May – Books of the Month

I’ve slowed down in my reading this month, partly because I’ve been blogging more, but also because some of the books have been long and detailed. So, I’ve read 6 books. The first one to be finished was The Giant’s House, which I’ve already written about. I read two non-fiction books – a biography Daphne by Margaret Forster and Alistair McGrath’s The Dawkin’s Delusion? which is a critique of Richard Dawkin’s God Delusion.

Daphne is an extremely well researched and informative account of Daphne Du Maurier’s life, taken from her letters and private papers, with personal memories of her from her children, grandchildren and friends. I didn’t realise until I started this that this year is the 100th anniversary of Daphne Du Maurier’s birth and my reading was enhanced by several broadcasts on the radio and television of dramatisations of her books, plus the excellent programme made by Rick Stein “In Du Maurier Country”, filming the locations of her books and interviews with her family. I’m also enthusiastic about Rick Stein’s books and programmes, (cookery for those who don’t know) – but I digress.

There is too much I could say about Daphne, not least that it is a candid account of her relationships, eg her troubled married life; wartime love affair; and friendships with Gertrude Lawrence and Ellen Doubleday, as well as an excellent source of information on Du Maurier’s method of writing and views on life. She doesn’t sound an easy person to live with or be related to, but that doesn’t detract from her passion for writing and Cornwall. Of course there is Menabilly and the biography gives so much detail of her love for the house and how she renovated and restored it that made me realise all the more how poignant it was when she had to give it up. What makes this book unforgettable for me is Forster’s eloquent way of writing, including so much detail, but never being boring or stilted, leaving me wanting to read on and on. And the book is illustrated with lots of photos.

In complete contrast to this is the Dawkin’s Delusion, which I borrowed from the library. I read Dawkin’s book earlier this year and didn’t have it to hand when I read this one (I’ve lent it to my son), so I had to rely on my memory of The God Delusion. I was interested to read what an Evangelical Christian had made of Dawkin’s book and wasn’t surprised – he didn’t agree with Dawkins! For an excellent review of Dawkin’s book have a look at Bill Hanage’s article “Them’s fightin’ words” on LabLit’s blog . I think I got more out of this article than from McGrath’s book.

Turning to the fiction, I read Blessings, by Anna Quindlen, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Body Surfing by Anita Shreve and finally Thomas Hardy’s The Woodlanders.

Anna Quindlen is a new author to me. I came across her whilst reading Danielle’s blog. Blessings is a satisfying read about a baby abandoned outside “Blessings”, a large house owned by Lydia Blessing. The baby is taken in by Skip, the caretaker cum handyman-gardener, who looks after her at first in secret. The past of all the characters is slowly revealed and the effect that the baby has on them all. It’s a sad book over all, with regrets for what has happened in the past. I shall look out for more books by her.

As for The Thirteenth Tale, I have resisted buying this book, after reading either how fantastic people have found it, or how disappointing it is. The copy I read is a BookCrossing book I found in our local coffee shop. It took me some time to get into this book and I found myself being both reluctant to read it and yet unable to stop. It was only with the appearance of the governess that I found myself actually enjoying the book – and that is the second section. I usually give up on a book before then. Part of the problem I have with this book is that I couldn’t really like the characters, even Margaret, the narrator irritated me somewhat, even though she loves books. Another problem is the ending, which I found to be contrived. All in all, it is not a book I’ll read again and I’m going to release it back to its travels.

Which brings me to The Woodlanders. I borrowed this book from the library to read before continuing with Tomalin’s The Time-Torn Man. I enjoyed it so much that I went out and bought a copy for myself. I’ll post my thoughts in another post. This one has gone on long enough and the sun is shining!

Me thinks she doth yammer too much!

I’ve just been reading about the letter on the Persephone website that describes blogging as “yammering”.

It seems to me that it’s Persephone that’s doing the yammering – what a silly thing to write. They obviously are oblivious to how pompous and condescending their attitude is. But then, I’ve found this is so in many areas of life. There are always “us” and “them”, whether it’s in a professional situation at work, or socially. That’s just human nature, sadly.

As for me I thought a long time before stating my blog. I’d read others’ and enjoyed them, but hesitated to join in as I thought that I can’t write as well as, say, Litlove at Tales from the Reading Room or Dovegreyreader. But then I love books, libraries, book shops and am always reading and having written factual reports for work for several years that had to be in a certain style and format I wanted to experiment and have a go myself. So BooksPlease it is, because they do please and if you’d asked me when I was a child what I’d like for Christmas or my birthday I’d reply “Books, please”. Still do.

