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

Saturday, 24 December 2011

Merry Christmas

Next year it is the 200th anniversary of the birth of Charles Dickens and there are lots of events to celebrate this during 2012 (click the link to see more.

Love him or not, you cannot deny his influence on our experience of Christmas today, with the Victorian imagery and many brilliant versions of A Christmas Carol and Scrooge to watch. I ran into the Alastair Sim film a few days ago and I never tire of the story.

I am also looking forward to watching the BBC's Great Expectations with Gillian Anderson as Miss Haversham, starting on British TV next week. I was surprised by how much I loved reading it as a novel.

Charles Dickens had strong links to my home town Liverpool. Visiting it often, it is said that he loved the city and there are some streets in Toxteth named after his characters...Pickwick Street, Macawber Street, Dombey Street, Pecksniff, Nickleby, Copperfield, Dickens and Dorrit Street (where my Grandad lived when he was a boy!). A lasting testament to the authors regard for Liverpool.

It seemed right to include Dickens in this Christmas message.

Wishing you all a happy and peaceful Christmas

Monday, 12 December 2011

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

It has taken me a year to complete this book in stages and after last months Irony and Revulsion in Kipling and Conrad and Waiting: James's Last Novels I am covering the last 2 chapters here today.

Chapter 18 - Wyndham Lewis

Wyndham Lewis has been thought of by some as the 'most Modernist of Modernists' (p277), innovative, fascinated by negativity, using wide subject matter. Particularly interested in characters who were apart from others he often used the adjective 'acrid' to describe them and made it his own. Descriptions of these revolting personalities incorporated physical details similar to Conrad and his fat men. Their shapelessness is revolting. He includes a character who exposes himself to a woman, an act that is not driven by sexuality or violence, but instantly abhorrent in a nauseating manner.

In Enemy of the Stars Lewis explores distasteful relationships by presenting us with two male friends who continually antagonise each other. This antagonism is what bonds them together. Samuel Beckett drew our attention to 'pseudo-couples' and their use in literature (a device Beckett used in many of his plays) and Lewis' male characters fulfill this description. Their disgust with themselves and each other leads to physical violence. Their fury leads to a distasteful conclusion where one of them is stabbed. Lewis also uses laughter to illustrate revolting characteristics in his novels.

Dickens was also interested in negative characters and uses of description, but he used them as the antithesis of goodness and righteousness. Lewis was interested in negative characteristics for themselves. He thought that disgust or amusement were the only elements to make a character count.

In the novel Tarr he uses mysogeny, with many distasteful rants against women imparted by the characters. Women are opposite to men, more fluid and indeterminate, more messy according to Lewis' characters. Modernism did not invent degenerate characters (see Shakespeare's plays or Rembrandt's paintings) but it certainly took them to another level. Lewis' novels went beyond James, Conrad and Kipling. Complex irony involved a comedy element that had not been explored to this extent before. Modernist artists and writers had demanded effort from the public to appreciate their art form. Writers and artists in the post-modern era became even more candid in their treatment of desire and disgust.

Chapter 19 - Stephen Hero and Bloom the Obscure

David Trotter suggests that the two motives behind Modernism were to appeal to a more varied market for fiction by increasing effort in the reader in return for more intense experience, and a need for a new set of subjects and experiences with the back drop of economic, social or political change. The novel said to represent all of this is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce. Exploring character development it incorporates desire and disgust. Trotter compares other works by Joyce as to their innovation and Modernist traits to illustrate the development of Modernist ideas.

Contemporary works that illustrate the above points include...

By Wyndham Lewis -

Enemy of the Stars

The Wild Body


By James Joyce -

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man


In conclusion

Far from being a chore, this book has been a pleasure to read, very thorough, exploring themes in detail without becoming bogged down in remes of examples. It did not matter that I had not read all of the books mentioned but I do think some background reading is necessary to get a base to start with. There were plenty of surprises and lots to learn along the way, and structuring this into notes each month has helped the information to bed in more successfully. I would consider doing something similar with another book from this range in the future (I already have my eye on a title) and I am glad that a previously dormant book on my shelf has been put to good use. I am really glad that I read this book and completed my own challenge to do so all those months ago when I found it on my shelf.

Friday, 2 December 2011

November Roundup

Remembrance day is such a huge presence during November, and especially from an artistic point of view, the poppies, photos, paintings, music (the emotional Nimrod by Elgar for one), and of course the literary works, most famously the poetry. I find it very emotive and very important for all of our generations.

On to the books...

Read - half a book

Completed - none

Currently Reading -

The House of the Spirits by Isabel Allende (which I am really enjoying even though I am being rather slow)

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox

TBR Pile - Still at 109 (according to GoodReads), same as last month.

Challenges -

Still reading Isabel Allende for #4 of my own 2011 challenges

I have covered the penultimate 2 chapters 16 and 17 of my literary theory book The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 that I am making notes on each month.

Wishlist Additions -

The Lake Shore Limited by Sue Miller

A Gathering Storm by Rachel Hore

The Snow Child by Eowyn Ivey

The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman

The Lost and Forgotten Languages of Shanghai: A Novel by Ruiyan Xu

Discoveries -

To Be Shelved, a blog about book covers, bookshelves and publications.

Events -

I totally missed the deadline to sign up for the Book Bloggers Holiday Swap this year which I was gutted about because I loved it last year. I hope those who remembered to sign up enjoy it as much as I did last year.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

On the home run with this book now. After covering Disgust and Henry James' Odd Women last month, it is time to move on to the penultimate 2 chapters.

This month it is chapters 16 and 17 that I will make notes on.

Chapter 16 - Irony and Revulsion in Kipling and Conrad

This chapter examines, through many references to the novels of both of these authors, the use of irony and revulsion together, which was typical of the time. Revulsion, either in the characters or the reader can isolate and destroy 'social cohesiveness', whereas irony, with its 'mutual understanding' binds characters, or reader and characters together. The use of both can not only balance a piece of writing, but make it much more interesting.

Kipling wrote many books about torture, examining detachment and in particular the torturers point of view. Descriptions of the victims deliberately arouse disgust, and beyond any irony, isolating them further, reducing them to nothing. Clearly this can evoke powerful feelings in the reader (I found some of the passages very difficult to read). How detached can the reader be? At the time, some of the passages in his books were considered to be 'excessive' and Kipling himself described as 'rather nasty' a scene involving a leper in 'The Mark of the Beast', in a collection called Life's Handicap written in 1891. Kipling continually identifies with the torturer in the numerous torture scenes he writes about. In other stories revulsion is imparted through mixed race relationships, something Kipling felt strongly about.

Conrad concentrates more on using physicality to evoke revulsion, particularly 'fat greasy men' (p253) of which there are many in his books, and are afforded long distasteful descriptions that centre on the blurring of physical identity, generically, culturally or otherwise, by the conditions of obesity.

Conrad also writes about torture on occasion, but unlike Kipling, he includes the victims point of view.

Chapter 17 - Waiting: James's Last Novels

Kipling, Conrad and James all wrote about impurity and exclusion, but whereas Kipling and Conrad continued along this vein, James changed direction and in his last novels and wrote about lives changed by desire and the vulgarities that he saw therein.

In all of these novels run themes of waiting, lateness, being held up, at railway stations, for meetings etc., 'because everyone must learn to wait in a book about desire' (p268). The theme of delays and waiting are used to high effect in The Ambassadors where a male character struggles with his sexuality, missing encounters with women in a novel where 'He will always be too late' (p271). Self-suppression becomes the only way for him in an exploration of desire. It is here that his secret homosexuality is disgusting to him and waiting itself is the meaning and the point.

In The Golden Bowl we have a female protagonist who keeps herself waiting for the Prince's return, an endless wait that she chooses, and that James uses to convey feelings of desire and frustration.

Contemporary works that illustrate the above points include...

By Rudyard Kipling -

Traffics and Discoveries

Life's Handicap (particularly 'The Mark of the Beast')

Plain Tales from the Hills

A Diversity of Creatures (particularly 'Sea Constables')

Weir of Hermiston

By Joseph Conrad -


Almayer's Folly

An Outcast of the Islands

Lord Jim

The Secret Agent

Heart of Darkness

By Henry James -

The Wings of the Dove

The Ambassadors

The Golden Bowl

Look out for the last 2 chapters from this excellent Literary Theory book next month.

Tuesday, 15 November 2011

Tender: Volume I by Nigel Slater

I don't think that I have recommended a cook book before. I do grow veg in my garden, not much, but enough to use in cooking, and there is nothing better than planning a dish around ingredients that you have grown yourself.

I came across this book in the kitchen of one of our friends at the farm that I work on once a year in Devon. A substantial book the size of a decent house brick, it has a presence before you open it. Inside there is a healthy mix of writing in short headed paragraphs and lovely photographs. Each chapter is dedicated to a vegetable that you may grow yourself. It begins with a personal appreciation of that vegetable by the author, diary and tips on growing it, uses in the kitchen, what it likes to share a plate with, and then recipes to try.

Nigel Slaters prose has a gentle reverence that is never sycophantic, and often a humourous tone relaying the realities of gardening and cooking. He tells us about how he dug over his town house garden and filled it with fruit and vegetables, some of which were successful, others not so much.

I was drawn to the book on the shelf and when I opened it I wanted a copy straight away. It is a treasure, something practical, but also a good bedside read too. I have found it inspiring, full of ideas and beautiful too, just like my own garden.

If you like to use your own produce, or just fancy growing a few edibles yourself, you could do worse than this book.

I have already asked Father Christmas for Volume II which is all about fruit.

You can read more about Tender: Volume I by using the link.

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

October Roundup

I love pumpkins and I have one of my own ripening in the window. He still has a couple of green freckles but is nearly orange all over. It has been great seeing him grow from a seed out of last years Halloween Pumpkin.

On to the books...

Read - 1 and a quarter books.

Completed - The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Currently Reading -

The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox

TBR Pile - Now at 109 (according to GoodReads) with no novels added in October

Challenges -

Finished The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton for #2 of my own 2011 challenges.

Reading The House of the Spirits by Isabelle Allende for #4 of my own 2011 challenges.

I have covered chapters 14 and 15 of The English Novel in History 1895-1920, the Literary Theory book I have been making notes on each month.

Wishlist Additions - Amazingly, after loads last month, there have been none in October.

Discoveries -

The 365 Penguin Classics to Read Before you Die daily calendar

Book Swept a blog that combines pictures, book titles and quotes in a very innovative and beautiful way.

Events -

World Book Night is taking applications for givers on next years event. Use the link to see the 100 most popular books voted for on the site.

Autumn brings warm evenings by the fire, perfect for spending time with a book. Winter is just around the corner, I see lots of reading time coming.

Wednesday, 26 October 2011

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

Steaming through this Literary Theory book that I found unread at the beginning of the year, it is time for the next two chapters.
We covered Awakenings and Sex Novels in September. We now move on to chapters 14 and 15...
Chapter 14 - Disgust
While sex was being used to sell books, feelings of disgust were also being used in literature of the day to provoke reaction in the reader, particularly in the popular genre of detective stories. Disgust is an involuntary reaction, complete and spontaneous, and often influenced by cultural parameters. Different cultures find different things disgusting.
A good example is the description of an open wound on the drivers leg as he transports Tess and Angel to their wedding in Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy. It is deliberately placed by the author, especially as Tess and Angel cannot see it, but we as readers are made to think on it as something out of place. We instantly react to it, and Hardy clearly uses it as a literary device.
Disgust was also used to distinguish class, with lowly work having its own sights and smells giving rise to reaction, and a certain elevation of feeling in the higher classes. Revulsion can also signify change of character for the worst, or as a reaction by another character. We cannot control our feelings of disgust and this gave authors a 'point of entry into the subconscious'. (p217).
Reactions of disgust come into their own in detective novels, describing violence, death or bad character. Death was central to these novels instead of sex, and the physical disgust of a corpse is mirrored by the moral disgust of a murder, and these are powerful emotions to use. Murders are messy, hinting at violence, inciting horror and also fascination. Corpses are dirty and the detective has to sift through the dirt to solve the murder. The detective, in contrast, like Sherlock Holmes, is emotionally unattached, clinically precise and very British. The epitome of deduction and control, and therefore the antithesis of the chaos of crime.
Chapter 15 - Henry James's Odd Women
Henry James wanted to expand his literary prowess by attempting to write from the point of view of characters most unlike himself. So during 1896 and 1899 he wrote a series of novels from a womans viewpoint.
An obvious example of these novels is The Turn of the Screw, a ghost story provoking horror and revulsion, and told through the point of view of the governess employed to take charge of two children in a seemingly haunted house.
There are arguments that this is not a ghost story, but one of hysteria and sexual repression, but James' own notebooks concentrate on the feeling of evil and corruption from across a divide. The devil is duplicitous and the 'two devils' in James' novel replicate this. Also there is the repetition of possession as the children become the medium for the two ghosts. Horror can be connected to disgust and James was clearly intrigued by this.
In The Turn of the Screw and also What Maisie Knew both used social and sexual vulgarity, of 'classes mingling promiscuously' (p241) to evoke feelings of disgust. The women in these novels are vulnerable because they stand at the gate through which vulgarity pours. Their strength in this position does not count. Other than their refusal of desire and revulsion they are denied their own identity. This makes them unique in the fiction of the period.
Contemporary works that illustrate the above points include...
Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Sherlock Holmes novels of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
The Turn of the Screw by Henry James
What Maisie Knew by Henry James
The next two chapters will be covered in November.

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Our Sweet Little Time: a year in haiku by Hamish Ironside

It has been a while since I recommended a Haiku poetry book and indeed since I got a new one. Inpress Books are an online bookstore for independent publishers and have a great collection of Haiku books. The prices are reasonable with free postage in the UK and now they also operate a loyalty scheme.

Every now and then they e-mail me promotions and it was from one of these that I picked up on this little treasure. It follows a year in Hamish's life, month by month, in Haiku poems and accompanied by illustrations by Barnaby Richards. The poems offer snapshots, thoughts and observations of monthly events, including the birth of his daughter.

This is a lovely book, I love contemporary Haiku and I found many of these already among my favourites. The book as a whole is a complete set of intricate parts that fit so well together.

The best Haiku are those that, for 3 lines, can provoke emotional reactions. Even when their subject is sad the best ones can issue a warmth from the strength of feeling in such a tiny compact form. There are many of these in this book.

I love Haiku and have done for a long time. Our Sweet Little Time is an excellent and welcome addition to my collection and I will dip into it often.

Recommended for Haiku fans, and also for those new to this form of poetry.

You can check out the British Haiku Society by following the link.

You can also read excellent Haiku poetry online at sites such as The Herons Nest.

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

This was one of the titles I received on the Book Blogger Holiday Swap from last Christmas. Annabel Gaskel from Gaskella was my Secret Santa and the book was one of a number of goodies that made their way to my house. I started it while I was on holiday in Sweden and I have wanted to read it for some time.

Set in New York during the late 19th century, the novel follows the tightly knitted and highly constrictive society of the rich and privileged, governed by manners, etiquette and duty. This is a world where nothing is said outright, communication is subtle and with few surprises. Their lives are mapped out for them, and their biggest fear is any kind of discrepancy that would mean a blight on their families good name.

The narrator explains the intricate hierarchy of families while introducing us to the main players while attending the opera. Our main character, Newland Archer, handsome, successful and from a respected family, is soon to announce his engagement to May Welland, pretty, dutiful and from another good family, when the arrival of her cousin Ellen, throws a cat among the pigeons. The Countess Ellen Olenska, beautiful with bohemian leanings, was a childhood friend of Newland's, but has lived in Europe after marrying a Russian Count. Ellen's return, after the breakdown of her marriage, causes the New Yorkers tongues to wag, especially as her ways are not those of the families she had left behind. As her family try to support her, while limiting the damage her presence can do to them, Newland and May agree to bring their engagement forward in order to deflect public opinions of Ellen. Newland, however, has begun to question the constraints of duty and longs for a freer view away from duty. When he is asked, as a lawyer, to advise the Countess against seeking a divorce, an act that would do untold damage to her and taint her family, Newland finds himself becoming helplessly drawn to Ellen, and she to him.

I started this book not knowing how I would find it. I saw the movie with Daniel Day Lewis and Michelle Pfeiffer years ago, so I knew it was not an action packed affair, relying on the agonies of restraint, suppressed passion and the unsaid. A few people have said that they had to suffer its boredom on college literature courses, so I was very pleasantly surprised to find a lot of humour right at the beginning, while the narrator gives us a wry view of the great and the good. I found myself reading passages out to friends because I found it unexpectedly funny. The names are fantastic...Newland Archer, Lawrence Lefferts, Sillerton Jackson, and there seems to be a constant twinkle in the eye of the storyteller.

The sumptuous interiors of the houses and the expectations in behaviour are fascinating, and as alien as an anthropological study of an ancient tribe from a rainforest. Where this novel shone for me was the breathless intensity of forbidden feeling between Newland and Ellen, and the stifling lack of honest expression between Newland and May.

There were times where this compression of feeling was painful. On leaving Ellen after a brief meeting, where his feelings, as yet inexpressed and new, threaten to engulf him, this is a man who is surrounded by those who frown on feeling anything much,

'He bent and laid his lips on her hands, which were cold and lifeless. She drew them away, and he turned to the door, found his coat and hat under the faint gas-light of the hall, and plunged out into the winter night bursting with the belated eloquance of the inarticulate.'

The language is elegant and succinct, and I enjoyed reading this book very much because of it. I am guessing it was the suppression of feeling that made you, the reader, feel so much when it was alluded to. It is clear that Newland adores Ellen, it is shouting out of him, silently. His examination of his feelings for May are equally painful.

This is not a book for those who like pace and movement. It is populated by detail and stiff characters, dictated to by endless tradition. I can see why some, who are made to read it, view it with dread and boredom. I however really enjoyed it. Its lack of outer feeling made me feel so much. It reminded me of Jane Austen's witty and detailed examinations of the well off. I liked the historic setting, in a world changing so fast and desperately hanging on to their values for fear of any alternative.

Recommended for classics fans and those who enjoy historic society novels, and Jane Austen fans looking for something different.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

September Roundup

I was hoping to post as usual last week but a nasty cold waylaid me and I find myself at the end of another month. It is my favourite time of year and I often feel hugely nostalgic because I have vivid memories of going back to school wrapped up against wind and rain, kicking through leaves, when I was a child. Now I am older autumn means moving from the garden to spend more time in the kitchen, baking, preserving and making hearty meals.

But how has the reading been going?...

Read - 3/4 of my book

Completed - none, but I'm not far off

Currently Reading - The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox

TBR Pile - still at 110 (according to GoodReads) with no more added this month after a lot of new books in august.

Challenges -

I am close to the end of The Age of Innocence which was #2 on my personal challenges this year.

I covered chapters 12 and 13 in The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920, the literary theory book that I have been making notes on each month.

Wishlist Additions -

The Leper by Sigmund Brouwer

Mice by Gordon Reece

The Secret World of Slugs and Snails: Life in the Very Slow Lane by George Gordon

The Contagious Power of Thinking by David Hamilton

The Taker by Alma Katsu

The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern

Salvage the Bones by Jesmyn Ward

Discoveries -

The Literary Gift Company, a website that sells the ideal gifts for your book reading friends and family.

Events -

This years Chapter and Verse Literary Festival starts at the Bluecoat in Liverpool on the 12th to 17th October.

Hopefully there will be a few more books under the belt by the end of October.

Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Bits and Pieces

This fantastic map has the names of 181 British authors all over it, forming the places that they are associated with, and you can buy it at The Literary Gift Company as a poster. You can also see it in more detail too. It may help with decisions for our future literary holiday locations. There is also a USA version, and the website has brilliant gift ideas for anyone who loves books.

The Bluecoat Centre in Liverpool is hosting its Chapter and Verse Literature Festival from the 13th to 17th October. The festival is following the theme of 'A New England' this year. There are various talks, debates and workshops taking place.

I went to see the new Jane Eyre Film last week. It is one of my favourite books so I do not tire of watching a new movie or TV version. This one is really beautifully shot, atmospheric with gorgeous locations. Mostly enjoyable but there is something missing between Rochester and Jane here. Their relationship seems rushed and inevident, in a story that thrives on sexual tension and hidden passion, I just did not feel it which was a shame.

Bloomsbury have an extensive part of their website dedicated to reading groups, including reading group guides to many books that are worth checking out, if only to see which ones you have read.

Finally, I am still reading The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton and loving it. I have wanted to read it for ages and it is not disappointing so far. Look out for my review when I have finished it.

Tuesday, 13 September 2011

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920

After a little break during August I am back on schedule with this Literary Theory book that I have been making notes on each month.

We covered Englishness and Spies in July so it is time to cover chapter 12 in Part II and chapter 13 in Part III.

Chapter 12 - Awakenings

Books that sold a minimum of 50, 000 copies were known as a bestseller but this was not always a good label. They did however promise more than entertainment, and this could have been in the form of spirituality or instruction of faith. Sexuality could sell books as long as it was presented as regenerative. Regeneration could be acheived if the character was saved from a kind of inertia resulting in lack of character. In the female character this was the bland condemnation caused by marriage or spinsterhood. Awakening of desire in females was considered to be powerful and essential at the same time, but more dangerous and less contained within the bounds of social and literary decency.

As the numbers of female readers grew the liberation of modern young women in fiction ensured a bestseller. Desert romances became popular, telling the stories of violent sexuality and mysticism in the French Sahara. The muscular desert men will make the city female all woman. Acknowledgement and celebration of desire are where these novels are closest to serious fiction. E M Forster and D H Lawrence both explored the awakening of desire in women. and exploit the romantic stereotype to this end, exploring as well as denigrating it. Romance needed to be broken to acheive sexual awakening in women. Mystycism supercedes romance.

There are parallels between Freuds studies on the sexual fantasies in women and Lawrence's novels, particularly The Rainbow and Women in Love, polarities of character which develop sexual maturity. There is also a lot of imagery involving horses, being broken in violently, like the women, or stallions being ridden by women. Lawrence criticises 'half-heartedness' or a 'sort of rottenness in the will' in womens characters. This degeneration can be reversed by a sexual awakening.

Part III The Psychopathology of Modernism

Chapter 13 - Sex Novels

There were 2 preoccupations in fiction at the end of the 19th century, desire and disgust, and the Edwardians were no strangers to either. There was however more attention being bestowed upon these elements at this time. The prominence of regeneration theories ensured an equal amount of attention given to 'rottenness' and 'images of monstrosity' (p197), Mr Hyde, Moriarty, Count Dracula, the picture of Dorian Gray and Kurtz in the jungle, are just some examples. However Edward Garnett (a literary advisor) advised that sex novels were valuable because they challenged the norm.

There were two movements of this type of novel: the first being New Woman novels of the 1890's which were seen as a threat to the institution of marriage. The second wave was linked to the suffrage movement around 1905. Sex novels should not be too closely allied with the womens movement however, but the exploration of women's sexuality was prominent, and causing a lot of controversy.

The most ambitious and influential novel regarding a female character, who not only found herself in sexually charged situations and consequences, but also elicited a sexual response from every male character and the narrator as well, was Tess from Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles.

Another contraversial book at the time was The Blue Lagoon by H de Vere Stacpoole, about an adolescent boy and girl shipwrecked on an island. Sexual gratification takes place, unusually, before any real desire, being a mechanical instinct in the first instance. Desire and exploration comes later, making this novel a departure from convention.

Representing the body in new ways was another angle that the Edwardian writers took. Erotic detail came out of minute detail. The Victorians had become preoccupied with scars in description, expressing moral identity. The Edwardians developed this as a provocation to desire giving 'bodies a new presence in fiction' (p203). There was also the offence caused by H G well's Ann Veronica because a woman made advances to a man.

Morality was increasingly being regulated by the state, with many initiatives being born to clean up any influences that were thought to be amoral. Criminal law was being used to reform public morality and erotic fiction became a target with lots of outcry and bannings. Censorship was not a government concern so pressure had to be exerted by the public.

It seems that passages were taken from books and paraded as amoral, but many of these were taken out of context. Lesbian undertones, alluded to in The Rainbow by Lawrence for example, were assumed by the author to be explainable by characteristic context, but the opposition did not see the passages in this way.

Any writing that included sexual activity as a means of procreation were seen as justified, it was recognition of sexuality that was frowned upon. Sex was not to be equated with pleasure. Terrorism, spies and perversion were all seen as social decay and therefore a threat to society and the human race.

Contemporary works that illustrate the above points include...

A Room with a View by E M Forster

Women in Love and The Rainbow by D H Lawrence

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

The Blue Lagoon by H. de Vere Stacpoole

Ann Veronica by H G Wells

The Awakening by Kate Chopin

Look out for the next 2 chapters in October!

Tuesday, 6 September 2011

One Day by David Nicholls

This book has proved quite a hit on our novel holidays, being a recommendation and a lucky dip choice, so when someone else, who came with us this year, bought it for me last Christmas, it seemed appropriate to read it while away in Dorset. I thought I would finish it there, but actually finished it in Sweden.

Telling the story of Dexter and Emma, who meet on the last day of university in 1988 and remain friends over the next 20 years, we catch up with them on the same day each year, 15th July, St Swithins Day. As each chapter ends you jump another year ahead for the next one, and find out what is happening with them both and their relationship with each other.

Told with lots of humour, and wry observations of couples in the modern age, the concept of advancing a whole year with each chapter invites cliff hangers, pre-empting of plot, and lots of anticipation in the reader. It is a clever ploy, and works excellently here. The book is clever without being over complicated.

The ease with which the pages turn allows you to bond with both characters completely. You feel as if you know them, or have known someone like them, and become involved very early on. We are allowed into their secret feelings and will them together. Some of the other characters are very well developed too, Dexters mother, Emma's excrutiating boyfriend Ian, or the robotically imperfect Sylvie, making this book a very satisfying read. It is not slushy or sentimental, but identifiable, funny and engaging.

I really enjoyed taking Emma and Dexter on both of my holidays. In fact it was the perfect holiday book, easy to read, as well as to put down and pick up. I laughed out loud a couple of times, and there was a chapter near the end that made me cry openly. The nostalgia from the 1980s and '90s was also a pleasure, and the last chapters completed the book really well. Someone I work with was also reading it at the same time and we shared some of the same scenes that stuck in our minds. It is now out as a film so it will be interesting to see how they have interpreted it.

I really enjoyed it and will recommend it. I would also love to read another by the same author. If you are in the mood for something warm and moving, spanning life in England from the 1980's, not too taxing but very entertaining, then give this book a go.

You can read about this book and the others by David Nicholls on his website by using the link.

Wednesday, 31 August 2011

August Roundup

My apologies for my absence for a few weeks, I have been on holiday in Sweden and spent some of my time trekking these handsome beasts (picture from Spot Sweden). I stayed in a wonderful place called Kolarbyn, where you stay in small huts in the woods, and the moose safari was organised through Wild Sweden. Highly recommended as an unusual and very beautiful place to stay. I also visited a friend who lives there, had a few nights in a log cabin on a lake, and got quite a bit of reading done too.

Read - one and a quarter books

Completed - One Day by David Nichols

Currently Reading -

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox
The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

TBR Pile - currently at 110 (Gulp!) according to GoodReads, with 8 books added this month...

Thanks for the Memories by Cecilia Ahern

Night Road by Kristin Hannah

Trespass by Rose Tremain

The Brightest Star in the Sky by Marian Keyes

The Hireling by L P Hartley

The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seirstadt

The End of Mr Y by Scarlett Thomas

The Last Elf by Silvana de Mari

Challenges - with my 2 holidays and therefore being away for most of August I haven't managed much on the challenge front, including my Literary Theory book I have been making notes on. Hopefully I will be back up to speed with this in September. I have started The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton, #2 of my own challenges.

Wishlist Additions -

The Fish Can Sing by Halldor Laxness

Discoveries - Another good book blog I have discovered is Ready When You Are CB. Take a look at the link.

Events - The big event in August was this years Novel Holiday, Thomas Hardy and lovely Dorset for a week.

Not strictly a literary event, but the holiday in Sweden included a stay in woodland that was straight out of every fairy story that I read when I was a child. The kind of woodland thick with trees, moss covering the floor, quiet, mysterious, and full of mushrooms.

The year is turning, September is on its way...

Monday, 15 August 2011

Thomas Hardy holiday in Dorset

This years Novel Holiday took a group of 6 of us to Dorset to explore the haunts of Thomas Hardy while examining one of his novels - The Woodlanders. We also covered Tinkers by Paul Harding and On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan.

The cottage here (courtesy of an article in the London Evening Standard about Hardy's Dorset) is where Hardy lived, in Higher Bockhampton during his early life, and it really is as beautiful as it appears. It is just over a week ago since we started our Hardy exploration and this was our first destination. Right on the edge of Puddletown Woods it was a really lovely start. I had total garden envy.We also went to Max Gate, the house he designed and where he spent his latter years, and also Stinsford Church where his heart is buried (his ashes are in Poets Corner in Westminster Cathedral in London). All of these locations were very close together, on the edge of Dorchester (Casterbridge in nis novels) and do-able in one day.

We had spent about an hour and a half discussing The Woodlanders the day before, while sitting in the late summer sunshine, in the garden of our holiday cottage in Netherbury. We talked about so many things, including 'Did Giles even deserve Grace?' to 'Romanticism or Darwinism in the descriptions of the Woods?'. Of course we also talked about whether we loved it or hated it, and whether we would read any more Hardy. We unanimously loved Marty, and were frustrated with Grace, many of us feeling she needed a good slap. A few of us also wanted to slap Giles, but most of us elicited a sigh when he was mentioned, especially when Rufus Sewell from the film came into it. Sigh! It was a lively discussion and a great book to talk about.

We also visited Chesil Beach and almost got blown away, it was so windy, but quite atmospheric. It was difficult to walk on the shingle and we all agreed that there was no way that Florence would manage to run far along it in the novel. We had talked it over in the conservatory that morning. Tinkers also provoked interesting debate, being both a vivid and also an ethereal read.

Of course we did many other things during the week...Mapperton Gardens, Cerne Abbas Giant and many lovely walks around Netherbury.

It was an excellent week, Dorset was totally beautiful, as was our lovely cottage in Netherbury, and we ate, drank and talked loads. My thanks to my friends who made it a brilliant week.

We are currently looking into possible locations for next year! So many to choose from...

Monday, 1 August 2011

July Roundup

Lovely Calendula flowers and so easy to grow. Their colour never fails to make me smile.

Time to recap everything bookish for July...

Read - 1 and a quarter books.

Completed - The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

Currently Reading -

One Day by David Nichols

Watching the English: The Hidden Rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

TBR Pile - Currently at 102 (according to GoodReads) with one book added...

The Road by Cormac McCarthy

Challenges - made notes on chapters 10 and 11 from The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 the literary theory book I am summarising each month. Look out for the next 2 chapters during August.

Wishlist Additions -

The Hearing Trumpet by Luis Bunuel

The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud

The Giver by Lois Lowry

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

Discoveries - lots of interesting things about The Woodlanders during my research for our Thomas Hardy literary holiday next week, some of which I will share when I post about it after I get home.

Events - Watching One Summer, the fantastic TV series from 1983, that I first saw when I was 14 and now have on DVD. Starring James Hazeldine, David Morrissey and Spencer Leigh it is probably the most influential TV series I have ever seen, and has not disappointed 28 years later.

Off to Dorset on friday, back the following week when I will let you know how all things Thomas Hardy went.

Monday, 25 July 2011

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

The old hardback version of this book that I have, not dissimilar to the copy pictured here, is a 1939 edition and it came in a box of old books given to me by a friend. It has a preface written in it by Thomas Hardy himself in April 1912. It is my third Hardy novel, the others being Far from the Madding Crowd (studied twice, read at least 3 times, much loved), and Jude the Obscure (read once which was enough, very good but hard going), although I feel as if I have read more having seen many TV and film versions of his novels. This title is the set Hardy novel for my literary holiday in Dorset in a few weeks.

Set in the deep woods of 19th century England, this story tells of the inhabitants of Little Hintock, their interactions with each other and their essential relationship with the woodland around them. We have Giles Winterbourne, stalwart and loyal, respected by those around him, a worker in the woods with a unique understanding of the trees that he works on. Giles loves Grace Melbury, daughter of George Melbury, who had sent her to an expensive school to learn how to be a lady and better herself. Edred Fitzpiers is the unconventional young doctor from a rich family, Felice Charmond is the rich widow inhabiting the nearby manor house with a taste for young men, and Marty South is the poor young worker, who stays on the sidelines but plays a central part in the plot.

This is a story about relationships, promises, marriage and thwarted love. It is also a contemplation of the beauty of old woodlands and the tiny microcosm of society within them. All of Hardy's novels explore a disappearing way of life, rural traditions practiced away from the towns and cities, but this one seems even more so. It is as if the people in this novel are entirely seperate from any other society, and the trees close up around them, sealing them in.

Hardy's novels are not known for their cheeriness, although to say they are without humour would be misleading, and this story has its fair share of tragedy and heartbreak. Hardy is most memorable when exploring missed love affairs through circumstance or bad timing, and all of the agonies of the 'what ifs?...' that he evokes in the reader, and this one uses all of this to excellent effect.

I really enjoyed inhabiting their woodland haven with them, following their days as they walk among the trees. The woods are a tangible character throughout and form some of the most memorable imagery. The story was easier than Jude with a well rounded feel to it, very moving and beautiful to read. The last few paragraphs touched a nerve and had me gulping back tears. Grace is not like Hardy's stronger females such as Tess or Bathsheba, but I really liked Giles, and I think Marty gets my favourite character award due to the skillful writing as she is not in it very often.

One of the easier Hardy novels, though not without sadness, and a must for English classic fans or those who love rural novels as I do. I look forward to discussing it on holiday.

The Thomas Hardy Society is a good place to call in on for Hardy fans.

There is also an interesting article titled Hardy's Romanticism in The Woodlanders if you wish to read further.

Monday, 18 July 2011

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920

Time for the next 2 chapters of this literary theory book that I rediscovered unread earlier on this year and hope to comment on each month.

Last month we covered Declension and Frontiers. We now move on to chapters 10 and 11 of Part II on Nation and Society.

Chapter 10 - Englishness

England had a strong sense of itself, its own identity, and it had emerged from its national attributes, 'political, legal and administrative stability, and a widely intelligible vernacular.' (p154) With the expansion of England into Britain and a rapidly growing industrialisation, cultural images and narratives of a sense of nation became more important. It is believed that this emphasis on Englishness was responsible for a decline in 'entrepeneurial spirit' and a rise in literary criticism at the time.

The Boer War was blamed for a change in perceptions away from country born intelligence to city based intelligence. Urban life was destroying the race and only a return to living off the land would reintroduce our identity. In literature, historical depth was needed, and Rudyard Kipling explored this along with a return to ancient dialects and regional language patterns to continue nationality. Language was seen to be degenerating with the loss of Anglo Saxon. William Barnes, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Ezra Pound all championed the return of Anglo Saxon vigour.

Barnes thought that Latin and French words had weakened the English language, and the purest English was in Wessex, the furthest from international influence. Hardy and Kipling embraced the Wessex dialect to authenticate characters.

Along with connections to ancient speech patterns was a fascination for ancient architecture. Stonehenge, Avebury, Silbury Hill and other ancient places enhanced a feeling of understanding of an old, wise knowledge that belonged to England, and authors used them to create an accessible magic.

Englishness was beginning to enter the realms of fantasy, no more so than in those who adopted the act of being English. A famous example of the time was Ford Madox Ford, author, poet and editor of literary journals. He spoke with a pronounced precision, claimed a connection with the land and the simple life, medievalism, adopted Toryism, became a cricket enthusiast and the ways of the old school tie. Yet his origins were German, his real surname was Hueffer. It was a performance, validating itself in an emphasis on tradition over the new. It shook up perceptions of being English. Hueffer wrote extensively about Englishness but warned about 'the Heart of England' being an illusion developed by people in cities seeking a more traditional source of national identity.

Chapter 11 - Spies

Patriotism continued in the form of the popular spy novels but here the emphasis is on protecting the national identity from outside influences. The genre replaced the imperial adventure stories as anxieties moved from frontiers to Great Power rivalry.

It is not coincidence that spy novels arose at the same time as the British Secret Service, and its leader was convinced of an invasion by the Germans. To reaffirm his suspicions literature came to his aid. Popular caricatures can often be mistaken for real people. These novels also became heavily didactic as the secret agent became a 'symbol of stability' in a world that was quickly changing.

Where the sensation novels of the 1860's emphasised anxieties of bigamy, or wrongful incarciration in lunatic asylums, the 1880's brought terrorism in the form of the Fenian bombings. Terrorism was international and brought to the fore the fact that Britain was part of a big scary world and not an isolated island bubble. Terrorists were secretive and once a member you could not leave. They were driven by ancient grudges and insults, killing for revenge. Any invasion would be impossible without an influx of spies, living among us, ordinary lives waiting for instruction to wreak havoc. Such a situation, emphasising enigma rather than battles, needed a new type of hero, a sleepy Englishman thrown into an extraordinary situation, having to save not just himself but his country too. Luxurious and high up places provided sophisticated settings for these novels. The threat to England widened as paranoia grew, and E Phillips Oppenheim as well as other authors, became interested in secret societies as the spy novel gained influence.

Lord Baden Powell likened spying to scouting, adventure for anyone tired of life. The thrilling occupations of a spy were a national regenerator and John Buchan's character Richard Hannay embodied that. He was 'nomadic, protean, occasionally violent, a symbol of the instability needed to revitalize a complacent, suburbanized society'. (p180)

Contemporary works that illustrate the above points include...

She and Kim by Rudyard Kipling

The Secret Places of the Heart by H G Wells

England, My England by D H Lawrence

The Heart of the Country and The Spirit of the People by Ford Madox Hueffer

The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan

Four Just Men by Edgar Wallace

The Mysterious Mr Sabin and The Great Impersonation by E Phillips Oppenheim

Just to let you know this post has come out later than planned because after spending 2 hours composing it some days ago, on publishing it something happened and the entire post was wiped with no trace. Gutting!

Please look out for the next 2 chapters some time next month

Monday, 4 July 2011

June Roundup

The famous Liverpool Everyman Theatre closed its doors for a few years while it is being rebuilt and Hope St hosted a whole day of commemorative events on saturday so that the public could say goodbye to the present building, which has played a part in many up and coming careers like Pete Postlethwaite, David Morrissey, Jonathan Pryce, Julie Walters, Bill Nighy among so many others. Slung Low ran the proceedings and gave our present Everyman a good send off. It was a great and very moving day for everyone there.

On to the bookish side of things from June...

Read - 1 and a half books

Completed - Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

Currently Reading -

The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy

Watching the English: The hidden rules of English Behaviour by Kate Fox

The English Novel in History 1895-1920 by David Trotter

TBR pile - currently at 102 (according to GoodReads) with 3 more added...

The House at Riverton by Kate Morton

Out of the Woods by Will Cohu

The Passage by Justin Cronin

Challenges - summarised chapters 8 and 9 from The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920, the literary theory book I am reading each month.

Wishlist Additions -

The Upright Piano Player by David Abbott

The Astral by Kate Christensen

The Reservoir by John Milliken Thompson

Don't Breathe A Word by Jennifer McMahon

The Hardy Tree by Iphigenia Baal

Discoveries - The Taxi of Knowledge initiative that is taking place in Cairo. Read about the taxis that are carrying books in them for passengers to read.

On that note, we move onward through July...

Monday, 27 June 2011

Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk

I was lent this novel by a friend. She didn't tell me much about it other than it was by the author who wrote Fight Club and I should read it. I got an inkling that she had not altogether enjoyed reading about the main character. I have not read anything else by the author but I loved the movie of Fight Club so I figured it was going to be an interesting one.

Once again this year I was reading a book about a former member of an enclosed religious cult now let loose on the modern world (see Whit by Iain Banks) but it is there that any similarity between the books ends. What one tells you in great detail, the other uses language to hint at, allowing the reader to fill in the rest.

This is the story about Tender Branson, told by himself, as he hurtles deliberately to earth, alone on a jet soon to run out of fuel, recording his life on the Black Box recorder. A former home help hired out by his community, who have now committed mass suicide, he is one of the few hundred survivors of the cult, and the number is dwindling further due to cult member guilt and a murderer popping off the survivors. Soon our narrator is the only one left and becomes an evangelising celebrity sucked into the shallow world of fame and lies.

The book is intriguing from the start with the chapters and pages counting backwards. The narration is punchy, glib, and economical with words and information while we can fill in the gaps readily with our own observations on the image driven modern life of the West.

Tender Branson is not a loveable character, in fact I didn't care a whole lot about his fate at all. Seriously warped by his constrictive upbringing and then the banality of the outside world, he gets off on advertising his own phone number as a help line for the desperate so he can listen to their suicidal rantings. When, on his encouragement, one of them does himself in, he obsesses about finding his burial place. Enter Fertility Hollis, the victims sister, who can predict future disasters, and the plot goes off on several tangents at once, advancing our protagonist through many bizarre and extreme scenarios, before hurtling towards its conclusion.

This book is driven by comedy, not realism, and it takes everything that is bad about Western society, multiplies it by fifty, and gives us it back to laugh at and be appalled by it. We recognise this world but it has mutated to an alarming proportion. It is fast paced with multiple plot strands. Some of the strands end up ridiculously off-kilter.

This is not a book I would have read ordinarily so I enjoyed the refreshing angle, the unusual setup and the narrative which I thought was clever and suited the comment it was making. I did find that it lost pace in the second half though, and the ending just went nowhere so felt as if it ended abruptly with no surprises. Please be warned, if you are easily offended, have a staid sense of humour or have issues with suicide or extreme behaviour, this is not the book for you. However if you like Fight Club the movie you will certainly get the authors style, and if you want a satirical comment on how absurd aspects of our lives, especially driven by the media, have become, then this book will entertain. I will be careful who I recommend it to, but I have recommended it already.

A totally bonkers ride with scarily resonant messages, however extreme.

You can check out Survivor on Chuck Palahniuk's website by using the link.

There are quotes from Survivor, use the link, but remember, there will be spoilers.

Sunday, 19 June 2011

The English Novel in History 1895-1920

Here are the notes on the next 2 chapters from this book that I found earlier this year and am serialising throughout 2011.

Last month we covered The Relevance of Ulysses and Degeneration. We now move onto chapters 8 and 9 in Part II of the book about Nation and Society.

Chapter 8 -Declension

The short era of the slum novel was coming to an end by the 1890's, leaving Zola behind for the 'romance' of Dickens and his depictions of the more 'cheerful' aspects of the poorer classes. At the same time a new class was emerging from the areas quickly becoming the suburbs, spreading out from London's centre and the major industrial centres, as well as coastal resorts now easily accessible by railway. This new 'tribe' of city dwellers was of special interest to the cultural anthropologists, and was also composed of avid novel readers, too leading to a flourishing fictional genre that 'celebrated or gently mocked suburban lifestyles and values', (p129). The characteristic most obvious from such writing was the monotony of suburbia, the elimination of variety, producing a certain type of person that denied differences, or sense of community. We no longer seemed to witness a society united by common human bonds, but one that thrived now on individual capacity and desire. This uniformity could be viewed in 2 ways, the Dickens view of benevolence, or the Ruskin view of pettiness and destruction.

Authors Arnold Bennett and Virginia Woolf took opposing views about characterisation at this time. Woolf embraced the new concepts of identity and their depiction in literature, Bennett felt that she neglected depth of character while trying to be clever in her writing. Woolf rejected the traditional tools and conventions of portrayal, preferring to convey character through 'poetic awareness'. In Modern Fiction, the more aware someone is of their own identity, the more representable they become. Modernism itself has been said to be a 'poetic of awareness' (133).

Bennett on the other hand preferred to use the differences between people as essential to their portrayal. These differences, particularly between gender, were key to Bennett's characters.

Where there is awareness of character, there must also be unawareness. Bennett championed the right to a characters unawareness. This required a new type of plot. Traditional English novel writing had included revelations throughout as a character develops, and prejudice and habits make way for a when the 'naked self confronts a naked world' (p135). Layers of character needed to be stripped away to reveal the truth, the final transformation. Bennett found himself between 2 traditions, so a new plot was formed, to illustrate a personality that does not develop, that is stuck in a kind of inertia and unable to progress. Bennett called this type of personality, one 'not shaped by development or degeneration' (137), as 'declension', and few people in his novels escaped it. 'Declension involves a gradual loss of energy, will, presence, significance.', (p137).

Hysteria during the 19th century was considered to be a serious disablement, mainly in women, due to hormonal attributes that could run genetically through families, as portrayed in Zola's novels regarding members of the same family's degenerational characters. Whereas Zola would portray Nana's degeneration into hysteria, Bennett took the Freudian stance in his novels, of hysteria brought on by a traumatic incident, in the form of declension instead. Sinclair, Joyce, Lawrence and Mansfield all use this basis for their stories of declension.

Chapter 9 - Frontiers

In opposition to realism came romance and during our modern era of writing romance had new territories, that of empire. Anxieties about society and degeneration were explored in naturalist novels, anxieties about the decline of Empire were explored in romance. Imperialism was having to reassert itself amongst so much competition from other countries wanting the same resources. This regeneration was the source of a lot of reproduction in our culture.

Studies on colonization have revealed that far from moving the colonizers identity abroad, as was often the intention, the reality was a new identity formed out of survival in the colonies and adapting to the new conditions. Renewal or regeneration of identity was also seen as a threat, reinforcing the conviction of the West in decline. Colonial experience however, was to provide writers with fascinating new angles and comparisons to use in their work, even for an anti-Imperialist writer like Henry James.

America had already embraced the regeneration of individual and collective identity with its own frontier myths. In 1893 Frederick Jackson Turner read his paper to the American Historical Association, stating that 'American social development has been continually beginning over again on the frontier. This perennial rebirth, this fluidity of American life, this expansion westward with its new opportunities, its continuous touch with the simplicity of primitive society, furnish the forces dominating American character.' (p145). As the Americans have had to readapt to the new conditions of the perpetually moving frontier, so must Europeans adapt to influences as they march across continents with their own frontiers. However, the British novels, unlike the American writing, illustrate the process of renewal, strength out of weakness. This renewal can be emotional as well as political.

Writers were now taking their characters, exhausted and purposeless, who would have descended into degeneration, to new territories where they can find new identities through emotional and political commitment. The only way to complicate this narrative was to mix up the two in one novel, as A.E.W. Mason did in The Four Feathers.

Contemporary works that illustrate the above points include...

Howards End by E M Forster

Clayhanger and Hilda Lessways by Arnold Bennett

Nana by Emile Zola

Kim by Rudyard Kipling

The Half Hearted by John Buchan

The Great Amulet by Maud Diver

The Tragedy of Korosko by Arthur Conan Doyle

The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope

The Four Feathers by A E W Mason

Look out for the next two chapters from this fascinating book in a post next month.

Sunday, 12 June 2011

Through the Kitchen Window by Susan Hill

This is the third of my Susan Hill books about her life in the country. After being totally enchanted by The Magic Apple Tree last year, I bought Through the Garden Gate and this title. Susan Hill's voice has an gentle and honest quality, and I have become a fan of her writing.

This book is quite short and you would be able to read it in one sitting. Illustrated again by Angela Barrett, the pictures enhance the main themes of the book, which are home, family, living in a community, and cooking things that you have grown yourself. The whole book is infused with recipes alongside the authors recollections, stories and recommendations.

Arranged seasonally we are taken through a whole year in her kitchen...hearty meals in winter and dishes that help you get over a cold, young greens in spring, picnics, salads and fruit in summer, bottling and preserving in autumn. Naturally each seasonal festival is also included, The Christmas table, Easter treats, and suggestions for using whatever is in season.

The recipes are of a traditional nature with family in friends in mind, Fruity Tea Bread, Dorset Apple Cake, Sausage and Onion Plate Pie. Many dishes are mentioned without the recipe, as a nostalgic memory or appreciation. We also have 'Ten Pleasures of the Winter Kitchen' and sections on Damsons, Asparagus, Rhubarb and many more.

Again this is a book to treasure and dip into, very sensory, and a haven to retreat to during a busy day. Out of the 3 books this is my least favourite, and The Magic Apple Tree remains miles ahead, but if you like books about country living and Susan Hill's mesmerising writing voice, this is worth looking up.

To see more book illustrations by Angela Barrett, who mainly does childrens books, but whose contribution to some of Susan Hill's books can not be understated, use the link.

Sunday, 5 June 2011

May Roundup

Spent a whole day making Elderflower cordial while working on the farm last week, a drink forever associated with summer. The picture here, together with the recipe, can be found on Farm in my Pocket.
Read - almost 2 books
Completed - Through the Kitchen Window by Susan Hill
Currently Reading -
Survivor by Chuck Palahniuk
Watching the English: the hidden rules of English behaviour by Kate Fox
The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter
TBR Pile - Now at 99 (according to GoodReads) with 5 added this month...
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks
Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson
The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
Challenges - summarised chapters 6 and 7 from The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920, the literary theory book that I am making notes on each month.
Wishlist Additions -
I'll Never get out of this World Alive by Steve Earle
The Juggler by Sebastian Beaumont
Discoveries -
There is a flickr group called mybookshelves where you can add pictures of your own collections of books. The group was started by the Guardian and there was an article about the mybookshelves group here. Instructions on how to include your own photos of your bookshelves can be found on the Guardian's book blog.
Events -
Macbeth at the Everyman Theatre in Liverpool starring David Morrissey and Julia Ford. Brilliant production with strong performances and an excellent set. It is also one of my favourite Shakespeare plays.
There was also the bookswap at work which was very successful, good fun, and I got 3 new books to read.
Summer came upon us when we weren't looking. Onward into June...

Friday, 27 May 2011

3rd Blogiversary

I almost forgot my own blogiversary this year, so nearly 10 days late, it was The Octogon's 3rd birthday on the 18th May.

Its been an amazing 3 years, lots of books, events, discussion and friends. A whole load of lovely things have come my way since I started this in 2008, many unexpected and surprising things, and I have enjoyed all of it and hope to continue for a long time yet.

I am off on holiday for a week, to work on the farm in Devon, so I'll catch up with you on the 5th June with a roundup of everything that happened in May.

Be back soon...

Sunday, 22 May 2011

Book Swap

It was time for another book swap in work. It has been 2 years since I organised the last one, and a number of people had enquired about whether we were having another, mainly because they had been having a clear out and had books to bring in. A good book swap is only as good as the books that take part, so the time was ripe to capitalise on spring cleaning ventures.

Throughout the day there were about 60 books on offer as various members of staff brought them in boxes and bags. There were some excellent titles on offer too, and many people were seen clutching their new books, showing other people, talking about which ones they had already read.

I have got better over the years with letting books go. I used to keep them all, but lack of space and a willingness to share have overcome this. Don't get me wrong, there are millions of books in our house, millions. I have just learnt that I cannot keep every one.

I took 3 books in... An Awfully Big Adventure by Beryl Bainbridge, Ship Fever by Andrea Barrett, and Ox-Tales: Water by various authors. All 3 had gone at the end of the day, the Bainbridge going first. Ship Fever was an acquisition from a previous book swap.

In return I came away with 3 new exciting books... Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, The People of the Book by Geraldine Brooks, and Snow Falling on Cedars by David Guterson.

Oxfam did well out of the ones that remained at the end, about 20 in all.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920

It is time to fill you in on 2 more chapters from this really interesting literary theory book that I am making notes on as I read it throughout the year.

Last month saw chapters 4 and 5 on Thresholds and Interiors. This month sees the last chapter of Part One: Economies and Styles, and the first chapter in Part 2: Nation and Society.

Chapter 6 - The Relevance of Ulysses

If ever a book was thought to be the most prominent of the Modernist era, it is James Joyces' Ulysses, 'a novel which turned the whole genre inside out', p95. Difficult to market because of its 'peculiarity' it was to use this as part of its marketing ploy. It was rejected by mainstream publishers, but played upon its own 'uniqueness', with Joyce even producing a readers guide to help with its level of difficulty. All of this singled out readers who would invest time and energy in their reading, imbuing the book with a certain kudos and its readership as a literary elite, at least in the world of contemporary novels. 'Ulysses was defined by its difficulty' p97, even its title inferred a knowledge of Homer, to be going on with.

The first 10 episodes of the book are written in what is known as 'initial style', combining dialogue, first-person present-tense monologue, and third-person past-tense monologue. All pretty normative. This style evolves into a periodic structure, with the use of adverbials, descriptive words or passages which mean nothing as they are read and demand patience from the reader to be remembered for a later part of the book. These adverbials support inferences, and it is with this knowledge lies the art of decoding the narrative. Relevance of narrative is often layered and not laid bare. Joyce deliberately complicates his linguistic structure to avoid meaning.

This style of writing and form of communication exemplifies Modernist writing. Readers had to abandon all previous codes of reading and understanding novels. In later episodes technique overrides content and the story loses emphasis to expression. Huge amounts of effort in the reader produce small amounts of information. As the book progresses, the book becomes more difficult to process, with relevance seeming to be abandoned. As the reader strives to make connections, it can appear as if 'the joke is on us' p107.

PART II - Nation and Society

Chapter 7 - Degeneration

During the second half of the 19th century people became obsessed with the degeneration of the race. The theory of degeneration emerged from the natural and medical sciences. The 'decline of the white races', p112, included documentation of regression, an 'organic process' that was hereditary. This social theory was seen as the cause of crime, poverty and disease. Connecting to the 'age-old anxiety about the end of the world', p112, it reinforced theories regarding decadent lifestyles and the arts in general. This theory, as the new century got under way, became a habit of mind and was referred to often. Any social problem could be connected to it.

Naturalist fiction encorporated plots of decline, physical and moral exhaustion. Emile Zola's early novels, following strands of the same family from novel to novel, illustrated downward spirals through the generations of alcoholism, disease, poverty or madness.

Zola was not hugely popular in Britain, but he was notorious and Henry James noted a pessimism had descended upon the British writing of the time. Zola's grimy plots and downwardly mobile characters provided a stage for social comment. This led the way for 2 new genres, slum fiction and the New Woman novel.

Pioneered in the 1880's by Gissing and Besant, slum fiction took the French pessimism and incorporated women protagonists who, following failed relationships, plummed the depths of existence, with violence, abandonment, prostitution or death. These plots differed in blaming external circumstances for their downfall, rather than a hereditary malfunction. The women start off spirited, but have the life beaten out of them by circumstance.

Deformed children, illustrating the degeneration of bloodlines, was popular in naturalist fiction, as was hysteria in women. Professor Moriarty of the Sherlock Holmes stories, and Count Dracula were all examples of the degeneracy that people feared and these characters were described as such. 'Parasites, outcasts and madmen' p118.

Another off shoot of these theories was the continuation of race, in order to halt degeneration, through preservation of bloodlines. Women should mate with racially sound men, and this came into the fiction of the time. Examples can be found in the novels of D H Lawrence where the characters discuss racial purity, as well as E M Forster.

Contemporary works that illustrate the above points include...

Ulysses by James Joyce

The Time Machine by H G Wells

Germinal, L'Assomoir and La Terre by Emile Zola

A Mummer's Wife by George Moore

The Unclassed by George Gissing

Women in Love by D H Lawrence

The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde

Tess of the d'Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy

Look out for the next two chapters which will be covered some time in June.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

Tinkers by Paul Harding

I saw this one in Waterstones and it caught my interest. It has since been chosen as one of our set books for this years Novel Holiday in August.

George is dying, ill and bedridden, he starts to hallucinate, about the clocks that were his job, their intricate mechanisms, and also about his father, a salesman who peddled his wares in the poverty ridden backwoods of Maine in 1927, as well as battling with epilepsy and griefs about his own father.

This book drifts between memories, some lucid, some hazy. There are stories about things that happened as well as lengthy descriptions about the countryside and the beauty of nature. There are also heightened descriptions of epileptic fits coming on, how clocks work and what George can see and make sense of from his death bed.

Some passages in this book are a pure joy, lovely to read, and rich with story and detail. There was one particular passage recounting an old hermit who lived in the woods that I had to read again immediately because it moved me to laugh and cry. There are other passages that are dense and need concentration, but you are rewarded most of the time with literature that is exciting, involving and beautiful. There are also however places where it was difficult to keep up with what was being relayed, and about whom. While this emphasised the main characters loss of grip on reality, I felt I had also missed out on its meaning.

I found the ending moving, as Georges reality slips into unconsciousness, and elements of the book are successfully brought together. There is little straightforward narrative, the passages jump about and some offer little clue or continuation. This can enrich or baffle in turn. The parts describing Georges father on his cart full of household wares, trading in the woods were the most lucid, and also the most memorable. I also loved the passages about clocks, told with a craftsmans respect and love for his art.

This book will not appeal to those who like straightforward prose, but if you enjoy dense literature, where you need to stop every few pages to take it in, then you will find this a very rewarding read.

I really enjoyed it on the whole, mainly for being about a particular view of American history, and its unusual descriptive style for the genre.

A good one for reading groups with lots to discuss. For discussion questions about Tinkers use the link.

Sunday, 1 May 2011

April Roundup

How gorgeous are these Alliums, which are just like mine blooming in the front garden. They are so effective when grouped together. Lovely April, when the flowers come to life!

Read - 2 and a quarter books

Completed -

Through the Garden Gate by Susan Hill

Tinkers by Paul Harding

Currently Reading -

Survivor by Chuch Palahniuk

Through the Kitchen Window by Susan Hill

The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter

TBR pile - 94 books (according to GoodReads) with none added. I've been good this month.

Challenges - summarised Chapters 4 and 5 from The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920, that I am serialising each month here at The Octogon. Look out for the next 2 chapters during May.

Not strictly a challenge, but I have also read one of the set books for our literary holiday in August in Dorset. Look out for my review of Tinkers by Paul Harding next week.

Wishlist Additions -

Garden Spells by Sarah Addison Allen

Discoveries - a new blog OverBooked written for followers of the Topsfield Library in Massachusetts. Some nice reviews and a good selection of books.

Events - Finally got my finger out and organised our next bookswap at work after a 2 year absense. A number of colleagues had requested it, probably after having their spring clearouts. It is set for monday 16th May and I'll let you know how it goes.

It is a sunny May Day (and bank holiday/Royal Wedding weekend) up here in Liverpool. I hope it stays awhile.

Onwards into May...

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye