Tuesday, 30 December 2008

Books of 2008

As I shan't have a laptop with working internet until 'on or before January 14th' (according to the email Dell recently sent me) I'm taking advantage of Our Vicar's Wife's laptop for one last time before I head back to Oxford tomorrow. And what better way to use it then to list all the books I've read in 2008... With rather an embarrassing beginning. It was cheap, ok? Oh, and further down, I *do* mean When I Was Very Young, not When We Were Very Young - the former is a limited print run autobiographical sketch by AA Milne, which I requested to the Bodleian. OH, and at several junctures I've simply written 'Postal Book Group' - these titles I'm keeping secret as others in the postal book group read this blog...

Enough prevarication: here is the list. A very happy new year to you all.

1. Nicole Kidman: The Biography - Lucy Ellie & Bryony Sutherland
2. The Kite Runner - Khaled Hosseini
3. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets - Eva Rice
4. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day - Winifred Watson
5. Unbeaten Tracks in Japan - Isabella L. Bird
6. Miss Elizabeth Bennett - AA Milne
7. The Glass Wall - EM Delafield
8. The Crowded Bed - Mary Cavanagh
9. Prince Rupert's Teardrop - Lisa Glass
10. One Year's Time - Angela Milne
11. As It Was - Helen Thomas
12. When I Was Very Young - AA Milne
13. Year In, Year Out - AA Milne
14. World Without End - Helen Thomas
15. The Idle Thoughts of an Idle Fellow - Jerome K. Jerome
16. One True Void - Dexter Petley
17. Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen
18. Last Orders at Harrods: An African Tale - Michael Holman
19. The Victorian Chaise-Longue - Marghanita Laski
20. The Eternal Husband - Fyodor Dostoyevsky
21. The New House - Lettice Cooper
22. Dear Friend & Gardener - Beth Chatto & Christopher Lloyd
23. Yes Man - Danny Wallace
24. Hearts and Minds - Rosy Thornton
25. The Road to Oxiana - Robert Byron
26. The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly - Jean-Dominique Bauby
27. Mrs. Darcy's Dilemma - Diana Birchall
28. Simonetta Perkins - LP Hartley
29. Cousin Phillis - Elizabeth Gaskell
30. Death and the Maidens - Janet Todd
31. Pencillings - J. Middleton Murry
32. Balancing on the Edge of the World - Elizabeth Baines
33. The Juniper Tree - Barbara Comyns
34. The Bestowing Sun - Neil Grimmett
35. Words From A Glass Bubble - Vanessa Gebbie
36. Naomi Godstone - Richmal Crompton
37. Thrown To The Woolfs - John Lehmann
38. The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
39. Counting My Chickens... and other home thoughts - Deborah Devonshire (nee Mitford)
40. Cold Comfort Farm - Stella Gibbons
41. The Red Leather Diary - Lily Koppel
42. The Woman Who Walked Into Doors - Roddy Doyle
43. Mary - Vladimir Nabokov
44. Letters to a Friend - Rose Macaulay
45. The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters - ed. Charlotte Mosley
46. The Green Hat - Michael Arlen
47. Yellow - Janni Visman
48. The Well-Tempered Clavier - William Coles
49. The Haunting of Hill House - Shirley Jackson
50. Angel - Elizabeth Taylor
51. An Error of Judgement - Pamela Hansford Johnson
52. Halfway to Venus - Sarah Anderson
53. Tru - Eric Melbye
54. Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
55. Gaudy Night - Dorothy L. Sayers
56. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer
57. Suite Francaise - Irene Nemirovsky
58. Speaking of Love - Angela Young
59. Star Gazing - Linda Gillard
60. The Love Child - Edith Olivier
61. This Secret Garden - Justin Cartwright
62. Piccadilly - Laurence Oliphant
63. The Flight of the Falcon - Daphne du Maurier
64. William - An Englishman - Cicely Hamilton
65. Alternative Medicine - Laura Solomon
66. Identical Strangers - Elyse Schein & Paula Bernstein
67. The L-Shaped Room - Lynne Reid Banks
68. The Battle for Gullywith - Susan Hill
69. High School Musical: The Book of the Film - NB Grace
70. The Great Western Beach - Emma Smith
71. Vanessa and Virginia - Susan Sellers
72. The Twins at St. Clare's - Enid Blyton
73. War With Honour - AA Milne
74. The Brontes Went To Woolworths - Rachel Ferguson
75. Miss Marlow At Play - AA Milne
76. Lovers in London - AA Milne
77. Jane Austen's Letters - Jane Austen
78. The Provincial Lady Goes Further - EM Delafield
79. My Cousin Rachel - Daphne du Maurier
80. The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat - Oliver Sacks
81. Queen Lucia - EF Benson
82. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
83. The O'Sullivan Twins - Enid Blyton
84. Summer Term at St. Clare's - Enid Blyton
85. The Icarus Girl - Helen Oyeyemi
86. The Sixpenny Debt and other Oxford stories - OxPens
87. Second Form at St. Clare's - Enid Blyton
88. Postal Book Group
89. Piccadilly Jim - PG Wodehouse
90. The Man Who Knew Everything - Tom Stacey
91. Down To A Sunless Sea - Mathias B. Freese
92. Miss Mapp - EF Benson
93. The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald
94. Lucia in London - EF Benson
95. Mapp and Lucia - EF Benson
96. Old Friends and New Fancies - Sybil G. Brinton
97. Ways and Means - Noel Coward
98. Incomparable: Exploring the Character of God - Andrew Wilson
99. The Assassin's Cloak - ed. Alan & Irene Taylor
100. The Story of an African Farm - Oliver Schreiner
101. Untouchable - Mulk Raj Anand
102. Peter Pan - J.M. Barrie
103. Kim - Rudyard Kipling
104. Beasts and Superbeasts - Saki
105. A Passage to India - EM Forster
106. The Time Traveler's Wife - Audrey Niffenberger
107. Orientalism - Edward Said
108. Alva & Irva: The Twins Who Saved A City - Edward Carey
109. Look Back in Anger - John Osborne
110. Waiting For Godot - Samuel Beckett
111. Reading After Theory - Valentine Cunningham
112. Literary Theory: A Very Short Introduction - Jonathan Culler
113. Postal Book Group
114. Major Benjy - Guy Fraser-Sampson
115. The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop - Lewis Buzbee
116. Heart of Darkness - Joseph Conrad
117. The Garden Party - Katherine Mansfield
118. Homage to Catalonia - George Orwell
119. Lucia's Progress - EF Benson
120. Peter Pan and Wendy - JM Barrie
121. Bliss - Katherine Mansfield
122. Black Dogs - Ian McEwan
123. Trouble For Lucia - EF Benson
124. Letters From Menabilly - Daphne du Maurier
125. Dream Life and Real Life - Olive Schreiner
126. Dreams - Olive Schreiner
127. Revolutionary Road - Richard Yates
128. A Boy at the Hogarth Press - Richard Kennedy
129. Mhudi - Sol T. Plaatje
130. Foe - JM Coetzee
131. Miss Buncle's Book - DE Stevenson
132. The Borrowers - Mary Norton
133. Letters and Journals - Katherine Mansfield
134. What's So Amazing About Grace? - Philip Yancey
135. Aspects of Love - David Garnett
136. The War-Workers - EM Delafield
137. Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives - Robert Wiseman
138. Postal Book Group

Monday, 29 December 2008

Tagged! Rules for living

Sadly my laptop is misbehaving, refusing to connect to the Internet, and I'm currently on Our Vicar's Wife's laptop at the moment... I launched myself on the net to find a new laptop with one rule in my mind - "Don't get another computer from Dell." And so, minutes later, I had bought one from Dell. Oh well. Perhaps it will be better than the one I've had, which encountered all sorts of difficulties and problems. But the new one will have a nice green lid.

The wonderful Overdue has tagged me for a meme, one which has become rather malleable in transit. When it arrived at Overdue's door, it was a list of 10 things which aggrieve you. She said, and I agree, that a list of 10 rules for life was rather more in the spirit of the Christmas season. Do go and check out her list, as it made me smile.

Ok. My list of ten rules for life... well, I'm young, I can't think of rules for life. I'll give rules for a reading life instead.

1. You can never own enough books.
2. You can probably own enough copies of the same book. Three or four, perhaps.
3. Judge books by covers - it gets a whole industry to itself, after all.
4. Comfort reads have their place.
5. And that place is bed, bath, train, sofa...
6. Never leave the house without a book. And a spare book in case you finish the first one. And a second spare one in case you finish the first two.
7. Always read the book before you see the film.
8. Don't, I repeat DON'T turn down the corners of pages if I'm watching you. And don't even THINK about reaching for your biro.
9. Ten minutes with a novel is worth an hour with the television.
10. Have at least one much-loved book you read every year - it will always be a bright spot to look forward to, and become a dear friend.

That was rather a scramble, but might have struck a chord with some of us. I'm going to tag some people for this one, as I usually just say "anyone do it", but today I shall wield my power!

Up to you, of course, and I've warped the top 10 into whatever I want it to be - so, for the following people (and anyone else who wants to do it) make a top 10 of rules for life, rules for books, grievances, favourite woodland creatures... whatever you like!

Elaine at Random Jottings
Colin (aka The Carbon Copy)
Guy at Pursewarden
Colin at The Book Pirate
Kirsty at Other Stories

Saturday, 27 December 2008

End of Year Meme

Well, my Top 15 of 2008 were listed yesterday, and now for something linked to it.
I did this meme at the end of last year, and thought it worth a revisit for 2008... I won't tag anyone, but do have a go if you'd like to.

-How many books read in 2008?

137 (so far!)

-Fiction/Non-Fiction ratio?

101 Fiction/36 Non-Fiction, which leans less towards fiction than usual. Mostly literary non-fiction - letters, biography, lit crit.

-Male/Female authors?
62 male, 72 female, 3 where there were mixed contributors. Wom
en were comfortably outstripping the men until the autumn when my course started, and the reading lists became dominated by men. Still, women just win out.

-Favourite book read?
Top 15 listed here...

-Least favourite?
Not including the occasional review book which I didn't think much of (as I try to only write positive reviews of books if people have been kind enough to send them to me) - I was underwhelmed by Khaled Hosseini's The Kite Runner, and bored by Conrad's Heart of Darkness. And, of course, gave up on Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin.

-Oldest book read?
A re-read of Sense and Sensibility wins this title. A bit more modern than last year's winner - Sir Gawain and the Green Knight.

Quite a few read before they were published this year...

-Longest book title?
The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer will probably be most bloggers' longest title for 2008.

-Shortest title?
I've cut a couple letters of last years (5, with 'Sylva') - the shortest title thi
s year is Tru by Eric Melbye.

-How many re-reads?
Far more than usual... 18. Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day; Year In, Year Out by AA Milne; Sense and Sensibility and Pride and Prejudice; Cold Comfort Farm; The Garden Party; four Mapp & Lucia books; four St. Clare's books, and four titles on my 50 Books... list: Speaking of Love; The Love Child; The L-Shaped Room; The Provincial Lady Goes Further

-Most books read by one author this year?
EF Benson and AA Milne win with 6 each; Enid Blyton
managed 4; Jane Austen, EM Delafield, Olive Schreiner, Katherine Mansfield and Daphne du Maurier had a respectable 3 ea

-Any in translation?
2: The Diving-Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby and Suite Francaise by Irene Nemirovsky. Considering I'd hoped to read lots of Scandinavian lit this year, I rather failed.

-And how many of this year's books were from the library?
17, all the university library, which is better than none last year.

Friday, 26 December 2008

Stuck-in-a-Book's Books of 2008

Boxing Day, and the sales in Yeovil were rather underwhelming, since almost all the shops were shut. Did manage to buy most of Woolworths' stock for not very much money, but even at 60% off I couldn't bring myself to buy any of the books.

I'd hoped to give my list of favourite books after listing those by my family, as promised, but none of them have written about their favourite book of 2008 yet... tut tut... hopefully that will come to you before long. Instead, I'll offer my favourite reads of the year - I couldn't get it down to ten, in fact there were 42 on my shortlist... so here's my Top 15. (I don't include re-reads or more than one book by any author)

15. The War-Workers - EM Delafield
Written in the First World War, Delafield's novel is about women working in the Midlands Depot, though never very clear what they're doing - the central character, Charmain, is relentlessly work-focused, but rather selfish too. A last-minute entry, as I only read it last week; a bit of a slow start, but gathers pace, and some very witty turns of phrase. Some extracts here.

14. Vanessa and Virginia - Susan Sellers
One of the books I was lucky enough to review this year, a novel about Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf, written in the most exquisite prose. Not wholly Woolfean, as that would just be imitation, but certainly inspired by that most wonderful writer. My review here.

13. Alva & Irva - Edward Carey
Utterly quirky - twins make a model of their fictional town out of plasticine. And that's just for starters. So memorable, and in amongst the bizarre happenings are moving touches about growing up together and growing apart. More...

12. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets - Eva Rice
Very Dodie Smith, very Nancy Mitford, fun and joyous. Energetic tale about poverty-striken family in an old house (see the Dodie Smith comparisons?!) including Penelope, who meets whirlwind Charlotte at a bus stop. More...

11. Miss Marlow at Play - AA Milne
A play by AAM which I hadn't read, the usual Milne inimitable whimsy. Very short, but I always love dipping into Milne territory and enjoying the fanciful and inconsequential. In fact, with new reads and re-reads, Milne might be my most read author this year.

10. Pencillings - J. Middleton Murry
Mr. Katherine Mansfield's witty, literary and erudite essays, written in 1922, on many and diverse topics: literature vs. science; an amusingly poetic book about herbs; the use of the word 'genius' in reviews; Winston Churchill... More...

9. The Bestowing Sun - Neil Grimmett
I requested this book to review when I learnt it was set in Somerset - about families and art and so well written. Neil Grimmett has mentioned the potential of a trilogy... pop over to Flame Books and buy this before everyone else finds out. More...

8. The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald

After finding Human Voices so-so, I loved this melancholy but wise tale of starting a bookshop. Thank you Lynne for giving it to me. Which Penelope Fitzgerald novel to go for next? More...

7. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
Finally rectified having not read this deserved classic, I'm sure everyone knows everything about it - I was surprised how little space the trial occupies, this is much more a novel about a father/daughter relationship. More...

6. Yellow - Janni Visman
Agrophobia and neuroticism were never so well told. This, along with Alva & Irva, was a novel I bought after seeing it in the Bodleian cataloguing department - quirky, striking, unique. More...

5. The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
A short story, but came in a stand-alone Virago. Superlative. (And proves the popularity of books with 'yellow' in the title this year.) A marvellously subtle depiction of mental illness and the inadequacy of the contemporary medical profession. More...

4. Lucia's Progress - EF Benson
My big re-reading project of the year was the Mapp and Lucia novels, inspired by Elaine aka Random Jottings discovering them for the first time. I'd never read the final two in the series, so it had to be one of them - and they keep getting better and better. Bereft to finish. More...

3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer
Thanks Elaine for putting this in my path; fun and moving and literary and wonderful. Set in 1946, and owing a little to the Provincial Lady, this epistolary novel sees authoress Juliet exchange letters with residents of Guernsey, and later visit them, bringing Occupation Guernsey to life. A lot of bloggers have delighted in this; so sad that the author died in 2008. More...

2. As It Was - Helen Thomas
Not just because the author shares her name with my aunt... Edward Thomas' wife was overshadowed by his fame, but her autobiography of their marriage is beautiful and honest. Despite obviously loving him enormously, he comes across as a fairly vile man - even so, As It Was and the sequel World Without End (published together, with extra material, as Under Storm's Wing) are must-reads for the true depiction of life and the exceptional writing quality. More...

1. The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters - ed. Charlotte Mosley
Unutterably divine - social history, comedy, insightful, moving. A lot of bloggers have eulogised about this collection, expertly edited by Charlotte Mosley, and indeed many reviews came last year - I read the collection slowly from November '07 to April '08, which is an ideal method. I've since got/read a few other Mitford letter collections, but this is something exceptional. This book felt like a journey with a family, and I have rarely been so upset to finish a book. More...

For the sake of simplicity, here's that list again, without the extra bits:
15. The War Workers - EM Delafield
14. Vanessa and Virginia - Susan Sellers
13. Alva & Irva - Edward Carey
12. The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets - Eva Rice
11. Miss Marlow at Play - AA Milne
10. Pencillings - J Middleton Murry
9. The Bestowing Sun - Neil Grimmett
8. The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald
7. To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
6. Yellow - Janni Visman
5. The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
4. Lucia's Progress - EF Benson
3. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer
2. As It Was - Helen Thomas
1. The Mitfords: Letters of Six Sisters - ed. Charlotte Mosley

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Happy Christmas!

For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given!

A very wonderful Christmas to you all, hope Santa brought lots of books.

God bless,


Tuesday, 23 December 2008


Thanks for your advice, I've done something which I haven't done in a couple of years - given up on a book. Bye bye Kevin, you're back on the bookshelf, for the time being at least. I know a lot of you believe books should be discarded if they're not working for you at page 50, but I can't adopt that policy. I feel I've entered into some sort of contract with the author - if they've put months into writing it, I can put days into reading it. So I only give up in exceptional circumstances.

And what have I read instead? Well, I actually picked it
up yesterday because the computer was taking ages to load and it was the nearest book to me - but got hooked and finished it today. Quirkology: The Curious Science of Everyday Lives by Richard Wiseman. It's so modern that it was a website (quirkology.com) and a YouTube channel, and that's more than Jane Austen ever had.

It doesn't sound usual Stuck-in-a-Book fare, and I suppose it's not, but one of the other books I've enjoyed this year was Oliver Sacks' The Man Who Mistook His Wife For A Hat. That was a book detailing psychological illnesses witnessed by Dr. Sacks, and his methods of treating them, in a manner which demonstrated his empathy as well as intelligence. Quirkology is rather more silly, though still keen to point out its scientific credentials - it's all about Wiseman's psychological experiments and what insights he has discovered into everyday lives. The psychological equivalent of Kate Fox's anthropological Watching the English.

Amongst Wiseman's investigations are attempts to find the world's funniest joke; see what sort of person takes more than 10 items in a supermarket's express line; how to tell if someone is lying; how your surname could decide your career; the trustworthiness of beards; how pretending to be a football hooligan will actually lower your IQ. Many, many interesting facts and studies, which often make you feel grateful that you weren't a participant (many of the studies claim to be about one thing, and trick a participant into having different behaviour analysed).

Here's one little starter. Using your forefinger, trace a capital Q on your forehead. Go on... done it? Click here to see what it says about you.

A fun, and indeed very quirky, book.

Sunday, 21 December 2008

Should I Continue?

I made a small pile of books from the tbr pile to read over Christmas, before I had to start on reading for next term - first among them was Lionel Shriver's We Need To Talk About Kevin. I bought the novel not long after it appeared in paperback, my book group at home having read it and thought it very good - since then I've known various people proclaim the best or, alternatively, the worst novel they've read in a long time. I'm up to page 40 and so far I'm in the latter camp...

It's not the horrific nature of Kevin's deeds - which have yet to be particularly elaborated - it's the utterly awful writing. I'm all for fancy words in prose, but, when discussing the amount of water in the hot water tank, 'the awareness that there is no reserve permeates my ablutions with disquiet' - Really? The main character is that irritating I-don't-care-what-people-think-but-really-I-do type, all introspection and independence and sock-it-to-'em honesty mixed with psychobabble... I almost never give up on books, but...

...that is my question, really. For those who've read We Need To Talk About Kevin. Should I bother continuing?

Friday, 19 December 2008

Favourite book of the year...?

Tonight was the opening night of the Chiselborough Christmas Cracker, our village show, and the Thomas family were in full force performing a version of the Four Yorkshiremen sketch, cleverly reworked by Our Vicar into the Four Clergyperson sketch. Much fun had all round. It's our third turn in Somerset - last year we played ourselves preparing for the sketch, in a postmodern turn which baffled most, and the year before we did a chat show, hosted by Our Vicar; my character was a Sound of Music obsessive who sang all his lines, Our Vicar's Wife was celebrity chef Smelia Dith, and The Carbon Copy had a phobia of rhyme. I do love villages.

The other challenge of the day has been compiling my favourite books of the year. I always look forward to this, and then find it incredibly difficult... my list might well be slightly different if I'd made it last week or last month, but
I've settled on my Top 15. I tried to make a Top 10, but couldn't bring myself to leave some out. Anyway, I'll keep that for a few days, because I've asked The Clan to each write something about their favourite book of the year. None of them keep a list of the books they read, like I do, but hopefully each will be able to drag into the depths of their minds for a special one this year... keep your eyes out for those.

So, for now, I open the floor to you - what's the best book you've read in 2008? Doesn't have to have been published this year, but preferably one you read for the first time this year. My end of year lists never include rereads or more than one book by any author... I look forward to hearing your choices, and reasons - and if you can link to a review on your own blog, if you have one, that would be great too! I might compile your lists in a future email.

Tuesday, 16 December 2008

After the Fox

Just to prove I have read *something * this month...

Quite a while ago I wrote about second-book-syndrome. By that I meant the second book you re
ad by an author, after you've loved one. You might be reading them in order they were written, might be completely different - but it's so difficult for the second book to live up to the first. I wrote the first blog post about Frank Baker's Before I Go Hence, which was good, but nowhere near as good as Miss Hargreaves, which is one of my '50 Books'. I haven't read another novel by Baker since, though I have a few waiting on my shelves. Today's post is about another '50 Books' author, and the second book I've read by him - Aspects of Love by David Garnett.

I bought this in a secondhand bookshop in London a while ago, and read most of it on the train home - then a lull, and read the rest last week. I was attracted to it, other than by Garnett's name, by its brevity. The blurb says:

'Alone in a villa in the South of France, a penniless French actress and a star-struck English boy enjoy an idyll which they thought could not last. The years prove them wrong. Their entanglement endures, changing slowly, bringing in others - all of them concerned to keep the taste of life on the tip of their tongue.'

Well, that was quite misleading. I was anticipating a beautiful love story, but nuanced by Modernist whirls, as it were. Lady Into Fox, though it put some people off with its metamorphosis, was at heart a moving love story, told with a spectacular linguistic skill. Aspects of Love was like reading a rollercoaster - dramatic event after dramatic event whisked past me, before I had time to work out what was happening. When the blurb says the central relationship is 'changing slowly', they mean she goes off with his uncle; he shoots her, she has a daughter with the uncle, who falls in love with him... I usually love short novels, as they give the opportunity for something simple and polished, portraits of characters which shine like gems. Aspects of Love had some good points, but should either have cut out half the plot or doubled its length. I don't know what Garnett was trying to say, but whatever it was didn't convince me - I am rather disappointed, and can't say I recommend this novel. The odd sentence was beautiful, but you some sentences do not a great novel make. Shame.

And now the question is... will I bother with a third book by Garnett?

Monday, 15 December 2008

Exteeeeeeeeeended Essay

I'm in the midst of my final days in Oxford for this year, and busy writing my thesis or extended essay or whatever it ought to be called. We do three of these, and one slightly longer one, so 'essay' seems too diminuitive a label, and 'dissertation' too grand. Extended essay is probably all the lauding it needs, and at 7000 words it is neither a trifle nor a mountain. But it is taking up most of my time, hence not having finished a book for a while - I have a feeling December will be a record low for the year, though I am currently enjoying The War Workers by EM Delafield, Harriet Hume by Rebecca West, and Every Eye by Isobel English. Slowly.

My essay title is:

'I - I only want to leave--':
The Imperial Visitor in Olive Schreiner and Katherine Mansfield

Yes. I'm a fan of using incongruous quotations for titles - this one comes from my favourite Katherine Mansfield story, 'Th
e Garden Party'. (This was my favourite story when I read the Folio Collected Short Stories of KM, and only afterwards did I discover that it's her most renowned - which proves that it is deservedly renowned!) Laura is at the impoverished family's house, and is saying that she wishes to leave the basket she brought - but in missing out the word 'basket', reveals also her desire to leave the house. I think I called this 'partial zeugma'. Oh, indeed.

Sometimes I get a bit wordy. I've already used the expressions 'anthropomorphised mercantilism' and 'Bona
parte's credentials are essentially fiscal'. Not to mention 'cannibalises'; 'intial corporeal dislocation', and, most profoundly, 'Time is a crucial as space'.

It's fun to be back at it. The Carbon Copy said he tried to read my undergraduate thesis on Virginia Woolf and Clothing the other, but stopped after two pages because it was, quote, 'boring'. Aah, with friends like these. To be fair to him, I don't think I'd last two pages on the Reimann Hypothesis. It always amazes me the subjectivity of the word 'interesting' - this blog bubble sometimes makes me forget that some people (I'm looking at you, Mr. Tim Henman) think reading is 'boring' - whereas I imagine there are leagues of sports fans and map readers and geologists who would be astonished at my lack of interest in their field... I bet none of *them* have ever said 'anthropomorphised mercantilism'. And, at the end of the day, is there any better method of judging success?

In all seriousness, anyone interested in Katherine Mansfield or Olive Schreiner, if my wordiness has whetted your appetite, I'd be happy to email you my essay afterwards - and be even more happy to hear your thoughts on the concept of visiting in their works.

Sunday, 14 December 2008

Reading at the Speed of Light

Today's topic is crying out for a Stuck-in-a-Book sketch, but that requires more energy than I have after mulled wine, mince pies and Scrabble. Mmm, Christmas...

The other day Elaine at Random Jottings wrote about the mixed blessing and curse that reading incredibly quickly can be. I've known Elaine online for nearly five years now, and have always been rather jealous of her amazing reading rate - I believe, including lighter, quick reads, Elaine has read 250 books this year. Compare that to my 130... yes, that's an awful lot (possibly more than I've read any other year) but that is testament to all the time I had this year for reading, rather than my speed. I'm not slow, but I'm not very fast. Well, I'll qualify that statement a little later.

Elaine writes on her blog, and has mentioned to me before, that when she reads she 'sees' the words, whereas most readers 'hear' them - and that the 'seeing' is slightly quicker on each sentence, which builds up to a lot quicker over all. If you're thinking the idea is nonsense, watch out for it next time you're reading a novel - I bet you'll be hearing the words faintly while you read. It becomes more obvious when you hit a word you don't know how to pronounce, or used to mispronounce... Now, I've discovered that I can actually choose how I read - my default is to 'hear' the word, but if I want to read something quickly, I can switch to 'see'ing it. But, for me, this deadens the words - I get the meaning without any emotional connection. Very odd. Probably not remotely scientific, but... (Oo, actually, see this study which I just found, about emotional impact and speed of reading...)

Before speaking to Elaine, I always considered fast reading an unadulterated blessing - but she recounts mistrustful teachers and other occasions on which it's been more of a curse. What about you? Do you read fast or slowly? Can you see fast reading as a curse, or would you long for it? Do you take your time over some books, and race through others? Or have you never really given a second thought to the speed of your reading? Perhaps someone with a scientific turn of mind could explain some or all of this to us... how innate is the speed of reading, and can we change it?

Friday, 12 December 2008

Quick post...

A very quick one as I'm going to bed...


Hurrah, hurray and praise the Lord!

Thursday, 11 December 2008

The Family Reunion

Yesterday evening I was in London, possibly the first time I've gone up 'for the evening' in a cosmopolitan sort of way, to see 'The Family Reunion' by T. S. Eliot. It's being performed at the Donmar Warehouse Theatre, which is in a very nice little area of London called Seven Dials. Agatha Christie aficianadoes - I'm looking at you, Colin - might be able to tell me if there's any connection with The Seven Dials Mystery? If I ever had to live in London, that's where I'd like to live. I imagine a day's rent is more than I could earn in a year.

Why did I wan
t to see the play? No literary reasons at all, I'm afraid - it was the cast. Does that make me strange? Mel suggests it does. But no matter - it was quite an exceptional line-up: Penelope Wilton, Sam West, Gemma Jones, Una Stubbs. I daresay the others deserve their names in lights, but it was for these four (in that order) that I was excited. Most especially Penelope Wilton - in fact, I found the play by Googling her name. She's wonderful in Iris and Calendar Girls and Pride and Prejudice and everything, probably, but the main reason I wanted to see her was because of The Borrowers. This was one of the programmes we grew up watching, and it felt surreal to have one of the stars mere feet away from me. Even more surreal when Homily Clock (aka Penelope Wilton) started having a conversation with Prince Caspian (aka Sam West).

I should probably mention the play itself... a mother and aunts and uncles are gathered for the homecoming of Harry, who hasn't been to their grand house for eight years. In the interrim Something Has Happened to him, involving his much disliked wife, and it's had all sorts of effects on Harry. That's about as much concrete plot as I could grasp - much of the play focuses on the relations between relatives and mindsets, and leads into a curious philosophical staging which might be summed up as 'there's more to life than there seems'. I don't know if T.S. Eliot was a Christian when he wrote 'The Family Reunion', but it seems very much the work of someone who is starting on the path - realises there is more to life than meets the eye, and wants to explore it. Occasional bursts of humour, mostly provided by Una Stubbs, and some rather creepy boy apparitions (who at one point appear behind a door in an instant; no idea how they did that), and another effect which I found wonderful. Quite often four members of the cast would suddenly move together and speak in unison, Greek Chorus-like, revealing their shared psychologies. Could have been affected, but instead worked very well.

This might all have been a bit of a babble: difficult to make plain what I thought about such a complex play. I must read it. I'll finish, instead, with some more celebrity-spotting - we were followed into the theatre by Celia Imrie! (Maybe there to see Calendar Girls co-star Penelope Wilton?)

Tuesday, 9 December 2008

Must-Read-Very-Soon pile

As promised, the Must-Read-Very-Soon pile in its entirety - brace yourself, there are quite a few (hence yes, Mel, I did mean 2009!) but they're all books which elevate themselves out of the 'to be read' pile into a state of reading urgency. Having said that, most of them have been there for four months already... I'll read this post in December 2009 and let you know how many have been read.

Let's look at the big shelf in closer detail, left to right... if anything sparks your interest or - even better - if you've read them, do comment.

The Paris Review Interviews vol.1 and vol.2
- these have been mentioned on Stuck-in-a-Book before, and I've read bits and pieces. Interviews with the Great and the Good of literature - in depth, insightful, invaluable. And the third volume is out...

Beyond Sing The Woods by Trygve Gulbranssen
- in my sporadic, but heartfelt, interest in Scandinavian literature, I bought this novel after seeing it mentioned in the comments on Danielle's blog.

Winnie the Pooh and The House at Pooh Corner and When We Were Very Young by AA Milne
- I haven't read these for six or seven years, and that must be rectified soon. Plus, the rather beautiful copy of WWWVY was given to me by my dear friend Mel.

London 1945: Life in the Debris of War by Maureen Waller
- I've not read much about *just* postwar, either fact or fiction, and this came recommended by several Persephone Books lovers - so can't go far wrong.

The Haunted Bookshop
and Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley
- These came from Danielle in exchange for Miss Hargreaves... and they're still not read by me. BUT they're on the priority shelf, so watch this space...

A House of Air
by Penelope Fitzgerald
As championed by Lynne 'dovegreyreader' Hatwell, a collection of Fitzgerald's reviews and introductions and essays etc. etc. Started a while ago, but it's been sidelined to this shelf until I'm in a Fitzgerald mood.

The Feminine Middlebrow Novel by Nicola Humble
- This invaluable guide to everything middlebrow I have read, but think I should re-read before I start my dissertation. More on it here.

They Came Like Swallows by William Maxwell
- Cornflower Book Group choice ages ago, sounded brilliant, Karen very sweetly sent me a copy... I will read it soon! Pop over to the Cornflower Book Group and see what was said about it then.

A Vindication of the Rights of Women by Mary Wollstonecraft
- I started this after reading Janet Todd's rather wonderful biography of Mary's daughter Fanny, and the whole Wollstonecraft/Shelley clan... found Vindication a little dry, but intend to persevere.

The Man Who Was Thursday by G.K. Chesterton
- The aforementioned Mel lent this to me in September...

A Man Like Any Other by Mary Cavanagh
- I reviewed Mary's debut novel The Crowded Bed, and she subsequently became a friend whom I've seen quite a few times, as she's an Oxfordshire writer. This one is definitely a must read, and is probably no.1 priority on the Must Read shelf.

by Jan Morris
- Our Vicar gave me this when I went to university... I will read it soon, I will! Now that I'm not an undergraduate, I'm starting to get tourists'-curiosity...

Can Any Mother Help Me?
by Jenna Bailey
-In 1935 a lonely young mother wrote to Nursery World asking for advice on how to occupy her literate and lively mind without costing money. She struck a chord; a group started a private magazine. This non-fiction book is all about that - utterly irresistible.

Slave of Christ
by Murray J. Harris
-Always a theological book or twelve waiting in the offing, and the idea of being a slave of Christ is one I want to explore and investigate.
The next one is my dovegreybooks postal book, so don't look too closely if you're in that group.... in fact, I won't even mention it. Squint, and move onto the next one.

The Provincial Lady
by E. M. Delafield
-Yes, of course I've read these four books - it's in the 50 Books... - but they're always due a re-read.

The Haunted Woman
by David Lindsay
-Same applies...

I Follow But Myself
by Frank Baker
-the autobiography of the man behind Miss Hargreaves - more precisely, a book of character sketches of important people in his life. Includes Edward Garnett - Virginia Woolf's sister's daughter's husband's father!

by Sol T. Plaatje
-Just read this South African novel, actually, for my Empire & Nation class; I'll be posting it back to Nichola soon, who kindly lent it to me.

Mrs. Woolf and the Servants
by Alison Light
-My friend Clare gave me this as a leaving present from the Bodleian, and it's absolutely perfect for me, of course. Soon, soon...

Fugitive Pieces
by Anne Michaels
-I'd never heard of this, but my book group friend Louie was absolutely certain that I'd love the novel, and it all looks very promising!

Gosh. See the challenge I have ahead of me? Certainly not put off my books - just writing this has made me want to read every single one of them. But I must write my extended essay... I must. Oh dear, I'm slipping already...

Monday, 8 December 2008

Crunchy Books

Julie, in the dovegreybooks Yahoo Group so many of my bookish suggestions come from, emailed a link to this article today, about tbr (to-be-read) piles, and the Credit Crunch Beating tactic of reading books already on the shelves, rather than buying new ones. Or rather, his article was all about the difficulty of doing this. The article has a veritable plethora of links to other relevant blogs and articles, and I'm adding another link to the chain - but do go and read what Sam Jordison wrote; it might strike a chord.

This has come up recently. I know some regular Stuck-in-a-Book readers are noble folk who don't buy in haste, use libraries, read books on the bookcase before heading to the local bookshop. More of us, perhaps, are inveterate book buyers.

Now, (Ooo, semi-political tone alert) I don't really think the Credit Crunch is *quite* as world-shaking as the newspapers would have us believe. The very rich are getting slightly less rich; the rest of us have to pay more for petrol and pasta, apparently, but it's not 1929 and I'm still going to buy books. What Jordison, and Bookninja who inspired the article, have trouble with is not wanting to read the books on their bookshelf. Sometimes not with the best of reasons... I quote:

As I scanned my shelves, I found I had convincing arguments why I shouldn’t read each one of the orphans — or convincing to me anyway. I rejected a book called “English, August,” by Upamanyu Chatterjee because it is, after all, November. No to “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists” by Robert Tressell because the book jacket says it’s about “the desperate lives of working people.” No to “The Unconsoled” by Kazuo Ishiguro because I heard it wasn’t nearly as good as “Remains of the Day” or “Never Let Me Go.”

Not the problem, here. I really, really want to read so many of my books. Time is the thing. And having to read books for Book Groups or university or... or...

Shall we take a little look at my Must Read Very Soon shelf? It's a step above the To Be Read pile, which currently stands at about 500 books or so. I think I'll talk you through it tomorrow... the books I should have read before the end of 2009, we'll call it, for that is as urgent as things can get in the book-filled mania of my reading life.

Saturday, 6 December 2008


It's been a little while since I finished a book, after quite a run of reviews and whatnot, so I'm going to have to satisfy myself (and, I'm afraid, my readers) with little puzzles instead.

Here's a tricky one. Can you get from Bertrand Russell to DH Lawrence in three steps? Fill in the gaps... and explain why. What japes.

B[ertrand Russell]
D[H Lawrence]

Oh, and all advent head over to www.dovegreyreader.typepad.com for lots and lots of book giveaways, 21 copies of The Reader in the latest draw!

Friday, 5 December 2008

Victors to their spoils

Congratulations... Jane Eyre!
To be honest, I had a suspicion that the vote would swing that way. Jane Eyre received 23 votes, Wuthering Heights only 10, with a couple abstentions. This time my vote isn't the deciding one, as it was to put Dickens over Hardy, but I still can't come to a quick decision...

I suppose I should have phrased it differently. If I was asked which novel I favoured, it would be Jane Eyre. If I had to choose which novel I thought was better, it is unquestionably Wuthering Heights. In terms of writing ability, especially the way in which passion is presented, I think WH is one of the best novels I've ever read. But I hated it. Or, rather, I hated Heathcliff so much that I was unable to enjoy the novel - the book is filled with hatred and the powerful, passionate force it can have.

JE on the other hand... I confess I don't know why it's so popular. Good, yes, but... I couldn't see anything more than good. Mr. Rochester is a man who (erm, spoiler ahead, for those who don't know) tries to lie to marry illegally, keeps a wife imprisoned in the attic, dresses up as a gypsy to fool Jane... but at least he doesn't go around hanging dogs. I know these novels have merits far and above their romantic aspects, but they are still renowned for those - will someone please explain to me what is remotely appealing about Heathcliff or Mr. Rochester?! Perhaps I'm destined not to understand...

I'm going to vote for secret option no.3 - Agnes Grey. If I'm forced to choose one of the other novels, I'll pick Wuthering Heights - out of admiration rather than adoration.

Wednesday, 3 December 2008

Bronte vs. Bronte

Another little quiz to see what's what for Stuck-in-a-Book readers... this time it's a bit of a grudge match, as they've been fighting it out for well over a century. Step forward, Jane Eyre vs. Wuthering Heights. Ladies and Gentlemen, place your bets. Or, rather, your favoured title...

Tuesday, 2 December 2008


Here's an odd question... is there a month or time of year in which you read more books than the rest of the year? And what reasons are there for that, if it's true?

Looking back over the year, I've compiled this little league table of the number of books read per month...

17 - November
15 - July
14 - January
13 - August
13 - October
12 - March
11- April
11 - September
10 - February
10 - May
8 - June

Hmm... of course, book length comes into play - but I don't think any month has been taken up with excessively long or excessively short books. And I have no explanation why I read twice as much in November as I did in June, so nothing interesting to add... except that May was my time of Reader's Block, which accounts for it being near the bottom. Hmm... I'd be intrigued to hear if anyone has anything more valuable to contribute to this little question!

Monday, 1 December 2008

I'm in love.

Yes, I'm in love. With a DVD. With, to be precise, Lost in Austen. I know, I know, I went on and on about how good this programme is back here, but that was when I'd only seen one episode... The Carbon Copy bought me the DVD for my birthday, I've watched it all again, and am having to be very stern with myself to restrain from watching it all over again straight away.

What's not to love? Amanda Price, Pride and Prejudice addict, accidentally swaps places with Elizabeth Bennett. She has to try to keep the novel on course, coping with the differences caused by her presence, Lizzie's absence, and some rather unexpected undercurrents to Jane Austen's novel... and at the same time, of course, gets rather smitten with Mr. Darcy. It's messing with Austen so I should hate it. But obviously I don't. My utter delight in this TV series has dislodged prose-writing ability from my brain, and so I'll give you some bullet points as to why Lost in Austen ought to be bought by you IMMEDIATELY. If it's not available in the US and elsewhere, start a petition today.

  • It's Jane Austen - which is an exceptionally good starting point
  • With 21st Century life - so no forgetting-to-entertain-the-audience-because-we're-fastening-our-bonnets
  • And Jemima Rooper - the lass playing Amanda Price is quite astonishingly likable, and not just because she was in the Famous Five
  • She's also a very funny actress
  • A Real Person (just like you and me) gets to go to Longbourn. And Rosings. And Pemberley. It could happen to us...
  • I would just say 'Downtown', but the clip wasn't on the DVD, for copyright reasons... thankfully YouTube has it, so click here.
  • There are so many treats for Austen fans. Look out for Amanda quoting Emma, and probably lots of others, and...
  • ... yes, there is *that* lake scene. The women reading will be wondering, I'm sure... and Amanda uses the word 'postmodern' to describe it, so you can all feel worthy and intellectual while pressing 'rewind' and 'pause' a lot.
  • Hugh Bonneville as Mr. Bennett. And his wonderful lines: "I must beg to be excused. Large gatherings of society make me break out in hives. As do small gatherings."; "Mrs. Bennett and Lydia are currently in society. Society has enough to be getting on with." And so many more.
  • The best insult ever: "Damn you, Darcy, and damn every man who doesn't stay up all night with a candle in his window daming you!"
  • What happens if Mr. Bingley gets a crush on Amanda, instead of Jane? Think about it... think about it... who comes to visit and is put off marrying Jane because her mother suspects she will soon be, as it were, otherwise engaged?
  • And wait 'til you hear Caroline Bingley's secret
  • The adorable Perdita Weeks as Lydia - sister of equally adorable Honeysuckle Weeks. Yes, those are their real names.
  • A genuinely moving romance. Should Darcy end up with Lizzie (as we've all been brought up to want) or new girl Amanda (whom we also now adore)? I lost sleep over this one.
  • The DVD has an excellent 'Making of...' feature, a whole hour of interesting interviews and soundbites from actors, producers, designers, cameramen, makeup artists... no writer interview, oddly... my favourite being the man painting the fence: "I don't even know who's in it. One of the other lads might be able to tell you that."
  • Oh, it's all just delicious, silly, wonderful, delightful, intelligent fun - a hundred times better if you, like Amanda, like me, adore Jane Austen and Pride and Prejudice. So perfect I want to have it on loop for the rest of the month, pausing only to watch Pride and Prejudice itself.