Thursday 29 November 2007

Tom's Midnight Garden

I'm very bad - despite a teetering pile of books to be reviewed, a nostalgic conversation with a friend led me to take a break and read Tom's Midnight Garden. What is more astounding is that this is the first time I've read the book. Astounding because I know every word, more or less, already...

I have very vague recollections of watching Tom's Midnight Garden the first time it was shown on the BBC, but since I was 3 or 4, I'm not sure how genuine those memories are - but Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife wisely taped the programmes, six in all, and they joined a small filmography of videos to be Watched When Ill. Alongside the Chronicles of Narnia and Pride and Prejudice, this dra
ma was akin to medication, and no day of lying convalescent was complete without one of them. Because I've seen it so often, it came as quite a shock the other day when I realised that I haven't seen Tom's Midnight Garden for about a decade - but it didn't take long before every detail came swarming back. My friend Clare and I had a conversation littered with squeals and 'oh yes's while each bit of the drama slotted back into place. They just don't make kids' shows like that anymore...

Anyway, before this becomes a 1990s nostalgia (or 1989, to be precise) I should probably fill people in.
Some of you may not have heard of Tom and his Midnight Garden, and be wondering what on earth I'm talking about. Philippa Pearce's 1958 children's book, now a classic, is about a boy called Tom who must spend the summer with his Uncle Alan and Aunt Gwen to avoid his brother's measles. They live in a flat within a large, old house, one which, to Tom's disappointment, has no garden. He is bored, and cannot sleep - but his strict uncle ensures he's in bed for ten hours a night. The house has an old grandfather clock in the hall, which strikes loudly and inaccurately throughout the building. At night, Tom hears the clock strike thirteen (like the beginning of 1984, isn't that?) and reasons that he has been granted an extra hour to the day - and thus can spend ten hours in bed and get up now. When downstairs, he can't read the clock face, and so opens the door to get the moonlight... and reveals an enormous and beautiful garden.

The book takes us through Tom's adventures in the garden over the course of several months, and his friendship with Hatty, a little girl in the garden who
can see him although the others can't. Some wonderful twists and events, and gradual comprehension, but I shan't spoil any of that for people yet to encounter Tom.

Having now read the delightful book, I am amazed at how accurate the BBC version was - my memory of it is not sharp enough to know whether or not they added things, but there was scarcely a line in the book which didn't make it onto screen. Impressive. If anyone's not read the book, do so now. If anyone's not seen the BBC version, I'm afraid you'll have to have deep pockets - the video goes for about £50, secondhand...

Tuesday 27 November 2007

Presents and I-Wish Presents!

Thank you Danielle!

You may remember that I recently offered Miss Hargreaves up for a book swap, having happened upon her in a secondhand bookshop in Oxford, and she was sent off over the Atlantic to Danielle. Danielle
has her own blog here, and it is great fun, and very popular. The amount she manages to read and blog about puts me to shame, truly. Anyway, she very kindly reciprocated with not one but two books - here they are:

The Haunted Bookshop and Parnassus on Wheels by Christopher Morley. I haven't read either of them, but have heard about Morley, and The Haunted Bookshop has been mentioned to me with glee a few times over the years. So glad to have beautiful copies of them, and they've slotted right into the tbr mountain. What with review books, and lovely gifts, and impulse buys, I'm not making the dent in the pile I envisaged for this season... especially since I keep getting lured off on side-tracks. Wait until you hear what I've been reading at the moment...

So, those are the genuine gifts. And what is it I wish I had? Only available in America so far, but...

How could you NOT want this??, you are too tempting...

Monday 26 November 2007

To Loan or Not To Loan?

One of the things which came up during the How Clean Is Your Book? debate (sorry, that will probably mean nothing to non-UK visitors) was a question which links into the to-scrawl-or-not-to-scrawl dilemma. Well, not really a dilemma - don't think I've encountered anyone who was indecisive or unsure on this point - whereas the subsidiary question provokes, I would imagine, rather less black-and-white reactions.

To loan or not to loan?

While we all agreed we wouldn't write in books which were borrowed, do you borrow? Do you follow old Polonius' advice and avoid being either a lender or a borrowed, knowing that one loses the friendship with the one, and something about keeping, or.... ok, I can't remember the *exact* quotation, but I'm sure you know the one about which I'm talking. One of the defences for scrawling was that the book is for one reader's eyes only - if they're never loaned out, then nobody can object.

It must be the librarian in me - I love lending and borrowing books. Love it. Must admit, when I borrow books I tend to end up buying them anyway, since I like to have copies of books I've read - partly, to go full circle, because I can then lend them to other people. The main argument against lending books, of course, is that they somehow don't find their way back - I must have been fortunate in the people I chose, because I've never had that problem. Each of my books is like a homing pigeon... yes, there is one person who's had a pile of my books for four years, but I have had a pile of her books for the same length of time, and I know the piles will be exchanged in good time. Something about borrowing a book makes it even more special than following up a recommendation (though that is also great) - a real connection between reading friends.

Exceptions and Problems...

1) I don't lend Miss Hargreaves... she might be the only one. I'd be distraught if she went missing. While I'm on her, think there's a UK copy on ebay at the moment... Just checked, there are actually two. Go to it!

2) Isn't it awkward when you lend to someone who isn't as keen as they sound, and the weeks go by, and you know they're never going to actually read it... how does one ask for it back politely? I tend to let book-love go about etiquette, and just ask for it back...

3) And in reverse - when someone presses something on you. You quite like it, but don't want to be trapped in a spiral of reading things by that author until your friend's collection has run out. "I enjoyed it - will let you know if I'd like to borrow more, thanks" never sounds convincing, does it?

4) Please don't lie to me. If you didn't notice that about thirty pages are accidentally reprinted, then you didn't read it... this happened to me once...

Despite these issues, I love lending and borrowing! By post, in person, all good.
Howsabout you??

Sunday 25 November 2007

Fame and/or Fortune!

Just spent a very nice weekend at The Carbon Copy's in Bristol, wandering the parks and getting lost, that sort of thing. Since his hair has grown a bit, and mine has been cut (the sketch is not quite accurate anymore) and we both have glasses now (for distance only, not reading, so the sketch is on the ball there) we look more alike than ever. I've missed those lingering 'are-they-twins-or-aren't-they' glances, which we received in bucketloads over the course of two days. The novelty never wears off for me - I love people getting us mixed up, or staring, or commenting. Fun fun. Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife also popped up, and we had a first read-through of our Christmas sketch, to be performed at the village show. More on't later...

And now to the FAME. Thanks, Lynne, for bringing this to my attention - I've been mentioned in the Guardian's 'From The Blogs', follow this link and read down a bit. Lynne is mentioned too, I must add. Sorry for sharing my excitement so unsubtly, but it's virgin territory for me, and I get a definite kick out of seeing my name in print. In fact.... I don't know if this is just a web thing, or if it's a copy of the Saturday paper - if the latter, does anyone have a spare copy of the article they could send me?? Shameless, I know, but it *would* be a lovely piece to keep in a scrapbook or something... let me know on and receive my undying gratitude!

Friday 23 November 2007

Dorothy Whipple, how I do love thee

Though I now space them out, a new Persephone Books read is always a wonderful treat, and something to be treasured. When I first found out about this publishing company, through their publishing of Richmal Crompton's Family Roundabout, I went on a bit of a rampage, and read lots. Though they cover quite a range of decades, genres, authors, forms - and, yes, some of the writers are even male! - there is something unmistakably Persephone about everything they issue, and thus something unmistakably great. The Closed Door and Other Stories, one of the latest batch of three, was no different. Nicola Beauman, who runs Persephone Books, very kindly sent me this to review when I made ingratiating noises in her direction - and, of course, I loved it.

Most aficiandos of Persephone agree that Dorothy Whipple is one of their major finds. Crompton and EM Delafield were already firm favourites with me, and I was delighted to see them come back into the light of day, but it is Whipple who has been the nicest new face. Though decidedly a domestic-fiction-writer, she demonstrates that this need not mean anything derogatory about writing style. Nicola Beauman has had to fiercely defend Whipple against some critiques over the past few years, mostly from people who, bewilderingly, have been against niche publishing in any shape or form - but just pick up Someone at a Distance or They Knew Mr. Knight and it is indisputable that Whipple needed bringing back into print.

The Closed Door and Oth
er Stories is different from any other Whipple I've read, not least because it's short stories rather than full-length prose. The first story, 'The Closed Door', is easily the longest - 75 or so pages - and the other eight are snapshots of characters' lives. I read them all together at a fast pace, which probably isn't the ideal way to approach short stories, and I must confess I found a lot of them to be quite similar - a daughter (always a daughter) is repressed by her selfish parents who expect her to act like a servant, and dismiss any academic or romantic ambitions the daughter has. I like that Whipple doesn't aggrandise either of these ambitions over the other, but sees both as valid modes of self-expression and fulfilment. Anyway, as you read more of the stories in the collection this scenario becomes very familiar - but each story presents a different ending/solution/irresolution. 'After Tea' is an especially nice contrast. When presented together, the particular culminations grow even more significant, playing off against each other, and become less 'closing', as it were - more problematic, occasionally more triumphant.

Against the stories which fall into this mould, a couple stand out as really beautiful evocations of character and predicament - 'The Rose' and 'Wednesday' particularly. The latter is quite a brave portrait - a divorcee adulteress (though one coerced into it by her husband, we are led to understand) on one of her monthly permitted visits to her children. Agonising and realistic and a painful gem.

In case you hadn't ascertained this yet - The Closed Door is a book definitely worth buying! Just spread the stories out a bit.

Thursday 22 November 2007

Library Life

Time for a bit of a library update, I think, before we plunge back into the world of literature - review coming up tomorrow of one of the latest Persephone books, so keep your eyes open for that. This week I have been shadowing one of the other library trainees, but have yet to leave the Science arena - but rather than the torrent of scientific subjects bundled into the aptly named Radcliffe Science Library, my usual home, these have been rather more specific. Started the week in Zoology and Ornithology (let me tell you, pictures of birds are rather more appealing than Heart Surgery Weekly or Dermatology Update) and now in Plant Science. Ever wondered how much forestation there is in Canada? Me neither, but it's the place to be if you ever do. Having said that, it seems our indifference is shared by the populus of Oxford, as all of these libraries are fairly empty. In fact, I don't think there was a single enquiry in the Plant Science library today - certainly not whilst I was around. Even without the general public milling around, though, I enjoyed today - I was processing books and journals. In the RSL this is all done by the cataloguing staff in a separate section of the library - the benefit of a smaller library is that it's all hands on deck.

So, I'm sticking stickers, measuring spines, attaching plastic covers, gluing in date sheets, ya-dah-ya-dahhhhhhhhwaitaminutewhat?! I have to STAMP the SIDES of the BOOK?? With a rubber stamp? Emblazon 'Oxford University Library Services' on all three sides of a book which aren't the spine? Oh dear. You'll have gathered over the past few days that I'm not a big fan of writing in/on/near/over or under books. In fact the only preposition I'll concede is 'about' - I love writing about books. But stamping dirty great rubber stamps all over them? Houston, we have a problem. And that is the central paradox to librarianship. Despite what we are told, I hope against hope that people becoming librarians love books.
Yes, we have to love aiding research, and the latest technology, and guiding people, and making information accessible - all essential. But surely we should love books too? And there is a certain type of book-lover (not all) who cannot bear to see the poor things covered in possessive ink. So I had to screw up my eyes and stamp the thing within an inch of its life, feeling like a hoodlum... now I can feel the books in my room looking at me reproachfully... there'll be warning posters distributed around my shelves soon.

Anyone concerned for my sanity, email

Wednesday 21 November 2007

Sense and Cinematography

I saw The Jane Austen Book Club at the cinema tonight, and thought I'd use its various links to literature to excuse a rather more pop-cultural reference than usual... I read Karen Joy Fowler's novel, from which the film was adapted, over the summer - must confess, not very impressed. Lots of unnecessary sex and not enough literary comment. My preference probably puts me in the minority, but with 'Jane Austen' in the title, I hope I'm not alone... Anyway, it was fun to read the novel and spot comparisons and parallels with JA's oeuvre, but that was about where the enjoyment ended, give or take a few quite emotional scenes. Essentially six people meet up to discuss the six JA novels, one chosen by each of them, and the resultant book group is a backdrop for their relationship goings-on - divorcee, lesbian, teacher-with-crush-on-student, woman with Wife of Bath tendencies, dog-loving singleton and convenient token male. With SciFi obsession, like all guys, obviously.

The film hadn't removed any of these elements, but I a
m more forgiving of modern films than I am modern novels - largely, I imagine, because I've seen hardly any older films. Somehow what seemed rather fatuous and saccharine in prose became sweet and passingly profound on the silver screen. It was refreshing that they anticipated their viewers had read at least some Jane Austen - reminds me of a different experience sitting in the cinema while watching the 2005 Pride and Prejudice; the number of people who laughed uproariously at certain bits suggested they hadn't encountered them in prose beforehand. Literary snobbishness over... for a moment or two, anyway. Where was I? Oh yes - the film laboured the parallels between novels and book group members even more than the novel did, but that was quite entertaining. What really made the film work was the cast - especially the brilliant Emily Blunt as Prudie, the teacher-with-a-crush. Her marriage was falling apart; she joined a book group to avoid thinking about her thoughtless husband, and cannot countenance other members being trivial or unacademic. Oh, and she speaks in French quite a bit - despite having a potentially irritating character, Blunt makes Prudie loveable and endearing. I didn't know the rest of the cast before (except Lynn Redgrave, who makes a fleeting and funny appearance as Prudie's hippy mother) but they are a great ensemble.

Worth a watch, if only because IMDB imaginatively lists the Plot Keywords as 'Book Club / German Shepherd'...

Tuesday 20 November 2007

Big Read

oes anyone remember the BBC’s Big Read? It was in 2003, and is sadly also the last bookish programme they’ve shown on terrestrial, so far as I’m aware. I’ve just about got used to the fact that popular television will be far, far removed from literary matters – mostly being devoted to reality shows or cheap drama or sport. I like the odd bits of the first two of these, but the humdrum of terrestrial television became unfathomably lightened up by The Big Read. A lot of people have scoffed at it, or thought the Beeb were dumbing down in their presentation of great literature – nothing is more likely, but it is so rare for books to make primetime that I took everything else as a bonus.

For people who missed it, or live in a country which doesn’t show BBC, I’ll give you an intro. Incidentally, though, the US channel which has the word ‘BBC’ in it – BBC UK or something, maybe? – is so much better than our version! You get the classic sitcoms and so forth that they haven’t shown here for decades, or are used when snooker matches don’t last as long as anticipated. Tshaw.

Grumble over. The Big Read asked people across the country to nominate their favourite fictional book ever (favourite, mind, rather than the one they believed to be the best – a huge difference. My family are my favourite people, but I am not so blind as to suggest they are the best people. Sorry folks!) A list of 100 was compiled, and revealed, with the top 21 given only in alphabetical order. The ensuing seven weeks saw programmes devoted to three of these books at a time, and an eventual final, which saw Lord of the Rings being voted the best book ever. Ahem. Well, if the word ‘convention’ is not congruous with a book, then the fans are likely to be the type to ‘phone in… ooo, catty!

