Friday, 31 October 2008

Chasing my tail

You know when dogs get really excited and they start chasing their tails in some vain hope that they might catch it? I sorta feel like a blogging equivalent of that.

Let me explain.

I have four books on the go at the moment, all of which require reading and a couple of which have actual relevance to what is going on in the world.

I'm getting really into 'Becoming Queen', but I feel like I should be putting it aside to read 'Testament of Youth' because it's the best write up of WW1, and with the 90th anniversary of the end of that terrible war upon us, it's an important read. However, Barack Obama with his 'Dreams from my Father' is very insistent on being picked up, because Tuesday might just be the day he comes to power, and if he doesn't, people are going to have to restrain me come January so I don't fly off and try my hand at assassination. But on top of all of these, Edith Wharton's ghost stories are jumping up and down in front of my eyes, declaring that I only have 34 minutes before Halloween finishes and I have to do something spookier than watch Daniel Craig kill lots of people ... what to do?

Well, here's a nice picture of an Autumn tree. I'm going back to chasing my tail!

Thursday, 30 October 2008


I've been putting this off too long in the hope that in by leaving it, I would become a grand wordsmith and write the best thoughts about this, my favourite book of year, and bask in the glory of all the comments that come my way declaring 'Well, by gosh, I am going out right this MINUTE to buy myself a copy!'

I am now quite convinced that this very probably wont be happening, and am so going to content myself with trying to convey what it is that has so captivated me. I am well aware that there are others out there who have done this better than I will do, but here are my thoughts on a book that has truly touched my heart, brain and soul. Ladies and Gentleman, I give you Justine Picardie's 'Daphne'.

Books are funny things. Who knows what it is that is going to attract you and persuade you to read it? Recommendations are all well and good, but if you walk into a literary festival event just by chance then what is it that will make your mind up to buy and read that book? I went to Justine's event in April full of curiosity about Daphne du Maurier, but no intention of buying the book - having spent an awful lot at the festival already.
An hour later, however, I had a copy in my hands, having been so fired up by the conversation that had gone on, that I couldn't let the chance of reading this book pass me by another minute.
Fresh from a Masters in the art of biography, where I'd written an essay on the way fiction can sometimes be used as a way of presenting a portion of a person's life that a conventional biography might struggle with at times, I was understandably excited about this take of one strand of du Maurier's life.
My excitement was more than justified as I wove my way through the trials du Maurier suffered through 1957 and the way she tried to write herself out of the crisis her husband's breakdown had precipitated. If it were just a novel about du Maurier this would be a good book, what makes it great is the intricate threads that are woven through the tale of du Maurier's involvement with J.A. Symington, the mystery of various stolen Bronte manuscripts and how all these things reflect on one young woman, seemingly living the plot of 'Rebecca'.

With so many threads in her hand, one might think that it would be easy to let one or more slack, but each is taut wonderfully crafted. The real reason I love this book is because it draws you into the world of people that you might otherwise not have come into contact with, and whilst it gives a clear picture, there are still enough shadows around the edges to delve into at a later date - some of which are already being delved into by Justine herself, and one (the missing Honresfeld manuscript) which is a mystery she has handed on to her readers.

This is a book that really moved me when I read it. I've been to a few of Justine's talks about it, each of which has shaped the way I've looked both at it, and the woman it's centred around. And as first lines go - 'To begin. Where to begin? To begin at the beginning, wherever that might be.' - well, in my personal opinion, I feel like it's right up there with my two favourite books of all time - 'Pride and Prejudice' and 'I Capture the Castle'. And that's the highest praise I can bestow on anything I read.

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Poem of the Week

'October' by Siegried Sassoon

Across the land a faint blue veil of mist
Seems hung; the woods wear yet arrayment sober
Till frost shall make them flame; silent and whist
The drooping cherry orchards of October
Like mournful pennons hang their shrivelling leaves
Russet and orange: all things now decay;
Long since ye garnered in your autumn sheaves,
And sad the robins pipe at set of day.

Now do ye dream of Spring when greening shaws
Confer with the shrewd breezes, and of slopes
Flower-kirtled, and of April, virgin guest;
Days that ye love, despite their windy flaws,
Since they are woven with all joys and hopes
Whereof ye nevermore shall be possessed.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Picture perfect

I got a bunch of flowers from a work mate today. Thought you'd all like to see!

Sunday, 26 October 2008

Poem of the Week

I've chosen something to cheer me up ... here we are.

Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

And here's a sunset too ....

Distraction technique

I am SO sick of applying for jobs, so instead I will entertain myself (and hopefully others as well) by distracting myself with books.

I suddenly realised this week that I've been reading an awful lot of fiction over the past months, and my non fiction rate has slipped dramatically. This needs to be remedied, and so biography will be the theme for the next few weeks.

Accordingly, I have raided my shelves and also the library and have a stack that I intend to make my way through over the next weeks, coupled with some Edith Wharton fiction.

First up is 'The Real Mrs Miniver'. I have just finished 'Mrs Miniver', loved it in an entirely different way from loving the film, and find that Jan Stuther must be an interesting person to know about.
Similarly so is Dodie Smith, and so I've snatched the chance to read her biography, and might have to delve back into 'I Capture the Castle', which inspired me so much when I first read it.

Sneaking it's way to the top of the pile is 'Becoming Queen' by Kate Williams. I read 'England's Mistress' in one sitting in early February this year, and was captivated by the spirit that was Emma Hamilton - so different from the person played by Vivien Leigh in 'That Hamilton Woman'. I even found two coloured prints of Romney portraits in Oxford's print shop, which I really need to get framed! Anyway, bloggers like Random Jottings are waxing lyrical about it, and I have always been fascinated by the Victorian period and what led up to it, so am sure it will be a wonderful read.

Dovegreyreader's post on wartime literature, in the build up to the ninetieth anniversary of the ending of the great war, has persuaded me that I really ought to read 'Testament of Youth' by Vera Brittain.

Meanwhile, back in the fiction department, I have been inspired to read more of Edith Wharton's collection. It's been over two years since I finished my undergraduate disseration on Wharton and Henry James (entitled 'Transatlantic Contrasts: James, Wharton and the writing of displacement') and I think that it's now time to take these two up again. As an interesting side note, it was mentioned recently that Edith Wharton's very wealthy father had a most impressive library of seven to eight hundred books .... it goes to show how times have changed, doesn't it? How difficult to make distinctions between wealth, when nowadays a not very wealthy person (i.e. me) can have over 700 books before their 24th birthday.

Now though I'm going to write a letter. Seeing as how I'm such an advocate of this form of communication, I've been hopelessly lax in the last few months!

Saturday, 25 October 2008

I'm still here, really!

I know I haven't posted for a week, and I'm sorry.

It's been a bit of a stressful week, mainly because I decided to resign from one part of my job. I have two jobs in Oxford Brookes University, and I've given up the admin role in Legal Services which was two days a week.

It's annoying that it's come along now, because in the current economic climate it would have been good to have another job to go to.

I've not read a lot this past week, so not a lot to report on that score. I've got a small note of panic going on in the back of my head, and I'm hoping it's not going to get too loud!

Sunday, 19 October 2008

Soaking in sequins

It's been going on for five weeks now, and I'm finally in a position to talk about the wonder that is ..... Strictly Come Dancing!

I've always been a fan of this most wonderful reality show. I've spent a large part of my childhood watching the musicals of the 40s, and I have always loved the elegance and sheer foot power that goes into the routines. Ever since Natasha Kaplinsky first strapped on her shoes, I've been loving watching the twirls and lifts, and in some cases, the car crash moments. Dance with a GMTV presenter anyone? No, didn't think so.

This year, the talent is amazing, and after this weekend's performances, here are the people I want to see right up until the very end.

First there is Cherie Lunghi - I cannot get enough of this woman, with her elegance and glamour, and if those wonderful lifts are anything to go by, then the next few weeks are going to be fantastic.

Austin and Tom are going to go far (and I'm so glad Tom got through this week, because that would've ruined his wedding!!). It's so funny to see their own competition within the actual show. As the men get voted out, it'll be interesting to find out if the sports competitor spirit comes to the fore.

And finally .... Jodie. Oh my goodness. After that stilted rumba last week, her American smooth was as graceful as a Fred and Ginger routine, and she looked fantastic.

