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

Sunday, 25 October 2009

2009 Mini Challenges: Wrap up

I signed up to this challenge when I saw it over at Caribousmom in January and 10 months later they are all completed. Here is how each one went...
1. Read a collection of short stories and blog about it.
I read Jigs and Reels by Joanne Harris. Click the link to read the review.
2. Read a play and blog about it.
I read Three Jacobean Witchcraft Plays (a bookcrossing find in Liverpool).
3. Read a non fiction book and write a review on your blog.
I read Somewhere Towards the End by Diana Athill. Click the link for the review.
4. Read two essays from the same collection and blog about it.
I read essays by Helene Cixous and Edward Said, both from Modern Literary Theory. Click the links to read the posts.
5. Go to a book event and blog about it.
I went to a one day course called The Hour for Loving: Texts in Time at the Liverpool University Continuing Education Department. Click the course title for the post.
6. Borrow a library book and blog about it.
I borrowed A Vegetable Gardeners Year by Dirty Nails. Click for the review.
7. Read a book by a new to you author. Blog about the book and the author.
I read The Shadow of the Wind by Carlos Ruiz Zafon. Click either the title or author for respective posts.
8. Make a donation, either a contribution to a literary organization or donate a book.
I made a bookcrossing donation. Click the link to read about it.
9. Promote literacy in some way and blog about it.
I organized a bookswap in work. Click the link for the post.
10. Participate in a buddy read or group discussion and blog about it.
I took part in a discussion about The Reader by Bernhard Schlink. Click the link to read how it went.
11. Read a book that is outside your comfort level or from a genre that you don't normally read.
I read The Woman in Black by Susan Hill. Click for the review.
12. Read a classic and write a review on your blog.
I read Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. Click to read the review.
I deliberately picked this challenge because I am not a fast reader so did not want a whole list of books to read on top of the mountainous TBR pile I already have. This challenge enabled me to use some of the books already there as well as put some energy and thought into some events such as the course or the bookswap at work. I have really enjoyed all of it and got to do some things I may not have, had I not taken the challenge up.
Thank you to caribousmom for setting it up.

Sunday, 18 October 2009

A Mercy by Toni Morrison

Bought on a 3 for 2 deal at Waterstones, this novel saved me from my recent reading crisis. It is my third Toni Morrison, having previously read Song of Solomon and Beloved and enjoyed both. Its also quite short at 165 pages.
Set in the 1600's we are told an account of a plantation and of how some of the people who live there came to be there. Some of the chapters are 1st person, some are not.
Florens is taken there as payment for a debt at 8 years old, as a slave, leaving her mother to a harsher existence on another farm. The place is owned by Jacob, an ambitious but fair master, and his hardy wife Rebekka who has escaped a life of poverty in England. They have a Native American servant called Lina, who is protective and suspicious. There is also a young pregnant slave girl called Sorrow, wayward and quiet, she was rescued from a shipwreck.
Each of these people, including two male farm hands, have a chapter or two to tell pieces of a story that knits them all together. The different voices of the characters or the narrator keep the narrative fresh and interesting.
The writing is very typical of Morrison's style, non-linear, elusive and poetic, it often feels as if you may have missed something, as if it assumes a fore-knowledge of events while starting in the middle. You feel that the story is much bigger than what is actually written on the page. It is why Morrison is hailed as a truly great writer, but it is also why some find her novels difficult to connect with. Thankfully I am in the former category and gain a lot from her books. I found some of the passages beautiful and intriguing, and I really feel that Morrison loves the people that she writes about.
I think that a novel written in this style by a less accomplished writer could alienate and distance its readers, but this one, though not quite as moving as Beloved, still raised a lot of emotion in me, especially towards the end, when we hear Florens's mother speak. I also found it a little easier to read, maybe because of the short chapters.
Although the characters are not quite as quirky and memorable as the other books, I really enjoyed it and recommend it to Morrison fans, naturally, and anyone who likes their narrative to be less straight forward and 'spoon-fed'.

Sunday, 11 October 2009

'The Hour for Loving': Texts in Time

Last weekend I attended a one day course at the Liverpool University Continuing Education Department. I have taken part in many courses here before and I enjoy the discussion and variety of subjects that they offer. This one was called The Hour for Loving, concentrating on whether there is a right time for love, using the works of Shakespeare, Austen and Hardy among others to explore this.
Looking at Middlemarch by George Eliot, the timing is wrong for Dorothea and Lydgate. The expectation is there but she is already married. When her husband dies Lydgate has married. Their regard for each other is subtle but prompts the reader to ask 'What if...?'
In Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope her love follows a defined path but there is a lack of fore knowledge in the narrative and it claims that men do not plan their future marriages, it just happens.
We then concentrated on Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy, and how there is a sense of doom throughout the novel, brought about by the narrator who tells the story in retrospect and alludes constantly to the tragedies to come. It is as if Hardy has a ghost plot that runs alongside the actual plot, a story of what may have happened had the timing been right. Hardy's characters have a pre-written destiny which is off set by circumstances, a decision wrongly made, that disables what should have happened. Had Angel Clare asked Tess to dance that very first meeting, everything might have been different. Had the letter not gone underneath the carpet by mistake...etc.etc.
We then went further back in time, to the time of Shakespeare and some of his sonnets (XII, CVI and CXVI). When life expectancies were short we can see references to the immediacy of the timing, when death can come at any moment, so the time is now. If not the death of life, then the death of beauty, although some sonnets tell us that love cannot be confined by time or death, proving that the issue of life expectancy was a prominent issue.
We examined some more characters from Trollope, and also the unrequited love in The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, before spending some time discussing Jane Austens characters, particularly in Persuasion, but nearly all of her heroines have to wait some time before getting together with their true loves, usually changing a little or growing up and accepting those changes.
Obviously this is a very condensed account of everything that came up during the day. There were no set texts for the course because of the wide nature of the subject, and I came away wanting to read some of the books that I hadn't encountered. I got most from the texts that I was familiar with though, Tess, Middlemarch, and I've seen films of Persuasion and The Age of Innocence. It was an enjoyable day and a nice way to spend my day off. Anything that encourages listening and talking about books.
This course counts for #5 of the 2009 mini challenges, to attend a book event.

Sunday, 4 October 2009

September Roundup

The year is gathering speed and the months are flying by. September was a difficult month for reading, a lapse of focus for various reasons, but I am now back on track...
Read - 1 whole book and 2 halves of other books.
Completed -
A Mercy by Toni Morrison
Abandoned - Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Currently Reading - Breakfast at Tiffanys by Truman Capote
TBR pile - 71 (according to Good Reads) with 3 added
The Vagrants by Yiyun Li
The Deeper Secret by Annemarie Postma
Tethered by Amy Mackinnon
Challenges - Signing up to 2 literary courses, one of which is a one day event at the Centre for Lifelong Learning, part of the Continuing Education Department at Liverpool University. This was for #5 of the 2009 Mini Challenges, to attend a book event. The event is called The Hour for Loving and examines how crucial timing is in love within literature, including the works of Shakespeare, Austen and Hardy among others. I attended the event yesterday and will blog about it soon.
The other course is for the new year and I will include details about it nearer the time.
Wishlist additions -
Her Fearful Symmetry by Audrey Niffenegger
Discoveries -
An interesting article about what your bookshelf says about you, thanks to Stuck in a book for the link.
Events -
Signing up for 2 literary courses (see above)
Watching the brilliant Jonathan Pryce and the rest of the cast in The Caretaker by Harold Pinter at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool last night. Very talented, very funny and totally fascinating to watch. Off the wall and brilliant.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye