Tuesday, May 20, 2008

New Blog

BooksPlease has moved. You can now find me at www.booksplease.org - or click here. I do hope you will still visit my blog. All my old posts are over on the new blog as well as here but after today I'll just be using the new one.

Tuesday Thingers

Marie, an Early Reviewer for LibraryThing, has started a weekly online get-together of LT book bloggers at her web site, The Boston Bibliophile. She says, "anyone is welcome to participate but the idea is to catch up with each other on what's new in our LT libraries- new books, books just finished, thoughts, anything like that." To participate, simply write a post in your blog, then go to her entry Tuesday Thingers and leave her a comment containing the link to your post.

This week's topic is: Discussion groups. Do you belong to any (besides Early Reviewers)? Approximately how many? Are there any in particular that you participate in more avidly? How often do you check?

First a little bit about LibraryThing and me. I’ve been adding our books (that’s mine and my husband’s) to LT for a while now. It’s very time-consuming but most rewarding, coming across old favourites I haven’t read for years. I’ve been doing in sections and I think most of the fiction is on there now and I’m working through the non-fiction.

Books have always been part of my life as long as I can remember. It was my father who suggested I could be a librarian and I can’t think why I hadn’t thought of it myself. I went to Manchester Library School at what was then Manchester Polytechnic (now part of Manchester University) and worked for a while for Manchester Public Libraries. I haven’t worked in a library since I left to start a family, although I did have a spell in a bookshop working as a cataloguer, in pre-computerised cataloguing days. When I found LT at first I thought I wouldn’t use it – after all I used to be a cataloguer. But I soon realised its benefits and signed up.

I have looked at the Discussion groups but have only joined the Early Reviewers group. I have had one book to review – Our Longest Days, which I wrote about in my last post. There are only a few books available through Early Reviewers for UK members, so I was really pleased I got a book at all. I do hope some more will come my way.

I suppose I check LT about once a week, more if I’m adding books. It all takes time. I’ve found that writing a blog and reading other people’s blogs is also more time-consuming than I’d realised and it all cuts into reading time.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Sunday Salon - Our Longest Days

This week I've concentrated on reading Our Longest Days: A People’s History of the Second World War by the writers of Mass Observation, edited by Sandra Koa Wing. I've been completely immersed in the war years through this fascinating and personal book.

Mass Observation is a social research organisation, founded in 1937, with the aim of creating an "anthropology of ourselves" - a study of the everyday lives of ordinary people in Britain. The information was gathered in various ways, including a team of paid observers and a national volunteer panel of writers. People were interviewed on a number of topics and filled in monthly ‘directives’ on themes such as jokes, eating habits, money and marriage. In August 1939, with war approaching, the organisation asked its panel to keep diaries to record their daily lives and selections from fifteen of these diaries are included in Our Longest Days. They make fascinating reading.

From Sandra Koa Wing’s introduction:
“It is worth noting, however, that the diarists did not represent a true cross-section of British society during the war. Although they came from a variety of backgrounds, and from different regions, most of them were middle-class, well-read and articulate. They tended to be people with a natural capacity for observing – and for recording what they observed. Moreover, on the whole their political leanings tended towards left of centre; several were pacifists or conscientious objectors.”

Because they are personal accounts there is that sense of being actually there during the air raids, hearing Churchill’s speeches, reading the newspaper reports, experiencing the grief at the number of casualties and deaths and the terrible devastation of the war, the food and clothes rationing and the excitement of D-Day. There is also the hopelessness of the defeats during the first years of the war, the weariness as it went on and on, the yearning for peace and then the excitement, the anticipation and the anti-climax of VE Day and VJ Day.

The main events of each year are summarised before the diary entries for that year, which I found very useful as a quick guide to set the diaries in the context of world events. I began to feel as though I knew the people who wrote the diaries, so the brief biographies are the end were also interesting as there were brief details about what happened to them after the war. There are also a number of photographs, an excellent index and a selection of further reading of Mass Observation publications and other histories of Britain in the Second World War together with a list of related websites.

I think one of my favourites is Muriel Green, who was 19 when the war began. She became a land girl and moved around the country. On her 21st birthday she was working as an under-gardener at Huntley Manor in Gloucester. She wrote:
“I shan’t forget my 21st birthday. Apart from getting two greetings telegrams and achieving the first bath for nearly a month it has been the last word in flat. Totally depressing in fact.” Life wasn’t all depressing for Muriel and she is one person who kept mainly optimistic and in October 1944 she reflected: “It seemed strange to think that the war had been on over five years and how little different it was for us in spite of the ravages of war and what some had gone through. … Of course it will never be the same again, but there are many families with far greater losses than our petty grumbles.”
Muriel’s family was among the lucky ones. Not so Kenneth Redmond’s whose brother Tom was killed in action. His entry on 11 November 1944 reads:
“This day only means Remembrance of Tom – War and its horrors, Peace and the best of life that it can bring – all these things will mean to me Tom. I get very morbid when I think of it.”

Herbert Brush was 70 in 1939. He was living in south London, a keen gardener, art lover, reader and writer of verse. He wrote diary entries from September 1940 to March 1951 and I particularly liked the personal details he included. He couldn’t buy any razor blades in June 1942 and at the same time he was wondering how accurate the reports of the numbers of casualties reported by the Germans and Russians were, thinking of how pleasant it was “to read about so many Nazis being slaughtered” and noting the number of different pronunciations of ‘Nazi’.

“Churchill says ‘Nazzi’, others say ‘Nartzi’, or ‘Nertzi’ of ‘Nassie’. I like Churchill’s best as he puts a snarl into the word.”
My dad must have liked Churchill’s best too as that is how he said it.

Margaret Forster is quoted on the front cover: “I relished all these diaries”. Me too. An excellent book.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Saturday Scene

Today I finished reading Our Longest Days, 6 years of wartime diary entries from the start of the Second World War on 3rd September 1939 to its end in 1945. I feel as though I have emerged from the book with a much greater understanding of those years. More about the book maybe tomorrow.

The rain that was forecast again for today didn't arrive this morning and this is what I saw looking out of the window. The cattle are back in the field opposite. I took the first photo through the window and you may be able to see a ghost in the hedge - that's my reflection.

So I opened the window to get a better view and the bullock nearest the hedge spotted me. Here he is posing for the camera.

The rest of the cattle didn't like the photoshoot and took off up the field.

The rain is here now, so it's just as well we got some gardening in first and managed to shred the branches D had chopped off the pussy willow earlier in the week. It had got huge and was hanging over our neighbours' roof. Shredding is a very satisfying job using a small woodchipper or hogger (as D calls it), although it's a bit noisy.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Friday Fill-Ins

This is the first time I've done a Friday Fill-In

  1. There is absolutely NO way you can get me to eat fish eyeballs as shown on Gordon Ramsay’s “The F Word”!

  2. Planning a holiday reminds me that summer is almost here!

  3. I cannot live without my books.

  4. Painting and quilting are two things I'd like to try.

  5. When life hands you lemons make lemon meringue pie and lemon cheesecake.

  6. Christmas Day with my family, opening presents, and eating Christmas dinner is my favourite childhood memory.

  7. And as for the weekend, tonight I'm looking forward to going out for a meal, tomorrow my plans include gardening if the weather is fine and cooking and Sunday, I want to relax, write my blog and read!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Who is this "Old Man"?

My husband took this photo of the book he was reading this morning when he was trying out my camera. See if you can identify the book and the name of the "Old Man".

Hint: It's not the sort of book I usually read - you should know, Paul.

Booking Through Thursday - More Work?

This week's BTT question is Manual Labor Redux

Following up last week’s question about reading writing/grammar guides, this week, we’re expanding the question….

Scenario: You’ve just bought some complicated gadget home . . . do you read the accompanying documentation? Or not?

Do you ever read manuals?

How-to books?

Self-help guides?

Anything at all?

I don't like manuals, usually I can't understand them anyway. I haven't read the ones for my phone or camera and I just use them - or I ask my husband, who also never, ever reads instructions.

I can't think of any How-to books right now that I've read; years ago I tried some of the "Teach Yourself" books but they never helped me learn much.

