Thursday, 27 December 2012

12 Most memorable books of 2012

I don't know how many books I have read this year as I don't tend to keep count. I would assume the numbers would be pretty high considering I was reading two a week for my course and then a crazy amount for my dissertation. Only one book I read for my MA has made it into this list (William, An Englishman) because I always find I enjoy books less when I am told to read them. What a poor attempt at rebellion! Anyway, on to my favourites, in no particular order...

Resistance - Owen Sheers
The premise of this book is mind-boggling and so very interesting. I don't think I have ever thought so much about my own opinions of war. It is also beautifully written, as you would expect from a poet. I will be rereading this in the not too distant future.

A Monster Calls - Patrick Ness
Wow. Actual sobbing occurred as I was reading this. So simple, yet so haunting. I have the standard novel edition but I think I may splash out on the illustrated edition now.

The Collector - John Fowles

Disturbing and chilling but ever so good.

My Dear, I Wanted to Tell You - Louisa Young

This novel introduced me to another side of the First World War, that of facial reconstruction. Very informative and an enticing storyline. After reading this I then moved on to Pat Barker's Toby's Room which explores the same ideas. I love Barker's writing but out of the two I prefer Young's treatment of the issue.

William, An Englishman - Cicely Hamilton
A brilliant look at the effects of war on the 'Everyman'. Harrowing at times, but unforgettable and definitely worth while.

Painter of Silence - Georgina Harding

If you want to be able to imagine what it would be like to be blind/deaf then read this. I will never take my sight for granted again.

The Song of Achilles - Madeline Miller

I am pretty much obsessed with anything Ancient Greek/Trojan War related so this new release very quickly made its way on to my kindle. Wonderfully written with all the recognisable characters but with a slight twist to the tale.

The Lifeboat - Charlotte Rogan
Amazingly written. One of those plots that make you think 'what would I do in that situation?'

The White Lie - Andrea Gillies

This is one of those novels that is completely full of twists and turns. I read it on holiday and was absorbed into the story non-stop for an entire day.

The Rescue Man - Anthony Quinn 

I discovered Anthony Quinn this year when I read Half of the Human Race which is, incidentally, another favourite. I love how he creates such well-rounded and detailed characters. The Rescue Man beats Half of the Human Race just because of the subject (WWII blitz rescue).

The Etymologicon - Mark Forsyth

Never laughed so much at a book. I kept it hidden on my lap under the desk at work so I could keep reading it.

Howards End is on the Landing - Susan Hill

I love reading about reading and this gets the balance just right between discussing books and discussing life. My TBR list grew significantly as a result of this book.

I have read so many wonderful books this year, these being just a selection. Have you read any of these? Are there any books you have really loved this year?


Tuesday, 25 December 2012

The Christmas Experience

This Christmas I am working a lot. I have the big day off but that's pretty much it for like five days either side. I don't mean to moan, because I do love my job. But for me Christmas time means family time and now my brother and sister have moved away, the few days they are home are precious. Whining aside, one of my favourite things about Christmas (that I will miss this year) is spending a few days just reading. It was more or less tradition at one point that I received a book in my stocking which I would inevitably have read by lunchtime. Since my reading tastes have matured somewhat since the good old days of the Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants and everything by Jacqueline Wilson, I now like to choose a book as a Christmas treat. Some years I will reread old classics, others I will choose a book to read slowly and really savour. This year I am torn. I cannot decide whether to reread To the Lighthouse or Persuasion, or whether to discover something new. Maybe I will finally go and buy The Light Between Oceans. (I am sensing a water theme here...). Maybe I'll finally read The Old Curiosity Shop or Vanity Fair. Maybe I'll even take a step backwards in time and fish out some Jacqueline Wilson (Bad Girls, anyone?!).

Whichever book I choose I am looking forward to one blissful day of reading, relaxing with my family, and stuffing myself silly with smoked salmon on crackers. Yum.

Anyone else have any Christmas reading traditions? I'm intrigued!

Merry Christmas!


