New-to-Me Books from Barter Books

On Tuesday it was time for another visit to my favourite bookshop Barter Books, one of the largest secondhand bookshops in Britain. We were early getting there just after it had opened for the day, so there was space to park right outside the entrance.

I was quite restrained and only brought three books home, with me. But at least I’ve made some room on my bookshelves as I’d brought in six books. These are the books I brought home:

IMG_20180222_095337630_HDR.jpg

Killing Floor by Lee Child,the first in his Jack Reacher series. I’m keen to read this because I’ve recently read the 22nd book in the series and want to know more about Reacher, an ex-military cop of no fixed abode.

The Ghost of the Mary Celeste by Valerie Martin. I’ve read some of Valerie Martin’s books before and enjoyed them. This one weaves fact and fiction concerning the mystery surrounding the Mary Celeste, looking at it from different viewpoints including those of a psychic and Arthur Conan Doyle, who was inspired by it to write a short story, J. Habakuk Jephson’s Statement

Defying Hitler: a Memoir by Sebastian Haffner, a memoir of life in Germany during the Nazi rise to power. It was written in 1939 during Haffner’s exile in England. I’ve been reading novels about the Second World War period, so I think it would be good to know more about  the Wiemar Republic, particularly from a German who lived through those times.

What do you think? Have you read any of these? Do they tempt you too?

Six Degrees from No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency to White Nights

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.

This month the chain begins with Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies Detective Agency, a book I haven’t read although I have watched the TV version.

The No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency  (No. 1 Ladies' Detective Agency #1)

Precious Ramotswe is a kind, warm-hearted and large African lady. She is also the only female private detective in Botswana. Her agency – the No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency – is the best in the country. With help of her secretary, Mma Makutsi, and her best friend, Mr JLB Matekoni, she solves a number of difficult problems. A missing husband, a missing finger and a missing child – she will solve these mysteries in her own special way.

Although I haven’t read No.1 Ladies Detective Agency I have read a few of Alexander McCall Smith’s books including The Careful Use of Compliments, an Isabel Dalhousie Novel, one of the Sunday Philosophy Club series, set in Edinburgh.

The Careful Use of Compliments (Isabel Dalhousie, #4)

Isabel has just had a baby, Charlie, and is in a relationship with his father, Jamie (14 years her junior) who is her niece’s, ex-boyfriend. There is a mystery about a painting, whether or not it is a forgery, but for me it’s the philosophical questions that are always uppermost in Isabel’s mind and conversations, her way of ‘interring’ in matters which she considers ‘helping’, and her kindhearted nature that was more interesting.

The next link in my chain is to an another book set in Edinburgh. The Inspector’s Daughter by Alanna Knight, the first in the Rose McQuinn Mystery series, set in Edinburgh in 1895, when the Forth Railway Bridge had just been opened.

The Inspector's Daughter

Rose, recently returned from America’s Wild West, steps into the shoes of her father, DI Faro. She lives in an isolated house at the foot of Arthur’s Seat and is helped by a wild deerhound who appears just when she needs him.

Arthur’s Seat, the extinct volcano within Holyrood Park, east of Edinburgh Castle is also mentioned in Ian Rankin’s The Falls, the 12th Inspector Rebus book.

The Falls (Inspector Rebus, #12)

Rebus investigates the disappearance of ‘Flip’ a university student. One lead is a carved wooden doll found in a tiny coffin. Rebus concentrates on the tiny coffin and finds a whole series of them had turned up over the years dating back to 1836 when 17 were found on Arthur’s Seat.

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Other Tales of Terror

In The Falls Rankin also refers to Burke and Hare, the 19th century resurrectionists and this leads me on to the next link in my chain – to The Body Snatcher, which is one of the Tales of Terror by Robert Louis Stevenson, published in the same volume as The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde. This is a traditional Christmas ghost story, beginning with four men gathered in an inn on a dark winter’s night telling tales of grisly deeds as they sit round the fireside. One of the stories is based on the activities of body snatchers, Burke and Hare in Edinburgh in the 1820s.

The next book, also by Robert Louis Stevenson is in contrast to his tale of terror  – it’s A Child’s Garden of Verses, poems I loved as a child.

This is one of my favourite poems – it brings to mind the power  and fury of the wind:

Windy Nights

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he;
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.

The last link in my chain is to a book with Nights in its title – White Nights by Ann Cleeves, the second in her Shetland Quartet, featuring DI Jimmy Perez. The ‘white nights’ are the summer nights when the sun never really goes down.

White Nights (Shetland Island, #2)

It’s set mainly in Biddista, a fictional village where artist Bella Sinclair throws an elaborate party to launch an exhibition of her work at The Herring House, a gallery on the beach. The party ends in farce when one the guests, a mysterious Englishman, bursts into tears and claims not to know who he is or where he’s come from. The following day the Englishman is found hanging from a rafter, and Jimmy Perez is convinced that the man has been murdered.

From books about different detective series my chain moved through a tale of terror, then to a children’s book of poetry and back to another murder mystery –  from Botswana to Edinburgh and the Shetland Isles.

Next month (February 3, 2018),  the chain begins with the book that won the Man Booker Prize in 2017 – Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders.

New-to-Me Books from Barter Books

Barter Books in Alnwick was looking very festive yesterday with a Christmas tree made out of books. It’s my favourite bookshop, one of the largest secondhand bookshops in Britain with books galore, open fires and plenty of places to sit and peruse the books. (See this Picture Gallery for more photos)

I browsed the shelves to see which ones jumped out, shouting ‘read me’ And these are the books I brought home:

Where Roses Fade by Andrew Taylor – psychological crime fiction, one of his Lydmouth series, in which Mattie, a waitress drowns  – did she fall, or did she jump? Rumours circulate that her death wasn’t accidental – and then comes another death. I’ve read Andrew Taylor’s Roth trilogy, but none of his Lydmouth series.

You Made Me Late Again! by Pam Ayres – a collection of poems, anecdotes and short verses, covering a wide range of subjects from a nervous racehorse, a proud granny, to a dog reunited with his master at the Pearly Gates. I fancied some light relief after all the crime fiction I’ve been reading lately and this collection of witty poems appealed to me.

The Woman in Cabin 10 by Ruth Ware – a thriller set on a luxury cruise ship going to see the Northern Lights, a body overboard – but there are no missing passengers.  I was looking in the ‘W’s for a book by Louise Welsh (I didn’t find one I hadn’t read) but this book caught my eye. I haven’t read any of Ruth Ware’s books, but have seen her mentioned on other book blogs.

Loitering With Intent by Muriel Spark – Would-be novelist Fleur Talbot works for Sir Quentin Oliver at the Autobiographical Association.  Mayhem ensues when scenes from Fleur’s novel-in-progress begin to come true with dangerous and darkly funny results. One of my favourite books is The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, so I’m hoping to love this book too.

A Place Called Winter by Patrick Gale –  after an illicit affair Harry Cane, is forced to travel from Edwardian England to the town of Winter in Canada  to start a new life. I’m currently reading and enjoying Patrick Gale’s Notes from an Exhibition, so when I saw this book on the shelf I had to get it.

A Lesson in Secrets by Jacqueline Winspear – a Maisie Dobbs novel, set in 1932 when Maisie takes on an undercover assignment directed by Scotland Yard’s Special Branch and the Secret Service. I like the Maisie Dobbs books and began reading the several years ago, but I haven’t kept up with the series. This one is book 8.

What I love about Barter Books is that it’s not only filled with thousands of books, but it works on the swap system – you bring in books, they make an offer for them and your credit can then be used for books to bring home. I’m in credit, so I didn’t have to pay anything for these books – brilliant! Plus, it’s in a lovely building that was Alnwick’s beautiful old Victorian railway station and you can get tea, coffee, hot food (I love their macaroni cheese) and cakes etc in the Station Buffet. Yesterday we were there early and David had a Bacon Buttie from the Breakfast Menu – I had some of it too.

Remembrance Sunday

Today is Remembrance Sunday, the closest Sunday to 11 November (Armistice Day) marking the anniversary of the end of the First World War in 1918. Remembrance Sunday is held to commemorate those who served the country in two world wars and in more recent conflicts. There will be the traditional two-minute silence at the Cenotaph on Whitehall today and tomorrow at 11 minutes past the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month – the symbolic time of the ending of the First World War.

