Friday, 31 December 2010

Books Read 2010

I'm typing this up a few days early, so perhaps the list won't be complete if I finish a book or two before midnight strikes on December 31st. There are a few books here waiting review, which will appear sometime in 2011 - so don't worry if yours is mentioned here and not yet reviewed! I'll also do my annual End of Year Meme, but not until January. Here's the lot - and I made my annual target of over 100 books! As before, re-reads have an 'x' in front of them.

x1. The Provincial Lady Goes Furhter - E.M. Delafield
2. In the Springtime of the Year - Susan Hill
3. A Game of Hide and Seek - Elizabeth Taylor
4. The Unspoken Truth - Angelica Garnett
5. Nothing is Safe - E.M. Delafield
6. Mrs. Tim of the Regiment - D.E. Stevenson
7. Betwixt and Between - Rosa Maria Bracco
8. In the Garden of the North American Martyrs - Tobias Wolff
9. Nella Last's War - Nella Last
x10. Sisters By A River - Barbara Comyns
11. Immortality - Milan Kundera
12. The Perks of Being a Wallflower - Stephen Chbosky
13. White is for Witching - Helen Oyeyemi
14. Staying With Relations - Rose Macaulay
15. The Blue Fox - Sjon
16. Beside the Sea - Veronique Olmi
x17. The Provincial Lady in America - E.M. Delafield
18. David Golder - Irene Nemirovsky
19. Can Any Mother Help Me? - Jenna Bailey (ed.)
20. Miss Mole - E.H. Young
21. Mrs. Dose the Doctor's Wife - Joyce Dennys
x22. The Provincial Lady in Wartime - E.M. Delafield
23. High Wages - Dorothy Whipple
24. The Overdose - Joyce Dennys
25. Mystery Mile - Margery Allingham
26. Travels With My Aunt - Graham Greene
27. Aunt's Aren't Gentlemen - P.G. Wodehouse
x28. Matty and the Dearingroydes - Richmal Crompton
29. The British Character Studied and Revealed - Pont
30. Hector and the Search for Happiness - Francois Lelord
31. Identity - Milan Kundera
32. Boxer, Beetle - Ned Beauman
33. The Haunted Bridge and other stories - Jane Gordon-Cumming
34. The Behaviour of Moths - Poppy Adams
35. The Maintenance of Headway - Magnus Mills
36. A Long Long Way - Sebastian Barry
37. The Girl With Glass Feet - Ali Shaw
38. The Art of Gardening - Mary Robinson
39. Friends Like These - Danny Wallace
40. Brother of the More Famous Jack - Barbara Trapido
41. Secret Lives - E.F. Benson
42. Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? - Edward Albee
x43. Miss Ranskill Comes Home - Barbara Euphan Todd
44. Little Boy Lost - Marghanita Laski
45. Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
46. Images in a Mirror - Sigrid Undset
x47. The Dover Road - A.A. Milne
48. The Man Who Planted Trees - Jean Giono, Michael McCurdy
49. The Elegance of the Hedgehog - Muriel Barbery
50. The Vet's Daughter - Barbara Comyns
51. Stone in a Landslide - Maria Barbal
52. The Green Child - Herbert Read
53. Flower Phantoms - Ronald Fraser
54. A Harp in Lowndes Square - Rachel Ferguson
55. The Sandcastle - Iris Murdoch
56. Being George Devine's Daughter - Harriet Devine
57. Mr. Rosenblum's List - Natasha Solomons
58. More Talk of Jane Austen - Sheila Kaye-Smith, G.B. Stern
59. Too Much Happiness - Alice Munro
60. Two Days in Aragon - Molly Keane
61. The Poetics of Space - Gaston Bachelard
62. The Seraphim Room - Edith Olivier
63. The Murder at the Vicarage - Agatha Christie
64. The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters
65. Wish Her Safe At Home - Stephen Benatar
66. The Graveyard Book - Neil Gaiman
67. The Debt to Pleasure - John Lanchester
68. Andrina and other stories - George Mackay Brown
x69. Once A Week - A.A. Milne
70. Let's Kill Uncle - Rohan O'Grady
71. Fantasy: The Literature of Subversion - Rosemary Jackson
72. Birds in Tiny Cages - Barbara Comyns
73. The Uncanny House - Mary L. Pendered
74. Frankenstein - Mary Shelley
75. The House in the Country - Bernadette Murphy
76. Travelling Light - Tove Jansson
77. The Driver's Seat - Muriel Spark
78. Portrait of the Mother as a Young Woman - Friederich Christian Delius
79. The Hours (screenplay) - David Hare
80. The Loved One - Evelyn Waugh
81. A Kid for Two Farthings - Wolf Mankowitz
82. Stevenson Under the Palm Trees - Albert Manguel
83. The Turn of the Screw - Henry James
84. Mister Pip - Lloyd Jones
85. An Unexpected Guest - Bernadette Murphy
x86. Howards End is on the Landing - Susan Hill
87. Magical Realism and the Fantastic - Amaryll Beatrice Chanady
88. Which Way? - Theodora Benson
89. The Uncanny - Nicholas Royle
90. Villette - Charlotte Bronte
91. Stories of the Strange and Sinister - Frank Baker
92. What is Psychoanalysis? - Isador H. Coriat
93. Fantasy and Mimesis - Kathryn Hume
94. The Penelopiad - Margaret Atwood
95. Remember, Remember - Hazel McHaffie
96. The Fantastic: A Strctural Approach to a Literary Genre - Tveztan Todorov
97. Loitering With Intent - Muriel Spark
98. Make Me an offer - Wolf Mankowitz
99. Strange Glory - L.H. Myers
100. The Slap - Christos Tsiolkas
101. The Fantastic in Literature - Eric Rabkin
102. The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
103. Joy Street: A Wartime Romance in Letters - Mirren Barford, John Lewes
104. Love on the Supertax - Marghanita Laski
105. Tepper Isn't Going Out - Calvin Trillin
106. Lazy Thoughts of a Lazy Girl - Jenny Wren
107. All Quiet on the Orient Express - Magnus Mills
108. Wait For Me! - Deborah Devonshire
109. The Haunted Bookshop -
Christopher Morley
110. Dangerous Ages - Rose Macaulay
x111. The Magician's Nephew - C.S. Lewis
x112. The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe - C.S. Lewis
x113. The Horse and His Boy - C.S. Lewis
x114. Prince Caspian - C.S. Lewis
115. The Night Watch - Sarah Waters

Wednesday, 29 December 2010

Top Ten of 2010

I've been enjoying the top ten (or however many) lists which have been popping up all over the blogosphere recently. Making my own is always a highlight of the last days of December - scouring back through the wonderful reads I've been treated to throughout the year.
As usual, far more than ten were worthy of being heralded, but I have whittled it down to just ten. And, yes, it is in order. The order is subjective, in terms of my appreciation, rather than objective quality - and would doubtless change if I made this list again next week, but I do love a list. Click on each title to take you to my review of them. Here it is, in reverse order:

10.) The Good Earth - Pearl S. Buck
The first of two book group reads which made my list, this tale of a Chinese farmer and his family is told simply but so well.

9.) Jude the Obscure - Thomas Hardy
And this is the second. Having tried and failed to read this back in 2004, was pleased to try again - and was swept away.

8.) Being George Devine's Daughter - Harriet Devine
A wonderful gift from a fellow blogger, and a captivating tale of childhood among theatre's greats.

7.) The Man Who Planted Trees - Jean Giono
Enchantingly simple. Giono's name is in the list, but it is Michael McCurdy's warm, striking woodcuts which make this book special.

6.) The Loved One - Evelyn Waugh
I'm glad I persevered with Waugh, as this short, hilarious look at the American funeral industry is an absolute joy.

5.) The Vet's Daughter - Barbara Comyns
Comyn's surreal but poignant style never lets you down, and this spectacular novel is no exception.

4.) Wait For Me! - Deborah Devonshire

Mitford mania continues apace here at Stuck-in-a-Book, as you'll have seen in my recent review. Don't forget to enter the draw for a copy.

3.) Travelling Light - Tove Jansson
The only book to appear on both this list and Project 24, Tove Jansson's gentle touch and incredible insight into human nature is nigh-on flawless. More translations, please.

2.) Loitering With Intent - Muriel Spark
My favourite novel read this year, told so cleverly and with inimitable talent.

1.) Nella Last's War - Nella Last
An early read in 2010, but my lasting favourite - a very talented writer who, but for Mass Observation, would never have had courage to put pen to paper. I'm looking forward to reading her later diaries in 2011.

Tuesday, 28 December 2010

Wait For Me!

I have been reading Wait For Me! by Deborah Devonshire for (approximately) forever. I started it the day it arrived, back in September, but a combination of it being too heavy for my bag, and not being able to cope with the idea of finishing it - not to mention that somewhere towards the middle of each month I realise that I've not read the books for either of my book groups, and have six days to do so - mean I only turned the last page earlier this month.

For those of you who won't get to the end of this post - and it will involve whatever the written equivalent of squawking is - I shall mention now that I have a copy to give away. Tell me your favourite autobiography, in the comments, for a chance of winning. This is open worldwide, so pop your name in. For many reasons to do so, dear reader, read on...

The Mitfords have been of great interest to many from their childhood onwards. They skirted around the outside of my consciousness, with Nancy taking occasional leaps forward, until I read the collection of their letters, expertly edited by Charlotte Mosley. Now - and I suspect most of you know this - I am rather besotted by some of the sisters. Unity and Jessica remain outside my affection, but I rather love the rest, and am devoted to Debo. So much so, that I am going to be hugely unprofessional and refer to her as 'Debo' throughout this review.

So, of course, I was delighted when she published her autobiography. Earlier works include collections of articles and musings (Counting My Chickens and Home to Roost) as well as lots of books about her home, Chatsworth, which I haven't read. Those collections I have read, whilst entertaining and joyous, did little to suggest that Debo would be able to sustain a full-length autobiography. How wrong I was to worry.

Perhaps there isn't much that will surprise in Wait For Me! Anybody who has read about the sisters before will find they know many of the anecdotes and stories already. What this book brings to the table is Debo's perspective, and her wonderfully calm way with words. I hadn't noted down any quotations to share, but having just flicked the book open at random, I came across a paragraph beginning thus:
Unity was always the odd one out. She arrived in this world in August 1914 to the sound of troops marching to war and departed it thirty-four years later in tragic circumstances. Larger than life in every way, she could have been model for a ship's figurehead or Boadicea, with her huge navy-blue eyes, perfectly straight nose and fair hair worn in two long plaits. Perhaps because of her teenage diet of mashed potatoes, her teeth were her only bad feature.
Debo hasn't allowed familial closeness to cloud her judgement or provoke over-sentimentality; yet, who but a sister would choose those images and those details? Unity, who later befriended Hitler, and tried to kill herself on the outbreak of WW2, comes alive with these much more prosaic details. It is Debo's complete unflappability which charms me through the account. Nowhere - except, of course, the title - would Debo dream of using an exclamation mark. It would be poor manners to get over-excited about something.

I was worried that Wait For Me! would pall once Debo had left home, and once the sisters were no longer centre stage - but I was wrong. Some of the most moving pages come when Debo describes her husband's alcoholism, or their miscarriages and stillborn children. This isn't done remotely gratuitously, or like those ghastly misery memoirs, but truthfully and unsensationally. And it is evident that Debo is far more interested in the businesslike running of Chatsworth than she in the doings of her sisters in their youths - her enthusiasm is contagious.

Don't worry for my sanity. I am under no delusion that Debo and I could really be friends. My vegetarianism might put paid to that, for a start, let alone our fairly divergent views on hunting. Debo is occasionally unconsciously hilarious - like when, after a chapter devoted to the joys of hunting parties, she writes that 'a fox came in daylight and murdered [chickens] for fun, as these serial destroyers do.' Takes a beetle to know a beetle, Debo, m'dear.

But none of this really seems to matter, and it certainly doesn't stop me adoring Debo and loving her book. Along with the spectacular collection of letters edited by Charlotte Mosley, Wait For Me! is a unique piece of social history, as well as an honest and entertaining personal memoir. The Mitfords are not everyone's cup of tea (my own dear brother has a violent prejudice against them, based not on their Fascism or Communism, but rather Nancy's refusal to use air-mail and their nicknaming of the Queen Mother as 'Cake') - but Debo's book confirms that they are very definitely mine. In a china cup and saucer, naturally, with ginger cake on the side.

Monday, 27 December 2010

Project 24: The Books

My New Blogging Resolution certainly won't happen before the New Year, as we're off out of internet connection for the next few days. I'm setting up posts to appear over the next few days, but I won't be able to respond to comments just yet.

Well, I shan't be doing a Project 25 - Project 24 has been fun, and very challenging, but I'm going to be back to splurging in the New Year. I'm not sure how many more of my own books I've read because of this exercise, but I do know it's more than the number I've bought for myself, for the first time in at least ten years.

It doesn't feel quite concluded until I've given you a final run-down of the 24 books which found their way into my home this year. Being honest, a fair few came from publishers or as gifts, especially on my birthday, but they weren't under the Project 24 banner. As Rachel mentioned the other day, perhaps they are a little eccentric. They're certainly not 24 of the latest books to hit bookshops. In fact, only four of them were new (rather than secondhand) and none of those were originally published this year.

I've grouped them vaguely according to the reason I got them - here's what I got:

The Ones I Already Owned

I didn't think I'd be buying duplicates in Project 24, but I was wrong - I couldn't resist these beautiful, unusual or old editions of much-loved books.

The Love Child - Edith Olivier
The Provincial Lady Goes Further - E.M. Delafield
As It Was - Helen Thomas
World Without End - Helen Thomas

The Ones Too Good To Leave

These were either so rare, unusually cheap, or special that I couldn't ignore them, once I'd stumbled across them - either in real life or through abebooks alerts.

Roofs Off! - Richmal Crompton
No One Now Will Know - E.M. Delafield
Susan and Joanna - Elizabeth Cambridge
Mrs. Christopher - Elizabeth Myers
Letters vol. I and II - Katherine Mansfield

The Ones I've Wanted For Ages

These are books I've had my eye on for years, but could never justify the expense. With my limited buying, suddenly they became affordable.

The Heirs of Jane Austen - Rachel Mathers
Miss Elizabeth Bennet - A.A. Milne

The Souvenir

I couldn't go to Shakespeare & Co. Bookshop in Paris and not come back with a good book in my hand, now, could I?

Summer Will Show - Sylvia Townsend Warner

The One I Accidentally Damaged

After I borrowed and accidentally tore a book borrowed from a fool, I bought a replacement - and kept the damaged one myself. Luckily it's a novel I (mostly) loved and wanted to keep.

The Little Stranger - Sarah Waters

The One I'd Been Waiting to be Published

Only one Project 24 book was published this year, and that was actually a translation of an earlier story collection.

Travelling Light - Tove Jansson

The Ones For My Studies

Although these are all quite fun reads, they did come into Project 24 because of their potential usefulness for my DPhil.

A Brief Experiment With Time - J.W. Dunne
Strange Glory - L.H. Myers
The Music at Long Verney - Sylvia Townsend Warner

The Ones About Authors

I didn't expect this, but it seems that when the buying is restricted, my eyes wander to the non-fiction shelves. I bought quite a few books about authors. None of them are literary biography, but rather literary non-fiction of the reader's-companion variety.

More Talk of Jane Austen - Sheila Kaye-Smith and G.B. Stern
Are They The Same At Home? - Beverley Nichols
Jane Austen - Sylvia Townsend Warner
Personal Pleasures - Rose Macaulay
A Compton-Burnett Compendium - Violet Powell
I. Compton-Burnett - Pamela Hansford Johnson

Saturday, 25 December 2010

Happy Christmas!

"But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."

I hope you and your loved ones all have a wonderful Christmas Day!

With love - Simon

Friday, 24 December 2010

Blogging Resolutions

I hope you're having a lovely Christmas Eve - it's the big Christmas meal tonight here in the Thomas household, since tomorrow is rather a busy day for Our Vicar. So get the Quorn roast in the oven (and some bird or other for the carnivores) and wrap up warm for tonight's midnight service, should you be going to one. It's one of my favourite services of the year - looking forward to it.

But I have so many summary-type posts to come between Christmas and New Year (you'll be dying to know what my Top Ten Books of 2010 are, yes?) that I thought I'd bring up the topic of New Year's Resolutions today. Sorry if that's confusing matters...

So, do you make them? Of course, my big resolution this year was Project 24 - and if I manage the last week, then I'll have done it! And every year I make a half-hearted resolution not to bite my nails... and every year it fails within minutes.

I don't think I'll be making any big personal New Year's Resolutions, but I have decided on a New Year's Blogger Resolution: to reply to comments! It isn't that I've had a policy against it before - far from it - I simply never seem to remember to do it. I love those bloggers who do, and love checking back to see whether or not they have. Thus, I am determined to become one of those bloggers. Hold me to it, guys, if I don't...

So, howsabout you? Any resolutions and - more pertinently - any blogging resolutions?

Thursday, 23 December 2010


I'm embroiled in re-reading the Narnia series (don't worry, Mr. Dickens, I'll dig you out again - only Prince Caspian has a bit of a war on his hands right now, and I don't want to leave him to fight it out alone) - but I'm going to post a sort of scattergun blog post with links and suchlike.

1.) I was rather excited about this lovely post from AOL's MyDaily, which has sweetly picked Stuck-in-a-Book as its Blog of the Week. I especially liked "At Stuck in a Book it's less about marks out of ten and more about being part of an extremely welcoming community" - that's what I hope all of us make together.

2.) This link was forwarded to me by Verity. It is a petition asking Oxfordshire County Council to reconsider closing 20 libraries in the county. I know cuts have to be made, and everyone thinks their cause is the most important, but surely enabling widespread free access to books is something worth fighting for? Even if you don't live in the area, do consider signing the petition, out of worldwide library-users solidarity!

3.) Guy at Pursewarden has concocted another fiendishly difficult Christmas Quiz. Of the 40 questions, I knew the answers to 3. Perhaps you'll fare better than I did...

4.) This is a fun list, courtesy of Tripbase, of the Top 10 Fictional Travellers. So fun, I can very nearly forgive 'Waldo' where 'Wally' should be...

5.) Gae
l Chatelain got in touch with me regarding an interesting publishing decision for her second novel, Do Unto Others. It is published online, to include music that Chatelain has herself composed - and here's the interesting part: you can choose how much to pay for it, from zilch upwards. Click here for more.

Oh, and the picture? Entirely irrelevant to the post... except, isn't she SCHWEET?!

Wednesday, 22 December 2010

Slightly Foxed

I got an email yesterday which reminded me I'd yet to talk about Slightly Foxed, who very kindly sent me the Winter 2010 edition of their journal - so I quickly unearthed it from the boxes of books I'd transported from Oxford to Somerset (was it good sense or simply coincidence that made it near the top of the box? Sadly, I suspect, the latter) and have sat down for an enjoyable half an hour. I am very far from exhausting it, and indeed have only read two or three in full, but I wanted to make sure I mentioned it before Christmas - and it's not the sort of thing you'd want to rush.

For those not in the know, Slightly Foxed (as well as having one of the best selection of second-hand books ever - if not the cheapest - at their bookshop on Gloucester Road in London Town) publish a journal celebrating literature. It's a very reader-friendly look at a whole range of authors, novels, and genres - not merely those recently published, but mostly those sitting on the margins of literature. As they say in their accompanying material,
Slightly Foxed is more like a bookish friend, really, than a literary periodical. Companionable and unstuffy, each quarter it offer 96 pages of personal recommendations for books of lasting interest, old and new - the kind of good reads you knew you were looking for but somehow haven't been able to find.
If you're anything like me, you're thinking "that sounds a lot like a blog" - and you're not wrong. It has the heart of a blog, but in print, and a selection of great names, great editing, and exhaustively researched. When I say the 'heart of a blog', I mean the sort of things they use to describe themselves above. These are passionate readers writing about books people might actually want to read.

My main bugbear with Slightly Foxed - and the reason why, until now, I have looked at their periodicals but never bought them. They are incredibly coy about the contents. The contents page tries to lure with titles as vague as 'Cheers!'; 'No Swotting...'; 'Uncomfortable Truths'; 'Essential Baggage'; 'Spellbound' etc. etc. Even now that I've at least flicked through every article, I can't remember to which works these titles further. Presumably this ambiguity is deliberate... but why? I find it infuriating, and if the pieces themselves weren't so captivating, I'm not sure I'd think it worth the struggle.

Because once you've been baffled by the contents, and fought your way through to the pieces, there are so many treats. Slightly Foxed have genuine variety and lesser-known authors, rather than simply nodding towards someone like Graham Greene and pretending they're obscure. The authors considered range from the fairly familiar (John Betjeman, Daisy Ashford) to those with whom I'm familiar, but recognise aren't all that widely known (Molly Keane, Beverley Nichols) to - by far the biggest category - those about whom I know nothing (Joann Sfar, Tete-Michel Kpomassiem...) I would be surprised if anybody could pick any SF up and not meet a new friend.

With so much variety, I can only really give a general recommendation. I will, however, quickly mention the first piece, by Daisy Hay, on that adorable book The Young Visiters [sic] by Daisy Ashford. Like all the other articles, this is four-parts appreciation to one-part literary criticism (much more fun than straight lit crit, I'm sure you'll agree) but I did learn that my beloved Katherine Mansfield wrote one of the first reviews of the book. For those who don't know The Young Visiters, it was written by a nine year old, later found and published with a foreword by J.M. Barrie. Basically it's the adult world as understood by a child, but one who spent much of her time eavesdropping on grown-up conversation, mingling register in her writing. Hay points out her favourite line as 'Oh Hurrah shouted Ethel I shall soon be ready as I had my bath last night so wont wash very much now.' Hay writes delightfully of the book and, even if it sheds little new light on the work, it is thoroughly enjoyable to read.

I definitely think any fond reader of blogs would enjoy Slightly Foxed, if they can afford a subscription (may I suggest a last minute Christmas present for the bibliophile in your life - or something to drop hints about?) - it's full of appreciation, celebration, admiration, and jubilation. You'll nod in agreement when meeting old friends; hunt through your shelves when spying casual acquaintances; and run to the bookshop when greeting attractive strangers.

Monday, 20 December 2010

Christmas reading?

I don't know about you, but I'm always a little nonplussed when people talk about the perfect book to read on the beach, or in autumn, or when it's cold, etc. etc. I tend simply to read the book I want or need to read next, with little consideration for the temperature, season, or day of the week.

But this year, I'm embracing it - I've lined up a couple of books which I think are perfect for long winter evenings. Why does winter suit long books in my head? I baulk at the idea of fluffy fiction on beaches - surely uninterrupted time on the beach is perfect for long, complex novels? - but chunky novels for winter seem to work. And I've got a couple lined up - Great Expectations by one Mr. C. Dickens, and Sarah Waters' The Night Watch. You know my feelings about long books, but I'm going to put the winter evenings to good use.

I'm about 50 pages into Great Expectations and loving it. How have I not read any Dickens since 2004? I've read Hard Times, David Copperfield, and Our Mutual Friend and either loved or very much liked them all. And I'm loving this one - Dickens' way with dialogue is unparalleled.

But I'll write about it properly when I'm finished - this post is just to ask whether or not you have any Christmas/winter reading planned, and whether or not you plan your reading by season etc.? Let me know!

Sunday, 19 December 2010

Song for a Sunday

The Thomas family is reunited down in Somerset, and we have spent the past two evenings performing in the Chiselborough Christmas Cracker - a variety show which makes up in enthusiasm what it lacks in rehearsal time, and is jolly good fun. We did our own spin on the famous Monty Python 'Spanish Inquisition' sketch, with Col and I taking the roles of the Cardinals. Somehow it involved me doing a Scottish accent... I am just grateful that nobody in the audience was Scottish, because accents are not my strong suit. When it comes to acting, I have yet to find my strong suit - unless hearty enjoyment is one.

Anyway, this is a preamble to say how Christmassy I'm now feeling, and that's why this week's Sunday Song isn't my usual pick of a lesser-known artist, but rather a rendition of my favourite carol. It's In the Bleak Midwinter sung - why not? - by lovely Julie Andrews.

Friday, 17 December 2010

"The wild, peering glitter of the bibliomaniac"

Never let it be said that I am a spontaneous man. Over three years ago, Danielle from A Work in Progress
sent me Parnassus on Wheels and The Haunted Bookshop by Christopher Morley, in exchange for Miss Hargreaves. I can't remember whether Danielle has read Miss H yet, but I do know that I was making slow progress myself. After 16 months I read, loved, and reviewed the first title (the second is a sequel, but can equally well be read as a stand-alone novel) and promised to read the second 'soon'. In fairness to myself, I did add the following footnote: 'Soon is a relative term. I mean before books become obsolete.'

Fast forward another 18 or so months, and here we are... (this is why I love it when bibliophiles give me books - they don't expect me to have read them by that time next week.)

I should start by saying that The Haunted Bookshop (1919) is a misleading title. It is quickly explained that the haunting refers to the authors who linger there through their works; for Roger Mifflin and his wife Helen (the heroine of Parnassus on Wheels) have left their travelling book wagon in a shed, and opened up shop. Mifflin is less sprightly than before; Helen less sharp - but they are older now, and contented marriage has taken the place of peripatetic solitariness, so we can happily forgive them their mellowing. But Christopher Morley is still willing and able to provide a lively character, and he does this in the form of Titania Chapman - the young daughter of one of Mifflin's friends, who comes to work in his shop, as her father wishes her to better herself. Titania is full of enthusiastic naivety and well-meaning ignorance. Perhaps she can best describe herself, in this revealing excerpt:

"I do hope," said Titania, "you won't let Daddy poison your mind about me. He thinks I'm dreadfully frivolous, just because I look frivolous. But I'm so keen to make good in this job. I've been practising doing up parcels all afternoon, so as to learn how to tie the string nicely and not cut it until after the knot's tied. I found that when you cut it beforehand either you get it too short and it won't go round, or else too long and you waste some. Also I've learned how to make wrapping paper cuffs to keep my sleeves clean."

Isn't she adorable? And keen to learn - and there is nowhere better to do so than Mifflin's shop. The first few chapters of this novel take us through some wonderful passages, where Mifflin exalts the joy of reading - nay, the necessity of it. Every bibliophile will love the discussions about the role of a bookseller, and those on the latent hunger for books among the public. It was compelling, absorbing, and utterly right-minded - from the perspective of this bibliophile, of course.

But The Haunted Bookshop has another, rather different, thread running through it - and that is where the other new character comes into play. Aubrey Gilbert (brilliant name) works in advertising and isn't much of a reader, but wanders into the bookshop to see if the proprietor would consider using his business. Which - somehow - turns into a bizarre sort of thriller. The Haunted Bookshop was written in 1919, and the effects of the War are certainly felt. There is spying; near-kidnap; anonymous 'phone calls; mysterious disappearing and re-appearing books. Perhaps this kind of thing is your cup of tea. It isn't mine, and I found all this thread rather tedious. It had little of the ingenuity of Agatha Christie, and quite a lot of the gung-ho, xenophobic bombast of Bulldog Drummond.

So this review reflects the book and my reading experience, in that it seems to have a split personality. I loved, loved, loved the sections about books. Morley and Mifflin are alike bibliomaniacs, and Mifflin's dialogue is at all times scattered with literary references high and low. The Haunted Bookshop serves almost as a literary compendium, so vast and wide-ranging are the allusions. (Some are listed on the book's Wikipedia page.) But then... but then I would start skimming pages as the thriller story took the upper-hand. Which was frustrating, because if the novel had continued throughout in the vein it started, this would be easily my favourite book this year. Morley, Morley, Morley - what were you thinking?

In the end, which Morley novel did I prefer? I can't decide whether the best bits of The Haunted Bookshop push it above Parnassus on Wheels for me, or whether the worst bits push it below. Mifflin and Helen are fantastic creations, but only really vibrant in Parnassus on Wheels. I don't know - I certainly recommend reading both, and this would be a great novel to give any book lover - just make sure you are willing to skim some pages, if your tastes are the same as mine.

Thanks again Danielle for these lovely gifts!

Thursday, 16 December 2010

Dangerous Ages

I've got half a review saved away in my draft posts, but it's late and I'm heading bedwards, so instead I thought I'd share this delicious quotation from Rose Macaulay's Dangerous Ages (1921). It's a conversation between Gerda and Neville (who are, confusingly, mother and daughter. Or perhaps aunt and niece - I got a little confused.) I think it's a fun little satire on thoughtless 1920s Bohemianism...

“Marriage,” said Gerda, “is so Victorian. It’s like antimacassars.”

“Now, my dear, do you mean anything by either of those statements? Marriage wasn’t invented in Victoria’s reign. Nor did it occur more frequently in that reign than it did before or does now. Why Victorian then? And why antimacassars? Think it out. How can a legal contract be like a doily on the back of a chair? Where is the resemblance? It sounds like a riddle, only there’s no answer. No, you know you’ve got no answer. That kind of remark is sheer sentimentality and muddle headedness. Why are people in their twenties so often sentimental? That’s another riddle.”

Wednesday, 15 December 2010

Persephone Secret Santa!

Today is the day to unveil our Persephone Secret Santas, so it gives me very great pleasure to unveil my Christmas gifts - here they are:

That's On the Other Side: Letters to My Children from Germany 1940-46 by Mathilde Wolff-Monckeberg - one of only two Persephone Books I didn't have and wanted, which makes me realise how many are languishing unread on my shelves. Talking of which, I also received A Tale of Two Cities by (of course) Charles Dickens - Mr. Dickens is one of those authors I love, but never seem to read. I've read three of his novels, but none for the last seven years.

And now to unveil my kind Santa - it is Rachel of Flowers and Stripes - thanks Rachel! I must confess that I haven't read Rachel's blog before, but of course I will be doing so now.

Many thanks to lovely Claire for organising this, and pop over to see who got what from whom in
Persephone Secret Santa fun. I have a feeling that the receiver of my Santa gift may have a barren day, as events conspired against me, and it didn't get to the post box in time to get to... but no, I shan't spoil the surprise just yet.

Tuesday, 14 December 2010

That's All, Folks.

No, I'm not giving up blogging - although wouldn't it be fun to pretend to, just to get the messages of praise? (Or, alternatively, a terrifying silence!)

No - we have come to an end, but it is not the end of my blogging fun - it is the end of Project 24. In fact, it came to an end back on the 2nd December, and it has taken me a while to take photos and alert you to my final purchases of 2010.

I suspected, when I went to London to meet up with some friends from an email book discussion group, that I might well buy one or two or maybe three books. It seemed a fitting way to end Project 24 - by buying books in the company of friends who have never discouraged book buying; always supported the need to own duplicates of favourite titles (I can feel DP's hackles raise at that 'need'!); bombard me daily with recommendations, etc. etc. Quite a few of the group had to cancel, because it was the day of snow and ice and trains being cancelled left, right, and centre - but five managed to make it, and not one of them stopped me buying these books.

First two were found at a nearby Oxfam - the first two volumes of Katherine Mansfield's letters. I've hankered after these, but they're so expensive online. If I wanted them new from Amazon, they'd be £76 each - and even secondhand I'd be looking about £15-£30. In Oxfam I found them for only £4 each! And for those who will point out that I'm swiping money from a charity, I *did* volunteer at Oxfam for a couple of years once... so we're probably even.

Of course, now I want the other three volumes... but it wasn't one of those which rounded off Project 24.

Instead, in the incredibly well-stocked bookshop Slightly Foxed, a must-visit shop for any bibliophile and my first time there - I bought Mrs. Christopher by Elizabeth Myers. My favourite read from 2006 was the letters of Elizabeth Myers, picked up by chance at Sherbourne's book fair. Since then I've only read one of her novels, and would be interested to read more, but that's not the main reason I chose this novel. What sealed the deal was the fact that this is, in librarian terminology, an 'association copy'...

In case you can't read that, it says 'With love, to Nora Nicholson from Elizabeth and Littleton Powys, who are most grateful to her for her splendid efforts to turn the novel into a play. May the Lord be with her. Oct. 1949'.

I must write properly about Myers' letters someday - they reveal a beautiful-hearted woman who died far too soon, and it is a joy to have this connection with her. A fitting and lovely way to end Project 24.

Monday, 13 December 2010

Life According to Literature 2010

I did this last year, and I've seen it doing the rounds this year too - always fun, though I doubt I'll be able to match last year's for appropriate titles, even though I've several months further on. Here goes! (Do have a go yourself, and link to your post in the comments if you like)

Answer the following questions using titles of books you have read during 2010:

Describe yourself: The Man Who Planted Trees (Jean Giono) - which I did for the first time this year!

How do you feel: Betwixt and Between (Rosa Maria Bracco)

Describe where you currently live: The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)

If you could go anywhere, where would you go: The House in the Country (Bernadette Murphy)

Your favorite form of transportation: All Quiet on the Orient Express (Magnus Mills)

Your best friend is: The Loved One (Evelyn Waugh)

You and your friends are: Friends Like These (Danny Wallace)

What's the weather like: Travelling Light (Tove Jansson)

You fear: The Murder at the Vicarage (Agatha Christie)

What is the best advice you have to give: Aunts Aren't Gentlemen (P.G. Wodehouse)

Thought for the day: Howards End is on the Landing (Susan Hill)

How I would like to die: In the Springtime of the Year (Susan Hill)

My soul's present condition: Strange Glory (L.H. Myers)

Sunday, 12 December 2010

Song for a Sunday

I can't believe I haven't featured the wonderful Bic Runga here yet. She's very well known in her native New Zealand, but rather less so further afield. 'Say After Me' is from her third album, Birds.

For all previous Sunday Songs, click here. I know these posts tend to generate far fewer comments than my book-centred posts - understandably so - but I hope one or two of you enjoy hearing songs you might otherwise miss!

Saturday, 11 December 2010

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

Hope you're gearing up to have a good weekend. I am slowly weaning myself off painkillers, and more or less back to normal. No marathons, but then... 'normal' never included marathons. It did, however, include a book, a blog post, and a link, so shall we get on with the show?

1.) The book - is a novel about the life of one of my favourite writers, Katherine Mansfield, by Joanna FitzPatrick. It's called In Pursuit... the Katherine Mansfield Story Retold, and I have high hopes... Susan Seller's Vanessa and Virginia (about Vanessa Bell and Virginia Woolf) was one of my favourite reads in 2008, so I'm hoping Joanna FitzPatrick can work similar wonders.

2.) The blog post - is Verity and one of those things which can't help make you smile: a gingerbread house. For my own terrifying attempt from August 2009, scroll to the bottom of this post.

3.) The link - is about the new TV adaptation of Richmal Crompton's William Brown books. I loved the series which was on 15 or so years ago, and I'm looking forward to this one, which stars Daniel Roche of Outnumbered fame. The article also features a great celebration of the William books from legend Martin Jarvis, who narrates the new series, and is the voice of Richmal Crompton for those of us who loved the cassettes.

Friday, 10 December 2010

Other People Reading

First things first - happy birthday to Our Vicar, and get well soon - he's currently struck down with flu.

Second things second - a while ago I asked on Facebook for non-blogging friends to send me a paragraph or two about what they were reading. And then, of course, promptly forgot about it, which was very silly of me because I had some really great messages.

So, over to them! I simply asked 'What are you reading? Tell me about it...'

The Golden Gate by Vikram Seth
Debs Smithies

Bought on impulse because it looked so beautiful on the Waterstone's shelf - one of those Faber poetry paperbacks in gorgeous sunny yellow. And it was intriguing. A whole novel in verse? Poetry not usually my bag, I'm not nearly clever enough. But this I LOVE. It totally works. You almost forget it's in verse, the metre just carries you along, and the story and the characters - totally absorbing. I'm 50 pages from the end and cross that I have to work instead of reading it! Can't recommend highly enough.

Anne of Avonlea by L M Montgomery
Meg Zeyfert

I'm a complete children's fiction junkie and I loved Anne of Green Gables. I'm not particularly enjoying this book though, the original Anne book is so fresh and vibrant, fast paced and joyful and this sequel just seems to be plodding along trying to emulate that feel. I don't really care what happens next, but I won't walk away as, a bit like Anne herself, I'm always hopeful things will improve. I'll be disappointed if it doesn't get anywhere as I got this in a charity shop bundle with three further sequels and I was hoping they would cover my fiction reading for the next month or so. All the same, I have a terrible feeling that this is going to be a case like Little Women where the author should really have been content with one gem of a novel.

Snark by David Denby
Pippa Warr

Denby defines 'snark' as personal, low, teasing, rug-pulling, finger-pointing, snide, obvious and knowing abuse. I picked it up out of curiosity as snark is something I often encounter online and something which I try to avoid contributing to or indulging in too heavily - one of the reasons I used to give up celebrity gossip for Lent.

So far I've found it engaging and interesting but I'm not sure how much of that is because I share a lot of Denby's concerns. I also have a sneaking suspicion that part of the appeal is because it allows the author to reproduce (and me to re-read) particularly snarky examples under the guise of criticism.

The strength of the book lies in making explicit some of the little implicit digs - the whispered racism and covert misogyny. It encourages the reader to think about what they are reading or writing and - perhaps - to strive for something better.

Wednesday, 8 December 2010

One Pence Wonders

I should admit from the outset - I've wholesale stolen this idea from The Dabbler, where they occasionally feature reviews of books which are available from a penny (plus postage) on Amazon. I thought I'd collect a whole bunch of ideas for 1p shopping - more affordable to indulge in for yourself whilst doing your Christmas shopping, perhaps?

To offset this, since I know some people aren't absolutely certain about Amazon, I'll also mention something which was emailed to me today - Better World Books, which has opened a UK site for selling books, and contributes money to literacy initiatives.

And if you're concerned about authors getting the money themselves, feel free to use these suggestions to buy new copies of the books.

Caveats over; back to 1p books... I'm afraid this is only for the UK Amazon site. They might be cheap in dollars or euros or... no, these are the only currencies I can think of. Pesatas don't exist any more, do they? OH! Swiss Francs! Now I'm out.

I'm not going to litter the post with links, so I'll just say that full reviews of these books are mostly available, just click on the relevant author on the drop-down menu over to the <----- left, or here for all book reviews. The number of 1p copies available will include hardbacks and paperbacks, and all editions I could spot. These are just the first ten I thought of, and then found for a penny - if this proves popular, I'll put my thinking cap on again in the future.

-Speaking of Love (2007)
-Angela Young

-My favourite novel from the 2000s, and one of the first I was sent to review, Young writes about storytelling, family relationships, and mental illness in a captivating and beautiful way.
-1p copies available: 15

-Alva & Irva: The Twins That Saved A City (2004)
-Edward Carey

-A surreal look at twin girls, one of whom is agoraphobic, in a fictional world which they recreate out of plasticine. Bizarre and brilliant.
-1p copies available: 20

-Yellow (2005)
-Janni Visman
-Another novel about agoraphobia, sparcely and cleverly told. With a cat in it.
-1p copies available: 31

-Jacob's Room (1922)
-Virginia Woolf

-If you've never tried Woolf, this is a great place to start. Short, not too experimental, but gives you a taste of Woolf as she starts to experiment with the novel.
-1p copies available: 18+

-Loitering With Intent (1981)
-Muriel Spark

-The author I fell in love with this year, and the book which did it - a witty and deadpan look at the world of publishing and egotism.
-1p copies available: 6

-Lolly Willowes (1926)
-Sylvia Townsend Warner
-A perfect portrait of spinsterhood, and something rather more subversive; beautifully written throughout.
-1p copies available: 4

-Mrs. Miniver (1939)
-Jan Struther

-If you've seen the film, it's time to read the (rather different) inspiration - the life of a wife and mother in the 1930s, Mrs. M. is quinessentially middlebrow.
-1p copies available: 24

-Beasts and Super-Beasts (1914)

-Wickedly funny, surprising and unsentimental short stories.
-1p copies available: 3 (you'll have to organise by price, low to high, to find 'em)

-Love and Freindship/Friendship (1790)
-Jane Austen
-If you think you've read everything by Jane Austen, make sure you've read the juvenilia. Probably lots of editions around, but I've picked the beautiful Hesperus edition for this witty, exuberant tale.
-1p copies available: 3

-Tom's Midnight Garden (1958)
-Philippa Pearce

If you're looking to entertain a child (and keep yourself enthralled too) this time-travel tale is eventful enough for them, and emotionally involving enough for you. I cried...
-1p copies available: 100+

Tuesday, 7 December 2010

Nurse Kitten

Just thought I'd keep you in the picture - yesterday I went off to the hospital to find out what was wrong, and it's a torn stomach muscle. So, definitely not serious - but it was very painful! They gave me strong painkillers, and Mum (who'd very kindly driven up from Somerset when I cried down the phone, when the pain was at its worst) and Dad offered me a week's rest down in Somerset. I decided it would be nicer to rest there, scooped up all my notes and laptop etc. so I can do some work, and came home. The bonus being that Sherpa is here to 'look after me' (for which read, sit on my feet for a bit; run up to the windowsill; then the other windowsill; crawl under the bookcase; hide under the duvet; attack my leg; fall off the bed... and repeat from the beginning.)

So, the books I wanted to review or post about (I've finished Project 24 and haven't even told you the last three!) will have to wait until I'm back in Oxford. For now, here is lovely Sherpa...

Sunday, 5 December 2010

Novella Weekend: Hope you did better than me

As you may have seen, my novella reading weekend rather fell flat on its face. Only two finished, mostly because of feeling unwell and being in quite a lot of pain. Doh. So, still a pile of eleven others that I had to neglect - I'll do another novella reading weekend sometime in the New Year, and hope for better luck then. As for tomorrow, I'll be off to the doctor!

Saturday, 4 December 2010

Novella Weekend: Post 3

I started well... but then I had lunch, fell asleep... and was feeling so lousy that I needed to talk to Mum and Dad to make myself feel better. Parents are good for that, aren't they?

So, it's taken me quite a while, but now we're two books down - with Tepper Isn't Going Out by Calvin Trillin finished. It's not really a novella, but it is a thin book... oh, and I also got about 30pp. into another book and stopped - I haven't decided yet whether or not to finish it...