Sunday 31 May 2009

Say Please

I've recently finished one of the funniest books I've read this year. I bought Say Please by Virginia Graham because (a)it was a nice old hardback, (b)Virginia Graham is both a Persephone author, and co-author of the wonderful letters to and from Joyce Grenfell, (c) I read the Foreword. Which I will now quote in full:

'This is a book on Etiquette for Ladies, neither of which or whom now exists, as everybody knows; so the whole thing, both from my point of view and from yours, is the most shocking waste of time, and I have really no idea how it happened. The only thing that can be said for it is that it will not help you in the least to be a lady, which is all to the good as I believe it is not a desirable status, but it may make you laugh, which is always nice, even if this, also, is a waste of time. It may, of course, do nothing of the kind, which will be an enormous pity.'

Thus set up, how could I resist? Published in 1949, Say Please is a tongue-very-much-in-cheek guide to everything from leading committees ('A very good Chairman never lets anybody speak at all but assumes with perfect confidence and with a perfect disregard for the truth that everybody is in agreement') to dealing with an ill relative ('any information he cares to give must be regarded as puerile... If a patient insists on being spoken to, then he must be addressed in the third person as though he were a baby.')

This book, though obviously not meant to be an accurate reflection of everyday life, does still give a snapshot of the obstacles faced by the 1940s woman. Still sections on huntin' shootin' fishin', and servants - but also how to deal with rationing and post-War discussions. Not forgetting the Tennis Party, present in so many books of the early twentieth century, now a thing of the past. The section on Tennis included an epigraph from Harry Graham (her father): "She also served but mostly stood and waited". A-ha-ha-haaa, if you've read your Milton.

A pseudo-etiquette guide may not seem immediately your cup of tea, but any fans of The Diary of a Provincial Lady are advised to get a copy of Say Please: the humour is often quite similar. There are quite a few cheapish (£2-3) secondhand copies on Amazon and abebooks, and doubtless elsewhere. A few editions appear to have been printed in the late '40s and early '50s, but nothing since... it seems to linger on only in collections of sporting quips. Say Please could be a good candidate for a reprint, only which market would it fall into?

One of the funniest books I've read this year, and might well make my top ten of 2009... I'll leave you with a quotation from the section on Invitations.

After reaching a certain age it is legitimate to throw etiquette to the winds and be frank. In society, and indeed out of it, frankness is considered very bad-mannered, and that is why one has to be of a certain age before one attempts so drastic a measure. (How certain the age is can only be ascertained when one reaches it.) Then, in a voice nicely balanced between self-depreciation and arrogance, one can say: "No, Jane! It is sweet of you, but you know how stupid I am? I simply loathe the country in the winter and nothing in God's earth will make me come to Norfolk in November! I'm sorry, darling. I love you, but NO". This type of remark, firm but loving, resolute but begging sympathy is unfortunately dreadfully wounding, but on reaching that certain age (curse the thing) one prefers, alas, to wound rather than go to Norfolk.

Remember that to get a name for not going out eventually means you will not be asked out. This is rather a bore, for the whole charm of life lies in being asked everywhere and going nowhere. When you are a very old lady living in one tiny room with only one tiny frayed aspidistra for company, you may wish you had gone to Norfolk after all and kept up with dear Jane, who is still being photographed blowing, with her last remaining breaths, down a hunting horn at local Hunt Balls.

Saturday 30 May 2009

A Pinch of Salt

I spotted on Juxtabook the other day a viral campaign which has been gaining quite a lot of momentum.

Salt Publishing are an independent publisher of poetry (and, I believe, some short stories). Long-term Stuck-in-a-Book readers will know that I'm not much of a poetry buff, but I certainly support the publication of it for those who are, and always happy to be proved wrong with something special. In this economic climate, however, and with funding coming to an end, Salt are facing some difficulties.

And so they've started a campaign. The whole thing is below, but essentially it's Just One Book. Buy just one book from them, and they might well stay afloat. (Check out the WWF-inspired video they've done for it) The campaign has been incredibly successful - in the first four days they got six weeks' worth of sales. But they're not out of the woods yet. I encourage you to go along to Salt's website and choose Just One Book. And, when you do, let me know which poetry volume might convert me...

The statement from Salt:

As many of you will know, Jen and I have been struggling to keep Salt moving since June last year when the economic downturn began to affect our press. Our three year funding ends this year: we've £4,000 due from Arts Council England in a final payment, but cannot apply through Grants for the Arts for further funding for Salt's operations. Spring sales were down nearly 80% on the previous year, and despite April's much improved trading, the past twelve months has left us with a budget deficit of over £55,000. It's proving to be a very big hole and we're having to take some drastic measures to save our business.

Here's how you can help us to save Salt and all our work with hundreds of authors around the world.


1. Please buy just one book, right now. We don't mind from where, you can buy it from us or from Amazon, your local shop or megastore, online or offline. If you buy just one book now, you'll help to save Salt. Timing is absolutely everything here. We need cash now to stay afloat. If you love literature, help keep it alive. All it takes is just one book sale. Go to our online store and help us keep going.

2. Share this note on your profile. Tell your friends. If we can spread the word about our cash crisis, we can hopefully find more sales and save our literary publishing. Remember it's just one book, that's all it takes to save us. Please do it now.

With my best wishes to everyone
Salt Publishing

Thursday 28 May 2009

Oranges are not the only list

A few days ago I spotted on Danielle's blog the Orange Prize Longlist 1996-2009. It was put together by Kimbofo, and comprises all the books longlisted for the Orange Prize in that time. That's 260 books, by my quick count. And I've read... 7 of them. Seven. Gosh. The ones struck-through. (Eight, if you count the first 50 pages of the quite dreadful Lionel Shriver book.) And I read mostly books by women... though not, it must be said much modern fiction. Still. My head is hanging in shame. See if you can do better!

A L Kennedy Everything You Need
A L Kennedy So I am Glad
Ajay Close Official and Doubtful
Ali Smith Hotel World - shortlist
Ali Smith The Accidental - shortlist
Alice Greenaway White Ghost Girls
Alice McDermott Charming Billy
Alice Sebold The Lovely Bones
Allegra Goodman Intuition
Amy Tan The Bonesetter's Daughter
Amy Tan The Hundred Secret Senses - shortlist
Andrea Barrett The Voyage of the Narwhal
Andrea Levy Never Far from Nowhere
Andrea Levy Small Island - winner
Anita Desai Fasting, Feasting
Anita Desai The Zigzag Way
Anita Rau Badami The Hero's Walk
Anita Shreve The Weight of Water - shortlist
Ann Patchett Bel Canto - winner
Ann Patchett The Magician's Assistant - shortlist
Ann Weisgarber's The Personal History of Rachel DuPree
Ann-Marie MacDonald Fall on your Knees
Anna Burns No Bones - shortlist
Anna Quindlen Black and Blue
Anne Donovan Buddha Da - shortlist
Anne Michaels Fugitive Pieces - winner
Anne Enright The Gathering
Anne Tyler Digging to America
Anne Tyler Ladder of Years - shortlist
Anne Tyler The Amateur Marriage
Audrey Niffenegger The Time Traveler's Wife
Barbara Ewing A Dangerous Vine
Barbara Kingsolver The Poisonwood Bible - shortlist
Barbara Neil A History of Silence
Bella Bathurst Special
Bernadine Evaristo Blonde Roots
Beryl Bainbridge Every Man for Himself
Beryl Bainbridge Master Georgie
Carol Shields Larry's Party - winner
Carol Shields Unless- shortlist
Carrie Tiffany Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living - shortlist
Catherine Chidgey In a Fishbone Church
Catherine O’Flynn What Was Lost
Célestine Hitiura Vaite Frangipani
Charlotte Mendelson When We Were Bad
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Half of a Yellow Sun - winner
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie Purple Hibiscus - shortlist
Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni The Mistress of Spices
Chloe Hooper A Child's Book of True Crime - shortlist
Christina Koning Undiscovered Country
Christine Dwyer Hickey Tatty
Christine Pountney Last Chance Texaco
Clare Allan Poppy Shakespeare
Clare Clark The Great Stink
Cristina Garcia The Aguero Sisters
Crystal Wilkinson Water Street
Curtis Sittenfeld American Wife
Curtis Sittenfeld Prep
Danzy Senna From Caucasia, with Love
Deborah Robertson Careless
Debra Adelaide The Household Guide to Dying
Deirdre Madden One by One in the Darkness - shortlist
Deirdre Purcell Love Like Hate Adore - shortlist
Dinah Lee Küng A Visit from Voltaire
Donna Tartt The Little Friend - shortlist
Drusilla Modjeska The Orchard
E Annie Proulx Accordion Crimes - shortlist
Edna O’Brien In the Forest
Eilis Ni Dhuibhne The Dancers Dancing - shortlist
Elizabeth Knox The Vintner's Luck
Elizabeth McCracken Niagara Falls All Over Again
Elizabeth Strout Amy and Isabelle – shortlist
Ellen Feldman Scottsboro
Elspeth Sandys River Lines
Emma Richler Sister Crazy
Esther Freud Summer at
Esther Freud The Wild
Gail Jones Dreams of Speaking
Gillian Slovo Ice Road - shortlist
Gina B Nahai Moonlight on the Avenue of Faith
Gina Ochsner The Russian Dreambook of Colour and Flight
Haven Kimmel The Solace of Leaving Early
Heather O’Neill Lullabies for Little Criminals
Helen DeWitt The Last Samurai
Helen Dunmore A Spell of Winter - winner
Helen Dunmore House of Orphans
Helen Dunmore The Siege - shortlist
Hilary Mantel Beyond Black - shortlist
Hilary Mantel The Giant O'Brien
Ingrid Hill Ursula, Under
Isla Dewar Keeping Up with Magda
Jackie Kay Trumpet
Jacquelyn Mitchard The Most Wanted
Jamaica Kincaid The Autobiography of My Mother
Jane Gardam Old Filth - shortlist
Jane Hamilton The Short History of a Prince - shortlist
Jane Harris The Observations - shortlist
Jane Mendelsohn I Was Amelia Earhart - shortlist
Jane Rogers Island
Jane Rogers Promised Lands
Jane Smiley Horse Heaven - shortlist
Jane Smiley Ten Days in the Hills
Jane Urquhart The Underpainter
Janet Davey English Correspondence
Jayne Ann Phillips Motherkind
Jeanette Winterson Gut Symmetries
Jeanette Winterson The PowerBook
Jennifer Clement A True Story Based on Lies
Jhumpa Lahiri The Namesake
Jill Dawson Fred & Edie - shortlist
Jill Dawson Watch Me Disappear
Jo-Ann Goodwin Danny Boy
Joan Brady Death Comes for Peter Pan
Joan Didion The Last Thing He Wanted
Joan London Gilgamesh
Joanne Harris Five Quarters of the Orange
Joolz Denby Billie Morgan - shortlist
Josephine Humphreys Nowhere Else on Earth
Joyce Carol Oates Middle Age
Joyce Carol Oates Rape A Love Story
Joyce Carol Oates The Falls
Judy Budnitz If I Told You Once - shortlist
Julia Blackburn The Book of Colour - shortlist