I loved the programme from beginning to end, even when Pride and Prejudice was advertised as being “all about sex!” – all? Really? – and got my first taste of literary e-conversation in the Big Read Forum. The eventual list was a pleasing combination of classics and potential discoveries, and not overrun with modern things which would be forgotten by 2004, thank goodness. The whole list can be found here, but I’m going to offer a rather more subjective view… of the top 100, here are the ones I’ve read, in the order that I like them. Like, not evaluate, you understand. Though the same one comes bottom on both, believe me. A lot of nostalgia on this list… You can thus work out which ones I’ve not read, and gasp at the order in which I put them…

-Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
-Emma (Jane Austen)
-Winnie the Pooh (AA Milne)

-Rebecca (Daphne du Maurier)
-I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)
-The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (CS Lewis)

’s Adventures in Wonderland (Lewis Carroll)
-Cold Comfort Farm (Stella Gibbons)
-1984 (George Orwell)

-Wuthering Heights
(Emily Bronte)
-Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
-The Wind in the Willows (Kenneth Grahame)
-The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)

-Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (JK Rowling)

-Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (JK Rowling)
-Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (JK Rowling)
-Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (JK Rowling)
-Little Women (Louisa M. Alcott)

-David Copperfield (Charles Dickens)
-Persuasion (Jane Austen)
-Tess of the D’Urbervilles (Thomas Hardy)
-Animal Farm (George Orwell)

-Goodnight Mister Tom (Michelle Magorian)
-The Magic Faraway Tree (Enid Blyton)
-Double Act (Jacqueline Wilson)
-The Great Gatsby (F Scott Fitzgerald)
-The Story of Tracy Beaker (Jacqueline Wilson)
-Of Mice and Men (John Steinbeck)
-Matilda (Roald Dahl)
-Bridget Jones’s Diary (Helen Fielding)
-Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (Roald Dahl)
-The Catcher in the Rye (JD Salinger)
-The BFG (Roald Dahl)
-Ulysses (James Joyce)
-Captain Corelli’s Mandolin (Louis de Bernieres)

Monday 19 November 2007

Grammar Police

Inspiration is dry tonight, so shall try to show you a cartoon Mel drew for me a while ago. My natural inclination for accuracy, and generous willingness to bestow such accuracy on others (which said 'others' have been known to label pedantry) led to the joking initiation of the Grammar Police. With appropriate disciplinary action. Click on the picture to enlarge it - in case that doesn't work, I've included a typed version below.

"So I told him, I didn't know who she was going with..."

"Freeze! Her Majesty's Secret Grammar Police!
My duty compels me to retract that sentence and replace it with 'I didn't know with whom she was going'. And to administer the following penalty..."

*WHAP* with the Oxford English Dictionary

"Ow... What the...?"

"You reckon she's going with Pete though?" "Yeah..."

Sunday 18 November 2007

Let's Put Shakespeare Among The Pigeons

Goodness, Booking Through Thursday brought out some strong opinions, didn't it? How strange - we all love the contents of books, but have disparate views about the vehicle for that content. A few of the comments made me ponder, and I'll meander through some musings - but this post is mostly about Billybob. My very lovely parents, Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife, heeded my unsubtle references this year, and I now have the new RSC edition of the Collected Works. Oh, it is BEAUTIFUL. I 'needed' another one, because of the scribblings in my old copy, and the fact that the spine has fallen off - and this one came recommended by Judi Dench. Says so on the back. (Just seen the Dame in Cranford, which was wonderful, though the odd amalgam of three sources was a little hit-and-miss). Anyway, my new Shakespeare. It comes in its own box, much like Folio books, and has that pretty yellow design on it. Feels great; smells great (and I'm not usually a fan of New Book Smell, preferring Old Book Smell. That's another interesting division for book lovers, with people firmly and resolutely in one camp or the other); can't honestly say it sounds or tastes great, but three out of five senses isn't bad. As Susan Hill wrote on her blog a while ago, I think, if one is buying a classic which is available everywhere, then of course appearances and so forth are going to influence one's choice. So judging by covers is positively sensible in this case.

And I warn you - write in it and heads will roll.
It's not that I think books are sacred objects - but neither is wallpaper. Wouldn't scrawl over that either. And while I love to make my own response to a book and its ideas, that has to go on in my head - I'd hate to return to re-read a book and discover I couldn't read th
e book - only read my previous response to it. Perhaps because there is something eternal about a book, and something so transitory about my thoughts when reading it. Contrarily, though, I enjoy finding secondhand books with people's opinions in them. Especially if they've been done in pencil, of course. That way I can read the book and make up my own mind, and see what they've thought - if it's my own writing, then I just feel slightly mad disagreeing with my previous self...

Just musing. No point in trying to convince anyone to see my point of view, or vice versa, because somehow one's sensitivity or otherwise to books themselves is inbuilt and impossible to alter. But there isn't the slightest chance of it stopping others reading, I shouldn't think, as there are enough scrawlers out there for it to be a valid option for anyone w
anting to do that. Just so long as people learn NEVER to do it in books they've borrowed (I know nobody visiting here would dream of it). Or in front of me, please.

For now, just admire my beautiful collection of Billybob - and I relish the fact that the words are even more beautiful. I feel a re-read of All's Well That Ends Well coming up next...

Saturday 17 November 2007


Too sleepy for full update, so here is my day in bullet points:

- morning... tired and cold
- teabreak - mmm, tea. Fine invention.
- meet Our Vicar's Wife for lunch, lovely
- worky worky work
- friends come over
- aubergine and mozarella rolls (mmm)
- Sound of Music: Songs Only Option
- Children in Need for a bit (gosh, Boyzone haven't aged)
- bed...

Thursday 15 November 2007

Booking Through Thursday

This week's BTT is something we've covered a while ago, but I'll throw it out there again. For those who were baffled last week, apologies for the incorrect hyperlink on 'Booking Through Thursday' - just pop along to Every week they pose a bookish question for those of us who have run out of inspiration by Thursday, and then I encourage all of you to ponder it yourself. This week: many of us write notes in our books. Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?

Well, we came across this perilous question in my review of Anne Fadiman's Ex Libris, I think, which can be read here. And you may remember that I am VEHEMENTLY against writing in books, or defacing them in any manner. The library trainees recently went on a training session about boxes and foam pads (it's like a rollercoaster, I tell you) which included the speaker tearing pages out of a book as a shock tactic. Although the book was destined to be thrown away anyhow, it was still painful... an actual physical pain, running through my body, and quite a loud involuntary gasp. Shared, I'm proud to say, by those either side of me. Anyway - books are not notebooks, they should be treated with dignity.

Having said that.... this is where the hypocrisy comes in. My name is Simon and I am a Footprint Leaver. Very occasionally. Though a repeat offender, I must confess. The worst instance is my Collected Works of Shakespeare - reading this, while being shaken around on Filipino Jeepneys, I had to scrawl notes (always in pencil, mind) or remember nothing when I started writing essays months later. Nor could I keep a notebook - the quotations would take an age to write out, and while I could jag a line on a rickety journey, legible writing was beyond my capability.
What is amusing is the type of notes I make in the books, when not simply underlining. I write things, for the most part, not as analysis, but pointers. I.e. when I later write an essay on a certain topic, I'll be able to locate all the relevant passages. Which leads to such erudite pronouncements as 'death' alongside deaths, or 'time' by the use of the word 'time'. As Our Vicar's Wife's teacher used to say - "If you are the cream of the intelligentsia, Heaven help the skimmed milk".

Howsabout yourself? I promise I won't shout if you perennially leave footprints...

Tuesday 13 November 2007

Book Group: The Results

I've talked so much about Tove Jansson's Fair Play, without actually saying anything, that many of you will probably think Book Group was months ago. Well, I've just come back from it, and nine other people who had read Jansson's book over the past six weeks. So here is my opinion of Fair Play, and what the group thought of it, so pile in with your feedback too, please! The cartoon is recycled, and not as appropriate to the topic for today, but I like it as an image of the bookish blogging community, and it'll appear whenever I report back from my terrestrial Book Group.

I'll start off a little defensively - I don't think Fair Play was as good as Tove Jansson's other works, those I've read anyway. Have a look at A Winter Book and The Summer Book by searching in the blog searcher, if you like - short stories and a sort of vignettey-novel
respectively. Having said that, Fair Play was still a delight. Marketted as a novel, it is in fact a series of short stories/ideas/vignettes/snapshots featuring the same characters. Jonna and Mari live on the same, small Scandanavian island, artist and writer, and... well, that's about it. Jonna rearranges Mari's pictures; a girl obsessed with Mari's mother comes to visit; they discuss their fathers; they watch an old film; edit one of Mari's stories, and so forth. Each chapter has a small incident occur, and Jansson wraps her delicious prose around it. By the end she has provided a beautiful portrait of an unconventional couple, co-dependent and close rather than affectionate. Jansson doesn't allow the narrative to become twee, but she does give beauty. This was especially true on my re-read (the first time in many years I have re-read a novel immediately) where I could just wallow in the prose.

So, what did the Book Group think? I must confess, I was worried whilst I was reading it. Plot is quite far down on my list of priorities when evaluating a book, but I know that's not the case for a lot of people - Jansson's novels are either viewed as beautiful writing, or just fairly pointless. One guy definitely took the latter view - just couldn't see the point, engage with the characters, or be bothered to read on. A few others agree
d to a lesser extent. That's fine - I deliberately suggested one I hadn't read already, so that I wouldn't be too sensitive about people's reactions. Most of the group found the writing to be very good, the novel to be gentle and evocative, and the characters intriguing, if slightly distant from a depiction of 'love', which the introduction suggested. Nobody loved it, desperate to read more (if only they'd started with The Summer Book!) but a few said they would if they came across some.

So, not a failure, not a success - but people were happy to have read something they wouldn't otherwise have come across, and that is, after all, one of the main reasons that people join Book Groups.

Over to you! As far as I know, Curzon and Carole have read Fair Play - and of course anyone else is welcome to join in. Thoughts?


As an addendum to the previous post... strangely, my Blogger homepage tells me I've written 150 posts (as declared yesterday)... but the little drop-down bit in the left column says 145 (146 including this one, I suppose). What's happened to the other five? Where are they? What are they? Curiouser and curiouser, as Alice would say.

Monday 12 November 2007

Canada Canada

Before I start this post - Fair Play Book Group meeting tomorrow, and thus my opinion of it, and whether or not the group agreed... and hopefully all of you will chime in with what you thought!

150th post today, and somehow that puts me in mind of Canada. D
on't ask, cos I don't know. There is something about Canada that I can't put my finger on - maybe because, like Britain, it often seems to play second fiddle to the US? Because they have two languages? Because of that lovely maple leaf? I don't know. Whatever it is, it makes me feel I've missed out on Canadian literature. It remains an almost wholly untapped mine for me. In fact, the sum total of my Canadian reading (so far as I know) is Michael Ondaatje's Anil's Ghost, and lots and lots of the inimitable Stephen Leacock. There'll be more of him at some later date, as I just know you'll love him - like a Canadian PG Wodehouse, if any comparison is possible for an author who is really only Leacockian. Anyway, yes, Ondaatje and Leacock - that's it. No Margaret Atwood, Carol Shields, L. M. Montgomery, Alice Munro... ok, I'm out. Whoever else there is, I haven't read 'em.

This all snowballed when I came across Margaret Laurence's The Stone Angel. In my unliterary sort of way, it was news of a film adaptation which reached me first. Fancied seeing it when it came out, so went off in search of the novel... lo and behold, Lynne mentioned it at dovegreyreader. Having CRUELLY made me go and find a copy myself, I pulled some library strings and have a copy in front of me now. A couple review books first, methinks, but Margaret Laurence is going to become my next dip into Canadian waters.

So, dear Transatlantic readers (and any others, of course) - where's best to start with Canadian lit? In my perverse way, I'd rather avoid the Famous Ones listed above - I'd prefer someone fairly big in Canada, but who is a Best Kept Secret. Or someone who's not even big in Canada, but comes with a recommendation tied to them. Any ideas?

Sunday 11 November 2007

Dear Nancy/Jessica/Unity/Diana/Pamela/Deborah...

Not the whole Birthday Books list just yet, but shall tease you with the biggest one of the lot, to whet the appetite. I knew this one was coming, as I'd not-too-subtly suggested it as a present option from my library colleagues Lucy and Clare, who have become very good friends in the two months I've known them. Both bookish types, and great fun as well.

So, it was without surprise, but with great delight, that I unwrapped The Mitfords: Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosley. They'd also sneaked in another book - more on that when you get the full rundown - today is just about Nancy and co. My previous acquiantance with the siste
rs consists only of The Pursuit of Love, and 10, Curzon Street: Letters Between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill. Even so, they've been on the horizon for most of my life, and I was keen to get my mitts on this beautiful collection of letters.

Haven't finished (com
e on, my birthday was only a few days ago!) - in fact, only read the introduction so far, but that was enough to make me want to post about it. Charlotte Mosley explains that the book only represents a small fragment of the extant letters - and only three 'links' between sisters are unrepresented at all by surviving letters. My A Level Maths has to be dusted off here - if there are six sisters, each of whom can write to each other... call sisters 'x'... carry one... divide by the number you first thought of... I think that gives 30 possible letter-routes (taking, say Diana-to-Pamela as distinct from Pamela-to-Diana) and thus 27 combinations covered in the book. Phew! What an amazing collection. Might be a bit tricky to keep track of who's who, writing to whom, what their relationship is (in terms of temperament - obviously they're all sisters), but thankfully there are mini-biogs and symbols in a family tree for each of them. The symbols are quite amusing, actually - while Nancy gets a ink-stand and quill, Jessica has her life summarised by a hammer and sickle. Reminds me of The Carbon Copy's version of Scissor, Rock, Paper, entitled Hammer, Sickle, Stalin.

Anyway, where was I?
With so many letters from which to choose, chances are the most pertinent and entertaining will be here. There's something to be said for comprehensive editions, but they can be a bit difficult to wade through - for instance, Virginia Woolf's A Writer's Diary was much more palatable than Volume One of the unedited thing. I'll let you know more choice excerpts as I read through - I think this is going to be one I read a small portion from at the end of the day, and may take me til next birthday to finish - so shall just finish with one.

'I had letters from you & the Lady [Nancy] & Henderson [Jessica] today, wouldn't it be dread if one had a)no sisters b)sisters who didn't write.' [Deborah to Diana]

For you and us both, Debs!

Saturday 10 November 2007

To Goring We Will Go

A very fun day had by all today - to celebrate my birthday, and my friend Mel's birthday, we took 15 people off on a Road Trip. Except this trip was by train. We went to Goring, a pretty village in Oxfordshire, had a little ramble and ate an excellent meal in The Bull. This pub was actually in Streatley, over the river, and thus in another county. Gosh, did we travel. Always nice to be in the countryside - though I was slightly chastised for one thing. On an outing with many friends, in part a celebration of my birthday, I still brought a book in my bag... well, for emergencies! Anything could have happened.

Will let you know the scrummy books I got for my birthday another night. Still a few more to wing their way in, actually - I do like protracted birthdays.

Thursday 8 November 2007

Youth is wasted...

Booking Through Thursday has been absent here for a while, but fills in the mental gap today -

Would you say that you read about the same amount now as when you were younger? More? Less? Why?

Well, even with a birthday having just gone by, I don't think I could describe myself as old... so I'm going to have to compare to when I was reading children's books, I suppose. Ironically, I remember finding it quite difficult, learning to read - well, in comparison to The Carbon Copy, anyway. That's the thing with twins - even a tiny bit of difference is magnified, so the fact that it took me a few weeks longer felt like quite a big issue. Hasn't held me back too mu
ch in the reading stakes.

Let's see. I don't really remember a time when I didn't love reading, when I didn't have a book on the go. During University I read fairly few books outside the remit of my course, but that was time constraint rather than anything else. As I develop my reading tastes, especially since I started bl
ogging, the tbr pile gets steadily higher and higher. I remember the days when I couldn't think of anything to read next - so I'd just read the same book again. Right now, I've probably got enough to last me until retirement. My book-obsession has only got worse - I would never go anywhere without a book in my bag, usually two, for emergencies. As a child, that probably wasn't such an issue. SO, I think I read more now than when I was younger, but it's all relative...

How about you? Has there been a period in your life when you've read more or less than normal? Tell us why!

Wednesday 7 November 2007

Birthday Reading

Thank you all so much for your kind birthday wishes! It's been a fun day, with lots of cake, and not a lot of Proper Food. Oh well, plenty of time for that on the other 365 days of the year. Since November 7th is quite a momentous day in my year, thought I'd repeat what I experimented with here, and see what I was reading On This Day throughout the past few years.

In 2007... at the moment I am reading a book for reviewing, so shall let you know as soon as I can what it is, and what I thought...

In 2006... Rereading one of my favourite novels, Mrs Dalloway by, of course, Virginia Woolf. Partly a birthday treat (!), partly because I was writing my thesis on Woolf.

In 2005... A Book Group read, though a postal group rather than a 'terrestrial' one (should tell you about that sometime...) - The Long Afternoon by Giles Waterfield, which is very, very good. Shall probably be appearing on the 50 Books... before long. You're warned!

In 2004... The Critic as Artist by Oscar Wilde. Check me out. Was actually researching my first-term essay on Wilde and the Morality of Repetition....!

In 2003... Twas another Book Group read, earthbound this time; Five Quarters of the Orange by Joanne Harris, and thus far the only Joanne Harris novel I've read, though she has been lurking around my reading horizons ever since. Maybe time for another?

In 2002... The Screwtape Letters by C. S. Lewis, which are witty and well written, as well as being thought-provoking and incisive. All of which makes it sound like I wasn't imminently to embark on a Harry Potter reading spree...

In 2001... Having devoured the brilliant series beginning with 'The L-Shaped Room', I was reading One More River by Lynne Reid Banks. My main recollection is that this has a donkey named Eeyore...

Tuesday 6 November 2007


Quite a short post today, just one bit of info to impart.

Assuming that most people will read this 'tomorrow' (i.e. 7th
November) - although I don't understand time differences at all - I shall be all subtle and wish The Carbon Copy a very Happy Birthday. See what you can deduce from that.... ! The picture is the wonderful birthday cake Our Vicar's Wife made last year.

And a good opportunity to say how nice it is to have you all stop by. With the exceptions of the few unpleasant 'anonymous' comments (why bother commenting? why read the blog at all, one wonders?) you're a lovely, lovely bunch of people and it's a pleasure to know you'll pop along and share some bookish chat. Currently getting around 110-130 'unique users' a day, according to StatCounter, and each and every one is very welcome. Hope you've found something to enjoy and to read whilst you've been here!

Monday 5 November 2007

Pile o' Books

Have been feeling a little guilty of late, the number of books which have been flooding into Regent Street with my name on the package. True, quite a few of these have been review books, but most have not... In an attempt to assuage said guilt, I'm going to share the books with you all. Sort of. Yes, a picture isn't quite a substitute for the real thing, but if it makes me feel better...

There they are, in all their glory. That's not even the lot, actually, but enough for one post. Let me talk you through the books I've bought recently - then you can tell me what you think!

Starting at the bottom...

Charlotte : The True Story of Scandal and Spectacle in Georgian London by Kathryn Shevelow
Couldn't resist this in Blackwells, as it was on offer - a nice, chunky hardback all about an actress who masqueraded as a man to get into the Georgian theatre scene. Flicked through and saw the name Eliza Haywood, which sold it to me.

Family Life 1939-1945 by Katharine Moore
I really enjoyed her letters with Joyce Grenfell, 'An Invisible Friendship', and consequently bought her book about Maiden Aunts in literature. This was another one which intrigued, and might well offer an interesting perspective
on wartime. Appears to be a sort of diary format.

The Closed Door and oth
er stories by Dorothy Whipple
One of the latest Persephone Books, and short stories by a favourite Persephone author - shall be reading and reviewing this one as soon as I can.

The Juniper Tree by
Barbara Comyns
After loving the surreal talents of Ms. Comyns in 'Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead' enough to get it into my 50 Books..., got this one through ebay. Looks great - a sort of fantasy about the effects of a tree on those around it, and how good t
urns to bad... more surrealism, please!

Fanny Hill by John Cleland
Probably not suitable fare for my bookshelves, but there's a television adaptation on soon, and I thought I might end up watching it, and so should read the book first. Plus I've read far too much 21st Century literature this year; I need to dive back into the past. Perhaps at the end of the year I'll see how much I've r
ead from different periods... something for you all to look forward to.

The Lady in the Van - Alan Bennett
Tiny, but sounds amusing - and after 'The Uncommon Reader' I'm hungry for more of Bennett's inimitable musings and wit.

The Rape of the Lock - Alexander Pope
Sometimes I impress myself with my sophistication... (!) A Hesperus book, so I couldn't resist, and one I definitely *should* have read during my degree. The world is filled with books I *should* have read during my degree...

Kenilworth by Walter Scott

Look, there's another! Not read any Scott, which is shameful. Must find out what the fuss is about.