Daisy Lupin’s Poetry Fest

Daisy Lupin has started a new blog devoted to poetry and the theme for June is Poetry we loved as Children.

The poems I loved as a child were by Robert Louis Stevenson in A Child’s Garden of Verses. My Great Aunty Sally, who was my mother’s aunt, gave me this book for my birthday one year. I was reminded of it when I read Pinkerton’s Sister (wonderful book, full of allusions that brought back so many memories including this book of verses). Unfortunately I can no longer find the original book she gave me and so last year I bought this edition.

There are so many poems in here that I liked that it’s hard to choose just one. So, I ‘ve picked three.

This one I learnt and used to recite as fast as I could, trying to imitate the speed of a train:

From a Railway Carriage

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!

Another favourite was:

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 se,
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.

I could go on and on, but I’ll finish with this, which was so true for me as a child. Other children would be playing in the road, but I had to go to bed (well they were a bit older than me) and I would look out of the window and wish I was outside with them. This brings it all back!

Bed in Summer

In winter I get up at night
And dress in yellow candlelight.
In summer quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’™s feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?

The view from here

I’ve managed to add a photo to the heading, showing the view from the front of our house. As I type this I look out over the field, now covered in buttercups to the cottage at the far side.

At last I’ve managed (with D’s help) to add lots of links as well as the photo to the blog.

By the way we felt the earthquake here, even though we’re miles away from Kent!

Edited since posting: I’ve changed the header photo several times, sometimes it shows ‘the view from here’, but sometimes it doesn’t.

Winchester, Jane Austen and Books

This is God Begot House in Winchester where D and I had coffee. The front is a modern restoration but the rest of the house, now a restaurant and coffee shop, is 16th century – a wonderful ceiling in the restaurant upstairs. There is so much to see in Winchester, spanning several centuries. Opposite God Begot House is the Old Guildhall(now a bank) largely rebuilt in 1713 and further down the High Street is the 15th century Buttercross.
We went in the City Museum on Minster Street, which is free entry and tells the history of Winchester from the Roman times onwards. As we wanted to spend much of our day in the Cathedral we didn’t do the Museum justice and would like to go back to look at it properly some time.
From the Musuem it’s just a short walk to the Cathedral and we were ages in there looking round. One of the guides was just starting a tour which we joined and I’m sure we got so much more information from him than if we had just gone round on our own using the Cathedral brochure. It’s so difficult trying to read and look at the same time.


For more information go to http://www.winchester-cathedral.org.uk/friends/

Jane Austen is buried in the Cathedral and we walked round to see the house where she lived for the last six weeks of her life and where she died on 18 July 1817. I have read most of her books and Pride and Prejudice has been my favourite since I was about 12 after seeing a BBC production then and reading my mother’s copy of the book.

There is an excellent bookshop just down the road from Jane Austen’s house and I just had to go in and browse.
I was really pleased to find copies of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, Margaret Forster’s Daphne Du Maurier, both of which I’ve been wanting to read for a while now. As I said I’ve read most of Jane Austen and this was one I didn’t know about until I read of it on A Work in Progress and both Margaret Forster and Du Maurier are also favourite authors. D found Tolkien’s The Children of Hurin which we’ll both read. I first read Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings years ago when I was at Library School in Manchester when it was the book to read. The films just haven’t lived up to my expectations, apart from Gandalf that is, but I think films are always a let down if I’ve read the book first.

Norton Park Hotel work in progress

Last weekend we visited Norton Park, a QHotel, near Winchester. Although we knew building work was being done at the hotel we were surprised to find it was essentially a building site.

Our room was in this block, quite near the carpark, but a long way from reception and the restaurant. This block is the furthest away from the main part of the hotel, which is reached by walking round the rest of the unfinished areas.

And reception, the bar and restaurant could only be reached by going down these steps – not for the faint hearted or the disabled.
The good parts of our stay were that the room we had was good, even if the view was of yet more construction work; the food was good; the staff were friendly and welcoming – particularly Basia on reception; and the leisure facilities were also good – particularly the sauna.

The old original manor house is still there, but this is also some distance from the restaurant and reception.
If we go there again, I think we’d prefer to stay in this older part of the hotel and only go when it is all finished.
Winchester is about 10 minutes drive away and is well worth a visit. More in the next post.