And as for the sudden death tonight .... well, I don't agree with the the judges decision. To my (admittedly untrained) eye, Heather was off beat and lacking in any sense of performance. I'm sure she was just nervous, but Don's dance was so good, and I actually think it was better than his first try.

Still, the judges' opinion won't stop me watching, it's all my fantasies in one show, without having to do it myself (and I do know how to waltz (barely)). Long may it continue, and long may the sequins sparkle!

Friday, 17 October 2008

Myself when old

I have just found THE best picture to sum up what I might be like in fifty years time. When I have my library, and Victorian dress has come back in fashion. And if I were a man. Actually, skip that last. It's a fab painting!

The Bookworm, by Carl Spitzweg: ......... I can't stop giggling!

We Read to Know We Are Not Alone

That sentence has to be one of the best descriptions of why we read that I've ever heard. It's from the film 'Shadowlands' and if you've not seen it, then I advise you all to rush out and get a copy for it is the most beautiful portrait of the relationship between C.S. Lewis and Joy Gresham. Oxford doesn't come off to badly either.

Anyway, back to those words. They've set me thinking about the nature of reading and whether that sentence actually holds true when you set it against different genres.

Ok, so I know I read Jane Austen's works with a sense of wonder that it's not just me who has relationship difficulties, or an annoying mother, and that these things have passed down through the centuries. I read murder mysteries not because I've committed murder, but because the thrill they give me has thrilled others before me and I know that. Do I read anything by Douglass Adams because I'm supremely interested in science? Do I heck! I read them because they are funny.

So what does this sentence really mean? I suppose it might be better to say we WRITE to know we are not alone, because what else is a blog for except to share the wealth we have acquired and pass it on and infuse others with that sense of 'I MUST read that'.
It's an interesting puzzle, but one I do understand (despite the way I've expressed myself here).

Reading gives me the freedom to explore, to take a part of myself and let it grow through fiction. It amuses me (and worries me at the same time) how much I can relate to fictional characters. To quote another film (this time not quite so lofty, but none the less lovely for that: 'You've Got Mail', in fact) 'So much of what I see reminds me of what I've read in a book, when shouldn't it be the other way around?'

I read for the pleasure. I read for the experience. I read so that I can share with those who have read the same thing. I read with the confidence that there are others out there who have had the same, almost indescribable, feelings I have had.

I read to know I'm not alone. Do you?

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Poem of the week

With a sniffle and a cough, I give you 'The Common Cold'
by Ogden Nash

Go hang yourself, you old M.D,!
You shall not sneer at me.
Pick up your hat and stethoscope,
Go wash your mouth with laundry soap;
I contemplate a joy exquisite
In not paying you for your visit.
I did not call you to be told
My malady is a common cold.

By pounding brow and swollen lip;
By fever's hot and scaly grip;
By those two red redundant eyes
That weep like woeful April skies;
By racking snuffle, snort, and sniff;
By handkerchief after handkerchief;
This cold you wave away as naught
Is the damnedest cold man ever caught!

Give ear, you scientific fossil!
Here is the genuine Cold Colossal;
The Cold of which researchers dream,
The Perfect Cold, the Cold Supreme.
This honored system humbly holds
The Super-cold to end all colds;
The Cold Crusading for Democracy;
The Führer of the Streptococcracy.

Bacilli swarm within my portals
Such as were ne'er conceived by mortals,
But bred by scientists wise and hoary
In some Olympic laboratory;
Bacteria as large as mice,
With feet of fire and heads of ice
Who never interrupt for slumber
Their stamping elephantine rumba.

A common cold, gadzooks, forsooth!
Ah, yes. And Lincoln was jostled by Booth;
Don Juan was a budding gallant,
And Shakespeare's plays show signs of talent;
The Arctic winter is fairly coolish,
And your diagnosis is fairly foolish.
Oh what a derision history holds
For the man who belittled the Cold of Colds!

Atishooo! Hope you're all well!

Sunday, 12 October 2008

Blenheim Palce

I went to Blenheim today for part of the Independent Literary festival (of which more later in the week).

The weather was a little odd though. After yesterdays sun, I was expecting more of the same, but I got up, opened the curtains .... and I couldn't see a thing! So as I got to Blenheim, this is what I could see ...

Errr - where's the house? I felt like Scarlett O'Hara as I ran up the drive (and run I did, because public transport on a Sunday is hopeless, and I was almost late!

Then, I had time between my events to walk around. I reasoned that two festival tickets meant I was more than qualified to go round the grounds without paying again, so off I went.

That's the lake. What do you mean you can't see the rolling hillside on the other side?

An hour or so later, however, I could finally see the palace.

And I finally spotted where the plinth was .... seriously, I thought I was going mad earlier in the day, because I couldn't find it. Was I getting confused with Windsor I wondered? No, turns out the mist was REALLY bad, because none of what is in this picture was available to be seen earlier in the day!

And there's the house again, taken from the train - beautiful weather!

Saturday, 11 October 2008

Brain meltdown at important moments

Is there ever a good time to open your mouth and say something so totally wrong that it quite takes away your standing as 'literary brain of the village' or some such title?

The answer to that is probably no, although I would imagine there are better times than others to open mouth before fully engaging brain, as Stuck in a Book shows on his last post.

I too, have had more than my fair share of brain freezes, although thankfully I can't remember most of them, and even more thankfully, friends from Uni don't read this blog, so can't post on the comments to remind me (and the world) of them.

However, in honour of Simon's escapade I will share two of my most embarrassing moments.

Firstly: Picture if you will a classroom. A level English, and me up front because I worship the ground my teacher walks on (we're good friends now actually, but that's beside the point). One day, during a routine class, she quotes a famous bit of Shakespeare, and asks what its from. My hand shoots up, and when asked for the answer, I say with COMPLETE assurance, because no way can I have got this wrong - 'All's Well That Ends Well'
Cue withering glance from favourite teacher, and the question goes to someone else. Turns out it was 'As You Like It' - which we'd JUST been talking about.

Secondly: Later in life (but not much) during first class in second semester of first year, our tutor decides to ask us why we've chosen to do this subject (English and American Literature) and forbids us to say 'uuuh, it's cos I like books'. I have my answer all prepared, and launch into long story about how on Christmas eve our family have a tradition of getting a book from the tree. 'Dad' I say blithely 'puts the tree under the books ...' and thus seal my fate in the eyes of this particular tutor that I am a blithering idiot and not worth the paper I write my essays on. He later (in third year) gives me thirds for every piece of work I do in an entire semester, which means I get a 2:2 instead of a 2:1. Bah!

I am sure there are other moments when my brain has failed me from appearing knowledgeable and University worthy, but like I said, I can't remember them ... and I rather hope it stays that way!

Friday, 10 October 2008

And when Love speaks, the voice of all the gods make heaven drowsy with the harmony.

I was thinking about those lines in books and plays that strike a chord with us, that make our hearts quicken, and cause those little moments of happiness. I have no idea why, but at this moment I'm in a hopelessly romantic mood ... no reason for this really. Anyway, are there certain lines that you read that just seem to sum up the notion of love and harmony for you? Or that you see, and think 'yes, that's a concept I want to hang on to'?

I'm not even sure what I'm driving at - I just feel like quoting Shakespeare. And who needs a proper reason for doing that?

Walking around the Actor's church in Covent Garden, there is a plaque to Vivien Leigh, with this epitaph on it:

"Now boast thee, death, in thy possession lies
A lass unparalleled."

It's from Antony and Cleopatra, and always manages to touch me when I see it.

'Make me a willow cabin at your gate,
And call upon my soul within the house;
Write loyal cantons of contemned love
And sing them loud even in the dead of night;
Halloo your name to the reverberate hills
And make the babbling gossip of the air
Cry out 'Olivia!' O, You should not rest
Between the elements of air and earth,
But you should pity me!
- Twelfth Night