Julia Blackburn The Leper's Companions - shortlist
Julia Darling Crocodile Soup
Julia Leigh The Hunter
Julie Otsuka When the Emperor was Divine
Karla Kuban Marchlands
Kate Atkinson Case Histories
Kate Grenville The Idea of Perfection - winner
Kathryn Heyman The Breaking
Kathy Page The Story of My Face
Kira Cochrane Escape Routes for Beginners
Kiran Desai The Inheritance of Loss - shortlist
Kirsten Bakis Lives of the Monster Dogs - shortlist
Kitty Aldridge Pop
Laura Fish Strange Music
Laura Hird Born Free
Laurie Graham Dog Days, Glenn Miller Nights
Laurie R King With Child
Leila Aboulela Minaret
Leila Aboulela The Translator
Leone Ross All the Blood is Red
Lesley Glaister Now You See Me
Lesley Glaister The Private Parts of Women
Leslie Forbes Fish, Blood & Bone
Lily Prior La Cucina
Linda Grant The Cast Iron Shore
Linda Grant The Clothes on Their Backs
Linda Grant When I Lived in Modern Times - winner
Lindsey Collen The Rape of Sita
Lionel Shriver We Need to Talk About Kevin - winner
Lisa Moore Alligator
Lissa Evans Their Finest Hour and a Half
Liz Jensen Ark Baby
Liz Jensen Egg Dancing
Liz Jensen War Crimes for the Home
Lori Lansens The Girls
Lorraine Adams Harbor
Louise Welsh The Cutting Room
Louise Young Baby Love
Lucy Ellmann Dot in the Universe
Lucy Ellmann Man or Mango?
M J Hyland Carry Me Down
Maggie Gee The Flood
Maggie Gee The White Family - shortlist
Maile Meloy Liars & Saints - shortlist
Manda Scott Hen's Teeth - shortlist
Margaret Atwood Alias Grace - shortlist
Margaret Atwood Oryx and Crake - shortlist
Margaret Atwood The Blind Assassin - shortlist
Margaret Forster Over
Marianne Wiggins Eveless Eden – shortlist
Marilyn Bowering Visible Worlds - shortlist
Marilynne Robinson Gilead
Marina Lewycka A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian - shortlist
Marly Swick Evening News
Mary Kay Zuravleff The Frequency of Souls
Mary Morrissy Mother of Pearl
Maureen Duffy Restitution
Meaghan Delahunt In the Blue House
Meera Syal Anita and Me
Meg Wolitzer The Position
Melanie Finn Away From You
Melanie Wallace The Housekeeper
Michele Roberts Impossible Saints
Michelle de Kretser The Lost Dog
Michelle Huneven Round Rock
Michelle Lovric The Remedy
Miranda Hearn Nelson’s Daughter
Miriam Toews The Flying Troutmans
Monica Ali Brick Lane
Nadine Gordimer The House Gun
Nancy Huston Fault Lines
Nani Power Crawling at Night
Naomi Alderman Disobedience
Nell Freudenberger The Dissident
Nell Leyshon Black Dirt
Nicole Krauss The History of Love - shortlist
Nora Okja Keller Comfort Woman
Nora Okja Keller Fox Girl
Oonya Kempadoo Buxton Spice
Pagan Kennedy Spinsters - shortlist
Pat Barker The Ghost Road
Patricia Ferguson It So Happens
Patricia Ferguson Peripheral Vision
Patricia Wood Lottery
Paulina Simons Red Leaves
Pauline Melville The Ventriloquist's Tale - shortlist
Penelope Fitzgerald The Blue Flower
Philippa Gregory The Constant Princess
Preeta Samarasan Evening is the Whole Day
Rachel Cusk Arlington Park - shortlist
Rachel Seiffert Afterwards
Rachel Seiffert The Dark Room
Rebecca Gowers When to Walk
Rose Tremain The Colour - shortlist
Rose Tremain The Road Home
Rosina Lippi Homestead - shortlist
Rupa Bajwa The Sari Shop
Sadie Jones The Outcast
Samantha Harvey The Wilderness
Samantha Hunt The Invention of Everything Else
Sandra Benitez Bitter Grounds
Sandra Cisneros Caramelo
Sarah Hall The Electric Michelangelo
Sarah May The Internationals
Sarah Waters Fingersmith – shortlist
Sarah Waters The Night Watch - shortlist
Sena Jeter Naslund Ahab's Wife
Shauna Singh Baldwin What the Body Remembers
Shena Mackay Heligoland - shortlist
Sheri Holman The Mammoth Cheese - shortlist
Shirley Hazzard The Great Fire - shortlist
Siri Hustvedt The Enchantment of Lily Dahl
Siri Hustvedt What I Loved
Sonya Hartnett What the Birds See
Stef Penney The Tenderness of Wolves
Stella Duffy State of Happiness
Stephanie Grant The Passion of Alice
Stevie Davies Kith & Kin
Stevie Davies The Element of Water
Sue Gee The Mysteries of Glass
Sue Miller Lost in the Forest
Sue Monk Kidd The Secret Life of Bees
Sunetra Gupta A Sin of Colour
Suzanne Berne A Crime in the Neighbourhood - winner
Toni Morrison Love
Toni Morrison Paradise - shortlist
Tracy Chevalier Girl with a Pearl Earring
Trezza Azzopardi The Hiding Place
Tricia Wastvedt The River
Valerie Martin Property - winner
VV Ganeshananthan Love Marriage
Xiaolu Guo A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers - shortlist
Zadie Smith On Beauty - winner
Zadie Smith The Autograph Man - shortlist
Zadie Smith White Teeth - shortlist
Zoë Heller Notes on a Scandal

