Tuesday, 31 December 2013

There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it - Bertrand Russell

It's the end of another year. How did that happen? And so much has happened this past year. Not least my move from one country to another. I am now happily installed in my new home, waiting to start my new job. And before I look ahead, I just have to take a little peek backwards.

I particularly lament my lack of reading these past few months. The move seems to have disturbed my momentum and killed my ability to finish books. A phenomenon which will be reversed the more I settle, methinks. Me hopes...

Still, overall, I have made my way through a delightfully diverse and not-so-shabby list of books over the past twelve months. From children's books to classics. Europeans to Americans. And a couple of re-reads thrown in for good measure.

The highlights for me have been many. Finally discovering Roald Dahl and Pooh Bear. Not disliking Dickens. Loving Waugh, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tolstoy and Virgil. Re-acquainting myself with Emma and Le Petit Prince.

Disappointments have also been part of the journey. Realising that I really don't like Virginia Woolf. Finding Joyce hard going. Being unable to finish Kundera and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

My absolute favourites of the year? Hardy's A Mere Interlude, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

In total, I managed roughly 30 books this year. I'd like to improve on that during 2014. However, I put no pressure on myself. Some of those names remaining on my Classics Club Challenge are quite chunky. And, as I said, I'm just not on top of my reading at the mo. Let's see what happens, eh. And enjoy. :0)

Thursday, 19 December 2013

He that loves a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, as in all fortunes - R H Barrow

I finally finished Emma. And in her company thoroughly enjoyed my Sunday afternoon of rain and gales. The storms outside tamed by the gentle ambling of the inhabitants of Highbury. 

It really was a pleasant read. With all the reminders of why Jane Austen's works remain timeless classics. Easy reading. Charming characters. And enough twists and turns to ensure a healthy - and amusing - mental constitutional.

Before we began our study of Emma for A level, my English teacher gave us a very severe warning. You will love it or hate it. The marmite of English literature, it would seem. A warning well founded.

Emma cannot be considered an entirely lovable character. She is wealthy, beautiful and intelligent. Added to which she is spoilt, revered and headstrong. Hardly a person to insight sympathy. And yet I cannot dislike her. Never have and apparently never will.

Austen herself it seems did not dislike her either. Indeed, she is credited with declaring that in Emma she was creating a character that only she would like. You can almost feel her presence hovering protectively over her favoured protagonist. Explaining her misdeeds. Excusing her silliness.

"Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief", she muses. The warning is clear. Although the application not quite so. Isn't Harriet Smith the weak head? Worked on with vanity by Emma? Indeed it is so. Yet Emma is by no means immune to the effects of vanity. And in doing so, shows her weakness. And the result? Only ever mischief, says Austen. Never malicious.

Austen also works through the delightful Mr Knightley to show Emma's humanity and personableness. How masterfully he rebuffs her puerile meddlings and fertile imagination. "Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do". Her stoic acceptance of such discipline and put-downs must give evidence of a good heart. Indeed, her entire conduct towards her troublesome father shows her worth.

So the read was a pleasant one and has given me a taste for the rest of Austen. Now that I have found a job (hurrah!), I feel that I can indulge this taste. Although re-reading such classics really does feel like too much of an indulgence. Like time ill spent when there are so many other books waiting for my attention. Can I indulge guilt free? Mmm. We shall see...

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid - Jane Austen

It seems inconceivable that a month has passed since my last post. And without my having finished a book. Not one.

Indeed, since my last post, I have barely advanced through Emma. Or One hundred years of solitude for that matter. So much for "working through Austen's novels over the next couple of weeks". Still, my settling in has continued. I am now settled. And in.

Only germs these past three days have made me stop and stay at home. And read again. Hence I feel that I can post without shame. That said, I still haven't finished Emma. Speed is beyond me. And it suddenly seems to be a very long novel. Was it ever so?

That's one more thing about reading on Kindles. It's fine having a percentage gauging your way through. But it's nothing like seeing how far through a book you are. And how far you've got to go. Like carefully placing your bookmark, and flicking through the remaining pages to the end. Not reading, just savouring what's gone before and what is to come.

Yet my reproach is harsh and fleeting. My dear Kindle is in fact ideal. When you're feeling pants, and want to lie down on the sofa and read. When you feel colder than normal because of the germs coursing through your veins and so want to keep as much of your body as possible under the quilt. When your cats have cuddled up to sleep on your belly and your feet, and you can't move without waking them. Then my dear Kindle is indeed ideal. Only one hand needs to be exposed because only one hand is needed to hold it and turn the pages. No need to expose two hands. No need to move and disturb me or the cats. No need to fret. Oh yes. I still love my Kindle dearly.

Monday, 4 November 2013

No person who can read is ever successful at cleaning out an attic - Ann Landers

I’ve finally arrived home. To my hometown. I’m installed in my new flat with my cats, waiting for my furniture to arrive. And the rest of my life to begin.

Those of you who might still be popping by regularly (thank you!) may well have noticed a lack of activity on this blog. But lack of activity here belies a great deal of activity elsewhere. Indeed I have been so very active over the past couple of months. To the point of exhaustion. I resigned, packed up and came home. And that was more work than you can imagine.

So I've been active in moving. Just not in reading matters. Consequently, my books have been somewhat neglected. Then packed away. Then sent off. And thus my reading activities have more than stalled.

I did keep my Gabriel Garcia Marquez read out. One hundred years of solitude. Indeed, I took it with me everywhere over the past two months. On the bus, on the tram. To the dentist’s, optician’s, doctor’s, physio’s. Even to the vet’s. But there were too many distractions. Too many check lists to check and check again. Too many phone calls to make. People to see.

And so I have still only read a quarter of the book. And, I do have to say, not much enjoyed that. Is it me? I'm just not enjoying the tales. The ramblings. I think it’s possibly not the book to read while repatriating yourself. Or maybe just not the book for me. We shall see.

So in the meantime I've opted to re-read Emma. For familiarity. For comfort.  And loving it. Again. I may continue in the same vain and work through Austen’s novels over the next couple of weeks as my settling in process continues.

I will get back on track – and back to my Classics challenge – once on more stable ground. In the meantime, JA will soothe me through these turbulent days. In which I am actually delighting...

Wednesday, 18 September 2013

A house without books is like a room without windows - Heinrich Mann

Way back when I started this blog, I wrote about The Descendants. One of three books that featured in my first post, methinks. When I was still in incredible pain. Trying to ease my days with good reading.

And good reading this was. A strangely traumatic and yet very probable story. Really enjoyable. Beautifully written. Intelligently put together.

I mused at the time that I was curious to see the film. Because George Clooney was playing the lead. And only for that reason. Sad but true. I'm rarely curious to see the film of the book.

Since that time, the DVD of The Descendants has been high on the list in my DVD-by-post club. And I've been waiting and waiting to see it. And waiting.

Until this last week. When I ended my membership of the DVD club because of my move back to the UK. I'm ending all memberships here. Standing orders, contracts, the lot. But the membership department of the DVD club apparently has not yet communicated with the dispatch department. And the latter sent me my regular batch of DVDs. Including the long-awaited The Descendants.

So yesterday afternoon, instead of working through the huge list of things I have to get done before I leave, I sat with chocolate and orange juice (a most sublime combination, I might add) and indulged myself with the film. It was bliss. The day was grey and wet, and deserving of little else. My bliss was complete.

On top of which, this is a really good interpretation of the book. Now I know that I'm a bit late in this observation. There have been awards and nominations to prove the fact. Still, I feel the need to add my voice. It was the book that I remembered. It echoed the ambiance that I had felt.

And George. Well, he was good. More than that. He was very good. He was how you always hope he will be. Delightful. Really. I may have to watch it again before sending it back...

Tuesday, 10 September 2013

We read books to find out who we are. What other people, real or imaginary, do and think and feel... is an essential guide to our understanding of what we ourselves are and may become - Ursula Le Guin

I am so very tired. Drained, in fact. Drained of energy, emotion. Everything. Much to do with the fact I'm moving. House. Home. Country. But that's another story. And another blog.

However, that's not all. I've just been to Paris with work for a meeting. A long journey to my favourite city. But without the fun. The visits, the photos, the caf├ęs. This was a straight there and back. With only tantalising glimpses of the architect and monuments and museums through taxi Windows to feed my frustration.

Top this with the intensive reading of Doris Lessing's The Good Terrorist during the journey. Pushed by the desire to finish it. And be done. Which I did. And have done. Kind of. Because as much as I love DL's easy, expressive, intimate style, this tale was hard to shake. It pulls you in. As much as you may resist. And I did.

TGT follows Alice, a 30-something middle class drop-out, moving into a London squat with fellow revolutionaries. Without comment or judgement, DL tells of the interactions of Alice with the man she loves, her fellow housemates, her family and the Authorities. Underlying the whole is a sizzling anger and violence that will ultimately find expression.

This is a bleak tale. Full of broken people seeing a broken society. And nobody knowing truly how to fix it. Except by breaking it some more.

Alice epitomises the confusion. Vehemently rejecting her parents' world of so-called luxury, she spends the entire book trying to bring order and comfort to the squat. Through little "luxuries". She yearns for a man who has moved on from her. And, it would seem, her sex. And thus openly rejects her. She rails at the injustices and abuse of the ruling classes and yet imposes her own injustices and abuse on her family.

And while at first you sympathise with this vulnerable girl who would seem to be a victim, as the book goes on, Alice's unstable mind is only oppressive and disturbing and its ramblings become more clearly incoherent.  DL said of her: "the girl is of course quite mad. This confirms what I have said so often in this context: if a mad person is in a political setting, or a religious one, a lot of people won't even notice he or she is mad. A theme for our times, indeed". Indeed, some more.

So now I'm drinking cider and hugging my cats. Trying to shake off the bleakness. And I'm already feeling better. And wondering which book will be next from my Classics Club challenge list. I think I need something light and airy. Just not seeing anything... Any suggestions?

Saturday, 31 August 2013

So many books, so little time - Frank Zappa

I need help. Your help. Somebody's help. I am oppressed. Under a heavy burden. Well, not that heavy. But oppressive, yes. And all in the form of one of my favourite authors. Milan Kundera.

It is of course not his fault. But his book of essays, Les Testaments trahis, is weighing heavily on me. Killing my spirit. Softly but surely. I can't finish it. I'm halfway through and now I'm blocked. I can't let it go. But I can't carry on.

You may recall that I started it back in May. With great gusto and enthusiasm, I might add. But maybe my tired brain is not up to this intellectual challenge. His undulating and mesmerising thought processes. And so I put it back on the shelf. Away from sight. And it's been hanging over me ever since.

I can't throw it aside never to read again. Although deep down in the darkest recesses of my being that's what I'd like to do. If I'm honest. Between me and you. But I seem incapable.

What is wrong with me? Held to ransom by a book! I have posted about this before. I thought I had made a step forward at that point. But no. It would seem that it was one step forward, two steps back...

And so, MK and his Testaments trahis remain on my Classics Club challenge list. Until I can be brave enough to remove them. If ever I can. Help me. Any advice would be welcome. Please...?
 

Wednesday, 21 August 2013

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea within us - Franz Kafka

Wow! It's been such a long while since I last wrote. Holidays and visitors and projects have filled my time. As have vineyards and wine and photography. As well as good food and truffle-tasting. All of which were very pleasant, I might add.

As you can see for yourselves: http://www.moonflowersnserendipity.com/Travel/Burgundy/31226211_mFt4nB#!i=2702253428&k=fsTvDsb

But it's time to come back to earth and get on with life. Even reluctantly. And so to books...

Well, not much has been going on there. I did take books with me on my travels. And they were comforting to behold. Still, they never stayed out of the bag for too long.

These were hot, steamy, summer days. When we stopped, we slept. Basically because we didn't have the energy to do otherwise. When we moved, we were eating and drinking and tasting. And generally perspiring profusely. Conditions not conducive to books and paper and concentration.

Before I left, at the start of my time off work, I did read James and the Giant Peach. Just because nothing else would go in. And I really, really needed a frivolous tale and a happy ending. To which James answered perfectly.

But on my return home, Sylvia Plath was waiting for me. The Bell Jar. Not exactly holiday reading, of course. And certainly not the happiest of books. But then mental health issues are not meant to bring happiness methinks. Just possibly understanding. And a little of that would go a long way today...

TBJ makes for a powerful read. More shocking than anything. Scary too. Although unfortunately not totally unfamiliar. SP describes with frightening clarity the pain of a soul in torment. A soul misunderstood, losing control. Lost. Esther Greenwood - whose spends a year "in the bell jar" - presents her case without pomp or ceremony. Taking you along with her. And making no apologies for the bumps and discomfort that follow. Offering little explanation. Barely bewailing her fate. Just giving you the experience.

Esther increasingly isolates herself as her tale unfolds. Rejects all help, affection and love to the extent possible. And thereby the bell jar descends. You can really feel this odd sense of distance permeating her account. Distance from others, from reality, from the life she is attempting to get to grips with. Other people remain very much in the background of her existence. Her family. Her friends. Her colleagues, sponsors. Surrounding her. Part of her life. Yet cut off from her by her own inability to function. That said, their pain and frustration remain tangible somehow. 

The end brings little joy. The worst seems to have past, but there's little to convince that this is truly so. And yet such is life. For some more than others. One long struggle after another.

I read that this book was very much a shock to audiences when it first came out. Possibly because such things weren't talked about, or even imagined, in those days. Possibly because they were just hidden away. Today, I think it may be less shocking, but the whole remains equally uncomfortable. And sad. Just sad.

This was certainly a strange note on which to end my holidays. Of the reality of life. And its ups and downs. And why it's so very important to hold on tight to those ups. And all those who bring them...
 

Thursday, 25 July 2013

There is no mistaking a real book when one meets it. It is like falling in love - Christopher Morley

I have just finished Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited. Just this minute. This very second. I wanted to share it with you. But also to hold onto it a tad longer by writing about it immediately. And yet the moment is already slipping away…

This was the absolutely perfect book to read at the start of my holidays. A luxurious, indulgent read to soften the edges of a harsh year. And relax me into the next few weeks. Beautiful people a world away from anything I’ve ever known. And yet troubled by the same dilemmas and disturbances of any other existence. Sometimes in gigantic proportions.

I actually bought this copy of BR way back in the 1980s or thereabouts. I believe I’ve tried to read it before, but never got into it. I can’t think why. It’s a warn, yellowing book now. Featuring a young Jeremy Irons and Anthony Andrews on the cover in stills from the Granada TV adaptation. Which I vaguely recall. For the attractive young men, rather than for the story methinks.

Through the eyes of Charles Ryder, Waugh recounts the adventures – if they can thus be called – centring around Brideshead, seat of Lord Marchmain and his family. An odd, dysfunctional group. Although engaging all the same. CR is charmed as much as he is disarmed by them.

The story begins at Oxford University. CR encounters the youngest family son, Sebastian who is already manifesting traits of a troubled mind. After much circling around, Sebastian reluctantly leads him back to Brideshead. And CR is sucked into the family and their ways. From England and across Europe to North Africa.

It’s interesting – or just telling – that there are no simple, ordinary and problem-free people in BR. None. Characters sit at extremes: sly, mean, devious and crooked; lonely, sad, despairing and desperate. Manipulative. Emotional. Stifled.

And around all this hangs in the air like incense Roman Catholicism. To believe or not to believe. The rights and the wrongs of this Church. Its traditions and beliefs. And ultimately the idea that you’ll give in in the end. They all do.

Re-reading my immediate thoughts, I can’t imagine why I liked the book. I’m not making it sound very inviting. And yet there is the power of Evelyn Waugh. He has such a majestic way of writing. A mastery of language.  A smooth, engaging manner. Much like rich, dark chocolate that’s been melted. A delight to admire, a temptation impossible to resist, richness beyond belief. Waugh challenges ideas, argues points, and presents genuinely unpleasant character traits in the most inoffensive, leisurely tones. Dripping indulgence. Delightful.

I have just seen that there was a film made in 2008. I might have to see it. I’m loathe to let the BR feeling go. I wanted to finish, and yet so didn’t. That rare joy loitering in the pages of a good book. Indulging in the indulgence. What to do now? Where to go? I may need a glass of wine or two to help me move on…

Monday, 15 July 2013

A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge - George R. R. Martin

I can't seem to do anything too much of late. I'm thinking it may be the sunshine and heat. Lazy days. Lulling us into a haze of inactivity. Maybe it's the inevitable slump after the over-excitement of watching the recent successful sporting events. Maybe it's just the end of a long six months...

I managed some (belated) spring cleaning last week. Although my back still hurts and I (somehow, once again) wrenched my (already damaged) shoulder. Ouch.

My brain seems to have switched off though. Left the building. Gone off without me. And yet things still need to be done. Lists of things. I'm still at work. Not yet on holiday. Tasks need to be completed. Here and there.

There has been one achievement though. Just the one. Merrily being ticked off my list as I write. I finished Eugene Onegin. Pushkin. A life-size, drum-roll kind of an achievement, my friends. A novel in verse. A tragic poem. Read from start to finish. And enjoyed, into the bargain.

Indeed, a few lines in and I forgot that this was poetry. I was drawn in, pulled along by the tale and the characters. Wondering, imagining. Worrying and anxious. I think this is a good sign. I will certainly try more poetry. Of length. In the future. Some time.

For now, I'm satisfied. Although the tale was sad. Romance and tragedy inexplicably and irresistibly intertwined. Once again. Love and tears, life and death. It seems to be the only way.

I have the ambition of one day reading Pushkin in his native tongue. Possibly not EO, but something all the same. In the meantime, how grateful can we be to all the translators out there and the massive job they have to convey great literature to us not only in a tongue we can understand but in a manner we can appreciate? And in this particular case of EO, it's just all the more impressive. Not only did Stanley Mitchell have to convey the Russian into English. He had to do it in verse. Incredible. Mind blowing. And to do it so well. In my humble opinion. Although I have, of course, very little to compare it with. I'm sure my few words of praise would have little effect on him. Still, to all intents and purposes, it felt right. Thanks, Stan. You're the man.

And that's all the rhyming you'll get from me. Which can only be a blessing...

Wednesday, 10 July 2013

After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world - Philip Pullman

I have read absolutely nothing of interest over the past few days. Nothing from my reading list. Nothing from my non reading lists. Nothing from my piles of organised one day, holiday or just plain maybe books. No trashy novels or the like.

I travelled. I was with friends. Inspired, upbuilt, encouraged. But I got nowhere close to reading something I could write about here.

Apart from tons of articles on Andy Murray. Wimbledon Champion 2013. They in themselves are words to delight. At least, to delight the hearts of tennis fans. Of British tennis fans. Of Andy Murray fans.

I cannot not mention it. After the Lions' win on Saturday, it was the cherry on the cake of a pretty cool weekend.

A belated well done, Andy Murray! Not that you will ever hear my best wishes. But let those who pass by these pages know that you have rejoiced the hearts of the faithful. Thanks! :0)

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

A book is a gift you can open again and again – Garrison Keillor

Things are not as they should be just now. My head is all over the place. Too much work. Too much stress and anxiety. Too much to do, too little time.

The result? I have four books on the go. Yes, FOUR. Now that can’t be right, can it? I've never done this. I don’t know where I’m at. My concentration is shorter than short. My decision-making is non existent.

And so I have four books on the go. My endeavour to read Kundera’s essays continues. It’s a tad hard work. But not altogether unpleasant. Therefore, I persist.

In the meantime, I need to read for pleasure and so started Eugene Onegin.  Pushkin. A novel in verse.  A strange experience.  But enjoyable all the same.  Which is more than a little surprising, I don't mind telling you.  I’m not a big poetry fan.  Much to my chagrin.  I would like to be.  But I'm just not. So this was to be a challenge. That it's enjoyable is a great bonus. And so I persist.

Then after my bout of extravagance on eBay, a book arrived that I couldn’t wait to delve into. Literally, couldn’t wait. I unwrapped it and began to read. The Note Books of a Woman Alone. A strangely intriguing title. And you know my penchant for intriguing book titles.
 
