Monday, October 31, 2011

Happy All Hallows!

Happy All Saints' Day!  Also known as All Hallows' Day, you might have celebrated HallowE[v]en[ing], but that's a bit like celebrating Christmas Eve without celebrating Christmas, in my opinion.

Gotta say, there are a lot of reasons I don't like Hallowe'en - from its rather unpleasant origins to the decorations in *every* shop window which are not good for those of us who suffer from arachnophobia - so I'm pleased it's out of the way and I can get behind a nicer day to celebrate!

Lots of people read spooky books for Hallowe'en (I don't have a problem with the bookish part of the day!) but I'd like to read something which fits the theme of All Hallows' Day - any suggestions?  Anything with a saint or a church or similar - but no ghost stories or Gothic graveyards!

Barbara Pym, perhaps?  Hmm... my mind is rather a blank...

A couple recommendations which I've already read, if you want to celebrate a saintly day - you could do a lot worse than Oliver Goldsmith's The Vicar of Wakefield or Marilynne Robinson's Gilead.

Over to you!

Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Invention of Morel - Adolfo Bioy Casares

Despite the tidal waves of books that come into my possession, and the fact that I rarely leave the house without buying at least one book (I've bought five since I did the meme on Friday) only relatively rarely do I buy a book on a complete whim.  Usually I've read other things by the author, or heard good things, or am following up a blog review etc.  These links can be tenuous, and tend to create an ever-widening field of gosh-yes-I-think-I'd-like-that books.  But occasionally I buy one, knowing nothing whatsoever about it or its author.

And that, dear reader, is how I came to buy The Invention of Morel (1940) by Adolfo Bioy Casares, translated from Spanish by Ruth L. C. Simms. 

I was lured in by the fact that it was an NYRB Classic, and they're always beautifully produced, whatever else may come inside.  And I was further tempted when I saw that it was a 'fantastic exploration of virtual realities' (thus potentially useful for my thesis) and had apparently inspired the film Last Year in Marienbad, which has been in Amazon basket for years.  Apparently it was mentioned in 'Lost', too, but I didn't see any of that.

This novella (only a hundred pages) should probably be classed as science fiction, and there is definite allusion to H.G. Wells' The Island of Doctor Moreau in Bioy Casares' title - but this isn't a tale of robots and computers, but of one lovestruck, bewildered man.  He isn't named, and seems to be known as The Fugitive, since he is hiding on the (fictional) island Villings to escape the death penalty in his home country of Venezuela.  The Invention of Morel takes the form of his diaries.  The opening paragraph flings the reader into the catalyst of the novella:

Today, on this island, a miracle happened: summer came ahead of time.  I moved my bed out by the swimming pool, but then, because it was impossible to sleep, I stayed in the water for a long time.  The heat was so intense that after I had been out of the pool for only two or three minutes I was already bathed in perspiration again.  As day was breaking, I awoke to the sound of a phonograph record.
Despite having appeared to be a deserted island, complete with abandoned chapel and museum, suddenly the shore is filled with people - eccentric people, dressed in clothes of the past, dancing and socialising in the unseasonal heat.

The Fugitive is most interested in one of the women, whom he names Faustine.  She (although the narrative does not explicitly say so) resembles Louise Brooks and was inspired by Bioy Casares' fascination with that film star.  The Fugitive follows her, watching her sunbathing and spying on her activities and - as people do in novels - falls besottedly in love with her, without ever engaging her in conversation.  His rival for her affections, who does have conversation with her and everything, is the Morel of the title.

And then all the tourists disappear.

It's always difficult to tell how much a novel's style is due to its author, when it comes in translation.  Either Bioy Casares deliberately wrote most of The Invention of Morel in a disconcerting, imprecise style, or Simms didn't do a great job translating.  The novella is quite difficult to read.  It certainly doesn't flow.  It is disjointed, not entirely chronological, meandering through speculation and confusion in between scribbled declarations of love.  All of which certainly echoes The Fugitive's confusion, thrusting the reader into the same bewilderment he must be feeling.  What makes me suspect that this is deliberate is this paragraph, about Morel explaining his 'invention' (fear not, I shall tell you when to look away, if you want to avoid spoilers!)
Up to this point it was a repugnant and badly organized speech. Morel is a scientist, and he becomes more precise when he overlooks his personal feelings and concentrates on his own special field; then his style is still unpleasant, filled with technical words and vain attempts to achieve a certain oratorical force, but at least it is clearer.
Although this refers to Morel's speech, it also reflects upon the style and structure of The Invention of Morel itself.  After this point, it becomes much more lucid and readable.  Which means Bioy Casares is being rather clever, but doesn't make the first two-thirds of the novella any easier to read...

Ok, now I'm going to tell you what Morel's 'invention' is - so run away, if you don't want to know.


Ok, still with me? Here it is: Morel has recorded all of their actions for the week - but not simply audio and visual, but all five senses.  What The Fugitive has been witnessing is one of the endless replayings of the week, which keeps that group of visitors to the island in some curious form of immortality - and which explains all manner of other strange phenomena.

The Invention of Morel has been filled with all manner of clues from the outset, which make sense looking back, but merely seem confusing upon first reading them.  I especially liked this one:
I went to gather the flowers, which are most abundant down in the ravines.  I picked the ones that were least ugly.  (Even the palest flowers have an almost animal vitality!)  When I had picked all I could carry and started to arrange them, I saw that they were dead.
What originally seems to hint towards The Fugitive's delusional or deranged state (and can that interpretation ever be ruled out, in fantastic works?) slots into the reader's new understanding of the novel.

Giving away this device shouldn't prevent you having a rewarding reading of The Invention of Morel.  The book doesn't rest upon the power of a twist, as many less intellectual books and films do - rather, Bioy Casares explores themes of isolation; what constitutes immortality; what rights ought scientists to have over humans; even the power of love.

The final third of the novella, being so much less stylistically confused and confusing, allows these themes to come to the fore and it was definitely this section which I most valued and enjoyed.  Perhaps a slow, thoughtful reading of the first two-thirds would prove equally rewarding.  As it was, I did feel rather like I was battling through quicksand, never able to settle into a comfortable reading rhythm - but, after all, probably that was what Bioy Casares intended...?

Others who got Stuck into it...

"It's the kind of read that's slightly unsettling and not with a lot of closure." - Amy, My Friend Amy

"I was delighted to find The Invention of Morel to be such a quick and engaging read, and yet one that has depth if I chose to read it on a deeper level in the future." - Rebecca, Rebecca Reads

"As a mystery it’s engaging, and all the threads come together in an intricate weave with no frayed lines to tug on." - Stewart, BookLit

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Song for a Sunday

I bought Juliet Turner's album Burn the Black Suit on a whim in 2004, whilst on holiday in Devon, getting ready to face the big, scary world of university...  Well, seven years later I'm still a student, and I'm still listening to Juliet.  This song, Belfast Central, is rather lovely - I especially like Juliet's authentically thick Irish accent while singing.

There isn't an official video - this was homemade by someone on YouTube.

For other Sunday Songs, click here.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Cover Reveal: Timepiece by Myra McEntire

Here is the cover of Timepiece, the sequel of Hourglass by Myra McEntire:

I really like the cover. I think it's original. What do you think? Have you read Hourglass? I still haven't...but it's on my TBR list!

By the way, Myra McEntire has announced that HOURGLASS has been acquired by Fox & producer John Davis! Congratulations!

Thursday, October 27, 2011

One Book, Two Book, Three Book, Four... and Five (again!)

A while ago I made up a quick little meme which enabled bloggers to run through recent books of interest - and it rather caught on, with dozens of bloggers (including, rewardingly, many I'd never heard of) following suit.   It was such fun seeing snapshots of different people's reading and buying - and a nice easy post for bloggers to write!

So, guess what?  I fancy doing it again.  Do have a go yourself, if you like - whether or not you did it last time.  And if you do, pop a note in the comments so I can go over and have a gander!

1.) The book I'm currently reading:

The Rector's Daughter by F.M. Mayor - everyone and her husband seem to have read and loved this, so I thought I'd give it a whirl.  Will you all hate me if I say I'm not bowled over yet?

2.) The last book I finished:

Two is Lonely by Lynne Reid Banks - I re-read all three of the L-Shaped Room trilogy recently, in fact.  The first one is still brilliant - the other two not quite as good as I remembered.

3.) The next book I want to read:

Cold Light by Jenn Ashworth - to be honest, it's been my 'next book' for months, but somehow other things always slip in front of it.  That doesn't diminish how excited I am about reading Jenn's novel!

4.) The last book I bought:

Gentleman into Goose by Christopher Ward - yes, believe it or not Lady into Fox by David Garnett led to a spoof version!  Not many copies around, so had to get this shipped over from the US of A.

5.) The last book I was given:

The Magnificent Spinster by May Sarton - came courtesy of lovely Rachel/Book Snob, accompanied by threats if I didn't read it quick-smart.  And I didn't.  But I will...

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Waiting of Wednesday # 70 - The Fine Art of Truth or Dare by Melissa Jensen

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

My pick: The Fine Art of Truth and Dare

Summary from goodreads:
Pretty in Pink meets Anna and the French Kiss in this charming romantic comedy.
Ella is nearly invisible at the Willing School, and that’s just fine by her. She’s got her friends— the fabulous Frankie and their sweet cohort Sadie. She’s got her art— and her idol, the unappreciated 19th-century painter Edward Willing. Still, it’s hard being a nobody and having a crush on the biggest somebody in the school: Alex Bainbridge. Especially when he is your French tutor, and lessons have started becoming, well, certainly more interesting than French ever has been before. But can the invisible girl actually end up with a happily ever after with the golden boy, when no one even knows they’re dating? And is Ella going to dare to be that girl?
February 16th 2012 by Speak

I read Falling in Love with English Boys by Melissa Jensen and liked it, so I think this one is for me too :)

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Two Serious Ladies - Jane Bowles

This is another fairly long review, but a few of you were kind enough the other day to tell me not to apologise for long reviews - so I shan't!  I certainly enjoyed writing it, and formulating my thoughts.

Eighteen months ago John Self very kindly offered me a copy of Two Serious Ladies (1943) by Jane Bowles, in its beautiful reprint by Sort Of Books (responsible for the recent Tove Jansson editions too, most of which are newly-commissioned translations.)  He thought it might be my sort of thing - and he was definitely right.  It just took a while for me to get around to reading it...  (By the by, Sort Of Books - I love you, I love your production standards and your choice of titles - but... only one lady on the cover of a book called Two Serious Ladies - really?)

I know John Self read the novel, but can't find a review of it on his blog, so perhaps it never got that far.  In fact, despite being a celebrated novel, there isn't a great deal of coverage of it in the blogging world - perhaps because it is essentially a very strange book.  You know I love me some strange, now and then, so I was more than happy with that - but it isn't one that I would recommend to everyone.  Bowles writes quite like Muriel Spark, but without the ironic authorial comment.  The unsettling dialogue never settles into the expected, the sparse narrative offers very little guidance, and the whole novel is deliciously disconcerting and unusual.  And yet it's still often very funny.  If you like beginning-middle-end and naturalised conversations between characters, then look away.  If you like Muriel Spark, Barbara Comyns, or even Ivy Compton-Burnett - then you could well be in for a treat.

