Wednesday, 31 October 2007

Ready, Steady...

Just a quick note for those who wanted to join me in reading Fair Play by Tove Jansson - I intend to start in a couple of days! On your marks...

Tuesday, 30 October 2007

Crow Lake

The camera is behaving slightly better today. Nothing I did, so think it's just fickle. The focus modes have all been experimented with beforehand, but thanks for the tips, guys!

I've realised that I haven't yet blogged about Crow Lake by Mary Lawson, so time to get that sorted out. First, I'll let you know the little process taken from having no clue
who or what Mary Lawson is, to being able to blog about Crow Lake. It goes something like this...

1) In the morning wander through the blogs, it goes something like this - Cornflower, Random Jottings, Dovegreyreader, Bluestalking, Booksplease, Crafty Person, A Work In Progress, Books and Cooks, Janice's Reading Diary, Angela Young, anyone else for whom I have time. Hadn't realised until typing that I had such a rigid structure. The 'anyone else' is vast and wide and takes many, many minutes - but before that, this is pretty much the daily round-up. I read to find out what my e-friends have been up to, but also largely for book recommendations. To differing degrees, I know I have shared tastes with these bloggers. If Elaine, Lisa or Karen like something, then I'm going to be interested. Crow Lake, however, started it's Stuck-in-a-Book life as a recommendation on Margaret's blog - she wrote about it here.

2) Books that REALLY excite me go onto the Blue Bit Of Card. Some bloggers, I know, write down almost every book they see recommended - I'm much more picky. Most books have to rely on luck - it's sink or swim. If I remember them, then they get read. If not; obviously we're memorable enough. The Blue Bit Of Card is for when a book looks great, but I don't trust my memory.


3) Usually I trot off to abebooks or Amazon. Crow Lake, again, is different - I found it on the shelves at
Honeypot, a church-linked bookstall/coffee morning/craft-making/gossip that Our Vicar's Wife organises and I was visiting.

4) Almost finished it on the train home!

So, back to the novel. It takes place on two time periods - Kate Morrison is a lecturer, invited to her nephew's 18th birthday party, which starts her thinking about her childhood - the other time period. She lives near Crow Lake in the back of beyond with her brothers Matt and Luke, and toddler sister Bo. When their parents are killed in a car crash, they learn to
fend for themselves. This novel shows the sacrifices each has to make, and the lasting ramifications of these - and the guilt Kate still feels about having a PhD when Matt had to sacrifice his academic futherment. Along the way their lives become entangled with the mysterious Pye family, haunted by years of hatred and violence within previous generations.

Lawson writes with so many character nuances, and is concerned with subtle issues of empathy, sympathy, unity, hope, hopelessness, courage, foolishness, pride, misunderstanding - it's all there, as anyone who's read it must agree. Kate's reunion with her family, along with the reader's gradual understanding of their shared childhood, is tautly emotional and very absorbingly written. The ending and the re-analysis of Kate's feelings demonstrate the most sophisticated writing on Lawson's part, and a truly complex depiction of family and humanity. There are so many categories this novel could fall in which would have put me off - tragic childhood; Southerners-are-salt-of-the-Earth; violence - but Lawson proves that, though a lot of dross may be written in these areas, they can be used brilliantly. Oh, and a lot of it is very funny too. For instance, Kate and Luke trying to teach Bo nursery rhymes for the first time:

'What are the main ones?' (Kate)
'I don't know. Teach her the ones you like best.' (Luke)
I couldn't think of a single one. 'I don't remember any,' I said.
' "Hickory Dickory Dock",' Matt said. He was sitting at the kitchen table writing to Aunt Annie.
Self-consciously I said, 'Say "Hickory Dickory Dock", Bo'
Bo paused in her work and looked at me suspiciously.
'She thinks you've flipped,' Matt said, scribbling away.
I tried again. 'Bo, say "
Hickory Dickory Dock".'
'Icky Dicky Dock,' Bo said brusquely. She looked around her, searching for a particular saucepan.
'Good!' I said. 'That's good, Bo. Now say "The mouse ran up the clock."'
'Dis pan,' Bo said. She seized the largest pan and started whamming the others into it in order of size. She was pretty good at it, too. She didn't make many mistakes.
'She's ignoring you,' Matt said in a pause in the din. 'She's decided you're nuts.'
'Come on, Bo,' I said. '"The mouse ran up the clock."'
'Silly,' Bo said, sparing a moment to wave a stern finger at me.

...

Monday, 29 October 2007

Where Connie Did Next

Sorry that I didn't give anyone a last-chance-warning on the draw for Miss Hargreaves, but it has now been made and a winner has been drawn! I hope you know the responsibility which goes alongside having Connie to stay. She's been in illustrious company - half the list of blogs under 'people to meet' have allowed her a brief visit which extended into a lifelong affection. Once in your head, she'll prove impossible to forget. For those who've yet to make even the most cursory acquaintance, let me direct you to my post about her here. For those who've yet to meet Connie even cursorily, here's a quick summary: 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 ean even duller verger. On the spur of the moment, Norman says he has a shared acquaintance with the parish's beloved ex-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...

Still haven't got my camera fixed, so just imagine that the draw took place underwater. Patch, being of a fluffy disposition, understa
ndably wouldn't like to be underwater - so I'm afraid I used a little box instead. It's quite pretty, but this doesn't come out at all in the picture.



Congratulations to...


For those without supervision, you'll have to trust me that the paper says DANIELLE - well done Danielle!! Book-swap ahoy. If you email me your address to simondavidthomas@yahoo.co.uk, then I'll pop Miss H in the post to you - and I'll send you my address for the surprise package in return! How exciting! Will, of course, let you all know the book for which Connie has gone a-travelling...

Sunday, 28 October 2007

Oh how much more doth beauty beauteous seem

I've just come from a domestic little scene in the kitchen, having rustled up caramel shortbread and rock cakes. I love baking, but it doesn't tend to go entirely smoothly - often because I don't have the exact ingredients and utensils required, and tend to assume that it won't make too much of a difference. Today's caramel shortbread required a shallow baking tin... two candidates stepped forward; a casserole dish and a grill pan. Hmm. Not, as I mentioned, the exact utensils required. In the end I plumped for the correct depth - the grill pan - and realised that this would need rather more shortbread than the recipe stipulated. So far, so good. Made twice the amount, pressed it into an even layer across the greased grill pan (firmly cleaned beforehand, fear not)... and discovered that the grill pan's handle was non-detachable. I.e. the oven door wouldn't close. Quickly scooped up the mixture and put it in the, quite small, casserole dish. Which could only really fit the original recipe, not twice the amount, as I'd made. Ho-hum. Despite charitably eating quite a lot of raw mixture, the shortbread filled the dish when cooked, and had to have the top cut out. And somehow it's not very shortbready - more like a crunchy cake. Good enough. The caramel worked, which is the hardest bit, so I daresay it'll be edible enough.

ANYWAY, can't offer a
photo as my camera is still very blurry - as exemplified by the blurry pictures today. Karen, at Cornflower, wrote the other day about notebooks and diaires and the beauty to be found there. Completely agree - there is something indefinably gorgeous about a really lovely notebook, because it's not just beautiful in and of itself - it also speaks of possiblities, potential. My latest notebook, though, is not space for a novel or blueprints for a cathedral etc, but rather 2008's diary. I blogged about diarising aaages ago, and the past few years I've tried to find beautiful books in which to write, rather than the bog standard ones you can get from The Works. Have experimented with dated/undated; lined/blank; white/coloured pages, and have settled upon blank/undated/white as my favourite. My latest has lines, but wait til you see the outside...



That, ladies and gentlemen, is Mr. William Shakespeare's signature on the front. He missed out the first 'e', but we'll let it slide. The cover of this faux-leather notebook is Shakespeare's writing of the play 'Sir Thomas More' (ok, academics argue that he might not have written the bit commonly attributed to him, but it's the only way we're going to get a self-handwritten copy of any of his writing). Had to buy it, really. Stole that picture from Amazon, but will make up for it by letting you know that you can purchase the notebook from them here. From January, I shall be writing my daily ramblings in there, purging out the dull stuff and keeping the best and most bookish for you lot!

So, if you haven't already commented on Cornflower, and even if you have - do you have this notebook addiction? What is it that links the bookish with notebooks - do we just love books in whatever shape or size they come? And, if you keep a journal, what sort of diary/notebook do you find is best?

Friday, 26 October 2007

Fairly Exciting News

I don't think I've officially announced my exciting news in regards next year, so I shall dedicate a post to it right now. You were going to get new accompanying photographs, but my camera is currently refusing to focus properly. Usually does this when it's tired, so have put it to bed (aka 'charge') and think about what it's done. Or rather, not done.

You probably know that I'm currently working in the Bodleian as a Graduate Trainee, with an eye to going to library school and the
n librarianship. Well, those plans haven't really changed - only maybe postponed for a bit. I've decided to apply to do a Masters at Oxford next year - eep! Twentieth Century English, hopefully with my thesis on domestic/'middlebrow' fiction between the wars and its thematic and stylistic relation to contemporary highbrow lit. I.e. what did Bloomsbury and Devon think of each other? Excited about it - but of course wanting to apply is a long way off getting a place and, importantly, getting funding. Eep again. But what working in a library has told me, perhaps above everything else, is how much I miss studying! Not that I'm not enjoying myself, of course - only I didn't realise how much I'd miss it. I knew I'd long for the student lifestyle, but above all it is the academic side that I yearn for... and I'm not just saying that in case my tutor finds this blog! And hopefully a Masters won't just be my self-indulgence, since it is very helpful if I choose to go into subject librarianship... and who knows, not ruling out the doctorate just yet...

So, those who are sad that they missed Stuck-in-a-Book's degree (and it was almost over by the time I started this blog)... here's hoping that the world of Oxford will be seen through your screens come September 2008!

On a rather more mundane note, I'm afraid recent spamming in the comments has meant I'm going to (try to) include the word verification bit on commenting. Sad. I didn't want to - because it makes it inaccesible for the visually impaired, and I know one visitor is, and it's just irritating - but had half a dozen spam comments today and it'll only get worse. Grr!

Thursday, 25 October 2007

Christmas BOOKings now being taken

It's the 25th, and you know what that means - only two months until Christmas. Yep, usually I'm there with the Grumpy Old Men and complaining that Christmas comes earlier every year, with tinsel going up as soon as the Easter eggs have been melted down for fondue. But I'll make an exception for books, as it's not their fault that marketing has to happen in October. Today I'm going to chat about two different Christmas books - very different, actually, but both worth mentioning.
This week, like a couple of other bloggers, I was sent Lynn Brittney's Christine Kringle, described as a book for children of all ages. All the Gift Bringers from around the world are meeting for the annual Yule Conference, which debates such issues as whether Gift Days should be internationally universalised, or whether women can be become the hereditary Gift Bringer if a Yule family have no male offspring. This is especially important to Christine, daughter of Kriss Kringle, as she has no brothers and wishes to inherit her Yule duty. In the midst of this, the council of Plinkbury, a town in Worcestershire (hurray!) decide to ban Christmas. Off flies Christine and her Japanese and English friends to get Christmas reinstated... An enjoyable book, though not my usual fare, and was delighted to see Worcestershire get in print, as it was my homeland for thirteen years. Can't work out if Plinkbury is based on a genuine town, though... there certainly isn't one of that name. Unsurprising, really.
When I started the book, I was a little dubious at all the national stereotypes. You know - Italians in the Mafia; British sullen; Japanese polite and industrious; Americans saving the day. But Brittney melds these characters into a fun plot which keeps you turning the pages. I do have quibbles with the polemics Christine delivers - as a Christian, I didn't like to see the Christ part of CHRISTmas swept under the carpet so much, quite openly, and I'm too British not to blush at some of the bits about loving ourselves and finding a hero inside every one of us and so forth. But if you're feeling Christmassy and uncynical, give this one a go.

The second Christmas book I wanted to mention is Jostein Gaarder's The
Christmas Mystery, initially published in 1992. The book is divided into 24, being the first twenty-four days of Decemver - like a big advent calendar, in fact. The central character, a little boy called Joachim, is given a mysterious old advent calendar - each day opened provides a slip of paper and a picture. Through the story on the bits of paper, we follow Elisabet as she wends her way through the shepherds and wisemen as they journey towards Christ's Nativity - and Joachim's family try to connect it to the Elisabet who disappeared at Christmas 1948. This is a beautiful book, with mystery and atmosphere and the magic of Christmas without making the festival commercial or saccharine. I read it last year, a chapter a day through advent, and would definitely recommend reading it that way.

Oh, and don't forget you still have a chance to get Miss Hargreaves!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Fancy a Book-Swap?

All sorts of experimentation today... I do apologise if it doesn't work.

Fancy a Book-Swap?

I was wandering into Arcadia, one of my favourite shops in Oxford and one which is mentioned here, and bought a little Penguin paperback, with anticipation of its being sought after with my readers on this blog. And, if you'd like it, leave a comment - or email simondavidthomas@yahoo.co.uk - and I'll make a little draw. To make it fun and reciprocal, all I ask is a paperback-swap i.e. send me anything at all that you think I might want to read, even if it only cost 5p! How's that for a deal?

But what is the book I'm offering, you ask? Well... it's probably got more mention than any other on Stuck-in-a-Book, and is one of my very favourite novels. The video will give the rest away. It took me an age to get it to work, and then I forgot that videos will show you a shot from the middle as their default screen, which rather removed the mystery. But humour me, and play it anyway. I've put a gap in the blog to extend the surprise... If the video fails, then your answer can also be found here.

Tempted?! Remember, just comment or email, then the winner can have a paperback exchange with me.

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Tuesday, 23 October 2007

Old Penguin/New Penguin


Today I'm going to chat about the New Penguins. Or do I mean Old Penguins? Or Penguins experiencing a second childhood? Before you think I've gone all David Attenborough (does that mean anything Across the Pond?) I am talking about the world of publishing. I'm probably not very uptotheminute, but I haven't seen much discussion about the OldNew Penguins across the blogosphere, and thought I'd contribute my tuppenyworth.

For years - ever since I first found an old orange-striped Penguin paperback - I've maligned Penguin's decision to ditch these covers. Yes, they're Penguin Classics covers are often beautiful and well chosen, and I daresay some of their other choices aren't aesthetically unpleasing, but there is no book jacket so distinctive and iconic as the old Penguin strip
es. Moan on, I did, and moan. And, I can only imagine as a direct result of my solitary moaning, Penguin celebrated their birthday by reissuing several recent books in these old covers. Be still, my palpitating heart! Well, not completely still. That would be rather a fatal error.

So I did what any self-respecting bookaholic did, and scurried along to all good bookshops (or at least one of 'em) and beheld a table full of these beauties. Light Blue for big idea; Green for mystery; Orange for fantastic fiction; Pink for distant lands; Dark Blue for real lives; Purple for viewpoints. And in a
buy-one-get-one-half-price offer.

My first choice was quite easy. I've been wanting a copy of Claire Tomalin's Jane Austen : A Life ever since I borrowed Our Vicar's Wife's copy a few years back - and to have a nice purple Penguin copy... But I was determined to get a truly iconic orange Penguin, in which guise so many of my favourite novels have appeared. Hmm... (quick perusal of stall)... well... no, not really... and I don't want that. Haven't heard of that, doesn't look very good... Saw that for 10p the other day...

I came away from the orange Penguins entirely empty-handed. Fantastic Fiction? For each title I either had it, didn't want it, or could get it (in a different cover) for next to nothing in a charity shop. Hmph. So I bought The House at Riverton instead. Great idea, Penguin, but a little more thought in the fiction department, perhaps.

Sunday, 21 October 2007

50 Books...


15. Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead - Barbara Comyns

The early stream of books to include in my 50 Books You Must Read But May Not Have Heard About has slowed to a gradual flow, and that was sort of deliberate. I suppose I didn't want to overwhelm people. This site mentions a lot of books - as you might expect on a literary blog - and also suggest a great deal as being worth reading. I suppose I want to say "Even if you ignore everything else I mention, pay attention to this list." Of course, you're perfectly welcome to ignore the list too, but I'd like you to pay special attention to them if you so wish(!) They're all there for a reason - because they're touching or hilarious or brilliantly written or just very indicative of my taste, and I know that you're unlikely to hear about them unless I mention them.

So, after that little preamble, step forward no. 15 on the list - Barbara Comyns' Who Was Changed and Who Was Dead. Those of you who are more knowledgeable than I will have spotted that the title is from The Fire of Drift-Wood by Longfellow.

We spake of many a vanished scene,
Of what we once had thought and said,
Of what had been, and might have been,
And who was changed, and who was dead;

The only other Comyns I've read was Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, so she certainly has a way with titles. I bought Who Was Changed... a few years ago, partly because I'd quite enjoyed Our Spoons Came From Woolworths, partly because the mix of a Virago paperback and an interesting cover piqued my interest. Had I turned to the first sentence, I daresay I'd have read the novel much sooner: 'The ducks swan through the drawing-room windows.' How can you not want to read on?

The n
ovel opens with a flood, and things get stranger and stranger. If I were to choose one word to describe this novel it would be "surreal" - but surreal in a very grounded manner. Exactly like the cover illustration, actually; part of 'Christ Preaching at Cookham Regatta: Dinner on the Hotel Lawn' by Stanley Spencer. Throughout the events (which I don't want to spoil for you) Comyns weaves a very real, earthy, witty portrait of a village - especially the Willoweed family. A cantankerous old lady who won't step on land she doesn't own, Grandmother Willoweed, rules over her docile son, Ebin, and his young children Emma, Hattie and Dennis. Grandmother W is a truly brilliant creation - without the slightest feeling for anybody around her, she is still amusing rather than demonic. For some reason this novel was banned in Ireland upon publication in 1954 - perhaps for the occasional unblenching descriptions, but these are easily skipped if you, like me, can be a bit squeamish.

Though quite a slim novel - my copy is 146 pages of large type - Comyns writes a book which lingers in the mind, one that is vivid and funny and absurd and a must read for anyone interested in off-the-wall literature with human nature at its heart.

And it's cheap on Amazon.co.uk...

(please do go and read a rather better review on John Self's Asylum blog here.)

Saturday, 20 October 2007

E-Friends?

I have a (free) account with StatCounter.com, and they tell me interesting things like the countries in which I'm being read; the keyword searches which lead to SiaB; the length of time people spend here before getting bored and going away (a startling number stay for '0 seconds'). The other day I noticed a lot had come from normblog... curious, thought I, and pootled off there to find out whys and wherefores.

Well, thank you Elaine! The lovely lady of Random
Jottings has entered the blogging hall of fame, in the form of a normblog profile. Have a look at it here. There are all sorts of questions about blogging, reading, politics, personality and so forth - bits and pieces which you might pick up from her blog, but which are usually in the background. Anyhow, in the course of this interview Elaine mentioned my blog as one of her favourites, hence what we in the business call increased traffic. Shucks, and thanks!

And this got me thinking... Before my blogging
days, as you probably know by now, I was (indeed, still am) a member of a Yahoo group dovegreybooks@yahoogroups.co.uk - it began as a group devoted to those nice grey books I talk about quite a lot, but chatter is often about a whole range of books, which we call 'doveish' for want of a better word. There are only three of us from the day I joined (January 2004) but many past and present are very dear... whats?

That's the point of today's post. What are these people? Well, they're friends of course. I'd count many of you as that, too, of course. Most of you know more about me than colleagues I see everyday, and we certainly have more in common than many people I socialise with - the main reason I blog and am in the Yahoo group is because I love 'meeting' other people who love books like I do. But - or is just me? - do you ever feel embarrassed talking about FRIENDS when you've never met them? The whole thing can sound like people who hold online conventions about cartoon characters, or participate in online dating. Nothing wrong with those things, I daresay, but they're not what we're doing right here. Plus, let's face it, for the most part those things are a little geekier than we're willing to admit to. So... what do I say? At the moment I tend to say "e-friend" in an ironic, very postmodern sort of way. There just isn't the right language yet, or the right social knowledge of this sort of very real friendship.

Language aside, my question for you today is - which e-friend (for want of a better word) have you known the longest? How did you e-meet, and have you met in the Real World? What was it like?


My longest e-friends are mostly in the blogosphere now - Elaine at Random Jottings, Lisa at BlueStalking, and Lynne at Dovegreyreader. The other dovegreybooks Yahoo group member whom I've know since January 2004 is Lyn, who introduced me to it, and thus to a whole different life of reading, and this blog. Ruth, at Crafty People, joined around the same time, I think. I haven't met any of these people, but have met Karen at Cornflower, and Barbara and Jane from dovegreybooks. The former event was lovely, though I'd only been blogging for a fortnight or so, and had only just 'met' Karen online. The latter - met both of them at a book event, by design - was really, really nice. I thought it might be a bit awkward, but we had good fun and, though brief, it was a delight to put a face to a typeface. I don't seek out these meetings, but am not adverse to them if they occur - and think it would be great fun if they happen by coincidence. Doesn't blogging open up a lot of possibilities?!

p.s. for those who read this yesterday - Blogger is now letting me put up sketches again!

Thursday, 18 October 2007

Bokking Thorugh Thrusday

Boking Thrugh Thurssday thsi weke iz abowt speling orr grammer erorrs.

"You may or may not have seen my post at Punctuality Rules Tuesday, about a book I recently bought that had the actual TITLE misspelled on the spine of the book. A glaring typographical error that really (really!) should have been caught. So, using that as a springboard, today’s question: What’s the worst typographical error you’ve ever found in (or on) a book?"


Beeing inn an libary, i seee alot off thiss, thogh its allmost allways acidental. Misslabelling teh syde off volyumes, taht sortov fing. Cant thinc off eny blatent erors inn tituls oar eeven conntents off buks themselfs... all so ca'nt kepe tihs upp four mutch longerer, sew shal tern teh qestion ovver two ewe...?!

Wednesday, 17 October 2007

Not Quite The Booker


Wouldn't you just know it? I start to dabble in the twenty-first century, and the book I read doesn't even win the Booker. That's gratitude for you. Hmph. Well, can't see myself bothering with Anne Enright's The Gathering, even with the accolades of the Booker panel, but I have now read one of the shortlist at least. My library-trainee-chum Lucy, a McEwan aficiando to the death, leant me her copy of On Chesil Beach to see if Ian could redeem himself in my eyes. For the record, my previous experience with Mr. McE goes something like this: Atonement - great, especially the beginning; Enduring Love - amazing opening chapter, kinda tailed off after that; Saturday - umm, what happened Ian? So I'm pleased to say that, while On Chesil Beach isn't particularly like any of the others there, it met with approval from Stuck-in-a-Book and McEwan is back in my good books. There's almost a pun there.

Have now returned Lucy's book, so shall type my thoughts as best I can without it. I'm sure you all know the premise by now - virginal newly-weds Edward and Florence experience an awkward honeymoon, and McEwan uses this tiny canvas to present their lives and the lives of a generation. Two such fully-formed characters he's not written since Briony in Atonement - no cliches (imagine the accent, if you will) or easy portrayals, these are real people experiencing real situations. The only issue I take is that Florence seems like a real person from about 1910, not 1962... feels a bit like McEwan flipped through his Decades of the Twentieth-Century Book and picked the first one which wouldn't have them encumbered by a World War. Still, that's a minor quibble, and we'll let it pass.

McEwan (controversially) called On Chesil Beach a 'novelette'. Controversial because this more or less disqualified him from the Booker shortlist, but somehow they managed to sweep that under the carpet. Whether or not it was wise to label the book thus, I think I agree with the term - if McEwan had only included the honeymoon scenes, then this would be a (long) short story. Since he intersperses these sections with substantial chunks of background, it's more than that, but it still doesn't quite feel like a novel. Usually huge amounts of back story irritate me, and here they weren't always welcome, but generally they are woven in in such a way as give characters deeper dimensions affectively. I certainly didn't want more - the characters' backgrounds offer the central story, almost a vignette, poignancy and integrity, but any attempts to make this a thousand page tome would have lost all the spark and depth.

I shan't spoil the ending - except to say that it is the opposite of Atonement in terms of effect. Much of Atonement examines the consequences of a single action; On Chesil Beach examines the single action and allows the reader to extrapolate the consequences.

Tuesday, 16 October 2007

Six(th) Sentences

Mel, whose little biography dominated yesterday, also brough another website to my attention recently - Six Sentences. Can't decide whether or not it's intended to be a pun on sixth sense - if not, then it should be.

Quite a simple idea - what can you say in six sentences? If the short story is too long for you, then this is the website to which to head. Obviously a single sentence could be infinitely long (discuss) but the contributors take it sensibly,
and use a small canvas to make a big impact. Some famous people have made their efforts known - Sting, Stephen King, Tom Cruise (think some of these are just six sentences stolen from other places, come to think of it...) and Mel George, of course. Haven't written anything myself yet, though I probably will when I've had time to ponder on't - but a fascinating little domain of miniature thoughts, experimenting successfully. Worth checking out in an idle moment - got to be better than day-dreaming, anyway.

And, like that website, today's entry is short. Because my camera is charging, and so I can't do any of the posts I've been thinking about. Will just share an amusing incident from the library today - fresh from tipping a trolley of books over myself yesterday (both librarian and books are in a stable condition) today an oldish man told me cheerfully that "40 years ago what I was doing would be vandalism". Um, ok, except what I was doing was dealing with his enquiry and typing on a computer... left me with a bit of confusion, but all adds to the rich tapestry of life.

Monday, 15 October 2007

Cinderella DOES go to the ball?!

I've always assumed there are some books which one knows psychically.

Well, obviously that's nonsense, but there are all sorts of books which I don't remember having explained to me, but which I knew about, down to most of the plot twists. I'm not just talking boy-gets-girl, I'm talking Jane-Eyre-Madwoman-in-Attic. It would never have occurred to me to put a *SPOILER* warning in front of that, as I might if I were revealing climactic moments of more obscure literature. Sorry if I've spoilt the novel for you... I rather assume that m
ost of my readership know about old Bertha, even if they haven't waded through Gilbert & Gubar. I didn't read Jane Eyre until I was 17 or thereabouts - but I knew the whole plot without, as far as I'm aware, having heard or seen any adaptations. So it was fun, but it wasn't surprising.

Writing yesterday about the Queen's (fictitious) introduction to literature made me think about my friend Mel. She is a very, very dear friend, and hopefully won't mind me writing about her (!) Though a bright lass, she's not as book-obsessed as I am, and some of the classics are still unread for her. That makes it sound like I'v
e read the lot, which is incredibly far from being the case, but Mel still had The Big Three to read. The Big Three are not books I consider to be the best in the world, nor to have a huge amount in common, it's just I've never met anyone who liked one of them without loving the others too. What are they, you ask? Jane Eyre, Rebecca and I Capture the Castle. She's now done all three, and loved them - but the reason I write about it is because she didn't know what would happen next! I had great fun hearing updates on Jane Eyre, with surmises and surprises along the way - what would be in the attic? A deformed son? And they were getting married but half the book seemed to be left - what could go wrong?? What a treat it must be to have a completely fresh introduction to such a classic.

So, any books you've done this with?
Shocked to learn that Elizabeth gets over her prejudice? Astounded that Scrooge turned out not too bad? The nearest I've got is with Rebecca - I knew most of the plot beforehand, but not one important twist. My biggest gasp-out-loud moment came in To The Lighthouse, but I think a fair percentage of you may not have read TTL yet. YET, I say...

Oh, and as an aside - do you, or anyone you know, break my Big Three declaration?!

Sunday, 14 October 2007

Common/Uncommon

Had a lovely time at home, soaking in the countryside, and am now back in my usual blogging spot of Oxford - specifically the desk of the back bedroom in Regent Street. While down in Somerset (or Zumm as I affectionately label it) I was able to offer my lovely Aunt Jacq. a cup of tea, for she also lives in Zumm, and she reciprocated with much more exciting gifts...

No, not my birthday of anything - she just saw them and thought of me. It pays to make your opinions known, doesn't it?! Well, you all know I love Virginia Woolf - and I'd ummmed and ahhhed over the Alan Bennett for a while, glad the choice was made for me.

Haven't used the mug yet, but a car journey too and from Bristol to see The Carbon Copy (the whole Clan together for a few hours at least!) allowed me to read The Uncommon Reader, and greatly did I enjoy it. Haven't read any Alan B before, though did see The History Boys film, and have vague recollections of Talking Heads being on in the car in my younger days. It was great fun - I'm sure everyone knows the plot by now. The Queen bumps into the local library van, and, out of politeness, borrows an Ivy Compton-Burnett. Love her or loathe her (ICB, that is), you have to acknowledge she's not a great one with which to start the long path of literacy:

'She's not a popular author, ma'am'.


'Why, I wonder? I made her a dame'.

Mr Hutchings refrained from saying that this wasn't necessarily the road to the public's heart.

As she pursues more and more books, with the help of kitchen boy Norman who becomes her constant aide, her royal duties start to suffer... This book, as well as being witty and just the right combination of absurd and plausible, also offers some genuine insights into the realm of reading, without being too truism-y. 'I think of literature,' she wrote, 'as a vast country to the far borders of which I am journeying but cannot possibly reach'. Ever felt like that?!!

And just a final word about the sketch. Not a great one today, I'm afraid, so if you need a clue just think 'Bohemian Rhapsody'.

Saturday, 13 October 2007

Book-buying Begins At Home

Every Saturday morning Our Vicar's Wife runs The Honeypot from our garage. Not many people can say that sentence, can they now? The Honeypot is about a year old now, and is a church-linked initiative but open to all, where people can drink coffee, buy goods, get involved with crafty activities, generally natter, and... buy books. Donate them too, of course. Now we have shelves of secondhand books adorning the garage wall, which I raid every time I pop home. Sorry to see that my duplicate copies of Woolf and the Brontes remain in place, alongside a stray Iris Murdoch and an AA Milne - but then not everyone can enjoy my esoteric tastes, and who says Virginia Woolf is necessarily better than Virginia Andrews... euch, I need to wash out my mouth with soap.

Anyway. Today was no different to other Saturdays, and whilst saying hello to the visiting villagers, I managed
to scoop up a handful of books. Set my back £2 for the lot...

- John Banville, The Sea
This counts for having a finger on the pulse, so far as Stuck-in-a-Book is concerned. Won the Booker in 2005, didn't it? And has a pretty cover. Bonus.

-E.F. Benson, The Osbornes
Haven't read any non-Mapp & Lucia books by EFB, so this nice old hardback can slip into the tbr pil
e.

-Doris Lessing, The Sweetest Dream
Now this really is up-to-the-minute stuff. Well, published in 2001, but as you probably all know, Ms. Lessing was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature this week. I read a transcript of her reception of this news, and she sounded ungrateful, but watching it on youtube, she just sounded witty and grounded. Strangely Chick Lit cover for this book, which isn't quite how I remember Memoirs of a Survivor

- Simone de Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter
I feel I should own a copy of this... will I want to read it? Any thoughts?

-
Mary Lawson, Crow Lake
Just as I was going to buy a copy online... great review by Margaret over at Books Please here, which made the novel seem irresistible.


And I thought I'd have nothing to read on the train home...

Friday, 12 October 2007

Flattery will get you everywhere...

Another brief post today - but with a link to a rather longer one. If you just can't get enough of my library burblings, then you're in luck - Lisa (Bluestalking Reader to many of us, and also one of the loveliest people I know) asked me, bless her, to be a guest blogger on a library blog she runs, over in the US. We go back a few years now - on the dovegreybooks online reading group - and she has watched me morph from highschooler to Grown-Up, always with kindness and wittiness and general loveliness. Well, I'm still basking in having been labelled charming by her ;-) Before I descend into a, wholly justified, bout of mutual appreciation, here is my contribution to the blog. Some of it is stuff you've read before, maybe, but if you want to print off and memorise my first few weeks' experience, it's a useful resource. And of course you should have a mosey around the website: lots and lots of interesting things to read about. Her mention of my sketches does, however, make me remember how negligent I've been. Could Do Better.

Thursday, 11 October 2007

Initially...

Back in Somerset now for the weekend, Our Vicar and Our Vicar's Wife and all. Long train journey, on which I finished one book and made good headway through another, and I look forward to seeing the countryside again in the light.

Just a brief ponder today, brought on by talk of L.P. Hartley yesterday - has an author's name, or appellation thereof, ever caused you confusion? I know it probably shouldn't make a difference, but when I discover that an author is male when I thought they were female, or vice
versa, it alters the way I read or think retrospectively of their work. I didn't realise, you see, that LPH was a man until a few months ago - in fact, I was sure he was a she... and, do you know, I became more reluctant to read The Go-Between when I discovered this. Perhaps it's based on the knowledge that I usually prefer books by women, but either way it's a form of bigotry, I suppose, and thus ought to be stamped out... Is bigotry too strong a word? Well, probably. But it definitely makes a difference. Or is this distinction rational? Do you do the same?

Some other authors where confusion has arisen...
- Who didn't think Richmal Crompton was a man when they first read the William books? Many of my friends still don't realise.
- Harper Lee - thought she was a man for years...
- J.K. Rowling - while I always knew Jo was a woman, this is an example of initials being used for deliberate ambiguity, so that boys would be happy to read Harry Potter.
- D.H. Lawrence - another one I got wrong for a few years... but having read a couple of his books, it could never have been a woman could it, really?
- P.L. Travers - another poor woman whose gender was assumed otherwise by my younger self

Then there are those with whom I never had trouble - or perhaps just guessed correctly. P.G. Wodehouse, L.M. Montgomery, L.M. Alcott, C.S. Lewis, A.A. Milne, E.M. Delafield, J.R.R. Tolkein... is there something about these that ties them to their gender, or did I just guess luckily? And which authors do you accidentally gender-realign?!

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

P.s.

A few people were having trouble accessing Our Vicar's Wife's blog... all should be well now!

The Answer Is...

Well, I sort of cheated, because I've already talked about this book this week - but not a I've-finished-it review yet. The book was...


The Go-Between. It was rather hiding on the shelf too, wasn't it. This split posting gives me a chance to answer some of the questions you lovely people put earlier! The anonymouses are confusing me rather, as I try and work out which is whom... would help if anonymous people signed their name, though of course they may prefer the intrigue and mystery... your prerogative! So, anonymous numero uno, yes I do shelve my tbr (to be read) books and my read books together... well, since most of my books are in Somerset I've brought tbrs, favourites, and books I want to blog about. I know it's methodical to shelve them separately, but I like the idea of them mingling - the books I've encountered jumbled up with ones which are yet foreign countries.

Which leads me nicely to the opening line of The Go-Between: 'The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there'. As I read somewhere else this week, what makes this sentence so memorable and evocative is the present tense for the past - 'they do', not 'they did'. Clever, LP Hartley.

And from the first line onwards, this novel was a delight.
Hartley breaks all sorts of rules - don't have the main action of your novel take place after a huge preamble; don't have it all as flashback etc. etc... and he still produces a wonderful novel. The prologue begins with a man finding his old diary, and reminiscing from there, remembering more and more of what happened decades ago. I knew vaguely what the plot was, so I knew that the schooldays bit couldn't last for very long - from the picture of Julie Christie on the front, if nothing else. And soon enough Leo heads off to Marcus' for the holidays, in a very upper class house and family to which he feels foreign and inferior. Gradually he finds his role in the web - as the go-between, taking notes between Marian and her two love interests; Hugh (think Mr. Bingley) and Ted (think Mellors without the accent).

Shan't spoil the ending of the main novel for those who don't want to know, but will just say that it manages to be a big surprise without sacrificing emotion to sensation. Ditto the epilogue. Throughout Hartley writes so well - that quality which I can't put my finger on, but can only describe as thick, treacley, substantial... Oh, and there is documenting of a cricket match which Ian McEwan should have read before he wrote the interminable squash match in Saturday.

Carole askes why I love this sort of novel so much - well, the 1900-1950ish domestic novel, I suppose. Ermm... Good question. The period was the first when ordinary lives and ordinary incidents became fodder for novels, and good domestic novels tread the line between whimsy and common sense perfectly, and often very wittily. Ideal.

Guess Which?

Oh dear, it's crept past midnight again (though I am trying to deceive the computer into thinking it's still Tuesday... we'll see if it works). And I'm very sleepy, so you'll have to prepare yourself for a book review tomorrow - to whet your appetite, I'll show you a photo of a bit of my bookshelf. The book I'll be reviewing is one of those in the picture... guess which. Not too tricky, perhaps, but means you get both text, photo and interactivity without me having to use my brain at all.


Sunday, 7 October 2007

BAFAB - the results are in!

Patch the Wonder Dog wasn't feeling quite as athletic as last time, but offered to help this time's BAFAB in a more adminastratorial position. I pointed out that adminastratorial wasn't a word, but he assured me that it was - or at least very soon will be. Please try and use it in conversation within the next week.

So, rather than rolling around in sellotaped bits of old paperchains, Patch wielded pen and paper...


And then selected the one winner...


Which is...


Congratulations Karen! We had two Karens entering the draw, but this is the one from verbatim.blogs.com. Just select one of the thirteen-so-far books in my 50 Books You Must Read..., and I'll pop it in the post to you. My reviews of them are all links in the list, so should help make a decision... Then email me at simondavidthomas@yahoo.co.uk and we'll sort it out from there...

Thanks for entering BAFAB, everyone - more next time!

Bookcases Do Furnish A Room


Ow. I have just performed the most exercise since... well, at least eight years. And it took much longer than I anticipated - which is why today's post has slipped over into Sunday. Oops!

No, I haven't run a marathon or won the rugby world cup (topical, no?) Yes, I have battled with the tester of mental and physical agili
ty which Argos label a 'bookcase'. It took about three hours. I have genuine blisters. But it got done. Some will suggest that giving up on screwing in screws, and lunging at them with a hammer instead, is a short-sighted and foolish measure. To these people may I repeat - blisters. And the bookcase hasn't fallen down yet.

So here it is - looks simple, doesn't it? At least the instructions were in English, unlike some Ikea bookcases I've purchased. And a tent I tried to put up a while ago appeared to have instructions in Polish or Dutch or something that was of minimal use to me - though doubtless swathes of Poles or Dutchmen have successfully put up enough to keep fields of campers dry. Oh, and the list is purely photographic-angle stuff, promise.

More importantly, on go the books. Only a small fraction of my books came with me to Oxford. Which brings me to the question of ordering - this can raise strong opinions from people. Harriet recently shelved some books in colour order - something which looks beautiful, but which I think is only practical in the home and should never be attemped by anyone trying to sell books; how am I to know where to look?! My friend Barbara-from-Ludlow arranges many of hers in subject/period/tone etc. in a very personal system which means everything is with companionable neighbours, as it were. What did I go for? Alphabetical, I'm afraid. The librarian in me coming through, isn't it? There are slight twists - separate shelf for Persephone Books and one for my beautiful Jane Austens. Sorry the titles and spines aren't very clear in the photo - I think it's because it's past midnight, and thus dark... and another day without a sketch, but I think the image of me putting this contraption together is quite amusing enough without further illustration.

BAFAB draw tomorrow - or, rather, later today - so very last chance to enter: here!

Thursday, 4 October 2007

Fancy reading a book?

Our Vicar's Wife was very touched to have lots of you pop over to visit her, so do keep saying hello! Carole asked me if Our Vicar would complete the family of bloggers... well, we can ask him, but I'm not sure he'll take the bait. We'll see.

I mentioned my Book Group the other day - well, our next meet-up is November 13th, and we nominated potential books for a poll. At the moment my suggestion, Tove Jansson's Fair Play, is winning, with 7 votes to 2. Looking likely that it will prevail, and I thought I'd take the opportunity to extend the group to all readers of S-i-a-B as well. Fancy joining in?


I've not read Fair Play, but loved A Summer Book and The Winter Book by Jansson, also author of the Moomin books. Her writing is beautiful and evocative and did I mention beautiful? It;s about two woman growing old together on an island, I think... "philosophically calm - and discreetly radical" according to the blurb. Would be great if people fancied reading it before November 13th and sharing their views, so that I can take a barrage of opinions along to the book group! If you want to, then it's here for Amazon UK, and currently in the buy-one-get-one-half-price in Borders... Sorry US-residents, you might have to take sneakier routes.

What fun!

Wednesday, 3 October 2007

P.S.

ehonyaku, I don't remember you posting before - would love to know which books you've bought from seeing them here, and what you thought of them!?

Not much to report...


What with working, and my hectic social life (ahem), it is often night time before I get the chance to write on here, and consequently I am sometimes dead on my feet and not able to produce much in the way of literary chatter - nor sketches. I don't know if anyone is missing them ardently (can one miss something ardently?) but they shall be back, fear not. Possibly if I ever get around to thinking ahead about my blog posts.

So this will be by way of a catch up, and a few bits and piec
es. Not a lot to tax the mind.

First of all, blog news. You've heard about The Clan a fair amount - Our Vicar, Our Vicar's Wife, The Carbon Copy and, of course, Stuck-in-a-Book. Until now only The Carbon Copy and I had blogs (his is under the pseudonym 'Colin' in my links). I discovered a few days ago that
Our Vicar's Wife had secretly started a blog over at Windows Live Spaces, which you should be able to find here. It may be one of those where you have to sign in, or something, but give it a whirl anyway - I'm sure she'd love you to pop by. I stole the picture from Flickr (that is legal, isn't it?), but it seemed appropriate.

Secondly, my friend Maggie has resumed her blog Apprentice Book Counter - again, pop along to the links on the left hand side, and catch up with ABC. It's been four months of hard work on her part, so I'm sure she'll have plenty to share!

Today I got an email from Fiona Robyn, and thought I'd let you know about her book A Year of Question. It's non-fiction, about recognising the truly valuable things in life, and... well, the website will describe it best. Not my usual reading fare, but thought I'd bring it to the attention of anyone likely to have their interest piqued.

What else? The Freshers have arrived in Oxford, and I spent the morning extolling the virutes of the library service to people in Freshers' Fair. Bless them - glad not to be in their shoes again.

Back with proper news again at some point, promise. Right now I need to sleep for a hundred years - but I think my alarm clock has a different agenda.




Tuesday, 2 October 2007

Tender is the Night

The Tenderness of Wolves had two connotations in my mind before I'd even read the first page, and neither of them are very relevant or reverent to the book. Firstly, The Carbon Copy supports the English football team Wolverhampton Wanderers, which is abbreviated to Wolves by all and especially sundry. Though I no longer share an abode with him, I still think of Wolves as essentially a football team.

More in my own territory, the word 'tender' has connections with As Time Goes By. Anyone else love this sitcom starring Judi Dench and Geoffrey Palmer? Essentially very little happens, but it happens with a charm and wit which is unparalleled. The Hardcastles are given a county house, the gardener of which is called Lol Ferris - and he, for several series, refers to Jean (Judi Dench) as being 'a tender woman'. So there you go - I started this novel with images of an overweight gardener and eleven men in football kits. Shockingly, none of these played pivotal roles in Stef Penney's novel, which we discussed at Book Group tonight. It was my first week at this book group, which has only had three meetings in total, and I thoroughly enjoyed it - friendly and interesting people, nice pub. I wasn't even the Token Male, which I was in my previous book group! Three of us - a whole third of those present, in fact.

So, what did I think of The Tenderness of Wolves? Really enjoyed it. Penney's writing impressed me - nothing irritates me more than authors showing off about their research (I'm looking at you, Dan Brown... oh, and you, Mr. McEwan, for Saturday at least) - Penney had obviously done a lot of research, but never made this more important than plot or character. My main qualms with the novel were of genre - it never quite decided if it was detective, romance or literary fiction. Of course, it can be all of the above, but this left a few areas of dissatisfaction. The novel is essentially a murder, the consequent seeking for the culprit, with passages of discovery for pretty much everyone.
That sounds awful, but it really wasn't - Penney was great at making trekking through the snow interesting. Lucky, since a good three hundred pages are devoted to it - if she can make this fairly compulsive reading, then must be a good writer. Worth checking out.

I wonder how many modern books I've read this year... dovegreyreader had better be proud...

Don't forget to enter BAFAB!

Monday, 1 October 2007

So They Say...

I'm sure most of you have been in this situation: you want to tell someone a funny quotation you've read, only you can't remember the book, author, page or even the quotation properly. You end up saying "and then it was something screamingly witty about chutney" and your friend fakes a smile, before changing the topic? Don't lie, I know you've been there.

Well, books of quotations are all very well in their place, and indeed can be invaluable resources, but won't have those quirky little gems you've found in a book few others will have read. That's why I started this little fellow; a wee notebook of quotations jotted down when I come across them. Haven't used it much for the past few years, but popped one in from The Go-Between today: "I was in love with the exceptional, and ready to sacrifice all normal happenings to it". What a good description of excitable delirium.


Some other favourites from there - some famous, some not so:

"People always live for ever when there is any annuity to be paid them"
Sense and Sensibility - Jane Austen

"I could not say I like music, Mr. Huntley. Music is air to me. Without it, I could not live"
"H'm. I feel just the same about food, so we've something in common".
Miss Hargreaves - Frank Baker

"You can't expect a cat to know manners like a Christian"
Agnes Grey - Anne Bronte

'Most smiles express either benevolence or gaiety; but Mr. Boswell's did neither. It was a mere extension of the mouth.'
Discipline - Mary Brunton

'Simon was at the age when he imagined that everyone around him took an intense and generally malevolent interest in his doings.'
The Gypsy's Baby - Richmal Crompton

"We had some dear friends in India, who went on to Singapore once, and they liked it very much. The wife, I'm sorry to say, was drowned in a boating accident there. That rather spoiled their stay."
Mrs. Harter - E. M. Delafield

'She respected her husband in the same way as she respected the General Post office, as something large, secure, and fixed; and though she knew the small numbers of his talents she appreciated his abstract value as a male.'
Dubliners - James Joyce

'The writer's art consists above all in making us forget that he uses words'.
Principles of Psychology - William James

'It is true when you are by yourself and you think about life, it is always sad. All that excitement and so on has a way of suddenly leaving you, and it's as though, in the silence, somebody called your name, and your heard your name for the first time.'
'At the Bay' - Katherine Mansfield

'Prissy felt a little cheated; as one does, for instance, when someone in a book goes out at a door on the right, whereas in one's mind the door has been all the time on the left'.
Tea With Mr. Rochester - Frances Towers

'Sam had many excellent qualities, but he did not in the least resemble a potted gernaium.'
Sam The Sudden - P. G. Wodehouse

'There were young men who read, lying in shallow arm-chairs, holding their books as if they had hold in their hands of something that would see them through; they being in torment, coming from midland towns, clergymen's sons'.
Jacob's Room - Virginia Woolf (writing about me, it seems, as a midland clergyman's son!)