Friday 29 June 2007

Holiday Reading Round-up

I never quite finished telling you all about the other two books I read in Cornwall... well, let's do a little round-up, for those dying with suspense. You already know the two which were 50-Books-Author-Repeats, if you get my meaning, One Pair of Feet by Monica Dickens and A Winter Book by Tove Jansson. Well, the other two were banned from the list for other reasons...

The Pursuit of Love by Nancy Mitford was deemed too well known to make the list, and its renown is well deserved. Narrated by Fanny, this comic novel documents the exploits of the, erm, something-family. I can't remember their names... will give some blog reader a chance to look well-read(!) Linda's love adventures form the central focus, and as she dashes around Europe, making unsuitable matches, the reader is enthralled and amused in equal amounts. Uncle Wotsit is a brilliant creation, though a loathsome man, and if the novel is stuffed with upper-class references no longer relevant, Mitford at least shows that they're on the way out, and treats them with fondness. The family might seem hyperbolically strange... if it weren't for the strangeness of Mitford's own family.

And Elizabeth Myers' A Well Full Of Leaves doesn't make the '50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About' because any life could be lived quite contentedly without reading a page of this novel. Shame. Myers' letters were my favourite read last year, but my chief impression of this novel, published in 1942, is that it could have done with some heavy editing. Almost everything that anyone says is accompanied by an exclamation mark, however mundane, and the whole novel is simply too earnest for me, especially coming straight after Monica Dickens. Nothing wrong with earnestness, per se, but not to this extent.
The narrator is quite like Fanny in Mitford's novel, inasmuch as she alone is left unaffected by a whirlwind of melodrama - in A Well Full Of Leaves, the effects of a loveless mother are seen on a family of working class children. Before her time, perhaps, since Waterstones now seems to sell little other than 'Tragic Life Stories'. I can see why people write these things, cathartic and so forth (though Myers makes no pretence that hers is based on fact), but why on earth do people want to read them?

Wednesday 27 June 2007

Room With A View

A while ago I posted a photo of the view from my room in Magdalen College. Well, now that I'm at home in Somerset, you get to see a different view. Rather different, and the thing I like best about our house. Sadly only one of the bedrooms has a view as nice as this - thankfully, it's mine! When we moved here, the Carbon Copy was allowed to choose the room... and I helped him, by making it clear that I wanted this one. I've always liked him....

While we're talking about The Carbon Copy, please join me in congratulating him - today he received the news that he got a FIRST in his Maths degree at Warwick. Champagne all round, or would be, if he drank.

Stuck-in-a-Book's results next week...

Tuesday 26 June 2007


More holiday reading reports... One Pair of Feet by Monica Dickens was my second read from Dickens' canon, and a guaranteed success before I turned the first page. One Pair of Hands is one of my favourite reads of the year so far, and I had little doubt that the sequel would prove enjoyable.

The general consensus is that Feet is better than Hands - so JB Priestley announces on the blurb of my edition; so Elaine mentioned in comments on this blog a while ago. Sorry guys, going to have to disagree. I loved Feet, but just not as much as Hands - and this is almost entirely because I find the world of domestic service more interesting than that of nursing. Not more worthy or impressive - few people impress me more than nurses, not least because it's right up there on the lists of jobs I couldn't last a day at if my life depended on it - just even more fascinating. And, in Hands, Dickens went through lots of households, giving variety in character and situation; in Feet she could only change wards. Whichever of them is better, though, they are both excellent and laugh-out-loud funny. Oh dear, I'm becoming the worst sort of reviewer here... soon I'll be proclaiming "I laughed til I cried!" or "If you read one book this fall, make sure it's this one!" Will have to start counting - and limiting - the number of exclamation marks... but this quotation warrants one. ! There you go. It's a little mean on Dickens' part, but also rather funny:

"She looked like one of those potatoes that people photograph and send to the papers because it bears a curious resemblance to a human face."

You're a better person than I if you didn't laugh a little bit...

Monday 25 June 2007

Itsy Bitsy Teeny Weeny...

Yesterday's post has made me ponder, and we're going to take a little sojourn away from my holiday reading, to discuss... the short story. (When will they invent the internet equivalent of jazz hands? Surely appropriate for such announcements.)

There aren't many literary media more divisive than the short story - strangely, people's opinions of any particular collection seem to be decided almost before they've opened the book. You know where this is leading
- I'm going to ask your opinion. Here's a challenge, which I always fail - try saying you like short stories without using the word "gems", or try saying you don't like them without using the words "nothing to get your teeth into". Tricky, isn't it?

Never let it be said that I open a debate without doing a li
ttle research. Now that I am reunited with all my books (hurray!), I can look through all my shelves, and make a huge pile for a photograph. So this evening I went to see how many short story collections I had - and was rather surprised. I knew that Katherine Mansfield was one of my favourite writers, and certainly my favourite short story writer, but didn't realise I had so many other authors competing for my attention. Yup, I'm one of those who enthuses about 'gems', usually regardless of the nature of the stories - I find something so rewarding, so enticing, about short stories. Having written a thesis on Victorian Short Stories, doncha know, I tried a bit of investigation into the nature of the short story - don't think I used the word 'gem' once, but I can't dispel it from my mind. One of my tutors insists upon calling Ulysses 'the longest short story ever written'. As someone who has read it, I resent the word 'short' being used in the same sentence... But, in general, their brevity and structure mean a short story can hang on a single moment, issue or point - a novel would be quite weak if it tried the same thing - so it's much more sink or swim. When they succeed, like Mansfield's 'The Garden Party', for instance, they really succeed. When they fail... well, at least you haven't spent weeks to be disappointed.

So which do I have? Prepare yourselves for a bit of a list. And a nice picture to accompany. I've put a cross by the ones I've read - an
yone want to recommend any of the remaining? More importantly - to short story or not to short story? Let me know.

1) Stories of the Strange and Sinister - Frank Baker
2) Thirty Stories - Elizabeth Myers
3) The Silver Birch - Richmal Crompton
x 4) Sugar and Spice - Richmal Crompton
x 5) Tea With Mr. Rochester - Frances Towers
6) The Casino - Margaret Bonham
7) Minnie's Room - Mollie Panter-Downs
8) The Matisse Stories - AS Byatt (read a third of it...)
x 9) The Complete Shorter Fiction - Virginia Woolf
x 10) A Table Near The Band - AA Milne
x 11) Birthday Party - AA Milne
12) Fireworks - Angela Carter
13) The Little Disturbances of Man - Grace Paley
14) Enormous Changes at the Last Minute - Grace Paley
x 15) A Winter Book - Tove Jansson
x 16) A Quiver Full of Arrows - Jeffrey Archer (oh the ignominy)
x 17) Dubliners - James Joyce
18) Tell Me A Riddle - Tillie Olsen
19) Strangers - Antonia White
x 20) Cousin Phyllis and other stories - Elizabeth Gaskell
x 21) The Manchester Marriage and other stories - Elizabeth Gaskell
22) Tales of the Unexpected - Roald Dahl
x 23) Dream Days - Kenneth Grahame
x 24) The Golden Age - Kenneth Grahame
x 25) Portraits - Kate Chopin
26) Selected Tales - DH Lawrence
x 27) The Garden Party - Katherine Mansfield
x 28) Bliss - Katherine Mansfield
x 29) The Dove's Nest - Katherine Mansfield
30) Something Childish - Katherine Mansfield
31) Complete Short Stories vol.1 - W. Somerset Maugham

Sunday 24 June 2007


I was going to chat about all the books I read on holiday, but I'm too sleepy to do so. Have just come back from a village pub quiz, to which I went with my family. We managed to come first, and I contributed about eight answers, two of which were 'Dolly Parton'. Worrying. And only one of which wasn't already given by someone else on the team. No literature round, you see.