The females of the title only meet twice, briefly, in Two Serious Ladies - towards the end of the first and third sections, of three.  The ladies in question are Christina Goering and Frieda Copperfield - always called, by the narrative, Miss Goering and Mrs. Copperfield; one of the novel's most subtle strangenesses.  Lorna Sage's excellent introduction reveals that there was once to have been a third serious lady, Senorita Cordoba, which might have made the unusual structure less striking - but would have thus robbed Bowles.

We first see Miss Goering as a child, attempting to inveigle a straightforward friend into an elaborate and invented religious ritual.  The reader might, not unnaturally, expect to follow Miss Goering throughout her life - but we quickly fast-forward to Miss Goering as a "grown woman" (age unspecified) and stay there.  She is unsociable, uncompromising, selfish and violently honest - yet not truly malicious.  Her character is so open and amorally direct that she reminded me of Katri from Tove Jansson's The True Deceiver.  Oddly, suddenly (so much in this novel is odd and sudden) Miss Goering invites Miss Gamelon, the cousin of her governess, to live with her.  They are never amiable companions, and although they depend upon one another to an extent, their relationship is never reliable and neither even attempts to understand the other.  It is a mystery why either would want to live with the other - but a mystery neither of them care to address.  Here is the sort of conversation they have:

"I don't like sports," said Miss Goering; "more than anything else, they give me a terrific feeling of sinning."

"On the contrary," said Miss Gamelon, "that's exactly what they never do."

"Don't be rude, Lucy dear," said Miss Goering.  "After all, I have paid sufficient attention to what happens inside of me and I know better than you about my own feelings."

"Sports," said Miss Gamelon, "can never give you a feeling of sinning, but what is more interesting is that you can never sit down for more than five minutes without introducing something weird into the conversation.  I certainly think you have made a study of it."

I know I shouldn't be attempting a piece of close reading, as that's not what you've come to read, but I think that excerpt would be fascinating to analyse.  One example - that word 'certainly' in the final sentence.  How many authors would have included that?  And what a transformative effect it has on the sentiment, and on the character speaking it - she becomes that much more combative, and idiomatic, and faux-dramatic.  She is speaking for effect, for drama, rather than with simply honesty.  Even if I'd only read these sentences, Miss Gamelon would stand fully-formed before me.

Nearly all the characters and their conversations are piercingly honest, unswervingly self-absorbed, and insistently irrelevant.  Rarely do they seem to have paid the remotest attention to what their interlocutor has replied.  If they have, it is solely as a means of flatly refuting it.  Forster's Howards End is renowned for the mantra 'only connect' - Two Serious Ladies proffers the opposite doctrine, especially where Miss Goering is concerned.  She does go out with a weak man called Arnold, whom she openly despises - although, again, without intending malice.  Jane Bowles excels at portraying awkward conversations and unhappy exchanges - if they lean too much towards the morosely disjointed to claim verisimilitude, then at least it makes a change to the neat patter of many novels.
"Since you live so far out of town," said Arnold, "why don't you spend the night at my house?  We have an extra bedroom."

"I probably shall," said Miss Goering, "although it is against my entire code, but then, I have never even begun to use my code, although I judge everything by it."  Miss Goering looked a little morose after having said this and they drove on in silence until they reached their destination.
Miss Goering bumps into her acquaintance Mrs. Copperfield at a party, and the narrative passes the baton on.  Mrs. Copperfield is about to embark on a trip to Panama with her husband.

This section of the novel is equally interesting, although I jotted down fewer notes while reading it... where Miss Goering is indifferent and jaded, Mrs. Copperfield has an ingenuous lust for experience.  She is not an intelligent woman, but is easily captivated, and dashes around Panama - befriending the inhabitants of a brothel along the way.  Here she has just met a flighty girl named Peggy, whose appearance in the novel is fleeting:
"Please," she [Peggy] said, "be friendly to me. I don't often see people I like. I never do the same thing twice, really I don't. I haven't asked anyone up to my room in the longest while because I'm not interested and because they get everything so dirty. I know you wouldn't get everything dirty because I can tell that you come from a nice class of people. I love people with a good education. I think it's wonderful."

"I have so much on my mind," said Mrs. Copperfield. "Generally I haven't."
How are these ladies serious?  Lorna Sage suggests that Bowles uses the word to mean 'risking the possibility that you were meaninglessly weird'.   I think perhaps it is these ladies' choice not to laugh at life, but determinedly to live it, and see what happens.  But, truth be told, Jane Bowles doesn't seem to have a grand theme to Two Serious Ladies.  Miss Goering and Mrs. Copperfield are not part of a philosophical quest; there is no sense of purpose or conclusion.  Questions are not answered; they are scarcely posed.  In many ways the novel doesn't follow any progression at all - the ladies merely experience a great deal, whether grasping at it enthusiastically or raising an ambivalent eyebrow at life.  Bowles' astonishing talent is creating a dynamic that, if not unique, is highly unusual - strange, surreal, and yet grounded to the mundane.  Her ear for dialogue is astonishing - dialogue which is almost never realistic, but always striking.

And Two Serious Ladies is a brilliant novel.  As I said, it would not suit many readers - but anybody who chose writing style over plot in my recent post on the topic would be quite likely to appreciate this book.  It is a huge shame that Bowles only wrote one novel.  The one she has created ought to be enough to assure her a sort of immortality - Bowles is one novelist we should be taking seriously.