Wednesday 27 May 2009

Pride and Prejudice and...

Two things I wanted to draw your attention to today, both warping Pride and Prejudice. One meets with my censure and the other my mirth. We all know that I'm not adverse to messing around with Jane Austen a bit, if it's done intelligently and with affection. My love for Lost in Austen, for example, makes a mother's love for her newborn look like callous disregard. But when it is done solely for commercial reasons, or done without any respect for the original or the authoress, then my wrath is untold.

But, first the pleasant. For anybody familiar with Facebook, you'll enjoy this link.

And now the unpleasant. You've probably heard, by now, of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It does what it says on the tin. I'm going to be wicked, and not mention the author or show the cover, as I only want to raise the title to tut-tut and shake my head in disgust, not give him publicity. 85% of the book is taken straight from P&P, apparently, and I can only imagine the remaining 15% was taken from a passing 13 year old boy. I should confess at this juncture that I haven't read it, won't read it, and won't consort with anyone who does read it. Or have anything to do with the film, which is apparently in the pipeline.

So why do I accept some distortions and not others? As I said, intelligence and affection. And my own contrary little mind, I suppose. But I'd be surprised if my reaction and horror and disgust wasn't echoed in much of the blogosphere. It is officially no longer possible to come up a spoof concept for manipulating Pride and Prejudice. I simply can't think of anything more ridiculous than the ideas already being shown the light of day.

Monday 25 May 2009

Recent Arrivals

I'm back from a fun weekend camping with friends in the New Forest. That sounds incredibly adventurous, when in actual fact we were at a camp site. Still, we had campfire breakfasts and inadequate showers, so it was pretty at-one-with-nature-esque. At what age does sleeping in a tent cease to be acceptable, temperature-wise? I wore more or less everything I own, and still froze.

In amongst this Spartan activity, we did pay a couple of fleeting visits to Winchester, saw a castle and the place where Jane Austen died, a
nd I bought some books (quelle surprise). This picture shows them, plus one of the review books which has come my way lately, and which I'm especially excited about.

Indiscretions of Archie - PG Wodehouse
I couldn't leave a book with this title behind, and fancied some cheerful reading after a couple of good but sad novels. Wodehouse is often quite similar, but, as I memorably said, 'If it don't broke, ain't fix it.'

Olivia - Olivia
I've seen this a few times, but never with any blurb or explanation. This slim novel is actually by Dorothy Bussy, Lytton Strachey's sister, though initially anonymous. All about a schoolgirl's 'crush' on her teacher, but apparently 'a remainder that never
in our lives do we love so deeply, desperately, selflessly, as during adolescence'. Ok then.

A Family and a Fortune - Ivy Compton-Burnett
I expressed my love for ICB back here, but haven't read one of her novels for ages.

The Listeners - Monica Dickens
Lots of us have loved MD's One Pair of Hands and One Pair of Feet, so I'm intrigued to see what happens when she turns her hand to the more sombre subject of The Samaritans.

A Fine Old Conflict - Jessica Mitford
The sequel to Hons and Rebels, another dash of Mitford never did anybody any harm. Still trying to like Jessica, currently only just above Unity in my estimation of the clan.

The Last Letters to a Friend - Rose Macaulay
I read RM's letters to a Catholic priest last year, mentioned here, during the correspondance she rediscovers her faith, and it's a very moving collection. I didn't realise there was a sequel, so snapped it up.

Maidens' Trip - Emma Smith
Thank you Alice at Bloomsbury for sending me a copy of this book, a reprint of Emma Smith's 1948 account of her 1943 time with the Grand Union Canal Carrying Company. The Great Western Beach was something special, I wrote about it here. I'm sure this will be equally wonderful.

Friday 22 May 2009

Fugitive Pieces

I went to my first advanced-screening yesterday. My friend Hannah and I went to see Fugitive Pieces (which is on general release next week) and after a fun Chinese restaurant ('Pock-marked Old Woman Beancurd', anyone?) and getting rather lost, we eventually ended up in the little cinema with eleven other people, to watch it.

My friend Louie lent me the book Fugitive Pieces by A
nne Michaels ages ago, and not long after that I found a cheap copy in a charity shop, so bought it intending to give Louie her copy back. Which, of course, I forgot to do. And the other day Bloomsbury sent me a review copy, since they've done a rejacketed edition. Three copies of it in my bedroom, and I still hadn't read it when Marie emailed with the opportunity to attend a screening... One bus journey to London later, and I'd read it. Quite quickly, not picking up on all the details perhaps, but certainly it was read.

Fugitive Pieces was published in 1996, and won the Orange Prize for fiction. It might have been a really big deal: I was only ten so I wouldn't know. The novel kicks off with Jakob, a Polish Jew, hidden in his house as Nazis come and take away his family. He buries himself up to his neck in the forest, to escape detection, and is found by Greek archeologist Athos, who takes him home. The novel takes so many turns and twists that I can't simplify it here - but, to give a vague gist, it's about Jakob's life, the repercussions of what he's witnessed, his continual meditation on lost sister Bella, and the relationships he has - both familial and romantic. The final section of the book is narrated by Ben, an admirer of Jakob's poetry, and in his own way affected by the far-reaching effects of the Holocaust.

I didn't think the book was very filmable, when I read it. The story is involving, but Michaels' main strength is her incredibly viscous, rich writing style. Metaphors and images overlap and interlace, beautifully. But how to film this?

Somehow they did. Jeremy Podeswa (the director and writer) does an incredible job translating this moving novel to the screen. Though it doesn't follow the same structure as Michaels' work, quite, with more flashbacks and flashforwards, all the most memorable sections and expressions remain, and remain poignant. 'The miracle of wood is not that it burns, but that it floats' is there, for example, very moving in both film and novel. I'm often dubious about the possibility of capturing the 'ethos' or
'atmosphere' of a novel, rather than a direct translation of what the author set down, but Fugitive Pieces is a great example of this transferral succeeding.

Stephen Dillane plays Jakob throughout much of his life (though not, obviously, as a young boy - a rather mesmeric Robbie Kay) and does so brilliantly. I only know Dillane from his expressive portrayal of Leonard
Woolf in The Hours, but Fugitive Pieces shows a range and depth which I hadn't imagined. Though Rosamund Pike gets her name on the posters, her role as Jakob's wife Alex is short, and doesn't bring across Alex's kookiness quite enough - a gently zany character who works better on page than screen, I suspect. Much more central is Rade Serbedzija as Athos, who is impressively warm and wise throughout, hiding pain without being oppressed by it.

Fugitive Pieces, both book and film, are poetic and sensitive narratives of the effects of the Holocaust - but that is only where they begin. It's difficult to say anything new about the awful suffering and incredible acts of cruelty (as well as those of heroism) brought about by the Nazis - Michaels realises that a list of graphic ill-treatment isn't the way to do it. By writing characters with strong loving relationships, and others desperately seeking them, she can best emphasise the trauma which pervades far beyond the moments of evil - and also how good can be brought out of despicable acts. Podeswa's film expertly translates these themes, and - though not always a comfortable film to watch - is a beautiful, sensitive and captivating one.

