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

Sunday, 27 February 2011

February Roundup

You know when the snowdrops show that winter is nearly ended and soon it will be spring. It has certainly felt that way the last few days, a bit warmer, shoots poking through, lighter in the evenings.
It has been quite a full month for reading too...
Read - 3/4 a book
Completed - none
Currently reading - Whit by Iain Banks. Slow progress but I will finish it.
Caught by the River: A Collection of Words on Water by various authors.
The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 by David Trotter
TBR Pile - currently at 96 (according to GoodReads) with 5 added
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
Generation X by Douglas Coupland
After Dark by Haruki Marukami
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Hand that First Held Mine by Maggie O'Farrell
Challenges -
-Currently reading Whit to complete #6 of The Octogon 2011 challenges.
-Summarised the intro and first chapter of The English Novel in History 1895 - 1920 and now on page 60 so the next summary will be posted soon. To read the first part use the link.
-Bought 2 of the titles I need for the challenge I have running with AR from work, to read at least one of 3 recommendations by the end of the year.
Wishlist Additions -
Into the Forest by Jean Hegland
House of Leaves by Mark Z Danielewski
Tiger, Tiger: A Memoir by Margaux Fragoso
Discoveries - A lovely and interesting website that celebrates book cover art... The Book Cover Archive
Events -
The month started with a Waterboys concert at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. This tour was a bit different because Mike Scott had set Yeat's poetry to music. The tour is called An Appointment with Mr Yeats and it was brilliant.
World Book Night is gathering speed for next saturday, 3rd March. I was chosen as a giver and I collect my books on monday, so look out for my post about giving them away. There has been quite a bit of TV coverage, including 2 series about books...Faulks on Fiction which I really enjoyed, celebrating characters in novels, the hero, the lover, the snob and the villain. There is also a series on at the moment called My Life in Books presented by Anne Robinson, where 2 guests talk about the books that have meant the most to them. I have only seen one or two but again, good to see these types of program being aired.
I saw 2 good plays this month...
The Rivals at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket in London with Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles
Oedipus at the Liverpool Playhouse, a new and exciting adaptation by Steven Berkoff.
Finally too, I got my next Novel Holiday sorted, based around Thomas Hardy in Dorset.
So a pretty busy month, if not in pages turned, then in planning, seeing and pondering.

Monday, 21 February 2011

Thomas Hardy Holiday

After the success of last years holiday based around Jane Austen in Hampshire, there are 5 of us taking part in this years visit to Dorset in August and the landscape and places associated with Thomas Hardy.
We have a cottage not far from Dorchester which has several places to visit nearby including where he was born, Dorchester (known as Casterbridge in his novels) where the museum has an exhibition dedicated to Hardy, and his house Max Hill that he designed himself. There is also Stinsford Church where his heart is buried.
Our set book to discuss is The Woodlanders, plus we have a contemporary set book, Tinkers by Paul Harding. An additional place in Dorset of literary interest is Chesil Beach, the location of the title of Ian McEwan's book On Chesil Beach, which we may include during our stay.
There are of course loads of other things to do, beautiful coastline, walks, countryside, so that we don't get Hardy'd out.
Everyone last year said they enjoyed the Jane Austen holiday so I was glad to do another one and even though it is a while off I am really looking forward to going, and also putting it together.

Sunday, 13 February 2011

The English Novel in History 1895-1920

You may remember my recent post about reading this book, The English Novel in History 1895-1920, throughout the year, as a personal challenge for 2011, and blogging about it as I went, writing summaries about the major points and notes on what it covered. This post will cover the introduction and first chapter.
The author Henry James, a contemporary of the era in question, examines the rise in the popularity of the novel. He saw this as a profitable time for writers and an opportunity for writers to expand and embrace diversity.
James divided the mass of material into high, middle and lowbrow works. Highbrow meaning James, Conrad, Lawrence,Joyce and Woolf. Middlebrow included Wells, Bennett, Galsworthy and Forster. Lowbrow authors were too many to mention.
James claimed that 2 things had stunted the growth of the novel, prohibition restricting content and style, and recycling the same stories and style over and over again.
Another influence of the time was the ideology of production being replaced by the ideology of consumption (see below for chapter one where this is explored).
James and Woolf insisted that 'consciousness should be represented from within' (p3), bringing about the emergence of Modernist writing characterised by reforming the relationship between the writer and the expectations of the reader and pushing innovation. This led to the view of Modernism as the 'literary response to a breakdown in social order and continuity' (p3).
Chapter One: Consuming Passions
During this era we see a major shift in priority, from production to consumerism, the acquirement of items to help living standards and boost status and self esteem, especially in the middle classes. This was taking place in Great Britain, USA and Europe primarily at this time. This chapter examines this change in society and how it was reflected in contemporary writing.
'Age of demand, ...abundance,, retail revolution, consumer capitalism' (p11) are all terms used by social and economic historians to describe the period. There was still dire poverty but living standards improved, especially for the working classes compared to earlier in the 19th century.
Consumerist tendencies were fuelled by the elements of choice available, the promotion of desire, to want things or a particular image to attain a projection of a desirable life. Lawrence Birken, who wrote a study on 19th century consumerist ideology brings attention to the 'symbolic badge of individualism' (p13) which also fed the need to acquire certain things.
There was a definite move from the necessary to the luxury of the desired item during this era.
Other things that promoted this shift was the popularity of technology which altered patterns of life. Scientific discoveries such as the telephone, aviation and the automobile added to the acquirement of desirable objects, and the literature of the time is littered with references to these new technologies.
Shopping changed as an experience. Stores with fixed prices became popular, leading to window shopping, and shopping as a leisure activity rather than a chore. This in particular affected the experiences of women, getting them out of the home, inhabiting a more public space, asserting independence, indulging desires as well as entering new forms of employment in department stores and sales environments.
On the back of all of these changes advertising flourished, perpetuating the dream with manipulative and utopian devices. Advertising served to arouse desire.
'Purchases now satisfied desire rather than need' (p22).
In the writing of the time, this newer level of consumerism altered conceptions of identity.
Contemporary works that illustrate the above points include...
Mrs Dalloway by Virginia Woolf
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Wife of Sir Isaac Harman by H G Wells
Howards End by E M Forster
This wraps up my first bulletin from this book. Look out for the next one some time in March.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

Ox-Tales: Water by various authors

I bought this one at the bookshop in St Pancras Station, London, last year, just because I liked the look of it. One of four titles, Oxfam compiled these books based around the elements to raise money and also awareness - WATER for water projects, FIRE for conflict areas, EARTH for agricultural development and AIR for climate change. The writers donated their stories for free and for some reason I was drawn to the Water volume (number IV) although all of them looked interesting, and together they looked good on the shelf.
It didn't take long to read and as with all short story collections, some of the tales registered more than others. There are some highly acclaimed writers in each book.
The stories that stood out in this volume were...
Crossing the River by David Park - a different take on ferrying the dead across the river to the afterlife.
What she did on her Summer Vacation by Zoe Heller, an interesting tale of a young girls encounter with another couple on a beach.
The Piano Man by Joanna Trollope, how a family deals with the sudden death of their husband and father.
Look at Me, I Need a Smile by Michael Morpurgo, about an elephant ride on a beach to heal the past.
This was a stronger collection of short stories than the last few I have read. The Joanna Trollope I really enjoyed, but generally they were all pretty good, and most have some link to water, in one way or another. Not a bad read.
To find out about this title and the others in the Ox-Tales collection use the link.
I read this to complete #5 of my personal challenges, to read a short story collection.

The Octogon Challenge 2011 - updates

I am using this post to stay updated with this years challenges, completed parts are in red...

1. Read another Bronte Carried to 2012

2. Read Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton Done

3. Read something by an Eastern European Writer

4. Read an Isabelle Allende Read The House of the Spirits, finished December 2011

5. Read a short story collection - Ox-Tales: Water, various authors, read in January

6. Read an Iain Banks Whit

7. Read another Carson McCullers

8. Read another Emile Zola (carried from last year)

Thursday, 3 February 2011

World Book Night

I am very excited to have been picked as one of the 20,000 givers for World Book Night on the 5th March. The book that I chose was Beloved by Toni Morrison, the first book I reviewed on this blog in 2008. I wanted to choose one I had read and found inspiring, and that may introduce readers to a new style of writing that they may not have encountered before.
I will keep you posted on plans on how to give my 48 copies away for this event. There is an organisation I have in mind who may want to be involved.
This is a great idea and I am thrilled to be able to take part.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye