The true university these days is a collection of books.
-Thomas Carlyle

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Jigs and Reels by Joanne Harris

I bought this book a few years ago because the book group that I was in did 2 of the stories for one of the meetings. I enjoyed them so got the whole collection. I like short stories generally, and especially for book group discussions. I had also heard a lot about Joanne Harris but had not read any of her work.
This collection is an imaginative mix of subjects, all very easy to read, and most are between 10-20 pages long.
It starts with one of the stories I'd already read...Faith and Hope go Shopping, about 2 old ladies breaking free from their rest home to go for a day out in London in pursuit of some red stillettoes from a magazine. I remembered it made me quite misty eyed the first time and did so again. Powerful stuff from a short story.
Not all of them elicited such a strong reaction, and one or two I skim read because they did not grab me so much. There is, however something for everyone here, funny, heartbreaking and shocking. Some of the narrative can take on some imaginative twists too.
Others I particularly liked were :-
Al and Christine's World of Leather, about a sewing circle that branches out into business,
A Place in the Sun about a near future world where you have to apply to sunbathe on a particular beach where only the beautiful can go,
Tea with the Birds about neighbourliness and loneliness,
Come in, Mr Lowry, your number is up about a fastidious man who wins the lottery,
Waiting for Gandalf about role playing games that take a sinister twist,
The Little Mermaid a love story at the local swimming baths,
Eau de Toilette the realities of being a society woman a few centuries ago.
This book would be excellent as a first time short story book, for someone looking for something that is easy to relate to, and not too taxing. Or even as a light holiday read.
Other short story books I would recommend are:-
Drinking Coffee Elsewhere by ZZ Packer
Moments of Reprieve by Primo Levi
The History of the World in 10 1/2 chapters by Julian Barnes.
There is a website that posts a new short story a week called Fifty Two Stories for the whole of 2009 which is definately worth a look too. Thanks to RobAroundBooks for that recommendation!
This book counts for #1 of the 2009 mini challenges to read a collection of short stories.

Saturday, 21 February 2009

Book Swap

Number 9 on the 2009 Mini Challenges is to 'promote literacy'. It leaves it up to you how you want to interpret this so I decided to organise a book swap at work.
I knew that there were quite a few readers at work, so after asking around to see who would be interested, the date was set for Thursday 19th Feb. I did posters and we advertised in the works newsletter, plus there were e-mail reminders.
I was concerned that the whole thing could fall flat and it would be only my books there, but there were about 50 books altogether, from various people, and about 30 found new homes, with the remainder going to Oxfam. What was really nice was listening to people talking about the books on offer...'I've read that one, its really good' or 'I've been after that one for ages' and seeing people clutching there spoils to take home.
During the whole thing I was being asked when the next one would be. Quite a few had meant to bring their books in, even getting them out, but forgot them on the day, and wanted to bring them next time. I hadn't thought about another swap, but because of the interest we are probably going to have one in June. I am hoping that, as people get used to the swap, it should grow, as they remember to collect their books in advance. I also think some colleagues wanted to suss out the response before getting involved. Someone has also offered to bake cakes for the next one too.
All of my books found new homes and I came away with 2 new ones...Hard Times by Charles Dickens and The Turning of the Screw by Henry James.
All in all it went down very positively, with another one planned, and some new books being read and talked about.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Carlos Ruiz Zafon

As part of the 2009 Mini Challenges I read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon for #7 , to read a book by a new to you author. This also was to include a little background to the author...
Zafon was born in 1964 in Barcelona. He has lived in Los Angeles, USA, since 1993 where he not only writes novels but also scripts for screen. All of his novels are written originally in Spanish and there are 6 so far, although The Shadow of the Wind is his first adult novel, the others being for Young Adults, for which he won awards.
The Shadow of the Wind has now been translated into over 30 languages and has won several awards, making him the most successful contemporary Spanish writer. His new novel, The Angel's Game, a prequel to The Shadow of the Wind, will be available in English in the late spring, 2009.
You can read more about the author, his books, his awards and interviews on his website...

Sunday, 8 February 2009

Three Jacobean witchcraft plays

This book was my BookCrossing find from last December. I have read it now, not only because I found issues of marginalising of women as scapegoats during this period interesting during my course while studying Macbeth, but also because it completes #2 of the 2009 mini challenges - to read a play and blog about it. I can also now send the book off on the next leg of its journey.
Witchcraft was a very real problem to the people of the 1600's, and women, usually poor and living on the edges of society, were easy pickings for the rest to use as a scapegoat, should misfortune blight their lives. Fear and gossip would add to the fanciful accusations and help to justify their persecution. It was a common knowledge and belief of the time that the devil could infiltrate their lives with harm through those who were little understood. Some were healers and had experience in midwifery and herbalism. Others were simply elderly, deformed or mentally deficient, and living rough, together or alone. All of these circumstances could be used against them when society needed someone to blame.
There are 3 plays in this book and all of them reveal facets of the beliefs in witchcraft during this period .The one I read most closely was The Witch of Edmonton by William Rowley, Thomas Dekker and John Ford. The plot is quite complicated so I will try and summarize it...
Frank Thorney loves Winnifrede who is pregnant and wants him to do the decent thing and marry her which he does, but there is a problem. His father has forbidden him to marry because he wants to arrange his bride. His father has threatened disinheritance so to get round this Frank has asked Sir Arthur, a local dignitary, to write to him saying he is unmarried while he plots to leave with Winnifrede after he has won his father round. His father, meanwhile, is betrothing his son to Susan Carter, who genuinely loves him, and the marriage will be beneficial to both families. Frank, on meeting his father, totally loses his nerve and agrees to marry Sue in a few days time. There is also an old woman who is persecuted as a witch, Elizabeth Sawyer. Poor and frail, with no family (although a former husband and children are hinted at) she is baited regularly by locals, ostracised and beaten. When the devil appears to her as a dog and offers a chance for revenge she says yes. The dog wreaks its mischief on locals, spoiling crops, turning the milk, but also putting suggestions in their heads. It doesn't really show any loyalty to old mother Sawyer either. Sue knows something is wrong with her new husband and she knows it is to do with Winnifrede, who has also heard of his new marriage and has come disguised as a boy to find out what is going on. Frank, egged on by the dog, murders Sue and blames it on 2 other men. When he is found out he is arrested and so is Mother Sawyer. Both are hanged for their crimes.
This was an interesting plot with lots of layers and sub plots. It has lots of classic Jacobean features of treachery and cross-gender disguise. I found it fascinating how the play depicted the witch character as someone drawn into what she had long been accused of in order to find a way out of her persecution, therefor fulfilling the locals suspicions. I also found it interesting how Frank got all the sympathy at the end when he had behaved badly for most of the play. To be honest the men did not come over at their best in any of the plays in this book.
This is not light bedtime reading and many would find the language difficult. However those who like reading Shakespeare will enjoy this as an alternative. Also anyone into medieval depictions of women will also find this book invaluable. This is an excellent collection of plays for those interested in the period.
You can follow this books progress on the BookCrossing site here.
This completes #2 of the mini challenges 2009 to read a play and blog about it. I read a lot of stage scripts as part of my job but this one seemed quite a rare opportunity not to use it in this instance.

Sunday, 1 February 2009

January Roundup

The engraving on your left is called The Eve of St Agnes by John Everett Millais from 1857. This was made popular by Keat's poem of the same name, about an old tradition where young girls could see a vision of their future husbands by a process of divination on this evening only, the 20th January. It seemed an apt start to my first monthly roundup.
Read - 1 and a half books
Completed - The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon
Currently - I am reading Three Jacobean Witchcraft Plays, my BookCrossing find and trying to organise a staff bookswap in work.
TBR pile - now at 48 books (none added this month)
Challenges - completed #7 of the mini challenges 2009 and I am also up to page 83 of 1000 (on target) of Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell by Susanna Clark, a personal challenge to read 3 pages a day to finish it within a year.
Discoveries - RobAroundBooks... a great blog that I came across while trawling one afternoon.
Wishlist additions -
Mistress of the Art of Death by Ariana Franklin
The Fiction Class by Susan Breen
Out Stealing Horses by Per Petterson
Who has seen the wind by W O Mitchell
The Sparrow by Maria Dona Russell
Breathing Lessons by Anne Tyler
The School of Essential Ingredients by Erica Bauermeister
Unseen by Mari Jungstedt
Events - seeing the wonderful Propeller doing Midsummer Nights Dream and Merchant of Venice at the Liverpool Playhouse...absolutely brilliant. They are currently touring the UK, and also internationally, and you can see the tour dates by clicking here. Highly recommended for all Shakespeare fans but also those who fancy giving Shakespeare a go but have not got round to it.
Re-visited - James Dean in East of Eden, the 1955 film. I ordered it from LoveFilm because it was a long time since I had seen it and I wanted to compare it to the John Steinbeck novel that I read last year. The novel is quite an epic story and the film pretty well uses the last 80 pages or so. Its still a great movie and any excuse to watch James Dean I say!
I can't believe that we are in February already but Spring is on its way in Liverpool and there is lots to look forward to...

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye