Monday, 30 April 2007

50 Books...

7. Watching the English - Kate Fox

Just to prove that a book needn't be/be about literature in order to interest me. Fox's book is pop-anthropological, though with a staggering am
ount of research, and manages to be both highly informative and incredibly funny.

Her objective is to discover what it is that characterises the English. Here's the catch - she's English herself. And a lot of the experiments she conducts involves breaking every tenet of Englishness, to find out how this goes down with those around her. Generally, not well. She even jumps queues.

Fox looks at pretty m
uch every aspect fo Englishness that she you can think of - starting, of course, with 'Weather-Speak' (no, we aren't obsessed by the weather - we're obsessed with avoiding personal interaction), and covering gender, dialect, clothing, driving, holidays, furniture, sport, food, offices, pets, tea, whether to say serviette or napkin... all heavily laced with that most important of all English traits: 'The Importance of Not Being Earnest'. What makes this book successful is how funny Fox is - in the self-aware, self-deprecating, laughing-at-nothing-in-particular way that enables English people to have even the slightest amount of social interaction.

Now, I've only ever lived in England - I've covered most of the West side, having gone from Merseyside to Worcestershire to Somerset, but certainly haven't been in any other culture for a particularly long time. When reading this, I kept thinking "well, yes, of course - that makes sense", wondering how the book could be received by non-Brits. Until I got to the section on Pubs. I very rarely go into pubs, and certainly don't count myself a 'regular' - so reading this section opened a whole new world to me, and must be like most of the rest of the book, for unEnglish people. Instead of "well, yes, of course" I started uttering "Do they? Really? How absurd". But, while Fox never justifies our more stupid habits, she does make them seem extremely endearing. Like a small animal which hasn't quite learnt the most sensible way of getting around.

My favourite section is on queueing (or 'lining up' if you're American, I believe). Is anything more English? Or more outrageous if contravened? But it is apparently a matter of wonderment for foreigners,
the way in which we can deal with multiple tills, several toilets, the bus turning up at the wrong spot, a pub counter, a wake - an appropriate queue for every occasion. I love the bit where Fox talks about a 'one person queue' - it is so true. If I am alone at a bus stop, I will stand by the pole, facing the right direction, as though an invisible queue were behind me, and threatening to take my place.

You'll love this book if you're English - but it is also a wonderful tome of information and amusing trivia for our weird little nation, if you're not.

Sunday, 29 April 2007

Not Afraid Of Virginia Woolf...

There are only a handful of authors who find themselves in the privileged position of having a whole shelf devoted to them, chez Stuck-in-a-Book in Somerset. AA Milne, Richmal Crompton, EM Delafield, Agatha Christie, and... Virginia Woolf. Perhaps an odd companion to those decidedly non-highbrow authors (though Milne was at university with Leonard Woolf, and Delafield knew the Woolfs enough to have them to tea) - but I can't help loving Virginia Woolf. So much, that I'm slightly dubious about writing of Ginny when quite so tired... but I'll give it a shot.

I'm aware that Woolf has her enemies as well as her friends - many based on the assumption that she was "that crazy, suicidal lesbian, wasn't she?" Others have tried diligently, but simply can't get on with her prose. Thank goodness for people like Susan Hill - I haven't been taking her Woolf for Dummies, because she'd be preaching to the converted, but I know lots of people are giving it a shot.

Like many others, I came to Woolf through the 2001 film The Hours (which you'll have spotted the other day, in my list of literary DVDs) - again, mixed opinions, but the point is that it got me searching. I read Michael Cunningham's The Hours, then I headed to our village's Woolf-stockist, a very nice lady called Karen, who lent me Mrs. Dalloway, and then To The Lighthouse. I was hooked. I've now read all of her novels (except half of Night and Day... oops) and quite a few essays, letters, diaries. A lot of that came about when I was lucky enough to study Woolf as my Special Author last year - wrote a thesis on Clothing in Virginia Woolf, which is doubtless of indescribable importance in the furtherment of the world. Ahem.

But what do I like about Woolf? Mostly, it's her style; the way she writes.
All other authors seem to seek words to fit their meaning - Woolf's words are always RIGHT; the meaning leaps to fit her words. That doesn't quite make sense, but it is the feeling I get when reading her novels - which can be read as a form of poetry. I love to just sink into the language, even when I don't quite know what's going on - indeed, The Waves can be dipped into AS poetry, I think. I can't quite remember where Susan Hill said one should start with Woolf, but my only advice is "not The Waves" - leave it until you've made a first acquaintance with Virginia. I think Mrs. Dalloway is a good a way in as any. Not a lot happens - Mrs. Dalloway organises a party, and remembers her youth - but... not a lot needs to happen when an author writes this well.

