Saturday, 30 August 2008

Quite without willpower

I have been quite reckless this afternoon. As you would expect it has to do with buying books I don't need.

I think it stems from my trip to Paris. I was greatly looking forward to visiting the Shakespeare and Co bookshop, and I managed to search it out, only to find that it was not entirely what I had expected. The lower floor was far more ordered and actually full of new books .... new books? I thought it was supposed to be a second hand shop. Well, in part it is, as can be seen by the picture above, complete with piano playing shop-goer! The upper floor was full of old and wonderful books, but they weren't for sale. You could read them, but not take away, which was such a pity. Therefore I came away with two small trifles, and not the hoard that I had anticipated!

So - therefore, out I went today, and came home with err 4 Agathe Christie's; 2 Jean Plaidy's; a Georgette Heyer, whom I've never read; a Gertrude Stein and the latest Philippa Gregory, which was being sold half price.

It's a never ending cycle, although one which I don't intend to break anytime soon!

A new addition to the fold

I'd just like to take this chance to point you all in the direction of a new(ish) blog. It's all my fault she's started up again, for I have laid down the reading gauntlet and challenged her to read the Telegraph's top 100 books in a year ... Huge promises of cake have been offered as a reason to carry on.

Go seek Gemma out - her comments are usually thought provoking!

Friday, 29 August 2008

Poem of the week

I've been a bit lax with the poem of the week, so here is one, right now, to make up for it.

Maurice Maeterlinck was born today in 1862, so it's only fitting we should have one of his:


      ERE are the old desires that pass,
      The dreams of weary men, that die,
      The dreams that faint and fail, alas!
      And there the days of hope gone by!

      Where to fly shall we find a place?
      Never a star shines late or soon:
      Weariness only with frozen face,
      And sheets of blue in the icy moon.

      Behold the fireless sick, and lo!
      The sobbing victims of the snare!
      Lambs whose pasture is only snow!
      Pity them all, O Lord, my prayer!

      For me, I wait the awakening call:
      I pray that slumber leave me soon.
      I wait until the sunlight fall
      On hands yet frozen by the moon.
Also - Ingrid Bergman was born on this date in 1915, and concluded that like Shakespeare it was best to die on a date your family could remember, and so passed away on this date in 1982. She was a lady of class and talent and has long been one of my favourite actresses.

ETA: Oh! And also, William Spooner, originator of spoonerisms died on this date in 1930 .... Now, who can give me the best spoonerism?

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

The wanderer returns

Je suis tres fatigue ... I am back from Paris, where I have pounded the streets, seen a great amount of art work and eaten some good food. I shall post some pictures soon, but I need to select the best, and when one has taken over 700, it might take a while!

Hope everyone has had a good few days, what have you all been up to?

Friday, 22 August 2008

Olympic fever

We have 41 medals! I laughed when I heard that the London committee had set that as their target. Now I would like to apologise to those wonderful athletes out there who have given their all and achieved some great things. And also thrown a broken hand into the mix, poor Shanaze!

Thursday, 21 August 2008

La Vie En Rose

Fear not - I am not about to launch into a great ream of French ... although I suppose it might be a good idea if I spoke a bit more than I actually do. I am off to Paris for Bank Holiday, and I'm slightly nervous, as I will be on my own, but I'm looking forward to walking along the banks of the Seine, prowling around the Louvre and spending at least a couple of hours in the Shakespeare and Co bookshop!

What have I been doing with myself that has meant that I havn't posted at all in the last week or so? Well, apart from seeing a couple of films and having high tea at the Randolph (an experince I will repeat as long as my bank balance permits), I have of course been reading.

I finished The Behaviour of Moths on Wednesday, which I loved. It's a fantastically woven story, although I did feel that the description of moth procedure was slightly overdone in parts, but that is a big part of the narrator, so it does fit well.
I am usually loath to liken books to others, because I feel it detracts from the authors achievements, and might even in some cases put others of reading it, if they have not liked the other book. However, I had an underlying feeling as I was reading this that it was quite similar, in tone at least, to Engleby.

I'm now reading A Long Long Way, which is good, but isn't really grabbing me.

I must go pack. Apart from not knowing what clothes to take, I am again struggling over books. I have decided upon The Phantom of the Opera, but need to decide on one or two more, as I'll probably finish Phantom on the train!

Au revoir for now!

Friday, 15 August 2008

A lack of words

Sorry for the long gap in posting. It's a combination of reading too much (can there ever be such a thing?), watching the olympics (Ooh, we've actually won some medals) and having an Australian cousin of my Mum's staying with us.

Normal service should be resumed by Sunday evening, but it's the Rowing finals tomorrow morning and then I'm having a film weekend (as opposed to my normal book weekend).

Prize draw will be done tonight, which shouldn't be a surprise, because only two people have entered and they've both asked for different books!

Sunday, 10 August 2008

Halfway to the end

Some of you may remember that my father issued me a challenge to read 100 books this year.

I am very proud to announce that today I went over the half way point. So now I have four more months to read 49 books. Here is what I have read so far:

Julie: The Great American Mousical
Paul: The Book of Illusions
Geraldine: March*
Agatha: The Body in the Library
Delafield, E.M.: The Diary of a Provincial Lady*
Delaney, Frank: Ireland*"
Denny, Joanna: Anne Boleyn
Diamant, Anita: The Red Tent
Diliberto, Gioia: I am Madame X*"
Du Maurier, Daphne: Jamaica Inn
Du Maurier, Daphne: The Rebecca Notebook
Du Maurier, Daphne: My Cousin Rachel*"
Faulks, Sebastian: Human Traces*"
Faulks, Sebastian: Engleby*"
Ferguson, Rachel: The Brontes went to Woolworths*
Fforde, Jasper: The Well of Lost Plots
Fforde, Jasper: Lost in a good book
Fforde, Jasper: Something Rotten
Gardam, Jane: A Long way from Verona
Garfield, Simon: Mauve
Garner, Helen: The Spare Room*
Graeme Evans, Posie: The Innocent
Greene, Grahame: The End of the Affair*
Gregory, Philippa: Earthly Joys
Gregory, Philippa: The Boleyn Inheritance
Harris, Joanne: Chocolat
James, Henry: The turn of the screw
Joews, Miriam: A Boy of Good Breeding
Jones, Lloyd: The Book of Fame*
Jones, Lloyd: Mister Pip
Lewis, C.S.: Surprised by Joy
Long, James: Ferney*
Lovell, Mary S.: A Scandalous Life
Lustig, Arnost: Lovely Green Eyes
Mills, Mark: The Savage Garden*
Mitford, Jessica: Hons and Rebels
Nabokov,Vladimir: Lolita
Ondaatje, Michael: The English Patient
Picardie, Justine: If the Spirit Moves You*
Picardie, Justine: Daphne*"
Picardie, Justine: My Mother's Wedding dress*"
Picardie, Ruth: Before I Say Goodbye*
Rappaport, Helen: Ekaterinberg*
Rilke, Rainer Maria: Letters to a Young Poet
Suskind, Patrick: Perfume*"
Taylor, Elizabeth: Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont
Treves, Sir Frederick: The Elephant Man
Weir, Alison: Innocent Traitor
Weldon, Fay: Letters to Alice*
Williams, Kate: England's Mistress*

So, there we go. The ones with * are the ones I've really loved, and the ones with " are ones I intend to write about soon. I am currently reading 'The Behaviour of Moths', The collected letters of Nicholas and Alexandra Romanov, 'Growing Pains' by Daphne du Maurier and 'The Decameron' by Boccaccio, which my Father declares I must read or my education will be lacking. Hmm.

Think I can make it to 100 by December 31st?

Thursday, 7 August 2008

Not drowning but waving...

I am starting to think that there should be a help group for those with a book fixation. Like the AA. It could be called BA. 'Hello, my name is Rebecca, I'm a bookaholic and I've not bought a book in three days'

It's never going to happen is it? Even if we swear off buying books in a proper bookshop, there are still charity shops, second hand shops, flea markets. You name it, you can probably buy a book there. Even the weekly food shop isn't a safe activity for a bookaholic.

Take today, for instance. On my way home from work I had to go past a restaurant to check the times for cheap eating, and since I was down that way anyway, thought I'd pop in to the best charity shop on this side of town. It's like a grotto - not all nice clean lines, and bright lighting like most Oxfam's - this is all over the place. You could get lost if you tried.
There I found eight books for £9, and in buying them brought my total of books up to 755. And I've not read 432 of them. This isn't a comprehensive list - I only started compiling it late last year when I was getting bored of writing job application forms. All those books that I read because I was told to by University reading lists, and then decided that I hated them. They're not on there, because I sold them.

So, I'm fast running out of shelf space, and bank balance, but do I care? Do I heck! This is the best addiction that I could possibly be afflicted with. When I'm really old (because this is an addiction that doesn't kill you, except when trying to lug an armful of books home) people will come for miles to see the woman who lives in the biggest house they've ever seen, yet has very little furniture apart from bookshelves!

In honour of my books, I am offering a prize draw ... because, yes, I do sometimes buy a book I already have. So, if anyone wants a copy Stella Tillyard's Aristocrats or Daphne du Maurier's The Flight of the Falcon leave a message telling me your book history, or just say 'me, me, me, ME!', and I will enter you for the draw, which will be drawn next Friday evening. Open to everyone, wherever in the world you live!

Oh, and much thanks to Stuckinabook for letting me use his sketch - it really does sum up my relationship with books!

P.S. Kiera Knightley is continuing to ruin my childhood memories. Cameron Macintosh is remaking 'My Fair Lady' and guess who has been cast as Eliza? Yes, HER!
However, I am totally conflicted by the news that Emma Thompson will be doing the screenplay, and that Daniel Day Lewis will be Professor Higgins. I HAVE to see it now!

Wednesday, 6 August 2008

Poem of the week

Today, it is Tennyson's birthday (born 1809). So in memory of him, here is one of his for poem of the week


It little profits that an idle king,
By this still hearth, among these barren crags,
Matched with an aged wife, I mete and dole
Unequal laws unto a savage race,
That hoard, and sleep, and feed, and know not me.

I cannot rest from travel: I will drink
Life to the lees: all times I have enjoyed
Greatly, have suffered greatly, both with those
That loved me, and alone; on shore, and when
Through scudding drifts the rainy Hyades
Vest the dim sea: I am become a name;
For always roaming with a hungry heart
Much have I seen and known; cities of men
And manners, climates, councils, governments,
Myself not least, but honoured of them all;
And drunk delight of battle with my peers;
Far on the ringing plains of windy Troy.
I am part of all that I have met;
Yet all experience is an arch wherethrough
Gleams that untravelled world, whose margin fades
For ever and for ever when I move.
How dull it is to pause, to make an end,
To rust unburnished, not to shine in use!
As though to breath were life. Life piled on life
Were all to little, and of one to me
Little remains: but every hour is saved
From that eternal silence, something more,
A bringer of new things; and vile it were
For some three suns to store and hoard myself,
And this gray spirit yearning in desire
To follow knowledge like a sinking star,
Beyond the utmost bound of human thought.

This is my son, mine own Telemachus,
To whom I leave the scepter and the isle
Well-loved of me, discerning to fulfill
This labour, by slow prudence to make mild
A rugged people, and through soft degrees
Subdue them to the useful and the good.
Most blameless is he, centered in the sphere
Of common duties, decent not to fail
In offices of tenderness, and pay
Meet adoration to my household gods,
When I am gone. He works his work, I mine.

There lies the port; the vessel puffs her sail:
There gloom the dark broad seas. My mariners,
Souls that have toiled, and wrought, and thought with me
That ever with a frolic welcome took
The thunder and the sunshine, and opposed
Free hearts, free foreheads you and I are old;
Old age had yet his honour and his toil;
Death closes all: but something ere the end,
Some work of noble note, may yet be done,
Not unbecoming men that strove with Gods.
The lights begin to twinkle from the rocks:
The long day wanes: the slow moon climbs: the deep
Moans round with many voices. Come, my friends,
'Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in the old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are,
One equal-temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.

I love this one - so full of meaning and drama.

Monday, 4 August 2008

'Before I say Goodbye' and 'If the Spirit Moves You'

Anyone who has read this blog for longer than a week will know that I adore Daphne by Justine Picardie. I promised to write about her other work, but have put off doing so because I didn't feel that I was up to the task. I've seen so many other bloggers write eloquently that to even attempt to write something seemed likely to be a paltry attempt. I felt I wouldn't be able to do the books justice and I'd just end up writing something trite, which isn't what they deserves at all.

I hope I've overcome those fears now - what I write may not be perfect, but it will be what I feel, which I suppose is the most one can ask for when book blogging.

After reading Daphne, I really wanted to read other things Justine had written, and got If The Spirit Moves You out of the library, and then was lucky enough to find both it and Before I say Goodbye in a secondhand shop.

