Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Waiting on Wednesday # 84 - Buried in a Book by Lucy Arlington

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

My pick: Buried in a Book (A Novel Idea Mystery #1) by Lucy Arlington

After receiving her first pink slip at the age of forty-five, former newspaper journalist Lila Wilkins is desperate for work, even if it means taking a pay cut. After combing through the classifieds, Lila accepts an internship at A Novel Idea, a thriving literary agency in the utopian town of Inspiration Valley, North Carolina.

Lila can’t imagine anything better than being paid to read, but with a crew of quirky co-workers and a sky-high stack of query letters, she doesn’t exactly have time to discover the next great bestseller—especially when a penniless aspiring author drops dead in the agency’s waiting room.

No one else seems too concerned about the man’s demise, but when Lila uncovers a series of threatening letters, she’s determined to uncover what—or who—killed the man’s dreams of literary stardom…
February 7th 2012 by Penguin Publishing

Sounds fun, I love cozy mysteries and it's going to be released in a couple of days! yay!

NetGalley Month (January) Wrap Up

A couple of weeks ago I declared January was NetGalley month here at Oh My Books!, and the time to finally read those galleys I have and still haven't read. I compromised myself to read as many as possible...

I read:
  1. Holiday Kisses (Anthology)
  2. Last Chance Beauty Queen by Hope Ramsay
  3. Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins
  4. Kiss Me, I'm Irish by Roxanne St. Claire, Jill Shalvis, Maureen Child (review to be posted)
  5. Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen (currently reading)

What do you think? :P

Monday, January 30, 2012

(In the spirit of yesterday's post, and to declare my upcoming brief absence):

Adieu, adieu, I'm leaving you,
It's sad to say goodbye.
I'll still be stuck in books (of course)
I'm off to Hay-on-Wye!

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Book Review: Last Chance Beauty Queen by Hope Ramsay

Title: Last Chance Beauty Queen
Author: Hope Ramsay
Series: Last Chance #3
Release Date: February 1st, 2012
Publisher: Grand Central Publishing
Age: Adult
Dear Reader,
Gracious me, my beautiful daughter Rocky sure could use my help. I always knew she wasn't much interested in the local boys - but who'd have thought she'd come home with English royalty?
Trouble is, Hugh wants to buy some of our folks' land. We don't want to sell, but Rocky's job depends on her closing the deal. And though Hugh's obviously smitten, I'm not sure he's right for my Rocky. Oh, he's classy and handsome - and you should've seen the way he judged pies and fixed stock cars at our Watermelon Festival! - but what do we know about him, really? I know I sound like a nervous mother hen, but after forty happy years with my Elbert, all I want is to see my little girl find the same.
Well, time for me to quit chattering and get back to Miss Bray's wet set. Always nice talking to you, and remember: the Cut 'n Curl's got hot rollers, free coffee, and the best gossip in town.
See you real soon,
Ruby Rhodes
When I read the synopsis of Last Chance Beauty Queen, I remember thinking 'I have to read this book'. Ruby Rhodes has an appealing voice, and I couldn't wait to see if she was right about her daughter's love life.

Rocky is a successful woman, and she's at one step to having her dream job. She only has to convince the English royalty Hugh that he doesn't need her father's land to complete his factory's plans. The thing is, Hugh is not so easy to convince, and the idea of a new factory in the town isn't so bad.

Rocky was so much fun. She was very successful and know exactly her plans. Also she's very independent but very nervous about Hugh, his plans, and going back to her home town, specially when there are so many uncomfortable memories. She was / is the beauty of the town, and everyone in the town is convinced she should marry someone. But she's not falling for that, she's just going to convince Hugh to move his factory somewhere else and it doesn't matter if he's the one who make her heart jump.

Hugh is English royalty, with a hot accent and plainly yummy. He is going to build a factory at Last Chance but he needs more land, and Rocky's father is not going to sell it. He really needs this land, and the factory, but he was so sweet. Everyone wanted and expected him to be the bad guy, but he wasn't at all. He was very understanding, not demanding at all, even when he knew that he needed to be stronger.

Their romance was definitely sweet and with the right amount of spice! They were attracted since the beginning but had so many reasons to not be together. Specially since the matchmaker of the town apparently said they were matched to different people, and everyone was pushing them apart. But the author took the time to write a beautiful and realistic love story, were the characters finally decided to follow their hearts.

Although I liked the secondary characters, because each one of them appeared to have their own story to tell and it's one of the reasons you will love this book, I wasn't happy with the way Rocky's family treated her and I really wished she would have stood up against them sooner. I know her brothers and parents were trying to protect her, but really, they were only hurting her.

Overall, Last Chance Beauty Queen is a fun love story, about two people following their hearts even when life (and everyone else) is convinced they are not meant to be together. If you like contemporary romance, this one is a must read!

BTW, this one is part of the Last Chance series, but I think you can enjoy it as a stand alone.

More about this book at  www.hoperamsay.comGoodreads, AmazonThe Book Depository.

Deadline Poet - Calvin Trillin

When I wrote recently about his disengagement with poetry, and asked for your help (much appreciated!) I didn't expect my next dalliance with poetry to be something quite like Calvin Trillin's Deadline Poet.  I have Thomas to thank for introducing me to Trillin, and Nancy to thank for mentioning Deadline Poet on this post back here.  And now it has filled one of the tricky 1990s spots on A Century of Books.

Given my disinclination to read poetry, it was perhaps a surprising choice for me.  Even more surprising is that it's about Trillin's time writing weekly 'doggerel' (his word) for The Nation about contemporary political figures. Contemporary being, in this case, the 1990s.  Trillin always refers to his boss as 'the wily and parsimonious Victor S. Navasky', whose one condition for offering Trillin $100 a week for his verse was: "Don't tell any of the real poets you're getting that much." - "Your secret is safe with me," I assured him.

Now, I know nothing about politics in 1990s America.  Indeed, I know nothing about politics in any place, at any time, up to and including 2012 Britain...  Thankfully Deadline Poet isn't simply a collection of verse - Trillin knows that, if a week is a long time in politics, a year is an eternity.  Light verse published in a newspaper necessarily relies upon topicality - so even those who know who Zoe Baird, Clarence Thomas, Robert Penn Warren etc. are (sorry, I don't) might not remember the intricacies of various campaigns and speeches.  So Trillin prefaces his poems with explanations - or, rather, the poems occupy a lot of a journalist's memoir.  The poetry and prose take up about equal amounts of page space, so it doesn't feel like a collection with notes, nor like a traditional memoir, but a really engaging and funny combination of the two.

