Wednesday, 30 September 2009

The Bucket List

I first saw this meme on Diane of Bibliophile By the Sea's blog and then on Book Psmith's but it originates from Like Diane and Book Psmith, I am not creating a list of the 10 Books to Read Before You Die but putting in writing my bucket list, the 10 Books I Want to Read Before I Die. I am excluding Dante, Proust and Tolstoy from my list and limiting it to modern classics whose unread, pristine states have been haunting me for some time.

All of these 10 books already have a place on my bookshelves, all are ones that I have been desperate to read, and all are -coincidentally- on the Guardian's 1000 Books You Must Read [Before You Die]. I am hoping to read a few of these before year's end and the remainder next year as I have waited too long... besides, you never know, I may be hit by a bus.

My bucket list:

1. Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
2. The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
3. Blindness by Jose Saramago
4. Ada or Ador by Vladimir Nabokov
5. At Swim-Two-Birds by Flann O'Brien
6. The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate by Nancy Mitford (in one volume!)
7. Shame by Salman Rushdie
8. Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
9. The Vagabond by Sidonie-Gabrielle Colette
10. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf

A decent choice of books to read before I kick the bucket, do you think?

Tuesday, 29 September 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

Quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences from the book you’re reading to tempt others.

"No sooner had I walked through them than I was practically run down by a fat man in a wheelchair who had a whistle stuck in his mouth. As he grabbed the rims of the wheels firmly in both hands, the wheelchair came to a halt so abruptly that he practically shot out of his chair and his black wig, more like a toupee, slid over his forehead, and he had to shove it back in place."
I Served the King of England by Bohumil Hrabal p. 47

Monday, 28 September 2009

Platform 9 3/4

My mum and sister were visiting this weekend and look where Connie and I went yesterday. We are both huge Harry Potter fans so this was very exciting. We also went to the London Dungeons and Madame Tussaud's; if I can manage to edit my devilish red eyes then I may share photographs of myself with William Shakespeare and Oscar Wilde.

Sunday, 27 September 2009

Recent Acquisitions...

It's been a while since I posted about recent acquisitions but that's because there haven't been any. I have been making a conscious effort not to buy any new books of late and, excluding existing pre-orders, I haven't.

Late last week I received a review copy of Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger and excited to read that this coming week. I'm also attending a reading and signing with the author in a couple of weeks along with Jackie of farmlanebooks, which we are both very excited about.

The remainder of the books arrived yesterday. The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy was kindly sent to me by Teresa of Shelf Love after I won a book of my choice during BBAW week. This book has intrigued me since I first read about it on Nymeth's blog (she hasn't read it yet) and I immediately added it to my wishlist.

Both We Have Always Lived in the Castle and The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson are for Carl's R.I.P. IV challenge. I was excited to learn that Penguin were reissuing these titles (Shirley Jackson was out of print here in the UK) and I preordered them immediately; Amazon dispatched them earlier than expected at the end of this week. These are the only two of my recent acquisitions that I actually bought.

Lastly I was sent a review copy of Time Out's 1000 Things to do in London. I have only lived in London for a year (one year exactly yesterday) and haven't even begun to skim the surface of the many things to see, do, and experience here so this will be a very handy guide. Next week we have house-guests and plan to use this guide for ideas what to to do with them.

These should keep me busy for a while and I also have a few more expected this coming week.

Have you acquired anything exciting this week? What are you most looking forward to me reviewing from the titles above?

Saturday, 26 September 2009

The Yellow Shelf

During my rainbow bookshelves series I have been conscious that I had no yellow shelf to contribute. For some reason I don't own many yellow books (and yet have an abundance seemingly in other colours); what I do have can be seen below in a little stack, minus a copy of A Thousand Splendid Suns by Khaled Hosseini that would have looked splendid itself in the pile but someone has borrowed it. However, Verity kindly offered to write a guest post as she -as you can see- has a yellow shelf! Welcome Verity and thank you for adding to my series.

I have greatly enjoyed Paperback Reader's series of Rainbow coloured bookshelves, and having been wondering about creating my own, I couldn't resist offering to do a guest post with yellow books when she said that she didn't have a shelf-ful of volumes in this colour. I then discovered that some of my very favourite books are yellow.

The largest collection of yellow books in the middle of this picture are my Greyladies titles. I came across this imprint earlier in the year, and finally got around to reading some of the titles this year. The books fall into what I would describe as a genre of children's books for grown-ups; they include some of Noel Streatfeild (writing as Susan Scarlett)'s lighter novels and include
adult school stories. I wrote about one of them here.

On the left, I have some non-fiction yellow books. Mrs Milburn's diaries are the wonderful second-world war writings of a housewife and give a fantastic insight into life on the Home Front. The child that books built is also autobiographical, tracing the origin's of Spufford's love of reading. I picked up Cornish for beginners on holiday this year; I love Cornwall and hoped to pick up some of the language, but I haven't yet got very far.

Deric Longden's A play on words is fictionalised autobiography, and absolutely laugh-out-loud-hilarious; I discovered him whilst still at school, and bought this with one of my leaving prizes. I didn't much enjoy Andrea Levy's Small Island, but I adored her other books, including the yellow-sounding Fruit of the Lemon. The bee season was a book acquired cheaply in an offer from The Times and is the literary equivalent of the film Spellbound, tracing a young girl's progress through school spelling bees. The ladies of lending is a library book with a title that grabbed me; as a librarian I love to read about others in the same role and I am looking forward to reading this one very soon.

It turned out that several of much-loved children's books had yellow spines. My Dad read Eve Garnett's Family at One End Street books to me when I was little, and the best in my opinion was this one, Holiday at Dew Drop Inn. Five go adventuring again is sadly faded, but another childhood favourite. Little house in the big woods was the first of Laura Ingalls Wilder books that I encountered, through hearing it read on the radio; I only acquired this copy last year. Two of my Chalet School books have yellow covers too.

