Wednesday 30 June 2010

Project 24: Halfway!

Remember those naysayers, who said nay, and so forth? In fact, they said these sorts of things...
  • 'GOOD LUCK, Simon! I wonder how many days you'll last? ;-)'
  • 'Is that IN 2010 or AT 20:10? I think the latter is more likely.'
  • 'Hilarious. I'll watch and laugh.'
    'I simply could not possibly do this. And I seriously wonder if you can.
  • 'WOW. I look forward to seeing how this pans out.....'
  • 'I'm still speechless at Simon's decision to curtail book-buying, and if the resolution were made by anyone less sincere, I would suspect a Publicity Stunt! I can hardly imagine not buying books when you live in *England,* the *home* of books'
  • 'Will you keep this up now that I tell you Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters is in all good bookshops?'
  • (and perhaps my favourite...) 'what evs!'
That's what my faithful followers... well, I must be honest, lots of you lovely people were 100% behind me, cheering me and sending positive thoughts in my direction. And even, on occasion, forcibly dragging me away from bookshops.

But you'll be pleased to note that, at the halfway stage, I have bought (*drum roll, if you will*) 11 books! That's right - eleven. As in, one fewer than twelve. As in: I'm ahead of target!

And it's not been easy. Not by a long chalk. But I will persevere... and on December 31st 2010 I shall sit back, content, proud, and happy. And on January 1st 2011, I will empty my Amazon wishlist...

Here, in no particular order, are the books that have found their way to Stuck-in-a-Book's home in the past six months (remember that, as ever, you can click on the Project 24 picture in the top-right to see more details posts on all these books):

Tuesday 29 June 2010

Teasing over...

Well, that was a bit of a tease, wasn't it? And it feels a bit fraudulent, because the book in question has already appeared on a few others blogs... but I kept thinking of the Guernsey book and I think folk who enjoyed that will also enjoy this... right, enough hinting. Step forward... Mr. Rosenblum's List by Natasha Solomons!

Sceptre very kindly gave me a copy of this at an authors/bloggers party, but unfortunately I didn't manage to speak to Natasha Solomons whilst there, and now I wish I had because anybody who could write this novel must be worth knowing.

Mr. Rosenblum's List - or Mr. Rosenblum Dreams in English if you're looking for copies in America - has the subtitle Friendly Guidance for the Aspiring Engl
ishman, which should give you a clue as to the book's contents.

Jakob and Sadie Rosenblum are German Jewish refugees, escaping Nazi rule and coming to England in 1937 for safety - armed only with While you are in England: Helpful Information and Friendly Guidance for every Refugee. Jakob is incredibly keen to assimilate, and starts off by changing his name to Jack. He tries to work out what it means to be English (yes, not
British, Dark Puss!) and how to fit in - adding his own bits of advice to the handbook. For example, to the rule that refugees ought always to speak English even if haltingly, he adds 'And do not talk in a loud voice. (Unless talking to foreigners when it is the done thing to shout.)' Of course, assimilating isn't easy - and Solomons very wittily manages to show the Rosenblums' difficulties without making either them or the English appear foolish. In fact, she is incredibly affectionate in both directions. It takes an intimate and thorough knowledge of the English to show these misunderstandings and misapprehensions, and Solomons (as a Dorset girl) is well able to provide.
When the Rosenblums were waiting anxiously in Berlin for their British visas, Jack had prepared for the trip by reading Byron's poems and a Polish translation of P.G. Wodehouse. He understood only a little Polish and read the adventures of Mr. Bertie Wooster with the help of a German-Polish dictionary. It all got rather lost in translation, and the novel appeared to him a very peculiar sort of book and had dissuaded him from sampling further the pleasures of English literature.
The bulk of the novel takes place eight years after World War Two. The Rosenblums have become wealthy through a carpet factory, and have relocated to Solomons' own county Dorset (which leads to Somerset-bashing which I'll tolerantly overlook!) Despite Jacks's best efforts, they have not fully assimilated. Sadie is content to remember her German roots, but Jack wants them forgotten - and wants to make his daughter Elizabeth, studying at Cambridge, proud. Having almost completed his list of English attributes, there is just one item he can't achieve: join a golf course. None will have him, once they see his surname. His solution? Why, to build his own, of course. It will be the best in the South West, and it will be in his back garden. Ignoring the unsuitability of the terrain - and the fact that he has never so much as swung a golf club - Jack ploughs all his energy, time, and money into creating this golf course... but the path of golf never did run smooth. And this is what most of Mr. Rosenblum's List focuses upon.

Although there is a lot of humour in the novel, like Guernsey there are moments which are moving. Perhaps not to the same extent as Guernsey, where tragedy is given its own story arc, but the following section I found poignant:
At the side of the house the garden reverted to scrub; the hedgerows crept forward and brambles and bright yellow gorse bushes made it impassable. The stinging nettles were five feet tall. yet butterflies landed on them effortlessly, somehow never getting stung. Sadie neither planted nor weeded; Hitler had declared the Jews weeds and plucked them out wherever he found them. She knew that a plant was only a weed if unwanted by the gardener, so she refused to move a single one, and they sprouted up wherever the wanted.
Moving, no?

