Sunday Salon – Today’s Books

Today’s Sunday Salon post is a bit brief. We’ve been away for the last two days, travelling to Scotland and back and I’m rather tired, and have only read for a short time today. I began reading The Shipping News a while back and picked that up again this morning. It’s one of the books that I’d put to one side after watching Atonement and deciding to re-read that book.

I need to refresh my memory of what I’d already read – I’m up to chapter 8. Quoyle, a journalist has taken his two daughters and aunt back to Newfoundland, where he was born, to pick up his life again after the death of his wife in a road accident. He has a job on the local newspaper reporting on car accidents and the shipping news and so far into my reading not much more has happened.

Quoyle who is not the most dynamic character, is a simple soul, easily manipulated by others. A “quoyle” is a coil of rope. The quotation heading chapter 1 adds “A Flemish flake is a spiral coil of one layer only. It is made on deck, so that it may be walked on if necessary”, which seems to describe Quoyle. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1994 and it’s described on the back cover as “an irresistible comedy of hunan life and possibility.” I’m looking forward to reading more.

But I just had to carry on reading Toast, which I started on Friday, so The Shipping News has lost out again. I’m now over half-way through Toast, which is so good. Nigel Slater has a way of describing food, so that you can almost taste it and there is the additional pleasure of remembering all sorts of food and treats from my childhood – sweets like Refreshers, Love Hearts and Sherbet Fountains, crisps with salt in the separate little blue twist of waxed paper, drinks such as cream soda, pudding like rice pudding, and Heinz Sponge Puddings that you steamed in the tin – I could go on and on. Interspersed with his descriptions of food are his memories of his childhood, becoming increasingly poignant as I read further on. I’m sure I’ll be sad when I’ve finished this book.

Food and Books

I’ve been watching Nigel Slater’s TV programmes A Taste of My Life. So enjoyable!

I finished reading Atonement yesterday and am in the middle of writing about it, but I felt I needed to read something less heart-rending. I’ve been reading mostly books about or set in the Second World War, enlightening but serious stuff. And then I remembered I have Toast by Nigel Slater, subtitled “the story of a boy’s hunger”. The first few pages I’ve read are so amusing and wonderful. It’s a mixture of food and family and although there are hints that not all went well in his childhood, so far it has cheered me up enormously. His description of how his father made a contraption for lifting the ancient heavy Kenwood from “its deep dark hole in the kitchen work surface” made me laugh out loud at the image of the “huge mixer bouncing up  like a jack-in-a-box”.

What is Reading, Fundamentally?

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Suggested by: Thisisnotabookclub

What is reading, anyway? Novels, comics, graphic novels, manga, e-books, audiobooks ‘” which of these is reading these days? Are they all reading? Only some of them? What are your personal qualifications for something to be ‘œreading’ ‘” why? If something isn’™t reading, why not? Does it matter? Does it impact your desire to sample a source if you find out a premise you liked the sound of is in a format you don’™t consider to be reading? Share your personal definition of reading, and how you came to have that stance.

(Two weeks late for Reading is Fundamental week, but, well’¦)

To me these are all forms of reading, even audiobooks where the words come into your head through the ears rather than the eyes, as I hear the words in my head when I read with my eyes. I also picture the images the words evoke, so pictorial images such as comics, graphic novels and manga are all reading too. The difficulty in this line of thought is that I don’t count watching films and TV  as “reading”. Watching is a passive activity, whereas reading is active and involves using your imagination and working out your own interpretation.

Audiobooks are good because you can listen whilst doing something like ironing (watching TV and ironing is a bit tricky, although I do that too), using the exercise bike, which I find immensely boring, and listening in the car. They must be a godsend if you’re blind (going blind is one of my worst nightmares).

I used to enjoy reading comics as a child as much as reading books. I haven’t actually read a graphic novel, but going off other people’s recommendations they seem to be worth trying at least. The format doesn’t stop me from reading them – I just haven’t picked one up to look at it as there are so many other books that I want to read. I don’t often buy a newspaper but I read on-line and I only read magazines now and then, apart from the Radio Times which I read every week. I used to read lots of magazines but the number of adverts made me think they weren’t worth buying and as they cost as much as a book, I prefer to buy a book.

I prefer reading physical books to reading e-books, partly because it’s less tiring on the eyes, but also because I enjoy the physical sensations of reading a book – the weight, the feel of the paper, its smell, its actual presence and ease of use. This may be because I’ve enjoyed reading books from an early age, and I’m used to it. Although I hope I would cope if e-books were the only form of books available, I would be very upset if physical books ceased to be published. I think reading newspapers on-line is not the same as the articles are shorter and I can cope with that. So it follows from this that the format doesn’t stop me from reading but it may lessen my enjoyment .

Tuesday Thingers

Marie at The Boston Bibliophile asks this week’s question – How many books do you have catalogued in your LibraryThing account? How do you decide what to include- everything you have, everything you’ve read- and are there things you leave off?

I’ve catalogued 815 books so far, including books I’ve read and have yet to read. Nearly all the fiction books are in and I’ve started on the non-fiction. I’m aiming to include all the books I own and my husband’s as well.

I spent about half the day today sorting out some books to give away as there is no more room on the bookshelves to keep them all and I was tired of seeing all the piles of books all over the house. They’re still double shelved and there is still one pile of oversize books that just won’t go on the shelves. It looks like we need at least one more bookcase – but where to put even one more is the big question.

Now I have several piles of books on the dining room table waiting to be boxed and taken to the charity shop and I’ve been wondering about deleting them from LibraryThing first, so this question is very appropriate. I see that Marie keeps books in her LT catalogue even if she’s got rid of them if they have reviews attached. I don’t think I’ve reviewed the ones I’ve weeded out today but I think it’s a good idea to keep them in LT if I have. I’ve only written a few reviews and rated only a handful. I hadn’t noticed the rating system at first in my rush and enthusiasm to add books. I don’t include wish-list books.

Keeping the World Away by Margaret Forster

Keeping the World Away

I expect a book by Margaret Forster to be good and this one is no exception. It is essentially the story of a painting, a variant of Gwen John’s The Corner of the Artist’s Room in Paris, as over the years it passes from one woman to another.


I knew very little about Gwen John before I read Keeping the World Away and now I want to know more. (Fortunately there is a list of books about her in the back of the book.)

The title of the book comes from a quotation from Gwen John’s Papers in the National Library of Wales:

“Rules to Keep the World away: Do not listen to people (more than is necessary); Do not look at people (ditto); Have as little intercourse with people as possible; When you come into contact with people, talk as little as possible … ” 3 March 1912

It seems from this novel that Gwen John was completely infatuated and in thrall to the artist Rodin. She became his lover and tried to please him by being tranquil and calm and striving for harmony in her life. Inwardly, however she “felt volcanic, as though burning lava filled her and would explode with the force of what was beneath it, her overwhelming passion for him.”

Her room was the image of how Rodin wished her to be and she painted a sunlit corner of it where it was “all peace and calm and serenity” in contrast to Gwen herself who “radiated energy”. She rearranged the room and painted several versions; with the window open, with an open book on the table, with flowers on the table, with and without the parasol.

I wished that the whole book had been about Gwen John. However, it’s about the painting and how its successive owners acquire it and what it means to each of them. It gets lost, is stolen, turns up on a market stall, is bought, given away and fought over. As each new owner is introduced there are links between them, but each time the painting passed to a new person I wanted to know more about each of them.

The painting is seen as expressing a yearning for something unobtainable, having an air of mystery, conveying a sense of waiting, of longing, of anticipation of someone’s arrival, painful, soothing or uplifting, empty, and symbolic of an independent, simple life free of entanglements. It becomes part of the lives of its owners. The novel starts with Gillian, the school girl reflecting that art speaks for itself, regardless of the artist’s intention. “She was convinced  that art should be looked at in a pure way, uninfluenced by any knowledge of the artist or the circumstances in which it had been painted.” It ends with Gillian, the aspiring artist, reflecting on the nature of art and the purpose of this painting – “Had that not been its purpose? To keep the world away, for a few precious moments, at least every time it was looked at?”

I can’t quite agree with Gillian. I can see that seeing a painting in isolation from the artist can be a pure experience, but I’m always filled with curiosity both about artists and authors – who they were, when they lived, what was going on in the world they lived in and how it affected their work. However, I also think that a painting is like a book in that they can both be interpreted in many ways regardless of the artist’s or author’s intentions.

This is a remarkable book, which I’m sure I shall read again and again.

(This book meets the criteria for the Celebrate the Author Challenge – Margaret Forster’s birthday is in May.)

Sunday Salon – Currently Reading

For today’s Sunday Salon I’m writing about books I have on the go at the moment, some of which are listed in the sidebar. I really should remove Les Miserables from the list, as I’ve not read any of it for a couple of weeks now, but I’m a good way into each of the other books, apart from Atonement. I added this yesterday, despite having other books that I’ve already started or planned to read.

