Saturday, 28 February 2009

The cycles of my bookshelf

I am sure people will understand the thoughts I am about to express. You can't call yourself a true bookaholic without experiencing this at least once!

Sometimes one reads in cycles. I don't mean consciously making lists on the same subject, actively seeking out works that will relate to the previous book and form a bridge to the
next; sometimes we finish a book, ponder what we will turn to next and without really thinking about it, choose a book that directly, or indirectly, relates to the one before.

This, I have realised, has just happened to me. Last week I finally read 'The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society', won last year, and absolutely loved it. The humour at the start, which slowly turns somber as the full extent of the Nazi occupation of Guernsey is realised. I love the fact it's told through letters, that strangers can reach across and touch one another. It's beautiful. I wish it happened more often.
I knew little of the Guernsey occupation, and neither does Juliet Ashton, although this is swiftly rectified. As I read it, I kept thinking that it was real, that it was the kind of book Jan Struther (of 'Mrs Miniver' fame) might have put together if she had had the opportunity.

I've been fortunate enough never to have had to live through a war, but it's still a book that resonates deeply with me, perhaps because of the simple love of literature that echoes from the letters. How Isola rants against the Bronte men ('
Dear Miss Ashton, Oh my, oh my. You have written a book about Anne Bronte, sister to Charlotte and Emily ... To think all five of them had weak chests and died so young! What a sadness. Their Pa was a selfish thing, wasn't he? He paid his girls no mind at all - always sitting in his study, yelling for his shawl. He never rose up to wait on hisself, did he? Just sat alone in his room while his daughters died like flies. And their brother, Branwell, he wasn't much either. Always drinking and sicking up on the carpets.'), or how one letter writer sums up the arrival of the Nazis with the simple Shakespeare line 'The bright day is done, and we are for the dark.' I want more books like that. Consider this a commission!

So, today (Friday), when I was scanning my shelves for something to take with me into town in case I got bored of writing (which I did), I bypassed all the books that have been gathering dust for years and went immediately for 'The Reader'. You see what I mean about cycles and links?
I've seen the film already. Indeed, I wouldn't have known of the books existence without it. Some people will tell you that the order is wrong. Books should be read before films are seen. And, to a certain extent, I agree with them, but it really does depend on the quality of both. Some books make fantastic films, but are an utter chore to read, whilst the reverse can also be true. In the case of 'The Reader', both are such gems, and use the visual in such distinctive ways, that I don't think it particularly matters which order the process takes. (However, I did find that a certain Ms Winslet's face popped into my head whenever I thought of Hannah Schmitz - although this is no bad thing!).

As I write this, I've only just finished reading the book and therefore am still digesting what I devoured in a little over six hours, but my primary feeling is one of beauty. I realise this is an odd choice of word, considering the underlying theme of the book, but as I said earlier, the use of visual in the novel is a very strong part of it, and you can't help but be drawn to the images being conveyed. The novel is not long, but there are a lot of ideas to take in, the notion of guilt, and love, and whether we are right to love people, even after their actions prove them to be false,
seem to be of real import to Schlink. It's not a novel I can easily dismiss in quick sentences, and at this point in time, I don't think I'm even going to try!

So, there we are - two different books on one similar period, both of which have come together to help inform my understanding on how writers deal with that big monster under the bed, Nazi Germany and the after effects the war had on everyone at the time.

Thursday, 26 February 2009

So many books ....

I'm having a little writers block, blog wise. I've been reading lots, but can't - for the moment - find an interesting way of putting things. Don't worry, I'll be back soon, I just didn't want anyone to think I'd disappeared without reason!

Monday, 16 February 2009


I've suddenly realised that I've forgotten to tell you all of a big development happening here in my small corner of Oxford!

I've been quite reticent about talking about my personal life - work in particular, mainly because I don't really like my job. The people are great, but it's just not fulfilling. That's why I'm really happy to say that I have a new job at Somerville college in Oxford, and I start on 9th March.

The job title is Assistant Academic Administrator, and in a nutshell I am the first port of call for all students with academic questions. The job description is huge - four pages - so there's no chance that I will find myself under employed.

Anyway, think of me on 4th March, which is my last day at Brookes (and coincidentally my birthday), and spare a thought for a girl quaking in her boots as she enters the hallowed grounds of Somerville (one of the few colleges where you CAN walk on the grass!)

Poem of the Week

How to Make a Woman Out of Water

Move to a boathouse by a river -
the walls must be yellow, the windowsills blue.
Sleep downstairs with your head upstream,
wait for a dream of swimming.

When it rains all night and you lie awake
collecting the music of a leak
and reading The Observer’s Book of Water
until you’ve learned that chapter

on whirlpools and waterspouts by heart,
listen to her whisper and giggle
as she scribbles her slippery name
over and over down the glass.

Have a bucketful of oysters in the sink
in case she’s feeling peckish
and a case of Rainwater sherry
chilling in a cave behind the waterfall.

At the bottom of the well
there’s one white pebble -
put it beneath your tongue
until it dissolves into a kiss.

Become so dry she will slip
into the shape of your thirst.
Prepare to be a shiver on her surface.
Taste her arrival on the wind.

by Charles Bennett

Sunday, 15 February 2009

A new haul

I'm sure everyone who reads this blog suffers from a similar problem to me - that of having too many books and yet not being able to leave bookshops well alone.

I thought I had formed the perfect plan, when in January I swore that I wouldn't buy a single book until 10th April. I was doing really well too. I just didn't go into bookshops. However, I thought a test was in order, so I went into the second hand department of Blackwells .... and I cracked.

Six weeks - that's all I managed. Isn't it terrible? And who do you think caused the crack to happen? Yes, Ms Du Maurier once again worked her magic, and I found two of hers that I didn't yet have (which is a feat, I have to say!)

This smallish crack was relatively justifiable, and if I'd left it there, perhaps it could have been papered over, but unfortunately, the crack went deeper than previously thought, and now, my resolve has completely crumbled. The only way to repair the damage is start all over again!

This shouldn't be too hard, for as you can see from the following, my shelves wont need any more adding to for quite a while!

- Eleanor Dark: The Little Company - VMC green cover, second hand
- Philip Roth: The Plot Against America
- Katharine McMahon: Footsteps
- C.W. Gortner: The Last Queen
- Italio Calvino: If on a Winter's Night a Traveller
- Various: In Bed With
- Edith Wharton: Roman Fever - VMC green cover, second hand
- Christopher Milne: The Enchanted Places - second hand
- Winifred Holtby: The Crowded Street - VMC green cover, second hand
- Katie Hickman: The Aviary Gate
- Richard Yates: Revolutionary Road

- Bernhard Schlink: The Reader
- Daphne du Maurier: Golden Lads
- Daphnr du Maurier: The Winding Stair

So, quite a haul really, I think you'd also agree?

Also, as a completely unbookish side note, you will probably be hearing quite a bit about this fellow ... His name is Bailey.

Saturday, 14 February 2009

Valentine's family history

I really have no desire to celebrate Valentine's day in the form it has taken in the twenty first century, but for the sake of family history, I should like it to be remembered that 70 years ago today, my grandfather proposed to my grandmother at a Valentine's day ball. As she proclaims on her facebook status (yes, Granny, at 87, does indeed have a facebook page) if she hadn't said yes, a lot of people wouldn't exist ..... and that very much includes me, so that's the single reason to be greatful for this hyped up day!

War stories

There's something about the Crimean war which meant that after World War one and two, it acquired a certain romance, what with 'The Charge of the Light Brigade' and Florence Nightingale's lady of the lamp image.

So when I picked up 'The Rose of Sebastopol' by Katharine McMahon I wasn't entirely sure what I would be getting. Would it be a romanticised version of the war, or a gritty and realistic drama? Well, in actuality, it's a good mixture of the two.

