Booking Through Thursday – Goldilocks

Goldilocks September 6, 2007

Today’s Booking Through Thursday’s question is a good one:

Okay, so the other day, a friend was commenting on my monthly reading list and asked when I found the time to read. In the ensuing discussion, she described herself as a ‘œgoldilocks’ when it comes to reading’“she needs to have everything juuuuuust right to be able to focus. This caught my attention because, first, I thought that was a charming way of describing the condition, but, two, while we’™ve talked about our reading habits, this is an interesting wrinkle. I’™d never really thought about it that way.

So, this is my question to you’“are you a Goldilocks kind of reader?

Do you need the light just right, the background noise just so loud but not too loud, the chair just right, the distractions at a minimum?

Or can you open a book at any time and dip right in, whether it’™s for twenty seconds, while waiting for the kettle to boil, or indefinitely, like while waiting interminably at the hospital’“as long as the book is open in front of your nose, you’™re happy to read?

I’m most definitely not a Goldilocks reader. I read wherever I can – yes, when I’m waiting for the kettle to boil and certainly whilst waiting at the hospital, unless it’s an appointment that I’m really worried about and then I can’t concentrate – but I’ll try. The only time I really can’t read is when I’m too ill either to hold a book or to concentrate on the words – that’s most frustrating.

Times and places I’ve read include:

  • Waiting for the lift in the tower block building where I used to work – I could snatch a few minutes there.
  • Whilst cooking – whilst waiting for the timer to go off for the next stage in a recipe.
  • Whilst knitting, if the book will stay open on my knee – that’s one example of where it does have to be just the right book.
  • When waiting in the car whilst my husband is in a DIY shop – he can spend as long in there as I can in a library or bookshop, I have no objections about that.
  • Break times at work – a job where we had to take individual breaks – that was really good as I could stretch a few extra minutes if I was lucky.
  • During the adverts on TV, and sometimes during a programme if it’s not too hard to follow.
  • In bed.
  • On a plane journey, at the airport, railway station, bus stop.
  • In the garden of course, preferably in a hammock, but that’s not a definite requirement, any old chair will do, or the on grass.
  • In a cafe or tearoom (but not a restaurant – that would be too unsociable).
  • Walking round the house (I used to get told off as a child for doing this – I’d jump down the first three steps to the turn of the stairs and amble down the rest).

I keep a book in the car and take one in my handbag ready for that unexpected time when there just might be an opportunity to read. I can’t actually read whilst travelling in a car or bus as it makes me feel sick, but other journeys are great for reading.

Season of Mists …

The year is on the turn and autunm is on its way. Here is the view from the front of the house early this morning

and a close up view of the cattle in the mist.

We’ve had the most fruit ever from the apple and plum trees in the back garden, so it really is a “Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!”

I love autumn.

August’s Books Part One

Books read in August

The Crooked House ‘“ Agatha Christie
Made in Heaven ‘“ Adele Geras
The Secret History ‘“ Donna Tartt
The Amber Spyglass ‘“ Philip Pullman
Season of the Witch ‘“ Natasha Mostert

I started August reading The Crooked House by Agatha Christie, which I had borrowed from the library. It’™s been a long time since I’™d read any of Agatha Christie’™s books and I felt like reading something quick and easy after some of the long books I’™ve read this year. This is a short book and an easy read, but enjoyable because I didn’™t have to think too much and I guessed the murderer’™s identity. Sometimes that’™s annoying but in this instance I found it satisfying to spot the clues along the way ‘“ and be right.

Agatha Christie described this as “one of my best.” Neither Miss Marple nor Hercule Poirot feature in the book and as my current knowledge of Christie’s books are from the TV programmes I found this a refreshing change. That’s not to say I dislike Miss Marple and Poirot – on the contrary I avidly read and enjoyed many of the books featuring these two characters and love both Joan Hickson’s and David Suchet’s performances and the productions as a whole.

Aristide, the head of the Leonides family has been murdered with a fatal barbiturate injection. It seemed that they were one big happy family living in a sprawling, ramshackle mansion, but things are not what they seem. His young widow, fifty years his junior, is the obvious suspect. But the murderer has reckoned without the tenacity of Charles Hayward, fianc̩ of Sophia, the late millionaireժs granddaughter.

Next up was Adele Geras’™s Made in Heaven. It’™s a story that pulls you along ‘“ even though I could see where it was heading and the ending was no surprise. The main themes of the book are marriage and divorce and relationships. A traditional wedding is being planned between Zannah and Adrian. The story opens with the lunch that has been arranged so that Zannah’™s parents can meet Adrian’™s mother and stepfather. Zannah wants a perfect, elaborate and very expensive wedding, to make up for her first wedding in a Registry Office, which ended in divorce. She knows exactly what she wants ‘“ the dress, flowers, church, reception and so on. The first problem that arises is the strange behaviour of Joss, Zannah’s mother, on meeting Adrian’™s parents and everything goes downhill from then on, from her relationship with Adrian and Cal, her ex-husband to that of Adrian with Isis, Zannah’™s daughter. Obviously there is a secret that will eventually surface and cause complications all round.

The characters are believable and the analysis of their relationships is good, so much so that I found some of the characters exasperating. The descriptions of the wedding preparations, the homes and garden, the beautiful dress materials, the sumptuous, delicious food bring the book to life, although I found it intriguing that one of the locations is Altrincham. I used to live near Altrincham and went to school there, but apart from the name I didn’t recognise it in this book – but then that wasn’t important in terms of the plot. However, I did get quite excited when “Altrincham” was mentioned as I’ve never come across it in fiction before and wanted more detail.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt, The Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman and Season of the Witch by Natasha Mostert are much longer books.

I found all of them to be satisfying and excellent books. I’™ve already written about Season of the Witch here. The Amber Spyglass is the final book in Philip Pullman’™s trilogy His Dark Materials and I’™ll write a separate post about all three books.

Donna Tartt’™s Secret History is a contrast to the other books. The story is narrated by a boy who leaves California to attend a college in New England and becomes involved with a group of students studying ancient Greek. From the back cover:

‘œUnder the influence of their charismatic classics professor, a group of clever, eccentric misfits at an elite New England college discover a way of thinking and living that is a world away from the humdrum existence of their contemporaries. But when they go beyond the boundaries of normal morality their lives are changed profoundly and for ever.’

There is a death recounted in the prologue. The book then goes back in time and the mystery unfolds. I found it just a bit too long and drawn out in parts and wanted to wind it up before it actually finished, but taken as a whole the tension and pace of the book was maintained.

R.I.P.II Challenge

I didn’t think I’d join in with this challenge, but looking at the books Carl gives as examples of scary books I realise that I’ve already read and enjoyed some of them – The Woman in White, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell, The Thirteenth Tale, Season of the Witch, Dr Jykll and Mr Hyde and Titus Groan for example, so I’ve decided it’s not too scary for me after all.

So I’m going for:

Peril the Fourth (Otherwise known as Just a Bit of Peril):
Some of you wonderful readers, or would-be readers, may have a tendency to shy away from this genre, thinking it is just not your cup of poisoned tea. However, it wouldn’™t be a challenge if I wasn’™t challenging you.
This peril is for those of you who want to take a chance. Simply choose one book that you feel meets the criteria for Readers Imbibing Peril II and, well, imbibe it

and I’ll be reading Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Imagination, partly because I have already started to read The Murders in the Rue Morgue and want to finish it. I also remember watching from behind my fingers an old movie of the Pit and the Pendulum and that’s in the collection as well.

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:

‘Gabriel 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 ‘ 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 ‘Man’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 ‘real’.

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. ‘Out 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.