Sun City by Tove Jansson
Fast becoming one of my favourite authors! Have finished 'Fair Play' and will talk about it soon. This translation doesn't appear to be available anywhere in England, so was shipped from US (thanks OVW for your credit card...) and it's got a beautiful cover. Set in America rather than Scandanavia, which does remove one of the things I liked best about Jansson - the descriptions of her exquisite surroundings - but I daresay it'll still be wonderful! Plus, I've only read on translator's translations of Jansson, so shall have to discover whether or not her appeal is the same through the pen of another scribe.

Saturday 3 November 2007

But a lifetime burning in every moment

Every now and then a book comes along which makes you think "wow", and prevents the normal day-to-day activities taking place without a constant desire to be reading said book. It leads one to read whilst walking to work, often quite perilously, and sneak a copy under the desk in the library. This week such a book reared its head.

Back in one of my earliest posts, I asked people to suggest n
ovels or plays with twins in - as a twin myself, it's something I find endlessly interesting. Partly because the topic is fascinating, partly because I like discovering how accurate authors are in portraying twinship. Twinhood? Twinicity? Of course I can only compare to my own experience, so it's not the most objective test. But it keeps me off the streets.

Anyway. A novel nobody mentioned back then was Linda Gillard's A Lifetime Burning, but it is probably the most convincing portrayal of being a twin that I have ever read. Even more so than The Comedy of Errors. Then again, Topsy and Tim presented rather more verisimilitude than old Billybob. I don't want to tell you too much about the plot of Gillard's novel, for three reasons. Firstly, it will ruin genuine shocks and surprises which enhance the reading no end and add richness to the writing; secondly, Linda has said that she doesn't really do plots - more characters to whom things happen; thirdly, it would sound ridiculous. I don't mean that as a criticism at all - but a synopsis of the novel would make you think "wow, what a crazy amount of things happen to this family", whereas reading the novel makes you think "Wow!"

So, not revealing the main plot points - but suffice it to say that the Dunbar family do not live uneventful lives. The novel focuses on Flora, whose funeral is witnessed in the opening pages, and flits between first and third persons, and many different times throughout her life. She is forceful, hopeful and often quite selfish, but with a disarming self-awareness - and great closeness with twin brother Rory. They are not identical personalities, nor are they wholly disparate (the two usual paths taken with twins in fiction) but rather complementing characters; individuals but intertwined.

Though the novel jumps all over the place, I never found
it confusing - rather a path towards illumination and comprehension of the characters, understanding (rather than sanctioning) the way they act. Linda Gillard writes with lyrical intensity, beautiful prose which is powerful without being overly 'flowery.' I enjoyed her previous novel Emotional Geology, but this is leagues ahead of it - can't recommend it enough. The subject matter isn't uncontroversial, but nothing in A Lifetime Burning is gratuitous - and almost every other modern novelist I've read could take a leaf out of Gillard's book.


Have started reading
Fair Play, and in fact nearly finished! Will give you all a few days, and then report back....

Friday 2 November 2007

Working 9 to 5, What A Way To Make A Livin'...

If you're not singing Dolly Parton in your head right now, then either a)you're too young, b)you're too sophisticated, or c)you're too sane. Take your pick, otherwise hum along with me...

I'll confess - yes, I am currently at work. And potentially abusing my internet privileges, though it was positively encouraged by the very nice lady in charge of Circulation, where I am at the moment. Before you get images of cocktail shakers and black tie outfits, this is Circulation firmly without air kisses. Well, I could try to introduce them, but might find myself unemployed. I'm busy checkin
' in and checkin' out all those books which Science students hoard in their rooms and flick through whilst their test tubes or igneous rocks are busy. It's quite nice - I get to try out my Happy Smiley Big Fat Beam on everyone, blinding them with joviality - but it turns out I'm the world's worst person for collecting fines. No careers test ever brought up 'bailiff' as a proposed suitable employment option, and there's a reason. The faintest sign of reluctance to pay, and I'm practically flinging money at them. Oddly enough, it's the ones with 20p to pay who kick up a fuss - those who owe over £10 are happy to cough up. Strange. Personally, I'd always rather pay a fine - even if I knew I didn't owe it - than make a scene. How British am I?? See this for more, of course.

What was the point of today's post... well, just realised I hadn't posted yesterday, and thought I'd a
mble through a catch-up of my library activities. Although my first tea-break of the day is coming up soon (since we're not supposed to drink at our desks - for obvious reasons - we get two half-hour breaks and an hour at lunch. Luxury! And nice reading time) so this may be an abridged version of a catch-up. As I mentioned, I'm now working in Circulation as well as Everything Else - so my days are spent re-shelving, fetching books, checking in and out, dealing with enquiries, a tiny bit of cataloguing (usually editing current holdings info)... so a little bit of everything, nice and eclectic. The thing I do miss most is the opportunity to be creative. It's that artistic blood in me (thanks Mum...) which can't quite be content with a 9-5 where I can't make creative difference to proceedings. So, in long-term plans, do I find a job where creativity in some form or other is at the centre, or one which will allow be enough time to be creative outside of it?? Quandary. Either way I'll be penniless, so at least I can factor that out of the equation!

Should include something about books to keep you going til next time... Just finished a brilliant, though very uneasy, book - have just started what might well be quite a dull one. Well, dull to me because of my ignorance and apathy in certain areas... but I shall certainly persevere. Will let you into these mysteries sooooon...