I do like to read Self-help guides, but never do any of the things they suggest.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

An Armful of Books

These books have little, if anything in common, other than the fact that they are all recent acquisitions. Every now and then I decide not to buy any more books and then along come some that I just can’t resist. They all look so enticing I want to read them all at once. As that’s not possible I thought I do quick summaries of each one (from information on the book covers) to help me decide which one to read next.

Remember Me by Melvyn Bragg. This is the latest book from Melvyn Bragg based on his own life. I enjoyed the others - The Soldier's Return, A Son of War and Crossing the Lines - so much that I couldn’t wait for this book to come out in paperback.
“A passionate but ultimately tragic love affair starts when two students – on French, one English – meet at university at the beginning of the sixties. From its tentative, unpromising early stages, the relationship develops into a life-changing one, whose profound impact continues to reverberate forty years later.”

The Last Enchantment by Mary Stewart – bought in the Library Sale for 10p. I read and loved Mary Stewart’s trilogy of Arthur/Merlin books many years ago. The first two are The Crystal Cave and The Hollow Hills.
“The Last Enchantment is a richly woven story peopled by princes and soldiers, grave-robbers and goldsmiths, innkeepers and peasants and witches …”
As it's so long since I first read ths book I expect it will be like reading a new book.

Never On These Shores by Stephen R Pastore. Lisa Roe at the Online Publicist sent me this to review. Have a look at her site; she has a number of books available fo review. This is a “what if” book –
what if in 1942 “the Nazis had landed in Mexico and invaded the United States through Texas. The Japanese have conquered Canada and have captured and occupied most of the west coast from Seattle to the outskirts of Los Angeles.”
In a way this fits in with my current reading of books about the Second World War.

Admit One: a Journey Into Film by Emmett James, a review book also from Lisa. This book follows British born actor Emmett James on his numerous adventures
“as he jumps from forgery to pornography to crashing the Academy Awards under the alias of a nominated writer. All the while, the films that inspired each tale contextualize this humorous collection of stories. The narrator provides a unique insight into the fascinating industry of film, eventually himself stumbling into the biggest box-office grossing movie of all time.”
Discussion about films attracted me to this book.

Down To a Sunless Sea by Mathias B Freese, a review book from the author. This collection of short stories
“plunges the reader into uncomfortable situations and into the minds of troubled characters. Each selection is a different reading experience – poetic, journalistic, nostalgic, wryly humorous, and even macabre.”
This sounds so different and quite challenging.

The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett, a bookshop buy.
“Set in the turbulent times of twelfth-century England when civil war, famine, religious strife and battles over royal succession tore lives and families apart, The Pillars of the Earth tells the story of the building of a magnificent cathedral.”
Historical fiction and family drama combined makes this very attractive to me.

Practical Magic by Alice Hoffman. I saw this in the bookshop at the same time. I bought it as Joanna had suggested it when I wrote about Garden Spells, another magical book. I was also influenced by the name of one of the main characters – “Sally Owens”, as that was the name of my Great Aunt, who I thought was magical. It says on the back cover that this book
“blends together the mundane and the mysterious, the familiar and fantastic”.
It promises to be good.

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. From the same bookshop buying spree. I remember reading good things about this book on several blogs and it was the winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005. There is very little information about this book on its cover so I looked on Wikipedia which summarises it :
"Gilead is the fictional autobiography of the Reverend John Ames, an elderly congregationalist pastor in the small, secluded town of Gilead, Iowa who knows that he is dying of a heart condition."
From the back cover:
“A visionary work of dazzling originality”.
I’m prepared to be dazzled.

Engleby by Sebastian Faulks, the final bookshop buy.

“This is the story of Mike Engleby, a working-class boy who wins a place at an esteemed English university. But with the disappearance of Jennifer, the undergraduate Engleby admires from afar, the story turns into a mystery of gripping power."
This sounds promising - a murder mystery set in a university and a "creepy central character".