I just have to re-read Atonement, a book I first read about five or six years ago, because of the Booking Through Thursday post on Books versus Movies. I mentioned I hadn’t seen the film of the book and was a bit hesitant to do so because generally I don’t enjoy a film after reading the book. See here for my reasons. Quite by chance the film was available and I watched it on BT Vision. I thought it didn’t start as the book started so I got the book off the shelf and found that I can’t trust my memory. I’d remembered the start as the incident that triggered the story and had forgotten the opening scenes – the beginning of the book and the film are the same! So now, of course I just have to read the book again. I have a suspicion that the book ended differently too, but now I’m not sure how reliable my memory of that is either.

I’ve been reconsidering my opinions about books versus movies. Because I watched the film on TV I could stop and rewind and play again – I watched it twice. This is a bit like reading a book; you can watch it in chunks, like reading chapters and you can go back over parts you weren’t sure of (or fell asleep in). I enjoyed the film and I’m glad I watched it at home, even though you don’t get that all-encompassing atmosphere of the cinema – the dark auditorium and that enormous screen that you can’t watch both sides at once. But then you don’t get the annoying presence of other people – crunching sweets, rustling bags, pushing past when they leave their seats and crossing in front of the screen, or even worse talking.

There is so much more detail in a book, as inevitably events are condensed in a film. I was confused watching Atonement at the beginning. Why were they rushing about and talking so quickly, hardly opening their mouths? Why did Cecelia dash to the fountain to fill the vase with water instead of going to the kitchen? I’ve only read the first few chapters of the book up to now, but it is all so much clearer in the book and so enjoyable to read. Despite these niggles I was completely engrossed in the film; the tension and emotion of it all, capturing the pre-war mood in contrast to the stark realism of the war years.

I also think it makes a difference to me if I see a film soon after I’ve read the book and I can remember the details. This happened when I watched the BBC’s version of Cranford, which really was a version and not the ‘real’ thing. The acting was superb and the settings were lovely, but the stories were an amalgamation of other books by Elizabeth Gaskell and the scriptwriter’s own inventions and because I’d just finished reading Cranford a few days before the first episode I was constantly identifying each strand. It was most distracting and irritating. I wrote more about this here and here .

So watching Atonement, the film has made me want to re-read the book, completely wrecking my reading plans.  I’ll be reading that today and not the others listed in the sidebar or even these other books, which I’m planning to read:

  • Down To a Sunless Sea by Matthias B Freese. I’ve read two of the short stories in this book.
  • The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak. I’ve read the Prologue.
  • The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain. I’ve been meaning to read this ever since I finished Tom Sawyer.
  • The Seven Dials Murder by Agatha Christie. I thought I’d read some of her books after watching the last Dr Who episode.
  • The Mitfords: Letters between Six Sisters – thanks to Simon’s review.

Flowers on Friday

I may not be very good at gardening, but I love sitting and admiring the flowers. Today it’s raining so I can’t get out there so here are some photos I took on better days.

This is the Star of Bethlehem, a bulb. Where has it come from? We’ve lived here for some years now and I’ve never seen it in the garden before. Could it have grown from seed? According to The National Trust Book of Wild Flower Gardening it can be grown from seed and it would take several years to flower. It’s called the Star of Bethlehem because of its star-shaped flowers, which are sensitive to light. They’re closed up today and you can see the green stripe on the back of each petal. They’re lovely.

There are lots of these alliums in flower just now in our garden. This is Allium Gladiator, an ornamental onion bulb. They grow to about four feet high and over the years have spread themselves around the borders. I particularly like them as they don’t seem to need any attention from me and their large purple heads are made up of little star-like flowers.

I’m really pleased that this camellia is growing in the garden. I bought it as a small plant and was told it’s difficult to grow and knowing my record with plants I am amazed that it has not only survived but is flourishing. Last year it was covered in flowers, but this year there are only a few. I don’t know what type of camellia it is, but I think its deep rose pink anemone like flowers are so beautiful. This grows in our back garden, near to the house.

These tulips have shed their petals now. There are only a few of these growing in the back garden and I just leave them to grow back each year. Maybe I should dig up the bulbs after they have flowered and store them to re-plant the following year?

These are dwarf tulips which flower a bit later. I love their bright red petals.

Another plant that does well in the garden without any assistance from me is this aquilegia. Again this grows all over the garden, the seeds are spread by the wind and there are varying shades of pink and purple in both the back and the front gardens. These are growing at the front of the house.

Whilst in the back garden there is a wild patch where yellow poppies have self-seeded.