I've not put this in the '50 Books...' because it's too well-known - but look out for a Woolf entry in there, sooner or later.

And then there's the biography. Yes, she killed herself. Like Keats, a premature death seems to have preoccupied critics for decades - the only veto our Woolf tutors gave
was "whatever you do, don't write on Woolf and suicide". I find the Bloomsbury group fascinating, and Virginia's own life very interesting (though Hermione Lee's recent biography was a little too thorough for my liking - every stroll down the hallway was documented, with footnotes) - but I hold these entirely separate to her writing. A little New Historicist of me, but there you are. Just find a Woolf novel, forget everything you know about the woman, and let the writing wash over you.

Something a lot of people don't realise about Woolf is that she's FUNNY. Very funny - in a dry, drole, upper-class sort of way, but funny nonetheless. One of my favourite bits is in her essay 'Mr. Bennett and Mrs. Brown' - in the section below she is mocking the novelist Arnold Bennett's over-attention to detail in his prose.

So I leave you with that. What impression has Virginia made on you? Like or loathe? She's a little different to the bulk of my reading taste, but an integral one nevertheless.

...He would notice the advertisements; the pictures of Swanage and Portsmouth; the way in which the cushion bulged between the buttons; how Mrs. Brown wore a brooch which had cost three-and-ten-three at Whitworth's bazaar; and had mended both gloves—indeed the thumb of the left-hand glove had been replaced. And he would observe, at length, how this was the non-stop train from Windsor which calls at Richmond for the convenience of middle-class residents, who can afford to go to the theatre but have not reached the social rank which can afford motor-cars, though it is true, there are occasions (he would tell us what), when they hire them from a company (he would tell us which).

Saturday, 28 April 2007

Not Just Narnia...

Yesterday I got a nice postcard and letter in the post from a regular correspondent, my aunt Jacq - I've put up a photo of the postcard. It is brilliantly apposite for Stuck-in-a-Book, and appears to have been bought in Berlin - I do hope Jacq didn't make the trip to Germany especially for me. I rather think not.

We've exchanged letters for five years now, and through that time have often set each other Literary Challenges of some sort or other - I thought I'd share this one. Have done my best (which turned out not to be very good) without resorting to good old Google. So please do give a hand, but only if you know them already - let's not cheat just yet!

Ok, the challenge is this - all of these are fictional places, or real places used in literatu
re. Who are the authors?

I only got 13. Oo, exactly half.

Frenchman's Creek
Judas College, Oxford
St. Mary Mead
Wigan Pier
Yell'ham Bottom
ZZ9 Plural Z Alpha

Friday, 27 April 2007

Persephone (Percy-phone)

If Lylah Goodwin has two claims to fame on this blog, they are these: she introduced me to Miss Hargreaves, as aforestated, and she was also the first person to tell me that 'Persephone' isn't pronounced 'Percy-phone'. You live, you learn.

I first came across Persephone Books when I spotted a copy of Richmal Crompton's Family Roundabout in our local library - I'd started reading Crompton's novels for adults about a year beforehand, on a why-not impulse buy, whilst in Hay-on-Wye (a town of second bookshops, for those not in the know), and loved her. Thus, I couldn't help picking up the Persephone edition, and thought "hmm, quite pretty". Damning with faint praise: such is the effect of library plastic 'dustjackets' - but, still, the seed was sewn.

It was a while later, on Amazon, that I noticed a reviewer called 'Lyn' had reviewed a lot of Persephone Books. This was back in the day when Amazon gave contact details for their reviewers, and so I emailed Lyn, asking for recommendations - and recommending Crompton in turn. If you recognise the name Lyn, then it's because she is a regular visitor to Stuck-In-A-Book, and has been a friend since that time in - what was it? - 2003. Lyn, a Melbourne bookaholic, introduced me to what was then 'persephonites' - an online group of Persephone Book fans, which transformed itself into 'dovegreybooks' along the way, and widened its net of interest. When I joined I'd read only Family Roundabout, and Miss Pettigrew Lives For A Day.

Oh, how times have changed.

I haven't had many opportunities to read Persephone Books while at university, but it hasn't stopped me buying them, and sneaking in the odd read - and I have worked my way through quite a few of the catalogue. Oh, what words can I use to express the sheer PERFECTION of these books, both in terms of content and presentation? They're a beautiful, soft grey - but inside each book has a unique and evocative endpaper, almost always just right for the book in question. Even the little twirly bits at the top of each page (I'm sure there's a proper name for these) are different for each book. They look beautiful, agreed? (Whilst I'm on their appearance, many thanks to Our Vicar's Wife for the photographs - all my Persephones are at home, and she had the excellent idea of combining them with our lovely wisteria).

And the content? These books are mostly from the first half of the twentieth century, and a mix of novels, poetry, cookery books, biography, gardening books - all, well, 'Persephone'. It deserves to be an adjective. The novels are my favourite, and they've provided some gems, which might appear later in my '50 Books...' Do try Family Roundabout, Hostages to Fortune, Consequences, Someone at a Distance, The Home-Maker... in fact, just ask for a catalogue at their website. They'll post the books anywhere, and are very speedy at it, too. Warning, though: once you've got one, you'll want to get them all. There are currently 72. If I ever clear my student debt, the 40+ that I don't have will be winging their way to me.

What more can I say about them? Just buy one (or three, to get the discount) and you'll be hooked - you can't possibly regret it. Something so special about small press republications - like you're being allowed to browse someone else's bookshelves while they're in the kitchen (we've all been there, admit it) and then keep the ones you like best.

Today's sketch mocks my mispronunciation of 'Persephone', and requires knowledge of those two denizens of culture - Salvador Dali, and Thomas the Tank Engine...

Thursday, 26 April 2007


Sorry to be blogging at unusual times of day, hope I haven't thrown you all - but wanted to add a note to today.

This afternoon, around 3.15, Stuck-in-a-book and Cornflower met each other in the Real World(!) Our paths were crossing (indeed, Cornflower came all the way to Magdalen) and we arranged a very brief 'hello - how - are - you - gosh - you - ARE - real'. It was very, very nice to meet Karen, and always exciting when the blogosphere presents these opportunities.

So, thanks Karen!

P.s. hope I didn't spoil the guessing game on your blog too much...

50 Books...

6. Evelina - Frances Burney

I was once advised by a fellow student that, if ever I was feeling stuck for words in a tutorial, I could pose the question "Frances or Fanny?" and confidently e
xpect the tutor to expostulate for the rest of the hour. I've gone for the name in the photo - though I would usually refer to Miss Burney as Fanny, I must confess.

As a nomination for my '50 Bo
oks You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About', this is perhaps a little too well-known - but I thought I'd throw it in anyway, to give the list some temporal depth. I don't know about you, but Burney is a name I heard for years in relation to Jane Austen (generally as proof that other women existed in the same period, and some of 'em could even hold a pen... tongue in cheek, please note) - but I hadn't read her until last year. And I am so glad that I did.
One of the things which comes as a surprise to most first-time-Austeners, I would think, is that she is extremely funny. Sense and Sensibility must be one of the most hilarious books I've ever read, and occasioned me to laugh out loud on a bus... quite embarrassing, but more than warranted. Well, Burney is also very amusing - perhaps not quite in the same league, but there are some ridiculous scenarios in Evelina (ridiculous in the best sense of the word) which can't help but provoke giggles. I actually wrote a fairly interesting essay on Laughter in Evelina - did you know that, after the time she laughs at Lovell at the ball, she doesn't laugh again until she is good and engaged? Lots of almost-laughing, and half-laughing, but no actual laughter. H'interesting.

Sorry if I gave away a spoiler there, but the fate of Evelina is never particularly
in doubt - plus, I haven't told you who she'll marry. The rest of the plot is filled with a mixture of memorable, rounded characters, and witty grotesques: Mme Duval's ongoing rivalry with Captain Mirvan; mysterious Mr. Macartney; dry Mrs. Selwyn; honourable Lord Orville. Now, as to Evelina herself - well, I like her, but I also like Fanny Price. I don't know how popular the heroine is - she's quite upright and moral, but has a sense of humour at the same time. Maybe Fanny tempered by twinges of Lizzie? It's an inexact science, to use Austen heroines as a spectrum for all other characters, but it's good fun.

And you'll have noticed in my photographs today that I AM revising, honest. Just wanted to make that obvious to certain mothers (or surrogate mothers) of mine...

Tuesday, 24 April 2007

A Little More Electronic

What, I hear you cry, this picture is of non-books. It's not even of Nature. What's going on? Well, I'm afraid today's blog entry has catapaulted itself into the late-twentieth century (let's not get ahead of ourselves) and is going to address Digitally Viewable Doodahs. Ok, I don't know what DVD stands for, but it might as well be that.

Take a closer look at the DVDs. Can you spot a theme? A theme which supports my claim to be stuck-in-a-book?

Yep, you're righ
t - they're all adaptations of books, or biopics of authors. Or both. Oddly, though I have some scruples about adaptations (yes, I am a purist - it's just called standards, honest), it is these films to which I return time and again. Perhaps because the plots/characters will come from people who genuinely prize writing? I know absurdly little about the goings-on of scriptwriters in Hollywood, and what I do know has been gleaned from PG Wodehouse and Stephen Leacock, neither of whom are renowned for their strict veracity. Still, I can't help thinking the endings to some of these films would have been different, had they started life in a scriptwriter's office.

In case the photograph is too small, here's a list of those featured:
The Hours - had mixed reviews, but it's probably my favouri
te film. Perhaps not an entirely reliable depiction of Woolf, but Kidman's role is far from the only focus of this film. An astonishingly good cast.
84 Charing Cross Road - I know Janice has been writing about Helene Hanff - and this film is so RIGHT for the book; it has the same atmosphere. Cosy, bookish, gentle, wonderful.
The Secret Garden
- (see pic) the first film I ever saw in the cinema, on my 7th birthday. Still love it, and brings back so many childhood memories.
Pride and Prejudice - the 1995 BBC version, none of your 2005 film nonsense. Davies writes a wonderful
script, with the sadly novel idea of using Austen's dialogue. If only more adaptors would pay heed. Jennifer Ehle IS Lizzie.
Possession - speaking of Jennifer Ehle... This adaptation is AS Byatt's novel is probably a little lowbrow compared to the tome itself, but, do you know, I coped with that.
The Camomile Lawn - more Jennifer Ehle, but as you've never seen her before... and the most mismatched hair/eyebrows combination in film history.
I Capture the Castle - (see pic) a beautiful film which made me fall in love with the novel all over again - another one of my favourites, though it did omit one of my favourite lines: "Noble deeds and hot baths are the best cure for depression."
The Shipping Forecast - *hangs head in shame* I
haven't read the book... but strange film.
Finding Neverland - not an adaptation, but a biopic of JM Barrie. Again, not always accurate, but great fun and extremely moving.
Rebecca - Hitchcock's iconic production does everything one could want from an adaptation. And it's in black and white, so makes me feel clever.
Sylvia - another biopic, which doesn't delve particularly subtly into t
he Ted/Sylvia relationship, and wasn't allowed to quote her poetry, but does feature the cutest child ever, as Frieda.
Harry Potter x 3 - more good fun, and so many stars in the cast that it's practically a galaxy. If only Daniel Radcliffe could ACT...
My House in Umbria - Maggie Smith is wonderful in this adaptation of a novel by William Trevor, which I hadn't heard of, let alone read.
The Chronicles of Narnia - (see pic, ahem) I grew up watching these, and won't hear a word against them. The beavers are REAL, ok? Beavers are seven foot tall, I'm sure. And the White Witch was terrifying.
Carrington - haven't seen this yet... but the 18 rating is putting me off...
Not in picture:

Also have Iris, a brilliant turn by Judi Dench as Iris Murdoch, and Brief Encounter, from Coward's play 'Still Life', but they're not here at present...

Monday, 23 April 2007

50 Books...

5. It's Too Late Now - A. A. Milne

It was only a matter of time before Mr. Milne got a mention on these pages. Wait, he had one the other day, didn't he?

The Secret Option to my potential Summer Reads may be the only way in which most people have come across Alan Alexander - but he wrote far more than the children's books. In fact, like almost every successful author of children's books that
you could care to mention, he came to look on them as something of a distraction from his other work. During his lifetime, though, he was a renowned playwright, novelist, detective-novelist, poet, sketch-writer, essayist and even wrote one of the only three official works for the national Pacifist movement. Busy man.

Back in 2001, I decided to familiarise myself with the adventures of Mr. W. Pooh et al (
still some of the best children's books ever written - like most, wasted on children and most adults), and this led to me reading Christopher Milne's autobiographical trilogy, The Enchanted Places, The Path Through The Trees, and The Hollow on The Hill. Look out for mention of them later. My Aunt Jacq, who shares many of my reading tastes, lent me several volumes of his work for Punch (of which he was sometime Assistant Editor) and the rest, as they, is history. I've read nearly everything he wrote (which is a LOT) and can recommend all of it - for those wishing to dabble, and don't mind doses of whimsy, track down The Holiday Round as a starting point. If you don't like whimsy, then try Two People, his best novel. His most popular non-children's work was the detective novel The Red House Mystery, which was written before the Golden Age and thus looks a bit like a poor cousin - but still highly enjoyable.

BUT. The reason I've chosen It's Too Late Now as the fifth book in my '50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About' is that is the perfect 'way in' to going beyond Winnie. This is his autobiography (in fact, published in the US as just An Autobiography), and is as representative of his work as anythi
ng else - funny, self-deprecating, anecdotal... and provides a great companion to the rest of his work. If you'd prefer a more impartial work, which also focuses more on his literary output, rather than his childhood, try Ann Thwaite's excellent book A.A. Milne: His Life. She writes with evident enjoyment of his work, and presents extensive research without hitting you over the head with it.

Sadly, both books are out of print (well, the Thwaite keeps wavering, and is easier to come across) but both certainly worth locating. Milne's 'other work' has become unjustly neglected, and needs re-discovering. Hope I'll make some converts! He is such an amusing writer, and once you enter his world, you'll never want to leave. Joie de vivre characterises almost all his work, especially the early plays and sketches. Oh yes, read Mr. Pim Passes By too, in either novel or play form. Oh yes, he did it in both. Another interesting point of comparison is the play The Great Broxopp, which is about an advertising tychoon whose child features in the adverts, as a baby - and the effect childhood fame has on the boy as he grows up. All written before Christopher Robin Milne was even born.

P.s. sorry for lack of cartoons over the past few days - hope people do enjoy them when they appear?? Instead, you have a nabbed picture of Ashdown Forest, the inspiration for the Hundred Acre Wood. The Clan went a few summers ago, and it is a wonderful place. An enchanted place, if you will.

Sunday, 22 April 2007

Sunday Confessions

Yes, the title is stolen from dovegreyreader - but this Sunday Confessions is a little different. It's by way of a game, which my friend Barbara-from-Ludlow introduced to me, I believe, but which has been enjoyed by Literary Types for many a year.

In some circles it is fun to see which books you have in common - which ones all of you have read. In The Clan there is a very small list, owing partly to Our Vicar's predilection for non-fiction, partly to The Carbon Copy's dislike of everything pre-1900 (excepting Jane Austen, thank goodness) and habit of re-reading the same dozen books time and again. Our Vicar's Wife and I can make dozens of shared reads - but those which all four members of The Clan have read are:
-Pride and Prejudice
-Diary of a Nobody
-Wuthering Heights
-The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time

I think that may be it.

But this isn't the game I'm going to foist upon you today. This one is called 'Humiliations', but it isn't as drastic as it sounds. The idea is to group together a literary bunch (hey presto), and each has to confess to three famous books they haven't read - and really should have. REALLY should have. Can you stand the booing and hissing? I hope so, cos I'd like you all to contribute to the comments, and not make me the *only* one revealing my literary ignorance.

For the purpose of this, let's only count them if you've reading nothing by that author - i.e. I haven't read Great
Expectations, but I've read my fair share of Charlie D, so that's off. But I have now revealed further ignorance. Oops.

Ok, here goes. My little list of three. Get ready to make a united gasp of horror.

-To Kill A Mockingbird - Harper Lee
-Anna Karenina - Leo Tolstoy
-Brideshead Revisited - Evelyn Waugh

Shocked? Time to confess...

Friday, 20 April 2007

Dear Diary...

I don't know about you, but I always feel in some sort of quandry when reading someone else's diaries. I mean published ones, of course - I would never commit such a violation as to read a friend's diary or journal... but why do we make the distinction here? Because the author is dead? Because they are a stranger? Because they are famous? Hmm... You see, the difficult thing is, I love reading diaries of people - and letters, especially if a book has the correspondence between both, er, correspondents. For some in this ilk, look out for the letters of Joyce Grenfell and Virginia Graham; or Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill. You see, there I go already, recommending things I'm not *quite* sure I feel comfortable reading.

I've kept a journal since 2001 - they are all spread out in that picture up there. Now, I would hate, hate, hate for anyone to read them - and I imagine anyone else would hate, hate, hate to be put through the experience. I was 15 when I started writing them, remember. I love this quotation from Richmal Crompton's novel 'The Gypsy's Baby', she even got the name right: "Simon was at the age when he imagined that everyone around him took an intense and generally malevolent interest in his doings." Well, that was me, I daresay.

So why am I content to read the diaries of, say, Virginia Woolf? Partly because they're brilliant pieces of writing, but what IS it that makes the diaires of lesser beings so interesting? Just curiosity? A couple of years ago an Oxfam worker discovered the diary of Ilene Powell, from 1925, and published it (see pic). It was incredibly mundane, with tiny scraps of entries - about two days' output for a regular, angsty teenager. So why was it so interesting?

Well, all of this soul-searching had to be followed with some sort of book recommendation, didn't it? Having questioned the practice of reading diaries, I am going to flag up The Assassin's Cloak (not to be confused with Margaret Atwood's The Blind Assassin, as I did for a while). For every day of the year, the editors have selected entries from 'the world's greatest diarists'. All the invasive fun of diary-reading, plus the excitement of serendipity, as you see that Pepys was eating an egg on the same day as Vita Sackville-West centuries later. Ok, I made that one up - but there are all sorts of interesting comparisons. The usual suspects, such as Pepys, are featured - but all periods are covered, and The Provincial Lady even gets a look-in. The only dull ones are those from self-important politicians and/or celebrities, publishing their own highly-edited diaries, citing how many famous people they have met. I'm a few weeks behind, but this is an ideal day-by-day companion, but also good to flick through. For instance, on my birthday Maurice Collis was listening to Lady Astor talk about Stalin; Anthony Powell was assuring Frank Longford that he wasn't used in A Dance To The Music of Time; Jean Cocteau was musing upon the lure of the radio.

I suppose blogging is the new diary-writing - though they should retain their very different approaches. Unless you fancy a list of famous people I have met...

Oh yes... any recommendations?
Hypocrite, me!?


As an addendum to my previous post, a bit of internet-searching reveals 1959 saw a television opera of Miss Hargreaves, called 'The Spur of the Moment', and that Margaret Rutherford starred in a 1960 straight adaptation of the book, on television (I knew she'd done the play; didn't know about the film.) Is there any way of tracking these things down?!

EDIT: the film was actually 1950, not 1960 - sorry

Thursday, 19 April 2007

"I abominate fuss..." (50 Books...)

4. Miss Hargreaves - Frank Baker

(for my more recent, longer review of this book - click here)
Ok, The Provincial Lady was the most representative of my reading tastes, perhaps - but if you only read one book I recommend, let this one be it. It will change your life - honest. (Only very *slightly* over the top...) I can't think of a novel which compares; Miss Hargreaves is truly in a class of its own.

Norman and his friend Henry are on holiday in Lusk - on a dull day they wander into a church, and have to make conversation with an even duller verger. On the spur of the moment, Norman says he has a shared acquaintance with the parish's old vicar - and that acquaintance is one Miss Hargreaves. She's nearly ninety, carries a hip flask, bath and cockatoo with her everywhere, not to mention Sarah the dog. Continuing the joke, they send a letter to her supposed hotel, asking if she'd like to come and stay. When Miss Constance Hargreaves arrives on a train, Norman has some explaining to do, and the strange occurences are just beginning...

It is a cliche of criticism, but Miss Hargreaves genuinely did make me both laugh and cry - and pretty much every emotion in between. I thought the theme would pall, but Baker keeps the momentum going for every page, and I never wanted it to end. And though this is without doubt Connie's book, the secondary characters are also wonderful - especially Norman's bookshop-owning father, Mr. Huntley. As my friend Curzon recently said "what a joyous book! I loved every moment" - in fact, don't just take our words for it. I have forced - apologies, suggested - this book to so many people, probably two dozen, and only one has not raved. If you've liked any of the other books I've mentioned, I guarantee you'll love this. And you're in hallowed company - Elaine at Random Jottings, Lisa at Blue Stalking, Ruth at Crafty People, and Lynne at dovegreyreader are all fanatics. Check out this post, for dovegreyreader's mention of the novel, back in May 2006. I've very cheekily commented on it again, to thrust it up into the Recent Comments section.

Ok. Here's the bad news. It's quite difficult to get a hold of. It is in print - see the picture - but that is a £30 edition from Tartarus Press. I have a copy (though that picture isn't mine - all three of my editions are tucked away at home), and you may well not be able to resist it - but £30 is quite a lot to gamble. There was a Penguin edition - one of those nice orange-striped ones - so check out sites like for them, but the have just done a group read, and the interweb may have a paucity of them right now. Do keep trying! I would offer mine for loan, but they're in Somerset at the moment, and a little too close to my heart...
I've stolen the second picture (another edition I have) from, a fellow fan, who has some interesting things to say, and a link to the official Frank Baker website. Brian also wrote a rather fun radio adaptation, a cassette of which I managed to persuade an archive site to make for me. I played it too often, and it's not working very well now... but I still have the novel to keep me company. I've read it three times now, and I can't see any reason why I won't read it another thirty. Possibly my favourite novel. I do hope I'll get the legions to come advocate it in the comments!

Hope you like my colouring-in...

Wednesday, 18 April 2007

So, I started making a list...

Yup, I started making a list of books I might read over the Summer. And it got looooong. I am going to have two, fairly uninterrupted months in which to relax and catch up on non-uni reading - but the question is, which do I choose? So, you guys are going to help me out, deal?

Here's the shortlist. They're all on my shelf. Let's whittle. Tell me anything I shouldn't bother with, or, as is more likely, ones DEFINITELY not to be missed.

Mrs. Miniver - Jan Struther: heard so much about it, and haven't quite got around to it...

Thrown to the Woolfs - John Lehmann: his experiences working with Leonard Woolf at the Hogarth Press. Apparently doesn't pull any punches.

Saplings - Noel Streatfeild: been so long since I read a Persephone, and this one has been in the pipeline for a year or two

Notes on a Scandal - Zoe Heller: I always feel guilty when I watch a film without having read the book...

Dusty Answer - Rosamund Lehmann: was going to read this with SUCH a long time ago, and never did...

Katherine Mansfield - Claire Tomalin
: love Mansfield, love Tomalin. Can't go wrong, can I?

Love Letters - Leonard Woolf and Trekkie Parsons: the love letters between Leonard and the woman he fell in love with after Virginia's death

Jonathan Norrell and Mr. Strange - Susan Clarke: friend gave it to me, dovegreyreader talked of little else for a month or so...?

We Need To Talk About Kevin - Lionel Shriver: I am too late on this one? No pun intended.

Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen: don't worry, this would be a re-read - but I miss reading Austen, and would like to squeeze in another look

Random Commentary - Dorothy Whipple: a sort of notebook about the novels this wonderful Persephone author was writing; was so excited when I came across it in a secondhand bookshop on last year's Cornwall holiday

One Pair of Hands - Monica Dickens: started reading the first few pages when I should have been reading Chaucer, and found it irresistible.

The Vanishing Act of Esme Lennox - Maggie O'Farrell: saw this on dovegreyreader, is it even published yet?

The Time-Traveller's Wife - Audrey Niffenegger
: another one every else has read; I really should

A Well Full of Leaves - Elizabeth Myers: her letters were my favourite read of last year, so should really delve into the fiction. Something of an outsider, in terms of odds.

The Secret Option...

Tuesday, 17 April 2007

Community Service

It's the end of my first week in the Blogosphere, and thank you all for making me feel so welcome! My clever stats counter tells me I've had visitors from UK, USA, Australia, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Canada, Malaysia and Montenegro... so I'd best stop making my jokes Britain-specific. Oh, before I forget - well done everyone on the Twins In Literature challenge - very impressed, and must seek some out. I do like reading about twins, if only so I can complain how unrealistic the portrayal is...

I don't know about you, but I sometimes feel a little like that cartoon - but in a good way. My 'e-friends' form a lovely book group, but the nearest I get to contact is a computer screen. Which shows both the advantages and shortfalls of this Internet Age - the former outweighing the latter, when it comes to finding likemindedly-bookish people. So, to make the little links on the side make more sense, I thought I'd talk you through the 'People to see...' This won't be news to a lot of you, but... well, humour me. For others - come on, meet my friends and neighbours. Some of them will spell it 'neighbors', but we love them anyway.

Random Jottings - (see pic) I talked about Elaine in my Delafield posting - one of my longest-standing e-friends, and guaranteed to give illuminating conversation on anything to do with Victorian novels or opera. And, of late, she's been branching into Modern Literature (we console each other on having to tread past 1950; she's doing much better than me) - thanks to...

- Is there a man, woman, child or animal who does not know of dovegreyreader, otherwise known as Lynne? Well, I knew her BEFORE the fame. Yes. And one day I will use my connections to advantage. One day. The blogging queen, and hub of the community - the one who will drop in with a tray of biscuits to make sure you're settling in the village.

BlueStalking - The third blog artiste I've known from her younger days as a mere internet-user. Lisa is a librarian-something-or-other-soon-to-be-bona-fide-one, lives out Chicago way, and is an extremely funny lady. Possibly the person with the closest reading taste to mine that I have met... She's also a sports fan. But we can let that pass.

The Carbon Copy - he's actually listed as 'Colin', but you get the picture. Don't be put off by the fact that his website is devoted to a soap opera character; just click the diary button, and be amused by the funniest person I know, and the best (only...) brother I ever had.

Crafty Person
- (see pic) again, known from my days on a book list devoted to Persephone Books, though how Ruth got there I can't imagine - has to be rather cajouled to get through a book, but is wonderfully craft-orientated to make up for it. Some lovely photos.

Cornflower - talking of beautiful pictures, Karen is something of an expert with the camera. Sees the extraordinary in the mundane, and shares many with her visitors - and, of course, is also extremely bookish. Do stop by. Karen also pointed me in the direction of 3191: beautiful photographs taken every morning, by friends 3191 miles apart.

Janice's Reading Diary - (see pic, below) Came across Janice's site while bored and clicking on the 'next blog' function of - very glad I did! Janice puts up images from her reading journal, wonderfully illustrated and collaged. Lots of variety, too - something for everyone, hopefully!

Harriet Devine - more books! Are you spotting a theme? I've only come across Harriet in the last week, so you'll all know more than me - but do get into the draw for a free copy of the wonderful Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman - now!

Daphne Sayed
- Everyone from my Persephone-list days (ongoing days, I might add) seems to have made a blog - Daphne's is quite new, like mine, but she'd welcome visitors nonetheless!

Lost in Translation - Another one that everyone else knows about, but I've only popped in a few times, so I'll just flag up another great place for book-chat.

My Other Haunt - if all the literary talk overwhelms you, all my lowbrow conversation takes place over here... Expect lots on Neighbours, the soap opera.

Phew! Well, tired? Me too. At least you can now put descriptions to (type)faces!

Monday, 16 April 2007

50 Books...

3. The Piano Shop on the Left Bank - Thad Carhart

There is thus far an imbalance towards modern literature on my '50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About' list, which probably won't continue... but today's entry is chosen because I'm rather hoping the suggestee might materialise in the near future...

A very dear friend of mine, Barbara-from-Ludlow, lent a copy of this book to me in 2004, and I adored it. It achieved what twelve years of piano lessons had not done; I fell in love with the piano. That all rather subsided when I failed my next grade, but time is a great healer - and now I am back to celebrate Carhart's work!

On first reading, I thought this was a novel - but closer inspection reveaks that it is in fact (!) non-fiction - but of the sort which teeters on the edge. The best kind, in my opinion. Quite unusually, the 'blurb' on the back is accurate, and thus you shall be treated to it in full:

T.E. Carhart, an American living in Paris, is intrigued by a piano repair shop hidden down a street near his apartment. When he finally gains admittance to the secretive world of the atelier, he finds himself in an enormous glass-roofed workshop filled with dozens of pianos. His love affair with this most magical of instruments and its music is reawakened. Packed with delicate cameos of Parisians and reflections on how pianos work and their glorious history,
The Piano Shop on the Left Bank is an atmospheric and absorbing journey to an older way of life.

Hmm... tails off a little in the truth stakes towards the end. Delicate cameos? Beg pardon? And I must confess 'their glorious history' is packed into one rather dull chapter which I skipped over. But aside from that, this is a beautiful novel, very much a 'love affair' with the instrument. Do check out Cornflower's comments on this book, around the 7th March 2007. I does rather look like I'm stealing her blog wholesale... honest I'm not, guv!

Having said that, the discussion she started re:music lessons rings a bell. I had a nice teacher - Miss Lylah Goodwin, whose most unintentionally brilliant and far-reaching act MUST be lending me Miss Hargraves; more on soooon - but I HATED practising and lessons for a very, very long time. Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife, never ones to overindulge their offspring, proved resistance futile, and I only stopped just before I came to university. Luckily, by then I liked it (my parents were RIGHT? Really?) and this very afternoon I took myself off to one of Magdalen's piano rooms, to hammer out a bit of Bach. Lovely revision break,

I shall add a disclaimer for this book: don't read it if you can't play the piano and really, really wish you could. It'll only frustrate you. Don't get me wrong; I'm not excellent at the ivories by any stretch of the imagination - but if piano-playing is a deepset ambition which has never been fulfilled, this book can only wrankle. Otherwise, you'll love it!

N.B. The cartoon may make no sense to American visitors. Google HSBC and NatWest. It may also make no sense to those with a more sophisticated sense of humour than I...

Sunday, 15 April 2007


It's been a nice, restful Sunday here at Stuck-in-a-book. Church in the morning, followed by a very enjoyable picnic in the University Parks, and then reading books/writing letters/watching a comforting episode of Foyle's War.

All of which has distracted me from the rigours of exam revision. The finals (which start on 14th May, in case you wondered) will cover everything from Pearl-poet (or the Gawain-poet, if you prefer), up until 1836. And at the moment it's all rather interesting, though 'fun' might be an overstatement.

Oxford is something of a site of mystery from the outside, I should think. I certainly felt that way before I joined its hallowed ranks - but the Big Bad Secret is... it's all rather normal. Hope that hasn't dashed anybody's fond Brideshead-related imaginings... but the sad truth is that we're all a little bit dull here. Yup, some of the 'world's experts' tutor - but none of my tutors have been above 35, let alone of the Mad Professor variety. And, do you know, not a single person has been murdered in my college? Perhaps, now that Morse is dead, criminals have stopped bothering. One of the few things, though, which Oxford manages to do well is beauty. Witness the photo at the top...

Oh, and before you feel too many illusions have been shattered, here are some anomalies we DO have:
-for exams, gowns must be worn; mortar boards must be CARRIED, not worn. Wearing them carries a fine of £35.
-when the clocks change, students at Merton walk several times backwards around a quad, drinking port. The tradition started in 1970.
-we only have one designated sport area in Magdalen: the croquet lawn