surprised I haven't tripped over one before. Anyway, the Bodleian is currently displaying some of them, and I went along to have a look - was quite a surreal experience, but very fun and interesting. Our Vicar would be proud.

That opening sentence was quite unusual - which leads me to remark; Danielle had a good idea the other day, well I think she may have borrowed the idea, but it is good nonetheless. The idea is that you type out the first sentence from the first day/entry of each month, on your blog, and thus present a progress of the year. Just one sentence per month. Well, I only started in April, but I'm going to count the 10th April as a 'first day'.

April - Why, hello there.

May -
May 1st is coming to an end in England, and thus comes the close of Magdalen's May Day.

June -
We've all heard about the difficulties authors have with their second books - especially if these authors have had phenomenal success with their first books.

July -
I don't read Science Fiction, but I think it's true to say that a lot of it is about making humans.

August -
I'm back, I'm back!

September -
This year has been one of lengthy absences in the world of Stuck-in-a-Book, and for that I apologise.

October -
I'm sure most of you have been in this position: you want to tell someone a funny quotation you've read, only you can't remember the book, author, page or even the quotation properly.

November -
If you're not singing Dolly Parton in your head right now, then either a)you're too young b)you're too sophisticated, or c)you're too sane.

December -
Another week of being rather lax with blog posting - as I scroll down the section in the column which categorises posts by months, I'm astonished that I managed 28 in October and May.

What a strange collection of month-openings... and many of 'em apologising for my reticence. And not much about books there! How accurate a cross-section of my logging this is, I leave up to you...

Monday, 10 December 2007

Secret Santa

I attended rather a fun Secret Santa party this evening, and this is what I got:

1) All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West
2) A Month in the Country by J. L. Carr
3) The Go-Between on DVD

Doesn't Santa know me well? Helps that I talk a lot about my literary likes and dislikes - always feel bad when I realise I don't know the preferences of those around me, when mine are well known. Perhaps because, where many of my friends have devotion towards certain sports or instruments or activities, I profess a deep-set adoration for Virginia Woolf and Jane Austen. Hmm. BUT these wonderful gifts are much appreciated, and perform that wonderful feat of being both beautiful and having great contents. Or so I assume - have not read/seen any of them, but am most confident. And now I can join in Cornflower's Book Group!

Sunday, 9 December 2007

A Proper Family Christmas

Christmas Shopping is upon us, and I daresay some of you started some months ago, stirring the pudding back in March and planning the Christmas card list last Boxing Day. For the less organised amongst us, any ideas for presents are probably very welcome - and I'd like to push one under your nose for the bookish person in your life. Or perhaps you'd like to push this under someone else's nose, since you're the bookish person in their life.

I also have an AA Milne quotation for every occasion. Well, I can't remember exactly how this goes, but something along the lines of: "Every critic instantly assumes that, should a writer be able to make his audience laugh, he secretly wishes he were making them cry". Milne didn't always love his critics, but the point is that we shouldn't underestimate the comic writer - I think it's much more difficult to make readers laugh than it is to make them cry, and a comic novel done well is a wonderful thing.

Step forward Jane Gordon-Cumming, and A Proper Family Christmas. I was worried people didn't write books like this any more. Don't get me wrong, I love pensive, slightly depressing, high-literary fiction more than anyone - Virginia Woolf is one of my favourite authors, after all (though she is incredibly funny, I must add) - but where did novels go which gently laugh at human nature and the tangles
they get themselves in? Thankfully Jane G-C has written one such novel, and I know you'll love it.

William lives by himself in a rambling old house, such as are only found in fiction - well, I say alone, he actually lives with a rather wonderful cat called Scratch. You can't go wrong with cats in fiction - they're such amusing and characterful creatures. Anyway, William is an obstreperous old man, but one you can't help loving. Despite his best efforts, every member of his family descend on his house for Christmas - his forthright siser Margery; widow Hilary and her attractive teenage son; neurotic Lesley and Stephen with their spoilt child Tobias and put-upon nanny Frances; scatty Julia and innuendo-flinging Tony with worldy-wise daughter Posy and flirty nanny Shelley; arty Leo who seems to be perpetually ignored by all; charmer and antiquities exp
ert Oliver. Phew, think that's everyone. What a cast! Despite a lot of characters and a lot of names, like one's own family one never gets confused. They all have their place and, like them or loathe them, you can't help being quietly fond of each and every one.

This novel is definitely a character piece - throw together a lot of disparate and amusing people, and a few Wodehousian plots, and see what happens. And what happens is a witty and touching romp through the intricacies and politics of a family Christmas. If you don't recognise it all, you're lucky, but you'll love it nonetheless. A perfect Christmas present for someone who loves something to read on Boxing Day, just so long as they can't recognise themselves in its pages... and best not give it to anyone called William, Leo, Margery, Lesley, Stephen, Tony, Shelley, Tobias, Posy, Julia... at a pinch Frances, Oliver, Hilary and Daniel will take it as a compliment...

