Booking Through Thursday Statistics

There was a widely bruited-about statistic reported last week, stating that 1 in 4 Americans did not read a single book last year. Clearly, we don’™t fall into that category, but . . . how many of our friends do? Do you have friends/family who read as much as you do? Or are you the only person you know who has a serious reading habit?

In last week’s reply I wrote how both my parents were readers and encouraged me to read, but they never read as much as I do. None of my friends at school read very much as far as I remember, but then we didn’t talk about books so they could have done. When I went to Library School things were very different and we all read and discussed the books we’d read. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy was the in-book at the time, as was the children’s TV programme The Magic Roundabout – we weren’t high-brow in our tastes.

D (my husband) and I go to a book group that meets only about 3 or 4 times a year, because the other members all find it a bit difficult to finish a book any quicker than that – I have to pace my reading for that group otherwise I’ve read the book too soon. Oh dear, that reminds me we meet next week – can I re-read C S Lewis’s Letters to Malcom by next Thursday? It seems that not many people in Britain read books either as when I’ve mentioned reading to others they often say they haven’t time or they only read magazines. I have got a few friends who read, but I don’t think they’re as addicted as I am. I think that my reading has encouraged D to read, but he doesn’t read as many as me either – he says it makes him go to sleep. Our son is an avid reader and he belongs to a book group that meets much more regularly than ours. Our granddaughter – 7 next Monday – loves reading, I’m pleased to say.

Since I’ve been writing this blog it’s been good to find other people who love books. Our local library is advertising for new people to join the book group, so I’m looking forward to joining that to have ‘live’ discussions and also to joining a friend’s group as well, although I think they’re going to be reading plays mainly and I’m not sure that’s for me at present.

Season of the Witch – Natasha Mostert

I first read about this book on Ann’™s blog, Patternings and thought it would be one I would enjoy, so when a friend gave me a book token for my birthday I bought it. Many thanks to both of you ‘“ this is an excellent book. I’™ve read so many good books recently I seem to be saying that a lot.

Season of the Witch is a thrilling, spine tingling story of mystery, mysticism and magic, abounding with symbolism. It’™s a modern day gothic epic, mixing computer technology with witchcraft, alchemy and the power of the human mind, in the search for enlightenment.

The book jacket gives a good summary of the Season of the Witch:

‘œGabriel Blackstone is a cool, hip, thoroughly twenty-first century Londoner with an unusual talent. A computer hacker by trade, he is ‘“ by inclination- a remote viewer; someone whose unique gifts enable him to ‘˜slam rides’™ through the thought processes of others.

But reading people’™s minds is something he does only with the greatest reluctance ‘“ until he is contacted by an ex-lover who begs him to use his gift to find her stepson, last seen months earlier in the company of two sisters.

And so Gabriel visits Monk House in Chelsea, a place where time seems to stand still.’

The mystery of Robbie’™s disappearance leads Gabriel into breaking into Monk House and there are many passages which I felt I had to race through to prevent him from being discovered; that nervous tension anticipating danger that you feel watching a horror film build up leaving me breathless as I read.

I find it hard when reading a book to take notes at the same time as it breaks the flow of my reading and then I struggle to pinpoint exactly what I particularly liked and where in the narrative things occurred. The pace of this book was making me read so fast that I knew I had to slow down or I’™d never remember anything except that I liked it. So every now and then I stopped to take stock and after about 100 pages I did start to jot down some page references.

Minnaloushe and Morrighan Monk (wonderful names), the beautiful mysterious sisters are descendants of Dr John Dee, a mathematical genius, alchemist and secret adviser to Queen Elizabeth I. Minnaloushe similarly is a mathematical genius who constructs a ‘˜memory palace’™ a mental aid to enhance the memory in the Renaissance tradition. Morrighan is the strong, athletic, risk taker. Both of them bewitch Gabriel as he seeks to unravel the mystery behind Robbie’™s disappearance.

The connection to Dee reminded me of Peter Ackroyd’™s The House of Doctor Dee which moves between London of the sixteenth and twentieth centuries, sometimes with no clear distinction between the two, and is about Dee’™s alleged attempt to kill Queen Mary by sorcery and the secrets of love and power. Mostert’™s book is also about the power of the mind; and the seduction of obsession and love, combined with the concept of alchemy, not only being used to turn lead into gold but as the means to enlightenment. Morrighan says,

Alchemy is really the transformation of the spirit into a higher form of consciousness. Enlightenment. Coming face to face with God and discovering His motivations for creating the universe and your own place within it.

One of the themes that interested me is that of memory, so when I read ‘œ’¦ we forget what we’™ve read almost as soon as we’™ve read it’, I couldn’™t agree more. The memory palace was a technique originating with the ancient Greeks, which was later developed by alchemists and Gnostics during the Renaissance. A form of mnemonics. These days we use so many aids to memory that don’™t actually involve remembering, so much as finding out where to find information. We don’™t commit things to memory so much as people did in the past ‘“ our minds are shrinking, a horrible thought. It comes as no surprise to find out that the sisters’™ mother had Alzheimer’™s, which triggered Minnaloushe’™s interest in the subject of memory.

Minnaloushe’™s hypothesis is that ‘œMan’™s soul is inextricably bound to his power of recollection.’ This is a disturbing thought and I remembered my feeling of dis-ease when reading Deborah Wearing’™s biographical account of her husband Clive’™s amnesia in Forever Today. A virus attacked his brain destroying that part essential for memory, leaving him trapped in a limbo of the constant present. He had been a BBC music producer and conductor and the musical part of his brain seemed unaffected as well as his love for his wife. The constant repetition of the same thing over and over is harrowing, every moment was new and every thought the same. Eventually his memory began to improve.

I’™m also reading The Remainder by Tom McCarthy, another novel on the themes of memory, amnesia and identity. I’™m finding this hard going at the moment as it seems to be going over and over the same ideas, reflecting the state of mind of the main character as he tries to regain his memory. As I haven’™t finished it all I can say now is that it’™s a disturbing book and I found myself thinking this is just not real ‘“ strange really considering I can easily accept complete fantasy as ‘œreal’.

Season of a Witch is a book that leads me to thinking of other books, not just the ones I’™ve mentioned but also David Shenk’™s The Forgetting: understanding Alzheimer’™s: the biography of a disease. This is a remarkable book about the wasting away of the mind, inside a still vigorous body. I read this a few years ago when we thought my mother-in-law might have it ‘“ she didn’™t, but she had dementia which is very similar in its effects. Looking at it today I think I’™d like to read it again. Adam Phillips in the preface refers to reconsidering our relationship with time as Alzheimer’™s is about living in (and so for) the moment. ‘œOut of fear of mortality we have idealised health and youth and competence. The Forgetting reminds us, among many other things, that there is more to life than all that.’

Another reason this has piqued my interest again is Shenk’™s account of Ralph Waldo Emerson’™s senile dementia, and because of Stefanie’™s posts on Emerson at So Many Books I know more about him than when I read Shenk’™s book.

This post has digressed from its original topic but I’™m so glad I read Season of the Witch ‘“ a compelling read, which has given me much to ponder and led me back to other books and forward to yet others. I see that Natasha Mostert has written other books ‘“ see here for more information. This is the first book of hers I’™ve read but it will not be the last.

The House at Riverton, by Kate Morton

It’s with a sense of loss that I finished reading The House at Riverton. I felt as though I’d now lost contact with the characters and the worlds they inhabit. I say worlds because this novel is split into two time zones, so widely different in all aspects that they could be separate worlds.

The novel opens in 1999 (reminsicent of Du Maurier’s Rebecca) with Grace’s dream of the night in 1924 when Robbie Hunter, a poet, committed suicide at Riverton Manor. Grace’s memories are revived after Ursula, an American film director who is making a film of the suicide had asked for her help as the only person involved who was still alive.

Grace had worked for the Hartford family during the period 1914 – 1924 , first as a housemaid at Riverton Manor house, then in London as lady’s maid to Hannah, one of the Hartford sisters. The social life of the upper classes during the Edwardian period is the setting for this part of the novel, vividly bringing it to life and contrasting with life and society in the 1990s. The secrets concerning both Grace’s past life and her relationship with the two sisters, Hannah and Emmeline are told in a series of flashbacks as Grace records her memories on tape for her grandson, Marcus (and there is a mystery surrounding Marcus too).

This is a richly descriptive book, well located both in time and place, indentifying the differences in the social classes in 1914 on the eve of the first world war and the immense changes that followed. The characters are well-drawn and believable. The tension and the pace of the novel held my attention throughout, so much so that I had to concentrate on reading just this one book, instead of picking up several as I normally do.

This is a book about strong characters, about families and relationships within the family, particularly between sisters; about privilege; effects of war and change within society; and there is a mystery as well. Definitely a book worth reading.

 

Books To Be Read?

I finished reading The Amber Spyglass today (more of that in another post) and have been wondering which book to read next. I started Remainder last week and so far it’s okay, but after the Pullman books I need something extra. I looked at my books on LibraryThing and found to my great surprise that I have 77 books tagged “tbr” – I can’t believe it! And what’s more I’ve not got all my books entered in yet. And I’ve got 15 books out from the library.

Things have got out of hand. So my project for some time is to sort through the “to be read” books and decide some order of reading, but I know from previuos attempts to organise my reading I won’t stick to it and some other books will call out to be read and I’ll have even more waiting to be read …

Booking through Thursday

Indoctrination

Using a suggestion from Erin today:Indoctrination

When growing up did your family share your love of books? If so, did one person get you into reading? And, do you have any family-oriented memories with books and reading? (Family trips to bookstore, reading the same book as a sibling or parent, etc.)

My love of books is down entirely to my parents. My Dad read to me every night and made up stories for me as well. Both my parents encouraged me to read and Dad made me a bookcase which I still have today. It was always a treat to go to the bookshop and choose a book and books have always been the presents I would choose if my aunties asked what I wanted for Christmas. My mother was always reading as well. I’d come home from school to find her reading and I’d pick up a book too.

She used to take me to the branch library, first when I was very small, on a little seat on the back of her bike and later on we went every Saturday on the bus to the bigger library in the town nearby. There was also a travelling library that came round the road where we lived and we borrowed books from that too. I suppose that it was inevitable that I became a librarian – that was my Dad’s suggestion and it was ideal for me, surrounded by books at home and at work.

Cotswolds Break – Minster Lovell

We’re in the Cotswolds again for the third time this year – we like it. Today we walked from Minster Lovell, a beautiful little village through the fields alongside the River Windrush to the ruins of Minster Lovell Hall.

We did get our feet wet as the path was still flooded in parts.

After this section the path left the river and we climbed up through woodland to fields, eventually reaching Crawley, where we stopped for a drink at the Lamb Inn, still with wet feet and muddy boots!

Back along the footpaths to Minster Lovell church.

Outmoded Authors

I’ve been engrossed in looking up authors for the Outmoded Authors challenge I’ve joined. This is the first challenge I’ve actually joined, so it’s exciting too.

Imani has set up the challenge, which will last for six months ending on February 28th 2008. During that time the challenge is to read however many books by however many authors you like from a good long list. I’ve never heard of some of them, so that’s another opportunity to broaden my reading. I decided to limit my choice to books I already have or can borrow from my local library.

So far I think I’d like to read:

G K Chesterton, The Complete Father Brown
I’ve read some of Chesterton’s books before, but none of the Father Brown books. There’s a copy in my local library – in the Reserve Stock.

Walter Scott, Ivanhoe
I’ve never read any Scott and as I have a copy of Ivanhoe, I’ll start with this. My copy is an old hardback book, one of a set of classic books published by Odhams Press that belonged to my father-in-law. I also fancy reading Scott’s Waverley.

Somerset Maugham, Books and You & The Moon and Sixpence
I used to love watching Maugham’s plays, when they used to show them on TV, but have never read anything by him. The library has copies of both of these. Books and You sounds intriguing from its title.

John Galsworthy, The Forsyte Saga
I’m surprised to find that I’ve never read any Galsworthy either, but as The Forsyte Saga was recently serialised on TV I know the story. I’ll be interested to see how faithful the series was to the book. Sometimes, I don’t like a film or TV dramatisation if I’ve read the book first, but it’s usually ok the other way round.

Olivia Manning, The Balkan Trilogy
I know nothing about Manning’s books. The on-line catalogue of my local library lists this one volume book comprising The Great Fortune ; The Spoilt City ; Friends and Heroes.

Italo Svevo, As a Man Grows Older
I know absolutely nothing about this author and have never heard of him before, so this may or may not be a good choice. The library has a copy of this.

D H Lawrence, Sons and Lovers
I have read Women in Love and The Virgin and the Gypsy, but not Sons and Lovers. I’ve had a battered secondhand copy of Sons and Lovers sitting in a bookcase for years, so now is the time to read it.

I don’t know whether I’ll manage all these but I’m looking forward to alternating them with other books I’d like to read.