And the poetry itself?  Well, Trillin probably isn't being unduly bashful when he calls himself a doggerelist.  There isn't a lot of it that would make Wordsworth uneasy.  Scanning and syntax tend to fall below rhyming in Trillin's list of priorities (then again, that never did Tennyson any harm) and even there he prefers an abcb rhyme scheme, rather than abab, which is a little lazy - still, there is plenty of ingenious rhyming and wittiness throughout.  Here's one I enjoyed.  (I should add, I have no idea who Ross Perot is.  I don't even know which is Republican and which is Democrat, since the words mean the same thing.  So sorry if Perot is 'your' party... you probably know by now that I am not seeking to offend.)

The Ross Perot Guide to Answering Embarrassing Questions

When something in my history is found
Which contradicts the views that I propound,
Or shows that I am surely hardly who
I claim to be, here's what I usually do:

I lie
I simply, baldly falsify.
I look the fellow in the eye,
And cross my heart and hope to die - 
And lie.

I don t apologize. Not me. Instead,
I say I never said the things I said
Nor did the things that people saw me do.
Confronted with some things they know are true,

I lie.
I offer them no alibi,
Nor say, "You oversimplify."
I just deny, deny, deny.
I lie.

I hate the weasel words some slickies use
To blur their pasts or muddy up their views.
Not me. I'm blunt. One thing that makes me great
Is that I'll never dodge nor obfuscate.

I'll lie.

I imagine those of you who were politically aware in the 1990s will enjoy Deadline Poet greatly (especially if you agree with Trillin's views, which I think are liberal).  It is testament to Trillin's humour and drollery that even I, entirely ignorant, found Deadline Poet a really entertaining read.  Perhaps it isn't quite how I saw myself engaging with poetry, and political verse certainly isn't an avenue I'll be exploring further, but as the memoir of a weekly journalist and light verse writer, I found it a whole heap o' fun.

In My Mailbox # 60

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

This week I got:

Free for Kindle:



I loved my IMM this week. I really want to read Mark Haddon's book, and the last two books I bought them at a garage sale :P I'm still waiting for A Millions Suns.... Anyway, What did you get this week? Leave your links in the comments :)

BTW, the dog in the picture is Cotton, wearing his Christmas scarf.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Blindness by Henry Green

Normal weekend posts are suspended, since I failed to write my review of Blindness (1926) during weekdays of Henry Green Reading Week (run by Stu) - indeed, I didn't finish reading the book until last night.  But let's hope the weekend counts, and get on with the show!  And it's going to be quite a long show, as I ended up having a lot to say about Mr. Green...

I decided to start with Blindness because it was Green's first novel, and I've never read an author chronologically before.  Blindness was great, and so I'll be reading the rest of Green's novels chronologically... over the course of many years, I suspect.  I wasn't sure I'd like him, based on excerpts I had seen around the blogosphere - perhaps he has to be read in context, rather than piecemeal?  Perhaps the first novel is different from the others?  I don't know, but I do know that this novel has left me keen to try more.

Blindness starts with the diary of John Haye, a privileged boy at a posh school.  He is something of a dandy and an aesthete, pontificating on art and culture and how to best the boys who try to best him.  He's not unpleasant, but nor is there much depth to his diary.  Even though orphaned (with an attentive stepmother who has been 'Mamma' for nearly all his life) it seems that nothing of great emotional moment has ever affected his life.  Here's a sample diary entry:
Bell's, across the way, have bought as many as seven hunting-horns.  Each possessor blows it unceasingly, just when one wants to read.  They don't do it all together, but take it in turns to keep up one forced note.  Really, it might be Eton.  They can only produce the one note during the whole day.

In addition to this trifling detail, it is "the thing to do" now to throw stones at me as I sit at my window.  However, I have just called E.N. a "milch cow," and shall on the first opportunity call D.J.B. a "bovine goat," which generally relieves matter.  These epithets have the real authentic Noat Art Society touch, haven't they?
Contrast that which the first paragraph of the second section.  In between there is a brief letter, from B.G. to Seymour, which tells the reader what they have suspected from the title onwards: John has been blinded.  I shan't tell you how (it's good to have some specifics left for the reading experience) but immediately we drop out of the self-conscious intimacy of John's diary, and into this paragraph:
Outside it was raining, and through the leaded window panes a grey light came and was lost in the room.  The afternoon was passing wearily, and the soft sound of the rain, never faster, never slower, tired.  A big bed in one corner of the room, opposite a chest of drawers, and on it a few books and a pot of false flowers.  In the grate a weary fire, hissing spitefully when a drop of rain found its way down the chimney.  Below the bed a yellow wardrobe over which large grain marks circled aimlessly, on which there was a full-length glass.  Beyond, the door, green, as were the think embrasures of the two windows green, and the carpet, and the curtains.
The buoyancy has gone; the repeated word 'weary', and 'tired', drag the writing down with heaviness which doesn't need to be overstated.  Green is excellent at conveying emotion through simple thoughts, allowing the reader to interpret the characters and their states of mind without giving too much overt direction.

John is at home, now, and the main characters change.  They are too well written to be accurately described in brief, but I'll give a vague sketch.  John's stepmother, Mamma, is of huntin'-shootin' stock, doesn't understand her arty stepson, but would (and does) do everything for his sake.  Nanny has cared for him from infancy.  And then there is Joan - the daughter of a local defrocked clergyman.  She isn't particularly intelligent, although she has greater depth than her conversation suggests... and her relationship with John is as awkward as it is enlivening.  This is John's thoughts after first meeting her:
Voices as become his great interest, voices that surrounded him, that came and went, that slipped from tone to tone, that hid to give away in hiding.  There had been wonder in hers when he had groped into the room upon them both; she had said, "Look."  But before she had opened her mouth he had known that there was someone new in the room.

Voices had been thickly round him for the past month, all kinds of them.  Mamma extracted them from the neighbourhood, and all had sent out the first note of horror, and some had continued horrified and frightened, while others had grown sympathetic, and these were for the most part the fat voices of mothers, and some had been disgusted.  She had been the first to be almost immediately at her ease, when she spoke it was with an eager note, and there were so few eager people.
It is an interesting coincidence that I am reading this so soon after reading Helen Keller's The World I Live In.  Of course there are differences (not least fact and fiction) but, although I can't really know, I think Green writes a plausible narrative of dealing with sudden blindness.  And it certainly gives Green restrictions which he approaches impressively: to use, from John's perspective, no visual descriptions.  I jotted down a line which I thought summed up much of the novel, and later (because I always read introductions at the end) discovered that Jeremy Treblown had begun his with the same quotation:
It was so easy to see and so hard to feel what was going on, but it was the feeling that mattered.
That's a pretty good summary of any author's task.  It's essentially 'show: don't tell', isn't it?

Many of the novelists I love from the interwar years have spent the subsequent decades hovering between 'canon' and 'non-canon'.  The Leavises et al may not have welcomed them, but they have been reclaimed by later critics - or left out in the dust.  Ivy Compton-Burnett, Elizabeth Taylor, Elizabeth von Arnim, E.M. Delafield... to my mind, von Arnim is every bit as good as Taylor, but the latter has risen in critical appreciation where the former has not.  These seemingly arbitrary decisions can be found everywhere.

As for Green, he is a curious case.  You'd be hard-pressed to find a literary critic who didn't think him significant - but equally hard-pressed to find one who'd bothered writing about him.  His style is often compared to Woolf's or Joyce's (although I don't think those two authors should be grouped together) - what struck me is that Henry Green writes like James Joyce would if Joyce were a lot less arrogant, and more concerned with making his prose enjoyable as well as experimental.  There are several pages from Nan's perspective, meandering hither and thither, reminiscing and wondering, that Joyce would have given his back teeth to be able to write.

Does Henry use stream-of-consciousness?  Yes, I suppose he does.  But whereas Woolf (whom I love) incorporates beautiful imagery and stylistic wanderings like waves on a shore, Green does the opposite.  He never uses a word or a metaphor that the character wouldn't speak aloud.  It is beautiful, but it is resolutely simple.  And thus probably incredibly difficult to write - especially for a 21 year old.  Yes, Green was 21 when he finished this novel - and at school when he started it.  Sickening, isn't it?

Blindness isn't just from John's perspective, though.  In fact, the perspective is a bit like a butterfly - flying about, settling for a few paragraphs on one person, then moving onto another - dipping in and out of people's minds, and giving their thoughts, feelings, and worries in an honest, perceptive manner.  Green builds character so well, from the inside out.  Nobody is considered too insignificant for this treatment - the reader hears from the nurse, the cook, even a cockerel, alongside the principal cast.  If that feels dizzying, don't worry, it is not - simplicity always remains Green's mantra.  Sometimes this flitting between different consciousnesses does, though, create intriguing uncertainties.  Take this excerpt, during a conversation between John and Joan - Joan is speaking:
"Yes, an' there's the chicks that get lost in the grass, I love them, an' there's a starling that nests every year in the chimney, and my own mouse which plays about in my room at night, an'..."

G-d, the boredom of this.

"... but sometimes I hate it all."
With my apparent knack for pre-empting Jeremy Treglown's introduction, he also quotes this section - although unambiguously attributing the mental interjection to John.  That's certainly the most likely reading, but I like the ambiguity that Green does incorporate.  It could easily be Joan's thought (it would certainly match the other thoughts we've heard from her in this scene) or even a shared moment of bored despair - connecting mentally where they do not connect verbally.

I daresay I have delighted you long enough, so I will conclude.  Blindness is such an interesting novel, written so well.  As a first novel by a very young man, it demonstrates astonishingly maturity; I'm very excited about reading his later works.  This wouldn't be a great choice for those who prize plot above character and style, but for anyone who likes the idea of modernism, but struggles to enjoy it in practice, Henry Green's style (on the basis of Blindness, at least) is perfect for you.

Do head on over to Stu's blog to see what he and others have read during Henry Green Reading Week.  And thanks, Stu, for giving me the incentive finally to read up my Greens!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bent Objects - Terry Border

I don't think I've ever mentioned a funny little book I once bought for my housemate, and which I flicked through the other day with renewed amusement - it's Bent Objects by Terry Border.  Border has his own blog here, and is rather ingenious - he takes everyday objects, often food, and uses wire etc. to make them seem animate.  He doesn't actually animate them, but does give them life - through seemingly simple construction and brilliant placement.  I love him.  What reminded me of the book was the ereader/book debate, and this image:

 Here's another of my favourites:

It's a great silly book, and there are a few others in the series, I believe.  It's not the right time of year to mention stocking fillers, but... oh well, any time of year is good for a laugh, isn't it?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

The World I Live In - Helen Keller

I was trying to remember who told me about The World I Live In (1908) by Helen Keller, when I realised that none of you did.  This joins Yellow by Janni Visman and Alva & Irva by Edward Carey (both wonderful novels) in being a book I happened upon at work in the Bodleian, and decided to buy for myself.  And, like them, it turned out to be a good reading experience - although rather different.

I had heard of Helen Keller, of course, although I must confess to having thought her British rather than American.  For those who don't know the name, Keller lived from 1880-1968 and at 19 months' old had an illness which left her completely blind and deaf.  She spent seven years with barely any proper communication with others; she describes it as a period during which she was not alive - then, when Keller was seven, 20-year old Anne Sullivan became her teacher.  With Sullivan's patient assistance, Keller used hand-spelling to communicate, and became rather more eloquent than most other young women.  She wrote The Story of My Life in 1903, which I have not read; the essays collected within The World I Live In were written during Keller's twenties, and make for fascinating reading - and certainly not for some sort of novelty value, but because Keller is, in her own right, incredibly intelligent, something of a philosopher, and entirely an optimist.  Indeed, the NYRB Classics edition I have includes Optimism: an essay written in 1903, which includes this excerpt:
I, too, can work, and because I love to labour with my head and my hands, I am an optimist in spite of all.  I used to think I should be thwarted in my desire to do something useful. But I have found out that though the ways in which I can make myself useful are few, yet the work open to me is endless.  The gladdest labourer in the vineyard may be a cripple.  Even should the others outstrip him, yet the vineyard ripens in the sun each year, and the full clusters weigh into his hand.  Darwin could work only half an hour at a time; yet in many diligent half-hours he laid anew the foundations of philosophy.  I long to accomplish a great and noble task; but it is my chief duty and joy to accomplish humble tasks as though they were great and noble.  It is my service to think how I can best fulfil the demands that each day makes upon me, and to rejoice that others can do what I cannot.
 When I say that Keller's worth as an author is not merely as a novelty, I mean that she should not be patronised, nor her writing viewed as some sort of scientific experiment.  She is too good and perceptive a writer for that.  But, of course, Keller offers a different understanding and interaction with the world than most writers would.  The sections I found most fascinating were towards the beginning, where Keller writes about hands.  She divides this into three sections: 'The Seeing Hand' (how she uses touch as her primary sense); 'The Hands of Others' (how hands reveal character), and 'The Hands of the Race' (where the explores hands in history and culture.)  Her perspective is not entirely unique, I daresay, but I certainly haven't encountered documented elsewhere, nor can I imagine it done more sensitively, or with such a good-humoured demeanour:
It is interesting to observe the differences in the hands of people.  They show all kinds of vitality, energy, stillness, and cordiality.  I never realised how living the hand is until I saw those chill plaster images in Mr. Hutton's collection of casts.  The hand I know in life has the fullness of blood in its veins, and is elastic with spirit.
I read that a face is strong, gentle; that it is full of patience, of intellect; that it is fine, sweet, noble, beautiful.  Have I not the same right to use these words in describing what I feel as you have in describing what you see?  They express truly what I feel in the hand.  I am seldom conscious of physical qualities, and I do not remember whether the fingers of a hand are short or long, or the skin is moist or dry. [...] Any description I might give would fail to make you acquainted with a friendly hand which my fingers have often folded about, and which my affection translates to my memory.
As I say, it is these early sections which I found most captivating; similarly, the essay on smell gave a wonderful insight.  I hope it is obvious that I intend no offence when I say it reminded me of Flush by Virginia Woolf, where the dog's primary sense is smell, and the world is focalised through this perspective.  Keller does not feel that her experience of life is any less full than anybody else's - the senses of touch, smell, and taste give her a vivid comprehension of the world and, what is more, a deep appreciation of it:
Between my experiences and the experiences of others there is no gulf of mute space which I may not bridge.  For I have endlessly varied, instructive contacts with all the world, with life, with the atmosphere whose radiant activity enfolds us all.  The thrilling energy of the all-encasing air is warm and rapturous.  Heat-waves and sound-waves play upon my face in infinite variety and combination, until I am able to surmise what must be the myriad sounds that my senseless ears have not heard.
I have to confess that the second broader section of The World I Live In left me cold.  In it, she describes - at length - her dreams, since it is often 'assumed that my dreams should have peculiar interest for the man of science.'  Well, perhaps they do.  But I am allergic to people describing their dreams, it is utter anaethema to me (as my housemates now know!) and I skipped past this section.  If you have a greater tolerance for dream-descriptions than I do, perhaps it is just as interesting as the first section.

The final parts of the book were added from elsewhere, for the NYRB edition: the optimism essay, mentioned above, and 'My Story', written when she was 12, and quite astonishingly mature for that age - let alone for a girl who had only learnt language from the age of seven.
That is what astounds me most about Helen Keller's book: that someone who came late to language should progress in it so quickly and maturely.  Regardless of the reasons why she could not speak, read, or listen, the fact that she had seven years without language, overcame this, and wrote so beautifully and intelligently  - well, it's astonishing.  Keller is wise, sensitive, generous, and philosophically fascinating.  I'm grateful to NYRB for bringing The World I Live In back into print in 2003, and would recommend this to anybody interested in intelligent, lovely writing.  Here's a wonderfully insightful paragraph from Keller to finish:
It is more difficult to teach ignorance to think than to teach an intelligent blind man to see the grandeur of Niagara.  I have walked with people whose eyes are full of light, but who see nothing in wood, sea, or sky, nothing in city streets, nothing in books.  What a witless masquerade is this seeing!  It were better far to sail forever in the night of blindness, with sense and feeling and mind, than to be thus content with the mere act of seeing.  They have the sunset, the morning skies, the purple of distant hills, yet their souls voyage through this enchanted world with a barren state.

Another book to get Stuck into:

Halfway to Venus by Sarah Anderton
If this were in a thesaurus it would be listed under 'antonym' rather than 'synonym' - Anderton had one arm amputated early in life, and Halfway to Venus is a very interesting book that combines memoir with an overview of the absence of hands in art, religion, literature, and history.  As such, it makes a fascinating comparison with Keller's writing on the primacy of hands in the same.

Waiting on Wednesday # 83 - Tempest Unleashed by Tracy Deebs

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

My pick: Tempest Unleashed (Tempest #2) by Tracy Deebs

Tempest Maguire is happy with her decision to embrace her mermaid nature and live among her mother’s clan within the ocean’s depths. Even though training to one day ascend the throne for the aging mermaid queen is rigorous, she finds refuge in the arms of Kona, the selkie who first opened her up to her mermaid side. But when word comes that one of her brothers has been gravely injured on land, Tempest immediately rushes to his side—which also brings her back to her old flame, Mark. And in her absence, a deadly battle begins raging at the hands of Tempest’s old nemesis, the sea witch Tiamat. As the dangerous war erupts, Tempest’s two loves—Kona and Mark, sea and land—will collide for the first time, both to protect her and to force her to choose.
June 5th 2012 by Walker Childrens

I loved Tempest Rising, and I can't wait to read this one! But, I'm not really exited about the love triangle..

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Batshit Insane

This week, we're participating in Laura's "Favorite Character Blogfest". It's runs from Jan 23 -25 and if you haven't checked out Laura's site, go there NOW!!! She's awesome.

For the blogfest, we need to pick a favorite character we've created and explain why we love her. Our character is named Six and we picked her because she's a mixture between blood-red lipstick and batshit insane. Oh, and she's also Death. That part's kind of important.

We hope you like her! Looking forward to reading all of your entries.


Demetri was doing that sad little puppy dog impression he had grown so fond of ever since I had walked into his dull little life. Shoulders hunched, hands clasped behind his back, he stared grimly into the sunset. As always, he was right on time, and at the exact spot at Happy Landings Bluff that I had told him to meet me. But he still hadn’t learned to always be aware of his surroundings like I had taught him. Oh well. He’d learn soon enough.

God, if I had a Mom, I bet she’d be all like, “Why do you always have to bring sadness into everyone’s lives?” and I’d retort, “Because I’m Death, Mom! This is what I do!” Oh, and then I bet she’d say “Why can’t you go out and get a regular job, like everyone else? All you do is make everyone miserable!” and I’d scream “Making people miserable is all I know, cause I learned how to do it from you!”

Briefly, the tiny speck of my brain that still pretended to care what other people thought wondered how crazy I must seem to be constantly arguing with my imaginary mother. I didn’t even have a mother! Well, not in the traditional sense, anyway.


I started writing a book review (1908 ticked off the list, if that's any clue) when I realised I was far too tired.  So, instead, here's a picture of a donkey!  I dragged my friend Dave to a local donkey sanctuary last Saturday - it's the third time I've been.  After cats, donkeys are my favourite animals, and I could (and do) spend hours stroking them and informing them that they are handsome.

Maybe it's no surprise that Eeyore is my favourite character in Winnie-the-Pooh?

But I shan't just show you that gorgeous donkey.  I shall pre-empt my Weekend Miscellany and point you in the direction of two very brilliant blog reviews which have been posted lately.  Claire is just as enthusiastic as I am, maybe more, about The Element of Lavishness: Letters of William Maxwell and Sylvia Townsend Warner, and Darlene writes a really beautiful, personal post about Nicola Beauman's excellent book A Very Great Profession.

Hope you're all well - tomorrow's another late night, so might be a couple of days before I get to grips with reviewing the 1908 book.  If you fancy guessing, it's non-fiction, and the author's initials are HK...

Monday, January 23, 2012

Oh, hello again, Miss Hargreaves!

I've been reading Mr. Allenby Loses The Way by Frank Baker, author of my much-loved Miss Hargreaves, and I've even been able to call it work - hopefully it'll be useful for the chapter I'm writing at the moment.  It's about a man who is given five wishes by a fairy... but nowhere near as twee as that sounds.  Anyway, this isn't a review of the novel (not least because I've only read the first 50 pages) but something else entirely.  I was merrily reading along, when I came across this seemingly incidental piece of dialogue:
"All snatches of overheard conversation have something of interest in them.  I once listened to an elderly lady who travelled with me in the same carriage from Bath to Cornford, telling her neighbour about a creature called 'Agatha.'  But who, or what, was Agatha?  I never discovered; I never wanted to discover."
Does that mean anything to you?

Perhaps, even probably, not.  You haven't read Miss Hargreaves six times; you don't love its every word with the passion that I do.  But maybe you do remember that it was set in Cornford; that Miss Hargreaves arrived on a train from Bath; that Norman made up Agatha and was told she was "sinking", without ever knowing what sort of animal/person Agatha was...

Sorry if that was gibberish for those of you who haven't read Miss Hargreaves (if you haven't, I'll want to know a VERY good reason why you haven't).  But I can't tell you how thrilled I was to see her mentioned in this novel, published six years after Miss Hargreaves.  It's my favourite novel, and she is my favourite of all characters - any small sign that she broke out of the bounds of her book delights me.  It was so unexpected, and a treat for those with keen eyes and a good memory.  Or, y'know, a borderline obsession with Miss H.

Have you ever come across this?  A character slipping outside their book and popping up in another?  Not in a series, that's no surprise, but a brief waft past, like this - a little gift from the author to the observant reader.  Hmm?

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Maestro by Peter Goldsworthy

I wasn't intending to join in Australian Literature Month, because I didn't have any unread Australian novels, nor did any of the suggested titles fill me with longing.  I'm trying to be sensible with money this academic year, since I'm no longer funded, and (believe it or not) I'm even being more circumspect when it comes to book purchases!  (Keep that in your mind when you read the following...)

I bought Maestro (1989) by Peter Goldsworthy because I liked the colour of the spine.  Ok, that's not quite true - it was the minty-turquoisey colour which made me take it off the shelf; when I discovered that it was Australian, and sounded interesting, I decided it was worth £2 of my money.  I'm glad I did - not just because I get to join in with Kim et al, but because it was rather good.

Although it's Australian - written by an Australian, set in 1967 Darwin, Australia (the location of choice for characters leaving Neighbours, incidentally, if they're not going to London) - much of the impetus is tied to Europe.  Eduard Keller is a Viennese refugee who teaches piano to fifteen year old Paul Crabbe (already an experienced pianist) whose family have recently moved from South Australia to the dry heat of Darwin.  Except Keller doesn't teach piano in any traditional sense - he forbids Paul to use the piano for the first few weeks, instead instructing him in the importance of each individual finger...
Keller waggled a forefinger in front of my nose.  It was our second lesson?  Our third?

"This finger is selfish.  Greedy.  A... a delinquent.  He will steal from his four friends, cheat, lie."

He sheathed the forefinger in his closed fist as if it were the fleshy blade of a Swiss army knife and released the middle finger.

"Mr. goody-goody," he said, banging the finger down on middle C repeatedly.  "Teacher's pet.  Does what he is told.  Our best student."

Last came the ring finger.

"Likes to follow his best friend," he told me.  "Likes to... lean on him sometimes."

He lifted his elbows upwards and outwards.

"Those are the pupils.  This is the teacher.  The elbow..."
I have an ambivalent relationship with novels about music.  I enjoyed The Well-Tempered Clavier by William Coles (although I was glad that Maestro didn't follow it down the Notes on a Scandal-esque path, not least because of the sixty year gap between Keller and Paul, but also because it's not a very original course to take.)  I loved The Piano Shop on the Left Bank by Thad Carhart, which is non-fiction.  But novels leave me cold when they rely upon the ethos that music is the highest of all forms.  I played the piano from the age of seven onwards, and although I later became friends with my piano teacher (the lady who first told me of Miss Hargreaves) and eventually grew to like playing the piano, for many years I passionately hated it.  The best feeling in the world (and my brother agrees with me) was when you rang the doorbell for a piano lesson... and the teacher didn't answer!  The worst feeling was when you thought the piano teacher wasn't going to answer, and then, after a long gap... she did.  So, anyway, this has given me an odd relationship with stories about learning instruments, and my dislike of elitism comes into play with musical maestros.

I'm sure it's possible to be a musical expert without being arrogant and rude, of course, but Keller is not one of these.  He is one of the most rude, supercilious characters I've ever encountered - but he is battling his own demons, and the love and respect Paul feels towards Keller are contagious.  Even so, I found it arrogant rather than inspiring when he said things like this:
"Perhaps you could play one of the exam pieces, Paul," my father suggested.  "A private concert for the three of us."

"The Brahms?"

"The Beethoven," Keller injected, "might be preferable."

I played Beethoven that night as well as I had ever played, and turned afterwards, smiling, ready for praise.

"Beautiful," my mother breathed.  "Don't you agree, Herr Keller?"

"An excellent forgery," he said.

"I'm sorry?"

"Technically perfect," he said.

He drained his wineglass before continuing.  It was to be his longest monologue of the evening:

"At such moments I always remember a forged painting I once saw.  Each violent brushstroke was reproduced was painstaking, non-violent care.  The forgery must have taken many many times longer than the original to complete.  It was technically better than the original."

He rose from his chair and walked a little unsteadily towards the door: "And yet something was missing.  Not much - but something."

At the door he paused, and turned: "And that small something may as well have been everything."

I find music snobbery intensely irritating - no, that's not quite true, I feel desperately sorry for people who are only content with perfection, in any field.  Doubtless it is a form of discernment, but if your discernment reaches the level that you castigate and despise almost everything you encounter, you're setting yourself up for a miserable time.

But Keller is miserable for other reasons... it gradually becomes clear that he was more involved in the Second World War than he originally admits.  I shan't give the game away, although it isn't a big twist and doesn't come as much of a surprise to the reader.  If you're rolling your eyes at yet another long-shadow-of-war novel, then don't.  It's only one element in the interesting construction of the interaction between Keller and Paul - which is the really interesting central focus of Maestro.  Their relationship isn't romantic or fatherly or even particularly close.  Keller resists any sort of emotional connection, and Paul is far too full of youthful insensitivity to do anything but blunder into conversations in which he is too immature to participate, even if Keller were willing.  But what Goldsworthy builds between Keller and the Crabbes is still somehow beautiful.  The connection between people who never open up to one another; the legacies left behind a relationship which could not even be called a friendship.  Goldsworthy has done this beautifully.

One of the things I'm realising, doing A Century of Books and stepping further outside the interwar period, where I am happiest, is the way a decade colours each novel, even without the author intentionally following the zeitgeist.  A bit like people who claim not to follow fashion, until they look back at old photographs and see how much they were unwittingly influenced by the style of the day.  So Maestro is filtered through the lens of the 1980s, whether Goldsworthy likes it or not.  I certainly wouldn't read that people 'made slow, muffled, reckless love' in the pages of an Elizabeth von Arnim novel, for instance.  Indeed, the whole coming-of-age storyline (although much less irritating in Maestro than it is in some book) is very 1980s, and rather incidental to the main thrust of the novel - but perhaps it's main purpose is to demonstrate that Keller does not completely occupy Paul's thoughts.  He is not obsessed by Keller, but their relationship will alter a great deal in his life.

Maestro is a difficult little book to write about - it is wise, original, and rather beautiful.  I would love it a great deal more if someone could translate it into the sensitivities of the 1940s, say, but of course that cannot be done.  It reminded me a bit of Hallucinating Foucault by Patricia Duncker and Virginia by Jens Christian Grondahl, but I'm hard-pressed to say quite why - the influence of genius, for the former?  The lifelong effects of a brief connection, for the latter?  Perhaps, truth be told, Maestro isn't quite like anything else I've read before, but does bring together themes and traits I've seen in many other authors, writing both before and after Goldsworthy.

As for whether it's a representative Australian novel - well, of course there's no such thing.  Goldsworthy conveyed the heat of Darwin very well, but aside from that... I'll have to see which other novels are picked up across the blogs during what's left of Australian Literature Month.  Thanks, Kim, for indirectly encouraging to find, buy, and enjoy a novel I would otherwise have left in the shop.  And thanks for helping fill 1989 in A Century of Books!

In My Mailbox # 59

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

Destined by Jessie Harrell (Sounds interesting and only 0.99 $ for Kindle!)
Always The Wedding Planner, Never The Bride by Sandra D. Bricker (Free for Kindle!)

From NetGalley:
Much Ado About Rogues by Kasey Michaels (Loved the first book of this series)
Kiss Me, I'm Irish by Roxanne St. Claire, Jill Shalvis, Maureen Child (really hot cover!)

So, what did you get this week? Leave your links :)

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Song for a Sunday

Happy Sunday, everyone!

Let's go old school today, with a bit of Kate Bush and her wonderful song 'Running Up That Hill'.

A quick plea...

Does anyone have access to US magazine Time online archives?  There's an article I want to read - the July 28th 1930 review of The Love Child, to be precise - but I can only see the first two lines without paying a big subscription.  Chuh.  So if anyone had access to it and wanted to send me the review in full, you'd have my eternal appreciation...

(Sorry there was no Weekend Miscellany... long day yesterday.  Get ready for Australian Literature Month AND Henry Green Reading Week colliding next week.  I've read one for the former, and started one for the latter...)

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Book Review: Until There Was You by Kristan Higgins

Title: Until There Was You
Author: Kristan Higgins
Release Date: October 25th 2011
Publisher: HQN Books
Age: Adult
Posey Osterhagen can't complain. She owns a successful architectural salvaging company, she's surrounded by her lovable, if off-center, family and she has a boyfriend—sort of. Still, something's missing. Something tall, brooding and criminally good-looking…something like Liam Murphy.
When Posey was sixteen, the bad boy of Bellsford, New Hampshire, broke her heart. But now he's back, sending Posey's traitorous schoolgirl heart into overdrive once again. She should be giving him a wide berth, but it seems fate has other ideas….
It's the first time I read a book from Kristan Higgins. I really didn't know what to think, I love all of her covers with the dogs, and I'm glad I finally read one!

I loved the writing. I started to read this book and only stopped because I had to sleep and work, but if not, I would have read it in a couple of hours. It managed to immerse me in the story, where Posey, the awkward protagonist is again face to face with her first (and only) love, Liam.

I liked Posey, she was a nice woman, very different from the usual protagonists. She is adopted, always uses  jeans and she barely has a womanly body. She doesn't feel like she's part of her German family, and her love life is a disaster.

Liam Murphy is the sexy bad boy. Of course, he isn't really a bad boy. He's widow, and absolutely adores his daughter. But he isn't as perfect as everybody thinks.

 I really liked this book, specially because the characters were so realistic and not perfect. Liam, although he was very hot, actually is suffering from stress and is over protecting his daughter. I do like Posey, specially because she was very sweet, had many friends and could take care of herself, but I really wished she wasn't so naive and had better self-esteem.

Overall, I really enjoyed this story. It was very sweet, and I'm sure going to read more books from Kristan  Higgings.

More about this book at Goodreads, Amazon, The Book Depository.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Adrian Mole

It's the 30th anniversary of Adrian Mole today - can you believe it? - and the good people of Penguin offered me their new editions of all the books.  Knowing that my brother Colin is an Adrian fan, I thought I'd suggest him as a more suited recipient.  They sent off a set, and he wrote me a fab review.  Whenever I feature other people's posts I want to say COMMENT, COMMENT, MAKE THEM FEEL WELCOME!  The new comment system may scupper this, but if it does, go and say hello on Facebook(!)  Over to you, Col.

It is 30 years since Adrian Mole leapt into the national consciousness from the pen of Sue Townsend, and to mark the occasion Penguin are re-issuing all eight volumes of the Mole saga.

Eight volumes? Really? The first surprise to many readers who loved Adrian in the seminal The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 ¾ - even the title is funny – and perhaps Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, which was televised for the BBC, is that Townsend has been quite so prolific in writing about her best-loved creation. If for nothing else, then, this re-issue is a fine reminder that there was life after high school for the poet of Ashby-de-la-Zouch.

Adrian Mole is, to my mind, one of the finest comic creations in English literature. The diary format is perfect for exposing his lack of self-awareness, utterly delusional nature and inability to understand the world around him (a trick played many years before in The Diary of a Nobody) but, like many of the finest comic characters, we cannot help but empathise with him and hope that maybe, this time, he’ll get it right. Maybe Pandora, the woman Adrian is pathetically in love with for the majority of the series, will return his affections; maybe one of his literary efforts (Longing for Wolverhampton; Lo! The Flat Hills of My Homeland; Plague!) will get the respect it so richly doesn’t deserve; maybe his parents will cease to be a constant source of embarrassment and anguish. But then again, of course, maybe not.

As a teenager, Adrian Mole has a few themes that he returns to with unabated zeal: how much he loves Pandora (“Pandora’s father is a milkman! I have gone off her a bit”); his manifold sufferings (“I will be a latchkey kid, whatever that is”) and, unfailingly, the fact that he is an intellectual (“I have written to Malcolm Muggeridge, c/o the BBC, asking him what to do about being an intellectual”; “I am an intellectual but at the same time I am not very clever”). Then, of course, there is the Norwegian Leather Industry, knowledge of which – based on his score in a single school test – Adrian carries around with him like Bertie Wooster with his Scripture Knowledge prize. Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction begins with a reference to meeting Tony Blair at a 1999 conference on the topic.

When the series begins, Mole is – of course – 13 ¾, and by the final volume (so far; Townsend’s only comment about the future is her hope that Adrian go “onward, ever onward”) he is 40 and a grandfather, and it is a great tribute to the series that the child is still recognisable in the adult. From the first few pages of book one you could tell that he is the kind of person who would engage in a lengthy correspondence about the existence of WMDs, simply in order to get a refund on his travel expenses. Some of his traits are diminished a little by time: Mole no longer has such a heightened view of his importance in the world, and is not so blithely unaware of his surroundings as he once was. This is all to the good; a teenager whose reaction to Animal Farm is to ponder becoming a vet (later amended to boycotting bacon) is amusing; a grown man – and father to children from various different mothers – showing such vapidity would just be sad. Townsend is obviously fond of her hero, and he is not designed to be simply a figure of fun; it is genuinely touching when, in Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, ‘The Top Secret Diary of Glenn Mole (13)’ begins “When I grow up I want to be my dad.”

As well as being an excellent character study over thirty years, the Adrian Mole series always has its finger on the political pulse, starting under Margaret Thatcher (“I was looking at our world map. I couldn’t find the Falkland Islands anywhere. My mother found them; they were hidden under a crumb of fruitcake”) and self-evident in The Weapons of Mass Destruction. Just the unlikely fact that Adrian’s only published work (actually ghost-written by his mother) is ‘Offally Good! – The Book!’, the companion to his TV cooking show, is an indictment of celebrity culture in Tony Blair’s Britain. Of course, the most overtly political entry in the Mole canon is The Secret Diary of Margaret Hilda Roberts Aged 14 ¼, which forms part of True Confessions of Adrian Mole.

As the series develops, so do the cast of characters in Adrian’s life (helpfully detailed in the back of these editions). Pandora becomes a prominent MP; school bully Barry Kent becomes a successful poet; Adrian’s best friend Nigel becomes a blind, gay, Buddhist van driver (though not necessarily all at the same time). Townsend also introduces a host of new characters, including the excellently-drawn Flowers family, one of whom becomes Mrs Daisy Mole in Adrian Mole and the Weapons of Mass Destruction. It is at this point that Adrian Mole lays down his pen, saying that “Happy people don’t keep a diary”, only to pick it up again in Adrian Mole: The Prostrate Years (the title taken from the fact that Adrian has problems with his prostate and, true to his nature, is chiefly annoyed by people pronouncing the word with an extraneous ‘r’) to record the fact that “it is two months and nineteen days since I made love to my wife, Daisy”. In the Q&A accompanying this new edition of the books, Townsend says that her favourite book in the series is The Prostrate Years, because she herself had suffered serious health problems and wanted to tackle the subject in a comic manner. I applaud the sentiment, but I must confess that I wish she hadn’t gone down the path she chose; while Adrian’s pursuit of Pandora was always amusing for its hopelessness, his relationship with Daisy appeared to be the true romance of the series, and its collapse was unfortunate. I would rank the first two and the penultimate books as the highlights of the series, but the central character is so strong that I re-read them all with enjoyment.

So that’s the books themselves: what about this re-issue in particular? I feel sorry for Roderick Mills, who was tasked with designing the new covers, because the original cover (the bathroom mirror with a shaving kit and Noddy toothbrush, beautifully demonstrating the dichotomies inherent within a youth becoming a man) is rightly iconic – something that is tacitly admitted by including it on the inside cover of the new Secret Diary. The designer opted for pastel shades for each book in the series, which strikes me as a little odd given that I would normally associate the colour scheme (though not the overall effect, I admit) with chick-lit. Perhaps it is an attempt to emphasise that Adrian Mole can be read and enjoyed by men and women of all ages, and is not the preserve of teenage boys, even given that David Walliams’ foreword to The Secret Diary (in which he finds space to name-check his own book for children) says “boys who were proud to say they had never read a book in their life read this one”.

The new editions also include a Q&A with Sue Townsend, Adrian Mole’s CV and literary CV, the Mole story, a roll call of principal characters and the first chapter of Townsend’s new book (this last I must confess I haven’t read, but having read The Queen and I and Rebuilding Coventry, I can assert that her skill with her pen isn’t limited to residents of Leicestershire). This is a generous set of add-ons, many of which help to give a sense of continuity to the chronicles of Adrian’s surprisingly eventful life and the array of characters who enter and exit it.

When asked if she regards Adrian Mole as a millstone round her neck, Townsend was emphatic in her response: “authors who complain about the success of their most well-known characters are fools”. If she chooses to continue his run, I won’t be complaining either.

Oh frabjous day!

Over my blogging years (nearly five!) I have spent hours trying to add features that Blogger didn't offer.  It took me an age to add a third column (now available as standard); I spent a long time adding a search box (now available as standard), but the area I've spent the most fruitless hours is in trying to add inline comments.  And it never worked properly.

Until now!  Blogger have FINALLY done something about it, after years and years of blogspot-users begging them to do so.  I spotted on Lyn's blog that she could reply to comments, and she kindly pointed out where I could do it.  Hurrah!  Hurray!  (The page wouldn't load, naturally, but I looked at a cached version through Google.)

Now, of course, this is Blogger... so it might not work.  (If it doesn't, tell me via Facebook or email...)  I had to move comments down to be imbedded, rather than a separate window, which has caused all manner of drama before... but this time I'm hoping it'll be fine.  No longer will I have to reply to your lovely comments in lengthy boxes far below the initial comment.

Thanks, Blogger.  All is forgiven.

Waiting on Wednesday # 82 - Truth by Julia Karr

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

My pick: Truth (XVI #2)by Julia Karr

Nina Oberon’s life has changed enormously in the last few months. When her mother was killed, Nina discovered the truth about her father, the leader of the Resistance. And now she sports the same Governing Council–ordered tattoo of XVI on her wrist that all sixteen-year-old girls have. The one that announces to the world that she is easy prey to predators. But Nina won’t be anyone’s stereotype. And when she joins an organization of girls working within the Resistance, she knows that they can put an end to one of the most terrifying secret programs the GC has ever conceived. Because the truth always comes out...and the consequences can be deadly.
January 19th 2012 by Speak

I loved XVI, I can't believe this one missed my radar until now!

Monday, January 16, 2012

Firefox... Schmirefox, more like.

I don't know about you, but my Firefox is being awful.  It crashes every five minutes, which would be really bad in a car, and is also pretty bad (though not as bad) in a whatever-you-call-internetty-things.  Umm... wow.  Sometimes I pretend to be more Luddite than I am, in the curious belief that it makes me seem endearing, but right now I can't remember what you call IE, Firefox, etc.  Hmm.  This must be how computer geeks feel when they can't remember if it's 'Jane Austen' or 'Jane Austin'.  That's the sort of question which keeps Bill Gates awake at night, I imagine.

So, anyway, I've switched to Google Chrome, and I'm desperately trying to remember all the passwords that Firefox had kindly (and probably unsecurely) been memorising for me.  Nymeth helped me over Twitter to put in a bookmarks toolbar and, in lieu of anything else bookish to say tonight, I thought I'd show you a screenshot of my bookmarks.  You might well have to enlarge it somehow...  If your blog isn't there, it's not because I don't love you... it's because I love these guys more (heehee!)

Actually, I've already added someone since I took this screenshot.  So... it's probably you ;)

Oh, I did have one book-related thing to say.  I've got hold of an Australian novel!  I'll be joining in Australian Literature Month!  Are you?

Book Review: Ashes, Ashes by Jo Treggiari

Title: Ashes, Ashes
Author: Jo Treggiari
Release Date: June 1st 2011
Publisher: Scholastic Press
Age: Young Adult
A thrilling tale of adventure, romance, and one girl's unyielding courage through the darkest of nightmares.

Epidemics, floods, droughts--for sixteen-year-old Lucy, the end of the world came and went, taking 99% of the population with it. As the weather continues to rage out of control, and Sweepers clean the streets of plague victims, Lucy survives alone in the wilds of Central Park. But when she's rescued from a pack of hunting dogs by a mysterious boy named Aidan, she reluctantly realizes she can't continue on her own. She joins his band of survivors, yet, a new danger awaits her: the Sweepers are looking for her. There's something special about Lucy, and they will stop at nothing to have her.
Thanks to the Random Reads meme, I picked Ashes, Ashes from my to-be-read shelf. I'm glad I did, it has been there for a few months and I didn't know what I was missing!

Lucy is surviving. It's the best way to describe it. She's young and absolutely alone. She has to hunt, to cook, to sleep, all by herself. The world she knew is totally destroyed because of natural disasters and also the epidemic disease. Lately, she has been feeling like someone is watching her. But who? Isn't almost everyone dead or worse, sick?

Aidan is not sick, he's a survivor too. He has been watching Lucy, and when she needs help, she rescue hers and invites her to live with the survivors. But it's difficult to be again with people when you are so scared.

The description of the world where Lucy lives is very scary and realistic. The author did a great job in making you understand that it was a total disaster, and maybe it was worse if you survived. No food, water. Anything. I wonder how people manage to have the strength to survive.

I don't know how to describe what I felt with this book. Fear? Desperation? Disgust? When I feel all of that in a book, I like it. (I know, masochistic) But really, I got into the story and actually wanted to know more.Why the disease started? No one could stop it? And why are people looking for Lucy?

Even when Lucy and Aidan are barely surviving, they are attracted to each other. Their romance was a bonus, it was realistic. They liked each other, but it was not the most important aspect of the story.

I don't want to say more because I'll be giving you spoilers, but if you are into post-apocalyptic (or just apocalyptic?) stories, you have to read this one.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Time Importuned - Sylvia Townsend Warner; or, Why Do Poetry and I Not Get Along, Wherein our Reader Struggles With Verse

Well, I can tick off 1928 on A Century of Books, because on Saturday I read Time Importuned by Sylvia Townsend Warner.  This volume of poetry was published two years after Lolly Willowes, an excellent novel about which I'll soon be writing a chapter of my thesis - but which I only wrote about very briefly on SiaB.  I intended to write another post last year, when I reread it.  I worry that, if I tried, I would end up writing ten thousand words... well, perhaps I'll give it a go one day, since the review I wrote doesn't do it justice.

Anyway, I read Time Importuned hoping that there would be something useful to include in that chapter (which, incidentally, there was) but I can't say I've converted to a poetry lover.  This isn't going to be a proper review, because I don't really know how to write blog posts about poetry.  I can analyse them in a doing-an-English-degree sort of way, and I used to quite enjoy doing that, but blogs are chiefly about reading for pleasure.  The activities of the student are not those of the ardent reader - I enjoy both aspects, but they are distinct in my head.  You don't want to know what I think of Warner's use of syntax.  You might want to know whether or not I enjoyed reading Time Importuned - and the truth is, I don't know.

Some poetry I hate.  If it doesn't make sense to me on three readings, I'm not interested.  If the poet name-drops all manner of classical mythology, I raise my eyebrows; if they name-drop 21st century technology, I raise them still more (these were both frequent crimes in the Magdalen poetry society I occasionally visited.)

Some poetry I enjoy.  But mostly comic verse, or things which are probably considered doggerel by those in the know (does Longfellow fall into this category?  Does Walter de la Mare?)

Oddly enough, I enjoy writing poetry - but I'm under no illusion that it's very good, and I do it entirely for my own amusement or catharsis, as case may be.  Since I rarely read poetry, I feel wholly unqualified to write it, and a little ashamed that I have the audacity to put pen to paper...

Something like Time Importuned... I just don't know.  The topics covered tend towards hopeless love and countryside matters, often combined, and with an atmosphere almost as though they are old wives' tales, passed down in small villages for many years.  Which was nice, but I did end up reading the poems mostly as though they were paragraphs of prose laid out in an unorthodox manner.  Perhaps that is a valid way of reading poetry... but perhaps it also misses a lot?  I don't know how else to benefit from verse.  I deliberately slow myself down, by mouthing the words (I'm quite a fast reader of prose, in a manner which loses poems completely) but I still can't imagine reading a volume of poetry for pleasure.  It's not that I need prose, because often I read plays for pleasure - and that's more or less as unusual a trait as poetry-adoration, so I'm led to understand.

Well, I'm going to type out a couple of the poems which I did quite enjoy, although I am far from the ideal reader for them.  Poetry washes by me, enchanting others who dip in their toes, and merely splashing me slightly.  So, before I get to some excerpts, I have a question... which poet/poetry would you recommend to the prose lover?  How would you go about converting me to the possibilities of poetry?

Over to Warner...

The Tree Unleaved

Day after day melts by, so hushed is the season,
So crystal the mornings are, the evenings so wrapped in haze,
That we do not notice the passage of the days ;
But coming in at the gate to-night I looked up for some reason,
      And saw overhead Time's theft ;
For behold, not a leaf was left on the tree near by.

So it may chance, the passage of days abetting
My heedless assumption of life, my hands so careless to hold,
That glancing round I shall find myself grown old,
Forgotten my hopes and schemes, my friends forgotten and forgetting ;
      But all I can think of now
Is the pattern of leafless boughs on the windless sky.

Walking and Singing at Night

Darkened the hedge, and dimmed the wold,
We sang then as we trudged along.
The heart grown hot, the heart grown cold,
Are simple things in a song.

The lover comes, the lover goes,
On the same drooping interval,
Easy as from the ripened rose
The loosened petals fall.

Between one stanza and the next
A heart's unprospered hopes are sighed
To death as lovely and unvexed
As 'twere a swan that died.

Alas, my dear, Farewell's a word
Pleasant to sing but ill to say,
And Hope a vermin that dies hard ;
As you will find, one day.