Tuesday, 30 September 2008


In As Time Goes By, one of my favourite sitcomes and starring the sublime Dame Judi Dench, Lionel (Geoffrey Palmer) reads books he thinks he's read, but realises he hasn't. The Bible, Winnie the Pooh, and Moby Dick all come under this heading (three books I've actually read - or, to be precise, 68 books I've actually read). Today I finished a play which almost comes into that category - Peter Pan. I had no illusions as to my actually having read Peter Pan, but I have seen the film and watched Finding Neverland enough to wonder just how much of it I did genuinely know.

I thought Peter Pan (1904, the play) was on my reading list for Literature and Empire 1880-1930, but turns out it was Peter Pan and Wendy (1911, the novel... well, some sort of prose anyway) but I didn't realise this until I'd started Peter Pan, and I thought it might still come in handy. Not sure whether it made the reading list because of the Native Americans/Red Indians in it, or because Never Land could be considered a colonial territory, but would be interesting to use the play from both angles. What I wasn't anticipating was that the play would be quite so charmingly, whimsically amusing - much in the way AA Milne's plays are, and indeed much writing was 1900-1920ish. Just the sort of thing I absolutely love, and which some people seem to absolutely loathe - I could never see 'twee' as an insult.

All great fun - and the Dedication at the beginning, which is some pages long, is rather touching about the boys with whom he made up the original adventures, and their gradual loss of belief in the games. All related with a light touch, but moving nonetheless. Years ago I read Andrew Birkin's rather good book J.M. Barrie and the Lost Boys, about Barrie and this family, and Finding Neverland was influenced by the biography to an extent - a fascinating man, and a fun play.

But more to the point - which books would fall into this Lionel category for you? You think you've read them but... you haven't. What would be in mine? It always surprises me that I've not read The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett, or The Borrowers by Mary Norton. Both of which are with me in Oxford as we speak...

Monday, 29 September 2008

The Story of an African Farm

My target for this year's reading was to finish 100 books - and earlier this week I finished my hundredth book, so anything further will simply be a bonus! Some of those books were rather short, some rather longer, and it all more or less balances out. Only one has been by someone called Olive... actually, if I were reading the original edition, it would be by Ralph Iron.

Not much point in my being cryptic, since the title of the novel is also the title of this post - The Story of an African Farm. Publish
ed in 1883, Olive Schreiner had herself travelled from an African Farm in South Africa, though how much of the book is true I shouldn't like to guess. The Story of an African Farm is also the first book I finished for my first Masters module (which shows that I should really get a move on).

Though not a long novel, it rather sprawls throughout quite a few years and quite a few characters on the farm - the boy Waldo is the first we meet properly, and he is pondering the nature of God and existence. Gosh. This is a substantial theme throughout the novel - especially at the beginning of Part Two, which treats the exploration of divinity as though it were a path we all take identically. The theme is dealt with in a sophisticated manner emotionally and even intellectually, though perhaps the years of similar novelistic musings have soured the readership - much more satisfying than DH Lawrence, however. With a similar tightrope walk between approachable thought and didacticism, Schreiner's character Lyndall is concerned with the plight of women. It is one of the most emotive, but least melodramatic, expositions I have read:

'I once heard a man say, that he never saw intellect help a woman so much as a pretty ankle; and it was the truth. They begin to shape us to our cursed end... when we are tiny things in shoes and socks. We sit with our little feet drawn up under us in the window, and look out at the boys in their happy play. We want to go. Then a loving hand is laid on us: "Little one, you cannot go," they say; "your little face will burn, and your nice white dress be spoiled." We feel it must be for our good, it is so lovingly said; but we cannot understand; and we kneel still with one little cheek wistfully pressed against the pane. Afterwards we go and thread blue beads, and make a string for our neck; and we go and stand before the glass. We see the complexion we were not to spoil, and the white frock, and we look into our own great eyes. Then the curse begins to act on us. It finishes its work when we are grown women, who no more look out wistfully at a more healthy life; we are contented.'

Lest this sound too earnest, I shall hasten to add that The Story of an African Farm is often wryly amusing, with the comedy of characters - the large aunt who has a string of suitors come to propose marriage, and the weedy, bullied man who succeeds. The self-satisfied Englishman who is finally vanquished. Gentle misunderstandings and competing personalities amongst those on the farm. Both well written and thought-provoking, The Story of an African Farm isn't your average Victorian three-volume novel, but it is authentic and purposeful, and I look forward to studying it more closely in the future.

Saturday, 27 September 2008

Sony Reader: The Carbon Copy's Verdict

To continue with the theme (and do keep the questions coming), Colin has emailed me in his thoughts on the Sony Reader. And you'll see why he's considered funnier than me :-) He blogs at www.colinjthomas.co.uk. Here goes with his verdict:

One of the chief problems of the literary world over the last few years has been Harry Potter. How is someone in their twenties supposed to read the adventures of the boy wizard, without losing all trace of credibility? No longer young enough to read it for pleasure, not yet old enough to pretend I'm doing it because I'm worried about what the kids are reading, the choices are few.

Bloomsbury realised this some time ago, and so introduced the 'adult' covers, enabling us to read the same text but with a dark, grown-up picture on the front. This worked well for about twenty minutes, but soon enough even these covers became easily recognisable as JK Rowling's work (the big gold 'Harry Potter' emblazoned on the front didn't help), and we were back to square one. And trust me, wrapping the dust jacket from Wuthering Heights round the cover doesn't help, since sooner or later someone will ask you how it's going, and you'll tell them you've always preferred Emily Bronte's other work. Embarrassing.

This is where the e-reader comes in. With no tell-tale cover, nobody on the train can know that the reason you've missed your stop is that you're frantically trying to work out if Hagrid's going to die or not – and if anyone asks you what you're reading, it is but the click of a button to bring up The Merchant of Venice or Ulysses. Of course, the lack of cover art does have its drawbacks; most notably that you can't tell which way up the book should be. I know I opened it upside down as often as not.

Of course, if you're not actually reading Harry Potter (or the Famous Five, Postman Pat annual, etc) there is the opposite problem that you can't silently show off what you're reading. What point is there in reading Hamlet (as I did in testing the e-reader) if you can't let everyone around you know that that's the kind of intelligent chap you are? I tried to make up for this by quoting extensively at every opportunity, but that's not always an option – and on public transport, people have their headphones in half the time anyway.

Speaking of which, this e-reader does offer the chance to listen to music while reading, though it's only really possible to fit a dozen or fewer songs on, I believe – as default it came with a lullaby. Clearly someone in a boardroom had the tag line “If you like reading, you'll love falling asleep!” in mind, though sadly it didn't make it to final product. Lullaby or not, I find the music cute, but fundamentally unnecessary: anyone who buys an e-reader will already own a dozen other gadgets that they can plug headphones into.

In fact, the surge of the music industry is perhaps a good parallel with the book world: from vinyl through to mp3, steadily the physical product has been sacrificed on the altar of convenience – a shame, since album artwork, like that of Abbey Road, Sgt. Pepper and Dark Side of the Moon, has lost its importance in the face of invisible downloads. Perhaps this is the direction that the literary world is headed.

Do I detect the sound of spluttering? This is probably not a wise arena in which to compare literature with popular music, and I know that there are those – and I can see my brother leading the way, banner held aloft – who regard books as sacred, and more than the sum of their text. I have heard Simon go into raptures about end-paper (whatever that is) and reject recently published books based on the their lack of mouldy smell – ay, there's the rub. Book-lovers will not be won over, even if the e-reader does allow you to take your entire library with you on holiday (actually, book-lovers will not be able to take their entire library, since none but the best-known books will make it to download, I fear). While the manufacturers (Sony? I should know things like this, as a reviewer) have gone to some length to make it look as much like a book as possible, it's not sufficiently distinctive (ie falling apart) to appeal to some. Not to mention the fact that the crossover of bibliophiles and technophobes is not insignificant.

Personally, I like the idea of computerising at least some of our books. Yes, it's phenomenally annoying that whenever you 'turn the page' (press a button), the new page appears in negative for half a second before showing itself correctly, reminding you that you're reading e-ink, not ink-ink. Yes, when I tried exploring it a little, it crashed – I bet the first folio didn't do that – producing that unique feeling of helplessness and fury that only men with computers can know. And yes, it was rather vexing that the only Jane Austen book not on there was the one I was currently reading (Northanger Abbey, since you ask. But that's definitely a book I want people to know I'm reading. Chicks dig guys who read Austen, I'm reliably informed). But the clincher for me – other than concealing my Harry Potter habit – is having the choice of hundreds of books wherever you are. Well, that and not having to dust so much. I won't be re-downloading my existing books, but I'd certainly consider downloading future purchases.

The Reader - Questions?

A brief interlude whilst I wait for The Carbon Copy's musings... to ask if anyone has any questions about the Reader? No use me blathering on if you have something specific to ask... saw this Q&A on someone else's blog, and thought it was a good idea.

Of course, as Phil already found out, I might not know. If I don't, I'll forward your questions onto Those Who Will Know (probably nice Huw who sent the Reader to me) and get back to you!

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Sony Reader: Stuck-in-a-Book's verdict

Day One
The Sony Reader arrives about 11am with the postman, in the middle of a coffee morning/bookshop thing we do in our garage/drive every Saturday morning. I open the package excitedly, and the Reader gets a lot of int
erest from those sitting at the tables. My first thought is definitely favourable - it's sleek, compact, not too look-at-me-and-all-my-shiny-buttons. I would be able to hold it and still feel like a book geek rather than a computer geek and that, my friends, is an important distinction.

One point. Yes, leather bound (hopefully, probably, fau
x leather) - is this to match the rest of my leather bound books? Cos I've gotta tell you, I don't have a lot of them. At last count it was none. But I suppose this probably isn't a snobbery thing; they couldn't really put it in a Virago paperback cover, could they now.

I open the enormous instruction sheet - one large sheet, rather than a booklet - and see that my first plan of action is to plug it in and charge it up.

Day Two

I'm afraid my inital excitement subsided whils
t it was charging. Didn't take that long, but the novelty wore off whilst it was charging... I'll be back to it tomorrow...

Day Three
Hugely impressed by the number of books available on the website - and some for only 80p.
And I've loaded Kim by Rudyard Kipling. I've flicked through forty odd pages of introduction and other paratextual bits and bobs, before I realise that I could have gone through the Table of Contents function. My fault for not exploring everything first. Having looked at the Table of Contents, I see that I can select the Intro, the Note, the Map... can I choose somewhere in the middle of the book? Only by typing in that page number. Well, if I know it, that's fine... Can I search for a phrase or something? Not that I can discover. But, then, I can't do that with a normal book.

Day Four
Reading Kim. Perhaps doesn't help that I'm not *loving* the book itself - more on that in a different post. I read recently that wo
rds on the screen encourage the 'power browse' - skimming over a section of text, seeking salient points only. Took a while to stop myself doing that. Once trained, though, the reading experience is surprisingly pleasant - it doesn't feel like reading a computer screen (not back lit) and, though it doesn't feel *exactly* like reading a normal book, it's much closer than I thought. I do have to wear my glasses to read (I think it's my astigmatism which makes anything on a screen go blurry....?) but that is becoming increasingly true whatever I read.

Day Five
What other functions does it? I like the 'b
ookmark' bit - I press a button and it folds down the corner of the page, and makes a record of it in a separate section on the menu. This I enjoy because I could never do it with a normal book - but here it's only the pixels being moved around, not a book being damaged. Bonus.
I can make the text bigger, I can see which pages I've looked at recently. There are probably lots of other things it can
do, but I've not worked them out yet.

To Conclude
Much better than I expected. The main quibbles I have are slightly silly - I found it strange to read something on the right-hand side only. The screen going black between each page turn, momentarily, is off-putting. But I anticipated finding the experience rather unpleasant and wholly unbookesque - and it was much nicer than I'd imagined. Still the only advantage over a normal book, that I can think, is being able to carry a lot at once (mine came with a CD of 100 classics).
Very glad to have tried it, but the future of the book is in no danger. I shan't be transferring over just yet - but neither will I be quite so sceptical.

Wednesday, 24 September 2008

Sony Reader

Something to whet the appetite today, in a to-be-continued review...

I almost deleted the email which had the subject line 'Sony Reader opportunity', thinking it was one in the endless line of spam emails which purport to come from every bank or company under the sun. This one, however, was genuine - the very charming Huw was offering me a Sony Reader, gratis, as Stuck-in-a-Book had come up when they were thinking of bookish people to spread the word.

Cue crisis of conscience. 'Dear Huw' (quoth I) 'I would very much like to try out a Sony Reader... but... I should warn you, I've not always been warmly in their favour on my blog.' In fact, I was even more honest than that. Nothing daunted, Huw wrote back saying I could still have one - after all, it would be even more of a triumph if I was won over.

The Sony Reader has been put to the Thomas Twin Test. That is to say, while The Carbon Copy was at home for a long weekend, I asked him to try out the eReader. I've also tried it. Tomorrow you get my report - his will follow in a day or two. I should let you know the stats, I suppose. (What does one 'know' about horses before races? If I knew the correct word, I'd use it.)

Stuck-in-a-Book a.k.a Simon: Obsessively bookish; slight suspicion of technology; has been known to break an internet cable by plugging it upside down.

The Carbon Copy a.k.a. Colin: Not quite so bookish - it's in there somewhere, but books have been supplanted by the newspaper of late; rather more capable with technology, but no more than the average 22 year old male.

So you see, we cover different bases. Both like reading; both willing to give the Sony Reader a fair go. What were we reading:

Stuck-in-a-Book: Huw said I could choose something from the list of books available to read on the Sony Reader. I toyed with The Daisy Chain by Charlotte Yonge, but my conscience once more got the better of me, and I chose something from my reading list - Kim by Rudyard Kipling.

The Carbon Copy: I daresay he'll tell us about his choosing procedure in due course, but the one he ended up with was Hamlet by Shakespeare, fondly known around here as Billybob (remember this?)

Ok. We're in our starting positions... more tomorrow, when you find out how I got along with the Sony Reader.

Tuesday, 23 September 2008


And here are some pictures of the completed sort-out!

This is the bulk of the fiction - sadly I had to double stack, but at least there aren't piles of books on top of each other, as there were before... it's important all my books are in a logical order, because Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife are frequently asked to find a book and post it to Oxford!

Thanks for all your tips about LibraryThing and other cataloguing websites - I'm a little tired after this sort out, but might transfer it over at some point... I do have a LibraryThing account, but was surprised at their miniscule limit for the free account. What do they think I am?!

And to answer a couple of questions from yesterday - yes, I did get rid of some books! They've gone to Honeypot, the church bookshop thing Our Vicar's Wife runs. Mostly duplicates, it must be said, but I was more ruthless with one or two.... And Peter asks simply "Why?" Hmm. Partly because Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife bought me the filing cards and told me I should do it, partly because I like having the records, and partly because it might stop me buying books I already have! Because my collection is split between two different places, sometimes it gets tricky to remember what I have...

Monday, 22 September 2008

Having A Sort Out

Whilst I've been at home, with most of my books, I decided to embark on a project which has been waiting for a while. In the true librarian spirit, I've been cataloguing my books. 'Cataloguing', in fact, is rather an inaccurate term - my project hasn't taken the smallest bit of specialist knowledge, or in fact any knowledge beyond the title and author. And, if I can find the record, the date I bought the book and the date I read it.

Our Vicar's Wife was most in favour of this project because it involved a lot of dusting - my shelves and books are now cleaner than they've ever been, and I have little folder books filled with cards with book details. Sadly I've now run out of them... which might prove an incentive to stop buying books. Of course it will do nothing of the kind.

Always happy to invite you backstage at Stuck-in-a-Book, here is the sort-out in the middle of its activity. Tomorrow I might unveil the undusty, organised and respectable looking rows of books.

As you can see, each author gets a card, and then their books on that card... so, once I've done the ones in Oxford, I'll be able to tell you how many books I own and how many authors there are - that's got you on the edge of your seats, hasn't it? The difficulty will be updating it... especially when I run out of cards... Asda have stopped producing these little books, you see.

So far the author with the most entries?
Agatha Christie. There you are.

Sunday, 21 September 2008

Quiz Results etc.

Before I write anything else, this cake-related link has made me laugh more than anything in ages.... enjoy!

I was very impressed by everyone in the quiz, I don't think I'd have done nearly so well, even though I did pick books I'd read, mostly. Between you, all the answers were found. For those still wanting to have a go, look away now...

1. Antony and Cleopatra - William Shakespea
2. Pamela - Samuel Richardson
3. Emma - Jane Austen
4. Jane Eyre - Charlotte Bronte

5. Shirley - Charlotte Bronte
6. Tess of the D'Urbervilles - Thomas Hardy
7. Lady Windermere's Fan
8. Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
9. Lady Chatterley's Lover - DH Lawrence
10. Mary Poppins - PL Travers
11. Rebecca - Daphne du Maurier
12. Mrs. McGinty's Dead - Agatha Christie
13. Lolita - Vladimir Nabakov
14. Cider With Rosie - Laurie Lee

15. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie - Muriel Spark
16. Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? - Edward Albee
17. Angela's Ashes - Frank McCourt
18. Bridget Jones's Diary - Helen Fielding

19. Charlotte Gray - Sebastian Faulks
20. The Jane Austen Book Club - Karen Joy Fowler
21. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - Maggie O'Farrell

Well done all!
Now, to open it up, which books in your collection did I miss out?
Others I could have included from my bookshelves...

Miss Hargreaves - Frank Baker
Lesley Castle - Jane Austen
Lady Susan - Jane Austen
Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day - Winifred Watson
Lady Rose and Mrs. Memmary - Ruby Ferguson
Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
Mariana - Monica Dickens
- Richmal Crompton
Naomi Godstone
- Richmal Crompton
Felicity Stands By
- Richmal Crompton
Millicent Dorrington
- Richmal Crompton
Mrs. Frensham Describes A Circle - Richmal Crompton
Marriage of Hermione - Richmal Crompton
The Odyssey of Euphemia Tracey - Richmal Crompton
Matty and the Dearingroydes - Richmal Crompton (you get the idea with RC!)
Liza's England - Pat Barker
Mapp and Lucia - EF Benson
Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma - Diana Birchall
Mary Barton - Elizabeth Gaskell
Ruth - Elizabeth Gaskell
Breakfast at Tiffany's - Truman Capote
Fenny - Lettice Cooper
Mrs. Harter - EM Delafield
Messalina of the Suburbs - EM Delafield
Sister Carrie - Thomas Dreiser
The Memoirs of Letitia Horsepole - John Fuller
Eustace and Hilda - LP Hartley
Winsome Winnie and other nonsense novels - Stephen Leacock
Chloe Marr - AA Milne
Michael and Mary - AA Milne
Clara Hopgood - Mark Rutherford
Vanessa and Virginia - Susan Sellers
Cluny Brown - Margery Sharp
Young Mrs. Savage - DE Stevenson
Mrs. Miniver - Jan Struther
At Mrs. Lippincote's - Elizabeth Taylor
The Ballad of Sylvia and Ted - Emma Tennant
Miss Bunting - Angela Thirkell
Sylva - Vercors
Miss Mole - EH Young

Friday, 19 September 2008


You're looking brainy, may I say, so perhaps you'd like a little quiz for the weekend? I made it for the literary week, but wasn't used, so tonight Our Vicar and The Carbon Copy teamed up against Our Vicar's Wife (we decided those were more or less fair teams) to have a go at the following quiz... enjoy! (Do read the instructions first... none of them did, and it led to complications...!)

These are the opening lines of novels or plays whose titles feature a woman’s name. The dates signify date of publication. Where XXXX appears in the opening line, it indicates part or all of the name in question.

What are the titles and who are the authors?

1. (1623)
Nay, but this dotage of our general’s
O’erflows the measure; those his goodly eyes,
That o’er the files and musters of the war
Have glow’d like plated Mars, now bend, now turn
The office and devotion of their view
Upon a tawny front

2. (1740) I Have great Trouble, and some Comfort, to acquaint you with. The Trouble is, that my good Lady died of the Illness I mention’d to you, and left us all much griev’d for her Loss; for she was a dear good Lady, and kind to all us her Servants.

3. (1815) XXXX, handsome, clever, and rich, with a comfortable home and happy disposition, seemed to unite some of the best blessings of existence; and had lived nearly twenty-one years in the world with very little to distress or vex her.

4. (1847) There was no possibility of taking a walk that day.

5. (1849) Of late years, an abundant shower of curates has fallen upon the north of England: they lie very thick on the hills; every parish has one or more of them; they are young enough to be very active, and ought to be doing a great deal of good.

6. (1891) On an evening in the latter part of May a middle-aged man was walking homeward from Shaston to the village of Marlott, in the adjoining Vale of Blakemore or Blackmoor.

7. (1892) PARKER: Is your ladyship at home this afternoon?

XXXX: Yes – who has called?

PARKER: Lord Darlington, my lady.

8. (1925) XXXX said she would buy the flowers herself.

9. (1928) Ours is essentially a tragic age, so we refuse to take it tragically. The cataclysm has happened, we are among the ruins, we start to build up new little habitats, to have new little hopes.

10. (1934) If you want to find Cherry Tree Lane all you have to do is ask the Policeman at the cross-roads.

11. (1938) Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.

12. (1952) Hercule Poirot came out of the Vieille Grand’mere restaurant into Soho. He turned up the collar of his overcoat through prudence, rather than necessity, since the night was not cold.

13. (1959) XXXX, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul.

14. (1959) I was set down from the carrier’s cart at the age of three; and there with a sense of bewilderment and terror my life in the village began.

15. (1961) The boys, as they talked to the girls from Marcia Blaine School, stood on the far side of their bicycles holding the handlebars, which established a protective fence of bicycle between the sexes, and the impression that at any moment the boys were likely to be away.

16. (1962) Set in darkness. Crash against front door. MARTHA’s laughter heard. Front door opens, lights are switched on. MARTHA enters, followed by GEORGE.

17. (1996) My father and mother should have stayed in New York where they met and married and where I was born. Instead, they returned to Ireland.

18. (1996) Noon. London: my flat. Ugh.

19. (1998) Peter Gregory kicked the door of the dispersal hut closed behind him with the heel of his boot.

20. (2004) Each of us has a private XXXX. Jocelyn’s XXXX wrote wonderful novels about love and courtship, but never married.

21. (2006) Let us begin with two girls at a dance

Thursday, 18 September 2008

A Year of Mornings

The book publication I've been most eagerly awaiting is one with almost no words. Which might not say much for Stuck-in-a-Book's literary credentials, but perhaps you'll understand when I tell you what the book is...

I've eulogised about the blog 3191 before - this post could scarcely be bettered by a teenage girl waving pom-poms and screaming 'Oh my gawwsh, they're so, like, awesome!' For those who haven't come across their blog, either pop over there and have a look, or go to my post linked above to read what they do. In brief, two people living 3191 miles apart took photos every morning and posted them alongside each other - now they do the same in the evening. Beautiful and unexpected coincidences, symmetries, contrasts would appear - both are brilliant photographers, focusing on the details of normal, domestic life.

So I first in line to Pr
inceton Architectural Press to ask for a review copy, when I found out that A Year of Mornings was going to be published in book format. And it's delicious. The book is out in the US at the beginning of October (though their blog suggests it's out now, so maybe they know best) and out on Amazon.co.uk a bit later - though the date there is changing every now and then. Keep an eye out. The pictures aren't done quite how I expected - the photos are done in pairs, as on the blog, but the sets of two aren't all the same size, and are at odd positions over the pages. It kinda works, but sometimes means my favourite pairs are rather small (20th June is perhaps my favourite, but honourable mention must go to 11th July) - but this is a small quibble.

Mav and Steph, with Princeton Architectural Press on design, have created a truly beautiful, wonderful book of photographs which demonstrate talent without being pretentious or off-putting. This would make a lovely coffee table book, or a great gift, and I can't thank Karen/Cornflower enough for pointing me in the direction of their blog over a year ago.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Lost in Lost in Austen

It's official. I love Lost in Austen too much. This is utterly daft, but keeps getting better and better - after astonishing revelations concerning Georgiana Darcy and Caroline Bingley, I ought really to be writing to the scriptwriter 'Damn you and damn every man who won't light a candle in his window and stay up all night damning you' (brilliant line!) but, as it is, I adore everything about this programme. In amongst the absurdities and nonsenses were some very genuinely moving moments. I might have to put the DVD on my birthday list - and can't wait to see what Jemima Rooper will do next...

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

No need to be Saki

Our Vicar's Wife and I, along with some local friends, are in the midst of a literature and arts week - one of Our Vicar's Wife's creation and assembly, that is. Yesterday it kicked off with sophisticated afternoon tea and an informal book group, where we all talked about what we'd been reading recently. Today started off with a book group on Mary Ann Shaffer's The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Soceity, for which Our Vicar's Wife had asked me to talk a little about the history of the epistolary novel... I was rather embarrassed and spoke too quickly, but didn't go too badly. Always fun to mock Pamela a little bit...

In the afternoon we had a look round some of the studios and gardens open for Somerset Arts Week - saw some wonderful watercolours, exceptional animal sculptures, and fun designs with fabrics. Lots of things I'd have spent money on if I had it. A trip to a local book barn (not the Bookbarn) led to my buying Miss Mole by EH Young, and then we had a play reading of Noel Coward's one-act play Ways and Means. Tomorrow we're off to Lyme Regis to play at Persuasion and The French Lieutenant's Woman.

In the evening, not part of the schedule but coincidental, I flicked on to a repeat on BBC4, called Who Killed Mrs. De Ropp? I was so excited when we first got BBC4, the cultural channel supposedly crammed with programmes about literature and art and such like. Hmm. Hasn't really happened - I've probably wanted to watch about three programmes in the three years we've had it. But tonight has added a fourth - Who Killed Mrs. De Ropp? According to IMDB it was first shown on 2 May 2007, so I'm hopelessly behind the times, but am very glad they chose to repeat it. The programme is based on three short stories by Saki, and stars the wonderful Gemma Jones. I've never read anything by Saki, but have had a collection of his work on my shelves for years, which I think Our Vicar's Wife gave to me. Having had a sample of his work, I am now very keen to read them - and each story is so short that it would do before bed.

The three stories used for Who Killed Mrs. De Ropp? are 'The Story-Teller' and 'The Lumber-Room' from Beasts and Super-Beasts, and 'Sredni Vashtar' from The Chronicles of Clovis. Though with seemingly little connection, they are all linked by an overbearing female relative and mutinous children - so the makers of the programme assimilated these into one overbearing female relative and one group of mutinous children. What is most impressive about this programme is that it came directly from the books - almost nothing wass altered. Since Saki was a character, he did the narrative bits. And it's wonderful - the stories are slightly macabre, they also have a deliciously light tone, almost EM Delafield-esque. For instance:

[On a train:] The smaller girl created a diversion by beginning to recite 'One the Road to Manderley.' She only knew the first line, but she put her limited knowledge to the fullest possible use. She repeated the line over and over again in a dreamy but resolute and very audible voice; it seemed to the bachelor as though some one had had a bet with her that she could not repeat the line aloud two thousand times without stopping. Whoever it was who had made the wager was likely to lose his bet.

Any Saki-lovers out there? I'm going to make a start on Beasts and Super-Beasts forthwith.

Monday, 15 September 2008

Old Friends

A while ago I emailed Danielle from SourceBooks, Inc. and she very kindly agreed to send me Old Friends and New Fancies by Sybil G. Brinton all the way from America (available through their website, or Amazon - or in bookshops if you're in the US). I first heard about this book on Elaine's blog, Random Jottings, and knew that I'd have to read it at some point. For those who didn't read that post on Random Jottings, I'll fill you in - Old Friends and New Fancies is the first Jane Austen sequel ever written, back in 1913, but Brinton didn't stop there, no sir. This book is a sequel to ALL the Austen novels - characters from each of the six crop up and meet each other and - well, just think of all the possible matches to be made!

They include a list of characters at the beginning for those not completely familiar with all JA's oeuvre, or just because there are so many - have just done a quick count, and there are forty of Austen's characters listed. Pride and Prejudice contributes the most, at fifteen, while Emma only offers two, but each is represented in some manner. We kick off with Elizabeth and Darcy, which is probably how it should be, but before long we are whirled off into the various interrelations between novels...

The central questions are - with Mary Crawford end up with Colonel Fitzwilliam? And, will William Price choose Georgiana Darcy or Kitty Bennet? What delicious choices. William Price and Georgiana Darcy were always two of my favourite background-characters, so to witness them dancing at a ball was quite something (even if Brinton does what Austen never did, and gives Georgiana dialogue). On an aside, whom would I have paired, or just occasioned to meet... Mr. Palmer and Mr. Bennet would be a joyous pair to eavesdrop. Mrs. Bennet and Mrs. Jennings! Mr. Collins and Mr. Elton! Catherine Morland and Harriet Smith! Oh, endless, endless...

I wonder quite how Brinton made her decisions about central characters? Obviously the young, single folk were thrown to the forefront... but Mary Crawford is the oddest decision and portrayal. Brinton obviously didn't love Mansfield Park that much; not only are Fanny and Edmund excluded from proceedings, we also have a volte face in how Mary Crawford appears. She is misunderstood, meek, sensible, kind and has none of the flirtatious, slightly selfish, overly loud persona Fanny distrusts in Mansfield Park... interesting.

Brinton doesn't really try to write in the style of Austen - the period feel is more or less there, though it's worth noting that we're as far (time-wise) from Brinton now as she was from Austen then, but Brinton doesn't attempt to echo Austen's wit and narrative asides and general Austenness. Having said that, she doesn't try to soak the characters in Brintonness either, whatever that would be like; she is content to set them loose together on a shared stage, and see what happens.

Old Friends and New Fancies, I would think, is for Austen-fanatics like myself. Without knowing all the characters beforehand it would lose a lot of its enjoyment factor - there are the odd comments to savour, such as 'Mrs. Knightley's matchmaking doesn't always work out well' or Tom Bertram's 'We only had one real failure in amateur dramatics' (I paraphrase both). This shared knowledge is a reward and a treat whenever it appears. On the whole, this book (republished in 2007 by SourceBooks) is rather silly, a lot of fun, and very well managed by Brinton.

Danielle also sent me a couple of other Austen sequels, Pemberley Shades by D. A. Bonavia-Hunt (1949) and The Darcys & The Bingleys by Marsha Altman (2008) so... more to investigate!

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Tess and the jeans-test

It's been a while since I reviewed an actual book on here, hasn't it? It's partly because I've been busy doing lots of other things, like painting the bathroom and organising all my books, and partly because there are only so many posts I can write about Mapp and Lucia. So I shall turn to that inferior medium, the television.

We sat down, en famille, to watch the BBC's latest costume drama - Tess of the D'Urbervilles. For a genre which had been declared dead by TV executives until Colin Firth et al blasted that theory out of the lake, they certainly push as many as possible onto our screens at the moment. Over the past couple years we've had Cranford, Lark Rise to Candleford, Sense and Sensibility, Oliver Twist, The Old Curiosity Shop, A Room With A View... I've probably missed some, but you get the gist.

Every time, we get columnists and bloggers and everyone talking about the pros and cons of costume drama - is it lazy scheduling or is it intelligently using a world of potential stories and well-loved characters? It's very simple, to my mind. If the programme would work equally well without costumes and history, then it's a success. Cranford, probably the best thing I've seen on television in years, would have phenomenal in any era and if Dame Judi was in jeans. So, the jeans-test for Tess...

Erm. Shall we say a strong maybe? The actors are great - Gemma Arterton will soon be everywhere, including Lizzie B in Lost in Austen, and was fantastic in Capturing Mary with Maggie Smith last year, and Ruth Jones is an inspired, funny casting as Tess's Mum. The shooting is beautiful. But they still rely so heavily on wearing peasant costumes and waistcoats and having horses and saying "didn't ought to" and speaking in a West Country, that it be, that if it were transferred to 2008, they'd spend hours staring at a wall. Somehow the relationships between the characters don't feel *quite* real, they're more textbook period drama and a little thoughtless - Alec, for instance, is obviously a cad from the second he sidles up smoking a cigar and smirking lasciviously. On the other hand, of course, we have the wonderful Anna Massey as his mother, who can do no wrong.

Perhaps I've been a little harsh. It is a very good programme and I'll certainly watch the rest, just... once you've seen Cranford, you realise there are new heights which could be met.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Elaine's Suggestions...

Just a quick post tonight to point you over to Elaine's response to the Pride and Prejudice Musical - click here. Lots of suggestions for appropriate songs, and is bound to make you chuckle!

From the ridiculous to the sublime, I spent the evening at a rather different concert - no, not the last night of the Proms, but in Chiselborough church listening to Urban Voices, a choir from London. They were absolutely brilliant - all sorts of influences, from gospel to soul to rock to pop to R&B, and singing praises to God, alongside other pieces. A fun, friendly group providing an amazing evening.

Friday, 12 September 2008

Eliza Doolittle-Bennet?

Lyn from dovegreybooks Yahoo Group (not to be confused with Lynne from dovegreyreader blog) sent me another little piece of information today - I hope she won't mind if I quote her email:

Just got home to find the latest issue of Jane Austen's Regency World magazine waiting for me. Nice new smaller format, looks very good. I thought I'd give this a try for a year because I got a good deal on the sub through the JA Society here. Flicking through, I see an article on Lost In Austen & on the back cover, an ad for JA's P&P :the new musical. Was there ever an old one? I feel myself growing faint, it's coming to Broadway apparently. The tag line on the website is
The world has waited two centuries for this smart, song-filled & compelling investment opportunity (I'm not joking!)

If you click on the site, you'll hear Darcy singing about Fine Eyes.

Lyn (feeling as though that particle exploder did something to the world after all & I'm in another dimension).

Well. Gosh. Of course, it does seem rather as though one can't have anything on the stage without a song
and dance accompanying nowadays, and it's a miracle that Austenmania hasn't led to this before. Bad as the 2005 film was in so many ways, at least it didn't have Keira doing the can-can singing 'It is a TRUTH uni-ver-salllllly ackNOWledged!'

But am I too quick to judge? Obviously I would go and see this, even if I expected it to be dire, and I imagine there are enough Pride and Prejudice addicts to make this sell out whatever the quality - but perhaps, just perhaps, it would actually be good? Stranger things have happened. And what if they took a selection of extant songs... how would that go... Lizzie could sing
I Don't Know How To Love Him then Learning To Love Him and finally Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man. Lydia could get I Could Have Danced All Night, and Sixteen Going On Seventeen, while Kitty would have to settle for You Can't Get A Man With A Gun. And for Mr. Bennet, howsabout If I Were A Rich Man?

More suggestions in a similarly irreverent tone, please!

Thursday, 11 September 2008

A Murder Is Announced

A Murder Is Announced was the first Agatha Christie novel I read, probably in 1998 or thereabouts, just as I entered my teenage years. It led to a brief passion for Christie (more particularly Miss Marple) which has rather subsided over the years, but only because I got steered onto other paths. I'm no Christie snob, and certainly rank her as the best plot-creator I've read (see Harriet's recent post on Endless Night and a defence of Christie in style not just structure). I must return to her soon - The Carbon Copy is quite a Christie aficionado (spelt it correctly this time!) though more of a Poirot man.

Tonight Our Vicar's Wife and I went to see A Murder Is Announced performed at the Swan Theatre in Yeovil - I'd spotted a banner advertising it when we drove past the other day, and we thought it sounded like a fun evening. Sadly Our Vicar couldn't make it, and The Carbon Copy isn't coming down until next weekend, so it was just the two of us - and, horror of horrors, when we got there we found it was sold out! Nothing daunted, we asked whether we could have standing tickets, and the lovely people said we could, so long as we didn't block any fire exits. So we stood.

What fun. Nothing like a good murder mystery, even if I did know whodunnit already. Actually, that's what astounded me - I could remember the plot almost perfectly, nearly a decade after reading A Murder Is Announced. Not only did I know who'd dunnit, but I also noticed all the places where the play differed from the novel (quite a few, quite substantial, including one murder) - no great feat, perhaps, but there are books I've read recently about which I remember absolutely nothing. Not a thing. No names, plots, endings. Usually I've forgotten most details of a novel within a fortnight of finishing it, however much I enjoyed it - which has made re-reading Mapp and Lucia series immensely fun. Yet old Agatha's work is crystalised in my mind - perhaps because it was one of the first Real Books I read, rather than Teen Fiction? Perhaps because it was my first detective novel? Perhaps Christie is just talented in this way?

Answers on a postcard... and any closet Christie fans, do spill. Favourite novel of hers, which should I read to reawaken my Christie passion, and, most importantly: Marple or Poirot?

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Booker and Penelope

My friend Lyn emailed me an interesting link earlier this week - here it is - to an article about the Man Booker Prize. They managed to get a judge from each of the 40 years to talk about the process, the books, and the winners. Fascinating, and shows how utterly arbitrary the procedure actually is - in so many cases the judges simply picked a compromise. We all know how it is when we champion a book and no-one will understand our praise, or conversely, listening to someone eulogise about a novel we privately think excreable. Imagine those discussions when the world is waiting for your decision... and imagine having to read over a hundred books in a few weeks beforehand. Sounds fun, but reading to a deadline takes quite a lot of the fun out of things, and trying to power through that lot... the article certainly made me feel sympathy for them.

Second snippet of news is the new Penelope Fitzgerald website. PenelopeFitzgerald.com, succinctly enough. They spotted that I'd been reading The Bookshop, a gift from Lynne Hatwell, and have posted my review over on their affectionate and intelligent website. 'All things pertaining to Penelope', that's their mantra, and a very intriguing collection of items it is. Articles, especially to do with Letters; newspaper mentions; Penelope Fitzgerald's visual art - looks like an excellent site to bookmark and pop back to. In the same line as Blogging Woolf, also always worth a visit.

Monday, 8 September 2008

Bookbarn Spoils

There is a place of wonderment in Somerset, it is called The Bookbarn. We stumbled across it by accident about four years ago, just saw a sign saying 'Used Books This Way' and, naturally, went that way... wow. The biggest secondhand bookshop in England, a barn filled with literally millions of books. Literally millions. www.bookbarn.co.uk.

They've since gone a little techy (see the website) and large amounts of them are now on a database, and only accessible physically to staff - but there
are still hundreds of thousands which you can browse. And that's what we did today. I always feel a little panicky when I leave the Bookbarn, because there is never enough time to look at all the books, obviously. What gems could I be walking away from? I tend to take some letters of the alphabet, and look at those shelves (fiction is loosely alphabetical, but not within the letter, e.g. all the authors beginning with 'A' are together, but not organised within 'A'). Today I looked through C, P and B. Dad covered the plays, with my reading list for British Drama Post-1945, and I tried to gather up some Literature and Empire books... and got distracted, of course.

Well, here they are. Astute readers will spot quite a lot o
f overlap with yesterday's list.

Under Western Eyes - Joseph Conrad; not on the list, but should be handy

Youth and ot
her stories - Joseph Conrad; 'other stories' happens to include a little tale called Heart of Darkness

In The South
Seas - R.L. Stevenson; any Stevenson fans able to tell me whether this corresponds to the Stevenson South Sea books on the list from yesterday's post? We assumed it did.

Screens Against the Sky - Elleke Boehmer; not on the list, but Elleke Boehmer is the tutor for the course, so might prove interesting

Untouchable - Mulk Raj Anand; another one on the list...

The House of Dolls - Barbara Comyns; this is where I *might* just have wandered from the readi
ng list... having loved some Comyns last year, and very much liked some others, I felt I needed to stock up

Sisters by a River - Barbara Comyns; did someone mentioned Barbara Comyns?

Bloomsbury Pie - Regina Marler; now we're back on Masters territory - this was recommended when I asked for a good guide to the Bloomsbury Group, and looks fascinating

Kim - Rudyard Kipling; only read a couple of shor
t stories by Kipling, and Kim has always been at the back of my mind...

Our Country's Good - Timberlake Werternbaker
Arcadia - Tom Stoppard
A Taste of Honey - Delaney
All building towards my British Drama Post-1945 module, which I'll share more about in due course. Won't be until January that I actually start it.

The Familiar Faces - David Garnett, non-fiction work by the author of Lady Into Fox (see 50 Books... on the left) this will, again, hopefully provide more Bloomsbury background.

All in all, a good day's searching - and we got to see The Carbon Copy!

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Have I Read You Somewhere Before?

I think one of the Booking Through Thursday topics in the past has been about re-reading books, but my current re-read of the Mapp and Lucia books by EF Benson has made me think about it again... I always thought I wasn't much of a re-reader. So many books, so little time was my mantra - but... it appears to have all changed this year. Since January began, I've re-read the following:

Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day - Winifred Watson
Year In, Year Out - A.A. Milne
Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
Speaking of Love - Angela Young
The Love Child - Edith Oliver
The L-Shaped Room - Lynne Reid Banks
The Twins at St. Clare's - Enid Blyton
The O'Sullivan Twins - Enid Blyton
Summer Term at St. Clare's - Enid Blyton
Second Form at St. Clare's - Enid Blyton
The Provincial Lady Goes Further - E.M. Delafield
Queen Lucia - E.F. Benson
Miss Mapp - E.F. Benson
Lucia in London - E.F. Benson

Gosh. Last year, as I found out whilst doing this meme, I only re-read six books; this year I'm on sixteen already. I wonder why...

Partly it's because I don't have books to read for university (or haven't, until this point), but on the other hand I have lots of books to review for Stuck-in-a-Book which are neglected whilst I re-read. Perhaps I've come to the point in my reading life, which only really started properly in 2000, where I want to dip back into the past. Maybe I just want a guaranteed good read - but partly it's because I've realised just how subjective an experience with a book can be, and how short. I read a book in, say, four days. It might - like quite a few on the list above - be one of my favourite books. How odd that it should be on a favourites list for years, and have only occupied that amount of time in my life... so a re-read is to test the waters and see if they still make for pleasant paddling.

So much has been said about re-reading; I must get around to reading Anne Fadiman's book on the topic. I don't really know where to throw in my tuppence worthy, other than to say that re-reading this year has brought me more pleasure than almost anything else I've read - but I can't *quite* shake the idea that I should be reading something new. What do you think?

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Accidents and Empires

An interesting day today... as this afternoon I dropped the metal base of a table-umbrella-stand on my foot, and had to go to A&E. Eeps. Turns out no breakages, just lots of bruising and blood - I'm as squeamish as they come, and was rather relieved that it all worked out ok, praise the Lord. But some considerable pain for a while... and has called a halt to driving practice for a day or two, at least.

So! I don't think I've shared the reading list for my m
odule next term on Literature and Empire 1880-1930. Truth be told, the choice hasn't been confirmed - but apparently nobody has been turned away from a module choice yet, so I'm confident. The range of books is quite exciting, and I'm especially excited about studying Katherine Mansfield again. A comparitive essay on Katherine Mansfield and Scouting for Boys... well, I wonder. Here's the list; I've only read Mansfield so far, and that was a few years ago, so lots to explore. Any recommendations for first off the pile?

Olive Schreiner, The Story of an African Farm (1883) and Thoughts on South Africa

R. L. Stevenson, South Sea Tales, 1891, 1892

Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness (1899) and ‘Youth’ (1902)

Rudyard Kipling, Kim (1901)

Robert Baden-Powell, Scouting for Boys (1908)

J.M Barrie, Peter Pan and Wendy (1911)

Katherine Mansfield, Collected Short Stories

W.B. Yeats, Responsibilities (1914)

E.M. Forster, A Passage to India (1924)

Sol T. Plaatje, Mhudi (1930)

Mulk Raj Anand, Untouchable (1935)

Friday, 5 September 2008

Lost in Austen, and Good News

The Good News first - the lovely, lovely people at Magdalen decided to award me the Senior MacKinnon Scholarship, which will pay for fees and maintenance for my Masters. Hurrah! Thanks everyone for your prayers and best wishes. Being scrupulous, I must point out that, though a 'scholarship', I think my pecuniary situation was of greater import than my intellectual.

Onto Lost in Austen - again, I'm afraid
non-UK readers might have to avert their eyes, as I'm going to talk about an ITV programme. Fun reading, perhaps though, for the Janeites amongst us. Lost in Austen sees 21st Century gal (and Austen addict) Amanda Price accidentally change places with Elizabeth Bennet. Yes, that Elizabeth Bennet. And, as you may imagine, hilarity ensues. Episode One, after the exchange took place, focused on Amanda's life with the Bennet sisters - explaining her modern clothing as 'otter hunting gear', trying to make sure Jane eyes up Bingley, and then kissing said 6000-a-year-man behind the dancehall.

It's all rather silly and it's all very fun. Plenty for Pride and Prejudice aficionados to get their teeth into - though by 'aficionado', I should say 'anyone who's seen the 1995 BBC version'. Indeed, Colin Firth even gets a mention. I've seen the latest Mr. Darcy (Elliot Cowan) described as rather dishy, but to me he looked permanently as though about to sneeze. Everyone else plays their role admirably, though they know that they're supposed to be background.

Lost in Austen has a connection with my Enid Blyton post, actually - Amanda is played by Jemima Rooper, who was George in the Famous Five series I watched as a child, and it's nice to know she's on the up and up.

I tend to get my claws out for Austen adaptations, but this is a different sort of venture - it's consciously fun and frivolous and full of in-jokes. Can't wait til next time - or seeing what Lizzie will think of our 21st Century world.

Thursday, 4 September 2008

Under Pressure

It's been a while since I did a Booking Through Thursday, which is largely because I haven't blogged on a Thursday for a while. This Thursday also saw the first venture of Our Vicar and Stuck-in-a-Book in a car, L-plates and all... not a complete success. My confidence has taken a little dent, but the car has not, so we shall continue tomorrow. Just be thankful on Our Vicar's nerves that I'd got this far before coming home to practise.

Anyway. Back to Booking Through Thursday:

I was looking through books yesterday at the shops and saw all the Twilight books, which I know basically nothing about. What I do know is that I’m beginning to feel like I’m the *only* person who knows nothing about them.

Despite being almost broke and trying to save money, I almost bought the expensive book (Australian book prices are often completely nutty) just because I felt the need to be ‘up’ on what everyone else was reading.

Have you ever felt pressured to read something because ‘everyone else’ was reading it? Have you ever given in and read the book(s) in question or do you resist? If you are a reviewer, etc, do you feel it’s your duty to keep up on current trends?

Well, I haven't the smallest idea what the Twilight books are so that makes at least two of us. Perhaps it's an Australian phenomenon. And have I ever felt pressured to read something because 'everyone else' was reading it? Erm... not that I can think.

Regular readers of Stuck-in-a-Book will know that my reading tends to be off the beaten track, to the extent that I (to continue the metaphor) get lost in an overgrown meadow, wandering around without any idea where the beaten track is. Occasionally a book will be talked about on so many blogs that I feel I have to read it - Rachel Ferguson's The Brontes Went To Woolworths springs to mind - but rarely have I succumbed to a modern book through this persuasion. I did buy Kate Morton's The House at Riverton, but I still haven't read it... every now and then I look at the pretty cover...

If someone directly recommends something to me, or a blogger I love mentions a book, that's a different kettle of fish. That's not pressure; that's pleasure.

I suppose I might qualify as a reviewer, but I've never felt any real need to keep up with the trends - I'm realistic: blog-readers who want to know what the movers and shakers of the literary world are up to will glance at my tatty 1930s hardbacks and weathered Virago paperbacks and run for the hills. Stuck-in-a-Book, I hope, caters to the sort of people whose hearts leap with joy at the thought of those things! Of course, I do write about new books (dead authors rarely send review copies) and love some of them; my reading, however, will continue to meander over the past couple centuries or more. Oh, it's much more fun that way!

As usual, the same question over to you...

Wednesday, 3 September 2008

The Bookshop

I'm SO glad that Enid Blyton provoked such a joyous reaction in you all; not even one derogatory comment. She obviously helped us all become obsessive readers. Though I'm on a St. Clare's binge at the moment, my favourites are either Famous Five or The Naughtiest Girl in the School or the Six Cousins... tricky. Our Vicar's Wife, and probably Our Vicar too, organised a Famous Five party for us once. Brilliant.

Now (and watch closely here, to see if you can spot the seams) Enid Blyton books could be bought in a bookshop, which brings me to The Bookshop by Penelope Fitzgerald. Lynne Hatwell, aka dovegreyreader, very kindly gave this to me when we met earlier in the year, and it was just the right size to slip into my bag on the train today.

I tried a Penelope Fitzgerald novel last year, Human Voices, but not sure I got round to writing about it on here. It was one of those books which I finished before I quite felt that I'd got into it - the style was a little jabby and awkward, and somehow it didn't click. And The Bookshop felt the same for the first thirty pages... but then, thank goodness, how wonderful, it all fell into place and hallelujah, I raced right to the end. From being a book I couldn't get on with, it became one of my favourite reads this year.

Slim and simple, The Bookshop is about Florence Green setting up a bookshop in a small town called Hardborough, in 1959. The business meets genteel opposition from several quarters of the town, but also support from others. Christine, a stubborn and resilient young girl, comes to work as an assistant - and between Christine and Florence a rather touching, but unsentimental, friendship develops. If that sounds remotely mawkish, trust me, it isn't. Penelope Fitzgerald doesn't do mawkish. Her writing is spare, very spare, and there isn't room for emotions - we simply see the people interact, and can quite easily understand the emotions they must be experiencing. How Florence faces opposition, how she accepts Christine's characteristics and how she changes as a result of the bookshop.

The denouement is subtle and devastating - it involves neighbours acting as they would in a Mapp & Lucia book, where it would be a gentle comedy. Here it is understated tragedy. The Bookshop is a triumph of a novel, and I'm so glad Lynne gave it to me, and that *something* clicked whilst I was reading it.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Jolly Hockeysticks

Oh dear, did everyone go when I was in Northern Ireland? Hope someone is still reading! Perhaps this will get you to say something... I'm afraid I'm going to take a literary nosedive, and return to that which I mentioned a few days' ago - Enid Blyton and the St. Clare's stories!

I've probably mentioned here before that I grew up on Enid Blyton, reading little else for quite a few years - it does mean I missed out on some gems of children's literature, but can always catch up now (I don't believe you can ever be too old for a good book). Those doom-mongerers who wanted Blyton banned and thought she would provide nothing but illiteracy to generations of youngters would find it hard to say I don't like books now... Blyton provides addictive, but harmless, stories which feed young imaginations and are almost limitless in their quantity.

I loved the St. Clare's series, largely because the central characters are twins. Pat and Isabel actually shun the book stereotype of being either absolutely identical or wholly opposite - though perhaps they are a little too like each other. Neither want to go to St. Clare's; within minutes of arriving they learn to be good eggs and to be true to their school and honest with their friends ya-dah-ya-dah. All enjoyable tripe. Blyton appears to have had a pathological hatred of 'tell-tales' (which always seems to me to be invented as an excuse for teachers to ignore the majority of children's squabbles) and a fervour for sport, and Janet (in the 'good egg' category) is so bluntly rude that I wanted to push her down a well - despite all these things, I've been joyously reliving my youth through these books. Any Blyton fanatics out there? Any children's books which can take you right back to your infancy - or do you avoid them on principle, in case your memories would be tarnished? I, for one, had no notion that Blyton used such a flood of exclamation marks...

Off to Somerset tomorrow, will be there for three weeks. On Friday I will hear whether or not Magdalen have granted me any funding... wish me luck!

Monday, 1 September 2008

Short Stories

As I mentioned earlier, Vulpes Libris are having a week about the short story, and for the first entry they asked a selection of bloggers to choose their favourite short story writers, collectioins or individual stories - and I contributed my views. Didn't really have to think twice, go over here to see whom I choosed. Go forward to the next post over there to see Elaine's (aka Random Jottings') selection of short stories, and realising that she does like quite of them despite thinking she didn't!

Year Two: Book Reviews

My second year isn't finished yet, but I thought I'd make this an ongoing list - it seems silly to wait til the end of the year to make reviews accessible, so this will go over on the left hand side at the top, one of the quick links, and will be added to as and when!

3191 Blog - A Year of Mornings
Anand, Mulk Raj - Untouchable
Anderson, Sarah - Halfway to Venus
Arlen, Michael - The Green Hat
Austen, Jane - Northanger Abbey
Banks, Lynne Reid - The L-Shaped Room
Bennett, Alan - The History Boys
Benson, E.F. - The Mapp & Lucia series
Blyton, Enid - The St. Clare's series
Brandenburg, Molly - Everyday Cat Excuses
Brinton, Sybil G. - Old Friends and New Fancies
Buzbee, Lewis - The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop
Carey, Edward - Alva & Irva
Carroll, Lewis - Alice's Adventures in Wonderland
Cartwright, Justin - This Secret Garden: Oxford Revisited
Coetzee, J. M. - Foe
Coles, William - The Well-Tempered Clavier
Compton-Burnett, Ivy - A House and Its Head
Conrad, Joseph - Heart of Darkness
Crompton, Richmal - Frost at Morning
Delafield, E.M. - Straw Without Bricks: I Visit The Soviets
Devonshire, Deborah (Deborah Mitford) - Counting My Chickens
Dockrill, Laura - Mistakes in the Background
du Maurier, Daphne - The Flight of the Falcon
du Maurier, Daphne - My Cousin Rachel
du Maurier, Daphne - Letters from Menabilly
Eliot, T.S. - The Family Reunion
Ferguson, Rachel - The Brontes Went To Woolworths
Fitzgerald, Penelope - The Bookshop
Fraser-Sampson, Guy - Major Benjy
Freese, Matthias B. - Down To A Sunless Sea
Garnett, Angelica - Deceived With Kindness
Garnett, David - Aspects of Love
Gillard, Linda - Star Gazing
Grace, N.B. - High School Musical: The Book of the Film (!)
Hansford Johnson, Pamela - An Error of Judgement
Hill, Susan - The Battle for Gullywith
Humble, Nicola - The Feminine Middlebrow Novel
Jackson, Shirley - The Haunting of Hill House
Kendal, Felicity - White Cargo
Kennedy, Richard - A Boy at the Hogarth Press
Koppel, Lily - The Red Leather Diary
Leacock, Stephen - Literary Lapses
Lee, Harper - To Kill A Mockingbird
Light, Alison - Forever England
McEwan, Ian - Black Dog
Melbye, Eric - Tru
Milne, A.A. - Two People
Milne, Christopher - The Enchanted Places
The Mitfords - Letters Between Six Sisters
Morley, Christopher - Parnassus on Wheels
Nemirovsky, Irene - Suite Francaise
Niffenegger, Audrey - The Time Traveler's Wife
Norton, Mary - The Bread and Butter Stories
Oliphant, Laurence - Piccadilly
Orwell, George - Homage to Catalonia
Oyeyemi, Helen - The Icarus Girl
Rice, Eva - The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets
Rosenthal, Amy - On The Rocks
Sacks, Oliver - The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat
Sackville-West, Vita - The Heir
Saki - The Penguin Complete Saki
Schein, Elyse & Paula Bernstein - Identical Strangers
Schreiner, Olive - The Story of an African Farm
Sellers, Susan - Vanessa and Virginia
Shaffer, Mary Ann - The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society
Smith, Emma - The Great Western Beach
Solomon, Laura - Alternative Medicine
Stacey, Tom - The Man Who Knew Everything
Stevenson, D.E. - Miss Buncle's Book
Taylor, Elizabeth - Angel
Visman, Janni - Yellow
Warner, Sylvia Townsend - Lolly Willowes
Waterfield, Giles - The Long Afternoon
Waugh, Evelyn - Put Out More Flags
Whipple, Dorothy - Someone at a Distance
Wiseman, Robert - Quirkology
Woolf, Leonard & Trekkie Ritchie Parsons - Love Letters
Woolf, Virginia - Orlando
Yates, Richard - Revolutionary Road
Zusak, Markus - The Book Thief
Various - The Sixpenny Debt and other Oxford stories

Reviews by Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife