Thursday 31 May 2007

e-What now?

I do believe it's Thursday, and that means that I will be Booking Through Thursday. Which is lucky, because my brain is still somewhat addled, and I'm not up to genuine thought all of my own. What a blessing this website is, for the ill and uninventive.
  • Do you read e-Books?
  • If so, how? On your computer, or a PDA?
  • Or are you a paper purist? Why?
Well, my answer to the first question is quite short. No, I don't. I'm not entirely sure what e-Books are, and, to be frank, I don't really want to know. They're an amazing boon for those with sight-trouble, to whatever extent, as are much easier to transform into audio formats - but, for myself, I will never voluntarily read something on screen which is available on paper.

Why? Hmm.

I suppose it's partly snobbery, if book-media-snobbery is a valid subsection, but mostly e-Books offer none of the things I want from books, aside from the content. That might sound a little silly, but, as they say, "you can't curl up with a computer". This is a blogger who has bought books on the basis of their smell. I don't like the smell of new books much, (by the by, have started the O'Farrell now), but older ones... where will I get the intrinsic history of secondhand books in the computing arena? An Amstrad doesn't cut it.

Howsabout yourself? Obviously anyone reading this has access to a computer, but do you/would you consider e-Books?

P.s. sorry for lack of sketches of late - take more thought and energy than are currently available. I lied yesterday, this is definitely a Man-Cold.

Wednesday 30 May 2007

Illness and Eccentricity

I must apologise for my absence yesterday, the reasons are twofold.

Firstly, I'm afraid, like those computers into which you are currently staring, I am not invulnerable to viruses. Have come down with a cold, and feeling sorry for myself. Men have it hard, though - the merest mention of a cold, and all females within hearing-distance thrown up their hands an
d cry "Man-cold! Man-cold!" Well, this is not a Man-cold, I am merely inconvenienced and grumbly. And consequently I'm not talking about books, just for today.

Instead, I have a lovely eccentric Oxford story, for those of you who like to hear about Oxford's, erm, eccentricities.

At the end of our exams, each subject has 'School's Dinner', where all the students and tutors for your subject, in your college, come together for a lavish dinner. The English one was yesterday, so of course Y
ours Truly was in attendance. I had asparagus, goat's cheese mousse, mushroom ravioli, Summer pudding. Yum. But this all came with a side order of oddness - the tutor who arranged it is Robert Douglas-Fairhurst, affectionately known as 'Bobby' amongst his fond pupils. He decided it would be witty to write "Dress Code : Daring" on our invitations. Not black tie for this little gathering. And we chose not to follow our usual path, or taking everything Bobby says with a pinch (or a tablespoon) of salt - and, indeed, went a little daring. Daring in terms of ignoring usual dress decorum, anyway.

I went in my dressing gown.

Let's pretend I look like this guy...

Monday 28 May 2007

50 Books...

It's been quite a while since I introduced a new book to my '50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About'. That's partly because I have those examination things, but also partly because I got a little bit panicky... running through my fifty so quickly, I wanted to make sure the central thread of the blog didn't end by June, leaving me without that directing force. Plus I lost the list I made.

I've talked before about my troubled ethics in reading the diaries of others. I've never sure whether or not it's too invasive - and while I make up my mind, I devour authors' diaries at a rate of knots. Same can of worms, but a different kettle of fish, provided by letters. I love writing and receiving them - I also love reading those written between others, especially when those others happen to be interesting, literary, friendly types - like Joyce Grenfell and Virginia Graham.

Confession first. I haven't actually read this entry in the list of 50 books. Nope. But, may I add before you throw your hands up in horror and strike this website from your list of links, I have listened to it on cassette at least fifty times. One to which I listen, when slumbering.

Dear Joyce, Dear Ginnie, as the cassette is called, or Joyce & Ginnie: The Letters of Joyce Grenfell and Virginia Graham, the more prosaic title of the book, is well worth looking out for. Indeed, a 'must-read' for anyone intrigued by either correspondent. Everyone knows who Joyce was - for those unfamiliar with Virginia, she was a poet whose work includes Consider The Years, now republished by Persephone. The exchange of letters between the two women spans many, many years, and offers a unique perspective upon the lives of each - life as they wished to convey it to their closest friend. Without the modesty (assumed or otherwise) requisite for autobiography, or the idolatory of biography, reading letters may feel a little like encroaching upon a friendship, but also allows closer and more genuine understanding of the women than available elsewhere.

Grenfell appears to have been a prolific letter-writer - I'm also currently enjoying An Invisible Friendship, letters between Grenfell and Katharine Moore, a pen-friend she never met, though who often attended Grenfell's concerts and readings. What makes Dear Joyce, Dear Ginnie superior, to my mind, is that they saw each other as equals. Katharine Moore (though interesting writer herself, as Cordial Relations demonstrates) never quite loses the sense of appreciation and awe that Grenfell is writing to her.

So there you are. If you've hurriedly read all 9 previous recommendations in this ongoing list (seen on the left hand side, somewhere) then here is manna for you. It's even available, from £0.01, on Amazon. Don't say I don't spoil you.

Sunday 27 May 2007

8 Random Facts

I've been delaying the '8 Random Facts' for a while, having been tagged by a couple of people. In fact, I had it in store for when inspiration didn't hit anywhere else. And, dear reader, you find me tonight rather uninspired... so let's hope the 8 Random Facts will not be an unmitigated bore. Also, can I suggest the term 'arbitrary', rather than 'random', since the latter has entered the vernacular for my generation, generally referring to anything unexpected or unusual. And it begins to wear.

Anyhow, without further ado, my arbitrary truths...

1) I am a Christian, and Jesus is the centre of my life, influencing everything I do. Hard to talk about it without sounding gushy and dramatic, but you should know me well enough by now to realise I ain't either of the above!

