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

Wednesday, 29 February 2012

February Roundup

The book sculpture on the left, and others like it, have been causing a stir in various locations in Edinburgh. I wanted to include a picture so as to illustrate how talented and delightful they are. There is a lovely story to accompany them and for more information see under Discoveries below.

February has been a very productive month as far as the books go...

Read - 2 and a half books

Completed -

We Need To Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver

Trick or Treat by Richie Tankersley Cusick (Point Horror #6)

Currently Reading -

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte
Notes From Walnut Tree Farm by Roger Deakin

The Organic Year by Patricia Gillmore

TBR Pile - currently at 121 (according to GoodReads) with 5 added...

Literary Genius: 25 Classic Writers Who Define English and American Literature edited by Joseph Einstein

The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon

This Beautiful Life by Helen Schulman

No Country for Old Men by Cormac McCarthy

All The Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Challenges -

As part of #1 of my personal challenges I haven't bought any books. All of the TBR additions above were presents. I have also kept to the TBR Double Dare (see my sidebar) by only reading books from my TBR pile too.

My last post was the first of my book/film comparisons (although it is actually a TV series) on North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell for #5 of my challenges.

I am currently reading Wuthering Heights for #2 of my challenges.

I completed Trick or Treat as one of the 3 titles recommended by BD to read during 2012.

Wishlist Additions -

The Sisters Brothers by Patrick DeWitt

Girl Reading by Katie Ward

Deep Country: 5 Years in the Welsh Hills by Neil Ansell

Discoveries -

The BookCrossing e-newsletter included a link to an article about some beautiful and mysterious book sculptures in strategical literary venues around Edinburgh. The sculptures are lovely (see picture above) and curiously all linked to author Ian Rankin, but the story that accompanies them is also very touching. Use the link to read it for yourself.

I paid my first visit to the Persephone Bookshop in London and what a lovely place to call into. A tiny shop with a workshop at the back, where every surface is piled high with distictive Persephone titles to buy. If you are near Lamb's Conduit Street in the Bloomsbury District of London it is well worth a visit.

Events -

I have had some excellent theatre visits in February...

Propeller are touring Henry V (and A Winters Tale) by Shakespeare and I saw this brilliant version in The Lowry Theatre in Manchester.

The Liverpool Playhouse has an excellent version of Tennessee Williams' A Streetcar Named Desire on at the moment which I saw last week.

A very good version of Federico Garcia Lorca's The House of Bernarda Alba is on at The Almeida in London.

I have also been accepted again as a World Book Night giver and this year my chosen title is The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. I am thrilled, it was great fun last year. It is on 23rd April this year and there are some great titles on offer.

It has been a full on month for book events, lets hope it continues on into March.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell on DVD

I totally loved this BBC series back in 2004 when it was first aired on TV. I remember being entranced by it for lots of reasons right from the first episode. I love a good costume drama, good Sunday evening fare before work on the monday, and Mrs Gaskell has provided us with lots of excellent material which have successfully translated to TV. In the last few weeks I have watched and enjoyed it all again.

This 4 part drama was on some time before Cranford hit our screens, a love story between Margaret Hale, the daughter of a clergyman from the south of England and John Thornton, a mill owner from the northern town where Margaret moves to after her father gives up the cloth.

At first Margaret struggles to adapt to the dirty industrial town, finding it course and savage, and judges its inhabitants hastily, especially Mr Thornton whose rough justice at the mill offends her. When a strike is looming across the town, all of them are involved with many lessons heeded on all sides.

I found myself rooting for both of these characters who misunderstand each other greatly at first. This adaptation is filmed with beautiful shots and costumes. It was the scenes inside the cotton mill that stayed with me the most, and all of the parts are cast brilliantly. The two main characters, played by Daniela Denby-Ashe and Richard Armitage are compelling as are all the supporting characters played by Brendan Coyle (now in Downton Abbey), Sinead Cusack, Tim Pigott Smith and Pauline Quirke. After watching this series 8 years ago I went and bought the book and enjoyed the story all over again.

I have another reason to remember this series with such was largely responsible for me researching my family tree. I was so entranced with the mill workers and industry in the series I had a voracious need to find out what my own ancestors did. No mill workers, but being from Liverpool there were lots of Dock workers, several generations of cork cutters, quite a few farmers who moved to the city in the early 19th century, a gun smith, some railway workers, merchant sailors and an Ostrich Feather Dyer. The more exotic jobs are fascinating, but it was the ordinary industrial workers that I related to most, especially as many of the buildings and landmarks can still be seen around Liverpool from way back, linking us to them. I have learnt such a lot, about the history and social history that my ancestors were involved with, and how I fit in with it all. On watching the series recently I could feel my need to take up my research again. I have continued my family tree since I originally saw this series back in 2004 with huge rewards.

This is a lovely story, emotionally involving and memorable. The music of the series also deserves a mention, adding a lot to the period and the feel of the drama. The novel and the TV series (now on DVD) are highly recommended, and the TV adaptation is particularly special to me.

You can read more about North and South on the BBC by using the link.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Visit to Haworth

A friend and I are going to Haworth, home of the Brontes, in April, and some other friends may be joining us for one of the days too. I have been to Haworth very briefly some years ago but have never done the whole Bronte trail.

By the time we go I am hoping to have read Wuthering Heights and my friend hopes to read Jane Eyre so that we can have some discussion, while adding context by visiting the major sites. Our other friends have been invited to read something by the Brontes so that we can widen the discussion.

Haworth is a lovely village in its own right (remember the old Hovis advert, pushing the bike up the steep cobbled street...), and it will be good to get some air straight off the moors.

There is a steam train on the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway that takes you right into Haworth if you want the full on Victorian experience. The Bronte Parsonage Museum is a major draw for Bronte fans, and there are lots of walks to locations used in their novels.

I have wanted to do this trip for ages so it is great to be able to share it with some friends.

Wednesday, 8 February 2012

Generation X by Douglas Coupland

This book was one of the titles I was challenged to read last year by AR who recommended it. I bought it then but have only just got around to reading it.

Three young people in their twenties in modern day America have moved away from the rat race to re-write their own lives by moving to the desert and forsaking the conformist lifestyle. Andy, Dag and Clare enjoy being with their dogs, taking picnics and telling stories.

Andy is the narrator, and he reviews how they all came to be there and their relationship with each other as well as the fantastic stories they tell each other. It is filled with humour as well as pop art pictures and even its own glossary of phrases invented to describe the emptiness of present society that produces cliched inhabitants. The book is short with chapters of only a few pages, so quick to read.

Often the writing is more social comment than fictional novel, and it took a while for me to warm to the characters. Their observations are interesting, funny, and scarily accurate, but this can come over as a bit clever and smug. We worked it out, have all the answers, and left the losers behind. But do they have all the answers? Are they living the perfect life?

As the novel moves forwards it seems that the threesome are still looking for something...more. Each of them have flurries back into the life they turned their back on. None of them stay but I got the feeling everything was transitory. No one reaches a point in life where they have nothing to learn, however much they feel they know it all. There are other characters, friends who visit for a while, but they serve as types to illustrate what the three have left behind.

There were some beautiful moments that I loved. The chapter where they all tell of what the earth means to them was a particular favourite. Remembering her most poignant moment from when she was twelve, Clare says...

' brother Allan yanked at my sleeve because the walk signal light was green. And when I turned my head to walk across, my face went bang, right into my first snowflake ever. It melted in my eye. I didn't even know what it was at first, but then I saw millions of flakes - all white and smelling like ozone, floating downward like the shed skin of angels. Even Allan stopped. Traffic was honking at us, but time stood still. And so, yes - if I take one memory of earth away with me, that moment will be the one. To this day I consider my right eye charmed.'

It was after this chapter, where the characters seem to move from merely frivolous and a little immature, that I found something to connect with. Later on, when Andy revisits his parents for Christmas, it was one of the saddest accounts of generational awakening that I have read.

Not everything in this book had an impact, but the chapters that did have stayed with me. Towards the end of the book the cleverness made way for quite a lot of sadness, and although upbeat, and even a little sentimental, the ending held no promises.

I would recommend this to anyone who loves modern writing that takes a cynical view of Western society. The closest authors I could think of were Chuck Palahniuk and Carl Hiaasen. This one has a more poetic slant, and is less ascerbic.

To look at Douglas Coupland's website use the link.

To read an interesting article Generation X to Generation Next by Laura Slattery use the link.

The Guardian Book Club has some good discussions about the book too.

Hay on Wye

Hay on Wye