Sunday, 31 March 2013

Goodbye March, Hello April

Well, March has been a bit of a crazy month (understatement, much?). I lost my job in the theatre at the end of February, started a waitressing job at the beginning of March which I then quit this week. So now I guess I'm unemployed again. Lovely. But I do have a writing job to be getting on with and I'm thinking with complete glee about all of the reading I can be doing. Basically, in the words of Monty Python, I am always looking on the bright side of life.

To the important things...books.

Considering how mental this month has been, I'm really pleased with the amount of reading I've managed. I've read three books for Modern March, a second Classics Spin book, a book club choice and a couple of other randoms. My favourite read has been A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf, followed closely by Lighthousekeeping by Jeanette Winterson. At the other end of the spectrum I completely disliked (read: hated) As I Lay Dying and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I am pleased to have read both, though.

I have already failed at the Translation Challenge (slaps wrist). I had intended to read The Bookseller of Kabul this month but just haven't got round to it. As I Lay Dying took quite a while to read (it was punctuated with many many stream of consciousness headaches). I'm not feeling too guilty because I did read two translated books in February. I'm still excited to read this one though and will get to it pretty sharpish in April.

Can I just take a moment to freak out about the fact that it's April already?! I mean, really, where the heck is this year going? Before I know it I'll be flat hunting and job hunting in London, then I'll be 23 and then it'll be Christmas again. Phew.

Anyway, April. I'm not planning too much what I read this month because I think some spontaneity would do me wonders right now. I'm definitely hoping to read The Bookseller of Kabul and maybe tick another off my Classics Club list (I'm leaning ever so slightly towards some Hemingway but Zelda Fitzgerald is pretty tempting too). Brighton Rock is my next book club read for the beginning of May so I'll get round to that at some point. I might also join in on the Their Eyes Were Watching God sync read with the Classics Club and I want to read something war related because that's the theme for April and we all know I get my nerd on when it comes to war writing. Oh my. So many books. I'm starting to think it's a good job I'm unemployed.

Fingers crossed April will be a slightly better month. I do have some really exciting things planned so I think it will be. I'm having a week staying with my sister in London at the end of the month and we've booked to go and see The Tempest at The Globe, World Book Night at the Southbank Centre and The Starting Line anniversary tour (squeal). The highlight of the week will no doubt be the Pompeii exhibition though. I am a MASSIVE Pompeii geek. Basically the entire week will be one nerdgasm after another.

Well, I'm boring myself so I'm going to crack on and spend some quality time with Fifty Shades of Feminism (the only Fifty Shades I'll ever read) which arrived in the post yesterday and is completely awesome and mindblowing and makes me want to burn my bra.


Saturday, 30 March 2013

Jane Austen: What is all the fuss about?

I know I'm a little late to the party and March has pretty much been and gone but I'm going to finally do the Classics Club March Meme. Let's crack on shall we.

Do you love Jane Austen or want to “dig her up and beat her over the skull with her own shin-bone”? (Phrase borrowed from Mark Twain).
  1. Why? (for either answer)?
  2. Favourite and/or least favourite Austen novel? 
I hate to be the bringer of a general air of ambivalence but, well, I'm going to bring it because I tend to feel very 'meh' about good old Jane. I can't deny that I love Pride and Prejudice and I really enjoyed Northanger Abbey. I just don't love her unless I'm reading her. I've not read an Austen since my third year of uni and not felt the need to either. I don't re-read P&P every year or swoon over Mr Darcy in my head. I appreciate her novels when they are there in front of me but when they're not, well, I just don't particularly care.

When I'm feeling a bit more pro-Jane, as well as being all serious, go women, social mores and injustices, I think the best thing about her is her sense of humour. There is one bit in Love and Friendship that just gets me every time:

'One fatal swoon has cost me my Life...Beware of swoons, Dear Laura...A frenzy fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the body and if not too violent, is, I dare say, conducive to health in its consequences - run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint...'

Wise words...

My favourite Austen novel is Persuasion. I mean, come on, Captain Wentworth?! What a babe. Especially in the BBC adaptation. Ciaran Hinds would only have to look at me in that sailor get up with his brooding good looks and I'd be putty in his hands. And I mean fully moldable do-with-me-what-you-like kind of putty. Ahem, anyway, that's slightly off topic. What I'm trying to say is Persuasion is my favourite. There is something so real about the story and about Anne and about the whole circumstance of their relationship. I really think it is generally more believable. Plus it's set partially in Lyme - holla to all those south westerners who used to/still do go fossil hunting there and stand on the cobb like the French Lieutenant's Woman. At least Persuasion teaches you something practical: don't jump off the cobb in Lyme.
oh my...sigh

'Men have had every advantage of us in telling their own story. Education has been theirs in so much higher a degree; the pen has been in their hands. I will not allow books to prove anything.'

Oh, Anne. You are a woman after my own heart.

So there we have it, I don't want to beat her with her own anatomy but at the same time I'm not going to rush to make her my bestie should I ever go back in time to the 19thC and meet her. We'd be more casual acquaintances. Friends who do lunch. That sort of thing.

All the same, Sense and Sensibility is on my Classics Club list and I think I might read that one this summer. I look forward to seeing if my opinions will change.


Friday, 29 March 2013

Review: Lighthousekeeping

Jeanette Winterson

'My mother called me Silver. I was born part precious metal part pirate.'

It's kind of difficult to sum up this novel in a few sentences so I'm going to be lazy and just stick the blurb in here. It does a much better job than I could.

'Motherless and anchorless, Silver is taken in by the timeless Mr Pew, keeper of the Cape Wrath lighthouse. Pew tells Silver ancient tales of longing and rootlessness, of ties that bind and of the slippages that occur throughout every life. One life, Babel Dark's, a nineteenth-century clergyman, opens like a map that Silver must follow. Caught in her own particular darknesses, she embarks on a Ulyssean sift through the stories we tell ourselves, stories of love and loss, of passion and longing, stories of unending journeys that move through places and times, and the bleak finality on the shores of betrayal.'

Basically this is a story about telling stories. With a girl called Silver and a guy called Pew at the centre of it all. I actually just gave myself brain ache when I realised that Silver is telling the story of being told these stories, so she is actually telling the stories when we think Pew is telling them and wow I'm going to stop thinking before my brain EXPLODES. Phew. That was a close one.

As usual this is a beautifully written novel, I wouldn't expect anything less from Winterson. She does however, tend to wander off into what I call 'pretentious territory' when she tries to make herself sound uber intelligent and philosophical. Stick with it, JW, no need to go all mind-blowy on me. There is a long section (probably about 3/4's of the way through) which I think is entirely unnecessary. I'm not even sure there is much of a plot either but what little there is seems to work very well in conjunction with the general exploration of storytelling going on.

I love the literary links Winterson makes. Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Darwin casually stroll through the narrative. There is a quick wave to Captain Scott and Forster's 'only connect' is very slyly thrown in. Jekyll and Hyde also plays quite a significant part as it is one of those points of reference which makes a comment about the characters. Babel Dark and Silver (I think) are Jekyll/Hyde characters. But without that reference I don't think I would even have picked up on the whole double thing going on.

Overall, I think the novel is a wonderfully written foray into the whys and wherefores of storytelling. I would tell you just to read it but instead I'm going to leave you with some of my favourite quotes which I'm guessing/hoping may demonstrate why I'm recommending it.

'Because there's no story that's the start of itself, anymore than a child comes into the world without parents.'

'There's no such thing in all the world.
As a happy ending?
As an ending.'

'The lighthouse is a known point in the darkness.'

'And I did, and the stories I want to tell you will light up part of my life, and leave the rest in darkness. You don't need to know everything. There is no everything. The stories themselves make the meaning.
           The continuous narrative of existence is a lie. There is no continuous narrative, there are lit-up moments and the rest is dark.'

'I went outside, tripping over slabs of sunshine the size of towns. The sun was like a crowd of people, it was a party, it was music. The sun was blaring through the walls of the houses and beating down the steps. The sun was drumming time into the stone. The sun was rhythming the day.
          'Why are you afraid?' I asked myself, because fear is at the bottom of everything, even love usually rests on fear. 'Why are you afraid, when whatever you do you will die anyway?'


Thursday, 28 March 2013

I joined a book club (and a mini review)

Last Friday night I ventured out into the pouring rain armed with my notebook and pen and clutching my library copy of Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close. I drove into town, headed for the local indie bookshop, where I found a sign saying the book club is delayed and to come to the pub. So that was my first assumption destroyed. Book clubs apparently, at least ones in Taunton, involve alcohol. And lots of it (damn you car). Once we'd settled into the bookshop, and everyone had pulled out their bottles of wine, we promptly ordered pizza. Another assumption destroyed. Food, wine, books...that is pretty much my idea of pure contentment.

Aside from the obvious excitement of being in a bookshop after hours (I sat in the farthest corner, flanked by two serious-ish women, to stop me from wandering among the shelves), I thoroughly enjoyed my book club experience. That is not to say that I enjoyed the book, however. In fact, I really quite disliked the book.

So, Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is about Oskar, a 9-10 year old boy who lost his father in the twin towers. He finds a key among his dad's possessions and starts out on a quest to find the lock the key fits. There is a bit of a dual narrative thing going on which concerns the relationship of Oskar's grandparents. Out of the two, I found the narrative of the grandparents far more interesting mostly because it was the most believable (though still not hugely).

I think the issue I had with this book was the complete impossibility of the storyline and the sentimentalism of it. I feel bad saying this because I know a lot of people rave about it but it really didn't come anywhere close to being good for me. I really struggled to believe that a mother would let her young son wander around New York by himself, particularly so soon after the loss of his father.

Saying all that, it did have a couple of good points. I love the layout. The inclusion of pictures and pages with just one sentence on I thought was quite effective (although most of the group thought it was gimmicky). And there is one section when a deaf man turns on his hearing aid for the first time in years and that bit I thought was beautifully written. Ok, maybe literally only a couple of points...

It was funny and it was sad (particularly the Dresden bit) but in the end it really did nothing for me. In general, I'm going to leave Jonathon Safran Foer to go his way and I'll go mine. Sorry, dude.


Monday, 25 March 2013

Musing Mondays


Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.

I have just bought myself... The Innocents by Francesca Segal and Honour by Elif Shafak

This morning I quit my job so this afternoon I went out and bought books. Stuff comfort eating, I'm all about comfort book-buying. To be fair, I did only spend £2 on these books, technically, because they were on buy-one-get-one-half-price and I had a gift voucher. So really I didn't actually go that crazy. I thought I was wonderfully restrained. Both of these books are on the longlist for the Women's Prize for Fiction and as I'm intending to read the list I thought I'd best get started. I'm very excited to read Honour particularly as I've heard really good things about it.
Also guys, I mentioned last week that I was doing a guest post for the Women's Lit Event over on Lost in Books. Well, it went live today here so if you fancy hearing me spread the lady love check it out.


Thursday, 21 March 2013

Some recent aquisitions and exciting news.

I know, I know, I've done it again. I give up on the whole book buying ban, it is clearly an impossible task for one such as myself, that is, a total lit nerd.

Save Me the Waltz by Zelda Fitzgerald
Tender is the Night by F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Razor's Edge by W. Somerset Maugham
The Perils of Certain English Prisoners by Wilkie Collins and Charles Dickens

How amazing does the Wilkie/Charles one sound? I love it when those two collaborate, it's like a marriage made in literary heaven and the result is a very literary love child. Their Lazy Tour of Two Idle Apprentices was brilliant so I really didn't hesitate to pick this one up. The chapters are alternately written by Wilkie then Dickens and it is a particularly ripe subject matter so I'm thinking this one will be brill. Just got to try and get round to reading it now...

The other three are pretty self-explanatory really. They are all on my classics club list and since reading A Moveable Feast I am dying to pretty much devour anything by the Fitzgeralds/Hemingway/Pound/Ford. I don't even like Ezra Pound and I feel like reading him again. Damn you, Hemingway.

I will stop buying books eventually, I promise.

On to the exciting news. I'm sure a fair number of you are aware that Becca over at Lost in Books is holding a Women's Lit Event this month to celebrate Women's History Month. I'm also pretty sure that anyone who has read a couple of my posts would find it hard to deny that I general feel the lady love when it comes to literature. Women's History Month and this event are really my cup of tea so I jumped at the chance to sign up to do a guest post. On the 25th March my post will be going live over on Lost in Books. It's all about fiction from the Edwardian period, specifically fiction written by the su...-who-now? I'm not telling you. Such a tease.

There have already been some brilliant posts for the event on Becca's blog which are definitely worth checking out if you are a fan of the laydees.


Tuesday, 19 March 2013

Modern March: A Room of One's Own

A Room of One's Own
Virginia Woolf

'Lock up your libraries if you like; but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.'

Well, what can I say, VW has gone and done it again. What a corker. I'm feeling some serious love for Woolfy right now. My brain has been in overdrive since finishing this. All the thoughts have just been buzzing away in my head like intelligent little flies (umm, weird image).

A Room of One's Own is a short piece of non-fiction that grew out of a lecture Woolf was asked to give in Cambridge in 1928 on the subject 'Women and Fiction'. She argues that a woman needs 'money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction'*.

I think, ignoring the content for a moment, Woolf's writing/lecture style is wonderful. It is by no means dry or heavy going but descriptive and anecdotal. Particularly the discussion of the life of Shakespeare's fictitious sister (she didn't stand a chance). And I loved the discussions about the Bronte's (particularly the discussion of the section in Jane Eyre where Jane considers the stagnation of the female mind when it is not given freedom - a section that has made want to reread the novel), Jane Austen and George Eliot, as well as lesser known (if known at all) female writers.

I'm going to break my own tradition and love of paragraphing here and break into some bullet points. I think it is necessary. These are the points that I found most interesting:
  • The whole issue of gendered writing - is it possible to tell from my sentence structure that I am female? Woolf seems to argue for androgyny of mind because a purely feminine or a purely masculine cannot necessarily create. Apparently we must be woman-manly or man-womanly. Amazing.
  • As a WW1 geek, I obviously love how she tries to explain the change in the post-war world through poetry. Before the war people were surrounded by an unconscious humming of poetry that spoke of rapture and abandonment. Luncheon parties were the same before, during and after the war aside from the loss of that 'humming'. I think that's a wonderful way to explain the changes in people after the First World War.
  • 'Have you any notion of how many books are written about women in the course of one year?'...why, then, does there seem to be no solution to the woman "question" if it's all people (mostly men) have talked about for years. Why is woman such an enigma? I also thought I was pretty cut and dry: short, smiles alot, likes books.
  • 'Most women have no character at all'...oh, is that right, Mr Pope?
  • 'Women have served all these centuries as looking-glasses possessing the magic and delicious power of reflecting the figure of man at twice its natural size'...doesn't surprise me.
  • 'Of the two - the vote and money - the money, I own, seemed infinitely more important.' Seriously?! And I spent months researching and writing about the importance of the vote for women for you to tell me money is more important *shakes head in disbelief*. 
I would highly recommend anyone giving this a read whether you are of the feminist inclination or not. It is entertaining, informative and an all-round delightful read.

*I am, incidentally, currently writing this in my room of my own. It may not have a lock and I may not be an aspiring novelist but without this room, the desk, the window, the seats, the heater (most important) I would never have gotten through my MA with my sanity intact. It is a room where I am not interrupted, where I can think and write in silence. I think, whether you write fiction or not, it is important to have a room, if only to sit and contemplate all the Deep Thoughts or daily happenings in.


Monday, 18 March 2013

Musing Mondays


Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.

Right now I'm reading...As I Lay Dying/Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

I must say I'm not enjoying either of my reads at the moment so I'm making pretty slow progress. Practically a snail's pace really. As I Lay Dying is the third Modern March read I'm attempting and I'm starting to realise why I'd left it on my shelf unread for so long. I feel like I've read so many stream of consciousness novels that I'm a bit fed up of the brain ache. I'm going to continue with it though, there must be a reason it's such a classic. I know I will at least feel a massive sense of achievement when I finish it.

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close is this month's read for a local book club I have just joined. I know so many people rave about this book but I'm just not feeling it. I love the format and layout, with single sentences on a page or photos, but I'm finding the narration just quite irritating. I'm looking forward to discussing it though and I will post a review after the meeting on Friday. I just hope I can finish it in time...