Tuesday 19 May 2009

More New Books

Colin was here over the weekend, and yesterday we took a trip to Woodstock. The initial idea had been to go to Blenheim Palace, depending upon the price... well, it was £14, which is ridiculous, so we wandered the streets of Woodstock instead. And I - will you believe it - bought some books.

The first one was actually in Oxford - I spent a book token on Deborah Devonshire's latest collection of essays, Home To Roost and other peckings. We all know her as Debo Mitford, and her previous collection Counting My Chickens delighted me last April. She's still wearing the same coat on this cover
, and doubtless the contents will be equally unique and enjoyable.

And onto Woodstock. A charity shop proffered The Secret Scripture by Sebastian Barry, which I've heard raved about, and which my book group is doing later in the year. Harriet's thorough and appreciative review is here. In the same charity shop I bought The Garrick Year by Margaret Drabble - a tatty copy, but sounds fun.

And then, when we thought we'd exhausted Woodstock, we came across The Woodstock Bookshop. I've discovered they have a
website. A small shop, opened in March 2008, they were jam-packed with excellent books, obviously carefully chosen. Lots of Hesperus, Capuchin, those beautiful Virago anniversary editions, and several shelves of Persephone Books. I could have bought dozens of things, but had to control myself - but, since I think independent bookshops deserve support, I did come away with a Persephone I don't yet have - short story collection Tell It To A Stranger by Elizabeth Berridge. If you're passing through Woodstock, perhaps going to Blenheim Palace, do make sure to pay a visit to The Woodstock Bookshop. They also have people talking there, if you're around - do see the website for more details. I get quite evangelical about the need for independent bookshops, especially since Oxford now has none.

Sunday 17 May 2009

Win the Bloomsbury Group!

Unless you've had your fingers in your ears, singing la-la-la-la, for the past few months, you'll know about The Bloomsbury Group - Bloomsbury's reprinting of six out-of-print gems from the early 20th Century. Recommended by bloggers, friends, colleagues and generally die-hard readers, they include my choice of Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker. Which must be the most-mentioned book on this blog.

Anyway - though this set of six titles isn't yet published, Bloomsbury are offering a chance for you to win the six titles when they do come out. Simply fill out a survey about your reading, and all six could be yours by the summer. Not to be missed. Have a go at the survey here.

Essay again...

Nicola reminds me that I offered to email people my dissertation on Katherine Mansfield and Olive Schreiner, and that I STILL haven't done so. I'd be very happy to, and have email addresses for Clare, Ruth and Becca who were interested - Jennifer Dee and Nicola, you've both expressed interest, but I don't have your email addresses, I don't think. Could you post them below, or email me at, if still interested?

Saturday 16 May 2009

All Woolfed Out

You know I like to share it with you when I've been shopping. Over the past few months I've been gradually replacing my very tatty 1980s Woolf paperbacks, all beiges and browns and yellowy pages falling out, with beautiful new Oxford World's Classics editions. True, these don't have page references for passages about clothing, the legacy of my undergraduate thesis on Woolf in those old paperbacks, but these are proper scholarly editions better befitting a student. And they have pretty covers.

So here they are. I must confess the Night and Day cover is frankly terrifying, and it's still the only Woolf novel I haven't read - nice to save up something. The same reason I still haven't read Sanditon or The Watsons by Jane Austen - it would be very sad to think I'd reached the end of the available texts.

And, because it was buy-one-get-one-free, I also bought the Oxford World's Classics edition of Evelina by Fanny Burney today. Although she's on my 50 Books... list, I didn't actually own a copy - it seemed like a good opportunity.

My only fear is that these Woolf editions will date, and I'll want pretty new ones next... but I shall be strong.

In case you can't tell from the pictures, in these editions I have:

Between The Acts
To The Lighthouse
The Waves
Mrs. Dalloway
Jacob's Room
Night and Day
A Room of One's Own / Three Guineas
The Voyage Out


Just to say, since there has been a recent influx of spam comments from people willing to fill in the wrod verification, or perhaps having found a way around it, comments on posts older than 3 days will be subject to my approval... i.e. they won't appear immediately, but please do keep commenting (if you're not spamming me, of course...) - just want to keep the blog clutter-free.

Friday 15 May 2009

Automobiles, Anecdotes, and Age Limits

What an interesting day... 'interesting' in an entirely euphemistic way, you understand. It's all my fault for being lazy and driving to the supermarket, instead of going on the 40 minute walk. I chose to drive - and here's the irony - because I wanted to get it done quickly. And then the car broke down in the Tesco car park.

Not just in the car park bay, of course, but when I had reversed out of the bay, and was at an angle that hemmed in about twelve cars. The car stalled, and then just wouldn't start (not the first time it's done it). And then the steering wheel immobiliser decided to do its thang, so that I couldn't push the car back into a bay. I was left with a straight line in which it would move, pushing it forwards when someone behind wanted to get out; backwards when someone in front wanted to.

And it was raining.

The nice AA man came eventually, and sorted out the starter motor, and off I went home... and had my lunch at 4pm. What a fun use of an aftern
oon... but it did restore my faith in mankind, as they say: at least half a dozen people stopped and offered to help me.

In Tesco I noticed that new regimes are being brought in about the Under 18 goods - cigarettes and alcohol and whatnot. Currently if the checkout person or shop owner thinks you look under 21, they'll check (it's wittily called Challenge 21 - or, as our local shop calls it, Challange 21). From Monday, they're check if you look under 25. As a 23 year old, I'm a little disgruntled. 25 is seven years over 18. That's over a third of an 18 year old's life that they're counting in as a margin of error. What would people say if 40 year olds were asked if they were senior citizens? I don't usually use this blog to whinge about things, but I thought my days of being ID-ed were over....

And finally, because this is a book blog after all, I've just read Faulkner's interview with The Paris Review Interviews (in volume 2) - it's mostly nonsense, very pretentious and arrogant, but I did enjoy this exchange:

INTERVIEWER: Some people say they can't understand your writing, even after they have read it two or three times. What approach would you suggest for them?

FAULKNER: Read it four times.

Thursday 14 May 2009

Cheerful Weather For The Wedding

I finished Julia Strachey's Cheerful Weather For The Wedding the other day - I'm reading short books in snatches while writing my dissertation, and this is one of the Persephone Books is one I've meaning to read for a while. Elaine at Random Jottings gave it to me many moons ago, but somehow it's only just worked its way to the top of the pile.

Well, I'm very glad Elaine could spare it, as I loved every second! This short novel (120pp) all takes place on the wedding day of Dolly and Owen. And it's very, very funny. There is a semi-serious romance storyline through the centre of it (should Dolly be marrying Owen? Will they actually get married?) but it is the host of
secondary characters which make this novel (or perhaps novella?) so amusing. My favourites are brothers Robert and Tom - the latter spends the entire novel trying to persuade the former to change his emerald-coloured socks: "Robert, your mother would desire you to go upstairs instantly to take off those bounder's socks, Robert, and to change into a respectable pair. Will you go, Robert?" He is distraught lest their schoolfellows - 'men from Rugby' - be at the wedding and witness this calamatous social faux pas. Robert's iterated response is "Go and put your head in a bag." I kept hoping these two would crop up, even though they essentially said the same thing every time they appeared, it was done so amusingly and accurately that I could have read pages of Tom's serious monotone and Robert's complete lack of care.

And then there's dotty Nellie-from-the-village, one of the 'help':

"The gentleman that come to see about the hot pipes out in the lobby, said to me, ' have two of my own,' he said, 'what are both of them big strapping great boys by now. And oh... good golly! - what devils and demons they do be!' he said. 'Well,' I said to him, 'my son Teddy is exactly the very same thing over again,' I said. 'All the time this cigarette-smoking, they pointed boots, and all of it, why, devils and demons isn't in it with such as they are,' I said. No. Very decidedly not!"

The whole family, and especially servants, are very funny characters - slightly ridiculous, but not too exaggerated as to not ring true. I suppose that's why the humour is so good - rooted in the actual. Sort of a
less-hyperbolic PG Wodehouse, perhaps. Crossed with Virginia Woolf.

According to IMDB there is a film of Cheerful Weather For The Wedding due in 2010. The only information about it at the moment is that Sinead Cusack is attached - I suppose she'll play Mrs. Thatcham. I'm not sure the novel will make a good film, actually - sometimes lines which are great written down lose everything when spoken. Still, I'll keep an open mind until I see it, which I undoubtedly will.

If you're wavering on Cheerful Weather For The Wedding, I encourage you to give it a go (though this comes with a warning that not everyone agrees with me: see this review by Vintage Reads) - it's recently been released in the beautiful Persephone Classics edition (pictured) which should make it more easily available... and I might just have to get myself a copy of that one too. I think it's entered my Top Five Persephones, and since I've read all or part of over thirty, that's not bad at all.

Tuesday 12 May 2009


Well, I was going to write about The Hours by Michael Cunningham today, which my book group is reading. Tonight I went along, having re-read the novel, ready for the evening - which was to involve watching the film first, then discussing the novel... only to discover that I'd got the week wrong. So look out next Tuesday...

Instead, I'm going to have a crack at something I've been meaning to try for a while. A favourite book, per decade, for every decade from 1800s onwards... doesn't that sound like a fun idea? I'll see how far I get, and then will wait hopefully for other people to give it a go. Requires a little bit of research, but mostly should be a matter of slotting my favourite books into a timeline (my problem being that almost all my favourites are from 1920-40)... and then I should, much like my namesake on Blue Peter, have produced something fun and interesting and good. But not 'here's one I made earlier'. Cos I haven't.

Here goes... do have a go. Don't worry about leaving gaps - I have, and did on my alphabetical list too. But if I find anyone using an apostrophe in their decades, I'll... well, I'll wince and frown and cross you off my Christmas card list.

  • 1800s:
  • 1810s: Pride and Prejudice - Jane Austen
  • 1820s:
  • 1830s:
  • 1840s: Agnes Grey - Anne Bronte
  • 1850s: Cranford - Elizabeth Gaskell
  • 1860s: The Mill on the Floss - George Eliot
  • 1870s: Through the Looking-Glass... - Lewis Carroll
  • 1880s: Three Men in a Boat - Jerome K. Jerome
  • 1890s: The Yellow Wallpaper - Charlotte Perkins Gilman
  • 1900s: Lovers in London - AA Milne
  • 1910s: Literary Lapses - Stephen Leacock
  • 1920s: Mrs. Dalloway - Virginia Woolf
  • 1930s: The Diary of a Provincial Lady - EM Delafield
  • 1940s: Miss Hargreaves - Frank Baker
  • 1950s: Frost at Morning - Richmal Crompton
  • 1960s: The L-Shaped Room - Lynne Reid Banks
  • 1970s: The Bookshop - Penelope Fitzgerald
  • 1980s: Deceived With Kindness - Angelica Garnett
  • 1990s: The Winter Book - Tove Jansson
  • 2000s: Speaking of Love - Angela Young

Monday 11 May 2009

Leftover books?

My friend Sherry, in an online book group I'm in, pointed out this link. Possibly an idea if you have books you don't want, good balance, and not too much self-consciousness.

In other book groupy news, there is a new Persephone Reading Group recently started up in Oxford. It's meeting every six weeks, I think, and the next one (which will be my first) is June 4th, reading Flush by Virginia Woolf. I'm excited to meet other Oxford-based Persephone lovers - and if anybody reading this lives in or near Oxford and would be interested in meeting to drink wine and talk Persephone, for just £5 a meeting, then let me know! I don't know if the organiser, Claudia FitzHerbert, would want me broadcasting her email address - so if you're interested, email me on and I'll put you in touch.

Saturday 9 May 2009

Mixed Media

I wrote about independent and feminist publishers a bit last term, and Pluto Press very kindly agreed to send me a copy of Simone Murray's Mixed Media: Feminist Presses and Publishing Politics. I enquired about it not simply because the Bodleian inexplicably didn't have it (since it's published in the UK, they should have...) but because I thought readers of Stuck-in-a-Book might also be interested.

As the title suggests, this book is about feminist publishing, and though an academic text, it is extremely accessible and very, very interesting. Though sadly with no mention of Persephone (and the book was first published in 2004, so Persephone could have been mentioned) this is more or less the only omission I've noticed in the chapters I've read. With these sorts of texts, I always find it easiest to give chapter titles - the topics are so wide and the chapter headings so comprehensively descriptive, that my paraphrasing will be pretty pointless. So here they are:

1. 'Books with Bite': Virago Press and the Politics of Feminist Conversion

2. 'Books of Integrity': Dilemmas of Race and Authenticity in Feminist Publishing

3. Opening Pandora's Box: The Rise of Academic Feminist Publishing

4. Collective Unconsioucs: The Demise of Radical Feminist Publishing

5. 'This Book Could Change Your Life': Feminist Bestsellers and the Power of Mainstream Publishing

Though I imagine Murray must be a feminist (though whether first-, second- or third- wave, I wouldn't be able to say) Mixed Media isn't didactic or polemical. Not that those things are inherently bad - there's no point in writing if one can't be a little didactic now and then - but this book is a fairly objective reading of certain publishing situations. I find the whole background to publishing houses extremely captivating, especially, it must be said, Virago. The first chapter of Mixed Media discusses the origins of Virago, and also the indications of an independent feminist press being bought by a conglomerate (Little, Brown & Co.) - but, importantly, there is an underlying affection for the books themselves, which makes Mixed Media both scholarly research and accessible reading.

Mixed Media isn't, I should add, for the completely casual reader. It's not every page-turner which includes Darnton's Communication Circuit, after all. But for anybody seeking a little extra information behind the phenomenon of feminist publishing, Murray's book is fascinating. The publisher's online catalogue isn't currently working, but their books can be bought from Amazon - and while the hardback
is quite dear, the paperback could certainly be within some people's budget - or encourage your library to get a copy, perhaps.

Wednesday 6 May 2009


Someone at Oneworld Classics has been reading my dissertation notes, methinks... I mentioned them in a big everything-piled-in-together post a little while ago, and I was expecting them to send me a certain book... instead The Fox by D.H. Lawrence arrived in the post the other day. Did the good people at Oneworld know that I was writing on 1920s novels? And that one of them was David Garnett's Lady Into Fox (more here) published in 1922, the year before Lawrence's? Serendipity often crops up in my reading life, but rarely with such happy results that I can read something for pleasure, for reviewing, and for my dissertation all at the same time. Talk about multi-tasking.

The Fox is under seventy pages, but rather powerful. Nellie March and Jill Banford (usually known by their surnames) are in their late-twenties, and live together on a farm in Berkshire and try, with limited success, to make a profit out of poultry and a cow or two. This is DH Lawrence rather than Stella Gibbons, so the mishaps are irksome rather than something narsty in the woodshed. Worst among these problems is a fox, slyly and unabashedly diminishing their livelihood.

And then a young soldier arrives. And stays. So fixated is March upon the creature ruining their farm: 'to March, he was the fox. Whether it was the thrusting forward of his head, or the glisten of fine whitish hairs of the ruddy cheekbones, or the bright, keen eyes, that can never be said - but the boy was to her the fox, and she could not see him otherwise.'

How foxlike (or, indeed, vulpine) is the boy? And what effects will his arrival have upon the pair? The Fox is an excellent narrative of jealousy and disruption and wrestling over self-control, as well as having some wonderful moments of imagination and clever imagery. In the hands of any other author I would describe the novella as a passionate one, but by Lawrence standards it's postively matronly. Which has to be a good thing, to be honest. When Lawrence isn't showing off what a tough, sexual brute he is, he can actually write very beautifully.

And why choose the Oneworld Classics edition? (Which you can do here) Other than the gorgeous cover (well, I love foxes) the edition has a very thorough chronological guide to Lawrence's life and works, four pages of relevant photographs including some manuscript, and even a select bibliography. Highly, highly recommended.

Tuesday 5 May 2009

Making Conversation

Persephone Books very kindly sent me a copy of Making Conversation by Christine Longford to review, and I actually read it a month or two ago, but was waiting for it to be available on the website before putting down my thoughts here. And, of course, that means I'll have to search back into the depths of my memory...

The novel follows Martha from childhood through school and into Oxford University. She is an awkward girl, and, as the Persephone website says, 'her besetting trouble is that she talks either too much, or too little: she can never get the right balance of conversation.' This is evident from the opening pages, where she marvels at the inexpensive price of the brooch given to Ellen, the cook-general. ("You little idiot.. Now she won't think anything of it. People like that don't, if you tell th
em the price.") Very intelligent but equally detached, she seems to meander through school and interaction with 'paying guests' at home (very definitely not a hotel) - where her mother advertises as an 'Officer's wife': 'This was mostly true. The military connexion grew fainter with the years. It was some time since Major Freke had written too many cheques, and disappeared.' Martha isn't quite precocious, but her indifferent responses at school and habit of repeating what she doesn't understand ("Miss Spencer pulled my hair, and said I had committed adultery") might give that impression.

Time passes, and Martha becomes a student at Oxford University. This was the part of the novel I enjoyed most, reflecting on the ways in which t
hings have changed. Not least, apparently, the propensity to send people down all the time, and the illicit parties at men's colleges offer a glimpse of the past. By the time Martha gets to university, her personality seems to have completely altered - which is probably true to life, but a little off-putting in what is tantamount to a Bildungsroman. She is pretty outgoing, even vivacious; jokey, flirty and chatty.

