Thursday, 30 April 2009

The Book Depository

In the nature of full disclosure, the advertisement you see to the left and the banner below are because I joined the new affiliates scheme for The Book Depository. A few of my favourite bloggers brought this to my attention and I thought it would be a fun way to make some extra pennies! Anybody who links to the site from my blog and then is tempted to purchase a book from the site earns me 5% of the sale. Since I am a poor bibliophile I thought it would be interesting to see how I fare with this (not that there is much traffic on my blog thus far...)

The Book Depository offer free shipping worldwide and I know this comes in handy to my fellow fans of Persephone Books who can't always stretch to the cost of shipping from the UK.

Happy book buying and apologies for the cheekiness!

The BookDepository

Books, Books, Books...

I feel guilty completing another book-related meme when I have been so undisciplined reviewing books recently ... it's fun though. I found this on Simon's blog today and couldn't resist.

1) What author do you own the most books by?
Angela Carter, most definitely, as I have duplicate copies and more or less everything written about her. I also have a lot of Colette books, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, and every book by Toni Morrison (including a signed copy).

2) What book do you own the most copies of?
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, with three copies. I have the one pictured above -bought on a trip to London in '98- with a fabulously salacious cover, a newer Penguin Classics edition (they are all actually Penguin) that is included in my Penguin Banned Books boxset and the beautiful -and exceptionally useful- The Annotated Lolita. This is tied with three copies of Angela Carter's The Magic Toyshop, all Viragoes, including the fabulous 30th birthday Virago hardback fabric edition.

3) Did it bother you that both those questions ended with prepositions?
Somewhat, especially ending with "of", which is a pet-hate.

4) What fictional character are you secretly in love with?
After watching the wonderful TV series, Lost in Austen, recently, I would have to be cliched and say Mr Darcy; I probably have been since 1995 when I watched the BBC adaptation with Colin Firth.

5) What book have you read the most times in your life (excluding picture books read to children; i.e., Goodnight Moon does not count)?
Hmmm, I don't re-read as much as I would like... any of the favourites below are a good bet.

6) What was your favourite book when you were ten years old?
Charlotte's Web by E.B. Smith.

7) What is the worst book you've read in the past year?
I'm usually quite particular with what I read, spending my time with books that I've been wanting to read for some time, but within the last year I wasn't too impressed by The Behaviour of Moths by Poppy Adams; there's only so much one needs to know about moths, unless you are a lepidopterist.

8) What is the best book you've read in the past year?
It's been a good year for reading but recent read Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie was astonishingly evocative and Lady Rose & Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson, 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff and The Enchanted April by Elizabeth Von Arnim were all thoroughly enchanting.

9) If you could force everyone you know to read one book, what would it be?
Like Simon, I "don't really like the idea of forcing everyone to read a book" but I often encourage (usually by buying them a copy) people to read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant as well as frequently voicing the praises of Angela Carter.

10) Who deserves to win the next Nobel Prize for Literature?
There are many deserving writers ... I would like to see another woman win as there have only been three females to win since its inception. I would also like to see it given to Salman Rushdie, however "popular" a choice he may be. Also, can it be given posthumously? If it can then I'll go out on a limb and say that it will be given to John Updike or JG Ballard this year.

Oh, I would ADORE if Terry Pratchett won it! He is so under-rated amongst the high-browers and literary snobs but is exceedingly worthy.

11) What book would you most like to see made into a movie?
Most have been ... I am looking forward to the forthcoming big screen adaptations of The Time Traveller's Wife, Cheri and The Lovely Bones.

12) What book would you least like to see made into a movie?
Um, again most have been... I enjoy seeing how movies of books adhere and translate to or deviate from the literature.

13) Describe your weirdest dream involving a writer, book, or literary character.
I have a hopeless retention for dreams.

14) What is the most lowbrow book you've read as an adult?
Probably the Twilight series! Sometimes lowbrow "popcorn" is needed though -it satiates but isn't exactly filling or nutritious, and is simply indulgent.

15) What is the most difficult book you've ever read?
Ooh, I have NO idea! Something I read for my Master's degree, probably. Most likely secondary crit such a Cixous, de Beauviour, Lyotard, Foucault ... highbrow yet accessible but with difficult -yet highly interesting- concepts.

16) What is the most obscure Shakespeare play you've seen?
The Winter's Tale, which is one of my favourite Shakespearean plays.
I also saw a fabulous -but definitely obscure- adaptation of The Tempest with puppets.

17) Do you prefer the French or the Russians?
A bit of both ... I've read more modern Russian than I have French but I am a huge fan of Colette and Anais Nin so probably the French.

18) Roth or Updike?
I want to read both.

19) David Sedaris or Dave Eggers?
I've heard good things about Sedaris.

20) Shakespeare, Milton, or Chaucer?

21) Austen or Eliot?
Definitely Austen.

22) What is the biggest or most embarrassing gap in your reading?
So many gaps along the way ... Proust and Tolstoy and Joyce. I've read some Joyce but I managed to bluff my way through two degrees without reading Ulysses, something that used to make me proud.

23) What is your favourite novel?
I seldom play favourites -because I simply can't whittle it down to just one- but the following make it to my top however many: Nights at the Circus, The Bloody Chamber and Wise Children by Angela Carter; Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier; I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith; Pride and Prejudice and Emma by Jane Austen; The Driver's Seat by Muriel Spark; Chronicle of a Death Foretold by Gabriel Garcia Marquez; Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov; Midnight's Children by Salman Rushdie and on and on ...

24) Play?
By the Bog of Cats by Marina Carr; Lovers by Brian Friel; Tally's Blood by Ann Marie di Mambro; Oleanna by David Mamet and the amazing The Pillowman by Martin McDonagh, as well as the afore-mentioned The Winter's Tale.

25) Poem?
I'm not a huge poetry fan but I love "Kubla Khan" by Coleridge and several poems by W.H. Auden, Sylvia Plath and Edwin Morgan.

26) Essay?
A Room of One's Own and a number from Flesh and the Mirror (collected essays on Angela Carter).

27) Short story?
"The Incredible and Sad Tale of Innocent Erendira and her Heartless Grandmother" by Gabriel Garcia Marquez and "The Company of Wolves" by Angela Carter will duel it out to the end of time for more than equal a place in my heart and I hold particular affection for 'The Doll's House" by Katherine Mansfield, which is a wonderful study of the cruelty of children.
Furthermore, I recently read Neil Gaiman's short story, "A Study in Emerald", and was blown away, so that makes the list, as does Colette's The Cat.

28) Work of nonfiction?
Oh ... Lorna Sage's Moments of Truth and Angela Carter's collected journalism, Shaking a Leg.

29) Who is your favourite writer?
Angela Carter, which probably won't come as a surprise.

30) Who is the most overrated writer alive today?
Stephenie Meyer - I may guiltily enjoy the Twilight books but she can't write, in the literary sense of the world, and the franchise is way too hyped (hence the haters).

31) What is your desert island book?
I think it would be the collected stories of Colette.

32) And... what are you reading right now?
Currently I am about to pick up another book as I finished Sputnik Sweetheart last night. I also have a couple of short story collections (Katherine Mansfield and Neil Gaiman) to finish, one probably today, and a book on writing, which I am savouring slowly.

Wednesday, 29 April 2009


I love bookmarks! Collecting them, receiving them, using them ... and through Nymeth I discovered Mari, her blog, her contest and an excuse to show my bookmarks off!

I used to have so many more bookmarks than the ones shown above but several have been misplaced over the years and certainly over the last year, during the big move from Glasgow to London. I hope that it is only a temporary misplacement and I find some -if not all- the next time I open a well-loved book or when flicking through ones still at home, when I next visit.

I am annoyed that the fourth one along hasn't turned out so well now that I've posted it (it shows up on iphoto - honest!) as it is one of my oldest and the most sentimental. My childhood friend bought it for me one Christmas, approximately 15 years ago (!), and it has drawings of mice hugging books wrapped in a bow and the text, "A book is a present you can open again and again" - has there ever been a truer sentiment?! I am also particularly fond of the silver fairy, the dream bookmark and my Rainbow Fish one.

Below are my Persephone bookmarks, which come with the books and are of the same design as the books' endpapers. They are very pretty, aren't they? Also exceptionally handy.

Monday, 27 April 2009

Reading Notes

I was having an email discussion with my friend this morning about what we were currently reading (prompted by an email from me to say that he must read Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie - blog post forthcoming). He happens to be currently reading four books and I thought that my reply would make for a good blog post today.

Normally I read one book at a time but, coincidentally, I am also reading four books at once just now:

Sputnik Sweetheart by Haruki Murakami
Something Childish But Very Natural by Katherine Mansfield
Fragile Things by Neil Gaiman (I am listening to the audiobook -read by Neil- and reading along.)
Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose

How unlike me to :

1. Be reading more than one book at once
2. Be reading such a lot of short stories (I love short stories but sometimes I struggle with the form ... I think because they are so short (go figure) and, unless written by a great writer, fail to grasp my attention. Katherine Mansfield is the first short story teller who I recall enjoying, in 3rd year of secondary school, and I love Neil Gaiman, whose short stories are fabulous.)
3. Be reading non-fiction. I love reading about books though and I am particularly into my writing just now, so this book is of great assistance (and prompted me to pick up Katherine Mansfield again as it's been a wee while since I read any). This book was a birthday gift from my boyfriend last year and is proving to be practical, interesting and invaluable. It also tickles me that the author of this guide has the surname Prose, hee.

Sunday, 26 April 2009

Diversity in Reading Meme

I borrowed this meme from Danielle and thought it would be interesting to complete. I don't have a "comfort zone" when it comes to reading; I read for the pleasure of reading and, consequently, the books I pick up can be wide and far-reaching.

Name the last book by a female author that you've read.
The last book I read (finished yesterday): Burnt Shadows by Kamila Shamsie. Funnily enough, a shortlisted title from the only all-female literature prize, the Orange Prize for Fiction.

Name the last book by an African or African-American author that you've read.
James Baldwin's Giovanni's Room in January and immediately preceding that, The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison.

Name one from a Latino/a author.
Love in the Time of Cholera in February.

How about one from an Asian country or Asian-American?
Burnt Shadows can also be categorised here.

What about a GLBT writer?
Girl Meets Boy by Ali Smith, this month.

Why not name an Israeli/Arab/Turk/Persian writer, if you're feeling lucky?
Egyptian: The Map of Love by Ahdaf Soueif in January. Prior to that that, last year I read The Bastard of Istanbul by Elif Shafak (Turkish); The Blood of Flowers by Anita Amirrezvani (Persian); Reading Lolita in Tehran by Azar Nafisi (also Persian) and The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. As I said, I can be a versatile reader although patterns in my reading at a particular time can often be traced.

Any other "marginalized" authors you've read lately?
Hmmm, I don't regard any of my recent reads (including the ones above) as "marginalized". I've read a lot of English writers recently, a lot of women writers, a number of classics and of translated work, Russian and French. If I was on my soapbox then I would suggest that Ali Smith is also marginalised because she is a Scottish novelist (who lives in England) but I'm not, so I won't.

Answering some of these questions makes me feel uncomfortable and even guilty. I don't read "marginalized" writers because they are marginalised or because I think I have to; I read these books because I want to, because there is something about the book that interests me and/or excites me and I often discover a great book, a great writer, and, yes, sometimes a rich, marginalised category of literature.

Monday, 20 April 2009

Brighton Rock

My friend and I filling the gaps in our reading by reading those Classics we "should have" but never did, all of those unread Penguin Modern Classics sitting unopened on the shelf. First up was Brighton Rock by Graham Greene.

Jumping to the Afterword, or the Note to American Readers, if I may, I have to comment on how amusing and illuminating I found the editor's comment to be:

"Brighton Rock is a form of sticky candy as characteristic of English seaside resorts as salt-water taffy is of the American. The word 'Brighton' appears on the ends of the stick at no matter what point it is broken off".

Of course it seems perfectly reasonable to me that readers outwith the UK would not know what rock was but not knowing is also alien to me as it is ingrained into my consciousness, an intrinsic part of visiting the seaside (and not to be confused with Edinburgh rock, which is an entirely different sweet/candy). However, in saying that, I have never read the title of Brighton Rock and thought of the hard, sticky, and minty goodness; I always thought Brighton Rock was a location (an imagined one perhaps, albeit in Brighton). It was only when the symbolism and importance of the book's title was revealed, about 2/3 into the novel, that I realised that this was why the book was a classic . Until that stage I found it likable: the setting is gritty and sinister, as are the majority of characters; the main protagonist, Pinkie, is a great anti-hero; the drama is engaging and well-paced but the revelation of sheer literary intelligence and a great plot mover and device captured my imagination. It was then that I became full of admiration for the text and for Greene, realising why Brighton Rock is such a renowned and popular modern classic.

The rock from Brighton is crucial to the plot, it is a means and a symbol and a detective fiction clue. It is symbolically representative of the novel's good vs. evil theme. As Ida, the heroine, says in response to "People change":

""Oh, no they don't ... It's like those sticks of rock: bite it all the way down, you'll still read Brighton. That's human nature."

Of course exactly how Brighton Rock becomes the means of killing Hale, a journalist, remains one of those great literary questions, such as what exactly the something nasty was that Aunt Ada Doom saw in the woodshed? How did Pinkie's mob use the Brighton Rock to kill Hale?

Friday, 17 April 2009

New Wine in Old Bottles

"I am all for putting new wine in old bottles, especially if the new wine makes the old bottles explode," wrote Angela Carter, which Ali Smith quotes in her introduction to Carter's Wise Children. This innovation of -and passion for- giving new readings to old texts is something Ali Smith does herself in Girl Meets Boy, a modern take on Ovid's telling of the Iphis tale -and joyful transformation- in his Metamorphoses. Ali Smith turns the myth, literary convention, gender and sexuality -myths or societal constructs?- on their head.

She frames her subversion in four chapters, alternately narrated by sisters Anthea and Imogen (Midge). For a short novella the character development in the sisters is startling and the subject matter expounds the concept of gender and sexuality as myths. Before the novella opens, Smith quotes from Judith Butler's groundbreaking text on gender theory, "Gender ought not to be construed as a stable identity ... rather, gender is an identity tenuously constituted in time."

Girl Meets Boy is part of the Canongate Myths Series, from which I have previously read The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood, another fine and fresh telling of a classic myth (that of Odysseus) but from the untold female persepective of his wife, Penelope. I had been meaning to read it for some time but reading Nymeth's enthusiastic review prompted me to do so now. The book was immensely readable, enjoyable and fits wonderfully well into my Once Upon a Time challenge and is one I am filing under mythology.

"[D]o myths spring fully formed from the imagination and the needs of a society ... as if they emerged from the imagination and the needs of a society, I said, as if they emerged from society's subconscious? Or are myths conscious creations by the various money-making forces? For istance, is advertising a new kind of myth-making? Do companies sell their water etc by telling us the right kind of persuasive myth? Is that why people who really don't need to buy something that's practically free still go out and buy bottles of it? Will they soon be thinking up a myth to sell us air? And do people, for instance, want to be thin because of a prevailing myth that thinness is more beautiful?"

By focusing upon corporate social responsibility -the Pure Highland Creative company Imogen and Anthea work for and their manufacture and marketing of Eau Caledonia- is an effective means of embodying the above quote within the narrative. It reminded me that Evian water is the word naive backwards. By the novella's end -and the events that lead up to it, which I won't disclose- Anthea and Imogen have their own brand of political activism, of feminism, and the fight for equal rights and gay rights.

Ali Smith has an interesting style, that isn't for everyone, but having read The Accidental and now this, I am definitely a fan; I am also pleased to be reading some Scottish Literature again as it has been a while. I love her interweaving of popular culture (Buffy features in Girl Meets Boy amidst other cultural references) and historical fact in a way that is casual, almost throwaway. Smith reminded me of Suffragism history lessons at school, where I learned about the Cat and Mouse Act (discussed but not named in the opening pages) where women protested in prison by starving themselves, were released and then watched until they ate again and were re-arrested... of Section 28 in the UK that disallowed "promotion of homosexuality" within schools and its repeal in Scotland in 2000 (and the resultant propaganda posters on buses) and the remainder of the UK in 2001 ... of knowing that Queen Victoria didn't illegalise lesbian sex because she said it didn't exist but not remembering how I came to know that in the first place ... These were all welcome recollections as they were things that should be at the forefront of my mind and not at the dusty back. It's a good writer who can draw out memories and repressed/suppressed emotion and ideology within their readers, as if they are sharing these memories with us; conversely, it a great achievement to be teaching these facts to a reader for the first time.

Thursday, 16 April 2009

Buttons for Eyes

I have preview tickets for Coraline (it doesn't open in the UK until May 8th, and I'm seeing it on May 6th, at the NFT on the Southbank). Even better is that it is in 3D format. Oh yeah and even better than that? The director, Henry Selick (who also directed The Nightmare Before Christmas) and NEIL GAIMAN will be there conducting a Q&A session!

This will be my second time attending a Neil Gaiman event and I am incredibly excited. It was through Neil's blog that I found out about the event (I already knew about the preview and was hoping to obtain tickets but had no idea about his attendance). As you may detect from the blog, his appearance -or his confirmed appearance, at any rate- came to a surprise to him too.

I read Coraline around about Hallowe'en of last year and it is a wonderfully creepy, chilling and compelling children's novel, Neil Gaiman's first, in fact. I admire that Neil doesn't bullsh*t children; that he tells it like it is. Coraline and The Graveyard Book and The Wolves in the Walls all make the world bleak, dark and sinister, whether it is the real world or the nightmarish alternative reality that Coraline walks into, where cats talk and her parents have buttons for eyes. Neil Gaiman doesn't condescend to children and that's why his novels for younger audiences have such appeal to adults: they are slightly diluted versions of his immensely readable adult fiction. I am looking forward to seeing the dark and bizarre imaginings brought to the big screen.