Saturday, 15 December 2012

The Translation Challenge

I have always been an impulsive reader. I buy lots of books with the intention of reading them immediately but something else always catches my eye first. I'm basically a magpie and books are shiny things. Recently I have decided that I have too many books just sat there waiting for me to pick them up and show them some love so I have decided to reign in the impulsive Ellie and try to tease out the structured Ellie. When I was browsing some blogs the other day I came across (another Ellie)  Curiosity Killed the Bookworm who is hosting a challenge for 2013. This challenge involves reading one book in translation per month. I can do that.

I have yet to do some proper searching for books I will aim to read but I do already have one set aside for January. I am going to Paris for New Year so sticking with the French theme I will be reading The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. It just so happens that this has been sat on my shelf collecting dust for a couple of months. Now I shall wipe it off and put it ready in my hand luggage.

I also have a couple of books by Primo Levi hanging about and this gives me the chance to read them. Wonderful! I guess it's no exaggeration to say I'm pretty excited about taking part in this challenge.


Review: The French Lieutenant's Woman

The French Lieutenant's Woman
John Fowles

'An easterly is the most disagreeably wind in Lyme Bay...'

One of the first books I read when I finished my MA was The Collector by John Fowles. I think I read it in two sittings I was that engrossed. The characterisation was stunning and the plot line was just disturbing enough to make me think but not too disturbing it was a struggle to read. The last couple of pages chilled me to the bone and I was dying for someone to discuss it with. Based on that experience I searched through my mother's endless bookshelves (I know where I get it from) for other books by Fowles. I came across The French Lieutenant's Woman and Mantissa. I went for this one first because I live near Lyme Regis and whenever we go there Mum mentions this book and the film adaptation. I certainly went into with high expectations which would explain why I feel so dissatisfied now I've finished it.

The novel is set mostly in Lyme Regis, Exeter and London and tells the story of Sarah Woodruff (the French Lieutenant's Woman), her relationship with Charles Smithson and his relationship with Ernestina Freeman. At a horrendously basic level it is a love triangle without much love. It would be difficult to summarise the plot without giving everything away as it is one of those novels which does not stop moving and the plot is a slippery thing to grab hold of.

I must admit I found this book a challenging read. After four years of English at uni there aren't many books I find difficult but this one I did. I think I was thrown partially by the writing style. It has been a long time since I've read such a self-conscious novel. The author is actually there within the story and not even just as a spectral presence, he becomes a physical presence towards the end. Though it was quite entertaining at times reading the author's motivations for writing certain episodes, it was occasionally quite off-putting. I'm sure an argument can be made though for it being Fowles's intention to disconcert the reader. The puzzlement and sense of manipulation I felt whilst reading it mirrors Sarah's manipulation of Charles.

I also have to admit that I still do not know what happens in the novel. There is a story line there but the constant tangents and authorial interruptions confuse it somewhat. The writing is brilliant and makes it one of those books you just want to sit and slowly read to take it all in. One of my favourite lines that also demonstrates quite well the overall style of the novel ends the twenty-fourth chapter: 'There was thunder in the offing, as in his heart'. Utterly amazing. But if you're after a fast-paced, plot heavy historical novel I would look elsewhere.

I can see what Fowles has tried to do (satirise, almost, the Victorian novel and the Victorian way of life) and I can appreciate it because I have studied so many Victorian novels. Fowles must be an extraordinarily intelligent man because he certainly knows his stuff. It was interesting and I know in time I will re-read it in an attempt to make more sense of it but for the time being it can go back on my shelf and I will move on to other things. I have, however, ordered the film adaptation from amazon to see how it compares so I will let you know my thoughts on that.


The lit nerd guide to Christmas gifts

I love browsing literary gifts at this time of year but in typical lit nerd fashion I usually end up buying more gifts for myself than others. Here are a few of my favourite finds this year.

eReader case £14.95
I'm planning on buying this for my sister to jazz up her kindle a bit. These are so much nicer than a plain case I think and not easily lost in the depths of a bag. I rather like the Frankenstein one myself.
poster £11.95
I love these poster reproductions of book covers. One would be perfect for anyone who loves judging books by their covers or collects books for their covers (like me). I treated myself to the To the Lighthouse poster when I handed in my dissertation. They could even be framed to make it extra special.

book clutch etsy seller chicklitdesigns
Etsy has the most amazing range of literary luggage. Not cheap but these books made into bags are pretty darn unique. How about matching a Gatsby clutch with a flapper dress? This could work.

Waterstones £8.00 (on offer)

Red, the inaugural Waterstones anthology, has some interesting contributors. Pieces from Emma Donoghue, Max Hastings, Andrew Motion and Hanif Kureishi promise to make excellent reading. According to the description it is a collection of writing in response to the cultural highs and lows of the past year. Plus the actual book is lovely, definitely a gift for someone who loves the look of a book as well as the content.

Literary Rubber Duck
Rubber duck £3.95
The picture just says it all really. Amazing. Who wouldn't want the company of a fellow reader in the bath?

Twitterature RRP £7.99
As an avid tweeter I find the concept of this book most intriguing. I think it will be like the Guardian's Digested Read but so much better. Alot can happen in 140 characters. My twitter is @elliebaggley if you're interested but be warned I tweet alot and it is generally star wars related.

Any browse of the Internet uncovers some brilliant literary gems perfect for lit nerds of any age. I love it. No doubt I will end up buying most of these for myself as rewards for something or other. I'll be working very hard over Christmas so I think that deserves at least something...


Sunday, 9 December 2012

Arty war books

Two things I love: art and war. Odd choice of words, perhaps;I do not love war, if anything I'm pretty much anti-war but there is something about the two world wars in particular that fascinate me. Mostly I think I am interested in the way people reacted to war, the literary and artistic responses and the general cultural responses to such massive catastrophes. Recently I have rekindled my love of all things art related and browsing amazon one day I came across an Imperial War Museum/Tate publication called Women War Artists by Kathleen Palmer. Now, war in general I find interesting but start me off on women and war and you will have trouble trying to shut me up. This book explores the role of women war artists up to the present day. It is engagingly written and contains some interesting facts but I did find the placement of the images a bit irritating as they are not always on the page where they are discussed. The images themselves are very powerful and really give an insight into the role of the woman artist in a world where the female role in war is still questionable. Definitely worth a read or a quick flick through the pictures (I know I'll go back and do this occasionally).

I visited Tate Britain a couple of weeks ago and found another Imperial War Museum publication in the bookshop there. Tate Britain has a Paul Nash on display and I find his war art particularly striking. This book has reproductions of some of his work with accompanying discussions. Again the information is engaging and has introduced me to some new artists. The layout is much more concerned with the pictures themselves rather than a critical discussion of the war artist so it did irritate me less. Always a good thing! I found it to be a good introduction to art from the First World War. I've found that frequently art history books will skim the war and not always give it the detail it deserves but this is focused and most fascinating.

I'm really pleased with these purchases and I think the Imperial War Museum has done a good job of identifying the most striking and most significant artworks created in wartime.


I've been having too much fun

I missed doing my Friday favourite this week but fear not, you can read it now.

This week I have been loving...second hand book stalls (with particular reference to the one in Spitalfields Market)

This week I have visited London twice for two separate gigs (Alexisonfire and Florence and the Machine if you were wondering. And yes, they were brilliant). While I was there I took the opportunity to pop to Spitalfields Market for a bit of Christmas shopping and a visit to my favourite book stall. It is no exaggeration to say this stall is one of the best I've come across. It is packed full, mostly with Penguin classics, some first editions, which are all utterly gorgeous. If it wasn't so busy I could spend hours just flicking through the piles and piles of well-organised books (split into categories which is a delight for the obsessive in me). I've cast aside my attempts at a book ban and picked up a couple, but in the circumstances I was still very restrained. I almost grabbed an old guide to Somerset just to skim and have on my shelf but resisted. Maybe next time.

I decided to get whatever took my fancy instead of searching for authors I already know I like so hopefully I have discovered a few gems.

Carson McCullers The Member of the Wedding Susan Hill mentions Carson McCullers in Howards End is on the Landing and I must admit I was attracted to the name. Shallow probably, but who's going to judge. I think I was also attracted to a challenge Hill subtly proposes in regards to gendered writing. She claims that a man could never be mistaken to have written Anita Brookner's novels but McCullers's could easily be mistaken as having a male author. We shall see.

Robert Graves Selected Poetry As a First World War enthusiast (wrong word?), I am ashamed to admit I have never read any of Robert Graves's poetry. I didn't take much persuading to pick this one up to rectify that blatant hole in my WW1 knowledge.

John Cheever The Wapshot Scandal Finally, a guy doing his MRes at the same time I did my MA gave a paper on Cheever and it all sounded very interesting so thought I'd give this one a go.

I'm certainly looking forward to cracking on with these. Anyone read any of these?


Friday, 30 November 2012

Review: We Have Always Lived in the Castle

We Have Always Lived in the Castle
Shirley Jackson

This is going to be one of those novels that stays with me for some time. Even as I was reading it spread out over a few sittings I could not stop thinking about it and trying to work out what it was that made me feel so uncomfortable. The novel tells the story of Constance and Merricat Blackwood, two sisters whose entire family (except their Uncle Julian) had been poisoned. Constance, the eldest, was acquitted for their murder but the scandal has completely cut them off from the village.

If anything, the novel is about routine, the delicacy of routine and the difficulty of maintaining routine in the face of significant change. It is aspects of this routine that make the novel so uncanny. Everyday activities, such as cooking, become something more. The relationship between the sisters, Constance the elder and Merricat the younger, resembles a basic sister relationship. Even the rules they live by, for example Merricat is not allowed to prepare food or handle knives, point to not much more than an over-protective sibling relationship. But there is always something there, more or less unsaid throughout, that unsettled me as I read it.

Merricat's narration is perhaps my favourite element of the novel. She twists everything whilst still consistently reporting on events and unabashedly explaining her feelings (she imagines walking on the bodies of the villagers).  She tends to repeat certain phrases and ideas. For example, she frequently comments 'I was chilled', usually as a response to her sister's actions. Although this is a relatively harmless phrase, I must admit I found this one of the most unsettling, mostly because it is so frequently repeated. Retrospectively (without giving any spoilers), the fact that Merricat was 'chilled' is even more chilling! I cannot see how anyone would not be caught under the spell of Merricat from the very first lines:

'My name is Mary Katherine Blackwood. I am eighteen years old, and I live with my sister Constance. I have often thought that with any luck at all, I could have been born a werewolf, because the two middle fingers on both my hands are the same length, but I have had to be content with what I had. I dislike washing myself, and dogs, and noise. I like my sister Constance, and Richard Plantagenet, and Amanita phalloides, the death-cup mushroom. Everyone else in our family is dead.'

Chilling, right?

Ultimately it is a twisted fairy tale with an equally twisted 'happy' ending as, after a violent climax which demonstrates to Constance the dangers of the outside world, Merricat gets exactly what she wants, that is, to live 'on the moon' with her sister.

In this Modern Classics edition there is a brilliant afterward by Joyce Carol Oates with some interesting facts about Jackson. It is certainly worth a read if you have this edition.

In a nutshell, this book is brilliant and I think would appeal to any reader, so, go read it. Meanwhile, off I trot to the bookshop to buy up all of Jackson's work. Any particular recommendations?


Literary Subscriptions

I'm the sort of person that likes to know what is going on in the world. By 'world' I don't mean the big wide world but more the literary world. To do this I spent a considerable amount of time on the guardian books website and reading various bookish magazines. On my kindle I have a subscription to the London Review of Books. I would much prefer to read it in actual magazine format but it is not the easiest to get hold of in deepest darkest Somerset. Plus, the kindle subscription is very handy. There is quite a range of articles, letters and poetry in this magazine and though some of the articles don't interest me at all, there is usually something that tickles my fancy (I particularly like their reviews of art exhibitions and opinion pieces). Whenever I pick up my kindle to read the London Review of Books I know I will always put it down having learnt something new.

My favorite literary magazine is the Literary Review, a monthly magazine that does exactly what it says on the tin. I love that it has a good selection of fiction and non-fiction reviews. Although, for someone like me who will buy anything anyone says is good, this magazine can be dangerous. I have book lists on my phone, in my diary and in various notebooks which invariably grow whenever I sit down to read the Review. I also wish it was longer or published more frequently because I get through it far too quickly. The reviews themselves are well written, insightful and engaging, unsuprisingly when you read the credentials of the contributors. Most reviews feel like a double whamy review and lesson (in a good way) as they are not basic 'buy this book/don't buy this book' pieces. Instead the writers talk around the subject whilst they subtly give their opinion.

I know for a fact that my parents have bought me a subscription to the Literary Review for Christmas as it arrived on my doorstep at the beginning of November. Such well organised parents.

Another kindle subscription I have that is dedicated to fiction instead of reviews is The First Line magazine. I love the concept of this: each issue is made up of stories which all use the same first line. Genius. It is wonderful to see the different directions each author takes, though I'm sure comparing their narrative choices would be an exercise in psychoanalysis. There is also usually a very entertaining essay from a contributor discussing their favourite first lines. None of this 'it was the best of times, it was the worst of times' cop-out rubbish, these contributors have really thought about what makes a brilliant and engaging first line. The First Line is released quarterly and costs 99p per month from amazon.

Moving away from the magazine subscriptions, I would adore a Persephone subscription (are you sensing a trend?) - a book a month for 6 or 12 months. Pure heaven.


Friday favourite #2

This week I have been loving...late night reading sessions

At the risk of sounding ridiculous, the last ten days have been some of the most stressful this year. Yes, even more stressful than the week before my dissertation deadline. Anyone who lives in England, particularly the South West, will know exactly what I am talking about: floods, really bad floods. My house is entirely surrounded by water; there are several large ponds and a stream running the perimeter. Usually this is pretty cool as it makes me feel like I'm on an island and as kids it was ideal for swimming opportunities. But now I am practically counting down the hours until I can up sticks and move to London. Ah wet-and-rainy-but-never-underwater-London. I spent the end of last week and the beginning of this one up to my knees in flood water that was streaming over the drive, the road, and the garden. Filling sandbags, building makeshift walls and completing the half-hourly 'flood-watch' have dominated my life in recent days. Although this has pretty much sucked for the most part, I have secretly been revelling in the chance to stay up late reading, happy in the knowledge that I have no choice but to stay awake reading until it stops raining (which has frequently been the early hours).

I first became obsessed with reading when I was in about year 7 and struggling with horrendous insomnia. Instead of lying there freaking myself out with my own imagination, I used to read. On bad nights for sleep but good nights for reading I could get through a couple of average sized teen reads. I read a lot of books. This last week has reminded me of how much I actually enjoy staying up late just reading a good book.

From now on I am going to let myself be a bit more reckless in my reading habits. No more putting down my book at a time I think is 'suitable'. No more denying myself the pleasure of reading and reading until I finish a brilliant book. Instead, I'm going to remind myself what it feels like to not want to sleep because the book I am reading is just that good.

Do you love pulling a reading all nighter?


Wednesday, 28 November 2012

An alarming lack of restraint

I am failing miserably at maintaining my book buying ban. Today I bought two books and they are amazing. Now, there are a number of factors which make this minor setback even more minor. These are that 1. both books are second hand, 2. they were very inexpensive, and 3. one is a classic Penguin/Pelican and the other a Persephone. So, essentially, to not buy these books would have been neglectful of my duties as a lit nerd.
Aren't they beautiful? I'm so pleased to add another Persephone book to my collection. It is my aim to eventually own the entire Persephone catalogue (this takes me to 7), but that is the subject of another post.

Whilst I know I should have exercised restraint, the temptation of these two books was just too great for my currently extremely stressed out mind to handle. Stuff comfort eating, I'm all about the comfort book buying. Also, I blame the bookshop for displaying the books so invitingly. Excuses, excuses...


Monday, 26 November 2012

The problem with being a lit nerd

Yesterday I finished a book. I know, I know, hardly a massive feat, this is a book blog after all. The trouble is, this book I have just finished was really good (review to follow), so now I'm stuck with finding something to read that won't leave me disappointed. Part of the problem is that I now have too much choice. My 'to be read' shelf is rapidly expanding as a result of my 'buy now, think later' philosophy.


This is one of my bookshelves. The top shelf horizontal books are standard adult fiction and literary fiction novels waiting to be read. Horizontal books on the second shelf are non-fiction books waiting to be chosen (except the little pile on the right which are waiting to be alphabetised (yes, I alphabetise like a pro)). So this is where I struggle. Which piece of wordy goodness do I pick up next?

Anyway, I eventually decided on The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles. Fingers crossed it's a goodun. Does anyone else struggle to decide what to read next because of an ever-expanding pile of books still waiting to be read?


Friday, 23 November 2012

Friday Favourite #1

Forgive me for the slightly dodgy title of this post, I'm tired and my brain is failing to be creative. As a lover of alliteration I could not pass up the opportunity to make a weekly favourites feature on a Friday. Every Friday I will share what bookishness I have been loving that week. So, without further ado, let's get cracking.

This week I am loving...bookshop browsing.

As it is the run up to Christmas, money is inevitably a bit tight. I have somewhat cruelly, therefore, put myself on a book ban. I am not to buy any books for myself until 2013 (so near, yet, so far). You will note the 'for myself'; this means that I still may buy books for other people rather than going completely cold-turkey. Still, it is a considerable struggle. In order to avoid the physical and emotional pain and emptiness that is an inevitable consequence of a book ban, I am spending rather a lot of time in bookshops sighing over books and writing down titles into my notebook. The temptation is very great and I may have slipped once (or twice), but I have determination on my side. In my town we have a Waterstones, an independent bookshop and an Oxfam bookshop, all of which are perfect for browsing. In Oxfam, particularly, I can get away with having a cheeky sniff of a book as I pretend to read a couple of pages (please say someone else does that and I am not just a book-smelling weirdo).

Anyway, this week I have been enjoying the comfort of being surrounded by books without the added stress of wondering how I'll pay for petrol if I buy just this one...

Do you like spending time browsing bookshops without the intention of buying? And, most importantly, do you like to smell the occasional book?


Thursday, 22 November 2012

Seven deadly sins of reading

So this is a tag I have seen floating around the BookTube community. I particularly like the video WordsofaReader made in case you're interested. I think this tag is brilliant so I thought I'd blog it (mostly because you would not want to see me on camera).

Greed - what is your most expensive and inexpensive book?
Most of the books I had to read for uni I bought from the amazon marketplace for about 1p and then paid postage, but the most inexpensive book I own that was also an amazing book stall find is the Virago edition of Sylvia Townsend Warner's diaries. It was about £2 from an open-air stall in London: bargain.

I have an amazingly beautiful RSC edition of the Complete Works of Shakespeare which cost me an arm and a leg. To make matters worse I don't even read from it as I have all the plays in seperate editions. It does make my shelves look pretty though.

Wrath - which author do you have a love/hate relationship with?
Easy one: Virginia Woolf. She is an absolute babe and To The Lighthouse is arguably one of my favourite novels, but sometimes I just feel like shouting 'spit it out!'

Gluttony - which book have you devoured over and over?
My list of books still to be read is so long I don't generally allow myself to re-read books. Saying that, Old Magic by Marianne Curley is a book I have always found time for since my first reading of it when it came out (FYI this is a rare appearance of YA/teen fiction).

Sloth - which book have you neglected due to laziness?
Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth. Shamefully, considering my obsession with WW1 literature.

Pride - which book do you talk about to sound intellectual?
I don't often brag about things I've read. I will occasionally chuck Freud out there or mention my dissertation topic, however.

Lust - what attributes do you find attractive in characters?
Give me the dark, brooding, slightly moody type any day. Why, hello, Mr Rochester.

Envy - what book would you most like to receive as a gift?
I have a wish list as tall as me but I would positively kill for the entire Persephone catalogue.


Tuesday, 20 November 2012

Welcome to literary paradise

Welcome to my little slice of the Internet which I intend to transform into a literature lover's dream. Yes, I have high hopes. Potentially too high, but a girl can (and will) dream. This blog will include everything and anything of the bookish variety although occasionally I may venture into the territory of my other loves (travel, music, running, film) if they ever intersect with books.

I hope you will enjoy perusing my bookshelves on the interwebz and will join in and chat. I love a good chat.

Ta ta for now
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