Friday, 7 December 2007


Didn't think we'd have anyone call out "I know that book!" from yesterday's post.

I’ll put you out of your misery – the latest addition to my 50 Books is David Lindsay’s The Haunted Woman. It’s one of the books which came to my mind first when planning the list, and one of those which I still have in my mind over three years since reading it. I’ll warn you, though, reactions have been rather widespread – just within the blogging world, Lisa at BlueStalking and Elaine at Random Jottings thought almost exactly the opposite. Lisa put it in her top ten reads of 2004, whilst Elaine thought it was silly and pretty poor – all the more fun when opinion is disparate, isn’t it?! (On a completely unrelated note, did you know that the correct term for ‘?!’ is an interrobang?)

The Haunted Woman is another of those novels I love, where life is normal except for one fantastical element. In this case it is a staircase, which gets me interested immediately. Think this might be a rather specialist interest, but I love staircases in literature – was musing the other day whether there was scope for a thesis there, but might be too esoteric even for Oxford. Plus the only other one I can think of which has any particular relevance is Mrs. Sparsit’s metaphorical staircase in Hard Times. If you can think of any others, do let me know…

I’ll quote the blurb from my copy of The Haunted Woman:

Engaged to a decent but unexceptional man, Isbel Loment leads an empty life, moving with her aunt from hotel to hotel. She is perverse and prickly with untapped resources of character and sensibility. They explore by chance a strange house and there Isbel meets Judge, its owner; a profoundly disturbing relationship develops and it is from this that the drama unfolds.

They obviously don’t want to give the staircase bit away, but I shall – there is a staircase which offers three doors at the top. Isbel takes one of them, which leads to a room, where she meets Ju
dge again. When they return to the main house, neither remember what has taken place in the room. And so it goes on, with parallel existences and relationships. All the way throughout the novel there is the mystery of what remains behind the other doors…

David Lindsay’s writing is sometimes criticised for not being very fluid or well styled, but I just found it took a little getting used to – sure, he’s not Virginia Woolf, but I didn’t find it stood out as awful. And, for me, the plot and intrigue and characters more than make up for this. I sometimes love books for language, regardless of plot (e.g. Tove Jansson’s writing) but equally sometimes plot takes precedence over language. And Lindsay manages to combine the two in a way which leads to a beautiful surrealism by the end, and produces a novel which is quite unlike anything else I’ve ever read. Give it a try.

Thursday, 6 December 2007

Not A Tricky Question

This week's Booking Through Thursday question is:

Do you have a favourite book, now out of print, that you would like to see become available again?

This might just rank as one of the easiest questions I've ever answered - yes yes yes! All of 'em! I used to naively believe that 'good' books (whatever they are) stayed in print - how much better do I know now?!

I'm too sleepy to write a proper post tonight, but tomorrow I'll be
introducing a new book to the 50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About. Thought this question warranted it.

A few clues. Well, not really clues, because you May Not Have Heard About this novel, but something to set the mood...

  • published in 1922
  • written by a man
  • primarily about a woman
  • reissued by the same people who reissued Miss Hargreaves
  • this is a close-up of the cover:

Wednesday, 5 December 2007


I know it's barely December, and at this rate we'll spend a fifth of the year celebrating Christmas, but I can't help it. Love the festivities, as I've said, and this year made even better by the revelation that I do like mince pies - have spent a decade believing my childhood dislike was unchanged. It's going to be a good year...

Anyway, Nan has tagged me for a Christmas meme (what a strange sentence, and shows just how much technology affects language... discuss) so here goes:

What is your most enduring Christmas memory?
I think it must be when we were eight, and Mum & Dad both had awful flu. They stayed in bed, except for a brief appearance to open presents, but had wisely procured remote control cars for Colin and me - we spent a contented two days playing with them, and the batteries ran out just in time to coincide with the parents being able to stagger down the stairs. How callous children are...

Do you have a favourite piece of Christmas music?
Nan says In The Bleak Midwinter, and I have to agree. Also love O, Little Town of Bethlehem, and, on a less classy note, All I Want For Christmas Is You...

Do you stick to the old family traditions?
I still have Christmas with the old family, so yes! I don't know if we do anything that my grandparents initiated. Most of the things we do on the day itself are dictated by Our Vicar being Our Vicar - Christmas dinner is on Christmas Eve, because he has so many services to do, and we open presents after a leftovers meal on Christmas Day. And there are certain cake decorations that must go on the cake every year. Oh, and we have a couple of Harrods Christmas decorations which are proudly displayed (when I bought the 79p I was actually moved to a less salubrious queue at the back of the shop) - in fact, in Worcestershire they stayed in place all year, hanging from the light fittings, so that people wouldn't bang their heads.

What makes your mouth water at Christmas time?
Chocolate pies (like mince pies, but with chocolate spread in - it goes all crumbly and delicious when baked), roast potatoes, brussel sprouts (WHY do we only have these once a year? They're brilliant), stuffing, mulled wine. Yet to find a vegetarian meat-substitute which gets me incredibly excited. Quorn roast is quite nice, but I defy anyone to get very excited about a nut roast. Going to experiment this year, methinks...

How soon do you put the Christmas tree up and when do you take it down?
Here's how it goes - every year I nag for the tree to go up on December 1st; the Carbon Copy says 24th December is the day; Our Vicar's Wife says perhaps we don't need a tree after all; the tree goes up about the 15th. I nag everyone to help me decorate it, the Carbon Copy helps a bit under duress, I criticise his efforts and re-do them, the parents subtly disappear. It stays up until the day before the annual Epiphany Party, usually.

Oh, I love Christmas.

Tuesday, 4 December 2007


I've been at it again. Another impulse buy today, but one which I might just impulsively read straight away... or at least as soon as I've finished the latest review books. And Book Group books. Oh dear.

Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife met me for lunch, and after a rather yummy broccoli and stilton soup (in a cafe, not my handiwork, I'm afraid) we browsed through the QI Bookshop. For any UK readers who also watch the QI television programme with Stephen Fry, yes, this is researched in the rooms above the bookshop. I've not been in before, and it might be my last chance, as apparently it's moving to the top floor, alongside the exclusive QI-members-only restaurant. Shame.

They have a small stock, but an interesting one - a stock which bears the signs of being selected by a discerning buyer. Some successful sellers; others more obscure. They even had a Persephone Book, so I was impressed from the off (The Wise Virgins by Leonard Woolf, since you ask) - my eye was drawn towards Findings by Kathleen Jamie. I haven't heard of her before, but I could tell immediately that this was A Sort Of Book. I don't mean that there was some ambiguity as to whether it was a book or a mantlepiece, nothing like that, Sort Of Books are a publishing house - 'distributed by Penguin Books', so they might be an off-shoot, I don't know. They publish the beautiful, beautiful Tove Jansson translations, and I thought I probably couldn't go wrong with another of their books. And so I bought it...

Findings is non-fiction, Kathleen Jamie (a poet) travels around her native Scotland watching, listening, observing - and these observations are in this book. Not the biggest fan of travel literature, or even books set in other countries, because they have so much extraneous detail. I find an author noticing her/his own surroundings afresh much more involving. Have already heard from e-friends that this was a favourite read, hope others have come across Jamie too. Perhaps I'm the last? Anyway, will let you know when I've read it, but I can't imagine not really liking Findings.

Monday, 3 December 2007


Chances are, if you read this blog frequently, that you understand the acronym 'tbr'. It probably brings tears to your eyes a little... that's right, I'm sure most of us have to-be-read piles, whether in reality or mentally. On the dovegreybooks Yahoo Group recently we were discussing the number of unread books we had on our shelves - I happened to mention that I had about 300 unread books (unread by me, that is - most of 'em have been read by someone). This was met with aghast amusement by another member, who couldn't stomach the idea of resisting books for so long, while a little bit later I was trumped by someone who estimated they had 4000 unread books in their home - ! Wow.

Here is my defence, i
f defence is necessary. During university I rarely had time to read books for pleasure (though I did derive a lot of pleasure from the books I had to read - subtle difference), but my buying rate didn't slow down... Secondly, when I'm in a charity shop and the books are 50p each, anything I *might* one day want to read, or loan to someone, or refer to, ends up being in my hot little hands. And the money goes to charity. It's like a generous donation, only I get something in return. (Denial is, they say, the first sign - am I right?) Also (I have no end of excuses) I try to read borrowed books as quickly as possible, thus leaving my own spoils to fester.

How about you? A backlog which would suffice for years, should someone dig a moat around your house, or just enough to keep you going until the kettle's boiled?

This is a long-winded way of saying that a whole new heap of books has entered my house... the nicest cover being the one displayed above, A House of Air by Penelope Fitzge
rald. Lynne would be proud. Having heard so much about it, I couldn't resist donating some money to Oxfam, and receiving this book as a total coincidence.

The Harvest by Christopher Hart - not heard of it, but my friend Clare says it's one of her favourite books, and she loves A Lifetime Burning and Tom's Midnight Garden - how could I wrong with £1?

The other four were birthday presents, thanks guys!
-Love In A Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford, from Barbara-in-Ludlow - have read The Pursuit of Love but none of the rest, so thanks Barbara, and get well soon!

-Shakespeare by Bill Bryson, kindly given by The Carbon Copy, who knows me very well. My literati offering was a Mr. Funny T-Shirt. Only in our minds are Shakespeare and Roger Hargreaves akin.

-When We Were Very Young by AA Milne - of course I have a copy of this, but my lovely friend Mel bought me a 1925 edition, published less than a year after the first edition.

-Unbeaten Tracks in Japan by Isabella L. Bird - know little about this, but my dear English-student-friend Phoebe sent it, all the way from Japan, in fact. An autobiographical account of an Englishwoman touring Japan in 1878 - sounds wonderful, and may move nearer the very top of the tbr pile. And right now I have to leap out of bed with some vigour, to avoid the besieging books...

Sunday, 2 December 2007


Happy Advent, one and all - although 10, Regent Street remains sadly undecorated, it has warmed my heart to see electric snowflakes appear over the lampposts of Oxford, candles materialise in people's windows, and holly, wreathes, tinsel, miniature soldiers playing miniatures parcels as though they were drums - the whole Christmas bumpf. As a Christian, Christ is always going to be the most important and exciting part of Christmas, but I love the tack and the good cheer which goes alongside. Yesterday I experienced one of my favourite Christmas pasttime - watching a domestic cat around a Christmas tree for the first time. I remember Bundle's reaction every year, (Bundle being our cat, who was with us from 1993-2006) bewilderment as the humans brought a tree inside, gradual recollection that we did sometimes do that, sniffing around the tree, playing with a few low-lying decorations, then generally accepting the incident as one of the many irrational things humans will do, like not feed cats when they're hungry, and get cross when you sit in the lovely bed they've prepared for a cat just because it's called "clean laundry". What a long sentence that was!

So, how have I been spending my Advent? This evening I have baked, washed up, and mopped the floor. W
hy, you ask? I'm not auditioning for Househusband of the Year (nor, indeed, am I a husband) but rather preparing for the visitation of Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife tomorrow. Our Vicar hasn't seen my house yet, so I thought I'd give the illusion that we live in cleanliness and hygiene. Well, we manage the hygiene bit, anyway. I'm only one pair of hands and there are three other males in this house... Before you award me Son of the Century, never mind Year, I must confess -I accidentally double booked the parents' visit with my library Christmas dinner, and thus shall only be seeing them for 2.5 hours. Bad son. These were placatory measures, which hopefully will be noticed by at least one of my parents...

The next chunk of Advent will be spent in Reader Services - as I mentioned, I've finished in the Science section - so it's a case of impressing new colleagues as well as parents. Better get some sleep then. Oh, and I hope you like my advent calendar - it's on a little card, bought by Our Vicar's Wife. The advent calendar used to be something Granny always provided for us, and it's still nice to have one, even if the pictures behind each door get increasingly tenuous. Even the specifically Christian ones tend to lose inspiration after star, donkey, angel and plump for items like holly, pigeon, wheelbarrow which seemed to have been missed out of my New Testament...

Saturday, 1 December 2007

What's The Time, Mr. Wolf?

Another week of being rather lax with blog posting - as I scroll down the section in the column which categorises posts by months, I'm astonished that I managed 28 in October and May. Well, 24 isn't bad for November. Especially since 30-days-have-September, April-June-and-November (do they still teach children that in Primary School? It all tails off in 'except for February alone, which has 28, unless it's a leap year...' - not so much with the scansion, there).

I'm currently at 'work' in the Bodleian - my Saturday duty, which I do once a month. Except term ended yesterday, and only the very dedicated h
ave shown up to study once everyone else has gone home. Not run off my feet. And all this got me thinking about the blogging schedule - what time do you blog? What time do you read blogs, or go through the daily blog-crawl? Same time everyday? Whenever you have a moment?

With some exceptions (like today), I blog between 10.30-midnight just before I go to bed. That's because the mornings are invariably a rush, and the evenings seem more flexible - but also explains why I never had photographs taken in the light, and why I'm often ineloquent and sleepy-sounding...

My blog-crawl comes at about 10.00, when the morning rush is over in the library and I have time to look through some websites. That might change when I start in the main Bodleian on Monday... I've already talked about the blogs I visit daily, and it's nice to know which ones will have something new. Dovegreyread
er seems to update at early o'clock, with Random Jottings not long after - Cornflower will be mid-morning, usually, and so it goes on. All gets a bit more confusing with US blogs, which probably get updated while I'm asleep, but a check at 10.00 will generally insure something different has arrived.

And al
l this is by way of a sort-of apology - because I daresay my regular visitors hope to see something arrive before midnight (or, rather, be there in the morning) so those of you who checked in early this morning... sorry. I was asleep!

And to offset an apology with a thanks - three of you lovely people offered me a cutting of the Guardian bit mentioning me, so thanks Julie, Carole and Peter (I assume Dark Puss can't read?) and especial thanks to Julie who was first, and thus to whom I responded first, and is responsible for the article now on my desk at home!