Others who got Stuck into it:

"There’s something interestingly off in the way the characters in this book make choices; they are all inscrutable." - With Hidden Noise

"At its heart, it is a book about people who feel quite often unrooted and alone, even in their own parlor, surrounded by friends." - Margaret, The Art of Reading

"It's essentially an absurd tale and not one I really got into." - Verity, Verity's Virago Venture

Book-Trailer: CROSSED by Ally Condie

I really can't wait for CROSSED by Ally Condie. I read MATCHED and absolutely loved it!

CROSSED by Ally Condie
November 1st, 2011
The hotly awaited second book in the dystopian Matched trilogy In search of a future that may not exist and faced with the decision of who to share it with, Cassia journeys to the Outer Provinces in pursuit of Ky - taken by the Society to his certain death - only to find that he has escaped, leaving a series of clues in his wake. Cassia's quest leads her to question much of what she holds dear, even as she finds glimmers of a different life across the border. But as Cassia nears resolve and certainty about her future with Ky, an invitation for rebellion, an unexpected betrayal, and a surprise visit from Xander - who may hold the key to the uprising and, still, to Cassia's heart - change the game once again. Nothing is as expected on the edge of Society, where crosses and double crosses make the path more twisted than ever.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Appius and Virginia - G.E. Trevelyan

Keep the titles coming on yesterday's post, folks - I'm really enjoying them.  And well done for spotting my oh-so-subtle allusion to one in my post title (but nobody spotted the deliberate mistake!)

Onto other matters.  One of the best things about blogging is, as we all know, collecting recommendations from other people's blogs and comments - so many wonderful reads we wouldn't have encountered otherwise, and I love to do my bit in recommending, since my reading tends away from the popular and well-known.  But I also love to hear recommendations from you lot, the more obscure the better, and was delighted when Virginia told me about Appius and Virginia (1932) by G.E. Trevelyan, because she thought it might be useful for my thesis (which it is) and added that the book is interesting but not brilliant.  I agree with her assessment - but I think it is still interesting enough to warrant blogging about.  Also, someone pointed out a while ago, in a comment here, that unless readers of obscure books blog about them, there will be no online record of a book.  Currently there are quite a few copies for sale online, but no synopsis or opinion on it (unless you count the ebay seller who assures the reading public that it is a 'very good book' and - coincidentally! - one he is selling.)

Appius and Virginia concerns a youngish woman, but confirmed spinster, who decides to experiment by raising an ape as a human.  I'm not a scientist and I'm not especially interested in whether or not the events of the novel could take place (I'm fairly sure they couldn't - Appius learns a lot of spoken language very quickly; I've read about apes using a form of sign language, but not verbal communication) but I'm very happy to take these things on sight, disbelief suspended.  If you would find that too tricky, this definitely isn't the novel for you!

(Incidentally, I can't see any similarities to Webster's play Appius and Virginia, nor the real-life Appius, but I am garnering my info on them from Wikipedia - step forward if you're better qualified than me to comment on the topic, and you really couldn't be less able than me.)

Virginia is rather an unsociable woman, earnest and persistent and not especially likeable.  Nor, however, is she dislikeable - her whole being seems occupied with the raising of Appius, and the reader sees very little of her character outside of this experiment.  Although I never really notice description of people's appearances, and thus cannot swear to this, to my mind Virginia looks rather like the photo I later found of Trevelyan herself (below).

In many ways, Trevelyan's novel relates to Edith Olivier's wonderful little book The Love-Child - a spinster longs for the child she cannot have through traditional avenues, and so finds a creative way to fill this void.  For it becomes clear that Virginia, although interested in the pragmatics of an experiment, is motivated chiefly by loneliness - as she explains herself, to Appius:
"I was so lonely.  I wanted you to grow up as my child.  I wanted you to be human.  I wanted you to be something even more than a child, something I’d made with my own brain out of nothing, and shaped as I wanted it, and watched grow."
Which makes it sound as though Appius becomes capable of understanding complex sentences.  I shan't spoil the direction the experiment eventually takes, although I will hint that it takes somewhat disturbing steps, but most of the novel follows his increasing understanding of language and communication - but slower than Virginia hopes.  He follows some of what she says, but not all - the progression from concrete thoughts to the abstract, for instance, takes time.  Some of Trevelyan's more experimental (and, to my mind, least successful) passages attempt to reflect the internal workings of Appius' mind:
Hand on white line above him.  Fingers won’t go over it.  Why not?  Something there; the pale blue stuff.  Hard and cold.  Try white wisps.  Hard too.  Can’t be held.  Funny.
That, by the way, is the sky seen through a window.  I can see where she is going with these sections, which flit between the primitive and the avant-garde, but ultimately I don't think Trevelyan is a good enough writer to get away with this approach.  And it is an approach which requires a very able writer - the dismantling of sentences and experimentation with language can so easily irritate, and even people like James Joyce irk rather than impress me.

While Trevelyan treats her topic in an interesting manner, she obviously has difficulty keeping the momentum going.  Each chapter adds a couple of years to the experiment, but very little changes - all the scenes take place in the house or the garden, and that gives
the novel a claustrophobic atmosphere.  Some of the scenes are done very well - when Appius first sees a mirror, for example, or his inability to distinguish between sentient and insentient objects leading to a battle with the fire - but what Appius and Virginia really lacks is humour.  Earnestness can kill a novel for me, and although Trevelyan's novel didn't die, it was a little bit wounded.

So - if this were available on shelves easily, I would probably recommend it as an interesting and unusual read.  There are the rudiments for a fascinating novel, although sadly Trevelyan doesn't have the charm or poignancy of Edith Olivier and The Love-Child.  But since it's so difficult to track down in the UK, I could only really recommend US readers hunt this out.

But I will end with possibly the most accomplished paragraph from the novel, or at least the section which met most with my approval.  Virginia imagines what her life will be like if she fails in her attempt to humanise Appius, and what follows is as striking a portrait of the lonely spinster as I have encountered.  If only the rest of the novel had been at this level.
She would go back to Earl’s Court and her bed-sitting-room – gas fire and griller, separate meters; to her consumption of novels from the lending library; her bus rides to the confectioner’s; her nightly sipping of conversation and coffee in the lounge: to middle-age in a ladies’ residential club.  Each year a little older, a little stouter or a little thinner, a little less quickly off the bus – “Come along there, please, come along,” and the struggle with umbrella and parcels through the ranks of inside passengers, and the half compassionate, half contemptuous hand of the conductor, grimy and none too gentle as she clambers down the swaying steps on to the sliding pavement. – Each year a little less bright in the after-dinner conversation; a little less able to remember the novels she has read; a little less able to find a listener; a little less able to live, yet no more ready for death.
Thanks for telling me about this, Virginia!

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Spooktacular Giveaway Hop! (International)

Welcome to the Spooktacular Giveaway Hop - Oct 24th to 31st - hosted by TheDiaryofaBookworm and I Am A Reader, Not A Writer

Prize: 1 paperback copy of Beautiful Creatures by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

I'm not sure if it's a "spooky" book, but it's definitely paranormal! :) To enter, just fill the form below:

More giveaways:

Wonderfully Wicked Read a Thon Wrap Up!

Hello everyone! This will be my last post from the Wonderfully Wicked Read a Thon.....

Last Update:
I totally failed on my goals. I was going to read 3 books but didn't even manage to finish 1! Probably at night I'm going to finish it, it's good, but I didn't have enough time to read...

But, I had a great time participating! I loved the challenges, and the people was so nice!

I decided to participate in a last challenge, called Zombie Apocalypse, from April @ My Shelf Confessions:
In the event of a Zombie Apocalypse you are forced to take shelter with family and/or friends for a period of no less than 5 years. You have time to pack some supplies and some extra things to keep yourself entertained. However, since there will be many people sharing the same space, space will be limited and you are told you are only allowed to bring up to 5 books.
I'll be honest. It's impossible to choose 5 books. I think I'd prefer becoming a Zombie! xD Nah, just kidding. I'd love to have my Kindle with me in that situation, but since I have to pick only 5 books...

1. Pride and Prejudice: Because I love Mr. Darcy.
2. Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince: Because it's my favorite from the series.
3. The Chronicles of Narnia. The all in one edition: Because it's magical.
4. The Little Prince: Because I like to re read them all the time.
5. Jane Eyre: Because I love Jane.

What do you think?

Best Laid Plans

I intended to spend my weekend either reading lots or reviewing lots, and in the end... I did neither.  I think I only managed about ten pages of Great Expectations and ten of Nella Last's Peace all weekend, and didnt' write a word of a review.  Tut TUT.

So, instead, I shall just direct you to Darlene's lovely review of Helen Thomas' As It Was.

And, in honour of that review, ask you to suggest a good book which has a title borrowed from elsewhere (Helen Thomas' being from the Book of Common Prayer).

Here are some of my suggestions:

Mr. Weston's Good Wine by T.F. Powys (title from Jane Austen's Emma)

Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead by Barbara Comyns (title from Henry Longfellow's 'The Fire of Drift-Wood' which is melancholy and beautiful and is here)

Told By An Idiot by Rose Macaulay (from Shakespeare's Macbeth)

Hostages to Fortune by Elizabeth Cambridge (from Francis Bacon's 'Of Marriage and Single Life')

Faster! Faster! by E.M. Delafield (from Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking Glass)

Thanks Heaven Fasting by E.M. Delafield (from Shakespeare's As You Like It)

All Passion Spent by Vita Sackville-West (from Milton's Samson Agonistes)

That was good fun.  Over to you!

In My Mailbox # 48

In My Mailbox is a weekly bookish meme hosted @ The Story Siren

Only one book this week, but I wanted it so much!!


Saturday, October 22, 2011

Song for a Sunday

I can't believe it's taken me this long to feature Beth Orton...  To be honest, Beth Orton sounds best when listened to for a whole album - and I reckon Central Reservation should be on every discerning listener's CD rack - but to give you a taste of it, here is the first track from the album: Stolen Car.  Enjoy!

All previous Sunday Songs are here.

Wonderfully Wicked Read-A-Thon Update

Hi everyone! How are you doing with your reading?

Mine haven't been great, but I have managed to read 63% of How to Party with a Killer Vampire by Penny Warner. Hopefully I'll finish it today and start another one!

How about a challenge? This one is really cool, hosted by Michelle @ Book Briefs.
First you pick a book. Then you find pictures to represent the words in the book title. Then you put the pictures/clues together and try to guess what the book title is. Get creative and make it as challenging as you want. Make a post with your Book picture puzzles and go around to different blogs and try to guess some of the puzzles.
Here is my Book Picture Puzzle:




It's really really easy, if you know the book...muahahahaha

Need a clue? "Zombies"

Friday, October 21, 2011

Stuck-in-a-Book's Weekend Miscellany

Time for a weekend miscellany, I think you'll agree, what with it being the weekend and all. I've been tidying my books lately (for which read: moving them around the room in the futile hope that this will create more space, and shoving all non-book items under my bed, in drawers, or at the bottom of my wardrobe). Anyway, it has revealed that I have thirteen books that I've read, waiting to be reviewed... all will hopefully be revealed soon, but for today I'm going to give you a few great reviews and some interesting bits and pieces.

1.) I always love it when new blogs start up, especially ones which show the promise that Open a Book does - Geetanjali writes some very persuasive reviews, such as this one on Watership Down, and she's also keen to find a Reading Challenge to adopt - if you have any good ideas, go here and help her out.

2.) My friend Katie has set up a baking blog, so pop over and visit if you're a fan of baking...

3.) There can be few more delightful blogging experiences than seeing a beloved book being appreciated by a much-admired blogger.  Recently I've had that pleasure two-fold, since both Eva and Rachel have recently reviewed one of my favourite novels, The Love-Child, on my 'recommendation'.  (Those inverted commas are for the pressure I exerted upon Rachel, which was akin to harrassment.  Eva went and surprised me by reading it, unpressured!)  Click on their names to read their very wonderful reviews of this exceptional little book.

4.) I think I'm going to address the Literary Merit vs. Readability debate in another post, mostly because I haven't decided what I think and will need to ramble on a bit to find out.  But go and prepare yourself by reading Simon S's post here, and join in the flourishing debate in the comments box.

5.) And finally the annual 24 Hour Readathon is running in memory of Dewey [thanks for telling me about this, Jackie], and although it's rather more hours than I could cope with , do pop over to Sasha's blog and see what she has planned.  It's pretty ambitious!

I had intended to feature some recent books too, but this feels like enough to be getting on with.  Perhaps next weekend I'll just do a round-up of books which have found their way to me in the past few weeks... for now, enjoy a bit of clicking around the blogosphere!

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Wonderfully Wicked Read-a-Thon

October 21-23
Hosts: Bex @ Kindle Fever, Amanda @ Letters Inside Out, April @ My Shelf Confessions
Hashtag on Twitter: #WWReadathon.
I have been lookin for a Halloween Read-A-Thon, and finally I found one! You can sign up for the Wonderfully Wicked Read-A-Thon over here, and you can read whatever you want, not necessarily  Halloween/creepy books.

I really want to celebrate reading some creepy books. So I'll hold my current readings (except How To Party with a Killer Vampire) to read something like....

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

How To Sing (Virginia Graham)

Here is the first chapter from Virginia Graham's wonderful Here's How - 'How To Sing'.  I learnt a lot...

In order to be able to sing it is necessary to be able to do so.  Many people, eager not to be left out of things - things such as weddings or the dedication of British Legion huts - open their mouths hopefully in the chanting of "Oh Perfect Love" or "Jerusalem" yet, though enunciating the words with commendable clarity, remain, musically, on one note.  This, though the note be ever so loud and ever so pure, is not singing, and it is wise, before embarking on a strenuous vocal course, to discover from friends whether you are or are not deaf.  They will only be happy to provide the information which, strangely enough, may come as a surprise to you.

Having ascertained that your rendering not only of "Night and Day", which happens all too conveniently to be on one note, but also of "Oh for the Wings of a Dove" or, damn it, "God Save the King" is recognisable, you should, if you want to sing properly, do exercises.  Singing in the bath, in a cheerful "savonard" fashion is no use at all for, as you will have learned at life's knobbly knee, the road to success is invariably painful.  To achieve anything worth while you must experience discomfort and get thoroughly depressed.  (This does not apply to asparagus which can be procured simply by being rich.)

The whole secret of singing is not to breathe.  You should therefore educate your mind into believing the life does not depend on breath alone and that air, whether on a G string or not, isn't in the least important.  Not only must the breath be constrained but practically everything else as well should be rigidly disciplined, particularly the stomach.  It is then, when the body deprived of air and activity, begins to become atrophied that musical notes, rebelling against this unnatural state, force their way with a plaintive whining noise to the surface.  The neck, being shaped on narrower lines than the bits below it, forms an obstacle, indeed a bottle-neck, to ascending scales, and the tongue is, of course, hopelessly redundant.  So that while most portions of the body should be kept tightly under control the neck and the tongue should wave loosely, like a demi-mondaine saying goodbye to Tosti.  To be tight below the shoulders and loose above them calls for biological ingenuity but if you spend a few hours every day holding your breath and waggling your head from side to side with your tongue hanging out you will soon get results.  These vary from falling in a faint on the floor to being sick.

The vowel sounds, ah, ee, oh, oo (but not, I think, y) form the basic language of all singing practice, and it is usual to run up and down the keyboard, metaphorically speaking of course, to these words until the top of the head blows off.  Notes, if one is thoroughly musical, are constantly seeking freedom, but it is a singer's duty to keep them in a condition of perpetual frustration, making giant efforts to deter them from doing what they want.  This, owing to the peculiarities of the human torso, is to come down the nose. Every note that would fain rock the chandeliers with a fine nasal bellow must be squashed back on to the vocal chords and re-directed round the teeth.  It takes an infinite number of years to establish ascendancy over these wayward breves, and anybody who thinks he can ah, ee for a week and then sing "Verdi Prati" to a Mothers' Union is a fool.

Having produced, after many months of abdominal and laryngitical exercise, a sound that can be called a note, you should permit yourself to sing a song; and this must, it absolutely must be sung in front of a looking-glass.  Even though the sounds are being squeezed up from God knows where and squeezed through God knows what the process of compression must not show on the face.  Distorted mouths, semaphoring eyebrows and great big agonised eyes should be severely strictured.  You should aim to look serene and unbreathing like some beautiful pink and white instrument draped in lace or, of course, a starched dickey.  There should be no signs of struggle save in the furtive wiping of hands on pocket handkerchiefs in the intervals.