2) I'm quite famous, me. Have been on television twice.
My first appearance was 1996, on Tomorrow's World - the crew came to my school, and asked my class what we thought would happen in the year 2000. I said (having just read my Gillian Cross) that computers would use subliminal frames to take over the world. The evidence supports my prediction, I think...
The second time was on Countdown last September. Great fun. I lost. But against the person who came third in the overall series...

3) You all know that I'm at Oxford University, but did you know I had to get through 6.5
interviews to occupy my Magdalen palace? Brasenose, Brasenose, (Jesus), Oriel, Magdalen, Merton, Magdalen. Jesus is in brackets because I was sent there, analysed the set poem for a while, waited outside the professor's room... only to be told they had no idea why I was there. Had been sent to the wrong college. But it all worked out well in the end!

4) I hate parsnips. Sooooo much. When I'd just had my brace put in (now, thankfully, gone) my family went to dinner with some friends. They all got roast dinner. I got a bowl of curried parsnip soup. The nightmares still return...

5) Most bloggers I visit have an 'and also...' interest, alongside books. Opera, photography, gardening, cooking... I'm afraid mine is less sophisticated. It's Neighbours. For friends across the pond, that's an Australian Soap Opera. And it's awful, but I love it. Anyone else watch a trashy soap? Confess!

6) You know that I have a Carbon Copy. Did you know that Our Vicar is also a twin? And that Thomas (our collective surname) means 'twin'? Zany.

7) Music, you ask? My favourite album is Kathryn Williams'
Old Low Light. Check it out.

8) Alongside my televisual fame, I have also encountered some of my celebrity chums in person. Dame Judi Dench and Prince Charles, to name but two.

Saturday 26 May 2007

Daisy, Daisy...

In case you were worried I'd gone all 21st century, this post will reassure you. Recent novels may be brimming with topicality, but they don't compare with the charm and appeal of the book I picked up today in Oxfam. Not sure how discernible the picture is, so I'll tell you about it.

Man Proposes does sound a little like the least complex novel ever written, but it is in fact not a novel, it is an anthology. I mentioned Katharine Moore's Cordial Relations: The Maiden Aunt in Fact and Fiction as exemplifying an unusual and in
triguing premise for a book of analysis. Man Proposes is another - Agnes Furlong has collected many incidents of proposals, mostly from literature, and published them together, with some rather oddly beguiling illustrations by Olive M. Simpson. You know how I love oddly beguiling illustrations...

How do people think of things like this? And what a lot of work must have gone into it. Equally, how could I leave it on the shelf? £1.99 in the Oxfam till, and this book accompanied me home. Published in 1948, Man Proposes is divided into nine sections, though I've yet to quite determine the significance of these divisions. Cited authors include
Austen, Dickens, Shakespeare, Alcott, Tennyson, Daisy Ashford (hilarious), E.M. Delafield, Hardy, Trollope, Laski (for Persephone fans), J. M. Barrie, Wilde, Lear, Leacock (love him), Shaw... oh, there are dozens of them. The comedic is alongside the touching; the famous with the obscure. While I wouldn't offer this as a Users' Guide (though I read the first one to two friends, both of whom went slightly weak at the knees) it provides an interesting and amusing insight into authors' dealing with this climactic moment for centuries of literature. And it wouldn't have a hope of being published now.

Friday 25 May 2007

Thoroughly Modern Simon

Lynne, over at dovegreyreader, has thrown down the gauntlet. She has a way of doing this. And it all dates back rather a long way. Sitting comfortably? Then I'll begin.

Back in the days when 'blogging' was merely a misprint, Lynne, Elaine (Random Jottings) and I belonged to an online list, now known as They've had a few mentions on here before, and are still flourishing. Though an extremely amiable group, it was not underheard of for Lynne to cajole Elaine and myself into Modern Books, nor for us to dig our heels in. My reading is often sequestered firmly in the period 1900-1950, and anything after this makes me feel slightly dizzy.

Well, Elaine has been brave and noble (or, wait for it, Barnes and Noble) and succombed to the charm of the 21st century, alongside healthy doses of Victorian literature and early-2oth century, of course. A challenge, if you will. Where Elaine has bravely gone, there must I also go. Now that my learnin' at Oxfor
d is officially over (for the time being, at least) I shall be venturing, oh-so-tentatively, into the sphere of Modern Literature, as prescribed by Nurse Dovegreyreader.

So, off I went yesterday, £5 book token clutched in hand, to those shelves of shiny, reflective, non-olde-worlde-smelling books, determined to find something to appease Lynne, and to make myself feel Thoroughly Modern. But... for someone who has bought about 10 new novels ever, it all felt rather wrong. I am at home in secondhand bookshops, or, or even ebay.
These coffee table items, all sparkling clean and with 'Half Price!' , 'Buy One Get One Free!', '20% Off If You Stand On One Leg When Paying!' stickers... it's all a little terrifying. And do you know what, I feel guilty buying new books. Guilty! I managed to quash book-buying-guilt by the time I was eight. But it all feels a little too... how should I put it... commercial. I can see the Big Businesses behind new books - in secondhand bookshops the benefitting parties are seated behind the desk, wearing brown cardigans and smoking pipes.

But I pushed all this aside. And came out with Maggie O'Farrell's book, The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox. And came away with change from my book token.

I'll report back soon. Wish me luck.

Thursday 24 May 2007

Une Libre

Booking Through Thursday has swept in again this week, to save me having to think for myself, with another query intended to send you all scurrying away to the literary part of your brain. I'm not entirely sure my brain has any other part - which is all to the good here.

This week's question is: do you have any foreign language books, and if so, can you (still) read them?

Well, I'm afraid my non-cosmopolitan mind can only proffer a simple negative to the latter - I am about as bilingual as the National Anthem - but I do have a copy of Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban in French, which I bought in an attempt to make French GCSE 'fun'. Also Winnie the Pooh in Latin, I believe. Can we count Old English as a foreign language? Well, I'm not sure I could comprehend 'The Wanderer' and 'Dream of the Rood' any more, but once I memorised what they meant. Not really reading a foreign language, is it?

All this reminds me of a man who lived near us in my Merseyside days (those days being up until the age of 7ish). He liked the look of the books in Ik
ea, the ones used to decorate bookshelves and show how wonderfully functional they are. Indeed, he liked the look of them so much that he asked, and was allowed, to buy them by the yard. Despite not speaking of word of Swedish, the language all these books were written in. Marvellous.

Wednesday 23 May 2007

Finished Finished Finished!

I think I may have inadvertently fooled some people into thinking I was finished with the examinations last Friday - afraid that wasn't quite the case. My crazy set of exams was finished then, but the final final final one was this morning. I have now officially ended my university career, and am all set to enter the world of reality. Wow!

Come on. You could hardly expect me to finish without showing you the Red Carnation in action. Here it is, sitting contentedly on my lapel, all ready to perform its task. I've been through the mill a bit, but the bulk of the achievement falls on the shoulders (or floral equivalent) of these carnations.

The exam today was Middle English Commentary - but, as promised, I shan't bore you with the pages of Middle English text. Suffice it to say, I recognised where both citations cam
e from, in Pearl and Troilus and Criseyde (not to be confused with Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, on which I wrote in my first exam) - this was nothing short of a miracle. And then I was the very first person out of the exam hall - very strange, there were three of us from Magdalen out of the building first, and the assembled crowd of 100+ all burst into cheers as we left. Obviously it was at the finalists in general, but it still felt rather exciting.

One of Oxford's stranger traditions, and one which dates to quite recent times, I think, is 'trashing'. When one comes out of exams, one is punished for all the moaning one has committed, generally through the liberal application of glitter/flour e
tc. My friends decided that buckets of lukewarm tea were appropriate... Oh yes, this blogger is not privileged to know sophisticates such as himself. But luckily it was a beautiful day for sitting on Magdalen's lawns, and thinking about the nothing I have to do for a long time.

In the spirit of celebration, alongside a lovely letter from Barbara-from-Ludlow, a jumper arrived in the post today, which I ordered quite a while ago. The design is shown to your left... it amused me.

Monday 21 May 2007

Hesperusly Speaking

Finally, here are the books I ordered from Hesperus Press - very exciting to receive these in the midst of examinations. You might recall, from my first mention of the publishing house, that they lured me in with mention of the pair I like to call Janey and Ginny. That makes them sound like a pair of schoolchildren, doesn't it? I speak of Jane Austen and Virginia Woolf, the two female titans (titanesses?) of literature, so far as Stuck In A Book is concerned. The idea of them as schoolchildren has got me thinking... and sketching... I wonder what they'd be like? Probably not friends - Woolf would be rather the sardonic, cleverly rebellious pupil. Austen much more likely to be teacher's pet, while affectionately impersonating the teachers behind their backs. Then again, both would have relished the opportunity to go to school, so perhaps they wouldn't have left the library.

Anyway, where was I? Supposed to be praising Hesperus Press, but got distracted and did some sketching (this was GOING to be a sketch-free blog entry) - but I must tell you which books I bought.

Lesley Castle - Jane Austen
Monday or Tuesday - Virginia Woolf

The Platform of Time - Virginia Woolf

These are in the line of not-so-famous-books by famous authors, which I mentioned before, and are extremely inviting. Lesley Castle is from Austen's juvenilia, which I have read, but do not own (thanks Our Vicar's Wife) - the correspondence of Miss Margaret Lesley and Miss Charlotte Lutterell is a wonderful satire of the epistolary novel, and with moments of absurdity allowed only to peep into Austen's novels. Her early scribblings are characterised by this irrepressible humour, and sense of the absurd, which (in my amateur way) I connect with Voltaire's Candide. No-one else seems to see the comparison, but it works for me - perhaps all the others have perused Voltaire in the original, whereas I have to settle for my green Penguin translation. Lesley Castle comes with two other of Austen's early work, and is a must-read for anyone who has got to the end of the six novels, and wishes there were more - though be prepared for, as the Monty Python people might put it, Something Completely Different.

Monday or Tuesday is the only short story collection Woolf printed during her lifetime (she could hardly print anything at any other point, could she?) and contains such gems as 'The Mark on the Wall'; 'Kew Gardens' and 'An Unwritten Novel'. Great access to Woolf if you've not dipped a toe in befor
e, as they exemplify her style in miniature, but also have a peep at 'A Society', which demonstrates Woolf's amusing side - and shows she didn't take Extreme Feminism as seriously as some might fear, while still presenting valid feminist points. My old copy is a rather tatty Dover edition, and the cover of the Hesperus one is SO beautiful, and they had a discount...

The Platform of Time is a new one for me - reviewed by dovegreyreader on 3rd May 2007. Hesperus printed the review. Not much to add - this is a collection of Woolf's sketches and memoirs of family members and acquaintances. Most of it available elsewhere, but useful to have it all together, in another rather pretty volume.

Here's me talking about how attractive all these books are - time I let the covers do the talking. Feast your eyes; give in; open your wallets. MUST talk to Hesperus about my cut...

Sunday 20 May 2007

Having A Ball

Oh dear, this is going to be a brief entry - having blitzed a week of exams, my mind seems to have gone for hibernation, and refuses to do much but sleep and... actually, that's all it's happy to do at the moment. Just a quick post today, and then more tomorrow - when I will finally tell you what I received from Hesperus. If you look at their latest catalogue, you'll see that Your's Truly has been included in the review section, with the post I put up a few days ago. Fame AND glory, I think you'll agree.

So, I'm sure you're asking, why the Phantom-of-the-Operaesque pictures for today? Well, to finish the most intense week of my U
niversity career, I, like Cinderella, went to a ball. I'm afraid that's where the comparisons with Cinderella end - one of the endearing things about Oxford is that appearances are deceptive. There we all were in our Black Tie, and among the attractions was... a Bouncy Castle. I kid you not. I haven't been on one for many years, and I'd forgotten how exhausting the things are. That's right - I'm too unfit for bouncy castles.

The ball was the annual Leavers' Ball at my church in Oxford, and a lovely, lovely evening. Photos up of all the leavers, gr
eat atmosphere and good, clean fun, as they say. Oh, and in case you haven't guessed, it was a Venetian Masquerade ball, hence my rather dashing mask, purchased from Ebay. What a wonderful thing the internet is.

Friday 18 May 2007

Thy Daddies Dead! Thy Daddies Dead!


Hurray! Rather a lengthy week has now come to an end - it's been pretty exhausting, and the final hurdle isn't, erm, hurdled over yet - but it's also been nice to share the experience with you all here. This will my last report, since my final exam (next Wednesday) is a commentary paper, and, love you though I do, I'm not going to type out a page of Middle English text for your delectation.

The title to today's entry is my favourite quotation from Thomas Duffett's 1675 The Mock Tempest or The Enchanted Castle - a parody of Dryden and Davenant's 1667 The Tempest or The Enchanted Island, in turn an adaptation of Billybob's The Tempest. Can you work out which line it satirises? I'll give you a moment.

Any guesses? 'Thy Daddies Dead! Thy Daddies Dead!' is Duffett's reworking of 'Full fathom five thy father lies'. Which is why I had so much fun doing the Restoration Adaptations of Shakespeare essay - well, an essay I had to squeeze into the first of the following:

'The Great Man' (satirical name for Robert Walpole). Discuss how any writer or writers in the period represent greatness

'Haywood's importance as a writer is contingent on the theme that informs virtually all of her novels: the power of women's desires'. Discuss in relation to Haywood and/or any other female writer of the period.
-I wrote about Aphra Behn and Eliza Haywood, and how desire (esp. women's desire) is used to present comic situations in the former, but more didactically in the latter

'Our minds our perpetually wrought on by the temperament of our Bodies: which makes me suspect, they are nearer alli'd, than either our Philsophers or School-Divines will allow them to be.' (Dryden). Examine the relationship between mind and body in any writer or writers of the period.
-Well, I wanted to write on Katherine Philips and coterie writing, so I used this question a little dubiously. She was published by some scoundrel or other, and reacted indignantly against this - I argued her response was due to the correlation between mind and body possible in a coterie, but impossible in publication. A bit hurried, but by this point I was so excited to be leaving the exam hall that I didn't much care!

Thursday 17 May 2007

Answers and Accolades

Don't worry, only two left after today!

Today's paper went much better than yesterday's, I thought. You could say this was the wider spread of my prepared approaches; perhaps the generous nature of the exam paper. I l
ike to think it was due to a little event that happened yesterday, as I was strolling around Oxford with my friend Mel. I was outside the Radcliffe Camera (a circular library thing, see Google-generated images here - very beautiful place to work) when a hoard of schoolchildren stopped me. They had a camera and a checksheet. Wherefore, pondered I. Turns out they had to take photographs of many different things throughout Oxford, on a sort of treasure hunt, and I fulfilled (pay attention here) 'Take a photo of the cleverest person you see'. Me! Gosh. Now, I like to think this is due to an aura of knowledge and wisdom, rather than the fact that I was wearing glasses and tweed. But who's to say. Was incredibly amusing - especially since I was holding a loaf of bread, and a carnation recently purchased from the florist. I love Oxford.

Anyway, this spurred me on to answer the following questions on the Renaissance period:

'In a rising, mercantile, politically conscious, comparatively affluent society, there was a need for new visions of the good life, new paradises, new golden worlds, even new hells.' Discuss some of the ways in which any one or more writers or playwrights of the period satisfied some of these expectations.
-I wrote on Utopias, and women in utopias, and woman as utopias. Enjoyed this one.

'One of the distinctive features of Petrarchan poetry is it encouragement to readers to decode it in a variety of ways - as erotic self-evaluation, philosophical meditation, or moral debate'. (Gary Waller). Discuss, with reference to at least two writers of the period.
-Oo-er. Ignored the erotic bits, and wrote on Petrarchanism (and ambivalence to Petrarch) in the sonnet sequences of Spenser and Sidney. Love how I can do this without having read a word of Petrarch!

Do you agree that a good deal of Donne's writing is self-advertisement?
-Wrote on Donne's opinion of secular poetry, as these opinions appear in his sermons, and how it changed in relation to the site of preaching.

Back to normal book talk soon, promise! At least you have one of the finest literary products the twentieth-century saw, to illustrate this entry.

Wednesday 16 May 2007

Wot? No Jane Austen?

Having been delighted about the prospect of a Jane Austen centred exam today, you can imagine how aghast I was when said best-novelist-of-the-period-if-not-ever was not named in any of the questions. Tut tut. Anyway, I got her in there somewhere.

Oh, and I have a new carnation now. Lovely it is, too.

Questions for today (1740-1832)

Discuss any one of the following in literature of the period: art criticism; Unitarianism; ballads; parody; Irishness; the cult of the picturesque; forgery; travel; hallucinations
-Thought I'd include this motley crew in its entirety, as the utterly arbitrary nature of the rag bag amuses me. I went for travel, as I wanted to write on the l
inks between travel and the Romantic Imagination, esp. Keats. Another one not given his own question, for the first time in many years.

'My sister, my sweet sister...' (Byron, 'Epistle to Augusta'). Examine the treatment of sibling relationships in the work of any writer or writers of the period
-I wanted to write on Austen and letters, but nowhere to stick that. A while ago I did an essay on heroes as fraternal, in Austen, so that went in... and I used letters as the boundary between fraternal and lover, as they were only socially permissible betwee siblings, and the engaged. Definitely a "Hmm" question.

'You say that I want somebody to elucidate my ideas, but you ought to know that what is grand is necessarily obscure to weak men. That which can be made explicit to the idiot is not worth my care' (Blake)
-the first 8 questions are to 'provide the theme of essays on any authors or works of the period, not necessarily those from which the quotation is drawn'. So I wrote on social and linguistic placement in Sheridan and Goldsmith.

Half-way now, folks.

Tuesday 15 May 2007

Bot Pat ze be Gawan hit gotz in minde

An update, you ask? Well, I live to serve.

Today was Middle English, which was the subject of one of my first blog entries. As you might recall, I am not overly enamoured by the topic - but with a great deal of revision, I felt quite prepared for it. And I think it went quite well - questions below, as before, though I'm afraid Dell Laptops don't run to have a 'thorn' key. I've used a capital P instead, in the title to today's blog, and, for the fortunate uninitiated, read it as 'th'. Make sense now? Thought not.

Before I gallop on with the questions, thought I'd give you a Carnation Update, since I know that's where all your attention is really directed. Well, I was putting my jacket back on, at the end of the exam, and discovered I had a stalk pinned to my lapel. (As Our Vicar's Wife said over the 'phone, just be thankful it wasn't a heron. Ho-ho.) The head of the carnation was lying on the floor - a bit like the beheading of the Green Knight, if you will. Sad.

Ok, stop begging me - the questions are here. Do feel free to send essays to me... I somehow feel you won't.

-Is the romance better at articulating social anxieties than it is at imagining solutions for them?
Yes, say I. I talked about Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and the competing moral codes of shame/honour and guilt/innocence.

-'[T]he pleasures of fiction exceed the disciplinary control over its meaning, carving out spaces of resistance to the trascendent values of Christian morality' (R. James Goldstein). Discuss in relation to fables AND/OR any other writing in this period.
I went for the 'any other writing' option, and wrote on Gower's Confessio Amantis.

-What resources does the dream vision offer to any writer or writers from this period?
How irritatingly vague. I wrote on Chaucer's The Book of the Duchess and Parliament of Fowls. As did, I imagine, most of those in the exam hall. I threw in a bit of Lydgate for variation. Lucky examiner.

Tomorrow... 1740-1832. Or, as I like to call it, opportunity to legitimately write about Jane Austen.

Monday 14 May 2007

He robs himself that spends a bootless grief

Thanks for all your kind wishes! Day 1, and Shakespeare (or Billybob as he is affectionately known among certain English students at Magdalen) is dispensed with. Think it went quite well - I shall include the questions I addressed further down the page, should you be interested.

Firstly, though, let's have a look at another little tradition Ox
ford has for exam time. (And, by the by, I forgot about wearing the suit jacket in my sketch yesterday... luckily I remember for Real Life). It's those carnations, that's the tradition - and one of the ones I like best in Oxford. They even have their own website, though quite why people would mail-order them when they're abundantly available in the local florists, I'm not sure.

This part of the exam uniform is not compulsory (something non-compulsory in Oxford? Heavens) but is done by almost every student. Not sure when it originated, but the idea comes from having a white carnation in your red ink pot throughout the exam time. But we don't have ink pots, and so we fake the gradual increase in 'redness' which would be occasioned by this scenario - so, pinned to our lapels, we have a white carnation for the first exam; red for the final one; pink for everything in betwe
en. It's also traditional to have them bought for you by someone else - my friend Phoebe picked up these beauties for me. So - white carnation down, pink one tomorrow morning. Only pricked myself once this morning with the pin, but have yet to sleep for a hundred years.

So, onto Billybob. Turn your eyes away now, if the thought of exams is too much. ABC writes that her daughter came out of her SATS exam thinking Hamlet 'awesome' (presumably the play rather than the person, who is rather an idiot) and quite rightly points out that this is The Point, rather than getting certificates. One of my proudest moments was getting a Mathematician to enjoy Coriolanus. We were in the Philippines (on a month with some churches, doing slum work etc.) and had a fair few spare hours, so I persuaded two of our group to join me on a read-out-loud of Coriolanus, each taking eight or nine roles. W
orked quite well, with only a few occasions on which we had conversations with ourselves... great fun, I recommend it.

Anyway, Corry didn't come up today, for me at least. Here are the questions I did, and the vague outline of the essays I attempted.

Ah, kill me with thy weapon, not with words!
My breast can better brook thy dagger's point

Than can my ears that tragic history (III Henry VI)
Consider the competing effectiveness of narrative and staged action in one or more plays

- This was great, as I wanted to write on reported scenes in The Winter's Tale, and other Late Romances

I was adored once too (Twelfth Night)
Write about self-knowledge in the works of Shakespeare

- I wrote about Cressida vs. Desdemona, and how the former's realisation of previous textual voices (Homer, Chaucer, Dekker...) and depth of self-investigation was what prevented Troilus and Cressida from being unproblematically tra
gic, like Othello.

... in the night, imagining some fear,
How easy is
a bush suppos'd a bear (A Midsummer Night's Dream)
Discuss the role of errors in Shakespeare
- This essay was easily my worst, as kinda ran out of time. Wrote on twins in Comedy of Errors and Twelfth Night, and the distinction between visual and linguistic identity, and the importance of perception (and errors thereby). Hmm.

Sunday 13 May 2007

Testing Times

You'll notice that Stuck In A Book (aka me) is dressed a little differently today. Indeed, he is in full academic regalia. Tomorrow my Finals begin, and will continue until the 23rd May, so I wanted to warn my regular readers - entries will be a little sporadic. In fact, if the perculiarities of the Oxford English Language and Literature Examinations hold little interest for you, it would be better to avoid this page for a week or so. Don't worry, I shan't mind.

And now let's play a little game, with the sketch. Can you spot the mistake? Other than that I appear to have become left-handed (oops). Or that there are only two pieces of paper. Or various inaccuracies of perspective. Or... Ok, the 'mistake' I'm talking about is the mortar board (or 'cap' if you're feeling in the mood for a bit of vernacular) - in Oxford, it is STRICTLY PROHIBITED to wear these items before graduation. Indeed, there is a fine of £35 to be paid, if a student is seen committing such a heinous offence. But here's the catch - we HAVE to have them in the exam hall - indeed, we are not permitted entry unless we clutch it in our nervous little hands. I daresay it would be an enormous distraction, should I glance up from my papers and notice the lack of a mortar board around me, so it all makes sense.

And the gown. Yes, not a Scholar's gown, I'm afraid (I didn't get a distinction in first year... if only I hadn't referred to Kristeva as a man) but those funny dangly bits are indeed there. Various rumours exist as to their original purpose - my favourite is that they are to hold shillings, for busking students. Seems unlikely, as they couldn't possibly perform that task. The dangly bits, not the students - I'm sure the students could busk.

Anyway, enough about the uniform (which, to disobey that injunction immediately, we voted last year to keep). I'll give a quick mention of the exams I have, and when I have them, so that you can have a vague idea of what it is an English student does - and return for those days you find particularly interesting.

Monday - Shakespeare
Tuesday - Middle English
Wednesday - 1740-1832 (which we call 'Romantic', but shouldn't)
Thursday - 1509-1642 (Renaissance)
Friday - 1642-1740 (Restoration)

the following Wednesday - Middle English commentary

And that's your lot. They've sneakily turned Middle English into two papers, so that the
optional thesis I did last September can't eradicate both of them. I.e. my final grade will be influenced by Middle English, whether I like it or not...

So, yes, I shall keep posting - but I'm afraid it'll only be updates on the topics I wrote about, and so forth. Luckily that's still quite bookish.

Saturday 12 May 2007

Aunts Aren't Gentlemen

Aunt's Aren't Gentlemen is one of my favourite PG Wodehouse titles. I haven't actually read the book, you understand, but the title sums up pretty much everything I enjoy about Wodehouse.

But that isn't what I'm talking about today. Do you ever come ac
ross a book, through perfectly sensible literary paths, which makes you sit back and think "how on Earth did this become a part of my collection?" The connections which led to purchase are wholly admirable, but... Well, if you have to murmur the title to anyone sotto voce, then that's a sure sign. If there's a ready-made reason for buying on the tip of your tongue - "Oh, it seems strange, but I bought it because..." - then perhaps you're in the same boat as me. How did I ever buy Cordial Relations: The Maiden Aunt in Fact & Fiction?

I've been reading the letters of Joyce Grenfell and Katharine Moore, on and off, for a few weeks - the latter kept mentioning the writing process, and consequent publication, of her book Cordial Relations (while making very clear that the title was Heinemann's idea, not her own). Eventually I capitulated.

The letters are very interesting (have I mentioned them before?) Moore wrote to Grenfell after hearing her criticise a poem on the radio, leaping to the poem's defence. A few tentative missives back and forth, and then the two became correspondents up until Grenfell's death - though never met. Quite like blogging/internet friendships, really. But some amusingly odd letters - Moore often saw Grenfell on stage or in concert, and would write of it afterwards. How strange to see your correspondent on stage; stranger to think your correspondent could be somewhere in an anonymous audience. A fascinating scenario. Would I know if I walked past other bloggers on the street?

Anyway, I then discovered that Katharine Moore also wrote, and was rather intrigued by this volume. Seemed quite an arbitrary categorisation, but also quite an interesting one. Have a brief think - who do you reckon will get in? Of which maiden aunts can you think? Only had a quick flick through so far, but can tell you that the book includes sections on Jane Austen, C
aroline Fox, Emily Eden, Dorothy Wordsworth (hmm, not very maiden, surely), Louisa M. Alcott, Maria Edgeworth, Harriet Martineau; Aunts to the Brontes (where is that pesky accent?), Gibbon, Lamb and Emerson; fictional Aunts in Ivy Compton-Burnett, Saki, Dickens, and, indeed, Wodehouse. What a wonderful selection of people! And a fascinating schema under which to approach them. I look forward to perusing...

And now I can proudly boast the title of this book. Maybe. Any other strange titles you feel the need to defend?

Friday 11 May 2007

Don't blame me, blame dovegreyreader...

Sometimes it isn't what you know, but whom you know... (I always get paranoid about who(m) on here... hope that's right. Apologies if not). And today I want to point the finger at dovegreyreader, who so callously included me in the little list of links at the side of her blog. Callous, I say.

Well, of course I am joking, and am grateful
for a longstanding e-friend to point others in my direction. But did she realise that her fame has spread to the independent publishers of the world? And they've realised something: these bloggers visit dovegreyreader for a reason - they probably quite like a nice book or two. Or three. Or eight hundred. Probably not adverse to hearing about them... wouldn't mind a quick email... and catalogue...

And this is how I was the recipient of a very nice email from Ellie, of Hesperus Press.I feel I should make that more clear. Hesperus Press. There we go, that should get your attention. Ellie suggested that I might be interested in a catalogue - well, by now my head was dizzy with the fame of having my blog recognised by an Official Body. I practised my signature a few times on some napkins (definitely the one with the bows looping round the S - though a speedier moniker would have to be developed for occasions when the crowds reached triple figures) and sent an enthused reply. A quick check of their website, you see, showed me that they had books by Virginia Woolf AND Jane Austen. If you're still wondering why I was excited, then we need to have a chat.

Can I quote my friend Ellie for a moment? "We specialise in revitalising and reprinting neglected classics, and in translating into English major or meritorious works that have somehow evaded translation." All very admirable. I am especially taken by the reprints of not-so-famous works by famous authors - for the collectors out there, here are the works that Penguin haven't published in a pocket edition. Alongside Austen and Woolf, authors include Alcott, Bronte (give or take an accent I can't find), Collins, Conan Doyle, Dickens, Dostoevsky, George Eliot, Fitzgerald, Gaskell, Hardy, Lawrence, Mansfield, Melville, Pope, Shaw, Shelley (M & P), Thackeray, Tolstoy, Twain, Wharton and Wilde. And those are just the authors in whom I'm especially interested. (Pretty certain that 'whom' was warranted).

Ok, the authors are great. But let's get judging books by covers - Hesperus' are stunning. Not really obvious from the picture, but do check out the website. Howsabout another link? Here we go. They've gone for that close-up-detail thing that works so well, and looks so impressive. Let's face it; I want them all. And when do you not need these books? That's a much better way of phrasing it... And they're an independent publishers, as I said, which always make me feel like I'm Saving The World in general, and Baby Seals in particular.

So my first order has gone in. Update when the books arrive...

I'm not working on commission. Yet...

Booking Through Thursday

Oh dear, I think it may have just swung past Thursday and into Friday. But I shan't let that deter me from my post. Via Danielle, I think, I came across a great little website called 'Booking Through Thursday'. The premise is: we bloggers get a bit of a day off from thinking. Instead of pondering the bookish direction any particular post will take, the good people of BTT have done the thinking for us. I answer the question, and await others to do the same in the comments - everyone's happy. I've only just noticed the website, but it's been going on steadily for quite a while, and provides diverse and intriguing approaches to bookishness. And hopefully I'll be able to tack on an apposite sketch.

This week: where DON'T you read? (the previous week was 'do you R.I.P.? i.e. read in public - and obviously everyone did!)

So... where don't I read. Well, there
certainly aren't any places I'd be too ashamed to read - but there are some places it's not practical to whip out a novel. Church, say, or a tutorial. Have done it in lectures before now, when they got too tedious. Not at a birthday party, though might at a regular dinner party; not during Neighbours... And not at the dentist. You?

Wednesday 9 May 2007

50 Books...

9. One Pair of Hands - Monica Dickens

First of all, apologies for what is probably the worst piece of photo-editing you've seen this week. I felt I should get both hands into a picture celebrating 'One Pair of Hands', and couldn't fathom how to do this
without one hand on the camera. So I took two photographs, and spliced them together. Lucky you pop in for bookish natter, and not computer expertise, isn't it? Oh, and this is the first time I've appeared in one of the blog entries, so deduce what you can of my character from my hands. Probably - just - that I bite my nails. And am not married.

Enough of that - you might have noticed Monica Dickens' book creep up from my 'what shall I read next?' post, to my 'what I am now reading' post - and has now joined the acclaimed ranks of the 50 Book
s You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About. It's reminded me how much I can enjoy reading, for fun rather than for deadlines. Dickens is related to that Dickens (great-granddaughter, according to the blurb) and is just as funny, though in rather a different way - the novel is Dickens' first (1939) and documents her time spent as a cook/maid in various households, through a year and a half. She came from a wealthy family, but became rather disillusioned, and thought she'd see what life was like on 'the other side of the green baize door'.

Well, I'm sure it wasn't nearly as funny as this novel (/autobiography?) is - Dickens' style of writing is intrinsically comic, in a gentle way, though with laugh-out-loud moments. Very similar to Delafield's Diary of a Provincial Lady in stylistic respects - if you enjoyed the former, you'll love this. In amongst what must have been tedium, Dickens chronicles some hilarious events (the first dinner she cooks, especially the lobster cocktail...) and has a
wealth of engagingly odd secondary characters. All of them, in fact - just on the right side of absurdity. Look out for E. L. Robbins, the vacuum cleaner salesman; Polly, the maid who runs around with her apron over her head, if spoken to sharply; inept young wife Mrs. Randall, and The Walrus, a builder in the same house.

This could have been a dozen novels, but Dickens makes the brave decision to put all her experiences into one - which means it's impossible to get tired of any situation (in both senses of the word). The Times comments on the back: "Riotously amusing as the book is in parts, Miss Dickens also m
anages to make it a social document." Well, how like The Times. But I can't say they're wrong - having seen the Servant Problem from the Provincial Lady's point of view, Dickens' is a fascinating comparison. Must use self-discipline to prevent myself immediatly reading One Pair of Feet, about her time as a nurse. It's looking at me from the shelf...

Onto something entirely different. A good friend from my old village has just joined the blogging community - do go on over and give her a hearty welcome. It's always lovely to know people are reading, and that's all the more true when one first dips a toe into the blogging water... She's called Apprentice Brick Counter... I'll let you discover why.

Tuesday 8 May 2007

A View of One's Own

I shan't lie to you: this isn't quite the view I'm getting at the moment. It's nearly midnight, and very dark outside - but I took this photograph a few days ago. One of the downsides of this room in college was that it faced a wall - a fair bit of distance between us, but hardly a botanical garden. "Great," thought I, "nothing to look at there then." Well, as the good people of 3191, and Cornflower, so often show (in a far superior manner) - often the mundance can be beautiful and fascinating. When I looked out of my window and saw this, I realised my wall wasn't as dull as I thought.

Where am I heading with this? Views, that's where. More specifically, the views which are directly ahead of you as you blog - I don't know what many of the blogging community look like, but neither do I know their surroundings. Mine are open to the public, which makes them rather less secretive, but I've always been fascinat
ed by what people are looking at when they write. Moreso for authors, novelists - we can pick up a Penguin Classics edition of, say, Austen, but the text becomes so divorced from her writing experiences - it wasn't until I got to visit her house in Hampshire that I felt I could grasp the process slightly. I could see where she sat, which door she looked at, to hide her papers if she noticed an approach. The village green out of the window. The little lane - probably various siblings and local children dotted over it now and again.

Is this fanciful? Well, probably - but it does make a difference to me. Was the author glancing up to see countryside, or did they have a view of a road? A wall? No view at all? Amazing how little of this comes across in the final voice, but how important it must be in the creating process. It gives some depth to reading a novel, I think, but it is disappointing when I discover that such-and-such writer spent the entire writing period stuck in a bedsit, or even the suburbs. Noble places, I'm sure, but how much more wonderful is Wordsworth's house? Hardy's?

How about the bloggers out there? What do you see? A window, or a door, or do you just take your laptop wherever there's space? Now you know what I look at while I type. I wonder if it changed your opinion of the blog at all...

Now to today's sketch.




Monday 7 May 2007


I spent a lovely day today, visiting a village I moved away from about two years ago. They have an Open Gardens weekend every year, which my Dad helped to set up, and it's great fun - lots of people open their beautiful gardens to the public, there's Maypole Dancing, old motor cars, Arts & Crafts... everything one could want from a village. See for more, erm, info.

They also have a bookstall
. And, along with a trip to a charity shop earlier in the week, this amounts to a Mini-Haul, I think. So I thought I'd share it with you.

I know very little about some of these authors, so if anyone else does...

She - H. Rider Haggard - a book I knew of beforehand, but haven't read it. Have only properly come across 'She' as performed by Elvis Costello. I imagine this isn't particularly similar.

Testament of Experience - Vera Brittain - I have Testament of Youth on my shelves at home, and have been recommended VB over and over again. Must be something in it... Somehow I never quite feel ready to go 'over the edge' with this author - but perhaps if I amass enough of them, my opinions will change.

Up the Junction - Nell Dunn - a Virago novel (or perhaps collection of short stories; can't quite tell). But this claims to have 'caused much controversy' when dramatised by the BBC, so perhaps not my cup of tea. We shall see. Like the bad librarian that I'm not quite yet, I've thrown away the plastic dustjacket. Hate 'em.

Anybody Can Do Anything - Betty MacDonald - do you ever get that a book stalks you? It's there, in every secondhand bookshop; every charity shop; every... well, you get the picture. Winifred Holtby's South Riding is one; Betty MacDonald's The Egg and I is another. Thus far, I feel too oppressed to pick them up - I'm playing hard to get. But I've tentatively let Betty McD in another route.

Georgie Merton - F. Harrington - an old children's book. I can never resist old children's books - somehow they seem to have memories attached them much more overtly than other older books. Doreen Lamb of Dagenham, Essex once owned this. I hope it brought her pleasure. The frontispiece is of children escaping up a tree, from a bull. How could it be a bad book?

Sunday 6 May 2007

Critically speaking...

Mencken, apparently, said that "Criticism is prejudice made plausible".

I always think erudite blog entries should begin with a relevant quotation, so there you go - and useful things, quotations are. What is it about them which makes argument futile?

Before I wander off into unknown territory, I'll make the point of today's entry obvious. In my bid to become a Well Rounded Member of the University, I write sporadically for the student newspaper (enterprisingly labelled The Oxford Student). I wrote a couple of book reviews - you can see why this might be my area of choice - but then they shunted me over to drama. In fact, the previous drama editor was unceremoniously sacked, for giving his own plays large and positive reviews, and the rest of the staff went on strike. I was the calm after the stor
m, and asked to be drama editor for the dubious merit of knowing very little about drama. On the page, fine. On the stage, it was a learning curve.

Anyway, that was all a while ago - I did a couple of terms, and now am just part of the Writing Team. And today I was sent off to review a student production of Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party. The press previews show 45mins-1 hour of the production, in various stages of costume and prop preparation, and with the occasional prompt. Bribery varies, from nothing, to wine and sweets. I've done a LOT, from Educating Rita to Berkoff's dreadful Decadence, to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, to The Threepenny Opera, with obligatory stops at Shakespeare, Coward and Marber. It's always great fun, though I hate writing anything too cruel. On the other hand, it's a lot easier to be funny when being critical - my 'favourite' in this line was when, in Coward's Design For Living, one actor "paraded his over-enunciated consonants through a stage-school portrayal of anxiety". Or "One feels it is only a matter of time before the audience is informed that there is a Hero Inside Every One of Us, or at least witness cameos from the surviving cast of Watership Down."

Enough of me. I wanted to say how much I LOVED Abigail's Party. I have seen it before, but this production didn't disappoint - Mike Leigh's script is a masterclass in incidental inanity made captivating. The character satires are faultless, though remain pleasingly gentle, and it's simply the funniest thing I've seen in ages. If you don't know the plot - Beverley and Lawrence hold a drinks party for new neighbours Angela (Ange) and monosyllabic Tony (Tone). Slightly awkward, classier neighbour Susan (Sue) comes a little later, to be out of the house when the eponymous Abigail has her party. Not a lot else happens - until the twist, that is - but while they bicker, discuss make-up application, debate the merits and demerits of olives, the unknown happened: we poker-faced reviewers started loudly guffawing. So much for keeping them guessing until newspaper publication date.

One of the downsides to reviewing, though, is that I've seen almost all of the play - I don't fancy paying to watch the rest next week. So I'll order the DVD instead...