Thursday 29 January 2015

Shiny New Books: Issue 4!

It's here! I got up early this morning to play with menus and links and whatnot, culminating the hard work of our team over the past few months (particularly, as always, the extraordinary Annabel). Annabel, Victoria, Harriet - we've done it! Issue 4 of Shiny New Books is LIVE.

Please do go and enjoy exploring. I'll post more about highlights soon, and will also enjoy exploring myself as (as always) there is plenty that I've not read yet. For starters, do have a go at our book group competition on the homepage where, as is becoming tradition, you can win the editors' favourites from their sections.

Tuesday 27 January 2015

A one-link miscellany...

...just because I had to share this fun article about secondhand books.

Thursday 22 January 2015

Reading, writing, theatring

The next issue of Shiny New Books is coming out next Thursday, so I'm at my usual stage of reading and writing madly, wishing I'd allowed myself more time to do so... but I'm also enjoying the books tremendously, so it is no hardship.

I thought I should put something down quickly, as I mentioned A Century of Books yesterday. No, I haven't started again - but I am going to finish off the 100 at some point this year, since I failed to cram it all in 2014. So, no rush at all - I've got about 20 years to fill, or thereabouts, and books pencilled in for most of them. But that's my only challenge for the year. I toyed with a few others, but I think it'll be nice just to read what I fancy for a bit. My Shiny New Books commitments will be plenty enough for the year, not to mention book groups and the like.

One event I am still hoping to participate in is Margery Sharp Day. You can read Jane's reminder post, and hopefully be similarly cajoled. I've had plenty of her books on my shelves, unread, for years and years - since I read The Foolish Gentlewoman in about 2002 - so there's no reason why I wouldn't, expect for those shiny books I've yet to finish... well, we'll see.

Apart from that, I'm off to Malvern on Saturday to see Peter Pan Goes Wrong - the pantomime equivalent of The Play That Goes Wrong - and to the cinema on Sunday for The Theory of Everything. I think I need another Christmas break fairly soon...

Wednesday 21 January 2015

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns

I'm over at Vulpes Libris today, sharing my love of the glorious Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead (1954) - which is also, shockingly, my first addition to A Century of Book in 2015. And a re-read at that...

Anyway - review here!

Monday 19 January 2015

London, mistakes, and (inevitably) books

There are books at the bottom of this post. I'll get to them.

I'm going to stop beginning all my blog posts with an apology for not having blogged enough recently... soon... but I do really intend to post more frequently, honest. Life has been surprisingly busy of late, considering there's no real reason why things should have changed.

One of those busynesses was very nice, though - this Saturday I was in London. I was there for two reasons - firstly to meet up with some lovely people from the Virago Modern Classics group on LibraryThing (including your friend and mine Kaggsy), discussing books, eating pancakes, and generally having a high old time.

This was where things started to go wrong.

Turns out the buses aren't running to the railway station in Oxford. So I had a very tiring fast-paced walk to get to the station... just in time to see the train leave. Oops. So I caught the next train, only to discover (when I eventually arrived at Paddington, and had headed off on the Central Line) that the tube stop I wanted to go to was closed. After visiting most of London (so it felt), I eventually turned up, a little the worse for travel, but very pleased to see everyone.

I was only there for a bit of the extravaganza, though (the pancake bit, at My Old Dutch, but not the book-buying bit afterwards). And that was because I was dashing off to the British Film Institute to see For Services Rendered by W. Somerset Maugham, a BBC Play of the Day from 1959. It was being screened as part of the Maggie Smith Festival, and my lovely friend Andrea (whom you may recall from Simon and Andrea's Film Club) had got me a ticket for my birthday.

I went to a BFI screening of The Home-Maker back in 2005, put on by Persephone. So I went to the place where I had seen that screened. Turns out... there are two British Film Institutes. And I was at the wrong one. As I discovered while on the phone to Andrea about 5 minutes before the film was due to start... so ran across London, and tubes and whatnot, and eventually got there only ten minutes late... and it was, in conclusion, brilliant.

After the film, we scoured the book stalls on the Southbank - a search which is fun but which has always been fruitless; does anybody else find this? And then I went off to the Notting Hill Book & Comic Exchange, which has never proven fruitless. Yes, I bought a few books... and added to the couple that Luci from LibraryThing had kindly given me. And here they are...

A Reading Diary - Alberto Manguel
I can't get enough of books about books, particularly when they're by our Alberto.

When You Are Engulfed in Flames - David Sedaris
Last weekendm I had the annoying experience in a charity shop of somebody buying Me Talk Pretty One Day just as I got to the bookshelves, and my book group is reading that Sedaris soon. But I'll settle for adding this one to my collection!

Owls and Satyrs - David Pryce-Jones
I know nothing at all about this book or this author, but it looked intriguing and was only £1. Anybody know anything?

The Golden Apples - Eudora Welty
This edition was rather lovely, and I am determined to read more by Welty soon (after loving The Optimist's Daughter).

A Meeting by the River - Christopher Isherwood
Curse my love of matching books... I keep buying Isherwoods in this series, when I stumble across them, despite not actually loving the one Isherwood I've read...

Our Hidden Lives - ed. Simon Garfield
I'm a sucker for diaries, and this one brings together various different people in post-war Britain.

Better Than Life - Daniel Pennac
This book, and the one above, were from Luci. To circle back to where I began this list - I do love a book about books!

Wednesday 14 January 2015

What makes a literary idol?

Another short post, but one which I've been mulling over while reading Barchester Towers - since, as any followers of @stuck_inabook on Twitter might have noticed, I flipping love Septimus Harding. He is the hero of The Warden and, to a lesser extent, Barchester Towers - and he is about the most moral, kind, and self-sacrificing gentleman imaginable.

He thus joins what has become a trio of literary men whom I admire wholeheartedly. Alongside Septimus H are Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird and lovely Joe Gargery in Great Expectations. What all three have in common are absolute goodness. They are basically my fictional moral compasses.

But... what's also struck me, subsequently, is that (much as I continue to admire these men) I'm not sure how much I would like to know them in real life. Because none of them (correct me if I'm wrong) are especially funny, and a sense of humour is pretty much the thing I value most in a friend or acquaintance. Yes, Joe is fond of larks, but I'm not sure I would find many of the same things larkworthy.

Would knowing Septimus or Atticus in real life just make me feel unworthy all of the time? Would they be able to have a giggle over a cup of tea? I'm not sure.

Plenty of the characters I love reading about (Miss Hargreaves, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, Mapp & Lucia) would be nightmares in reality, but I've come to realise that it's not just the appalling ones who wouldn't work out well on a day to day basis, it's the good'uns too.

Or are there characters who are very funny but also very good? By which I mean moral-mentor-good, not Elizabeth-Bennett-sort-of-good. Or is a sense of humour always a slight moral flaw (or at least a moral diminishment) in a novel?

Here endeth the stream of consciousness...

Monday 12 January 2015

Great British Bake Off: now in the US!

A few people have been in touch to tell me that The Great British Bake Off is now available on US television! On PBS, to be precise, and now called The Great British Baking Show. They're three episodes in, but I'm sure you can catch up... and it also means you can read my Bake Off recaps and they'll make a little more sense!

The tag for my recaps is here, but they will appear in reverse...

Friday 9 January 2015

Crying, apples, and Jingle Bells (...things I do at work)

Irrelevant cute photo of Sherpa.
I know what people on the internet want.

Sometimes I think my job is some Truman Showesque experiment in giving me my dream role and seeing whether or not I believe it is happening. I get to write about language for a living. It's insane.

I was on a copywriting course today, with a bunch of other people from marketing divisions across OUP (who were all, incidentally, really nice and fun - I must try to meet more people in the building) and it struck me how lucky I am to write about words and whatnot. All their jobs are doubtless awesome in many ways, but when we were sharing examples of our copywriting, other people had edited descriptions of law books, or written email campaigns, and I... had written about apples.

Recently, I have been done the following...
Please go and check out the last of those... because there is a priceless moment in it that I don't want to spoil. It'll be worth it; promise.

Lest this post sound braggy or anything, I hope it's obvious that I'm just very grateful that I get to do such fun things for work. There are less fun bits too, of course, but they aren't really worth blogging about.

In other news... one day I will review the books piling up in my room, promise. And I may even finish Barchester Towers. (I never did finish Vanity Fair, it turns out... perhaps I will, 18 months after starting?)

Thursday 8 January 2015

The Castle of Otranto

A quick post, as I've realised I haven't pointed out all my SNB reviews from Issue 3 yet. I went and read The Castle of Otranto, finally; I had thought it was about 800 pages long, but turns out it's only short. It's also ridiculous, but very interesting... more here!

Monday 5 January 2015

How many others have read it?

I was musing, while reading Barchester Towers by Anthony Trollope, how curious it is to think of all the other people who have read whatever book I happen to be reading at any one time... and how widely that varies.

This probably wouldn't strike the sort of person who picks up their books from the bestselling table, or who subsists on a diet of accepted classics. But most of us go back and forth, between Jane Austen and the latest literary author and an out of print author from the 1930s. We mix and match. And it definitely changes the way that I think about a book - or, more particularly, the way I think about my blog posts.

While reading Barchester Towers, I've occasionally thought "Oh, this section is wonderful, I must jot it down." And I have, and I will tell you about it when I've finished reading it - but I certainly shan't be surprising anybody. Nobody is going to think "Thank goodness old Anthony is finally getting a bit of a leg-up", or "What is this Barchester Towers, then?" Everybody's heard of it. Many of us haven't read it yet, but it is hardly going to be a revelation to praise it. When I'm writing about (say) Miss Hargreaves, Patricia Brent: Spinster, or Guard Your Daughters (all wonderful books that others recommended to me before I started spreading the word) I can be confident that most of my blog readers won't have heard of them, and that my praise might send people off in pursuit.

It isn't necessarily more worthwhile to advocate those novels, but I feel on firmer ground when starting a review. Perhaps because I don't feel the weight of a hundred thousand readers on my back? Whatever else my thoughts will be, they won't be controversial or flying in the face of public opinion.  They also won't be unoriginal! What can I say about Barchester Towers that hasn't been said before? What can I say about Guard Your Daughters that has been said before?

And, more abstractly, it feels very different to join the legions of people who have read and loved Trollope than joining the hundred or so who have really loved Patricia Brent: Spinster, or the half-dozen alive today who think Economy Must Be Our Watchword by Joyce Denys is a rare gem.

Just some musings while I put off writing you another book review (teehee!)