The final two books relate to a current reading challenge - my attempt to read through all of the Virago Modern Classics. I read and reviewed the appropriately titled The yellow wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman back in August. And I acquired Excellent Women only last week to add to my collection of recently re-issued Barbara Pym books.

Thank you, Verity! I find it interesting that a lot of children's books have yellow covers and wonder if whether that is why I have so few. In my stack below you will see that Verity and I share the aptly entitled The Yellow Wallpaper. I also have the latest books by Jasper Fforde and Salman Rushdie (published in 2007 and 2008, respectively); a thrift book; Feminism is for Everybody: Passionate Politics by bell hooks (which has the appearance of a lovely children's schoolbook); and one of Colette's Claudine novels, which is by far one of my favourite series designs (by Vintage).

I have family visiting this weekend but as always I love your comments and will respond at some point over the weekend.

Friday, 25 September 2009

As the Crow Flies

If you want to love
Do so
To the ends of the earth
With no short cuts
Do so
As the crow flies.

Indeed I too would have loved to write one of those serene stories with a beginning and an end. As you know only too well, it is never like that, though. Lives mingle, people tame one another and part. Destinies are lost.

For my first concentrated foray into African literature (read my post yesterday for details about my self-project) I read As the Crow Flies by Véronique Tadjo. Translated from French by Wangũi Wa Goro, this very short and lyrical novel is set in the Côte d'Ivoire (the Ivory Coast; the Republic's government officially discourage the use of the name in English and instead wish it to be to be referred to as Côte d'Ivoire in all languages, which wasn't something I was aware of until writing this).

I only became aware of this title earlier this month when I read this post by Caustic Cover Critic about the forthcoming Penguin African Writers series reprints. Upon looking for more information about the novel I came across the above quote, which serves as a preface, and was instantly intrigued. Told through a series of vignettes, the novel has no central characters but a series of narratives identified -or not, as is the case- by pronouns. This cacophony of voices didn't work for me; I found it very confusing and I couldn't engage with random thoughts and actions of characters who weren't characterised. As the Crow Flies is poetical and reads like some poetry where commentary and events are only loosely -if at all- linked. I can understand the concept behind interconnecting voices that are each describing the various connections made in love and life but for me it didn't work as I didn't become engaged.

The landscape is indistinguishable with the setting never identified except as a city; there are two references to Africa that place it there. In one vignette the narrator mentions a conference of African writers where "one of the speakers proclaims: 'It is our duty to understand our place in the history of humanity. An African literature cannot exist until we liberate ourselves from the arrogant criticism of the West.'" This was a thought-provoking section and one that I associate with Chinua Achebe who has been vocal about the role of African literature and is very much considered the father of modern African literature (an accolade given to him by Nelson Mandela).

Some of the vignettes take the form of allegory and proverb which was interesting. In one section a couple decide to have a child; "On the following day the woman was pregnant. Before the end of the day, she had given birth to a boy."

If you enjoy gentle, lyrical prose that engages subtly with ideas then this short read is for you. Ultimately my interest wasn't sustained in the writing although there are passages of beauty:

You must leave before you die, before the flame that ignites hope fades. Leave before indifference sets in, before too much is said and silence sealed. Leave while there is still time with your desire which conquers the sea. Supreme and beautiful. An immense placenta, a liquid prison.
There will be no tomorrow, but only the sea and sky paving themselves a passage across the horizon.

Love is a story that we must never stop telling. Let yourself be lulled by its sweet words. Adorn yourself with its multiple charms but please, do not not spoil your life. True love, excuses in the name of love, sacrifices, disappointments. You must survive.

I dream of my country, which obsesses me all the time. I carry it with me all day. At night, it lies next to me, making love with me.

Thursday, 24 September 2009

African Literature

Recently I have been contemplating gaps in my reading or areas of literature where I would like to be more knowledgeable. I am a relatively diverse reader and do read a number of books in translation. Primarily any reading in translation that I've done this year has been French; there has also been a handful of texts ranging from Eastern Europe to Russia to Japan. However, this isn't necessarily about reading books that aren't written in English, my native tongue, but more about continents and cultures that I want to read more about.

The noticeable gap in my reading this year has been African Literature. So far I have only read The Thing Around Your Neck by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Disgrace and Summertime by South African writer, JM Coetzee., which is hardly encompassing of a disparate continent. Tackling literature from any continent is always going to result in gaps that can't quite be painted over and would be quite the undertaking in full. My experience of Africa is so slim that some of the countries are unknown to me and geographically I wouldn't know Afrikaans literature from Zimbabwean, which is partly why I want to read more to fill in the gaps and become less ignorant. I intend to take it a book at a time, mostly from the collection of African literature I have built up over the last few ears. Nigerian literature is rich and varied and where most of my African reading experience comes from; I intend to read more from the Nigerian authors I have on my shelves -I have thoroughly enjoyed what I have read so far- as well as sampling from different countries where I can.

This is a list of books I currently have unread on my "African" shelf. Have you read any of these? If so, which would you recommend? More importantly, have you read any African literature not on my list that you enjoyed (especially something that isn't Nigerian to move me out of my obvious comfort zone)?

Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangarembga (Zimbabwean)
The Book of Not by Tsitsi Dangarembga
The Famished Road by Ben Okri (Nigerian)
The Palm-Wine Drinkard by Amos Tutuola (Nigerian)
The Beautyful Ones are Not Yet Born by Ayi Kwei Armah (Ghanaian)
The Joys of Motherhood by Buchi Emecheta (Nigerian)
Anthills of the Savannah by Chinua Achebe (Nigerian)
Arrow of God by Chinua Achebe
Weep Not, Child by Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o (Kenyan and referred to as Ngũgĩ)
Petals of Blood by Ngũgĩ

Tomorrow I will be reviewing a title not on the list that is West African in origin.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

Weetzie Bat

Weetzie Bat by Francesca Lia Block is a Young Adult novel and #1 in the Dangerous Angels series. First published in 1989 is something of a cult classic in North America and I first learned of it via some friends across the pond. A few months ago I was very much aware of the controversy surrounding a Christian group's legal claim demanding the right to publicly burn a copy of Baby Be-Pop, the fifth book in the series. After reading Nymeth's review this week of the series I decided to finally pick my unread copy of Weetzie Bat off the shelf. Further reviews of the subsequent Dangerous Angels books will follow in due course when I borrow them from the library; I don't own them although their bright colours would make wonderful additions to my coloured shelves.

The eponymous Weetzie Bat lives in a surreal Los Angeles, aptly referred to as Shangri-L.A., that is at once the 1980s punk glam era mixed with glamorous 1950s Hollywood with components from an undetermined dreamland. 102 pages follow Weetzie and Dirk -her gay best friend- in their quest for love or, as Block's slang calls it, a "duck" each. They also suffer loss and Weetzie is gifted a genie in a lamp who grants her the obligatory three wishes, which prompts a highly amusing exchange.

Weetzie could see him - it was a man, a little man in a turban, with a jewel in his nose, harem pants, and curly-toed slippers.
'Lankie lizards!' Weetzie exclaimed.
'Greetings,' said the man in an odd voice, a rich, dark purr.
'Oh, shit!' Weetzie said.
'I beg your pardon? Is that your wish?'
'No! Sorry, you just freaked me out.'
'I am the genie of the lamp, and I am here to grant you three wishes,' the man said.
Weetzie began to laugh, maybe a little hysterically.

Weetzie's wishes come true, to an extent, and her and Dirk find their ducks and all live in a house together but not happily ever after. Weetzie has a baby fathered by Dirk and his lover and they become an unconventional -yet happy- family. Block's magical plot tackles serious and thought-provoking themes; she progressively engages with homosexuality, AIDS, abortion, and the postmodern family. In terms of subject matter and the interesting cast of characters I could see Weetzie Bat as a young adult's version of Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin; it was entirely plausible to me that these characters could later move to 28 Barbery Lane and live under the caring eye of Mrs Madrigal.

Block's world is highly original and exceedingly quirky; her language and use of pretend colloquialisms is unique yet believable. Some of the content is cutesy and saccharine but interspersed with emotive sections that balance the narrative, ensuring it doesn't come across as overly twee. I enjoyed Block's writing style although some of it -like Weetzie's "Lankie lizards" exclamation above- is a little much; other examples are novel and create beautiful images. I enjoyed my brief glimpse into the curiously dark fairy-tale world of Weetzie Bat etc. and plan to visit again soon.

A couple of passages that I particularly liked:

A kiss about apple pie à la mode with the vanilla creaminess melting in the pie heat. A kiss about chocolate, when you haven't eaten chocolate in a year. A kiss about palm trees speeding by, trailing pink clouds when you drive down the Strip sizzling with champagne. A kiss about spotlights fanning the sky and the swollen sea spilling like tears all over your legs.

Weetzie was pregnant. She felt like a Christmas package. Like a cat full of kittens. Like an Easter basket of pastel chocolate-malt eggs and solid-milk-chocolate bunnies, and yellow daffodils and doll-house-sized jelly-bean eggs.

Tuesday, 22 September 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

Quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences from the book you’re reading to tempt others.

"The coming - or return - of the fairytale opened some trapdoor in her imagination. Her writing became compulsive, fluent and daring."
The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt p. 34

Monday, 21 September 2009

Katherine Mansfield

During Persephone Reading Week I started to read Katherine Mansfield's Journal and realised that to truly appreciate it I needed to reread those Katherine Mansfield short stories I have loved and read those that are to me. Mansfield has been a popular blog topic in the last couple of weeks and I was inspired to pick up one of my volumes of her stories. Upon doing so I wanted to reread "Bliss".

"Bliss" reminds me of Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. ‘I was jealous of her writing. The only writing I have ever been jealous of,’ so said Virginia Woolf of her friend, contemporary and rival Katherine Mansfield, but only as a posthumous accolade; before Mansfield’s death their relationship was fraught with bitterness and envy. Such a self-deprecating and modest admission to make when one is the female writer at the forefront of the Modernist movement. To read now, that Woolf was jealous of a contemporary’s talent, is as startling as reading the same of Shakespeare. Woolf was the most innovative in style, influential in feminism and literary mode, and as equally famous and infamous of all female writers from the twentieth-century, if not the literary canon. Yet, she was envious of Mansfield; perhaps if the latter had lived to realise her potential , instead of dying tragically young, she would now have held this mantle.

She would certainly be worthy of doing so; her writing and use of language is stunning and her stories each perfected pieces of art. I love her short stories and I have a love-hate relationship with the medium; Katherine Mansfield see-saws heavily on the love side.

I was first introduced to Katherine Mansfield by a beloved English teacher at school who gave us "The Doll House" to read, which remains one of my favourite short stories because of its apparent simplicity yet also inexplicable quality. Mansfield often features details and symbols that resonate within the reading but elude definition; the reader is unable to full grasp the significant meaning of the symbol as with the pear tree in "Bliss" and the little lamp in "The Doll's House", not strictly symbolic as they are not representative of a specific thing but freely open to interpretation, like Woolf's lighthouse, which she meant "nothing by".

Mansfield often employs abrupt beginnings that jar - the reader has to be alert and questioning from the outset, sometimes they even begin with a conjunction. She disposes of tedious descriptions/back story and launches into the midst of the action. Mansfield prompts examination at level of the word: semiotics, word choice and syntax. In "Bliss" she begins in medias res:

Although Bertha Young was thirty she still had moments like this when she wanted to run instead of walk, to take dancing steps on and off the pavement, to bowl a hoop, to throw something up in the air and catch it again, or to stand still and laugh at-nothing-at nothing, simply.
What can you do if you are thirty and, turning the corner of your own street, you are overcome, suddenly by a feeling of bliss-absolute bliss!- as though you'd suddenly swallowed a bright piece of that late afternoon sun and it burned in your bosom, sending out a little shower of sparks into every particle, into every finger and toe? ...

Immediately I questioned who is Bertha and why is she so blissful? The word bliss and its derivatives are repeated and emphasised throughout the story and begin to describe a sexual awakening and longing for her husband, her best friend. Bertha is brimming over with emotion, desire and the search for fulfillment, a rite of passage that comes to realisation "For the first time in her life Bertha Young desired her husband." Mostly I hoped Bertha would remain in her blissful state but predicted that in the denouement she would be crushed and she is... by an ironic blow.

You can read "Bliss" online here. Please do or alternatively read a volume of her stories.

Sunday, 20 September 2009

The Blank Wall

The Blank Wall by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding is a tense and suspenseful thriller. Adapted in 1949 into the movie A Reckless Moment starring James Mason (remade in 2001 as The Deep End with Tilda Swinton), it is a very atmospheric novel with a period feel to it; whilst reading it I envisaged events in black & white celluloid with Cary Grant in Mason's role as Martin Donnelly.

Lucia Holley is a surburban housewife in 1940s America; her husband is serving in WWII and she cares for her teenage children and her elderly father, dealing with the domestic dramas of running a home during wartime, with the help of her loyal maid Sibyl. In the opening chapter Lucia has the problem of the unsavoury Ted Darby to deal with, an older man that her daughter Bee is inappropriately involved with; this problem is solved accidentally by her father, Mr Harper, who "sent him off with a flea in his ear". It transpires a couple of pages later that Mr Harper has actually -and unknowingly- killed Ted Darby and to protect her father Lucia disposes of the body.

The Blank Wall has highly melodramatic moments juxtaposed with moments of domestic hilarity. Whilst Lucia is counting ration points, worrying about the lack of gas for the family car, is frustrated by a broken washing machine, frets that her letters to her husband are too dull, she also has to evade detection by police Lieutenant Levy, engage with blackmailing black marketeers, pawn her jewels in order to pay them and persuade her children that she is not having an affair with the sympathetic criminal, Donnelly. A very suspenseful yet amusing read ensues and I was completely gripped in finding out if Lucia managed to stay calm, keep it together, and maintain her integrity and freedom from prosecution. Uppermost in Lucia's daily efforts is to keep her family safe and she is aided in this by the wonderful Sibyl, who also cooks the illegal meat that Donnelly sends as gifts. Evocative of the time period and the uneasy undercurrent of helplessness in the face of war (especially as a woman), The Blank Wall is not just a fun read but one that is historically intriguing and a precursor for later psychological crime novels. Lucia is a fabulously strong and funny female protagonist, a middle-aged housewife caught up in a surreal case of murder and intrigue, and this is another great and unique Persephone novel.

Some favourite passages, the first central to the plots and themes of the novel:

She got a book and read it in bed, with stubborn determination. It was a mystery story she had got out of the lending library for her father, and she was not fond of mystery stories. Nobody in them ever seems to feel sorry about the murders, she had said. They're presented as a problem, m'dear, her father said. What's more they generally show the murdered person as someone you can't waste any pity on. I'm sorry for them, she said, I hate it when they're found with daggers sticking in them and their eyes all staring from poison and things like that.
Yet how little pity did she feel for Ted Darby! I really did that, she thought amazed. I concealed a body. Anyhow I took it away. And when I came back-after that-nobody could see anything wrong with me-anything queer. Maybe I haven't got so much feeling, after all. Maybe I'm rather too tough.
I'd better be, too, she thought, as she rose and began to dress.

She had never felt anything like this turmoil of the spirit, this anger. He's the one who brought the letters here. He's the one I'm to pay the blackmail to. And he says he did that. For me. Liar. Blackmailer. Contemptible crook. I hate him so...

This my first book read for the R.I.P. IV challenge; although it wasn't by any means scary it was thrilling and suspenseful.

Saturday, 19 September 2009

The Blue Shelf

So, what do you think of my blue shelf? Again, in honour of my colour-themed bookshelves, this shelf was a spur-of-the-moment creation for the photo-op. Perhaps coincidental, I notice that there are a number of enchanting reads on this shelf, all magical in their own way. I love blue and the gradation of the colour from left to right, darker to bluer.

Friday, 18 September 2009

The Shops

I love shopping and not just for books. Bookshops, cookshops, or department stores, I love to be laden down with colourful bags. I am a big shopper especially in the lead-up to Christmas when I take great pleasure in seeking out the perfect gifts for loved ones. I also enjoy online shopping, which is a wonderful invention. The Shops by India Knight is a fun, useful guide to shopping with recommendations interspersed with irreverent wit and anecdotes.

As well as physical shops Knight covers mail and web order capable shops (including Persephone Books). For the most part, this book is of particularly good reference to those living in the UK, especially those in London, but whilst reading it I thought of my Anglo-adoring friends across the pond who would find some of the recommended shops as providing them a home away from their imaginary home.

Knight celebrates shopping and her love of it but is inclusive of those who don't share her passion as there are people out there who don't like shopping, you know. However, everyone has to shop in some capacity -whether it be simply for food- and this a great resource for making it easier. The Shops covers beauty shopping (including hair, make-up, and where to receive that best facial or brow-shape) to what to look for in a wedding dress -a personal choice when it comes to the shop- to organic butchers; it is a comprehensive guide to all types of shopping.

Although I love shopping and noted down some recommended shops and sites to visit and ideas for gifts and pucrhases, what I enjoyed most about this book was its conversational tone and its allusions to literature. To a certain extent this book was also a book about books as well as shops. In her introduction Knight recalls that her grandfather "taught me how to stand in bookshops, appreciatively sniffing the air before diving in - this was in the days when bookshops were small and didn't smell of Starbucks." Reading this line I knew that India Knight was a kindred spirit and there followed several literary references that spoke to me more than any to Imelda de Marcos would have done. I found allusions such as "rather in the manner of a Barbara Pym heroine finally finding love with a curate" and "don't forget Penhaligon's Bluebell-though no one who's read I Capture the Castle ever could" endearing but can see it as potentially distancing to a non literary shopper (and they exist too). However, for anyone picking up this book who may not be a big reader, they are opened up to a selection of great books with a whole "box" (a section of recommendations, on this occasion two pages) devoted to "bed books" those books "particularly blissful to read in bed, as in comfort books - not as in the best books ever written". The list includes some Persephones, Virago Modern Classics, classics, beloved Children's novels. and some bodice rippers. I Capture the Castle is described as "[v]ery probably number one comfort-read of all time-and, if not dipped into since adolescence, much darker than you remember it."