'Serve God, Love me, and mend'
Benedick - Much Ado About Nothing

'This day is called the feast of Crispian:
He that outlives this day and comes safe home,
Will stand a tip-toe when this day is named,
And rouse him at the name of Crispian.
He that shall live this day, and see old age,
Will yearly on the vigil feast his neighbours,
And say, 'To-morrow is Saint Crispian:'
Then will he strip his sleeve and show his scars,
And say, 'These wounds I had on Crispin's day.'
Old men forget: yet all shall be forgot,
But he'll remember with advantages
What feats he did that day. Then shall our names,
Familiar in his mouth as household words,
Harry the King, Bedford and Exeter,
Warwick and Talbot, Salisbury and Gloucester,
Be in their flowing cups freshly remembered.
This story shall the good man teach his son;
And Crispin Crispian shall ne'er go by,
From this day to the ending of the world,
But we in it shall be rememberèd;
We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne'er so vile
This day shall gentle his condition:
And gentlemen in England, now a-bed
Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.
- Henry V

'The words of Mercury are harsh after the songs of Apollo. You, that way: we, this way.'
- Love's Labours Lost

Trying to choose a favourite sonnet is like trying to choose which ice cream flavour to have, when every flavour in the world is offered. Here are a couple at random ....

What's in the brain that ink may character,
Which hath not figured to thee my true spirit,
What's new to speak, what now to register,
That may express my love, or thy dear merit?
Nothing sweet boy, but yet like prayers divine,
I must each day say o'er the very same,
Counting no old thing old, thou mine, I thine,
Even as when first I hallowed thy fair name.
So that eternal love in love's fresh case,
Weighs not the dust and injury of age,
Nor gives to necessary wrinkles place,
But makes antiquity for aye his page,
Finding the first conceit of love there bred,
Where time and outward form would show it dead.
- sonnet 108

Betwixt mine eye and heart a league is took,
And each doth good turns now unto the other,
When that mine eye is famished for a look,
Or heart in love with sighs himself doth smother;
With my love's picture then my eye doth feast,
And to the painted banquet bids my heart:
Another time mine eye is my heart's guest,
And in his thoughts of love doth share a part.
So either by thy picture or my love,
Thy self away, art present still with me,
For thou not farther than my thoughts canst move,
And I am still with them, and they with thee.
Or if they sleep, thy picture in my sight
Awakes my heart, to heart's and eye's delight.
- sonnet 47

I think I'll go to bed now. I've got quite a full weekend, what with selling books and going to Blenheim for a literary festival on Sunday, although Nicola Beauman of Persephone books has cancelled her talk, so I'll only be hearing Jane Austen's letters spoken aloud. Ample time to wander around the grounds though, and take a massive amount of pictures!!

Word of the day

Floccinaucinihilipilification - the act of describing something as worthless, or making something to be worthless by deprecation.

Hmmm - does that remind anyone of certain financial situations at the moment???

Booking through Thursday - on a Friday

I don't normally do the BTT, but Peta has inspired me this time, so here goes ...

What was the last book you bought?

Err, Oh yes - I remember. I bought 'Jo's Boys' by L.M. Alcott and 'George' by Daphne du Maurier on my way back from an interview on Tuesday!

Name a book you have read MORE than once

I do re read books, although this year I've made an effort not to. I think I shall say 'The Age of Innocence' by Edith Wharton - although Austen could make an appearance too.

Has a book ever fundamentally changed the way you see life? If yes, what was it?

I'm not really sure a book has ever made me change the way I am - but I have had profound experiences from certain books - this year 'Human Traces' by Sebastian Faulks and 'Daphne' by Justine Picardie

How do you choose a book? eg. by cover design and summary, recommendations or reviews

I was going to say I don't read reviews - but what do you call a blog post when it's at home if it's not a review?! Covers are more often than not the thing that tempts me (or the writing of the title), but recommendations from people I trust might also cause me to try something I wouldn't normally have considered

Do you prefer Fiction or Non-Fiction?

It depends on what mood I'm in - I've been in a fiction mood recently.

What’s more important in a novel - beautiful writing or a gripping plot?

They are both very important for different reasons

Most loved/memorable character (character/book)

Most loved? Ummm. Piglet from Winnie the Pooh, Beatrice from Much Ado About Nothing and Elizabeth Bennet. Sorry Peta, I stole your answer - but it remains true for me too!

Which book or books can be found on your nightstand at the moment?

Err - well I'm not reading the ones on my nigtstand so not sure it counts!

What was the last book you’ve read, and when was it?

Mrs Miniver by Jan Struther on Sunday - I'm reading The King's General at the moment.

Have you ever given up on a book half way in?

More than once

Thursday, 9 October 2008

A smallish hole in the shelves

You can never tell how many books you have until you begin getting rid of some. I've been pulling things off the shelves in a ruthless manner. If I've not read it, and I look at it and think I never will read it, then it's coming off.

The problem with this is what to do with my spreadsheet. Some I have actually read, and I don't want to lose track, so I can't just delete them. Therefore there is now a new page devoted to 'books discarded.

Surprisingly, there are less sacrifices than I thought .... and although I promised I wouldn't, five have gone back on my shelves and I'm trying to make up my mind about that biography of Lucrezia Borgia ...

And now, although I said I would not do this, I am going to post what I'm getting rid of. I don't intend on doing a pick and choose, but if anyone sees something and has been desperately looking for it for years etc. then please comment before Saturday morning, when I will be taking them to Blackwell's second hand department, where I will be trying to sell them ....

Napoli, Donna Jo Daughter of Venice
Newbury, Linda Flightsend
Drabble, Margaret The Seven Sisters
Menzies, Gavin 1421: The Year China Discovered the World
Sperber, A. N. & Lax, Eric Bogart
Scott, Sir Walter The Bride of Lammermoor
Plutarch Roman Lives
Garfield, Simon Mauve
Maclaine, Shirley Out on a Limb
Tannahill, Reay Fatal Majesty
Wells, H.G. A Short History of the World
Bogdanovich, Peter This is Orson Wells
Callow, Simon Charles Laughton
Holinghurst, Alan The Line of Beauty
Orwell, George Nineteen Eighty-four
Baker, Nicholson U & I
Kapuscinski, Ryszard The Soccer war
Ondaatje, Michael The English Patient
Wolff, Tobias In Pharoah's Army
Harris, Robert Archangel/Fatherland
Haggard, H. Rider King Solomon's Mines
Breslin, Theresa Rememberance
Tyler, Anne The Amateur Marriage
Sandford, Christopher McQueen
Pennington, Kate Tread Softly
O'Connor, Joseph Star of the Sea
Barnes, Julian Flaubert's Parrot
Mailer, Norman An American Dream
Kundera, Milan Slowness
Rathbone, Julian Kings of Albion
Fowles, John The French Lieutentant's Woman
Falk, Quentin Anthony Hopkins
Thakeray, William Vanity Fair
Scott, Sir Walter Ivanhoe
Bosworth, Patricia Marlon Brando
Tiffany, Grace My Father had a daughter
Molony, Rowland After the death of Alice Bennet
Rushdie, Salman Midnight's Children
Brown, Peter Harry Howard Hughes
Ibbotsen, Eva A song for summer
Christie, Agathe A Murder is Announced
Kerouac, Jack The Dharma Bums
Penman, Sharon When Christ and his Saints Slept
Marshall, Dorothy Victoria
Sorenson, Theodore C. Kennedy
Farmer, Francis Will there really be a morning?
Bunyan, John Pilgrim's Progress
Frieda, Leonie Catherine de Medici
Hawkes, Howard Bringing up Baby
Lerner, Alan Jay The Street Where I Live
Bronte, Emily Wuthering Heights
Davies, Martin The Conjuror's Bird

Tuesday, 7 October 2008

Poem of the Week

Today is the anniversary of Edgar Allen Poe's death (in 1849). So, here - have something suitably autumnal to celebrate!

The Raven

Once upon a midnight dreary, while I pondered weak and weary,
Over many a quaint and curious volume of forgotten lore,
While I nodded, nearly napping, suddenly there came a tapping,
As of some one gently rapping, rapping at my chamber door.
`'Tis some visitor,' I muttered, `tapping at my chamber door -
Only this, and nothing more.'

Ah, distinctly I remember it was in the bleak December,
And each separate dying ember wrought its ghost upon the floor.
Eagerly I wished the morrow; - vainly I had sought to borrow
From my books surcease of sorrow - sorrow for the lost Lenore -
For the rare and radiant maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Nameless here for evermore.

And the silken sad uncertain rustling of each purple curtain
Thrilled me - filled me with fantastic terrors never felt before;
So that now, to still the beating of my heart, I stood repeating
`'Tis some visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door -
Some late visitor entreating entrance at my chamber door; -
This it is, and nothing more,'

Presently my soul grew stronger; hesitating then no longer,
`Sir,' said I, `or Madam, truly your forgiveness I implore;
But the fact is I was napping, and so gently you came rapping,
And so faintly you came tapping, tapping at my chamber door,
That I scarce was sure I heard you' - here I opened wide the door; -
Darkness there, and nothing more.

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there wondering, fearing,
Doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dared to dream before
But the silence was unbroken, and the darkness gave no token,
And the only word there spoken was the whispered word, `Lenore!'
This I whispered, and an echo murmured back the word, `Lenore!'
Merely this and nothing more.

Back into the chamber turning, all my soul within me burning,
Soon again I heard a tapping somewhat louder than before.
`Surely,' said I, `surely that is something at my window lattice;
Let me see then, what thereat is, and this mystery explore -
Let my heart be still a moment and this mystery explore; -
'Tis the wind and nothing more!'

Open here I flung the shutter, when, with many a flirt and flutter,
In there stepped a stately raven of the saintly days of yore.
Not the least obeisance made he; not a minute stopped or stayed he;
But, with mien of lord or lady, perched above my chamber door -
Perched upon a bust of Pallas just above my chamber door -
Perched, and sat, and nothing more.

Then this ebony bird beguiling my sad fancy into smiling,
By the grave and stern decorum of the countenance it wore,
`Though thy crest be shorn and shaven, thou,' I said, `art sure no craven.
Ghastly grim and ancient raven wandering from the nightly shore -
Tell me what thy lordly name is on the Night's Plutonian shore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

Much I marvelled this ungainly fowl to hear discourse so plainly,
Though its answer little meaning - little relevancy bore;
For we cannot help agreeing that no living human being
Ever yet was blessed with seeing bird above his chamber door -
Bird or beast above the sculptured bust above his chamber door,
With such name as `Nevermore.'

But the raven, sitting lonely on the placid bust, spoke only,
That one word, as if his soul in that one word he did outpour.
Nothing further then he uttered - not a feather then he fluttered -
Till I scarcely more than muttered `Other friends have flown before -
On the morrow he will leave me, as my hopes have flown before.'
Then the bird said, `Nevermore.'

Startled at the stillness broken by reply so aptly spoken,
`Doubtless,' said I, `what it utters is its only stock and store,
Caught from some unhappy master whom unmerciful disaster
Followed fast and followed faster till his songs one burden bore -
Till the dirges of his hope that melancholy burden bore
Of "Never-nevermore."'

But the raven still beguiling all my sad soul into smiling,
Straight I wheeled a cushioned seat in front of bird and bust and door;
Then, upon the velvet sinking, I betook myself to linking
Fancy unto fancy, thinking what this ominous bird of yore -
What this grim, ungainly, ghastly, gaunt, and ominous bird of yore
Meant in croaking `Nevermore.'

This I sat engaged in guessing, but no syllable expressing
To the fowl whose fiery eyes now burned into my bosom's core;
This and more I sat divining, with my head at ease reclining
On the cushion's velvet lining that the lamp-light gloated o'er,
But whose velvet violet lining with the lamp-light gloating o'er,
She shall press, ah, nevermore!

Then, methought, the air grew denser, perfumed from an unseen censer
Swung by Seraphim whose foot-falls tinkled on the tufted floor.
`Wretch,' I cried, `thy God hath lent thee - by these angels he has sent thee
Respite - respite and nepenthe from thy memories of Lenore!
Quaff, oh quaff this kind nepenthe, and forget this lost Lenore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil! -
Whether tempter sent, or whether tempest tossed thee here ashore,
Desolate yet all undaunted, on this desert land enchanted -
On this home by horror haunted - tell me truly, I implore -
Is there - is there balm in Gilead? - tell me - tell me, I implore!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Prophet!' said I, `thing of evil! - prophet still, if bird or devil!
By that Heaven that bends above us - by that God we both adore -
Tell this soul with sorrow laden if, within the distant Aidenn,
It shall clasp a sainted maiden whom the angels named Lenore -
Clasp a rare and radiant maiden, whom the angels named Lenore?'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

`Be that word our sign of parting, bird or fiend!' I shrieked upstarting -
`Get thee back into the tempest and the Night's Plutonian shore!
Leave no black plume as a token of that lie thy soul hath spoken!
Leave my loneliness unbroken! - quit the bust above my door!
Take thy beak from out my heart, and take thy form from off my door!'
Quoth the raven, `Nevermore.'

And the raven, never flitting, still is sitting, still is sitting
On the pallid bust of Pallas just above my chamber door;
And his eyes have all the seeming of a demon's that is dreaming,
And the lamp-light o'er him streaming throws his shadow on the floor;
And my soul from out that shadow that lies floating on the floor
Shall be lifted - nevermore!

Saturday, 4 October 2008

Oxford-Reader: Ruthless weeder of bookshelves

I looked at my bookshelves last night, and came to a realisation:

I have too many books and not enough space. To deal with this problem I can do one of two things.

1. Stop buying books.

2. Take anything from my shelves that I will never read, will never re-read or have two copies of.

Obviously, number one is a sheer impossibility, so I have to turn to number two. This is hard. I mean, I have actually spent money on these books, and I obviously wanted them at the time. However, I took the bit between my teeth this evening and have been pulling left, right and centre, and have a towering pile of 66 on the floor. (In an interesting parallel, I have read about 66 books this year.)

I'm going back to review the shelves now. I need the space, and I MUST be ruthless. Wish me luck!

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Poem of the week

This week's poem is taken from 'Consider the Years' -- I've been trying to find one that expresses my feelings of uncertainty and nerves coupled with a general feeling that all will be well, and it will be well soon.

Unfortunately I've failed - but I've found a beautiful one that's right for the dusk that is drawing around me at this moment.

'I Can Hear Music' -- 1946

I can hear music from a long way off.
Faint it is, but there are people stopping to listen,
pausing in the middle of their work to turn
their heads towards the unrecognizable tune.
It is not much of a sound at the moment;
but everywhere, all over the world,
there are stiff hands stretching out to grope
for slack-stringed violins and tarnished trumpets,
for out-of-tune pianos and reedless bassoons.
There is a snapping open on velvet-cases,
and a whisking of green baize off the keys,
and a tinkle of rosin on to the parquet floor.
there is a moistening of lips grown dry with words of command,
and a trembling of fingers rigid from rifle's rim.
The voices are lifted again, uncertain, strange,
but coming towards us every day from the seas
and the desert lands, the dark lands where singing
has been muffled under the sad beat of the drums.
Soon we shall know the tune, and shall run to our doors
as the orchestras thunder by with bright bugles blowing,
to join in the song which though lost was never forgotten,
the heart, like an unchaged bird, winging to God.

Truly, if you only every buy one Persephone book in your life, it should be this collection of poetry by Virginia Graham - her poems on war time are small gems.

Wednesday, 1 October 2008

Mostly Books

Well, I know that I've been feeling in university reading mood recently, by wanting to read lots of classics, as if someone had handed me a Victorian Novel reading list to make my way through, but if today's splurge is anything to go by, I am most CERTAINLY in University mood.

I couldn't spend £73 in one go if I wasn't.

Within my haul are the following:

'The Victorian Chaise-Longue' by Marghanita Laski (Persephone book) -- Having finished 'The Yellow Wallpaper' this morning, this seems like a natural follow on. I'm loving it.

'From A to X' by John Berger

'Counting my Chickens' by Deborah Devonshire -- I've been looking for this for years. Whoo!

'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' by Winifred Watson (Persephone book) -- loved the film, hope to love the book.

'Flush: A Biography' by Virginia Woolf (Persephone book) -- another of Justine's 'what to read' recommendations. Will go well with 'Lady's Maid' by Margaret Atwood that I bought last week.

'Consider the Years' by Virginia Graham (Persephone book)

THEN - having a browse through the Oxfam bookshop on st Giles, I found 'Mrs Miniver' by Jan Struther, and my life was complete!

Two other matters:
- Simon - the Diary of a Provincial Lady omnibus has a woman at her desk, with a man slumped in a chair - not the one you described.

- If anyone is in Oxford, there's a first edition of 'Trilby' in the st Giles Oxfam. It's £20 - I'm not stretching to that, so thought it would be a good idea to spread the news!