WWW Wednesday: 15 January 2020

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WWW Wednesday is run by Taking on a World of Words.

The Three Ws are:

What are you currently reading?
What did you recently finish reading?
What do you think you’ll read next?

Currently I’m reading three books:

Charles Dickens oliver twist etcOliver Twist by Charles Dickens, my Classics Club Spin book. It’s one of those books that I think I know the story from watching TV adaptations, but I have never read it. I’ve discovered that I only ‘know’ the beginning of the book up to the part where Oliver is rescued by Mr Brownlow from Fagin’s clutches, only to be snatched back by Nancy. After that the story is totally new to me.

John Lennon LettersI’m also reading The John Lennon Letters edited by Hunter Davies. It includes a brief biography and using almost three hundred of Lennon’s letters and postcards, to relations, friends, fans, strangers, and lovers follows his life more or less chronologically. It’s a large, heavy hardback book, illustrated with photos and reproductions of the letters etc. This is going to be a long-term read for me.

The Windsor StoryThe third book is one I’ve only just started – I’ve been struck by some of the parallels between Edward VIII’s abdication in 1936 in order to marry Wallis Simpson and the current situation of Prince Harry and Meghan in wanting to step back as senior royals, and I remembered I have The Windsor Story by J Bryan III and Charles V Murphy. It looks remarkably comprehensive and is another book that I think will take me a long time to read.

Lady of the ravensThe last book I finished reading is  The Lady of the Ravens by Joanna Hickson, historical fiction about about the early years of Henry’s reign as seen through the eyes of Joan Vaux, a lady in waiting to Elizabeth of York, whose marriage in 1486 to Henry united the Houses of Lancaster and York after the end of the Wars of the Roses.  I found this a fascinating book and posted my review a few days ago.

Tinker tailorI have several books lined up to read next including Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy by John Le Carré because over the Christmas period I watched the film starring Gary Oldman as George Smiley, along with Colin FirthTom HardyJohn Hurt and others. I began reading the book years ago and have a bookmark at page 88, but I’ll have to go back to the beginning now.

A killing kindnessBut I’d also like to start A Killing Kindness, the next Dalziel and Pascoe novel, the 6th one in Reginald Hill’s series. It looks good – about Mary Dinwoodie whose body is found choked in a ditch following a night out with her boyfriend, and a mysterious caller phones the local paper with a quotation from Hamlet.

But knowing how long it could be until I start the next book, it could be something completely different!

Have you read any of these books?  Do any of them tempt you? 

Six Degrees of Separation: from Daisy Jones and The Six to Thirteen

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Daisy Jones

This month the chain begins with Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid,  a novel about the rise and fall of a fictional 70s rock band inspired by Fleetwood Mac.

There are always several ways to go when compiling these Six Degree chains and at first my mind went blank  but looking at the books we got for Christmas I decided that Face It: a Memoir by Debbie Harry was just the right book for my first link, a book about a real rock band. Debbie Harry is the best known face of Blondie; she and the band forged a new sound that brought together the worlds of rock, punk, disco, reggae and hip-hop to create some of the most beloved pop songs of all time.

The Ballad of Jethro Tull: The official illustrated oral history is another book we got for Christmas. It’s Jethro Tull’s story told by Ian Anderson, band members past and present and the people who helped Tull become one of the most successful bands in rock history.

And then I thought my chain needed a change of genre, but sticking with the word ‘ballad’ I thought of Dreamwalker: The Ballad of Sir Benfro: Book 1 by James Oswald, a magical tale of the young dragon, Benfro, inspired by the language and folklore of Wales. It follows the adventures of a young dragon, Sir Benfro, in a land where his kind have been hunted near to extinction by men.

For the next link I turned to crime fiction and to one of James Oswald’s Inspector McLean novels, set in Edinburgh – The Hangman’s Song. It’s a dark, tense novel with elements of the supernatural  and parapsychology thrown in. It’s not a book for the faint-hearted or the squeamish as there are details of some gruesome deaths, murders and beatings that the characters go through. 

James Oswald is a Scottish author and so my last link is to another Scottish author – Chris Brookmyre, who has written The Way of all Flesh, under the pseudonym of Ambrose Parry with his wife, Dr Marisa Haetzman a consultant anaesthetist. It is set in Edinburgh in 1847 as Dr James Young Simpson, a professor of midwifery, discovered the anaesthetic properties of chloroform. It combines fact and fiction most successfully, the social scene, historical and medical facts slotting perfectly into the plot. It was on the Longlist for the 2019 Theakston Old Peculier Crime Novel of the Year.

But the winner was Thirteen by Steve Cavannagh, an Irish author. It’s the fifth book in the Eddie Flynn series of crime thrillers, ‘serving up a delicious twist to the traditional courtroom thriller, where in this instance the real killer is not the one on trial, but a member of the jury!’ I have a copy but haven’t read it yet. And quite by chance I see that it also links back to Daisy Jones and the Six as it has a number in the title.

From a fictional rock band to two real rock bands my chain also links up books of ballads and three crime fiction novels.

Next month (1 February 2020), we’ll begin with Fleishman is in Trouble by Taffy Brodesser-Akner.

Six Degrees of Separation: from Sanditon to The Lambs of London

I love doing Six Degrees of Separation, a monthly link-up hosted by Kate at Books Are My Favourite and Best. Each month a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. A book doesn’t need to be connected to all the other books on the list, only to the one next to it in the chain.

Sanditon

This month the chain begins with December 7, 2019), we’ll begin with Jane Austen’s unfinished manuscript, Sanditon. I read this a few years ago and enjoyed it very much.  It’s the last fiction that Jane Austen wrote, beginning it in January 1817, the year she died. She was ill and the subject of health is one of its themes, but not in a serious or gloomy way. It has a lively, bright and humorous tone, with three of the characters being hypochondriacs, wonderfully satirised by Jane Austen.

My first thought was to link to The Mystery of Edwin Drood, Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel. But I’ve already used it in an earlier Six Degrees post and I don’t like to use the same book twice in these posts, so my first link is to Castle Dor, which Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch had started to write  but had set aside unfinished before his death. His daughter asked Daphne du Maurier to finish it. It retells of the legend of the tragic lovers, Tristan and Isolde, transplanted in time and place to the early 1840s in Cornwall. 

The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart also retells a legend, that of King Arthur and Merlin. It’s the third book of the Arthurian Saga, a book of myth and legend and about the conflict between good and evil.

My third link is King Arthur in King Arthur’s Bones by the Medieval Murderers, a group of five authors, all members of the Crime Writers’ Association. The book consists of five stories with a prologue and an epilogue tracing the mystery of Arthur’s remains. The legend is that King Arthur is not dead, but sleeping with his knights ready to return to defend his country in a time of great danger. One of the stories is set in the 17th century involving William Shakespeare’s brother Edmund who discovered a long thigh bone and a murder in the Tower of London in one of the compartments of the Lion Tower where the king kept lions and tigers. 

Another of Shakespeare’s brothers, Richard, appears in Fools and Mortals by Bernard Cornwell. It’s 1595 and the players are rehearsing a new play, A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Richard is longing to play a male role, but so far has only been given female roles. There is little brotherly love between the brothers and Richard is tempted to leave the Lord Chamberlain’s Men when Langley, the producer at the Swan in Southwark offers him a job, providing he will steal two of William’s new plays.

This brings me to Peter Ackroyd’s Biography of Shakespeare.  It is full of detail about the theatrical world, how the actors worked, about their patrons and managers, how Shakespeare interacted with other writers, and how his work was received by the public and the monarchy.

And so to my final link, another book by Peter Ackroyd, The Lambs of London, historical fiction based loosely on the lives of Mary and Charles Lamb. It also is a link to Shakespeare as Mary buys  a book from William Ireland, an antiquarian, a book that it is said once belonged to Shakespeare.

My chain is linked by unfinished books, books about legends, Tristan and Isolde and King Arthur, about Shakespeare and his brothers and books by Peter Ackroyd. It includes both crime and historical fiction and a biography.