The new introduction by Rachel Billington compares the novel to Cold Comfort Farm, at least in terms of being a classic of English humour. Well... I don't quite agree. Making Conversation is an excellent portrait of a character not often depicted sympathetically in the early twentieth century - the femal
e academic, the intelligent but quiet girl - but isn't ever laugh-out-loud funny. Lots of diverting sections, and a certain amount of amusing turns of phrase (for example the quotation below) but I don't think Longford's priority is hyperbolic comedy, as Gibbons' was.

'She would renounce all the lusts of the flesh. It would save a lot of trouble, and as she wasn't a success on the carnal side, she might as well give it up. In that case, there would be no need to marry and have a family; and she could become famous as a Homeric scholar.'

And, as always, the presentation of the book is perfect. We know what to expect from the outside, but the endpaper (yes, Col, I'm going to talk about the endpaper) is one of my favourites from Persephone yet, apparently from a 1931 dress silk.

In conclusion - another welcome inclusion in the Persephone canon, and with invaluable, and quietly amusing, insights into another aspect of a disappeared world.

Monday 4 May 2009


Yes, I know I have lots of other books to read, but I couldn't avoid buying and devouring Jane's Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman (who also wrote the Sylvia Townsend Warner book I just bought - the woman has taste.) Anybody remotely interested in Jane Austen will already have heard the premise of this book - about Austen's evolving reputation and fame through the years, with especial focus on the peaks of the First World War and the post-Colin-Firth-in-a-lake interest. Harman starts off with a biography, focusing on the response given by Austen's family and acquaintances to her writing, and the road to being published, involving the infamous publishers who paid her for the book which would become Northanger Abbey, advertised it for publication, and never actually released it. Tut tut. The book then documents her literary reputation after her death, and how this was created by her family - basically a portrait of a woman who cared not for fame, never let writing get in the way of domesticity, and who hadn't a mean word to say about anyone. Which, of course, isn't the witty, slightly sarky and very talented Jane we all know and love.

On the book goes, through the Janeites of the trenches to the 21st Century fascination with her, and even a mention of Stuck-in-a-Book favourite Lost in Austen (though she says it is an adaptation of a book Lost in Austen, which I don't think is true... the bo
ok is a sort of choose-your-own-adventure, published in England with the title Being Elizabeth Bennett). Harman's style isn't particularly academic, which is nice when she throws a personal twist to certain aspects of Austen's posthumous career - of the 1940 Pride and Prejudice film and it's elaborate and anachronistic costumes: 'when Darcy and Elizabeth sit together on a bench, it is not pride nor prejudice which seems to keep them apart, so much as their clothes.'

The idea of the book is great. There's a wealth of fascinating material - where different possessions of Jane's went, who bought them, who was responsible for Chawton being bought back or her books being reissued etc. etc. I was especially interested in her evolving reputation in the nineteenth century, and the amazingly prescient 1818 anonymous review in Blackwoods Magazine which predicted
that Austen's 'familiar cabinet pictures' would outstrip in interest even 'the greatest historical pieces of our more eminent modern masters'. How right he or she was. The section on the search for a portrait of Jane Austen is also very interesting.

Yes, the idea was great... but somehow the book overall lacked *something* for me. I think it was the lengthy and pervasive strand of biography - which is all well and good if you haven't already read a biography of Jane Austen, but I (like many of us) have read Claire Tomalin's excellent and comprehensive biography, and I felt like Harman's biographical details were clogging up the book. Perhaps she'd leave Austen newbies stranded without these bits, but I'd rather she'd gone whole hog on the reputation angle, and taken some bits of Austen's life as read. And, despite a wealth of really great material, there was - how shall I put it - something a little lacklustre about the book as a whole. Can't put my finger on it, but the style was occasionally dry and footnote-y, without being really scholarly. Again, kind of falls between two stools.

That sounds very negative, and I did very much enjoy reading Jane's Fame. It's just that, with such a fascinating potential, investigating why Jane Austen is idolised and 'befriended' in a way that no other author, not even Shakespeare, is... I'd still recommend this book to any Austen fan, or even anyone slightly interested in Austen, but I know that a better book could have been written. And now it won't be able to be for at least a decade.

One other thing - Harman suggests that Jane Austen is the *only* author who can be identified just be their first name. I'm sure that's not true... and was hoping you'd help me think of some others. In fact, just put their first names in the comments, that would be a good test... I offer Virginia as an example. And, in the right circles, Vita. Hmm. I'll keep thinking...

Friday 1 May 2009


So, Carol Ann Duffy has been made Poet Laureate. Doesn't she look delighted?

Since I've read a total of one poem by her - yes, it's that onion one - I can't really comment on her credentials for the role, but it's good that a woman has been given the title - and her poetry can't be much worse than Andrew Motion's. Perhaps I'm being unfair, I just remember his gem when writing an ode to Jonny Wilkinson - which apparently took three months because he couldn't think of a rhyme for 'Wilkinson'.

A Song For Jonny

O Jonny the power of your boot
And the accurate heart-stopping route
Of your goal as it ghosts
Through Australian posts
Is a triumph we gladly salute.

O Martin the height of your leap
And the gritty possession you keep
Of the slippery ball
In the ruck and the maul
Is enough to make patriots weep.

O Jason the speed of your feet
And their side-stepping hop- scotching beat
As you touch down and score
While the terraces roar
Is the thing that makes chariots sweet.

O forwards and backs you have all
Shown us wonderful ways to walk tall
And together with Clive
You will help us survive
Our losses with other-shaped balls.

Not immortal prose, is it?
I do wonder how much need there is for a Poet Laureate, but I'm the last to suggest eradicating any literary aspect of modern culture and society, since there is so little out there. And it also made me wonder how many previous Laureates I could name. Why not have a go yourself, as they say - I managed 4. Including Motion and Duffy. Give it a try, and check the answers here. I hadn't heard of nine of them, and didn't realise that 5 poets had turned down the position... a poisoned chalice, perhaps?