ANYWAY I'm supposed to be talking about books, aren't I? So I'll kick off with my favourite of the four, Tove Jansson's A Winter Book. Cue picture.
As you may remember, The Summer Book was the first book to feature in my '50 Books...' (though that list isn't in any particular order), and so I was merely exercising my civic/blogic duty when purchasing this publication from 'Sort Of Books' (an offshoot of Penguin, I believe). I worried a little that sunny beaches wouldn't put me in the right frame of mind for a wintery book - but I needn't have worried. The lack of sun was a dampener on parts of the holiday, but put me in completely the right position to read about chilly Finland. Finland? One of the Scandinavian countries, I can never remember which.

On the other hand, the contents belie the title anyway - this collection of stories, taken from various other collections, aren't all wintery. Some of them are positively scorching - and Jansson is so brilliant at writing about temperature and weather, that you feel it. In fact, the term 'evocative' could have been invented for Jansson's writing - perhaps because it's a translation, but every word in this anthology has such depth, and feeling, and is quite unlike anything else I've ever read. Except for The Summer Book.

The stories are mostly from the perspective of Tove as a child, though some towards the end focus on old age. Each one is slight, with little of significance occuring - in 'Jeremiah', the child competes for the attentions of a foreigner collecting bits and pieces on the beach; 'Snow' describes moving house, and the consequent interpretations the child transfers onto the snowdrift; 'The Iceberg' concerns, surprisingly, an iceberg arriving at the coast, which the little girl can't quite reach: "It lay
there bumping against the rocks at the end of the point where it was deep. and there was deep black water and just the wring distance between us. If it had been shorter I should have jumped over; if it had been a little longer I could have thought: 'What a pity, no one can manage to get over that'. Now I had to make up my mind. And that's an awful thing to have to do."

I get quite irritated by books which boast of how much you'll learn about the nation,
culture etc. When I read fiction, I don't want a travel manual. But Jansson achieves something much better - the reader is immersed in the life of the child, country and all, and all sorts of local details flood in, without being obtrusive.

Perhaps it is underwhelming to end a review with simply "read it". I'm s
ure Karen will do better when she reports back. But I've rarely had a more involving and beautiful reading experience than with Jansson's short stories, and if I could have two books by the same author on my '50 Books...' list...

Second favourite short story writer. Can you guess the first?

Friday 22 June 2007

Tan? This isn't a tan, it's rust...

Hello again!
I do hope some of you are still lingering around the outskirts of Stuck-in-a-Book after my longest sojourn to date. It's nice to be back in the ether, though I wouldn't have missed the holiday - despite the almost constantly abysmal weather. And thus what you see above you is all that I managed to produce on the painting front - that, and another hastily begun painting, which I will attempt to complete from memory. The lighthouse above (hope you can work out which part of the painting is supposed to be a lighthouse) is no ordinary lighthouse, oh no. It is the lighthouse, of To The Lighthouse. Or so Our Vicar tells me, and I trust him. It was very exciting, standing with an easel and palette, and gives one the instant feeling of being an artist, whatever the canvas might suggest.

What else? Well, I got through four books, one for each of the authors in the previous post's collage, and I'll be reporting back on them as and when. None will be joining the 50 Books, even if the list is in no particular order. Two were banned on the rule that authors can't be repeated; one I don't consider obscure enough; the other didn't make the grade. See if you can work out which is which...

Anyway, nice to be back. Put on a kettle, someone, would you?

Thursday 14 June 2007

We're All Going On A Summer Holiday

The Clan are off to Cornwall tomorrow, and my student days finished today - after being up all night packing, I waved farewell to Magdalen and went on my way. And now I shall be away from the world of computers for a week. while Our Vicar and The Carbon Copy stride manfully along the Cornish Costal Path, and I accompany Our Vicar's Wife in a gentler holiday of painting and reading, and tending to the burning brows of said manful walkers.

So, you ask, which books to take? Thought I'd let you know which will be coming with me. The selection was pretty much taken from those left on my university shelves, and consequently not a great deal of thought has gone into the choices. Heresy, I know, but they all look promising nonetheless. And I'm afraid not a hint of the 21st century. Cornwall isn't the right place for gritty.

I failed to find pictures of the books in question, so here are the novelists instead. They make rather a nice collage, don't you think? If you fancy a little challenge, have a guess who these figures are...
Ok, time up.

-Monica Dickens, One Pair of Feet
(top left) - loved One Pair of Hands enough to make it a swift inclusion in the 50 Books You Should Read... (more of these now that I'm reunited with my bookshelves), and I have high hopes that this book will be equally enjoyable

-Elizabeth Myers, A Well Full of Leaves (top right) - no, this novel is not a mass effort, nor is 'Elizabeth' a pseudonym for this enormous family. It's the nearest I could find to a picture of Elizabeth, because I believe she is in this Powys family photo, since she married Llewelyn Powys. Her letters were my favourite book of the last year, so intrigued by the literature

-Nancy Mitford Omnibus (bottom left) - The Pursuit of Love, Love in a Cold Climate, The Blessing are all included in this collection, and I just know I'm going to love them.

-Tove Jansson, A Winter Book - this one has been on the cards since The Summer Book was the first book in my list of fifty. Karen, fancy a joint read?

See you all in a week - might even show you the paintings I do, if you're lucky!

Tuesday 12 June 2007

Unreckoned Responsibility

Poor Maggie O'Farrell. Little did she know, in penning The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, that the weight of the last 50 years of literature was on her shoulders. As I detailed in a previous post, I regard modern literature with some suspicion, preferring the tried and true waters of 1900-1950. Against my better judgement, perhaps, I went to borders and purchased The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, based entirely on the review given by Lynne over on dovegreyreader. Waiting inside was not merely a novel, but the determining factors in whether or not I'd continue to give 2007 a chance, in the literary stakes.

Verdict : let's not rule out the 21st century just yet.

Without giving too much away, O'Farrell's novel documents the release of Esme Lennox from a psychiatric unit, into the care of great-niece Iris, who didn't know Esme existed. The novel flits between this present day scenario, and the past events, focalised either through narrative, Esme's recollections, or the uncertain memories of Kitty, Esme's sister, now in hospital with Alzheimer's.

It is the last of these methods which I found most demonstrated O'Farrell's talent - the driftings of imprecise thoughts are
presented so realistically, offering, in these sections, a discourse neither unified nor wholly disjointed. The clues are all there, and amalgamate towards a final comprehension of the history leading to Esme's incarceration. Though intelligently written, one of the things I'd have to put in the 'cons' column is this reliance upon detective-fictionesque build up of clues, red herrings, and so forth. The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox is about so much more than deducing the ending, that this structure undermined the content a little. Esme is a wonderful character, as is Kitty - Iris is never quite as satisfactory, probably because of the inevitable, but ultimately unsatisfying, inclusions of love interests. Luke could have been cut from the novel without any great loss, though Elle might not have contributed their comment to the back of my paperback. Oh, and I still don't like the use of present tense in novels. When did that come in? Probably before I was born. But I don't want any of these quibbles to detract from the fact that this is a hugely enjoyable, cleverly written work.

So... on which path will my reading now embark? A happy compromise, methinks. There's little sense in only reading books out in the past few months, when there is such a heritage of literature to be explored - but I suppose being alive doesn't necessarily equate with being unreadable, where authors are concerned(!)


Just wanted to say sorry for my absence of late, and promise that I will be back asap, with my report on Maggie O'Farrell's The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox, amongst other bits and bobs.

As Christopher Robin might say:


Saturday 9 June 2007

Stuck-in-a-Book's Oxford: The Final Chapter

Here we are again, and the final part of the Oxford Tour (TM) is about to presented before your eyes. I feel a little guilty that Academic Oxford has played such a background role in this tour, but perhaps this is an accurate representation of Stuck-in-a-Book's Oxford... Certainly for the past two weeks.

#14 Ashmolean Museum
Again, my stolen map helpfully highlights this little place for me. I went there in my first year (indeed, it was the site of my epiphany that the T-shirt I was wearing, emblazoned with '66', was also the number of my college room) but haven't been since. This picture is included in the tour, really, because of its representation of old-meets-new. Oxford may be the oldest university in England, but it keeps moving too...

#15 27, Beaumont Street
My doctor. Even the most functional of buildings is beautiful - thankfully, I've only been through its doors to receive a few injections for a trip to The Philippines last year.

#16 Beaumont Buildings
A little arbitrary - but this is one of my favourite streets in Oxford. For those of a keen disposition, you might have thought I'd said the same of St. Michael's, but that was my favourite shopping street. Beaumont Buildings is beautiful, but more than that it is very still, very quiet and peaceful. Not sure quite how to put my finger on it - but if you ever make the trip to Oxford, and want to find the eye of the hurricane, go to Beaumont Buildings. Or Plantation Road, off Woodstock Road, off the top of the map.

#17 Wellington Square Garden
A lovely little enclosed garden, in a square, where I've often wandered with a book and bottle of water. The last time I was there, two people dressed as pirates approached me, and asked whether or not I'd mind taking their photograph. "Oxford is weird" swiftly becomes a mantra necessary for survival.

#18 G&D'sG&D's numero duo. But this one is George & Davis, not George & Danver, like the last one. Who knows why? No, neither do I.

#19 Building of Wonder
Not sure what this building is - might be Dictionary of National Biography headquarters, or next door to it - but it is forever the Building of Wonder. Impossible to see now, but the floor with large windows holds floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, on all the viewable walls. That's a lot of books. My friend Lorna and I were wandering past in the dark at some point, and could see this amazing sight. We just stood and stared in wonderment for a while.

#20 Radcliffe Science Library
We've taken a little cut down Lamb & Flag Passage, opposite the Eagle & Child pub, which CS Lewis, JRR Tolkein et al used to frequent, and now we're by the Radcliffe Science Library. This will play a significant role in Stuck-in-a-Book's Oxford life next year, as it is where I'll be working next term. Isn't it, ahem, beautiful. Met a few other library trainees today, and received the joyful news that I'll finish work at 5pm each day, and thus be back at home in time for Neighbours...

#21 Radcliffe Camera
And the tour finishes at the most unusual and resplendent building in Oxford - the Radcliffe Camera, or Rad Cam as we call it. I don't think it's possible to take a bad photograph of this building. Inside are lots of English, History and Theology books, and a unique atmosphere. To the left of it is Brasenose College, the one to which I applied, back in Autumn 2003...

Friday 8 June 2007

Stuck-in-a-Book's Oxford: Part Two

Hello again - welcome to part two of the most subjective tour of Oxford you're likely to find anywhere. What treats are in store for you today... well, let's leap in where I left off. I've cleverly altered the colour of the numbering, to help you out. But hadn't anticipated the pains and complications double figures would bring. Can't colour within the lines.

#7 Where you will never find Stuck-in-a-BookAs part of being a Magdalen undergraduate, for various reasons, we were all given free gym membership. Yippee. I have used this opportunity a total of once... oh, no, wait - a total of never. But now I have photographic evidence that it exists - and, in walking there, got all the exercise a man could ever need.

#8 St Ebbe's
This was my church for a couple of years, until I changed at the beginning of this academic year. I'm now at Oxford Community Church, which doesn't appear in this tour because it doesn't even appear on the map. Long way off to the left... Outside St Ebbe's is the emblem of student Oxford: a bike rack. Another form of exercise with which I have nothing to do. (That was torturous preposition- ending- sentence- avoidance.)

#9 Primark
Don't let anyone tell you that Oxford students are sophisticated. About a year and a half ago, the rumours were proved true, and Primark opened. For those not in the know, this is a clothing store of astounding cheapness, and general stylishness. People spoke of little else for weeks, and even camped out for the opening - the next few days were spent doing Spot the Primark Shopping Bag. Or rather, Spot the Person Who Isn't Carrying A Primark Shopping Bag, which proved far more difficult.

#10 OxStuMarginally more cultural, this dingy little office is where I spent many Monday mornings, typing out the Drama page for Oxford Student, one of the two student newspapers. My friend Phoebe and I were drama editors - because the previous one was fired, for giving his own plays enormous, congratulatory reviews. We were invited to take up the position because we didn't know anything about drama... I'm joking, but only just. A couple of terms saw me regularly ascend these stairs, and fiddle around with Apple Macs and InDesign, losing photos and having to edit 500 word reviews into a paragraph.

#11 BookbinderNever been in here, but isn't it interesting? Lisa informs me that Maltby is a bibliopegist, has been since 1834 without a moment's rest, and I always enjoy glancing in this window as I pass. In fact, St. Michael's Street is one of the nicest shopping streets in Oxford, inasmuch as it is quiet, and has independent shops, rather than chains.

#12 Arcadia
On the same street, this is probably my favourite shop in Oxford. Arcadia sell secondhand books, mostly paperbacks with lots of old Penguins, cards, beautiful wrapping paper, and a range of nice gifts. And very friendly sales assistants, which often seems to go hand-in-hand with independent shops.

#13 Waterstones
Before I cement my hippie ideals, scattering petals throughout the countryside and eschewing all commercialism, here is Waterstones. I must admit, I don't frequent this bookshop as much as Blackwell's, but Waterstones is prettier. And that is that for today - but, fear not, the tour is not yet finished. Next time I shan't feature a single shop, so all the purchasing endeavour is exhausted.

Wednesday 6 June 2007

Stuck-in-a-Book's Oxford

A few of my regular readers (don't I sound like a gossip columnist?) have mentioned that they enjoy the glimpses of Oxford filtring through my general book-chat. They increased, of course, during my exam time - but perhaps you wouldn't mind a longer glimpse (can one have a long glimpse?) into Oxford through the eyes of Stuck-in-a-Book. With that in mind, I took myself and my camera out yesterday, and made a photo tour. Things of interest to me, which wouldn't necessarily be found in guide books. Hope you enjoy, because the Photo Tour is going to last for a few posts. Above is a map, with numbers indicating where the photos are taken, and dots for the path trodden. Nothing I and Microsoft Paint can't achieve, when we put our minds to it.

#1 Magdalen
You've seen Magdalen before, so this is just to show that we're leaving, and the door through which I go almost every day, often many times. Strange little porch to the auditorium, flanked by blue metal gates - one needs my keys; the other my 'bod card'. Magdalen feels a little like a fortress sometimes, but at least it's a beautiful one.

#2 Waterfield's
The nearest secondhand bookshop to Magdalen - very close, as you can see on the map - and a source of delight to me because of this. The stock doesn't change much, but it's always nice to have a quick browse in there, and the books chosen for the window are always done so thoughtfully. They even had a Persephone book in the window a while ago, when it was Bloomsbury themed. Guess which one? Oxford had seven secondhand bookshops when I arrived, and is now at six (two closed; one opened) - you can tell why I like this city.

#3 Exam Schools
This is the exit out of which I came for all my exams, excepting the final one. The actual door is just to the right of the green and white tent (no idea why that was there - they're not short on room inside the building), but for our final exam, we go out the back. Dozens of ushers stand around lunging at those with red carnations. My friend Lorna still managed to walk out the wrong door... we were waiting with flowers and balloons, and she came from the wrong direction. Oh dear.

#4 NatWest

Definitely not one for the guide books. Just to show how far I have to walk whenever I want to take out money... it's a long journey, especially when you just want £10 to put on your laundry card...

#5 GnD's

Look carefully for this one. Since I stole the map from their website, the GnD's restaurants are highlighted by stars, and rightly so. These are good old fashioned ice cream parlours, and the first point of call for first years trying to work out why they ever left their comfortable, familiar homes. Note that it is called 'George & Danver' - this will become important later. They have tubs of wonderful ice cream, pricey but exquisite, flavours varying from chocolate, vanilla etc. to 'Oxford Blue' (blueberry) and a weekly 'petition flavour', voted for my customers. Things like chocolate and chilli, or cornflakes. Anything goes. GnD's is renowned for being open til midnight (about the only eaterie that is) and is between the two most popular student churches - thus is generally filled with people either pre- or post- Bible study/church/cell groups.

#6 Famous Birth Place
Last one for today, and discovered when I was wandering through pretty little streets one afternoon. Accidentally discovered the birth place of Dorothy L. Sayers, and a lovely birth place it is too. More next time...

Monday 4 June 2007

Diary of a Librarian

A few of you have been asking about my librarianship, as mentioned perfunctorily over on the left column, and so this post is to give a bit more information, as well as to set a literary challenge. You did so well with the twins one (must produce a list at some point...) that I'm sure you won't disappoint here. Look out for the challenge at the bottom of the page...

So, what am I doing next year? My position has the rather grand title 'Graduate Trainee Library Assistant', and I received one of the Bodleian Traineeships. This means that, unlike the other departmental positions, I shall rotate through three libraries in Oxford next year (image of myself spinning on the spot, holding piles of books...) starting in the Radcliffe Science Library. As an Englicist, as we are forced to label ourselves, to avoid xenophobia ("are you an English student? " always sounds horrifically unPC), the Realms of Science may be a little confusing. But only Our Vicar's Wife and I, in the entire extended family, are non-scientists. We've learnt to adapt to their propensities to wear
grey and talk about calculus.

What does my job entail? That's kind of anyone's gue
ss, at the moment. A little bit of everything that doesn't require expertise, I think - issue desk, cataloguing, mending, enquiries, technological bitsandbobs. All good fun. My personal quest (which probably doesn't appear in the contract I still haven't read) is to inject some colour into the Science Library, mostly through the medium of wool, and the specific form of jumpers.

And after all this... I'll have the necessary year of experience required to get me into Library School. The mystery gets thicker - from what I've seen, these courses contain ominous topics such as 'Transferral Management Skills' and 'Incorporative Information Science'. Going to need to buy a lot more colourful jumpers. But, in my mind, the first lesson will go a little like the sketch today... Perhaps not the first lesson; it's a little advanced.

Onto the challenge. We've done twins in literature. Howsabout Literary Librarians? Where do librarians appear in literature? Body in the Library doesn't count. Off the top of my head... Harry Potter provides stereotypes of every kind; step forward Madam Pince.

Sunday 3 June 2007

Bookshop... or should I say Bookstore?

A while ago I asked if anyone had visited great bookshops, and wanted to proclaim their greatness back to the blogging world, via their own little slot on Stuck in a Book. Never one to rescind a promise (can one rescind a promise?) I thought I'd bring you a special bookshop from across-the-pond-and-up-a-bit. Canada, that is, and thanks to Janice for providing everything that follows (paraphrased by me).

Today's bookshop is McNally Robinson's in Calgary, Canada.

When did you find out about them?
Visiting cousins in Calgary, serendipitously while wandering on the main downtown shopping street in the city

Why are they so great?

The outside isn't interesting, but inside it's magic... the golden glow of sunshine on the beautiful wood floors pulled me in, and I spent the rest of the day
exploring three floors; the Children's Department kept me for two hours.

What did you buy?
Kipling's Just So Stories, and Children's Letters to God, a collection compiled by Stuart Hample. [from Simon - I've read this too, it's brilliantly amusing!]

Contact information?
McNally Robinson are a chain-store, selling new books - for more info.

Anything else of interest?
The children's section of the store included the rather wonderful sign:

Thank you, Janice!

Saturday 2 June 2007

Mark This...

The Carbon Copy informs me that he couldn't comment on my previous post; sorry about that, I'm sure it will all fall into place soon. Otherwise, any burning comments can be emailed to me, and I will try and put them up. I'm sure no-one has anything that exciting to say... but surprise me.

Today I'm going to take a leap into the torrents of literary scholasticism that are... bookmarks. Now, you don't get that in the Times Literary Supplement. A few years ago, I decided to start using art-postcards for bookmarks, rather than scraps or paper or (Heaven forefend) folding down the page in question - so much nicer to see something from a gallery, rather than the 'phone number you jotted down next to a doodle of the Eiffel Tower. If I were feeling sophisticated, I might refer to bookmarks as independent, non-contingent paratextual elements. But I shan't.

So I now put a bit of thought into the type of bookmark used. A new book can't have a very old postcard/bookmark - nor vice versa. Afterwords : Letters on the Death of Virginia Woolf, a collection of the letters sent to Leonard Woolf, which I'm currently reading, has a Virginia Woolf postcard. I thought I'd share the one I use for older, tattier books:This is the sort of thing I find fascinating - come back tomorrow if you are of less sentimental temperament. I found this postcard of Thomas Hardy's cottage in a London postcard shop, and loved it. The Clan went to Hardy's cottage a few years ago, and it is one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen - far, far more flowers and foliage than in the postcard's photo, perhaps unsurprisingly, but so emblematic of all I love about the English countryside.

The postcard/bookmark itself is from around 1937, as the stamp of George VI and Wikipedia inform me, and reads:
"I am having a lovely time with Jim, Joan & Caroline who has grown since last year, & is now running about all over the place, she is so sweet. Weather not too good, but is improving. Expect to be home Aug 6th. Love Elsie P"

Postcards don't change, do they?

Friday 1 June 2007

Second Book Syndrome

We've all heard about the difficulties authors have with their second books - especially if these authors have had phenomenal success with their first books. The press, the pressures, the awaiting backlash...
...but this is not the kind of Second Book Syndrome I'm chatting about today, though it is of a quite similar variety. Rather than the second book written, I'm referring to the second book read. These might well coincide, if you're buying up the work of a live-and-writing author, but often this won't be the case.

I should try and be a little clearer. You've read one book by an author. You love it. And so you find, and read, another. And this is where Second Book Syndrome hits in...

Regular blog visitors will know that I LOVE Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker. It might even be my favourite novel, but, though I've read it three or four times, it wasn't until last week that I'd read any other of Frank Baker's novels. I've had them on my shelf for a
while, but they've not got any further than that. And now I've read Before I Go Hence. Bam! Second Book Syndrome. I knew that Before I Go Hence wouldn't live up to Miss Hargreaves, how could it, but...

The novel takes place on two time levels - the Reverend Kenner, his daughter Ellen and mentally deficient son Arthur live in an old house 'Allways', undisturbed until the mysterious return of his other, long-absent, son Robert. A few years later newly-weds Maurice and Ruth visit 'Allways' with some friends. And Reverend Kenner can see them out the window.
This initial time-bending isn't really followed up upon, not particularly. The two narratives are dealt with in separate chapters, and reflect upon each in quite intriguing ways, but... yes, another diagnosis of Second Book Syndrome. Before I Go Hence is too philosophical, too leaden in comparison to the, frankly incomparable, joie de vivre of Miss Hargreaves. And yet there is little intrinsic to Before I Go Hence which makes me dislike it; had it been by a different author, perhaps I'd appreciate it more, but as it is... Second Book Syndrome.

Anyone else suffered from SBS?