These heartwarming sections were the highlight of this reading experience, one that only took a couple of hours. The Shops combines high culture -an allusion to Mrs Dalloway in a section on the joyful and therapeutic buying of flowers- with low culture -uncomfortable reference to Knight's father and stepmother's orgies and one surprising illustration of vibrators in the sex shop section- that isn't entirely balanced. Knight certainly plays to a readership of potentially every type of shopper and hence person, which is certainly the wisest course in regards to sales, but overall I would have preferred one cohesive approach; saying that, Knight obviously loves shopping and had intensely researched every shopping section so the mixing of cultural idioms is likely a representation of her likes and expectations of an all-encompassing guide.

Some of the tips given in this book I have noted down and will be sharing. Recently my aunt and uncle -who are expecting their first child- visited the baby department in the store John Lewis and completely overwhelmed by the sheer scale of products and variety (vests/babygrows/onesies some with poppers on the sleeves, some without, some with long sleeves and some with short or none at all, completely flummoxed them) they left and went for pizza instead; I wonder whether they would fare at least somewhat better with the mother and child shop recommendations provided in the book.

I did find a fair share of the shops featured as high-end but when I am more solvent I intend to visit. India Knight does attempt to be inclusive though and features some high-street stores, defends Ikea against snobbery, and devoted an entire box to her praise of Argos (the catalogue shop where you order and collect in store after waiting in a horrendous queue for your number to be called); I have to disagree with her like for Argos though as I actually think it is a hell dimension here on earth. The book was originally published by Penguin in 2003, with an edited edition in 2004, so I'm not sure how many of the listings are potentially out-of-date.

A passage I liked to give you a sense of the writing style:

I really think it's such a pity that a delight in food should be seen by some as a problem, or indicative of 'issues', or even as an illness. I mention it because I resent, I suppose, the idea that our family's absolute love of food should be seen by anybody as peculiar or wrong, when I consider it to be absolutely joyous, generous, nurturing, celebratory, and all those other words you might find used about food in a magical realism novel (remember them?) involving recipes.

Thursday, 17 September 2009

The Glass Room

When the Man Booker longlist of 2009 was announced I didn't know anything at all about The Glass Room by Simon Mawer and it didn't appeal. In fact, I was deterred because the book's cover reminded me of one of my University textbooks. The Booker enabled me to read a book that I would not have read otherwise and I have been rewarded. The Glass Room is an exceptional novel and I am now championing it to win this year's prize; it is definitely in contention for my book of the year although that doesn't come with a cheque for £50,000 and international acclaim.

All of the six Booker shortlisted novels are set in the past. The Glass Room is set in the Modernist period and encompasses the lead up to WWII and its aftermath and its affect on one house, one family, and the people they love.

The Glass Room, the subject and character, is a room of glass (clever things are done with the Czech and German translations where it also means the room of tranquility), the feature room in a modernist home. Architect Rainer von Abt creates a dream-home for a newly married couple, Viktor and Liesel Landauer; the Landauer House becomes an architectural sensation, a piece of art in its own right. The novel follows the Landauer House and its exquisite glass room, an open space of light and balance, through the history of an unsettled Eastern Europe and its time as a family home; a Nazi laboratory; a shelter from war; a physiotherapy gymnasium; and a museum from private ownership into Nazi hands to Soviet ones to those of the Czechoslovak state. The passing of ownership illegally is one of the novel's central themes - who owns art? Is it the property of the artist, the commissioner, or the public, and can a building legally be considered a work of art? A curious question in light of the author's note, where Mawer states that although The Glass Room is a work of fiction, its house and setting are not (apparently the Landauer House is modelled on the Villa Tugendhat in Brno, in today's Czech Republic. It would seem from the brief entry I have linked to that Viktor and Liesel Landauer are also loosely modelled on the couple who had the house designed and built).

The writing in The Glass House is exceptional and the story deeply compelling; where you are shown the dramatic and breathtaking quality of the glass room so too do you experience a narrative that parallels it. The house is imbued with a past full of love and lust and witnesses the best and worst of Eastern European history and stands as testimony to endurance. The personal stories are engrossing but it is the story of the house that is awe-inspiring. If I can draw a crude comparison: Sarah Waters' personified Hundreds Hall, home to the Ayres family, in the Booker shortlisted The Little Stranger pales in comparison to the wonder that is the Landauer House.

Beautifully written and rendered, The Glass House sustains a leitmotif throughout of light, balance and space. I found it engrossing from the opening pages and was immersed in the lives of Viktor and Liesel, a Jew and a Gentile, and most of all of Liesel's close friend, Hana, who is a remarkabe character. I was wowed by this novel, its content and style, and thoroughly rewarded.

Some favourite passages (I didn't take note of many as I almost loved them all):

The house grew, the baby grew. The latter was a strange and rapid metamorphosis, punctuated by events of moment: the grasp of her hands, the focus of her eyes, her first smile, her recognition of Liesel and Viktor, the first time she raised herself on her hands, the first laugh. The growth of the house was more measured: the laying of steel beams, the pouring of concrete, the encapsulating of space. And ten delay, problems with materials and the workforce, argument and frustration stretching over the summer and the autumn before things were resolved.

How do you dismember a body? There are two fundamentally different approaches – that of the surgeon and that of the mad axeman. The one is cool and calculating and progressive, with the application of bone-saw, scalpel and shears. The other is a frenzy of hacking and tearing, with blood everywhere and the taste of iron in the mouth. But whichever way you do it the result is the same – dismemberment.

Wednesday, 16 September 2009


Do you snack while you read? If so, favorite reading snack?
I don't normally snack whilst reading as I find it too cumbersome to hold a book and eat at the same time. Saying that, a Persephone book goes wonderfully well with a slice of cake, a cupcake, or a tart! I love nothing better than curling up with a warm drink and a book; I have holding a mug on one hand and a book in the other down to a fine art for an accidental soul.

Do you tend to mark your books as you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you?
I hate marking books and only did it occasionally whilst completing my Master's as otherwise I was likely to suffocate under a mountain of post-its. Even when I did succumb it was only ever to highlight with bible pencil or lightly write a key-point in the margins. I also have what were once my working texts and duplicates for pleasure.

How do you keep your place while reading a book? Bookmark? Dog-ears?
I have an assortment of bookmarks that I use and I loathe dog-earing books, even library copies.

Laying the book flat open?
I hate breaking the spine of a book and will never lay a book flat open unless it's a cookbook.

Fiction, Non-fiction, or both?
Preferably fiction but every so often I journey into the world of non-fiction. I try to keep my options open and challenge myself wherever possible. I have a variety of interests and love to read so why not read about things that interest me, in a non-fictional setting?

Hard copy or audiobooks?
I don't listen to many audiobooks but those I have listened to I've enjoyed. Neil Gaiman has an exceptional reading voice and Stephen Fry is also a great voice to listen to.

Are you a person who tends to read to the end of chapters, or are you able to put a book down at any point?
Ideally I will read to the end of a chapter as it makes for a good ending point but it depends on how tired I am. I struggle with books that don't have chapters or chapters that aren't an ideal reading length; reading from chapter to chapter gives me a sense of achievement and I am always thinking "oh, I can fit one more in before I go to sleep... and another."

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop to look it up right away?
Not when I'm reading in bed or travelling/commuting or in some kind of waiting room/queuing system... All of these reading occasions aren't conducive to noting down quotes either.

What are you currently reading?
I actually just finished a book and usually I have the next one lined up but I have a few to choose from... I think it will be/has to be The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt.

What is the last book you bought?
I bought four children's books today for my nephew who celebrates his second birthday on Monday. I bought him three Dr Seuss books, including My Many Coloured Days which is one the most beautiful books ever, and Lost and Found by Oliver Jeffers. I love buying Children's books and I am most definitely the Auntie who gives books.

Are you the type of person that only reads one book at a time or can you read more than one at a time?
I can read more than one at a time but I do prefer concentrating solely on one and giving it my full attention.

Do you have a favorite time of day and/or place to read?
In bed before I go to sleep.

Do you prefer series books or stand alone books?
I've read a number of great series but I prefer stand-alone novels the majority of the time.

Is there a specific book or author that you find yourself recommending over and over?
Angela Carter. READ HER.

How do you organize your books? (By genre, title, author’s last name, etc.?)
In a system that only makes sense to me. Books by the same author are grouped together but not in alphabetical order (sometimes in order of publication); other books are organised by colour; others are shelved according to publisher and occasionally those are ordered by ones read and still to read.

If you haven't seen it yet then please read Simon from Stuck at a Book's guest post on the BBAW website, which he has also posted on his blog.

Ulysses Update

Currently Peter is reading the Irish Ulysses. After many attempts he has not read pas the first twenty pages. Something in the language has prevented him, he says. But on the last attempt a revelation! The text is a doorway, or a device for transporting the mind. In itself it resists interpretation, but instead affords the opportunity to think in tandem, like a man riding a bicycle while on board a ship. Peter thinks this is what Joyce intended. It will not make him unhappy to be oblivious to the narrative until the book's very end, he writes, for he is sure to enlighten his mind in other ways.
How to Paint a Dead Man by Sarah Hall p. 105

"Like an man riding a bicycle while on board a ship" - isn't this a fabulous quote? If only I were thinking in tandem with Joyce or eve riding the bicycle but, alas, I don't even have the stabilisers on; the bicycle is propped against the wall and hasn't been taken for a ride for some weeks. I have a number of two-page installments to catch up on; I plan to blitz them in the one sitting and that should take me to page 25o or so.

Tuesday, 15 September 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

Quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences from the book you’re reading to tempt others.

"She got a book and red it in bed, with stubborn determination. It was a mystery story she had got out of the lending library for her father, and she was not fond of mystery stories."
The Blank Wall by Elisabeth Sanxay Holding

Monday, 14 September 2009

Making my Day

Today is officially the beginning of Book Blogger Appreciation Week where we can take the opportunity to celebrate our book blogging efforts, recognise each other, and discover new blogs and bloggers. In the spirit of mutual admiration, today's blog post is in honour of those great bloggers who were not shortlisted for any of the BBAW awards this year (and one who very deservedly was). Only a handful of my favourite blogs made it to the shortlists, which means that so many went without me saying congratulations for being a great book blogger and thank you for enriching my book blogging experience.

I hate to play favourites but I want to acknowledge some of my favourite blogs. These blogs and their writers make my day brighter and I am always excited to see a new blog post by each of them. These are the bloggers whose bookish opinions I trust and the ones who have prompted me to purchase and read so many books. I was always an eclectic and proficient reader but these bloggers have inspired me to read more and many.

Stuck in a Book: Simon has such an interesting blog where I am bound to find something new to read or read about. I love his "50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About" list and his recently added Weekend Miscellany, which brings together fabulous bookish and blog links. From before I began blogging, I read his blog and was aware of Simon's passion for Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker; I now own a copy and look forward to reading it...

Kiss a Cloud: my namesake's blog is simply beautiful. Claire combines lovely, evocative photographs with an eclectic mix of reviews and they are always a joy to read. We share favourite writers and, at my corruption, a love for matching author sets of books. I love Claire's posts about cover art as I relate with her passion for loving a book by its cover.

Verity: I enjoy both Verity's blogs for different reasons. The B Files combines two of my favourite things: books and cakes and Verity's Virago Venture, albeit niche, is an exciting project that has contributed to my own Virago Modern Classics addiction. Verity is a loyal commenter on my blog and a fellow bibliophile; we have become friends during the time we have blogged and she, as well as her blogs, are a daily feature in my life. We also co-host Persephone Reading Week together and I couldn't ask for a better co-host.

Farmlanebooks: Jackie is a prolific blogger and I admire her blogging drive and determination. Books are her life, literally her means of life, and I get that completely. Her taste is wide and varied and I know that I am going to find an interest post daily and something entirely different from the day before. Jackie is continually challenging herself to read more prize-winners and nominees and it is through her enthusiasm that I have been more conscious to do likewise.

Roses Over a Cottage Door: Darlene's blog, and Darlene herself, is simply lovely. We read similar books but I admire her discipline when it comes to only reading books that she passionately wants to read as life is too short to read everything. Very funny and sweet, Darlene also has a sweet tooth and regales us with baking too!

Lakeside Musing: when I happened across JoAnn's blog, I knew I loved it from the first post I read as her enthusiasm is infectious. JoAnn loves books -okay, we all do, that's why we blog- but JoAnn's writing evokes it exceptionally well. Her posts are always illuminating and many a time I have instantly sat down to read something she has recommended.

Savidge Reads: I thought I was addicted to books and book buying until I met (figuratively and literally - I attend his book group) Simon. He came to reading late and is definitely making up for it! His posts are always varied, interesting, and enthusiastic.

Things Mean a Lot: Seeing the header of Nymeth's blog, I instantly bookmarked her site, before even reading her posts. We both love Children's literature, Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, Sarah Waters, Margaret Atwood, and through Ana I have discovered wonderful writers and books that I wouldn't have elsewhere. If I didn't know that I loved her writing, passion, and good taste then this post alone would have told me in huge, neon, letters; anyone who can write so effusively about Angela Carter and see what I see in the same way, is a kindred spirit.

Speaking of kindred spirits, my favourite new blog is Book Snob. Rachel may write for the discerning reader but she also is one and her posts always make me smile and nod my head in agreement. Going out to buy a dress for a wedding and coming back with an armful of books instead, is proof that she is one of us: a book lover.

If you don't know these blogs then please visit, read, and enjoy.

For all of the wonderful blogs that I didn't acknowledge, I'm sorry. I appreciate your love of books, your love for my blog, and if I comment then you know that I love yours too.

Sunday, 13 September 2009

Happy Roald Dahl Day!

I discovered via Twitter on Friday that today is Roald Dahl Day and I wanted to commemorate it. Roald Dahl was and remains my favourite children's author. I devoured his books as a child, hungry for his words as Augustus Gloop was for the chocolate river.

As a Roald Dahl-centic post I am borrowing from anothercookiecrumbles who posted her favourite Roald Dahl novels recently. I am reluctant most of the time to play favourites as it can be completely subjective depending on my mood when asked; however, giving it more thought than my gut-instinct response to the post, my favourites remain as Matilda, The Twits, and The Witches. The only one that I actually still own (due to an unfortunate incident involving all of my books from childhood being left in the attic when my parents moved house...) is Matilda and how can I not adore a book about a girl who loves reading so much a reads every children's book in the library?

Although I no longer have a copy of The Twits, I do own an Itchycoo translation into Glaswegian, The Eejits, which makes me laugh ... a lot. The cruelty of the married couple amused me for hours and hours of rereads when I was young. I loved their ingenuity and how they continually attempted to outwit one another. I remember my favourite trick as the one where Mr or Mrs Twit (I can't remember which) glues all of the furniture to the ceiling to fool their spouse into believing they were upside down, which is wickedly genius.

The Witches is such a fantastic premise. I loved to be scared as a child and this one is wonderful read aloud, especially in school for the part alone where Dahl writes that anybody could be a witch ... even your teacher! This was one of the most fun Dahl's, in my opinion, although also very disturbing.

I also love Charlie, Danny, and James… I need to purchase a complete boxset of Dahl books and embrace my inner child. My boyfriend and I are very excited to see Fantastic Mr Fox, are you?

Bookshops 1.1

This isn't the best photograph that I have ever taken and it also doesn't do justice to the cavernous space of Foyles bookshop but I did promise an indoors image for my Bookshops series of posts. This is an appendix to my first post of the series. I love wandering around this shop, especially the General Fiction, some of which (F-H) are shown above, along with the Graphic Novel section and some great display tables; the table directly facing the camera currently hosts a lovely selection of Pushkin Press texts, which I had never paid much attention to before.

Around the corner, display bookshelves can be found including this one. The rainbow table was the inspiration for my bookshelves of many colours series and this has moved to a bookcase. I think that striking and creative displays in bookshops are an inventive use of resources and excites me as a book buyer. Do you find that interesting displays -tables, shelves, or gondolas by colour, prize-winners, or setting- are more likely to attract you to a book and make you more inclined to buy it?

Saturday, 12 September 2009

The Pink Shelf

Purely for the photo-op but isn't this shelf striking? I'm not sure if my head would hurt having this as a permanent fixture although I do love purple and pinks.

On the pink shelf are a handful of Virago Modern Classics; some more Angela Carter; some seminal LGBT fiction; some erotica; some fairy tales secondary material; children's literature; and also literary and contemporary fiction.

Next week, we have the blue shelf.

Friday, 11 September 2009

Science Fiction and Fantasy

Recently amongst the blogosphere I have noticed mention of Science Fiction and Fantasy (in relation to a Science Fiction challenge mainly but also in general comments) and I am given the impression -and not for the first time, I hasten to add- that Science Fiction and Fantasy are the bad words of Genre and must be uttered in hushed tones or prefixed with "I don't normally read Science Fiction/Fantasy/Delete where appropriate..." Sci-fi/Fantasy have a preconceived reputation of being geeky, perhaps, and that is undeservedly so; some great literature falls under their category.

There has also been of late the Margaret Atwood and Ursula Le Guin controversy where Atwood claims that she doesn't write Science Fiction and Le Guin disagrees. I love Margaret Atwood's fiction but if you are writing wonderful fiction then don't be embarrassed about the genrification of it and call a spade a spade. Don't hide under the term "Speculative Fiction", which simply umbrellas Science Fiction, Fantasy, Dystopian Literature, Alternative History etc. but, at the end of the day, it's all scientific or fantastical so who needs another term for it, especially one made up to save the face of bookish snobs?

Earlier this year The Guardian published a list of the 1000 Novels Everyone Must Read. I was particularly impressed and surprised by how many books I had read in the Science Fiction & Fantasy section and was also surprised at its diverse inclusion of books I consider my favourites and those I had been wanting to read for some time but hadn't considered to be Science Fiction or Fantasy. I urge you to look at this list and perhaps realise that you enjoy Science Fiction more than you know and have read or want to read more than you think. There are so many classic, popular, and incredibly famous writers and books -Pulitzer, Nobel, and Booker Prize winning titles amongst them- on this list that you may just reconsider not being fond of Science Fiction or Fantasy novels.

It may be idealist of me but I read books that I want to read, whatever their label.

In the list below, the ones scored out are the ones I have read, the ones in green those I own and plan to read soon, and those in amber are the ones I am most wanting to purchase at this given time.

The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams

Non-Stop by Brian W Aldiss

Foundation by Isaac Asimov

The Blind Assassin by Margaret Atwood

The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood

In the Country of Last Things by Paul Auster

The Drowned World by JG Ballard

Crash by JG Ballard

Millennium People by JG Ballard

The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks

Consider Phlebas by Iain M Banks

Weaveworld by Clive Barker

Darkmans by Nicola Barker

The Time Ships by Stephen Baxter

Darwin's Radio by Greg Bear

Vathek by William Beckford

The Stars My Destination by Alfred Bester

Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury

Lost Souls by Poppy Z Brite

Wieland by Charles Brockden Brown

Rogue Moon by Algis Budrys

The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov

The Coming Race by EGEL Bulwer-Lytton

A Clockwork Orange by Anthony Burgess

The End of the World News by Anthony Burgess

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Naked Lunch by William Burroughs

Kindred by Octavia Butler

Erewhon by Samuel Butler

The Baron in the Trees by Italo Calvino

The Influence by Ramsey Campbell

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There by Lewis Carroll

Nights at the Circus by Angela Carter

The Passion of New Eve by Angela Carter

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

The Man who was Thursday by GK Chesterton

Childhood's End by Arthur C Clarke

Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell by Susanna Clarke

Hello Summer, Goodbye by Michael G Coney

Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Coupland

House of Leaves by Mark Danielewski

Pig Tales by Marie Darrieussecq

The Einstein Intersection by Samuel R Delaney

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K Dick

The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick

Camp Concentration by Thomas M Disch

Foucault's Pendulum by Umberto Eco

Under the Skin by Michel Faber

The Magus by John Fowles

American Gods by Neil Gaiman

Red Shift by Alan Garner

Neuromancer by William Gibson

Herland by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Lord of the Flies by William Golding

The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Light by M John Harrison

The House of the Seven Gables by Nathaniel Hawthorne

Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A Heinlein

Dune by Frank L Herbert

The Glass Bead Game by Herman Hesse

Riddley Walker by Russell Hoban

The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner by James Hogg

Atomised by Michel Houellebecq

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley

The Unconsoled by Kazuo Ishiguro

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

The Turn of the Screw by Henry James

The Children of Men by PD James

After London; or, Wild England by Richard Jefferies

Bold as Love by Gwyneth Jones

The Trial by Franz Kafka

Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

The Shining by Stephen King

The Victorian Chaise-longue by Marghanita Laski

Uncle Silas by Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu

The Earthsea Series by Ursula Le Guin

The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula Le Guin

Solaris by Stanislaw Lem

Memoirs of a Survivor by Doris Lessing

The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis

The Monk by Matthew Lewis

A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay

The Night Sessions by Ken Macleod

Beyond Black by Hilary Mantel

Only Forward by Michael Marshall Smith

I Am Legend by Richard Matheson

Melmoth the Wanderer by Charles Maturin

The Butcher Boy by Patrick McCabe

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Ascent by Jed Mercurio

The Scar by China Mieville

Ingenious Pain by Andrew Miller

A Canticle for Leibowitz by Walter M Miller Jr

Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell

Mother London by Michael Moorcock

News from Nowhere by William Morris

Beloved by Toni Morrison

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami

Ada or Ardor by Vladimir Nabokov

The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffenegger

Ringworld by Larry Niven

Vurt by Jeff Noon

The Third Policeman by Flann O'Brien

The Famished Road by Ben Okri

Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell

Fight Club by Chuck Palahniuk

Nightmare Abbey by Thomas Love Peacock

Titus Groan by Mervyn Peake

The Space Merchants by Frederik Pohl and CM Kornbluth

A Glastonbury Romance by John Cowper Powys

The Discworld Series by Terry Pratchett (in process of reading)

The Prestige by Christopher Priest

His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman

Gargantua and Pantagruel by Francois Rabelais

The Mysteries of Udolpho by Ann Radcliffe

Revelation Space by Alastair Reynolds

The Years of Rice and Salt by Kim Stanley Robinson

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by JK Rowling

Satanic Verses by Salman Rushdie

The Female Man by Joanna Russ

Air by Geoff Ryman

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Blindness by Jose Saramago

How the Dead Live by Will Self

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

Hyperion by Dan Simmons

Star Maker by Olaf Stapledon

Snow Crash by Neal Stephenson

The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson

Dracula by Bram Stoker

The Insult by Rupert Thomson

The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

The Lord of the Rings by JRR Tolkien

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court by Mark Twain

Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

The Castle of Otranto by Horace Walpole

Institute Benjamenta by Robert Walser

Lolly Willowes by Sylvia Townsend Warner

Affinity by Sarah Waters

The Time Machine by HG Wells

The War of the Worlds by HG Wells

The Sword in the Stone by TH White

The Old Men at the Zoo by Angus Wilson

The Book of the New Sun by Gene Wolfe

Orlando by Virginia Woolf

Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham

The Midwich Cuckoos by John Wyndham

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin