Page 161 Meme

Tara and Nan have posted a little meme, which I thought I’™d do as well.

Open up the book you’™re currently reading to page 161 and read the sixth sentence on the page, then think of 5 bloggers to tag.

I’™m currently reading My Cleaner by Maggie Gee and the sixth sentence on page 161 is:

‘˜Vanessa – I think I will not cook on Sunday.’™

Vanessa an English creative writing tutor, has asked Mary, a Ugandan, who was previously employed as Vanessa’™s cleaner, to live with her to help her son Justin through a ‘depression’. The balance of power in the house is changing and here Mary tells Vanessa what she will and will not do. I’™m enjoying this book, which reflects the prejudices and snobbery in our society.

I won’™t tag anyone else to do this as maybe you’™ve already done it. If not and you would like to do this please do, and let me know. I love knowing what people are reading.

Preservatives Booking Through Thursday

Today’™s question comes from Conspiracy-Girl:

I’™m still relatively new to this meme so I’™m not sure if this has been asked yet, but I’™m curious how many of us write notes in our books. Are you a Footprint Leaver or a Preservationist?

I’m a Preservationist who occasionally leaves Footprints. At one time I would never, ever write notes in a book. It was considered a desecration. I’m a bit less strict these days and occasionally bring myself to underline in pencil or add a little asterisk next to a passage I like.

Having said that when I looked at my copy of Reformation Europe 1517 -1559, which which I was given as a prize at school one year I see that I have underlined sentences in red biro. I can’t believe I did that!

Playing with the Moon by Eliza Graham

Playing with the Moon is Eliza Graham’s first novel and it’s very good.

It begins when Minna and Tom, who are staying at a cottage in an isolated village on the Dorset coast east of Lulworth, discover a human skeleton on the beach and dog tags inscribed LEWIS J CAMPBELL and a number. American military officials confirmed his identity as Private Lew Campbell, believed to have died in 1944 during training exercises for the Normandy landings.

Minna and Tom are trying to come to terms with the death of their baby. Tom is struggling to carry on with his business, which is in financial difficulty, and Minna, who is recovering from a breakdown, is unable to talk to him about her grief. She becomes absorbed in finding out what had lead to Campbell’s death, when she meets Felix an elderly woman who had lived in the village during the war. A fascinating story slowly emerges. Moving from 1943 to the present, the story of Felix and the American GI is interwoven with the story of Minna and Tom and the events that lead to the death of their son. Each story is mysterious and tragic. Both Minna and Felix are overcome by their grief and as they tentatively get to know each other they pour out their stories and draw comfort from each other.

The book deals with memory, the power of memory, with loss, grief and bereavement. It’s also about war, the legacy of war, and of how to make sense of our lives. I found it a compelling book to read. Although it deals with tragic events it does so gently and with compassion.

It seems to me that Playing With the Moon captures what life was like during the 1940s. It was quite by coincidence that I read this book just before Remembrance Sunday and not long after I’d read One Fine Day. There is a recurring theme here and it has set me off on a trail to find out more about the Second World War.

Shoes or the Difference between Left and Right

I have a little difficulty when talking about “left” and “right”. I know the difference but somehow I say turn “left”, when really I’m thinking turn “right” – it just comes out wrong. I have the same difficulty with “east” and “west”. Both can cause problems – we end up going the wrong way if D believes me, but he’s known me long enough to ask me do I mean my “left” or his “left”? It was more serious at work, when I described in a newspaper advert the direction of footpath “running in a south-easterly direction” when it should have been “south-westerly” and we had to re-advertise it.

Our youngest granddaughter who is nearly 2 years old and a determined little person knows about right and left but thinks they’re the other way round. Just now, she insists on having her shoes on the wrong feet and if you try to suggest that the right shoe goes on her right foot she cries and won’™t have it ‘“ no, no, no. If you manage to get them on the right feet off they come and she puts them on how she likes them. We were taking her brother and sister to school recently and she decided she wanted to wear her Dora wellies even though it wasn’t raining. She was adamant about which wellie went on which foot even though we showed her how everyone wore their shoes.

D showed what his shoes looked like on the wrong way round – well nearly – he didn’t take them off.

From the Stacks Challenge

This Overdue Books Challenge is just what I need. The idea is that during the next three months you read 5 books from those you have already purchased, have been meaning to get to and haven’t read before. No going out and buying new books. No getting sidetracked by the lure of the holiday bookstore displays.

This should help me keep to my resolve not to buy any more books for a while – until at least after Christmas. After all, I’ve got lots of books that I haven’t read yet. My bookshelves are full too overflowingand the books are double stacked. There’s just no more room for another bookcase and there are piles of books on the computer desk and next to the chairs in the lounge, in fact there are books everywhere. When I bought them it was because I wanted to read them, not just to sit on the bookshelves and on the floor. So here’s my provisional list. It’s provisional because I could easily choose others and I want to give myself the option of not reading the ones I’ve listed. That may sound strange, but the odd thing is that previously when I’ve decided I’ll read this book and then that book I then find I resist reading the book. Contrary or what? I don’t know. Anyway here’s my list (in no particular order):

  1. Half a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Adichie
  2. Needle in the Blood by Sarah Bowers
  3. The Testament of Gideon Mack by James Robertson
  4. Winter in Madrid by C J Sansom
  5. The Other Side of You by Salley Vickers

I’m currently reading Cranford by Mrs Gaskell and thought of including it for this challenge, but as I have read it before when I was at school it doesn’t really qualify. I heard last night that the 5 part serial Cranford is starting next Sunday evening on BBC One. Although I did read it many years ago and remember the characters it’s like reading a new book so maybe it does qualify for the Challenge after all.

Remembrance Sunday

Today is Armistice Day.
From For the Fallen by Lawrence Binyon
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years contemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.

Today I’ve been thinking of my father, who was in the Green Howards Regiment and he took part in the D-Day landings on 6 June 1944. He was discharged from the Army in December 1944 as his Army Service Book records for “ceasing to fulfil Army physical requirements”. He didn’t talk about it to me at all . My mother told me that he suffered from shell shock and was in hospital immediately after D-Day for quite a while. She moved to Lancaster to be near him in the hospital. During the war she had worked in a factory where they made parachutes. The effects of shell shock lingered quite a while, as my mother told me he was very depressed. He did recover and I never would have thought my dad was ever depressed – when I knew him he was always cheerful and never seemed to worry about anything. Both my parents are dead now and I wish now that I had asked them more about their lives.

This makes me think I should know more about the war. There are many books and we have just a few. The Second World War: a narrative history by John Ray covers the campaigns and theatres of war. I have started to read this but am only a short way into it. Then there is the Band of Brothers by Stephen Ambrose about the Easy Company, 101st Airborne Division, of the US Army, covering the period from 1942 to D-Day and victory. We watched the televised series of this and have it on DVD, definitely one to revisit.

For fiction there are Melvyn Bragg’s books The Soldier’s Return, A Son of War, and Crossing the Lines, although covering the period from 1946 up to the 1950s are wonderful books and look back at the war period as well as showing what life was like in the aftermath of the second world war. Another book set in the period just after the war is One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes (which I wrote about here). I’ve also recently read Eliza Graham’s Playing with the Moon, a novel about the legacy of war, looking back over 60 years from the present day to the time when the Americans were training on the Dorset coast in preparation from D-Day and local people were evacuated from their homes. I’ll write more about this book in another post. BBC’s Countryfile this morning also covered these events in its film about Exercise Tiger on Slapton Sands when US landing crafts for D-Day were intercepted by German U-boats and two were sunk. The 1940s and 1950s are years that I really want to look at in more detail.

Charles Dodgson/Lewis Carroll

It has taken me a long time to read this biography of Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll). At times I nearly stopped reading it as Cohen makes so many assumptions and speculates seemingly with little evidence to support his interpretation of the facts. His account of Charles Dodgson’™s life is basically chronological, but because he also looks at different aspects of Charles’™s life it is a bit repetitive. As biographies go this is not one of the most straightforward or readable. It’™s extremely detailed and at nearly 600 pages it is not a quick read.

Cohen uses many sources, including the published Diaries and Letters of Lewis Carroll, along with earlier biographies and magazine articles. There is an extensive index and the chapters are extensively annotated. It is also a very well illustrated book, including many photographs taken by Charles Dodgson as well as reproductions of illustrations from his works and facsimile copies of his letters.

I’m reading Hermione Lee’s Body Parts: essays in life-writing and she quotes a passage from Virginia Woolf on the reductive effects of biography, which I think, is very apt. Woolf compares the writing of biography to the examination of species under a microscope and considers that we arrange what we see about a person and read into their sayings all kinds of meaning that they never thought of. Because of the mass of material available this means that Cohen has inevitably had to select what to include and what to omit and there many places in his biography where he has hypothesised and interpreted the events in Charles Dodgson’s life. For me there are too many questions that Cohen asks and suggest answers which he uses to pyschoanalyse Dodgson’s personality. The parts of the book that I liked best are those about the production of the Alice books, Charles’s interest in photography, his beliefs, and love of games, puzzles and inventions.

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson was born on 27 January 1832 at Daresbury in Cheshire and died on January 14 1898 at Guildford. He was tall and slim, had a stammer, was deaf in his right ear, was generous, sociable and had many friends. Charles told one correspondent that he used the name ‘œLewis Carroll’ rather than his own name ‘œin order to avoid all personal publicity. ‘œ Charles attended Rugby School from 1846 to 1849, went to Christ Church Oxford University where he was awarded a BA with First Class Honours in Mathematics in 1854, eventually becoming the Mathematical Lecturer (until 1881). As well as the books he published as Lewis Carroll, Charles also wrote and published many mathematical works.
Cohen recounts the story of how Charles came to write the Alice books. In 1862, he and his friend Duckworth were rowing on the river at Nuneham with the three Liddell sisters, Ina, Alice and Edith. Charles told them the story of Alice down the rabbit hole and Alice liked it so much that she pestered him to write it down for her. It was two and half years later that he completed his manuscript, illustrated with his own drawings. The book was eventually published in 1865, with the well-known illustrations by Tenniel. I was interested to read how Charles went about writing:“Sometimes an idea comes at night, when I have had to get up and strike a light to note it down – sometimes when out on a lonely winter walk, when I have had to stop, and with half-frozen fingers jot down a few words which should keep the new-born idea from perishing … I cannot set invention going like a clock, by any voluntary winding up … Alice and Looking-Glass are made up almost wholly of bits and scraps, single ideas which came out of themselves. Poor they may have been; but at least they were the best I had to offer.”

He was ordained as Deacon in 1862 but never took full orders as a priest. He was deeply religious, but took a moderate and tolerant view of others’™ beliefs. He was not a ‘œHigh Churchman’, was repelled by ritualism, did not believe in eternal punishment, and refused to exclude non-Christians from salvation. Side by side with his religious beliefs Charles was also interested in psychical research and was a charter member of the Society for Psychical Research along with Conan Doyle, Gladstone, A J Balfour, Frederic Leighton, Ruskin and many more. He took a particular interest in ghost stories and ghost pictures, spiritualism, thought transmission and supernatural phenomena. He was also a keen photographer and theatregoer and was acquainted with the Terry family.

Charles had many other interests. He loved games, puzzles and gadgets and was very inventive. He invented amongst other ingenious objects, a chessboard to use when travelling; a Nyctograph for taking notes under the covers at night ‘“ this was in the days before the college rooms at Oxford had electricity; a variety of word games and games of logic, a game of circular billiards, a rule for finding the day of the week for any date; new rules for elimination for tennis tournaments; new systems of parliamentary representation; a device for helping a bedridden invalid to read a book placed sideways; a new sort of postal money order; and many other things. He was an accomplished conjurer and a collector of toys, games and puzzles and mechanical and technological inventions as well as music boxes, fountain pens and pencil sharpeners.

When he heard that Charles Babbage had invented a new calculating machine in 1867 he met Babbage, who showed him over his workshops. Charles then bought a calculating machine and in 1877 an ‘œelectric pen’, recently invented and patented by Edison. In 1888 he bought an early model of the ‘œHammond Type-Writer’ which he used to write letters and entertain his child visitors. In 1890 he went to the London exhibition of ‘œEdison’™s Phonograph’, which he thought was ‘œa marvellous invention’. When he heard the ‘œprivate audience part’, he recorded that’œListening through tubes, with the nozzle to one’™s ear, is far better and more articulate than with the funnel: also the music is much sweeter. It is a pity that we are not fifty years further on in the world’™s history, so as to get this wonderful invention in its perfect form. It is now in its infancy ‘“ the new wonder of the day, just as I remember Photography was about 1850.’

Much of the book is taken up with Charles’™s writings as Lewis Carroll, his relationship with the Liddell family and his friendship with many children, apparently mainly young girls. The relationship between Charles and the Liddells has been the subject of some controversy and there is a mystery surrounding the disagreement that led to a breakdown of the friendship. Cohen analyses and speculates for many pages on this and on the implications of Charles’™s friendship with young girls. I didn’™t like it, nor did I like the chapters on Charles’™s interest in child photography. Morton quotes from a letter Charles wrote to his sister in1893, in reply to her letter about the gossip she had heard:

‘œYou, and your husband have, I think, been very fortunate to know so little by experience ‘¦ of the wicked recklessness with which people repeat things to the disadvantage of others, without a though as to whether they have grounds for asserting what they say. I have met with a good deal of utter misrepresentation of that kind.’

He went on to explain that he applied two tests when having a particular ‘œgirl-friend’ as a guest. These were first his own conscience, whether he felt it to be entirely innocent and right, in the sight of God and secondly, whether he had the full approval of the friend’™s parents for what he did. He continued: ‘œAnybody who is spoken about at all, is sure to be spoken against by somebody: and any action, however innocent in itself, is liable, and not at all unlikely, to be blamed by somebody. If you limit your actions in life to things that nobody can possibly find fault with, you will not do much!’ Enough said, I think.

Charles Dodgson had enormous energy, worked extremely hard in all he did, was concerned and engaged in many of the topical and political issues of his times, was deeply and sincerely religious and produced the Alice books, that have been widely praised and acclaimed since they were first published. He had a great many friends and his generosity was boundless, both to his family and to others wherever he saw a need. He loved giving presents (unbirthday presents, like Humpty Dumpty in Through the Looking Glass), and gave away many copies of his books to children’™s hospitals, mechanics institutes and village reading rooms. He was known and welcomed for his gift for making people laugh. Morton Cohen writes: ‘œHumor and its concomitant laughter are surely minor miracles, overflowings of a mysterious inner force, momentary flourishes like lightning or a rainbow. They come from where we know not where and last but a fleeting second. Charles was one of those rare artists who could create those flashes, and did, to divert and amuse others.’

This book has increased my interest in Charles Dodgson. Other writers have written biographies, giving a different interpretation of his life from Cohen’™s. In particular I would like to read In the Shadow of the Dreamchild by Karoline Leach ‘“ see also the website The Carroll Myth.