Mariella is a sheltered, naive Victorian heroine, who is deeply in love with her fiancee Henry, and whose loyalty to cousin Rosa runs as deep her romantic love. When both her loved ones end up in the Crimea ill and lost respectively, Mariella abandons her comfortable, domesticated life and goes out to the heart of the war, only to discover Henry raving in delirium about Rosa. What follows is not just a quest for Rosa, but also the truth about both her relationship and who she really is.

Now I'm on a quest for more Crimean war books - apart from a biography of Florence Nightingale, I'm also hunting out a copy of 'Mrs Duberly's War'. Does anyone else have good suggestions?

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Anyone for a fight?

Living in Oxford, you become extremely aware of persons walking about that are neither residents nor tourists. They are only there at certain times of the year, and for most of it, they stick to their own little courtyards. Except, of course, around May time, when they all pour onto the high st and stand nervously, dressed in formal black and white, holding a mortar board, outside the Examinations school, like a pack of especially clever penguins.

Yes, I am talking about students, and no, I didn't eat anything really strange for lunch.

Why, I can hear those who have got this far ask, am I talking about these people? Well quite simply because of an event that happened over 600 years ago.

On this date in 1355,
the St Scholastica’s Day riot began in Oxford, with opposing forces of town and gown going on the rampage for three days ... it seems even in the 1300s, those pesky students were getting in the way, and probably flaunting their brains in the faces of the farmers (sorry for the bad mental image I just conjured up!).

Something inside of me feels that the time is right for another Town V Gown - although without the violence. If we could all fight like Colin Firth and Hugh Grant in Bridget Jones, then it would all be ok! Simon - as the only Gown here in Oxford that I know - would you care to flap your hands in my general direction? I'm sure we'd be a great tourist attraction!

Monday, 9 February 2009

Poem of the Week

Warning by Jenny Joseph

When I am an old woman I shall wear purple
With a red hat that doesn't go and doesn't suit me.
And I shall spend my pension on brandy and summer gloves
And satin sandals and say we've no money for butter.
I shall sit down on the pavement when I'm tired
And gobble up samples in shops and press alarm bells
And run my stick along the public railings
And make up for the sobriety of my youth.
I shall go out in my slippers in the rain
And pick flowers in other people's gardens
And learn to spit

You can wear terrible shirts and grow more fat
And eat three pounds of sausages at a go
Or only eat bread and pickle for a week
And hoard pens and pencils and beermats and things in boxes.

But now we must have clothes that keep us dry
And pay our rent and not swear in the street
And set a good example for the children.
We must have friends to dinner and read the papers

But maybe I ought to practise a little now?
So people who know me are not too shocked and surprised
When suddenly I am old and start to wear purple.

I'm taking full advantage of my days off this week to read, write and soak up culture in London. My A to Z list is coming along, and I keep finding things in the library I absolutely HAVE to read! Expect more posts later in the week, and I'll try not to moan too much about Valentine's day!!!

Friday, 6 February 2009

Poem of the Week

Actually, there is no poem this week .... I have one in mind, but it's the first time that I havn't found it on the Internet, and I don't seem to have a copy at home.

The poem I wanted to put up was 'The Mighty Slide' by Allan Alhberg. Does anyone remember it? I thought it would be perfect for the snowy weather, and the way everyone is slipping about and sliding down hills!

Anyway, here are some pictures that I took ... it's actually snowing again today -there's a blizzard at this very moment and I can't see Magdalan College tower - which I usually can!

Fear not, I'm still reading too! I've decided today to ignore the snow (within reason, of course!) and go into town and indulge in a book or two!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

A snowy sidenote

As you have no doubt noticed it snowed a bit on Sunday night ... and consequently the country ground to a standstill. I thought I'd share a few pictures with you all, but the best I could come up with was this:

There's barely enough for a good snowball fight, let alone a decent snowman, so I went searching on the Beeb, and the following are much more promising!