The foreword in itself was stunning. The reasons behind the collection and publication of these notes books. The reasons having motivated an acquaintance of the woman alone in question. The rest are the starkly honest thoughts and mental meanderings of this woman alone. Along with snippets from authors, newspapers, novels, poems. Quotes and passages obviously close to her heart. Making a somewhat melancholy read. But so touching. I haven't finished it yet. But will. And so I persist here too.

And finally the fourth book: Where the Sidewalk Ends, by Shel Silverstein. During the Armchair BEA, a fellow book blogger recommended it to me. With gushing enthusiasm. Supported by comments from other book bloggers. I’d never even heard of it. So into my Amazon basket it went. And somehow it slipped into my post box. And onto my knee. And I started reading that yesterday...
 
Short poems. Yes, more poetry! Mainly for children, methinks. But delightfully written. Moral counsel. Cautionary tales. Childlike musings. A truly wonderful work.
 
Hug o' war. It's dark in here. Early bird. Rain. One inch tall. Sick. The crocodile's toothache. Lester. No difference. It reminds me somewhat of Hilaire Belloc.  Compulsive reading. Sweet. Instructive. Funny. And so I persist.

But this cannot continue. I’m divided. Pulled four ways. And that is never a happy situation. But I have train journeys ahead. So I hope to get everything back under control. Shortly. Soon. I hope.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

I cannot remember the books I've read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me - Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today is a bad day for me. A painful anniversary. One that has marred many aspects of life in recent years. And which keeps coming back. Year in, year out.

Sometimes the only thing to do when life is getting you down is to take refuge in books. To read. To learn. To force the brain cells to contemplate something else, often something worse than you’re going through. If only to get perspective.

And so came John Hersey’s Hiroshima. And believe me, mentally walking through the aftermath of an atomic bomb is a surprisingly effective perspective maker.

Written one year after the bomb was dropped, Hersey follows the experiences of six survivors.  And then returns to them all 40 years later.  To see if they’re still surviving.

This is not just a fascinating account of one of history’s world-changing events. But it’s compelling reading. Devastating, frightening, shocking. On so many levels. There’s nothing sordid or invasive here. And it’s certainly not sentimental.
 
These are real people, real lives. Each tale adds to the next. Indeed, the humanity in such inhumanity makes the whole real. Makes the statistics real. Make the suffering and the death tolls mean something. They bring the atrocities of dropping an atomic bomb to life.  And serve as a testimony to the resilience of human beings.

I came across this book through a course in speed reading. Would you believe. A course which I didn’t enjoy, I hasten to add. All the more so because the flash of text from this book made me want to read more. And slowly. Which of course was not the point.

To me, it's the kind of book that could be used really effectively to teach people about Hiroshima and its aftermath. To really help young and old capture the horror of the final days of the war. To move teenagers to understand why we seemingly incessantly point back to these world wars as so significant and shocking.

My anniversary is indeed painful. But very personal to me and my family. The anniversary of Hiroshima (and Nagasaki) should be painful to us all.

Sunday, 9 June 2013

When I have a little money, I buy books; and if I have any left, I buy food and clothes - Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus

I've spent the last three or four days buying new books. Well, old books actually.  Very old books. Mainly first editions. But not very expensive ones. Just first editions of old books I like.

I say three or four days because I was buying on eBay. So the time frame was dictated to me. What fun, though! Finding the right book. Putting it in the basket. Waiting for the time left to tick by.  Bidding.  And winning.  Or not.  Sooo therapeutic. And then getting some seriously nice feedback. Into the bargain. (I'm a model eBayer, apparently!).

I think this should be standard for all human interactions: find the right person to talk to, approach, engage. And get feedback. Wouldn't life be more fun? And more civil?

Anyway, my spare cash is now spent and I must abandon eBay for a while once again. But awaiting receipt of the spoils is good too. And I now have so much more reading material to catch up on. Again.

While I continue with Kundera's essays, I have in the meantime finished The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe. In English, I hasten to add.

I was always going to be inclined to like it as it's a tale told through letters. One of my favourite writing styles. And it was an easy read. Despite being Goethe. A big name with an equally big and intimidating reputation.

It was charming. Endearing. Drawing you in by its expressiveness, its emotion. All so admirable. At least at first.

The story of a man deeply attracted to a woman. Beside himself with love and desire. Honourable at first. But which takes possession of him. And never lets go.

He is ready to do anything to be with her.  Except step away when she is no longer available. When the admiration sours somewhat. He becomes a tad obsessive. And then very much so. Leading to his downfall. A long, drawn out affair. Coldly, indulgently dragged out for maximum effect. By him. On her. Sure indeed to stay with her - and her husband - forever. Sitting between them always.

The whole leaves you with a sour taste. As if you've just partaken of something unpleasant. Unwillingly. As though thrust upon you while trapped and unable to move away.

Such is the skill of the author. Arousing sympathy, empathy for the main protagonist. Convincing you all is well. Convincing you he is a winner. Kind of. Eventually. Maybe. And then no. 

Still, the warning hints abound: "Human kind is merely human, and that jot of rational sense that a man may possess is of little or no avail once passion is raging and the bounds of human nature are merely hemming him in."

Goethe certainly champions emotions and our expressing them: "The only thing that makes Man’s life on earth essential and necessary is love", but warns "The source of man’s contentment becomes the source of his misery".

And so Young Werther was not the book to cheer me up. Although I didn't dislike it. Quite the contrary. But you understand my need for some eBay retail therapy? The worst is that I thought YW was on my Classics Club challenge list. It was but now isn't. Still, it would seem I don't have many cheery books on the list. Hiroshima is next. I sense more eBaying in the very near future. Let's hope my funds will hold out...  

Monday, 3 June 2013

Be awesome! Be a book nut! - Dr Seuss

The Armchair BEA topic for today: WRAP UP

So my first Armchair BEA has ended. But it’s not over. The effects and experiences will stay with me for a good while. And I hope the contacts made will grow and develop.

It has been an intense few days. I’ve learned such a lot. Mainly through the experiences of others. And I don’t think I’ve ever read so many posts. Thanks to everyone for sharing so freely! What a lovely community of bloggers!

Now an apology: I don’t think I was a very good Cheerleader. Didn’t get round every one of the posts assigned to me every day as requested. And planned. My excuse being that reading posts and making worthwhile responses takes time. And I’m very slow. Sorry if I failed to cheer you on. Here's a general "Yey" for one and all. To make up for any failings...

Now I need to digest everything that I’ve learned, all the advice I’ve received and the ideas that have come to me. Then see what I can do about it. Watch this space!
 
Thanks to the organisers for such a great event. And so that's all folks! Till next time...

Saturday, 1 June 2013

There are many little ways to enlarge your child's world. Love of books is the best of all - Jacqueline Kennedy

The Armchair BEA topic for today: CHILDREN'S LITERATURE

I wrote about my favourite childhood books fairly early on in my blogging life. It seemed natural to explain my obsession with books. Only I can’t really explain it. My parents weren’t readers. Not then. Mum came to books later. Dad still resists. Nevertheless both my sister and I love books. And so now does my nephew.

I can remember buying my first Mr Men book (by Roger Hargreaves). It wasn’t my first book by any stretch of the imagination. But I think it must be one of the first that I had a hand in buying. That I was allowed to choose. And that feeling of satisfaction and pride stayed with me. Mr Small. Loved it. Went back for more. All of them, in fact. Indeed, became a tad obsessed with the Mr Men. But that’s another story.

The Mr Men however brought me my first audio recording. A single (record, 45 rpm) of Mr Happy and Mr Jelly. Read by Arthur Lowe. How amazing is that?! I still have it. Don’t have a record player any more though...

I can’t write about children’s books with mentioning Enid Blyton. Brer Rabbit. The Naughtiest Girl. The Famous Five. The Secret Seven. Today I still have The Enchanted Wood, The Folk of the Faraway Tree and The Magic Faraway Tree. Stunning tales. They transported me to another world. I wanted to be in that tree. To climb on the visiting cloud to see which land was there today. To meet Moon-Face, Silky, Saucepan. To make toffee and eat pop biscuits. To experience the slippery slip, Dame Washalot.

Those tales influenced our play, our dreams. Our sleep. They have stayed with me. I can still feel the excitement of reading them. Talking about them with my best friend. The hope that such wonderful worlds might exist. The desire to create them for ourselves.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, C. S. Lewis: I remember walking through the wardrobe with Lucy. Feeling past the musty coats till the crunch beneath our feet turned to snow. Crying so hard when Aslan died that I couldn’t articulate and mum thought something awful had happened to her daughter.

Swallows and Amazons, Arthur Ransome: sitting for hours in the abandoned boat in my best friend’s garden. Planning sailing trips. Fending off pirates. Trying to whistle and coo like owls (and btw never succeeding).  Making a survival kit. Just in case.

I could go on. Books have shaped me since I could read. Stimulated my imagination. Stirred desires and hopes and dreams. And continue to do so. I can only be grateful to all the authors then and now busily working to the benefit of us all.

Friday, 31 May 2013

Be careful about reading health books. You may die of a misprint – Mark Twain

The Armchair BEA topic for today: NON FICTION

Now my initial reaction to this was: I don’t read non fiction. But actually, I never used to read non fiction. It always seemed like such hard work. Certainly after years of study.

But over time, I have actually developed an appreciation for non fiction. Must be my age. Learning to be more patient. And appreciative of reality.

I’m still not a fan of biographies. Auto or otherwise. I suppose I have never felt the need to know about other people’s lives. Certainly not about the lives of people I don't know personally. That said, I was given a copy of Nigel Slater’s Toast. And really enjoyed it. There was an element in it of reminiscence. Some shared childhood food experiences. And it was good to revisit them.
 
I was also given Waris Dirie’s Desert Flower. A whole different story, of course. Harrowing at times. Always instructive. Ultimately inspiring. 
 
Apart from that, I also liked Becoming Jane Austen by Jon Spence. But then I’d loved Deirdre Le Faye’s Jane Austen’s Letters too. Something to do with the Austen factor, methinks.

I do love books on language, linguistics and culture. I’m a fan of Professor David Crystal’s writings. On language and its development. And I always recommend Watching the English by Kate Fox and Sixty Million Frenchmen Can’t Be Wrong by Jean-Benoit Nadeau and Julie Barlow. Non fiction with laughs. No, really. 

Otherwise I like books on health. And self help. And psychology. Is that the age thing? Possibly. But I figure any advice that could improve my life is good. And if it could make me the tiniest bit a better person, then fab…

Finally, I'd love to be able to read history. But it's just not me. At the moment, anyway. I've started watching history. Simon Schama, as an example. But reading it is way too heavy. For me. Except... that I did read A small corner of hell - dispatches from Chechnya. Anna Politkovskaya. Can you call that history? A conflict that continues. To a certain extent. Horrors that happened in my lifetime. Most without my knowledge. In a place I've only recently become aware of. Scary. Traumatic. And somehow compelling.
 
So while non fiction may seem a no-go, I’d encourage one and all to reconsider. Non fiction shouldn’t mean non!  Sometimes it’s the only way to go. Allez!

Thursday, 30 May 2013

But for my part, if a book is well written, I always find it too short - Jane Austen

The Armchair BEA topic for today: LITERARY FICTION

For me, literary fiction - and the closely linked classics - are my favourite reads. My comfort zone. That take me out of my comfort zone. That make me think, and react. Question. Muse.

Because in literary fiction, there's not just a tale to tell. But a whole journey to experience while the tale is being told. The tale being almost incidental to the journey being experienced. 

And quality counts. Luxurious expressions and challenging ideas all wrapped up in the choicest words and most delightful prose. Does that sound snobby? Maybe. I'm not dissing fast food. There's a time and place for everything. But when I'm dining I do like good food, presented well, stimulating all the senses at once.

I’m heavily into my Classics Club challenge at the mo, so my main reading this year has been the big boys. But if asked, I’d venture the following suggestions / recommendations to anyone who’d care to listen: 

Marilyn French (The Women's Room, In the Name of Friendship), Alan Bennett (The Uncommon Reader),  Edith Wharton (pretty much anything, but particularly: The House of Mirth), Evelyn Waugh (Scoop), Margaret Atwood (The Handmaid's Tale), Paulo Coelho (The Alchemist), Khaled Hosseini (The Kite Runner), Solzhenitsyn (Cancer WardOne day in the life of Ivan Denisovich).  And short stories: Saki, F Scott-Fitzgerald, Thomas Hardy.

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking - Haruki Murakami

The Armchair BEA topic for today: CLASSICS

The word classics will always be problematic methinks. It's just not warm and friendly. It's stuffy. Distant. Cold, even.

It can make the works it refers to seem distant and cold. Too intellectual. Over our heads.  And that's sooooo wrong. It just means too many miss out on some brilliant, witty and entertainingly touching writing.

Do you remember when we used the word classic in every day chat to describe something cool? Something more than acceptable? Something really, really good. Like Hugh Grant in Notting Hill?

I wrote about "Classics" fairly early on in my life as a blogger. And my initial musings have become convictions. A Classic is what rocks your world. Moves you and stays with you. Shapes who you are and what you become. Whatever that may be.

My favourites, off the top of my head, are: Edith Wharton (The House of Mirth, The Old Maid); Marilyn French (The Women's Room, In the Name of Friendship); Ivan Turgenev (Fathers & Sons, First Love); Elizabeth Gaskell (Wives & Daughters, Cranford); Jane Austen (Emma).  I could go on. But I won't...

A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies. The man who never reads lives only one - George R R Martin

New York! New York! Somewhere I’ve never been. And would like to visit. Particularly this week.  Fellow book bloggers are gathered together for the Book Expo America (BEA), a few days looking at the joys of blogging. And how to improve the joy. Which can only benefit us all.

And while I would prefer to be there in person, of course, modern technology – and a jolly nifty group of bloggers – have made it possible to have a cyber presence. The Armchair BEA. How cool is that?

In the spirit of community and hospitality, I have questions to answer for my fellow cyber participants – hello one and all – so here we go:

1. Please tell us a little bit about yourself: Who are you? How long have you been blogging? Why did you get into blogging?

I’m a life-long book lover, blogging for just over a year now. I'd been meaning to blog for a while. But being a professional procrastinator, it wasn't happening. Until I was housebound by a (very silly) accident last year. To stave off boredom and insanity, I launched myself into the blogging arena. And I’m loving it. I love reading. I love writing. And I love musing about the books I read, the words I see.  I love it that someone somewhere is sharing these thoughts and musings. I am delighted when someone shares their thoughts and musings through comments. When page hits become human interaction.

2.  Where in the world are you blogging from? Tell a random fact or something special about your current location. Feel free to share pictures.

From Strasbourg, France. Best known for storks, knacks (sausages), sauerkraut, beer, wine (of course), the Christmas market, and the European Court of Human Rights. (For the curious, here are some photos: http://www.moonflowersnserendipity.com/Cities/Strasbourg/21175273_N6XP3j#!i=1684987381&k=tZt2r2b)

3.  What are you currently reading, or what is your favourite book you have read so far in 2013?

At the moment, I'm trying to get through Milan Kundera's essays, Les Testaments Trahis. Quite heavy going. But interesting and stimulating. Giving me the excuse (if ever I needed one) to counter with the lighter works of Roald Dahl. Something for every mood, as it were...

I'm doing the Classics Challenge this year (through to 2017) and am loving discovering new authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne, Goethe, Dickens. Dahl. I'm even enjoying discovering authors I don't particularly appreciate, such as Virginia Woolf.
 
4.  Which is your favourite post that you have written that you want everyone to read?

http://www.abarmybookwormsittingontheshelf.blogspot.fr/2013/01/always-read-something-that-will-make.html


5.  If you could eat dinner with any author or character, who would it be and why?

Milan Kundera. Love his books, love his vision. He has an incredible mind. Has lived an amazing life. Seems to have a good sense of humour. What more could you ask for?

But also Edith Wharton, Jane Austen, Marilyn French. Such cool ladies. Big minds, huge intellects. A major headache for my little brain. But an experience to cherish. Forever. Can I have more than one? Like a huge big dinner party of the coolest people ever…

And so back to NY. I’m off to see what’s happening and will tell you all about it. Spreading the news, as it were…

Tuesday, 21 May 2013

No book is really worth reading at the age of ten which is not equally – and often far more – worth reading at the age of fifty and beyond - C. S. Lewis

Okay so I am totally addicted to Roald Dahl. Totally. I mean, how good are his books? Where have they been all my life?

Thus far, between work and life's commitments, I've read: The Twits; Fantastic Mr Fox; George’s Marvellous Medicine (how did that one get past the health and safety guys??); The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me; Esio Trot; The Magic Finger (I soooo want one of those); and Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator.

That one surprised me. I didn't know that Charlie continued his adventures publicly after his day at the Chocolate Factory. On his way back there with his whole family. In the glass lift. It's certainly an odd little tale. Less endearing than the others, I'd say. Somewhat ahead of its time with its civilian space travel and space tourism.And a bit more American methinks than CCF. Which was bizarre. For me. Who always associates the Chocolate Factory with Cadbury's...

There's lots of action. But it doesn't really do it for me. Not a (chocolate chip) spot on the Chocolate Factory. Although following that was always going to be a huge challenge. Which begs the question why you would try?

It feels like hard work somehow. For RD or for me. Not quite sure. It's meant to be fun, I know. But those old people are hard going. And generally I like old people. Except these old people.

RD's not short on moral statements. But in the Great Glass Elevator, he's possibly a tad more direct than elsewhere. Which again feels unnecessary. “It was an unhappy truth, he (Mr Wonka) told himself, that nearly all people in the world behave badly when there is something really big at stake. Money is the thing they fight over most.” And, as RD goes on to show, such behaviour always ends badly.

Still here's another great collaboration between author and illustrator in the style of A. A. Milne/ E. H. Shepard: RD and Quentin Blake. Hugely imaginative tales beautifully and faithfully portrayed. Perfection. I'm enjoying the images as much as the writing...

And I've just found out that QB used to occasionally present the BBC's Jackanory in the 1970's. Apparently illustrating the stories on canvas as he told them. My affection for him and his work grows as I write. I must have watched him over and again. Although I don't remember.

I do love connections though. And that's a great connection to my childhood. To which I'm slipping back. In ever decreasing circles. Should I be worried? Maybe. But not enough to stop my pursuit of Dahl. Not just yet, anyway...

Tuesday, 14 May 2013

Outside of a dog, a book is man's best friend. Inside of a dog it's too dark to read - Groucho Marx

I think I’m stuck in childhood. Not exactly a bad place to be stuck, I might say. Still, all the same. I’m no Peter Pan. Yet I whiled away this afternoon with Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Finally. And delighted in it.

I can't normally afford the luxury of dedicating whole weekday afternoons to reading, you understand. It’s just that after more treatment for my persistently painful and unhealing shoulder, I had to rest up.

Indeed, the pain today has been worse than that presented to my osteo yesterday. I feel like I've been battered. And while I’m assured this is the norm, it’s still very debilitating. Rest is the only effective aid. And good reading, of course.

I continue to persist with Milan Kundera. But in small bursts. So when my collection of Roald Dahl books arrived yesterday, I couldn't resist delving into Charlie's adventures. I fear my resistance will remain low before all the works in this box set. The Twits are calling me just now. Read into that what you will...

All the way through Charlie's time in the Chocolate Factory, I could see the old 1971 film. How many times did we watch that as children? It was magical. Good memories are so soothing.

But I must tell you of three freaky moments I experienced whilst reading about Charlie. I had BBC Radio 2 playing in the background. First of all, they played David Soul's Silver Lady. So strong was the memory that I stopped reading and was immediately transported back in time. How powerfully evocative music is!

Then the show presenter, interviewing a writer on her writing methods, commented: "How very Roald Dahl of you…"!!

Finally, Charlie, Grandpa Joe and Willy Wonker were high in the sky in the glass lift. "It was an eerie and frightening feeling to be standing on clear glass high up in the sky. It made you feel that you weren't standing on anything at all".

And this took me way back to the CN Tower in Toronto when my sister and I came across the glass floor 342 metres above the ground. And I mean "came across". We didn't know it existed. I lost my legs. Even sitting on the glass panes for the obligatory photo cost me more than I can say. We laughed like giggly schoolgirls. As we have done so very often on our holidays together.
 
They're good memories. And good memories are so soothing...