Poppy Day was first held on November 11, 1921. The idea of wearing poppies in remembrance of the dead came from the poem In Flanders Fields by a Canadian medical officer, John McCrae, who did not survive the war. It is now a national tradition.

In Flanders Fields

In Flanders fields the poppies blow
Between the crosses, row on row,
That mark our place; and in the sky
The larks, still bravely singing, fly
Scarce heard amid the guns below.

We are the Dead. Short days ago
We lived, felt dawn, saw sunset glow,
Loved and were loved, and now we lie
In Flanders fields.

Take up our quarrel with the foe:
To you from failing hands we throw
The torch; be yours to hold it high.
If ye break faith with us who die
We shall not sleep, though poppies grow
In Flanders fields.

John McCrae

The First World War began in 1914, ending on 11 November 1918. The young men who joined the army had no idea what horrors were ahead of them. During 1915 however, the true character of the war began to emerge with the slaughter on the Western Front.

May, 1915

Let us remember Spring will come again
To the scorched, blackened woods, where all the wounded trees
Wait, with their old wise patience for the heavenly rain,
Sure of the sky: sure of the sea to send its healing breeze,
Sure of the sun. And even as to these
Surely the Spring, when God shall please
Will come again like a divine surprise
To those who sit to-day with their great Dead, hands in their hands, eyes in their eyes,
At one with Love, at one with Grief: blind to the scattered things and changing skies.

Charlotte Mew

Poems from A Corner of a Foreign Field: The illustrated Poetry of the First World War selected by Fiona Waters. This is a collection of poems, some written on the battlefields and some with the benefit of hindsight, poems by men and women recording the experience of their daily lives, the war and its horrors and privations, poems of courage and comradeship in the face of darkest adversity.

Turn of the Century Salon: March

Turn of the Century SalonThe Turn of the Century Salon, is a monthly literary event where you can share recent posts related to literature or authors from the 1880s-1930s. One of Katherine’s suggestions for this month’s post is to find a work of art or music within the same time-period that reflect the book and share it.

After reading Siegfried Sassoon’s Memoirs of a Fox-Hunting Man I decided to read more of his works, including his poetry and bought The War Poems of Siegfried SassonWorld War One British Poets: Brooke, Owen, Sassoon, Rosenberg and Others, edited by Candace Ward. I’ve also borrowed Sassoon’s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer and Siegfried Sassoon: a Biography by Max Egremont and am slowly reading through these.

I’m familiar with some of the World War One war poets, such as Rupert Brooke (The Soldier – ‘If I should die, think only this of me: That there’s some corner of a foreign field That is forever England), Wilfred Owen (Dulce et Decorum Est), and Thomas Hardy (Channel Firing) and so on, but I hadn’t read any of Sassoon’s poems.

They are satires condemning the war. Sassoon described his poems such as The One-Legged Man as “satirical drawings”, which he intended to “disturb complacency”. Here is his poem In the Pink

So Davies wrote: ‘ This leaves me in the pink. ‘
Then scrawled his name: ‘ Your loving sweetheart Willie ‘
With crosses for a hug. He’d had a drink
Of rum and tea; and, though the barn was chilly,
For once his blood ram warm; he had pay to spend,
Winter was passing; soon the year would mend.

He couldn’t sleep that night. Stiff in the dark
He groaned and thought of Sundays at the farm,
When he’d go out as cheerful as a lark
In his best suit to wander arm-in-arm
With brown-eyed Gwen, and whisper in her ear
The simple, silly things she liked to hear.

And then he thought: to-morrow night we trudge
Up to the trenches, and my boots are rotten.
Five miles of stodgy clay and freezing sludge,
And everything but wretchedness forgotten.
To-night he’s in the pink; but soon he’ll die.
And still the war goes on; he don’t know why.

Looking for more information about this poem I found this description in Siegfried Sassoon: a Study of the War Poetry by Patrick Campbell (page 94):

‘The first of my outspoken’ war poems.  I wrote it one cold morning at Morlancourt, sitting by the fire in the Quartermaster’s billet, while our Machine-Gun Officer shivered in his blankets on the floor.  He was suffering from alcoholic poisoning, and cold feet, and shortly afterwards departed for England, never to return.  Needless to say, the verses do not refer to him, but to some typical Welshman who probably got killed on the Somme in July, after months and months of a dog’s life and no leave.  The Westminster refused the poem, as they thought it might prejudice recruiting!!’

Reading Sassoon’s war poems brings home the horrors of war, the deaths, the devastating injuries and the appalling indifference of the war leaders and the lack of understanding of the people back home.

Similarly some works of art were considered controversial and not suitable for public viewing. Such a painting is Paths of Glory by Christopher Nevinson showing the corpses of two dead British soldiers lying face down in the mud among barbed wire behind the Western Front. Their helmets and rifles lie in the mud next to them.

Paths of Glory by Christopher Nevinson 1917 Oil on Canvas Collection: © Imperial War Museum

This painting is held in the Imperial War Museum website. Its description is:

“The title is a quote from ‘Elegy Written In A Country Church-Yard’ by Thomas Gray. ‘The boast of heraldry, the pomp of pow’r, And all that beauty, all that wealth e’er gave, Awaits alike th’inevitable hour. The paths of glory lead but to the grave.‘ Whereas the poet reflects on bodies dead and buried in a church-yard, the so-called ‘Paths of Glory‘ have led these soldiers to death in a wasteland.

Paths of Glory‘ was famously censored by the official censor of paintings and drawings in France, Lieutenant – Colonel A N Lee. His concern presumably being the representation of the rotting and bloated British corpses at this stage in the war. The decision was confirmed three months before the opening of his exhibition at the Leicester Galleries in 1918 but Nevinson still included the painting with a brown paper strip across the canvas, blatantly inscribed with the word ‘censored’. As a result, Nevinson was reprimanded for exhibiting a censored image and for the unauthorised use of the word €˜censored’ in a public space. Predictably, the stunt created the publicity Nevinson desired. The painting was purchased by the Museum during the course of the exhibition.”

This was the ‘war to end war’! The pity is that it didn’t.

H is for Hardy

Thomas Hardy is one of my favourite authors. He was born in 1840 at Upper Bockhampton near Dorchester. What I love most about Hardy’s books are his lyrical descriptions of nature and the countryside and all his books show his great love and knowledge of the countryside in all its aspects. They also show his almost pagan sense of fate and the struggle between man and an omnipotent and indifferent fate. Hardy was a pessimist – man’s fate is inevitable, affected by chance and coincidence. It cannot be changed, only accepted with dignity. This is illustrated in his poem – Hap, written in 1866:

If but some vengeful god would call to me

From up the sky, and laugh: ‘œThou suffering thing,

Know that thy sorrow is my ecstasy,

That thy love’s loss is my hate’s profiting!’

 

Then would I bear, and clench myself, and die,      

Steeled by the sense of ire unmerited;

Half-eased, too, that a Powerfuller than I

Had willed and meted me the tears I shed.

 

But not so. How arrives it joy lies slain,

And why unblooms the best hope ever sown?

‘”Crass Casualty obstructs the sun and rain,

And dicing Time for gladness casts a moan’¦.

These purblind Doomsters had as readily strown

Blisses about my pilgrimage as pain

The first book by Thomas Hardy that I read was The Trumpet Major – I think it was in the second year at secondary school. I remember very little about it, except that it was set during the Napoleonic Wars and I wasn’t too impressed. Then I read The Mayor of Casterbridge for A level GCE and thought it was wonderful. I still have my copy, with passages underlined and notes at the tops of pages – all in pencil. It’s full title is The Life and Death of the Mayor of Casterbridge: A Story of a Man of Character. It tells the tragic tale of Michael Henchard, a man of violent passions, proud, impulsive with a great need for love. It opens dramatically as he sells his wife and child to a sailor at a fair. By his own hard work over the years he eventually became the rich and respected Mayor of Casterbridge. But then the re-appearance of his wife and her daughter sets off a train of events finally bringing Henchard to ruin and degradation.

Because I enjoyed The Mayor over the years I’ve read more of Hardy’s books, including Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure, both dramatic tragedies. In Jude Hardy attacked the Church and the marriage state, which received a mixed reception at the time – the Bishop of Wakefield burned his copy of the book and W H Smith withdrew it from their circulating library, but the public bought 20,000 copies, whether or not due to the scandal it aroused.  These books were considered masterpieces by some and scandalous by others.

Of the two I prefer Jude to Tess and having re-read them both more recently I still feel the same, but now I’m less impatient with the way Hardy presents Tess as a helpless victim than I had been before.  She is an innocent, raped by Angel Clare, the man she loves and Hardy highlights the hypocrisy of the times in condemning the ‘fallen woman’.

In Thomas Hardy, the Time-Torn Man Claire Tomalin writes not only about his life but also how he became a writer, poet and novelist. I began reading this book a few years ago and every now and then think I really must finish it. I stopped, as usual, overtaken by the desire to read other books- including more by Hardy himself.

The Thomas Hardy Society is an excellent source of information on the man and his works.

This is an ABC Wednesday post for the letter H.

ABC Wednesday – B is for Robert Browning

I first read some of Robert Browning’s poems in a little book that belonged to my father. It’s a very little book, but it was enough to interest me. Later at school I studied some of his poems and was given The Poems of Robert Browning as a prize:

Browning was born in Camberwell in 1812, the son of a Bank of England clerk. His poems were influenced by Shelley and his first published poem Pauline eventually attracted Wordsworth’s attention. In 1846 he married Elizabeth Barrett and they spent most of their lives together in Italy, until Eabeth’s death in 1861. He died in Venice in 1889 and is buried in Westminster Abbey.

I suppose his most famous poem is Home Thoughts from Abroad:

Oh, to be in England
Now that April ‘s there,
And whoever wakes in England
Sees, some morning, unaware,
That the lowest boughs and the brushwood sheaf
Round the elm-tree bole are in tiny leaf,
While the chaffinch sings on the orchard bough
In England’”now!

And after April, when May follows,
And the whitethroat builds, and all the swallows!
Hark, where my blossom’d pear-tree in the hedge
Leans to the field and scatters on the clover
Blossoms and dewdrops’”at the bent spray’s edge’”
That ‘s the wise thrush; he sings each song twice over,
Lest you should think he never could recapture
The first fine careless rapture!
And though the fields look rough with hoary dew,
All will be gay when noontide wakes anew
The buttercups, the little children’s dower
‘”Far brighter than this gaudy melon-flower!

But the poem that I first aroused my interest in my father’s little book is Porphyria’s Lover, which begins:

The rain set early in to-night,
The sullen wind was soon awake,
It tore the elm-tops down for spite,
And did its worst to vex the lake:
I listen’d with heart fit to break.
When glided in Porphyria; straight
She shut the cold out and the storm,
And kneel’d and made the cheerless grate
Blaze up, and all the cottage warm;
Which done, she rose, and from her form
Withdrew the dripping cloak and shawl,
And laid her soil’d gloves by, untied
Her hat and let the damp hair fall,
And, last, she sat down by my side
And call’d me. When no voice replied,
She put my arm about her waist,
And made her smooth white shoulder bare,
And all her yellow hair displaced,
And, stooping, made my cheek lie there,
And spread, o’er all, her yellow hair,
Murmuring how she loved me’”she
Too weak, for all her heart’s endeavour,
To set its struggling passion free
From pride, and vainer ties dissever,
And give herself to me for ever.

Her lover, however, though happy and proud knowing she loved him, took her hair and wound it round her throat and strangled her. He then sat with her, her head upon his shoulder all night long:

‘And yet God has not said a word.’

This may have been the first dramatic murder scene I read.  This article in Wikipedia analyses the poem.

It contrasts with this poem, which is another favourite of mine, Pippa’s Song (from the poem Pippa Passes: A Drama):

The year’s at the spring,
And day’s at the morn;
Morning’s at seven;
The hill-side’s dew-pearl’d;
The lark’s on the wing;
The snail’s on the thorn;
God’s in His heaven’”
All’s right with the world!

I haven’t read a biography of Robert Browning, but Margaret Forster has written an excellent one about Elizabeth Barrett Browning which tells of how the two met and eloped and their subsequent lives together. She has also written a novel, Lady’s Maid a fictionalised account of Elizabeth’s maid and her involvement in the couple’s lives. Another novel of interest is Flush, by Virginia Woolf, the story of Elizabeth’s spaniel.

See more B’s at ABC Wednesday.