Sunday 23 August 2009

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

It's a bit late this weekend, mostly because I spent so much time thinking about the review of The Other Elizabeth Taylor (thanks for kind comments on it!) that I didn't want to get it swept away in the Friday lull. My stats counter tells me that things drop off on Friday, and quite significantly at the weekend, which suggests that quite a lot of you are reading blogs at work. Tsk! As if *I* would dream of doing such a thing. The very thought.

Ahem. So - a link, a blog post, a book.

1.) Verity's recent review of Barbara Comyns' wonderful
Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead reminded me that it has one of my very favourite opening lines: 'The ducks swam through the drawing-room window.' If you don't immediately want to read on, then check to see if you have a pulse. It didn't make this week's link, though - the 100 Best Opening Lines of Novels. This was decided by the editors of American Book Review, and thus has rather a leaning towards American titles. Don't you find that these lists often choose opening lines from the best novels, rather than the best opening lines? A subtle but significant difference. I'm sure some of the best opening lines come from novels which are otherwise pretty poor. Anyway, pop over there to see who comes top (though any list which includes James Joyce's Finnegans Wake at no.7 isn't going to be in total agreement with me: 'riverrun, past Eve and Adam's, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.')

Fun for a browse - let me know what you think, and which you'd place at number one.

2.) The book. It's Miss Hargreaves again, I'm afraid, since none others sprung to mind... I like to choose ones which I've had emails about, or received through the post, but might not review for a little while - and most of the ones I've had this week I'm *desperate* to read as quickly as possible. So instead I'm going to show you the part of Bloomsbury's reprint of Miss Hargreaves which excites me the post:

3.) For my blog post of the week, I'm linking to Lisa at A Bloomsbury Life. I know I keep going back to the same blogs for this, and I will try to expand, but darn it - if Lisa must make her blog so appealing and wonderful, what am I supposed to do? Specifically, I'm linking to her post on Beverley Nichols, which quotes a hilarious section of his book Laughter on the Stairs, all about decorating his house and hearing that Woman's Own want to look at it. How to get the house looking presentable when he has so little furniture... Rarely have I read a blog post which made me so desperate to read the author - Beverley Nichols is one of those writers I've seen a heckuva lot in secondhand bookshops, but never read. The Thatched Roof is the only one I have on my shelves. So, yes, wonderful excerpt - but the post is made even lovelier by Lisa's characteristic style and great choice of accompanying photographs. Which doesn't include the one I've picked for this post - so you'll just have to go and read her post for more!


  1. I never thought about from where people were reading blogs. I certainly am not reading at work. Blocked. And it's a good thing, or I'd never get anything done.

  2. I'm going to browse the list of opening lines shortly but my favourites are predictably "I write this sitting in the kitchen sink" and "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again" from my two favourite novels.

    I love the Comyns opener and you remind me that I've still to read that along with two of my other Comyns' titles, A Touch of Misteltoe and The Skin Chairs.

  3. Oh, my favourite opening line has always been "Mrs. Dalloway said she would buy the flowers herself".

  4. If you are interested in Beverley Nichols read 'Down the Garden Path' (or was it up?) - anyway, it's about his garden and it's very funny. It includes types of visitor into the garden - I read it ages ago so forget the details but it's great!

  5. Let me think. I like the opening line from Muriel Spark’s Girls of Slender Means -- “Long ago in 1945, all the nice people in England were poor, allowing for exceptions" -- because it not only sums up the situation people were in, but also the way they saw themselves in that situation, as well as being economical and funny. It prepares you for Spark's tone, it lets you know the kind of book you're about to read. Those few words pull a lot of weight.

    From Flannery O'Connor's The Violent Bear it Away: "Francis Marion Tarwater's uncle had been dead for only half a day when the boy got too drunk to finish digging his grave and a Negro named Buford Munson, who had come to get a jug filled, had to finish it and drag the body from the breakfast table where it was still sitting and bury it in a decent and Christian way, with the sign of its Saviour at the head of the grave and enough dirt on top to keep the dogs from digging it up."

    And from Christina Stead's For Love Alone: "In the part of the world Teresa came from, winter is in July, spring brides marry in September, and Christmas is consummated with roast beef, suckling pig, and brandy-laced plum pudding at 100 degrees in the shade, near the tall pine-tree loaded with gifts and tinsel as in the old country, and the old carols have rung out all through the night." Not her best book, but a terrific opening.

  6. Oh, lovely post Simon! Last week I was listening to a podcast (gosh I do an awful lot of that while walking the dog) and they were talking about the best CLOSING sentences in books. It was a fascinating session. 'God bless us, everyone' from A Christmas Carol was a firm contender as well as from Gone With the Wind, 'Tomorrow is another day'. I don't think I have that exactly right but you get the idea.

    I'm so thrilled for you Simon regarding your comment on the back of Miss Hargreaves!

  7. Simon-

    Once more demonstrating your great taste--yes, Lisa is brilliant and she is always original, fresh, insightful, and witty.

    This is such a great idea, and readers have sent in such breathtaking samples--there should be (you...?) a new blog called 'Opening Lines" would quickly get followers based on samples. here,

    Thanks you for this inspiration--and for nominating Lisa...she is fabulous.

  8. Loved reading the list of opening lines! My favourites there were (obviously) Austen, but I'd forgotten how good the opening lines to 'The Good Soldier' and 'Lolita' are too.

    They probably couldn't include Kafka's 'Metamorphosis' because it's a short story, but that surely has one of the best and most bizarre openers ever:

    "As Gregor Samsa awoke one morning from uneasy dreams he found himself transformed in his bed into a gigantic insect."


  9. Most of my favourite opening lines are there in that list, and a shed-load of ones I either haven't read or haven't liked. Did I miss it, or did they nor include the opening line of Rebecca "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again."? That is my very favourite opening line.

  10. Simon! You honor me so...Thank you sincerely for the mention, my dear virtual friend! And get thee to a bookstore and pick up a copy of "Merry Hall" or I'll be forced to send you one! (I will, you know...) xx


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