I am assuming that you are confining your vocal operations to the concert platform, for opera singing is a very different affair. During the required dramatic exertions the face can of course get as anguished as it likes, the hands can wring themselves like rags and great generous gestures of despair can swept the carafes right off notre petite table without anybody becoming embarrassed.  Only when opera singers knock down whole pieces of scenery or take a peeler off Valhalla on to the stage are they considered to have gone too far.

It is possible - people are so idiotic - that you may fancy yourself as an opera singer, visualising splendid nights at Covent Garden when you knock them for six with your Butterfly, mow them down with your Wotan; but before indulging too deeply in dreams it is well to pause a moment and consider.  Not only will you have to sing loud but also long, memorising your roles in French, Italian and German so that the English versions, which you will invariably use, puzzle and confuse you.  You will have to learn the art of making love in a tender way to a colleague who is, as are you, looking at the conductor, and you will assuredly have to die, propped up on one elbow on a very draughty stage for a very long time.

Many are called to enter opera, but few are chosen and these are usually rather fat.  So unless Joan Hammond AND Joan Cross tell you you'd make a ripping Mimi; unless Walter Midgeley AND Walter Widdop cry "By jove, here's a smashing Siegfried!" my advice to you is to stick to the platform.  Platforms can be hired for quite a modest sum and they can be sent back and forgotten about the following day.

It is a good thing for a singer to sing in tune.  Difficult as it is to reach a note it is doubly difficult to stay there, and indeed I would suggest that should you lose more than a tone and a half in the course of an aria you should think seriously about pursuing some other vocation.  Many singers also, while aiming at a particular note, become waylaid by others en route and this, which is called in musical circles, a "scoop", caused a certain amount of pain to purists who prefer to reach B flat in one go.  In crooning, of course, everything is inverted, and it is very bed form to find the note you're looking for straight off.  It should be approached obliquely and slid up on (and sometimes over) like a main road on a wet day.  But then, crooning is not singing.  It is much too natural and much too easy.

An incessant tremolo is also to be avoided, as not only is it very ugly but it is associated in an audience's mind with nerves, anything that wobbles, be it knee or epiglottis, giving an impression of doubt and insecurity.  Already anxious relatives may easily panic and make for the doors if your quavers oscillate too freely.  A coloratura soprano, which you most certainly will not be, does, it is true, rush about the top register in acrobatic trills, but she invariably sounds as though she were doing it on purpose, not as though she couldn't help it.  That will be the difference between you and her.

Enunciation of words, however silly they may be, should be crystal clear, and this is by no means an easy task since composers rarely bother with the words of their songs and expect singers to sing phrases such as "My love is a singing bird" or "Where can I go to find my rest?" on bat-high notes.  It not being possible to sing A and say I at the same time the result sounds like this: "Mah lahve eez ah see-ning bahd" and "Wha cahn Ah gaw to fahned mah rahst".  An effort must be made, however, to overcome these carelessly contrived hazards, and it is a good thing to practise with hot potatoes in the mouth so that when, on concert day, they are removed, it will not sound as though they were still there, if you get my meaning?

For those of you who are intelligent enough to realise, quite early on, that you are wasting your time, there are always Choral Societies.  In order to join one of these it is only necessary to be able to sing any scale in any voice you happen to have on you at the moment.  No one, since the larynx was first fully fashioned, has ever been rejected, on musical grounds, from joining a choir, and it is comforting to know that not only is it easy to become a member of some such organisation, but that apart from drunkenness or sedition there appears to be nothing on earth that can get you out once you're in.  There was once a famous choir, the master of which sought to purge it of its older members; but it was discovered that all but six of the choir were older members, most of them over seventy and none of them able to sing within the meaning of the word.  The fact that there were 500 of them accounted for the volume of sound they made and the fact that they had sung Handel's "Messiah" forty-five consecutive years accounted for their accuracy in hitting the right notes.  In any case their hearts would have broken had they been superannuated, so on they went till death brought them to the last chord.

A word of warning.  While the ability to sing well is of no importance in choral singing, to be able to read music is, if not absolutely necessary, certainly useful.  Choral works are commonly divided into four parts, soprano, alto, tenor and bass, and as these are all written on top of each other it is usual, on turning the page, to get lost.  Sopranos are all right because they are singing the tune, but altos who should, several notes lower, be repeating "Oh my luv, oh my love, oh my luv" may get seduced into tagging along with the tenor who has advanced to "is like a red red rose".  You will notice I say tenor in the singular?  This is because tenors are tremendously handicapped by never being there.  They are as elusive as a demmed pimpernel and at most choir practices they number one with a slight head cold against thirty sops., twelve alts. and four basses.  Somehow basses seem to be more reliable, perhaps because they tend to be elderly and have really nothing better to do than spend an evening holding on to bottom C.

For those with modest vocal ambitions choir singing is a delightful pastime, for there is safety in numbers, and providing the mouth is open and closed at correct intervals little else is demanded.  Ambition, however, burns in many breasts, so on with the gargles and the gusty breaths, the diaphragm exercises and the first fine lamentable bashes at Percy Quilter's songs!

Waiting on Wednesday # 69 - Struck by Rhonda Stapleton

"Waiting On" Wednesday is a weekly event, hosted at Breaking The Spine, that spotlights upcoming releases that we're eagerly anticipating.

My pick: Struck by Rhonda Stapleton

Summary from Goodreads:
Felicity Walker believes in true love. That's why she applies for a gig at the matchmaking company Cupid's Hollow. But when Felicity gets the job, she learns that she isn't just a matchmaker...she's a cupid! (There's more than one of them, you know.)
Armed with a hot pink, tricked-out PDA infused with the latest in cupid magic (love arrows shot through email), Felicity works to meet her quota of successful matches. But the path to love is not always a straight shot...
Rhonda Stapleton
December 6th 2011 by Simon Pulse

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Here's How - Virginia Graham

One of the best, and certainly one of the funniest, books I read in 2009 was Virginia Graham's Say Please, a faux etiquette guide from 1949.  (I wrote about it here.)  Foolishly, I did not investigate whether or not Graham had followed it up - and it was a joyful coincidence that I happened across Here's How (1951) in London a while ago, and an even more joyful discovery that it's perhaps even BETTER than Say Please.

Rather than a guide to etiquette, Here's How purports to be an instruction manual on many and various activities - from singing to redecorating to playing the piano to laying a carpet.  Needless to say, Graham has very little of great use to impart on these topics, but the voice she adopts is one of unswerving self-confidence, coupled with a devastating lack of confidence in the abilities of her reader. It's all deliciously tongue-in-cheek and her tone is expertly judged. Sadly Osbert Lancester doesn't do the illustrations for this one, but Anton's are amusing too - as shown by this DIY Henry Moore impersonator, on the cover.

I could chirrup on forever about how much I enjoyed reading this, but I think instead I'll simply give you some excerpts. There are quite a few, but I couldn't resist. If they meet with your approval, I'll type out a whole section tomorrow (probably the first, 'How To Sing') rather than just the sentences/paragraphs which caught my eye.

How To Play The Piano
However beautiful a melody may be it requires bolstering with an accompaniment, and this does not mean, as so many people seem to think, hitting bottom C repeatedly in the hope that it may, on occasions, coincide with the tune.

How To Ride
In a clash of wills between horse and man it is imperative that man should win; otherwise horses will just go browsing about eating grass in a nonchalant fashion instead of taking people places and pulling things.

How To Paint
Unless you are made of some steely inhuman stuff or unless you have a stingy and really not very attractive streak in you, you will insist upon giving yourself a very beautiful, heavy wooden box, smelling richly of cedar, satin to the touch and containing dozens of tubes of paint.  Separate from these rotund and glistening torpedoes will be ranged, in neat compartments, brushes, turpentine and oil.  If you are zealous in your work and really want to get on you will find, in a few weeks' time that the tubes have not only become misshapen but that most of them exude paint from both ends; that all their screw caps are lost and that the orifices thereby exposed to the open air are clogged.  In consequence the box refuses to shut and, having primarily been a portable asset becomes an encumbering fixture.  Now is the time to go out and buy the capacious mackintosh shopping bag which you could have bought right at the beginning if you hadn't had such ridiculous delusions of grandeur.

How To Skate
In recent years, since the knack of freezing chemicals into a passable imitation of ice has been acquired, skating has become very much the vogue.  Even the "lower orders" who, in more natural circumstances would be employed sweeping snow from the pond's surface or feeding coke into braziers are now able to skim like birds from one end of Earl's Court to another, only pausing on their way to circumnavigate an orange.

How To Plumb
Lagging pipes is one of those things you read about in the weekly magazines and it isn't normal for a householder to get around to lagging his own. Indeed it isn't normal to do anything until it is far too late, and even then action is often confined to ringing up one's mother to ask if one can go along to her and have a bath.

Obviously this isn't everyone's cup of tea, but it is very much mine - and I think Here's How would make a fantastic present for anybody like-minded. This is exactly the sort of book which doesn't seem to appear any more (I suppose the nearest comparison are those quick-flick books flogged at Christmas - how much more wonderful Graham's collection is!) and exactly the sort of book I love to discover and stack up on my shelves.

Book Review: Divergent by Veronica Roth

Title: Divergent
Author: Veronica Roth
Series: Divergent #1
Release Date: May 3rd, 2011
Publisher: Harper Collins
Age: Young Adult
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both. So she makes a choice that surprises everyone, including herself.
During the highly competitive initiation that follows, Beatrice renames herself Tris and struggles to determine who her friends really are—and where, exactly, a romance with a sometimes fascinating, sometimes infuriating boy fits into the life she's chosen. But Tris also has a secret, one she's kept hidden from everyone because she's been warned it can mean death. And as she discovers a growing conflict that threatens to unravel her seemingly perfect society, she also learns that her secret might help her save those she loves . . . or it might destroy her.
I've read so many great reviews about this book. I was really interested and I'm happy I finally read it!

In a dystopian future Chicago, Beatrice Prior is sixteen years old and the time has come for her to choose her faction. Her family is from Abnegation, but she doesn't feel like it's her right place. But leaving her faction means she can't see her family anymore.

When she finally decides which faction is for her, nobody thinks she is capable. Breatice, now Tris, has to prove everyone that she's strong and capable of anything...all while keeping her biggest secret, a very  dangerous secret.

Beatrice starts being a shy and sad girl, but deciding to change her life make her become Tris, strong and brave. Tris is still very scared, specially of human contact. When she met Four, an interesting boy who might know her secret, she starts to realize that it isn't so bad to want something for herself.

The world Veronica Roth wrote was interesting, and her writing made me read the whole book in only two days! The factions, Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent), are very strict, and the people is obliged to act as their faction describe.

The factions were invented to maintain the peace between men. But their world it's really as peaceful as they say? And what about people who doesn't want to be in a faction? What is you are brave and intelligent and honest? 

I really don't want to spoil the book. It's important that you discover for yourself what is really happening with the factions. But Divergent is an excellent dystopian book for YA. It has action, adventures and great characters. I liked Tris transformation, and I really want to know what is going to happen in the sequel, Insurgent.

More about this book at veronicarothbooks.blogspot.comGoodreads, Amazon, The Book Depository.