Next month ( 4 January 2020), we’ll begin with Daisy Jones and The Six by Taylor Jenkins Reid, a book I’ve never heard of before. 

D H Lawrence: The Life Of An Outsider by John Worthen

D H Lawrence

Penguin Books|2006|518 pages|5*

In April I began reading  D. H. Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen, a biography. It is one of my TBRs as I bought it in 2008 when I visited D H Lawrence’s birthplace at Eastwood, 8 miles from Nottingham.

He was born in 1885 in a row of miners’ houses, a two up, two down redbrick house. The adjoining end terrace house is now a museum and shop (where I bought the book).

I find writing about biographies difficult. This book, in particular, is hard to summarise. I read the book slowly in short sections, reading it most days. It’s a detailed portrait of his life from his birth in 1885 in Eastwood in Nottinghamshire to his death at the age of 44 in 1930. An ‘outsider’, he always felt he didn’t fit in or belong either with his family, or his work colleagues, or the literary elite of the times.

By 1908 writing had become a necessity to him – writing poetry, but he was too insecure to send any of it to a publisher. At that time he was working in Croydon as an elementary teacher. He began writing his first novel, which by October 1910 he was calling ‘Paul Morel‘ . It later became ‘Sons and Lovers.’  It was in 1912 that he first met Frieda Weekley, whom he later married. She was then married to Ernest Weekley, a Nottingham University professor of modern languages.

Once he had left Eastwood he travelled in search of a place where he could be himself, but despite staying in different places, with friends, in hotels and in rented accommodation he felt he was really unable to find a place of his own. The maps at the beginning of the book illustrate this with maps of Lawrence’s Eastwood, of the places he lived in England, in Italy and in America and Mexico. Part of his need to find a place of his own was purely physical – he suffered from tuberculosis and he was searching for a climate where he could breathe easily. His final months were full of pain and suffering and he died in Bandol, France on 2 March 1930.

Worthen writes in depth about Lawrence’s personal life, his relationship with his family and in particular with his mother, Lydia and then his wife, Frieda, as well as his numerous friends and acquaintances, because although he thought of himself as an outsider he needed his friends. Lawrence was prolific, writing novels, short stories, plays, poems, letters, essays, nonfiction books, travel literature, and so on, as well as producing numerous paintings (some of which were on display at his Birthplace Museum).

D H Lawrence photos

Worthen writes in great detail about his work, quoting from original sources, and tracing his development as a writer. There are 38 photographs, the first taken c.1886 of Lawrence as a baby in a pram to a photo of a clay head of him made in 1930 by Jo Davidson. I found it all fascinating, giving a portrait of a man often misunderstood by his contemporaries and criticised for being sexist, racist, a misogynist, a fascist and a colonialist. Worthen, however, writes:

He was in reality generous to women and men alike, and to all races and colours. He wrote wonderfully all his life about his experience of the natural world; he was more perceptive than almost any writer, before or since, about the effects of civilisation upon instinct and desire. He has constantly been attacked because his writing constantly thought things through in public. But it is, uncannily, as if Lawrence knew where both his contemporaries and those after him would be most sensitive and anxious, and concentrated his writing on those very subjects: sex, gender roles, the exercise of power. He intuitively worked his way into the concerns and anxieties of his contemporaries, though by doing so he also confirmed his alienation from his own age and (now) perhaps from ours. (pages xxv – xxvi)

I have read just a few of Lawrence’s novels – Women in Love, Sons and Lovers, The Virgin and the Gypsy, St Mawr, and The Man Who Died. I haven’t read Lady Chatterley’s Lover yet, but when I do I’ll look back at Worthern has to say about it.

About the author:

John Worthen  taught at universities in North America and Wales before becoming Professor of D. H. Lawrence Studies at the University of Nottingham, where he remains Emeritus Professor. His career as Lawrence’s biographer began in the 1980s, resulting in the first of a three-volume Cambridge biography – D. H. Lawrence: The Early Years 1885 – 1912. In 2001 Yale University Press brought out his group biography The Gang: Coleridge, the Wordsworth and the Hutchinsons in 1802. His newest biography is a life of the great German composer Robert Schumann, while he also plans to write a biography of Frieda von Richthofen, concentrating wholly on her life before she met D. H. Lawrence.

Nonfiction November: Week 3 – Be The Expert – Agatha Christie

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I’m taking part in Nonfiction November 2019 again this year. It was one of my favourite events last year – this year it will run from Oct 28 to Nov 30. Each Monday a link-up for the week’s topic will be posted at the host’s blog for you to link your posts throughout the week.

This week’s topic is: 

Be The Expert/Ask the Expert/Become the Expert (Katie @ Doing Dewey): Three ways to join in this week! You can either share 3 or more books on a single topic that you have read and can recommend (be the expert), you can put the call out for good nonfiction on a specific topic that you have been dying to read (ask the expert), or you can create your own list of books on a topic that you’d like to read (become the expert).

I read more fiction than nonfiction, so I can’t claim to be an expert in any one subject, but I do read quite a lot of autobiographies and biographies and combined with my love of crime fiction I’ve chosen Agatha Christie for the subject of this post. I have read all of her crime fiction novels, her Autobiography and her memoir, Come Tell Me How You Live.

Agatha Christie

Agatha Christie: An Autobiography. It took her fifteen years to write it. She stopped in 1965 when she was 75 because she thought that it was the ‘right moment to stop’. As well as being a record of her life as she remembered it and wanted to relate it, it’s also full of her thoughts on life and writing. I’ve written about her Autobiography in a few posts as I was reading it:

Agatha Christie: Come, Tell Me How You Live: an archaeological memoir – she had visited the Middle East in 1929 travelling on the Orient Express to Istanbul and then on to Damascus and Baghdad. She visited the excavations at Ur and returned there the following spring where she met archaeologist Max Mallowan – by the end of the summer they had decided to marry, which they did on 11 September 1930. She wrote this memoir to answer her friends’ questions about what life was like when she accompanied Max on his excavations in Syria and Iraq in the 1930s.

I can also recommend the following books:

Agatha Christie and the Eleven Missing Days by Jared Cade – a fascinating book. I did feel as though I was intruding into Agatha Christie’s private life that she had not wanted made known but Cade writes sympathetically. In December 1926 Agatha Christie disappeared from her home, Styles, in Berkshire. She was found eleven days later in a hotel in Harrogate, Yorkshire apparently suffering from amnesia.   The book is not just about those eleven days but is a biography that reveals how those eleven days and the events that led up to her disappearance influenced the rest of her life.

Agatha Christie: An English Mystery by Laura Thompson – Overall, I think that this book as a biography is unbalanced, concentrating on the events surrounding Agatha’s disappearance and there is much speculation and supposition. I prefer Agatha’s own version of her life: An Autobiography, in which she merely referred to the events of 1926 thus:

The next year of my life is one I hate recalling. As so often in life, when one thing goes wrong, everything goes wrong. (page 356)

Agatha Christie at Home by Hilary Macaskill –  a beautiful book, with many photographs – more than 100 colour photos – illustrating Agatha’s life and homes.

Poirot and Me by David Suchet – For me Suchet was the perfect Poirot and this book really lives up to its title, as the main subject is David Suchet’s role as Poirot. His first performance as Poirot was in 1988. Over the intervening twenty five years he played the part in every one of the seventy Poirot stories that Agatha Christie wrote, with the exception of a tiny short story called The Lemesurier Inheritance (a story in Poirot’s Early Cases and in The Under Dog).

I also dip into two more books about Agatha Christie’s work – Agatha Christie’s Secret Notebooks: Fifty Years of Mysteries in the Making by John Curran and The Life and Crimes of Agatha Christie by Charles Osborne.

My Friday Post: Boris by Andrew Gimson

Book Beginnings Button

Every Friday Book Beginnings on Friday is hosted by Gillion at Rose City Reader where you can share the first sentence (or so) of the book you are reading, along with your initial thoughts about the sentence, impressions of the book, or anything else the opener inspires.

Boris

I’ve been thinking for a while of reading Boris: the Rise of Boris Johnson by Andrew Gimson, published in 2012. I bought it secondhand several years ago after Boris had been elected as Mayor of London and it is an updated version of his earlier biography to include Boris’s record in power as the Mayor of London.  I see that Gimson has since brought out  another updated edition, subtitled The Adventures of Boris Johnson, after the Brexit Referendum in 2016.  

It begins with an Introduction explaining why Gimson thought of writing a life of Boris Johnson.

In the summer of 2004, Boris’s star shone with amazing brightness. Reputable judges predicted he would be the next Conservative Prime Minister, and that June morning he was all over the newspapers, which were enthralled by a scoop he had gathered while waiting on his bike at a traffic light.

Well, he wasn’t the next Prime Minister – for that he had to wait until this year.

Then Chapter I begins:

Boris was born to British parents in New York City on 19 June 1964. His mother Charlotte, who was only twenty-two years old, relates that at his birth he had the thick yellow hair for which he was later to become so celebrated: ‘We didn’t cut it, so it turned into ringlets.

And in the photos there is one of Boris, aged one with his mother celebrating at the end of her Oxford exams and Boris is determined to have some of her champagne – his hair a mop of curls.

Also every Friday there is The Friday 56, hosted by Freda at Freda’s Voice.

30879-friday2b56These are the rules:

  1. Grab a book, any book.
  2. Turn to page 56, or 56% on your eReader. If you have to improvise, that is okay.
  3. Find any sentence (or a few, just don’t spoil it) that grabs you.
  4. Post it.
  5. Add the URL to your post in the link on Freda’s most recent Friday 56 post.

Pages 57:

At a time when many of us are still in a state of utter confusion, Boris knew where he wanted to go. A close friend said of him: ‘At the age of eighteen he set himself the target that he was going to be in the Cabinet by the age of thirty-five.’

He didn’t make that target until later in his life – and he went on to become Prime Minister in July.  But will he still be PM by the end of this year … ?

Who knows??

Reading in May

I’ve been reading eight books in May, and have finished reading six of them, but only reviewed four of them:

  1. The Butterfly Room by Lucinda Riley 4* –  a family saga spanning generations  revealing the dark secret hidden behind the locked door of the Butterfly Room
  2. Mrs Whistler by Matthew Plampin 5* – not about his mother, but about him and his model and mistress, Maud Franklin
  3. Codename Villanelle by Luke Jennings 3* – the basis for the TV series Killing Eve 
  4. The Doll Factory by Elizabeth Macneal 5* –  the story of Iris who dreamed of being an artist and her involvement with the Pre-Raphaelites

The other two books I finished are:

Before the Fall by Noah Hawley, which I didn’t enjoy and I’m just writing a few notes here about it. It won the 2017 Edgar Award for Best Novel and was selected by The Sunday Times as one of the top page-turners of summer 2017, so I’m in the minority because I thought it was boring and tedious. The plot is simple – a plane crashes into the sea after taking off from Martha’s Vineyard, just two people survive and the mystery is why did the plane crash and who was responsible. The main part of the book is made up of the long backstories of the people on the plane. It’s not gripping or thrilling and definitely not a page-turner. 1*

However I thoroughly enjoyed The Ruin Dervla McTiernan’s debut novel and I’ll be writing more about it in the next few days. Now this is a page-turner, about a current murder linked to a cold case. It’s complex and compelling reading as DI Cormac Reilly unravels a web of secrets. 4*

I’m still reading two books:

D H Lawrence: the Life of an Outsider by John Worthen, from his childhood in Nottinghamshire to his death at the age of 44. I’m reading this slowly and it will be some time before I finish it. An ‘outsider’, he always felt he didn’t fit in or belong either with his family or his work colleagues or the literary elite of the times.

The other book I’ve been reading is Sweet Thursday by John Steinbeck, my Classics Club Spin book that I was hoping to finish by the end of May. I’ve only read half of it so far. It’s a follow up to Cannery Row, with some of the same characters and I’m enjoying its humour and view of life in Monterey in the 1950s.

And now it’s June! I’ll be concentrating on reading the books I’ve listed for the 20 Books of Summer challenge – and hoping I won’t be distracted by too many other books!