Celebrate the Author Challenge

Celebrate the Author Challenge

After writing the last post about not buying any more books for a while I found this challenge. It is a twelve month challenge from January 1, 2008 to December 31, 2008, set up by Becky. The challenge is designed to “celebrate” authors’ birthdays. Choose one author for each month of the year. Read at least one book a month. You can choose alternatives for each month and you do NOT have to choose a book until the very moment you’re ready to start reading. You can change your mind so long as you change your list to reflect that change.

This suits me very well as I have a long list of books to be read and so the authors I’ve currently chosen are all taken from that list. I particularly like the idea that I can change my mind as I do like to read spontaneously and this gives me that freedom of choice. I hope that this challenge will help me clear the backlog of unread books!

January – Virginia Woolf or Edith Wharton or Lewis Carroll

February – Amy Tan or Alice Walker or Charles Dickens

March – Elizabeth Jane Howard or William Morris or Robert Frost

April – Sebastian Faulks or Ian Rankin or Anthony Trollope

May – Daphne Du Maurier or Richard Adams or Margaret Forster

June – Orhan Pamuk or Thomas Hardy

July – Alexander Dumas or Joanne Harris

August – Irving Stone or Jorges Louis Borges or Mollie Panter-Downes

September – Kiran Desai or Chimananda Ngozi Adichie or Elizabeth Gaskell

October – Melvyn Bragg or A N Wilson

November – George Eliot or Chinua Achebe or Mark Twain

December – Jane Austen or Sophie Kinsella

I will not buy any more books … for a while at least

I read Nan’s post at Letters from a Hill Farm with complete empathy this morning. She has resolved not to buy any more books for a long, long time.

I can’t understand why I keep buying books and borrowing yet more from the library and other people when I have so many unread books. It’™s become an obsession and I keep meaning to stop, but then I’™ll go shopping and think I’™ll just have a look and I come home with yet more books. I do the same at the library ‘“ I think I’™ll only return books and not take out any more, but it never happens.

Here are just a few of my unread books and these are just the tip of the iceberg. It’s all getting out of hand and it’s got to stop.

So, I’m joining Nan in resolving not to buy any more books for a while – at least until after Christmas. Having so many unread books around makes me feel hassled – and it’s all self-imposed and unnecessary and getting expensive too. I have stopped adding to my wishlist (well nearly stopped, because I added one this morning, before I read Nan’™s blog). I also intend not to borrow any more books until I’™ve read the ones I got out now.

I’™ve done very well so far. I went shopping this morning at the supermarket and only looked at the books. There were a couple I could have bought but I resisted. Then when I paid at the checkout I was given a voucher for 100 extra points if I buy a book from the supermarket’™s recommended reads before 4 November. Oh dear, it would be a shame to waste it. Maybe I could buy one as a present for someone else?

Wish me luck, please!

Booking Through Thursday – Typography

You may or may not have seen my post at Punctuality Rules Tuesday, about a book I recently bought that had the actual TITLE misspelled on the spine of the book. A glaring typographical error that really (really!) should have been caught. So, using that as a springboard, today’™s question: What’™s the worst typographical error you’™ve ever found in (or on) a book?

I’ve never seen such a glaring error, although there have been many times when I’ve come across small typos in books. I’ve not kept a record of them so I can’t quote any here. Generally I find them irritating if it means I have to re-read a sentence to make sense of it, otherwise I might not even notice. Some are just amusing and don’t bother me, although I do wonder why a spell check hasn’t picked them up.

I do get upset about punctuation, when it’s is used instead of its for example and read Eats, Shoot and Leaves by Lynne Truss with great pleasure. I used to write reports on rights of way and always had to double check that the l was always there in the word public – so embarrassing if it got missed out.

A Reading Meme

I’ve seen this meme on several blogs recently and thought I’d like to do it too. I don’t know where it started but the last blog I saw it on is Emily’s.

Number of Books You Own

I don’t know exactly how many books my husband and I own. We have books all over the house. I had started to catalogue the books in a database on our laptop when were burgled and the laptop was stolen. I felt too disheartened to start again. Later when I found Library Thing I started to use it and I keep adding to it gradually.

Last Book you Bought

Completely Unexpected Tales by Roald Dahl – bizarre and macabre stories. I bought this at The Roald Dahl Museum and Story Centre when we visited it on Sunday. I have so many unread books that I really shouldn’t have bought another one, but I enjoyed the museum so much that I wanted to read something by Roald Dahl. This book includes all the stories previously published in Tales of the Unexpected and More Tales of the Unexpected – I remember watching the TV series years ago. I’m looking forward to reading them soon.

Last Book someone else bought you

My husband bought me some books for my birthday, including Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. He knows that books always please. This is one that I’ve heard is very good, so again I’m looking forward to it.

Five books that Mean a Lot to Me:

Books as a whole mean a lot to me so this is impossible to choose just five. I would probably choose different ones tomorrow but these five came to mind today.

Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. I think I like this one best of all Jane Austen’s books. I’ve read it so many times since I was about 12 and still have the copy that belonged to my mother. Elizabeth Bennet is the character I most admire for her forthright, strong character. I love the way she rejected Mr Collins and stood up to Lady Catherine de Burgh. I can even forgive her initial prejudice against Mr Darcy.

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. This was the first Dickens I read. My Great Aunt gave me this for Christmas one year when I was a child and I’ve loved it ever since. She gave me a beautiful little illustrated book and I can’t find it just now, which is just awful.

Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I could have chosen Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte, but decided on Wuthering Heights as it was such a revelation to me the first time I read it. I was completely engrossed in the story – the tragedy, passion, love and mystery of it all.

An Evil Cradling by Brian Keenan. I was completely taken with this book. It’s the autobiographical account of Keenan’s captivity in Beirut. It’s beautifully written, compelling, sensitive and hauntingly horrific and sad. I read this along with Taken on Trust by Terry Waite and Some other Rainbow by John McCarthy and Jill Morrell also telling of their experiences as hostages. They’re all remarkable books, but Keenan’s is outstanding.

Windows of the Soul by Ken Gire. This is about seeing beyond the ordinary, mundane moments of our lives to the eternal. He uses examples from art, poems, novels, music and films as parables to illuminate the deeper meaning in everyday life. I love this book.

Sons and Lovers – D H Lawrence

I’ve had my second-hand copy of Sons and Lovers sitting unread in a bookcase for several years. The Outmoded Authors Challenge gave me the incentive to read it, one because I was surprised to find D H Lawrence is considered to be outmoded, two because I didn’t have to buy or borrow it and three because it could then come off my to be read list.

When I took off the tatty cover, I discovered that the book inside was not a bit tatty or worn out and as an added bonus it not only contains Sons and Lovers, but also, St Mawr, The Virgin and the Gypsy and The Man Who Died. I’d read The Virgin and the Gypsy a few years ago, but the others were completely new to me.

If you’re planning to read the book, be aware that there are spoilers ahead.

Sons and Lovers is a powerful, emotional novel depicting the struggle, strife, and passion of relationships and their intensity, and possessiveness. Throughout the book Lawrence’s vivid descriptions and observation of the English countryside are so beautiful that I couldn’t stop marvelling at his writing. There are so many examples I could quote. Here is just one:

The sun was going down. Every open evening, the hills of Derbyshire were blazed over with the red sunset. Mrs Morel watched the sun sink from the glistening sky, leaving a soft flower-blue overhead, while the western space went red, as if all the fire had swum down there, leaving the bell cast flawless blue. The mountain-ash berries across the field stood fiercely out from the dark leaves for a moment. A few shocks of corn in a corner of the fallow stood up as if a live; she imagined them bowing; perhaps her son would be a Joseph. In the east, a mirrored sunset floated pink opposite the west’s scarlet. The big haystacks on the hillside, that butted into the glare, went cold.

The story starts with a description of the cottages in ‘The Bottoms’ where the Morrels live in Nottinghamshire overlooking the hills of Derbyshire. Places feature strongly in the novel and for me provided reality and solidity. Lawrence takes the ordinary and it becomes extraordinary. The family conflict between Walter Morel and his wife and sons is one of the main themes. To Walter, his wife is a ‘thing of mystery and fascination, a lady‘ but although at first she thinks he is rather wonderful and noble she soon becomes contemptuous of him and eventually despises him.

Mrs Morel is the dominant character in the Morel family. She is described as a ‘rather small woman, of delicate mould but resolute bearing’. She is disappointed in her life and her marriage and lives her life through her children and in particular through her three sons – William, Paul and Arthur. William, the oldest leaves home, marries and dies young; Arthur, the youngest, joins the army and also marries; but Paul remains at home and is dominated by his mother and her intense, possessive love for him.

Paul is sensitive, torn between his love for his mother and his feelings for Miriam. Miriam ‘is very beautiful, with her warm colouring, her gravity, her eyes dilating suddenly like an ecstasy.’ Her intensity makes Paul anxious and feel tortured and imprisoned. It is a love/hate relationship. His mother thinks that Miriam will ‘absorb him till there is nothing left of him, even for himself. He will never be a man on his own feet – she will suck him up.’

This struggle with Paul alternately loving and hating Miriam continues for seven agonising years. Paul cannot break free either from Miriam or from his mother’s suffocating love. Indeed, he realises that his mother is the ‘pivot and pole of his life, from which he could not escape‘. At the same time this is not enough for him and it makes him mad with restlessness. Although Paul cannot finally break off his connection with Miriam, he and Clara, a married woman who is separated from her husband, have a passionate affair. He still feels a desire to be free. His mother sums him up when she says, ‘Battle – battle  – and suffer. It’s about all you do, as far as I can see.’

In parts I found it a harrowing book, in particular the illness and death of Mrs Morel, such a vivid portrayal of Paul’s agony at watching and waiting for his mother’s death. Sons and Lovers is described on the book cover as an autobiographical novel depicting his domination by his mother’s possessiveness. I think that the description of Mrs Morel’s death must also be based on Lawrence’s own experience to a certain extent as well; it is so compellingly real.

There is so much sadness and tragedy and though Paul is lost after his mother’s death he does find hope for the future:

On every side the immense dark silence seemed pressing him, so tiny a spark, into extinction, and yet, almost nothing, he could not be extinct. Night, in which everything was lost, went reaching out, beyond stars and sun. Stars and sun, a few bright grains, went spinning round for terror, and holding each other in embrace, there in a darkness that outpassed them all, and left them tiny and daunted. So much, and himself, infinitesimal, at the core, a nothingness, and yet not nothing. ‘ -But no, he would not give in. Turning sharply, he walked towards the city’s gold phosphorescence. His fists were shut, his mouth set fast. He would not take that direction, to the darkness, to follow her. He walked towards the faintly humming, glowing town, quickly.

Current and Ongoing Reading

Today I finished reading Sons and Lovers for the Outmoded Authors Challenge (post to follow) and haven’t started another book yet. I thought I’d take stock and see which books have been hanging around, lurking in different piles waiting to be read.

Currently I’m reading:

1. Lewis Carroll by Morton Cohen. This is a long and detailed biography and I read some each morning, so it’s taking me quite a while to finish. I’m just over half way into the book.

2. Remainder by Tom McCarthy – a novel about a man who is suffering from amnesia and trying to re-discover his identity. I started this in August and at first I was enjoying it. But then I found it hard going, as it seemed to be going over and over the same ground. Whilst this does reflect the state of mind of the main character as he tries to regain his memory it became tedious. It’s a disturbing book, strangely unreal. On the back cover the book is described as a ‘darkly comic meditation’. Well, it’s dark but I don’t think it’s funny. I’ve only got about 90 pages left to read, so I suppose I’ll pick it up again sometime. I don’t think it will matter if I can’t quite remember what happened in the first 196 pages, as it’ll probably be repeated before the end.

3. Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe. I’ve read quite a number of these and will carry on until the 31 October at least – that’s when the R.I.P.II Challenge finishes.

Ongoing reading:

I’m still dipping into is Body Parts by Hermione Lee. I came to a full stop with Thomas Hardy: the Time-Torn Man by Claire Tomalin and Michael Palin’s Diaries of the Monty Python Years some time ago. I still intend to read the latter two books, but they have been pushed to the sidelines. I may go back to one of these now.

Body Parts: Essays on Life-Writing is a very interesting to book to read, especially in conjunction with reading biographies and memoirs. Its about the relationship of biography to fiction and history and also about the writing of biography. When you think about it it’s obvious that because biographers are trying to reconstruct a person’s life from different sources – letters, diaries, other people’s accounts etc that the end result although it may seem as if it is factual, is an interpretation and quasi-fictional. So much has to be assumed. As Hermione Lee writes “Biography is a process of making up or making over.” I bear this in mind as I’m reading Cohen’s biography of Lewis Carroll. There is so much in it that Cohen has read between the lines, without any real solid evidence to support it. Cohen asks questions when it isn’t known what Dodgson’s feelings and opinions were and although he writes that these are ‘almost unanswerable questions‘ he does speculate and suggests answers, prefaced with‘perhaps‘ and questions such as ‘what if?

Body Parts includes essays on Shelley’s Heart and Pepys’s Lobsters; Virginia Woolf’s Nose; Reading in Bed; and Jane Austen Faints. Ill go into more details in another post or two (or more). It’s good stuff.

The computer room/office/little bedroom is in dire need of a good sort out, so I’m going to have to leave the more interesting topic of what book to read next until another time. I’m tempted by One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, Mister Pip by Lloyd Jones (short listed for the Booker Prize), or Ladies of Grace Adieu by Susanna Clarke.

Claydon House

It was a beautiful sunny afternoon on Wednesday this week when my husband and I visited Claydon House in the north-west of Buckinghamshire. The National Trust doesn’™t allow you to take photographs inside the house, so my photos are just of the outside.

It was a most enjoyable visit. We weren’™t quite the only people going round the house, but, except for the room stewards, we were the only people in the rooms as we toured the house. Although it belongs to the National Trust, most of the contents of the house still belong to the Verney family. Sir Edmund Verney, who inherited the baronetcy in 2001, lives in the east wing with his family. I’™ve heard that Lady Mary Verney, the widow of Sir Ralph (who died in 2001), is a concert pianist and although she is now in her mid 80s, she still gives concerts and takes her own piano with her. Apparently she’™s known in the nearby village as a bit of a madcap driver and one day last summer she was giving a recital at Claydon House and arriving late she drove up to the house, spinning the car round in the car park, making the gravel fly as she pulled up. As we left the grounds an elderly lady drove in and politely waited for us to go out, as the drive is only wide enough for one car ‘“ we’™d like to think it was Lady Verney, but, of course, it could have been another visitor.

One of the most interesting rooms is Miss Nightingale’™s bedroom. Florence Nightingale was Sir Harry Verney’™s sister-in-law and often stayed at Claydon House between 1857 and 1890. Sir Harry had first asked Florence to marry him but she declined and he married her older sister Parthenope (they’™re named after the places they were born ‘“ Parthenope, being the Greek name for Naples. That’™s like the Beckhams calling their son Brooklyn ‘“ I wonder if that’™s where they got the idea? Somehow I don’™t think so, but you never know!)

Florence Nightingale slept in this room, but the furniture is not necessarily the furniture she used, although it is furniture that was found in the house. It’™s very unlikely that the four-poster bed is the one she slept in, as she wouldn’™t have thought it was hygienic – the dust would collect in the fabric and the curtains wouldn’™t have allowed the air to circulate. Sir Harry was devoted to Florence and as he championed her cause in Parliament, he was known as the ‘™Member for Miss Nightingale’™, rather than the Member for North Bucks.

Before seeing Florence’™s bedroom you pass through the Museum. This is a fascinating room, chock full of objects that the Verney family collected and placed there in 1893. I love such old fashioned museums as this is, with artefacts displayed in glass cabinets and labelled in spidery handwriting ‘“ the Pitt Rivers Museum in Oxford is the most interesting museum I know (another post some day maybe). The Verney Museum displays amongst other items, tribal artefacts from British Columbia collected in the 1860s, masks, native clubs and other weapons; British army uniforms and the Colours of the 14th Regiment of Foot, carried at the Battle of Waterloo. There are also some of Florence Nightingale’™s personal items, including her little, travel communion set and a lock of her hair ‘“ a rather striking, brown chestnut colour. Taking up centre stage in the room is the gamelon, an orchestra of gongs and other instruments used in religious ceremonies from Java.

The library is the only other room that is fully furnished. Parthenope converted this room into a library in 1861. I love seeing the books in libraries like this and these were obviously the personal collections of generations of the Verneys, being a mixture of different subjects and looking as though they had been read and weren’™t just there as decoration.

There is so much more I could write about ‘“the beautiful mahogany staircase, with its balustrade of fine ironwork that rises the full height of the house ending on the top floor, which is inlaid with coloured woods and ivory (needless to say the public can see but not use this staircase); about the intricate, painted wooden carvings that looks like delicate plasterwork; the intricate and rich decorations in the Chinese Room, which are unbelievably also carved wood in the chinoiserie style; and so on and so forth.

At the end of our visit we went to the tearoom, which is in one of the outbuildings. The entrance is the single blue door on the left next to the hanging basket. I had Afternoon Tea, comprising a pot of tea (enough for two cups), two scones, with clotted cream and jam and a strawberry, whilst my husband had a cup of coffee and an enormous slice of chocolate fudge cake.

Suitably refreshed, we then visited the Secondhand Bookshop, opposite the tearoom. The entrance is the dark doorway shown in the photo. It’s a treasure trove of books and we bought The Great Fortune by Olivia Manning ‘“ the first novel in her Balkan Trilogy (for The Outmoded Authors Challenge), rather a dusty copy; The Chymical Wedding by Lindsay Clarke (mentioned by Ann); and One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, a Virago Modern Classic.

Finally we went into the Church of All Saints, Middle Claydon, which is next to the House. This doesn’™t belong to the National Trust and is still in use as the parish church. It’™s a little church dating from 1231 and contains monuments to the Verney family, including one to Sir Edmund Verney, the Standard Bearer to Charles I, killed at the Battle of Edgehill in 1642. The story goes that Sir Edmund was killed clutching the Standard and as they were unable to prise it from his hand the soldiers had to hack off his hand. You can just see the representation of the hand holding part of the Standard in my photo of the church interior.

The Verneys: a true story of love, war and madness in Seventeenth-Century England by Adrian Tinneswood is on sale at the ticket office, where I was told that he is currently writing a further book about the family history. I’™ve borrowed the book from the library and have just dipped into it ‘“ it looks as though I should have bought it.