Sunday 30 September 2007

It's That Time Again!

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, it is indeed BAFAB week again. Buy-a-Friend-a-Book, that is, and I encourage you all to enter. For those who haven't come across this before, check out their official website. The idea is simple - you just add your name in the comments, and, at the end of the week, I find some ingenious method to award a winner. No word yet on whether or not Patch the Wonder-Dog will be resuming his masterful selection process. I think I'm going to continue to send a book from the heart of Stuck-in-a-Book - that is, the winner can select their free book from my 50 Books You Must Read... which currently stands at 14.

In unrelated news, I saw the film Paris, Je T'aime this evening. I'll confess, the main reason I wanted to see it was because subtitles = sophisticated, and I fancied a dose of self-improvement, however superficial. I don't know whether or not this illusory intelligence has lingered, but the film really impressed, amused and moved me. For those not in the know, this is a series of 18 short films, each named after an area of Paris and taking place there. The genres and styles vary wildly, and each is a complete entity, with unique directors and actors. Some duds, of course (no idea what the Elijah Wood + vampire bit was about - especially since I had my eyes closed for most of it) but some really beautiful gems. My favourite was an almost dialogue-less piece, following a nanny as she leaves her own baby in a creche, in order to care for the baby of her rich employer. Beautiful acting from Catalino Sandino Moreno. The most moving was the final one; an American tourist recounts, in appalling French, her lonely trip to Paris and the emotions it evokes. You begin be laughing at her silliness, but end by feeling deeply for her. The DVD isn't out in England yet, but I recommend you seek out this beautiful series of visual vignettes - a homage to humanity as much as Paris.

Oh, and don't forget to enter BAFAB!

Friday 28 September 2007

On This Day...

Have you ever come across those On This Day... books, which list all the significant events to take place on a single date throughout time? Today, for example, being 28th September, witnessed Toronto becoming the capital of Ontario, Canada; cannabis was outlawed in the UK; the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation aired. Brigitte Bardot, Gwyneth Paltrow and Confucius were born (how can they know when Confucius was born?!) Herman Melville, Louis Pasteur and Harpo Marx died.

But Stuck-in-a-Book is going to look at something both more trivial and more literary than these - trivial and literary, that's a fairly accurate description of this blog... I've kept a list of books read for a few years, and thought it might be quite interesting to see what I was reading on September 28th every year. One of those utterly arbitrary, but nonetheless intriguing, things which can occupy the blogger with time on his hands (and, incidentally, a cold. Bah.)

In 2007... right at the moment I am reading L. P. Hartley's The Go-Between and utterly loving it. I anticipate reporting back in the near-future...

In 2006... get ready to be impressed - I was reading Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus. What good fortune that I chose today's date; had it been a week earlier, I would have had to confess to The Devil Wears Prada.

In 2005... Fidelity by Susan Glaspell. Goodness, that doesn't feel like two years ago. A Persephone Books reissue, and a rather wonderful one, though perhaps that is tautologous.

In 2004... In a nice piece of cross-post serendipity, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte, read in my preparation for starting university and my VicLit course.

In 2003...
The Importance of Being Earnest by Oscar Wilde. This does seem to be a fairly misrepresentative list - I read so few classics, as the rather peculiar books mentioned on this blog demonstrate... perhaps September is my month for reading renowned works?

In 2002... I was reading the very wonderful General Impressions by E. M. Delafield. For those who've loved Diary of a Provincial Lady, do seek out this book, and As Others Hear Us. Both are compilations of sketches, generally writing about an aspect of British domestic life in a way even funnier than the PL herself.

In 2001... First Plays by A. A. Milne. Some of his earliest work was as a playwright, and these are well worth seeking out. Probably due a re-read now...

Hope you didn't find that trip down memory lane too dull! I find these comparisons so interesting, and, if you don't object, they might be back at a later date. If nothing else, they should offer a representation of how my reading has changed and developed over the past seven years. Anyone else able to share their September reads through time??

Thursday 27 September 2007

How Withering

A while ago I mentioned that I was reading a play called The Brontes. As always, that has an accent which I haven't the motivation to locate. It's a 1933 play by Alfred Sangster, whomever he may be - the only info I can find is on imdb, here, which tells me that he was an actor as well as a playwright.

It's just as well.

I don't own many books of whose provenance I am unaware, but The Brontes is one. Apparently I paid £2.99 for it, and it used to belong to Margaret Cousins, but besides this I know nothing. Not quite sure what made me pick it up and read it a few weeks ago, except curiosity - sometimes I feel in the mood for a play, and this was one of those times. Plays aren't read much anymore - obviously their primary medium is the theatre, but I'd encourage you to take sit in an armchair with one sometime, and see how that suits. Or just read Ivy Compton-Burnett, which is much the same thing.

Fictional books about authors are a funny thing. I've not read many... in fact, racking my brains, I can only think of one other that I've read - The Hours. Well, where Michael Cunningham presented a biographical novel in a clever, three-tiered narrative with many a subtle nuance, Sangster has contributed nothing to the Bronte story which one couldn't gain from reading the blurb on Elizabeth Gaskell's book on Charlotte et al. Whilst we're on that, I blame Gaskell's biography for the lasting, and wholly unsubstantiated, view that Anne was a weak writer - for my money, and this is controversial, Agnes Grey is better than Jane Eyre. There, I've said it.

If you're still reading, I'll carry on. Sangster does all the usual tricks - Patrick is a stern bully of a father; Bramwell is a destructive drunk whenever he appears; Emily is mysterious and melancholy; Anne is timid; Charlotte... well, the stage directions are thus - "She is eager and interested, small of stature, almost bird-like in movement, and might be called insignificant if it were not for the large, dark eyes below the fine brow, for ever questioning - seeking - ". From this point on, whether pondering existential matters, or asking for a cup of tea, Charlotte is perpetually 'seeking...' in an endless ellipsis. Basically, take all the cliches about the Brontes you've ever heard, jumble them along with some 1930s jargon (can you really imagine Emily saying "I can't. I'm all wrong. All jumbled up inside...") and that's what Sangster produced. It's very entertaining.

So what do you think about fictional-books-about-authors? And are there any good ones to recommend? Or bad ones to avoid? Need they be factual?

As EM Delafield wrote, in advice to anyone considering becoming an author:
1) You will, at some point, be expected to write something about the Brontes.
2) There is nothing new to say.

Wednesday 26 September 2007

Our Vicar's Wife: International Superstar

If you were listening to Radio 4 in the days when Our Vicar's Wife was Our Primary School Teacher, you may have heard a bright young thing winning a national short story competition with Mrs. Dean's Dilemma. It rose, according to the Irish host whose name I forget, like a flower from the thousands of others. This lady was Miss Anne Durdin, who later became Mrs. Peter Thomas, and still later my lovely mother.

On Monday OVW made her much anticipated return to the world of radio, a
ppearing on Libby Purves' The Learning Curve, talking about that best of topics; twins. In her capacity as Primary Education Consultant for Tamba (Twins And Mutliple-Birth Association) Mum was able to give wise words on whether or not to split twins into different classes. Never much of an issue to The Carbon Copy and myself in our primary education, since my First School (pop. 80) only had one class per year, and sometimes two years per class. As the years went by, we were in different classes for lessons, but the same house - until we converged back towards each other, and ended up in most of the same classes for A Level. Not a particularly deeply thought out process, but one which hopefully didn't do us too much harm - we both managed to get degrees without hating each other, so that's probably a tick.
Anyway, if you'd like to hear OVW, you can Listen Again here. Not sure how this works for non-UK readers, but good luck.

On an entirely different note, Ruth sent me a salutary email this week. Johnny
Look-in-the-Air shares not only hyphens with Simon Stuck-in-a-Book, but also a reluctance to look where he's going. In weeks when essays looked unlikely to finish themselves, I could sometimes be found wandering the streets with my nose in a book, to the peril of pedestrains, traffic and myself. See the page here; don't worry if your German isn't the best, there is a translation on the right hand side. Thank you Ruth, I shall take your warning to heart.

Monday 24 September 2007


Yesterday I watched Mrs. Miniver on DVD. Somewhere in the back of my mind I'd known that a successful film adaptation had been made, but that's about the extent of my knowledge on the topic. Having read Jan Struther's novel - more a series of vignettes - and loved it, I was intrigued by the prospect of a film version, especially since I'm discovering an affinity with older films. Harder to track down than older books, but worth the investigation.

So. Mrs. Miniver the book - many, very short snapshots of up
per-middle-class domesticity in the late 1930s. Humour and kindliness soak through every page, real Salt of the Earth stuff, but vastly enjoyable too. Quite Diary of a Provincial Ladyesque, and if there's anyone reading this blog who still hasn't read DoaPL, then sign off straight away and get yourself to Mrs. Miniver the film... same characters, more or less, but more German parachuters thrusting guns around. In fact, I couldn't think of anything except the characters, and Mr. M's new car, which was in the novel - what was a carefree picture of domestic life became a vehicle for war propaganda. That sounds like I hated the film, which is not the case at all - I thought it excellently acted, often emotional, and an amusing look at the way villages live. Yes, the world is at war, but that won't stop the annual Flower and Produce Show from taking place. I attended one of these only the other day, in the village adjacent to my own in Somerset. In the film, the competition over roses was given almost equal weight as the war, and more than such trivialities as Dunkirk. And that must have been the way wartime was experienced by many people.

The most striking thing about Mrs. Miniver is that it was in cinemas in 1942. The outcome of the war was not known, was far from certain. In fact, many credit the film with helping convince the American public that becoming an Allied force was a good idea.

So, great good, great film. They just don't have much in common. I've probably rambled about adaptation before, so I shan't again, but I do think that I can best appreciate both book and adaptation when they are so disparate as to make comparison farcical. I threw in today's sketch because it would be a perfect, controversy-free adaptation - after all, nobody's read the book.

Sunday 23 September 2007

Coming To A Bookshop Near You

Yesterday I came across something I'd never seen before, courtesy of Danielle's blog. It's down the bottom of this post...

A book trailer! Apparently these were very popular and much discussed in Summer 2006, but it passed me by, and you'll forgive me if I give the concept a bit of a mention here. So far I have only seen two such trailers - one on Danielle's blog, and the other on a Harper site. Talk about the sublime and the ridiculou
s - Pamela Thompson, discussing Every Past Thing, made me feel intrigued. She was intelligent and passionate, the surroundings were beautiful, and the discussion, though fairly cursory, was interesting, character-based and, above all, relevant. The Harper trailer, which will remain nameless because I can't remember the name, was nothing more than a bad slide show accompanied by weak dance music. As opponents of the book trailer point out, many seem to think that they ought to be music videos, or a series of photos spliced together with various exciting 'screenwipes'. Hmm.

Trailers are rather a strange concept even in the world of film - they should be enticing without taking every good aspect of the film; understandable without giving away the plot; last th
ree minutes but give a good idea of the cinematic experience. Tricky. And when this is transferred to literature - too much voiceover must be the anaethma of any trailer, but that's what a book is: text. How do you find a compromise in presenting an inherently linguistic medium through an inherently visual and (to a lesser extent) audial one? In my humble, a mini-interview with the author, interspersed with atmospheric videoing, is probably the best way to go - re-enactments of scenes are always tacky. Remember the Big Read's attempts?

So, what do you think? To Trailer or not To Trailer?

Friday 21 September 2007

Guess who?

I came, I saw, I connected to the internet.

Hopefully my prolonged absences from the blogosphere are now at an end, and I should be back in the swing of things from today onwards - though The Carbon Copy is currently visiting, so, in the words of the hide
ously written Charlotte Lucas from 2005 Pride and Prejudice "don't you dare judge me" if I miss tomorrow... oo, it is nice to be back.

Today's entry will be a bit of an update, and from now on I'll be mingling library things with my usual bookish chat, and hopefully a few
more entries on the 50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About. Out of interest, has anybody read one of these off the back of seeing them on the list, and what did you think? I'll probably be asking similar questions when I get, say, halfway through the list - so keep your eyes out. But still, I'd like to know whether people have gone all investigative, and whether or not the books met with approval. The novel I have planned for no.15 has its opponents as well as advocators...

The exciting events of my first week (remember Ja
ne Austen's handwritten letter?) have dissipated somewhat - call me callous, but I can't get quite as excited about journals called The Knee. I'm glad I have two, but have never felt the lack of monthly updates. Another was entitled simply Blood. Presumably the editor was Bram Stoker. In case it wasn't obvious, I'm in the Radcliffe Science Library. And while I'm teasing it, the times when I'm not going through every book in the place checking for barcodes (my main Herculean task) it is fun. My colleagues are very nice, and I love dealing with enquiries and helping readers - the interaction is great, and the students haven't even arrived yet.

Aside from that, I'm settling down well in Regent Street, though I still don't have a bookcase... which is sad. Thus my books currently look like this (apologies for another blurry photo):

Saturday 8 September 2007

I do still exist, honest....

This year has been one of lengthy absences in the world of Stuck-in-a-Book, and for that I once more apologise. Moving to a Real Grown Up House comes with such things as having to set up Real Grown Up Internet, and Virgin are currently reluctant to provide this with any agility. Thus I am currently at my desk, with little to do, and free to fill you in on the week's events!

I have spent my week in, around and under these buildings - most of the ones through the centre of the picture are in fact linked by underground passages. Most of my days have been in the Stack, which is the name for the books stored underground, and it has been a largely enjoyable activity. Though fetching books and returning them isn't on par with neurophysics (is that a thing?) for brain stimulation, the fact that I am dealing with beautiful books, by and large, adds such a lot to the process. And now I am going to make you green with envy. Wait for it.

On Thursday I held a letter written by Jane Austen. Let's put that in caps - JANE AUSTEN. Perhaps bold? Jane Austen. So exciting - it was her actual handwriting, and she had held that piece of paper... Alongside this, did the same for letters by CS Lewis, Hitler's wedding certificate, Kenneth Grahame's handwritten version of The Wind in the Willows, a letter by Robert Burns apologising for being drunk, and asking to avert a duel... all sorts down there. Had the less considerable pleasure of sorting journals such as 'Insurance and Short Wars'.

Will hopefully be back blogging properly by the 18th, but until then will be rather sporadic at best. Will just end by noting another important day - Clare Wigfall's excellent collection of short stories, The Loudest Sound and Nothing, is now available in the UK, and apparently Amazon are doing a deal on it. I blogged about it here, and now you can buy it - go do so!