Can Any Mother Help Me? By Jenna Bailey. This is a bargain buy from newbooks. It’s about a group of women and their magazine – the Cooperative Correspondence Club (CCC) which lasted 55 years.
“They wrote articles about the things that mattered most to them – children, work, love, politics – and commented on each other’s work."
The magazines are part of the Mass Observation Archive at the University of Sussex, which also is the source for Our Longest Days - diary entries from ordinary people during the Second World War. The CCC began in 1935, so the war years are also covered in this book. I’ve already read a little of it and I may start it properly when I’ve finished reading Our Longest Days.

The History of Love by Nicole Krauss, bought in the Library Sale for 40p. I’ve been wondering about this book for some time whenever I saw it in the bookshops, but the title put me off for some inexplicable reason. But at 40p I thought why not? There are many quotes both on the back cover and inside singing its praises:
“The history of Love has perfect pitch and does its dance of time between contemporary New York and the wanderings of the Jews with unsentimental but heartbreaking grace [Krauss] also happens to write like an angel.” Simon Schama, Guardian.
He does make it sound very good.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Six Random Things

I've been tagged by Ashleigh to share six random things about myself.

Here are the rules:

· Link to the person that tagged you
· Post the rules somewhere in your meme
· Write the six random things
· Tag six people in your post
· Let the tagees know they’ve been chosen by leaving a comment on their blog
· Let the tagger know your entry is posted

So here goes:

1.I wake up most mornings with the dawn chorus. The birdsong is just tremendous these days, it's like an orchestra tuning up outside the bedroom window at about 4.00am. I usually doze off again but am awake before 6.00am again most days.

2.As a child I was scared of dogs. I wouldn’t go anywhere where there was a dog if I could help it. Visiting friends and relatives with dogs was a nightmare; I wouldn’t go in the house if a dog came rushing to the door or be in the same room if the dog was loose. I was just terrified – they were so big and boisterous with ferocious-looking teeth and deafening barks. No matter how much my parents and the dogs’ owners tried to reassure me that the dogs wouldn’t hurt me I didn’t believe them. This continued as I grew older and I would cross the road if I saw a dog ahead of me on the same side.

My mother said she thought my fear stemmed from the time I was a baby and a barking dog jumped up to my pram. I think it also comes from the dog my grandfather kept tied up by his chair. I was scared of him as well as of his dog. He had a big bristly moustache and was very gruff and it seemed as though he barked himself when he spoke. My fear persisted, although I was able to control it better as I became older, until our son was five and started school. Both he and my husband wanted a dog and I ran out of excuses not to get one – and I didn’t want my son to have the same phobia. So we got a Golden Retriever. She was a beautiful dog and helped me overcome my fears, so much so that a few years later we got another dog as well.

3.My first job was a Saturday job in a grocery when I was still at school. The owners, Mr and Mrs Davies, lived above the shop and kept a large Alsatian dog in the backyard. I used to wait for my friend to arrive to go in with her, as I was still scared of dogs. It was a very busy shop, especially in the morning. I used to sell the fancy cakes and bread. The chocolate cup cakes and cream cakes were my favourites. I used to like serving the cooked meats, but was a bit nervous of the meat slicer. When it was quiet, before closing time I had to stock up the bags of sugar, which were kept behind the freezer – there was just enough room to squeeze in and stock the shelves. I earned 12/6 each Saturday. Mrs Davies was very old-fashioned and used to ask if I was “walking out” with a boy (I was).

4.I love natural yoghurt. I make my own and have some with my breakfast every day. The best yoghurt I've ever eaten was in Greece, but the Greek yoghurt I buy here just isn't the same. My homemade yoghurt is nearly as good, though. I make it in a yoghurt maker and then strain it.

5.I don’t have a head for heights and get dizzy just climbing a ladder. It’s really difficult getting down again. This is not too bad as I don't climb ladders very often (I've never been able to get up into our loft because of this) but it's a real handicap coming down spiral staircases in castles and church towers, which I do like to explore.

6.I was in a car accident when I was 17. I smashed my head against the windscreen, had cuts all over my face and a few in my legs.but fortunately I only needed a few stitches in my forehead, chin and neck and have only slight scars, but three of my front teeth were broken and I had to have them crowned. I also bit right through my tongue which was very painful.

I've seen this on many blogs recently, but if you haven't done it and would like to, please consider yourself tagged.