As much as I'm feeling a bit bummed out by my current reads I have just finished A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf which I absolutely ADORED. Oh, VW, you just hit all the right spots don't you? I'm having a bit of a girl power moment right now.


Friday, 15 March 2013

I challenge thee: Women's Prize for Fiction

Last year Madeline Miller's The Song of Achilles won the Orange Prize for Fiction (now the Women's Prize). That book made it into my top twelve books of 2012 because it was literally ah-MAZing*. I figure that if any judging panel has the sense to award the Orange Prize to The Song of Achilles, it is probably a pretty sensible and worthwhile prize to follow. On Wednesday the Longlist for the 2013 prize was announced. There are some standards (Hilary Mantel, I'm looking at you), some slightly controversial (Gone Girl) and some that I am pretty darn excited about (Life after Life and The Light Between Oceans). I've read one from the list, am familiar with about half and the other half are completely new to me.

The Longlist:

Kitty Aldridge - A Trick I Learned From Dead Men (Jonathan Cape)
Kate Atkinson - Life After Life (Doubleday)
Ros Barber - The Marlow Papers (Sceptre)
Shani Boianjiu - The People of Forever are Not Afraid (Hogarth)
Gillian Flynn - Gone Girl (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Sheila Heti - How Should a Person Be? (Harvill Secker)
A M Homes - May We Be Forgiven (Granta)
Barbara Kingslover - Flight Behaviour (Faber & Faber)
Deborah Copaken Kogen - The Red Book (Virago)
Hilary Mantel - Bring Up the Bodies (Fourth Estate)
Bonnie Nadzam - Lamb (Hutchinson)
Emily Perkins - The Forrests (Bloomsbury Circus)
Michèle Roberts - Ignorance (Bloomsbury)
Francesca Segal - The Innocents (Chatto & Windus)
Maria Semple - Where’d You Go, Bernadette (Weidenfeld & Nicolson)
Elif Shafak - Honour (Viking)
Zadie Smith - NW (Hamish Hamilton)
M L Stedman - The Light Between Oceans (Doubleday) Read Jan 2013
Carrie Tiffany - Mateship with Birds (Picador)
G Willow Wilson - Alif the Unseen (Corvus Books)

(Ones in bold I'm particularly excited to read.)

I do think it is a shame Alison Moore's The Lighthouse is missing from the list but with so many amazing women writers around, it must have been tricky trying to whittle it down to twenty. I can only imagine how hard it will be to get to a shortlist and then to a single winner. That must be a serious brain ache.

To the whole point of this post - the challenge. I'm sure I'm hitching my waggon to an already long bandwagon of personal challenges but what the hell, I fancy doing it. The winner of the prize will be announced on the 5th June but what with all the millions of other books I'm planning to read in the next two months I don't think it is possible to read them all before then. So, as a compromise, I am going to devote my summer reading to the Women's Prize for Fiction longlist. I am challenging myself to read the longlist before September 1st 2013. You never know, I may get to read them all before June 5th but I'm not going to rush. Some of these books sound brilliant so I am going to savour them and thoroughly enjoy them.

Is anyone else planning to read the longlist?

* Apparently Miller's second novel is based on The Odyssey. Please excuse me while I freak out/dance with joy/reread The Odyssey (AGAIN)...


Some book porn (steady on) and my new reading set-up

To anyone who asks me, I will unabashedly admit that I am a bookshelf porn addict. Although I have always been aware of my penchant for the dust covers, yellowing pages, and undulating spines of a well-stocked, alphabetised bookshelf, it has recently been brought to my attention that perhaps my penchant is not quite so whimsical as it seems. The length of time I'm spending in bookshops alone attests to that and that is before I even get started on the library. It's a hard life being addicted to books.

When I last alphabetised my shelves I pulled out a few of the most beautiful books I own. All of these books I have in other versions and the only reason I bought these is because they are SO DARN PRETTY. Plus I've always had a bit of a love affair going on with Woolf and Sayers, so I thought why not just advertise that? Share the lady love, girl power, etc etc. Anyway, these are all on display on a trunk my sister bought me (yes, it's like Haz Poz and yes, it is covered in many reasons to have a geek moment).

All Quiet on the Western Front, Strong Poison, The Tree of Heaven, Holmes and Watson A Miscellany, To the Lighthouse

Most amazing book ever no. 1:

Most amazing book ever no.2:

This one and All Quiet are Folio Society editions that I found second hand (without their covers). They are illustrated and woven and so so very beautiful. Fun fact: I have this exact lighthouse tattooed on my back.

I going to stop spreading the literary porn bug now and show you my new reading corner. It's nothing special. I've just put a couple of chairs (not terribly comfy ones mind) between my trunk and desk, angled a lamp and put a heater smack bang in front of where I'll sit (my chills frequently multiply in this house).  I WILL have myself a library one day but, for now, this will have to do. I'm sat there right now, toasting my toes.

Anyone else have some totally porn-worthy books on display?


Thursday, 14 March 2013

Review: A Moveable Feast

A Moveable Feast
Ernest Hemingway

Oh, Hemingway, Hem, Tatie, Papa, you literary genius, you. I used to be pretty 'urgh' in general about Hemingway. He is one of those authors I always thought I should read and I remember attempting The Old Man and the Sea just after I left school and being all 'wtf, Hem?'. Since reading him again at uni, in the context of the Modernist period, I have realised that you should never read an author just because everyone else is doing it (that advice goes for so many other things). I'm pleased that I built up more of a general knowledge about Modernism and life in the interwar years before I tackled him again in Fiesta, The Sun Also Rises. I'm not saying I loved Fiesta, but hell did I appreciate it.

A Moveable Feast is a collection of autobiographical sketches revealing Hemingway's time in post-war Paris and his relationship with his wife, son, and the people he met there. It was published posthumously and put together from his manuscripts and personal papers.

I've read A Moveable Feast as part of Modern March and I have been pleasantly surprised. I knew nothing about Hemingway's life and even though this doesn't really impart huge amounts of biographical information, I think it really gives you a sense of him as a person. What I most enjoyed about the book was the sketches that involved other writers that I have either read or encountered in some way or another. I realised that I tend to make an author into who I think they are without actually knowing anything about them. Ford Madox Ford being a case in point. He actually seems to be a bit of an ass. But I do love his writing. The passing cameo of Wyndham Lewis though was pretty spot on with my assumption of his personality. I've always thought he'd be a slimy, rattish kind of guy and that's exactly how Hemingway describes him.

Perhaps quite oddly, I found this book really sad. I cannot explain why but it might have something to do with how Hemingway recollects himself. He treats his first wife Hadley pretty badly and it seems like he never forgave himself for that. Then I found it even sadder when I discovered that he commit suicide (who knew?!). Even with the slightly sad air about it, I really did find this book fascinating and I now feel like reading some sort of biography about him so I can find out the whole story.

'But there are remises or storage spaces where you may leave or store certain things such as a locker trunk or duffel bag containing personal effects or the unpublished poems of Evan Shipman or marked maps or even weapons there was no time to turn over to the proper authorities and this book contains material from the remises of my memory and of my heart. Even if the one has been tampered with and the other does not exist.'


Monday, 11 March 2013

Musing Mondays


Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.

Reading habit...obsessing over page numbers

I don't know why but I really have a thing for checking page numbers. Before I start a book I head straight to the back to see how many pages there are and then at various intervals during my reading I will do the maths to work out whether I'm a quarter of the way/half way through. I am pretty anti-numbers because they make my head go all fuzzy and I feel really stupid so I really have no idea why I do this. Maybe it's a competitive thing, wanting to know how much I've read and how much I've got left. Like a 'HA, I'm half way through you, War and Peace, take that!' Not that I will probably EVER read War and Peace. Yeh, that's not happening. 

So, bit of a random habit: constantly checking page numbers and working out my progress.

Anyone else do this? No? Just me? Ok, back to my corner I go.


Sunday, 10 March 2013

Bath Lit Festival

Yesterday I went to the Independent Bath Literature Festival and had a whale of a time being all literary and feminist and generally just really cool. Pat Barker (babe) is one of my favourite novelists because she pretty much shares my fascination for the First World War and is able to put it into words REALLY WELL. She was meant to be doing a talk about her latest novel, Toby's Room, but it was cancelled (there was sobbing and much general distress when I got the phone call). I'd got my Mother and I tickets for the talk for Mother's Day so that pretty much fell flat. Anyway, the organisers sorted out a replacement in the form of Di Atkinson so we graciously went along to that one instead. And really enjoyed it.

Di Atkinson has written a non-fiction book called Elsie and Mairi Go to War which is all about these two biker chicks who went off to Belgium, right on the Western Front, and nursed injured soldiers throughout the war in the basement of a bombed out building. Brave women, right? Anyway, they won loads of awards and were generally adored by the public. But then they fell off the face of the earth at the end of the war. As women tended to do in those times, sadly. Their story is extraordinary and quite frankly, one of the most impressive examples of the female war effort I've come across (baring in mind that I do know what I'm talking about and I'm not just talking bollocks). Obviously I swiftly left the talk, purchased the book, got it signed by Di, stuttered, glowed red and ran off. You know, as standard. But the point is, I would really recommend this book (even though I've not even read it yet) to anyone who has an interest in women's history and the First World War. They are two women I would definitely invite for tea.

Mum enjoyed it too, by the way.

I thought I'd make the most of being in the literary environment, kidding myself that I'm an intellectual (I do have a masters after all), and go to another talk. Di Atkinson happened to being doing two talks yesterday, the other being The Suffragette and the Jockey (points for anyone who know what that refers to). I'm a bit of a suffrage nerd having spent so long with the WSPU ladies when I wrote my dissertation. I like to think we were close. I went off to the talk and left feeling like I had suddenly gained ALL THE KNOWLEDGE. I actually feel ten times smarter than I did yesterday.

The talk was about Emily Wilding Davison, the suffragette who jumped in front of the king's horse in 1913 and died four days later from her injuries. I personally think she was pretty much off her rocker but Di Atkinson really seemed to almost admire her. Unusually so, as the general consensus is that she was not the sanest suffragette around. Atkinson argues that she intended to commit suicide (again, not the general consensus) and she really did bring a strong case for it. This talk made me fall in love with the women's movement all over again. I was so fed up of suffragettes and suffragists and anti's by the time I'd finished my dissertation and until yesterday I hadn't even considered them. Hopefully now my passion is back, along with new found knowledge, and I can get back to reading about them for simple enjoyment. We'll see, though. Christabel may just piss me off all over again. Her and her amazing cheekbones.

Both talks were brill and I'm really glad I went to them even though I still would have preferred to see Pat B. Next on my radar is the Hay Festival...maybe I'll finally get there this year. 

Obviously I bought the would hardly expect anything else now would you?

And check out this amazing building. I've been to Bath a fair amount but never even noticed it before. If that's not a reason to look up I don't know what is.

I love Bath. It's so Austeny and literary.


Monday, 4 March 2013

Musing Mondays


Musing Mondays asks you to muse about one of the following each week…
• Describe one of your reading habits.
• Tell us what book(s) you recently bought for yourself or someone else, and why you chose that/those book(s).
• Tell us what you’re reading right now — what you think of it, so far; why you chose it; what you are (or, aren’t) enjoying it.

It's Monday (yay) and I am reading A Moveable Feast by Earnest Hemingway. I only started this last night but so far I'm really enjoying it. I love Hemingway's writing style, it is so sparse yet so revealing. I think I am going to thoroughly enjoy meeting all the Modernists through his eyes, I've studied their work so much but know very little about their individual lives so I think in that respect this will be an entertaining and eye-opening book. This is my first book for A Modern March, I've got Faulkner and Woolf eagerly awaiting me on my shelf but after last month's somewhat harrowing selection of Holocaust literature I thought I'd start off lightly.

I suspect that, as is the trend, reading this will send me off on a whirlwind of lost gen reading...The Paris Wife, Z...

'All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know'

Happy Monday everyone, I've done a 9 mile run this morning and I start my new job today so I'm feeling particularly chipper and am hoping for good days all round.


Sunday, 3 March 2013

Review: Property

Property (2003)
Valerie Martin
'If I am dead,' I said, 'it is because you have killed me.'
Property is a novel set in the deep South in the early nineteenth century. It tells the story of Manon Gaudet,  the unhappy wife of a boorish plantation owner. Manon is presented with a slave, Sarah, as a wedding gift by her family but Sarah ends up giving birth to two of Gaudet's children. This miserable domestic situation is played out against a backdrop of slave rebellions and vicious uprisings.
It is a very short novel, just covering 200 pages. But its brevity makes it all the more powerful as every word seems to be filled with emotion and chosen with particular care. It is a thoroughly miserable story but because of that quite believable. I think that is what has impressed me most, Valerie Martin hasn't tried to romanticise the story by sticking in the token white woman fighting for freedom for slaves. Every time it starts to head towards a semi-happy conclusion something else happens to make all the characters, Manon and Sarah particularly, totally miserable again. Manon is not a nice person. Her character is ridiculously ambiguous, just like every other character. Nothing is cut and dry in Property. All the characters are flawed and they all have moments of kindness and cruelty. But then that just makes them more real I think.
I think it is clever the way Valerie Martin has highlighted the fact that it wasn't just the slaves that were property, but women too. Manon is tied to her husband whether she likes it or not and she experiences quite how binding it is when she realises all her own money and property belongs not to her, but to her husband. Manon demonstrates a clear awareness of her situation and the latent sexism (and racism) in society. She also accepts it.
'It was the lie at the centre of everything, the great lie we all supported, tended, and worshipped as if our lives depended upon it, as if, should one person ever speak honestly, the world would crack open and send us all tumbling into a flaming pit. My future was as dark and small as Joel's was bright and wide, yet it was my duty to pretend I did not know it.'
I can see why it won the Orange Prize in 2003 and I really must ask myself why on earth I've not read it sooner. Massive fail on my behalf *bows head in very apologetic manner*.


Friday, 1 March 2013

Review: 84 Charing Cross Road

84 Charing Cross Road/ The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street
Helene Hanff

I've had a bit of a rollercoaster week what with being made redundant and all. Emotions running wild, bemoaning the loss of my income, adoring the sudden free time, wondering whether the arts is really a sector I want to get in get the picture. The delightful Ellie recommended 84 Charing Cross Road, which I recently purchased, as a good pick me up. Well, she wasn't wrong. I read this book in one sitting yesterday (oh unemployment, how I sort of love thee) and I feel thoroughly cheered. My copy also includes The Duchess of Bloomsbury Street, which I'm assuming most copies do, so I'm just going to talk about them together.

There is just one thing I need to throw out there before I begin: Helene Hanff - babe, right?!


84 Charing Cross Road is a collection of letters between Helene Hanff in New York and various people in the Marks & Co Booksellers in London, most frequently with FPD (Frank Doel). Helene orders books from Messers Marks & Co. and through her correspondence strikes up quite a friendship with those in the shop (and their families). It is a truly happy and uplifting book, apart from one bit which hit me like a ton of bricks and had me sobbing (emotional rollercoaster remember people, no judging).

I love how much Helene's personality comes through the letters, I think that is what makes this book so amusing. Even in the face of Frank's initial stoicism she never holds back but throws herself onto the page and into their lives.

'I've made arrangements with the Easter bunny to bring you an Egg, he will get over there and find you have died of Inertia.'

The second half of the book is Helene's diary when she is in London. She has just published 84 Charing Cross Road as is finally visiting England and all the people she knows so well but has never met. It really is a very good read. She has a brilliant perspective on life and on books:

'I despair of ever getting it through anybody's head I am not interested in bookshops, I am interested in what's written in the books. I don't browse in bookshops, I browse in libraries, where you can take a book home and read it, and if you like it you go to a bookshop and buy it.'

Can you imagine my excitement when I realised this had been made into a film? With none other than Anthony Hopkins? Oh, be still my beating lit nerd heart.

Anyway, fret not people, I am feeling much better now and today I was offered a job *shakes ass in excitement*. I think I've found a new favourite book about books which I can see myself dipping in and out of many times.

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