The Rosenblums persevere with their golf course - or rather, Jack does, as Sadie remembers her past. There is a heart-breaking scene with some photos, which I won't spoil. Jack encounters resistance from many quarters, but also an unexpected and unusual ally in the most Dorset man in the village...

Although I often got frustrated with Jack for wasting so much money and being inconsiderate to his wife, it's impossible not to love him. He's a 5'3'' bundle of enthusiasm and determination, unquashable and passionate. Although I could have done without the Dorset Woolly-Pig, which seemed all a bit silly, overall I thought Solomons' debut novel was really delightful. Perhaps a little more light-hearted than Guernsey, but an interesting angle on post-war life nonetheless - and definitely something you'll want to be reading this summer. I'm often positive about the novels featured here, so when something really special comes along I don't know how to say "this is even BETTER than usual!" but, er, hopefully I just did... And word has it, on Solomons' blog, that she's been writing a screenplay...

Books to get Stuck into:

The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society - Mary Ann Shaffer: well, given the build up to today's review, this one is hardly a surprise, is it?

Watching the English - Kate Fox: although this is pop-anthropology, rather than a novel, it's the other book I kept being reminded of while reading Solomons' - because it has a similarly affectionate view of the Englishman's foibles and eccentricities.


Sorry, that wasn't going to be the only post yesterday, but I fell asleep at 9.30pm! And so missed the radio programme I advertised... oops.

More tonight, promise promise promise. In fact, tonight there will be a review of an essential summer read for anyone with reading taste even remotely like mine. AND it's a new book. Not often that happens. I'm going to call it the next Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, which will either make you excited or unexcited or nonplussed....


Monday 28 June 2010

Stone in a Landslide

A very quick last-minute post... I've just spotted that Stone in a Landslide is being talked about with author and publisher on BBC World Service at (according to Meike) 22.32pm. More here, and my thoughts on it here.

Sunday 27 June 2010

Too hot to blog...

I'm afraid I can't blog; I'm melting... I will try and do better soon. Here is a picture of me as a child instead. (I'm pretty certain it's me - we don't always know... one of the perils of being a twin.)

Friday 25 June 2010

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

I thought I'd give you a couple of days to enjoy the photos - and to justify the time it took to gather them up and post them! And it's another review-free day (although there's a little pile waiting for my attention) because, of course, we're going to have a book, a link, and a blog post.

1.) The book - was mentioned to me by regular blog-reader Susan (I don't think you have a blog, do you Susan? I'll throw a link in later if you do!) It's called Time Was Soft There: A Paris Sojourn at Shakespeare & Co. by Jeremy Mercer, published back in 2006. It's about Mercer's nine months living and working at the Shakespeare & Co. bookshop, and sounds wonderful.

Oo, I've just done a hunt and discovered that it's the same as Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs, just under a different title. This is an instance of the American publisher coming up with a much nicer title than the English one, don't you think? Time Was Soft There is much more evocative, AND, though both books have cats on the cover, it is more prominent on the American edition. Case settled.

2.) The link - comes courtesy of my fellow dove, Sarah. Here it is. Fancy living in a beautiful house which was once home to 'tangled lives of the Bloomsbury set'? (oh, Telegraph, what a way you have with euphemism). Well, Sarah and I have pooled our resources, so we're looking for another dozen or so people to help us take this place off the market...

3.) The blog post - is Hayley at Desperate Reader and her thoughts on the Flavour Thesaurus. Niki Segnit has done with flavours something akin to the colour circle - what goes with what etc., including some surprises. I'd seen a little review of it elsewhere, but they cited parsnips and banana as an example, which made me feel sick. This would be true of parsnips with (or, indeed, without) anything. But Hayley mentions that there is a section on lime, which is me sold.

Wednesday 23 June 2010

A Picture Paints A Thousand Books

I've been so surprised and delighted by the response I've had to this little idea, of posting a picture which summed up your reading tastes (the only rule being - no books allowed in the picture!) This is mine, which kicked it all off (and, as you'll see further down the page, I cheated and included another one for me):

It was taken by my friend Cath, and I'd actually put it up in the post before it even occurred to me that it partly represented my reading. I just wanted an excuse to post a pretty picture... but you guys have had such amazing thoughts, and great explanations! Although all the links I've found/been sent are here, I thought - since this is a visual challenge - I'd collect up everyone's wonderful images. The link above the picture is to the blogger in question. Not too late to get a response in, if you like... (I'm afraid it was too daunting to try and get permission from everyone - let me know if you'd rather your picture wasn't here, and I'll remove it. Oh, and if you put up more than one image, I've just picked one to represent your response. Hope that's ok!)

Without further ado...