Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Poem of the week

He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

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.

W.B. Yeats

Very sorry not to have posted recently - it's been a mad few weeks, with family illness and job stress and other things. I've done quite a bit of reading, but have had no chance to talk about it. I was interviewed by Mark Thwaite for The Book Depository - which you can see here

Thursday, 15 January 2009

A surfeit of Mitfords

Can one have too much of a good thing? As a reader, can one read too much of an author and consequently expire as a result? It is certainly the case with Lampreys and Cherries, but I have yet to hear of anyone expiring from a surfeit of Jane Austen.

Having said that, however, I think I am about to put the theory to the test ....

For Christmas I was given a copy of 'In Tearing Haste' - letters between Deborah Devonshire
and Patrick Leigh Fermor. In looking at my shelves I discovered that not only were my shelves remarkably full with Mitford novels, history, autobiography and general thoughts, but that I also seemed to be in possession of an excessive amount of their letters. In fact, adding them all together, they account for over 3,000 pages.

So I have decided to go on a romp with the Mitfords. I have always been fascinated with these six sisters, not least because of their differing politics, and to be allowed into their minds, as only letters can really do, will be a formidable and exciting thing. I don't expect to agree with them, and I'm sure some of Unity and Diana's letters will be uncomfortable and probably shocking to read, but then again their letters will no doubt make them more three dimensional, rather than cardboard villains.

I'm very much looking forward to my Mitford romp, and I promise you I shall take great care not to over stuff myself!

From A to Z - a comprehensive journey through literature

I finally decided where my first bookish journey is going to take me and I've even taken the first tentative steps. In fact you could almost say that I have begun and ended the journey in the space of a week ..... I shall explain.

Staring forlornly at the bookcase which holds my classics, I realised how many of them I had yet to read. I may think myself well read, but when one can state that most of the books on the shelf have yet to be perused, the title of 'well read' looks to be in jeopardy and something must be done, and quickly!

So - as the title of this post might suggest, I have decided to go from A to Z with the authors of the classics and see if I can't remedy my appalling state. I have a few rules: It must be fiction and the author must have written the book over fifty years ago. In the end I had to break this rule for X and Z, but as for the others, I have remained true.

However, I am having a little trouble with U and Y - can't find any possible fits, so I could do with a little help there!

So far I have read two out of twenty six - Markus Zusak's 'The Book Thief' and Jane Austen's 'Northanger Abbey' (This explains my having started and finished the journey, now I just have to fill in the middle. Also, as you can see, I cheated with Z, as Mr Zusak is well and truly alive, but I was having trouble, and as I was reading his book for book club, I thought I could get away with it!

I loved 'The Book Thief' for so many reasons, but mainly because of it's way with a sentence. It's narrated by death, but because it's about a child, there is an artlessness to the way things are described. It's interesting too, with all the films that have come out recently, to read a book set from a German perspective - although the main characters are not typically German, seeing as they are hiding a Jew in their basement. It's a fantastic book though, and truly deserves to be read as soon as possible by everyone!

At the other end of the spectrum, I have just finished 'Northanger Abbey'. I was shocked to discover that I'd not read any Jane Austen for well over four years. How on earth I managed this I have no idea, but I do remember trying to read N.A. when I was 15 and stopping fairly soon as I didn't really find the Gothic irony appealing. More to the point, I don't think I understood it. I won't say that it's my favourite Austen - for that I think is 'Persuasion' - I have a feeling Jane is trying too hard. It's very possibly her first novel to be written, and in attempting the satire of the Gothic novel so popular at the time, she can be a touch heavy handed. I do like the characters though - I would dearly love to give Isabella a good, hard, slap - I think she's even worse that Elizabeth Eliot and Mrs Elton combined (which is saying a lot!), but I don't think I'd want to go out to dinner with any of them (which is always the acid test). Catherine is rather silly (and I suspect would remain so even after marriage), the younger Tilneys are rather aloof, and all the Bath characters are vapid, selfish or just plain boring. I think Catherine's brother might improve on better acquaintance, but we are never given that chance.

That was all a bit vitriolic wasn't it? And I don't mean any true criticism, as it's so interesting to see the earlier Jane. Perhaps my next project should read everything in chronological order to see how she developed ... I've certainly got it all!

Anyway, the A - Z journey has begun. I think I'm going to move on to V next .... but I won't spoil the surprise by telling you who that is!

In the meantime, if anyone could come up with a U or Y (and even a Q, I don't particularly like my choice for that) I would be very grateful!

And I leave you with a shocking piece of news: I'm not going to buy a single book for the next 12 weeks - I've managed two weeks already .... will I manage this? I doubt it, my birthday and the Oxford literary festival fall within this period ......

Thursday, 8 January 2009

Poem of the week


As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved
in her laughter and being part of it, until her
teeth were only accidental stars with a talent
for squad-drill. I was drawn in by short gasps,
inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally
in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by
the ripple of unseen muscles. An elderly waiter
with trembling hands was hurriedly spreading
a pink and white checked cloth over the rusty
green iron table, saying: "If the lady and
gentleman wish to take their tea in the garden,
if the lady and gentleman wish to take their
tea in the garden ..." I decided that if the
shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of
the fragments of the afternoon might be collected,
and I concentrated my attention with careful
subtlety to this end.

T.S. Eliot

Oh! It's the 8th January already! Sorry about my long absence, but I've not been doing a lot of reading this past few weeks, and I'm having a bit of a battle deciding which route I'm going to travel on my reading journey this year.

Having spent the better part of last year reading new books and mainly fiction, I'm wondering if I should continue in this way, or break out and read nothing but biography for the next few months. No, that doesn't really appeal.

I will say this though. I am not buying anymore books until Easter. Yes, my brain is already scoffing at this idea, but seriously I can neither afford, nor do I need, to buy more books. I have enough to last for many, many years!

So - where will I be taking you this year? Well, I've already promised you a wander round Yugoslavia with Rebecca West, and on top of that I thought we might visit some classics, and go back into history to spend some time with Kings and princes. Also, I have caught Mitfordmania, and will be indulging this with letters from Debo, Decca, Nancy and all the rest. Pictures might be more forthcoming too, as I got a lovely digital camera for Christmas!

So, at the moment, I am reading 'The Book Thief' for book club, which I love, and I'm dipping into 'In Tearing Haste' which conjures bright pictures of life as described by Patrick Leigh Fermor and Deborah Devonshire. I think I shall have to create a reading list, so I don't lose my way over the next few months. Expect lots of classics - actually I think as today is the anniversary of the birth of Wilkie Collins (1824) I should dig out 'The Woman in White'!

Happy reading everyone!!!