Just a heads up for a programme on Radio 4 today, at 1.30. In Too Many Books Sarah Cudden meets people who have to get rid of some books and looks at how they choose which ones can go. There's also a visit to The Bookbarn.

I had to lose hundreds of books when I downsized so I know how hard it is. I'd still put myself in the 'too many books' category. I wonder if anyone will suggest that the answer could be a Kindle? Should be interesting.

Later: programme was a wasted opportunity. Annoying presenter and no one told her that Anthony Powell pronounced his name Poel, a pedant writes.
Quite a bookfest on the BBC at the moment and I’ve been joining in with some of it. All the programmes are mentioned on the linked page. I started with Faulks on Fiction, in which the curly-haired one began with ‘The Hero’. This plodded along on the lines of : "Faulks is a hero on account of his barnet, his ability to walk and talk at the same time and his excellent ‘noddies’." There was not an original or interesting thought in the whole programme and it was incredibly shallow (BBC2) compared with Birth of the British Novel (BBC4). I’d never heard of Henry Hitchings and he’s less easy on the eye than Faulks but his look at eighteenth century novels was very interesting, particularly on Richardson and Sterne.

Scheduled well after my bedtime was In Their Own Words, a compilation of interviews with British novelists; I recorded it to watch the next day. If you click on the link to the programme it tells you exactly when each piece was recorded and how long it lasted. I disliked the narration but was fascinated by the subject matter. Several of the clips I had seen before, such as Evelyn Waugh being interviewed by John Freeman on Face to Face. Many were quite new to me; I’d never seen or, more to the point heard, Elizabeth Bowen or Aldous Huxley. It was a wonderful glimpse not only of dead authors but of a different culture, one of clipped accents, no holds barred questions (ever seen Mark Lawson Talks To…?) and people smoking while being interviewed. There was no George Orwell, of course, because the BBC wiped all the tapes.

Where today is there a programme like Monitor? You’d think things had dumbed down, perish the thought! (OK, Arena puts out some good programmes.)

A curious feature of these three programmes was that Martin Amis popped up on each one with something to say. I don’t mind that at all; like his father he’s a good critic. Speaking of Dad, here he is. To save you even that trouble, see below for that same 1958 interview with Simon Raven. The presenter is Huw Weldon.

Yesterday, yet another Cath Kidston catalogue appeared in the letter box. It’s been given a bookish theme, with photo shoots in Hay-on-Wye and some apparently randomly selected quotes scattered about. There are book recommendations (Cath Kidston’s favourite book is Frenchman’s Creek), advice on starting a book club and an interview with Jilly Cooper. “Now I’m 72, when it’s hot I type topless at the bottom of the garden.” Go Jilly!

There is rather a ‘books do furnish a room’ attitude in all this. Anyone who looks at books on eBay has seen some listed as ‘suitable for vintage décor’. What interests me is how little the content or even the condition of the book matter, so long as it’s old. On the many vintage or shabby chic sites on the net, you’ll soon notice that sellers there can get a higher price for a book (an old Ladybird, a children’s annual) than they would if they put it up on Amazon or eBay; it’s the age and the look which matter. Curious!

A much shorter list this month; a good thing, due to not being flaked out on the sofa, ill.

Welcome to the World, Baby Girl!, Fannie Flagg
The Lost Art of Gratitude , Alexander McCall Smith *L
Corduroy Mansions , Alexander McCall Smith *L
more books )
Looking out of the window: green grass, golden leaves, grey clouds scudding, rain dripping from the thatch.

cheerful yarn from Lornas Laces, arrived in the post yesterday.

More glowing colour! Howards End is on the Landing, collected from the library this morning. When I got back, a book in the letter box; one I've been looking for for ages to complete a trilogy.
Three reasons to be cheerful and Happy Birthday to my sister!

Thanks to Susie Vereker, I’ve just read this list of the 50 Most Annoying Things About the Internet. I’m sure people could add to it. Now for a good thing about the internet: reading people’s book recommendations. Not necessarily the latest books, but older, perhaps out of print books which the writer loves.

Radio 4’s A Good Read has been doing this for years; guests introduce a book they’ve enjoyed to be chatted about. Now Open Book
is catching up, with two weeks on Neglected Classics, all recommended by established writers.

The List

William Boyd
The Polyglots by William Gerhardie
Susan Hill
The Rector's Daughter by F M Mayor
Hari Kunzru
A Hero of Our Time by Mikhail Lermontov
Ruth Rendell
Many Dimensions by Charles Williams
Colm Toibin
Esther Waters by George Moore
Programme Two: Sunday 25 October
Beryl Bainbridge
The Quest for Corvo by A J A Symons
Howard Jacobson
Rasselas by Samuel Johnson
Val McDermid
Carol by Patricia Highsmith
Michael Morpurgo
The Snow Goose by Paul Gallico
Joanna Trollope
Miss Mackenzie by Anthony Trollope

I’ve read Rasselas, The Snow Goose and A Hero of Our Time. Oh ho, I’ve just spotted a copy of Esther Waters on the landing. I should follow Susan Hill’s excellent example and read it.

July Books

Jul. 31st, 2009 02:58 pm
I seem to have improved my average this month; it's a lot to do with having books you're really keen to read. Yesterday I set off for the library full of hope, picturing myself coming home with a pile of books but I returned with nothing.

Death at La Fenice, Donna Leon
This is the first Brunetti book so I’m reading them well out of order. I missed characters like Vianello and Signorina Elettra (sp) who appear in the later novels. I also spotted surprising inconsistencies. In this first book, Brunetti is a grump in the mornings and his wife Paula is up and running and together; in the other books I’ve read it’s Paula who has trouble getting up and Brunetti who is relentlessly, irritatingly cheerful in the mornings. Brunetti is investigating the death of a world famous conductor who is very similar to Jilly Cooper’s evil maestro, Ranaldini (see Score and other novels). Unfortunately on page 172 I guessed what had happened, so the rest of the book was just fill-in.
more books )

Stella Duffy seems everywhere at the moment, whether appearing on The Book Quiz (what a wonderful laugh she has) or being interviewed by dovegreyreader. I’d never read any of her books before and I simply loved The Room of Lost Things. How could I not? It’s set close to my old stamping ground south of the river which, like Stella Duffy, I am happy to defend against regions north. I loved the geography of the book; loved travelling with Akeel from Blackfriars to Loughborough Junction or with the mad poet on the 345 bus. The setting is so real that you could go right now to Google Street View and take a virtual walk down Coldharbour Lane, where at some time each of the book’s disparate characters has business.

This is pure London, ever in flux, with old street patterns, old buildings, hidden rivers overlain by the modern lives of the current, temporary occupants. Old and new is rather a theme of the book; I was reminded quite strongly of Graham Swift’s Last Orders, set on The Old Kent Road. Robert Sutton is in his sixties, has lived his life in the same place and for most of that time has been running the dry cleaning business inherited from his mother. Now, he wants to retire and the business is to be sold to Akeel, an ambitious young Moslem man born in Bow. The relationship between the two men, the conversations they have over the cleaning and pressing and the back story of each which emerges are touching. There’s not exactly a feel-good ending but you can’t help hoping that in forty years time Akeel will be there, handing on the torch. This is a book about the city, a book to gladden the hearts of Peter Ackroyd and Iain Sinclair. One of its most vivid characters, Robert’s mother Alice, is dead before the story starts but I rate this a life-enhancing book.
More of an anti-book day, as this survey shows. Why would anyone pretend to have read 1984? You could read it in an hour.

The thought of having nothing to read fills me with panic, so before I moved house I took a small cardboard box, wrote on it in large black letters ‘Please Leave’ and packed it with books to take with me in the car, just in case.

Inside the box )

In spite of today's brilliant sunshine, it looks as though I'll be frozen in this weekend, due to the state of the roads round here. I don't mind too much as I'm tired out by the stress of having builders in all week. They're very nice but they can't help making noise and mess and demanding spot decisions from me. So it's time out with books and knitting.

Judging by Ravelry, making dishcloths is getting to be as hot as sock knitting. I'm between projects so before casting on yet another pair of socks I thought I'd make inroads into my stash and use up some cotton making a dishcloth. Whether I'll ever use it remains to be seen, but it will look pretty hanging up.

As usual I have three books on the go and one I am in love with. Amitav Ghosh's book Sea of Poppies was shortlisted for the Booker prize. I saw a copy in the library recently and, like an idiot, didn't take it out. A couple of days ago I was in a charity shop when The Hungry Tide caught my eye. I dipped into it, looked further into the book, then again and found myself utterly seduced by the beauty of the prose. Ridiculously, I then had a little argument with myself on the lines of, 'you're not supposed to buy any books this week/you have plenty of TBR books/but it's only £1.75 for a hardback and you've just spent £1.50 on Private Eye/you'll be miserable if you get home and haven't got it.' Now I've started reading it and was drawn in straight away by the opening scene at a railway station where middle class Indian Kanai meets Piya, an American born in Bangladesh. I immediately wanted to know more about both characters and was fascinated by the exotic landscape which is about to be explored. I'm looking forward to reading the rest.

The camel bookmobile is exactly what it sounds like: a mobile library which transports its books by camel. This sounds impossibly exotic but it really exists; the author Masha Hamilton has travelled with it and she gives an address to which book donations for the library can be sent. In the novel American librarian Fi, (thirties, unmarried), decides against the advice of her friends to volunteer for work with the mobile library, taking books and, she believes, literacy and broader horizons to remote villages in Kenya. Not surprisingly, things don’t turn out exactly as she had imagined and not everyone in the village of Mididinga welcomes her or the books.

The author has obviously given much thought to the problems of two cultures meeting and one of the themes of the book is the question of whether the mission is actually cultural imperialism, although that phrase is not used. Conflicts in the village between old and new ways of thinking are represented by different characters; the author obviously loves them but how can an outsider possibly even guess at what goes through the mind of an African peasant? This is a problem and I thought there was rather a rose-tinted view of life in the bush.

Readers are bound to compare this book with Alexander McCall Smith’s No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency series. For me, McCall Smith’s Africa is better described and more convincing and the books better written. Critics have had fun (see Radio 4’s Dead Ringers) with the slow pace of the chronicles of Mma Ramotswe but I have always argued that the prose reflects the slower pace of life of the characters. I found the same technique applied in The Camel Bookmobile began to pall about half way through the story, when I began mentally begging the writer to ‘Get on with it!’ It was still an enjoyable and different read.

Not surprisingly, moving house in December didn’t leave me much time for reading. I wanted to write about Tamsin, by Peter S Beagle, which was a Christmas present from [profile] huskyteer. She picked it because she’d enjoyed another book by the same author. I’d wanted to try it because Geranium Cat recommended it. Another incentive was that most of the book is set in Dorset, where I live. It’s not what I’d usually read because I’d take one look at it, think ‘fantasy!’ and reject it out of hand. This, though, is a genuine ghost story.

The book opens in New York, where bratty, essentially urban Jenny lives with her divorced mother and Mister Cat. It’s written in the first person, by an older Jenny who is unsparing of her younger, selfish self. Mother falls in love with an Englishman and Jenny is transported, almost literally kicking and screaming, to an old house in rural Dorset. From the start the whole family (two new stepbrothers as well as a stepfather) sense a strangeness about the house. Jenny, probably because of her age and her own unhappiness, meets Tamsin, a girl from the 17th century who has become ‘stuck’, unable to leave her old home. The reader immediately senses the dangerousness of the relationship and rushes through the rest of the book to find out what happens.

I have a few quibbles about the book. You don’t drive through Southampton when travelling from London to Dorset; Yeovil is not in Dorset; there is no university at Dorchester. The strange beings Jenny meets, in the tiresome manner of such creatures, always address Jenny by her full name, Jenny Gluckstein, which I find madly irritating. The ending is not quite as frightening as it should be. Nevertheless, I could hardly put the book down until I’d finished it.

I re-read A Village Affair, by Joanna Trollope because I’d watched the TV dramatisation. I liked it less than the first time I read it. I’ve pretty much given up on Joanna Trollope since Marrying the Mistress and I still think Other People’s Children is her best book.
Star Gazing, by Linda Gillard I liked a lot for its insights into the life of a blind woman. I couldn’t feel, though, that either of the loves of her life was quite worthy of her.
No Cure for Death, a Sheila Malory mystery by Hazel Holt, was reliably enjoyable.
Laurie Graham has been a discovery this year for the strangeness (to me) of her stories and I liked The Importance of Being Kennedy. It’s written in the first person by the Kennedy children’s Irish nurse and the story is mainly about Kathleen. The supporting cast of the entire Kennedy clan is believably described.
Cookie, the latest from Jacqueline Wilson, was a very speedy read, as all her books are. This heroine is plain and plump, has a bullying father, a bimbo but loving mother and an obsession with rabbits which innocently causes family breakdown. As usual with Wilson, the frightening aspects of a child’s life are tempered by at least one sane adult on the scene and the book ends on a hopeful note.
[livejournal.com profile] ramblingfancy's recent post reminded me that I can never make up my mind which Penguin mug I would most like. So here's a poll for you to pick your favourite.

[Poll #1309817]

I really prefer the Pigeon Post one I already have.

I’m going to follow the excellent example of geraniumcat and take up the Support Your Local Library Library Challenge next year. I’m not setting myself any targets I don’t think I can meet, so I’m not aiming for fifty. As I said before, I’m already using the library more often and have the jolly little pile above to read.

Dark Puss/Peter the Flautist, whose comments I am often reading on other blogs, is always exhorting people to use libraries instead of buying books. Very laudable but there is a problem: libraries now only keep books for a very short time. I had to buy this Hazel Holt book

from the library (30p); I couldn’t borrow it because they were throwing it out. So if you borrow a book and think you’ll want to read it again, you really have to buy it or it’s gone forever. November Books )

(Quoting Karen and her friend from Outnumbered playing Silly Mummies.) I might be moving very soon, I do a run to the dump or the charity shops nearly every day but I still went to the market and a book fair today. It was bitterly cold down there this morning, so that by the time I was queuing at the post office with a parcel my legs were numb. Some things you just can't leave behind, like all these Miss Read books for £2.50. Miss Read is an author whose books I've acquired, disposed of and bought again over the years. I enjoy the early books about the school but the later in the series, the more boring the book, I find. Just now, I'm in the mood for them.more )

OK, now I've worked out how to make an album and put pictures in it, go me. The reason I have thousands (gulp) of these photos is that while upgrading my collections I've sold the spares. I could now waste hours sorting the rest; just need a wet Sunday when I'm not moving house.
Look what you can do with Picasa

I’ve been very picky with my reading this month, finding it hard to settle to anything. A book had to be very light and amusing or really grab me. Then, bingo! What Was Lost by Catherine O’Flynn hit the spot: it’s brilliant. The narrative is in four sections, alternating between the events of 1987 and those of 2003/4. The action revolves around Green Oaks, a sort of prototype Bluewater shopping centre *shudders* which has replaced an industrial site in an unspecified location, probably somewhere in the Midlands.

In part one we meet Kate Meaney, a child almost alone in the world but bright and obsessed with detection; she practises her skills around the shopping centre. One soon becomes very fond of Kate and fearful for her. The narrative then moves forward to Carl, a security guard at Green Oaks and Lisa, duty manager at Your Music. Carl sees the figure of a child on the security cameras he monitors; the problem is, no one else can see her. He and Lisa get together and several back stories turn out to be connected. I was dreading an ambivalent ending but we do find out what happened to Kate, with some genuine surprises along the way.

I found the book gripping from page one with its spot-on descriptions of a certain sort of life in the modern world and the horrors of the shopping mall, all gloss and welcome on the outside, all sinister service corridors and filth behind the scenes. I felt the ratio was a little too much record store to too little Kate but I’m guessing the author had a lot to get off her chest on the subject. It’s rather reminiscent of Kate Atkinson, which is a recommendation by me and is a remarkable first novel.

I haven't had time to write many proper reviews this month but I have read a few books.
Little List )
I've started taking photos of my books so I know what I've got and where they're to go. I can hardly stand the thought of them all in boxes. I took about twenty pics this morning and there's still a long way to go. Book Pr0n )



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