I decided to read Ruth's account of her fatal illness first, and found I was completely unprepared for the humour I found within her emails. I don't know what I had expected, but a dying woman making jokes certainly wasn't anywhere close. There she is, plotting with a friend who has HIV/Aids, just precisely what the blurb for their posthumously published correspondence should say 'In 1997, two young people [I'm going to be 29 in my obits] went into hiding in South London when their bodies were occupied by invading Bad Cells. This is their moving diary ... Blah blah blah.'
Of course there is a great deal of pain too, both physically and mentally, and it's not just Ruth's pain that shows through the few emails that cover the final ten months of her life - there are numerous emails from friends and family who ask for news, but are always aware of the need to be cheerful, in case the news is too hard to tell. The anger is palpable too.
Into this flurry of emails are placed the five columns that Ruth wrote for the Observer, and the inevitable letters that followed on from these. People whose hearts she had touched who ached to let her know that she wasn't alone.
Strangely, this is where the book caught me, making me put it down for an hour or two, until I was strong enough to go back to it. It's not until you get to the very end of Ruth's journey that it suddenly impresses on you how quickly everything is happening - yet she still has the strength to tell her friends that the end is near. Such courage surely is not in all of us.

Justine wrote the final column in the Observer, and towards the end wrote 'Ruth slipped away to a different place, a place where I could not go with her.' This seemed to be the main theme of Justine's book If the Spirit Moves You written almost three years after the death of Ruth. A diary chronicling the search for her sister in the afterlife which takes her right across the Atlantic and back again. This book cut me to the quick - I have two sisters, both to whom I am incredibly close, and can't even begin to imagine the day when I'm without one of them (which will happen sooner than I want, as they are 12 and 15 years older than me) - I can really understand the journey Justine is compelled to go on. What I admire more than anything is her bravery - not simply for going on this journey that may or may not produce what she is looking for, but also at the fact that she found the strength to write it all down.
Ah! I hear you cry 'but she's a journalist!' .... Well, um, yes she is, but I still think you have to be incredibly brave to bare your heart and soul to the world at large in this way; and there is a fragility to parts of this book that belies that strength - although the final statement is strong: 'I like to think that I'm walking towards Ruth, slowly, steadily, as long as it will take. I know that one day I will reach her.'

I've taken too long trying to figure out the exact strength of these two books, and in the end, I don't think I've really touched on what exactly makes these books special to me. For anyone who has felt loss, or pain, they are books that might just help in the time of sorrow. This isn't why they should be read, however. These are simply two books where the power of the written word forces the reader to confront those facts of life that might otherwise be ignored, and may just make the reader stronger in the process.

That's what they did to me.

Sunday, 3 August 2008

Some publishers need their heads testing

The world assumes that you can't judge a book by its cover, but unless you plan on standing in a bookshop and reading the first chapter right there, there is little else that can tempt you to buy the book. Covers matter and that's all there is to it.

I was browsing in Borders yesterday, trying not to get too tempted, because it's abundantly clear with my overloaded bookcases that I DON'T need any more books, when I came across this book:

Only, it wasn't this cover that caused me to stop and almost swear out loud. It was this one:

What on earth? Who thinks it's a good idea to have a picture of Kiera Knightly on the front cover of a biography? I was less than happy when they decided to plaster her all over copies of Pride and Prejudice, but that was because I thought the film was so dreadful, and also because somehow publishers were thinking it was the only way to get certain people to buy the book. My annoyance then was personal.

This, by contrast, annoys my underlying biographer's nature. This book is about an actual, physical woman, and what right have publishers got to put Kiera Knightly on the cover, thereby confusing people and demeaning the Duchess herself? Could they have not just put 'Now a Major Film' on the original book? And what on earth is that Dianaesque 'There were three people in her marriage' strapline? Is that the best film producers could come up with?

I think I need a lie down.

Saturday, 2 August 2008

If you've not read this yet .....

There are some books that you know upon the instant of seeing them that you will love. Ferney is one of them.

Doesn't the cover just fill you with delight? It draws you in, but keeps you at a distance too, with the image out of focus like that.

There is no way of telling you what it is about. To give you even one word would be to spoil it. I went to hear James Long talk about it at Dartington, and therefore I had information lodged in my brain that I probably should not have had. I filled in gaps where I shouldn't have been able. In the end it didn't matter, of course, because it's such a masterpiece. The book actually wrapped itself around me, so that I was in it's protection ... I'm exhausted just thinking about it, and it's rare for me to feel so drawn into the actual plot like that.

So, thanks to DGR for mentioning this is the first place. This is one I'll go back to time and again.