Tuesday, June 26, 2007

The Sleep Over

At the weekend we went to stay with our son (P) and family and were greeted excitedly by our grandchildren and G (grandson), exclaimed "You're having a sleepover and, Grandad - you're sleeping with me!" Normally we don't stay over night as we only live an hour's drive away. The reason we were staying over was that P and G were getting up at the crack of dawn to go to a carboot sale and we didn't fancy getting up before 5am to get there in time. As it was, we were awake when they went out, as was G, who promptly got into bed with us. Not long after granddaughter no. 2 (M) woke up, so in she came as well, closely followed by E (granddaughter no. 1). After lots of wriggling about, giggling and "I want to watch TV" (not allowed until after breakfast and washed and dressed) we all got up and had breakfast.



The rain had threatened on Saturday, but had kept away. It had been pouring down all week though and the carboot was cancelled and P & G had to bring all the stuff back. We looked through the carboot book boxes and came home with a pile of books (I can never resist books). Later in the morning we took E and G to Sunday School, sorry Junior Church, where appropriately the story was about the foolish man who built his house on the sand and the wise man who built his house on the sand - and the rains came down etc!!



After that we went to McDonald's where the main attraction was the free Shrek that came with the children's meal. McDonald's is really quick and the children seem to like eating out of cardboard boxes and paper bags, sitting on small chairs specially designed for them. G said he wanted a burger, but big sister E said he didn't like it when he had one before. G replied that it was only the middle he didn't like and E replied in a teacher voice "You can't eat just the bread, G". So they both had fish fingers. We all had fun with the Shreks, although E would really have preferred the Gingerbread Man. When you press a button he says, "I'm an Ogre", another press and he burbs magnificently - G loved that! So all the way home we had both Shreks repeating "I'm an Ogre", burping and saying "Oh My" (at least that's what I think it sounded like), with both children copying it with the sound effects and us grandparents in fits laughing. Here's Shrek on the pile of books that came home with us.





The books behind Shrek are (from the bottom up)

  • Into the Box of Delights: a history of Children's Television by Anna Home - lots of nostalgia here
  • Bloomsbury Good Reading Guide - to help me decide what to read next
  • Big Chief Elizabeth: how England's Adventures gambled and won the New World by Giles Milton - I hope it's as good as his Nathaniel's Nutmeg
  • Faithful Unto Death by Caroline Graham - a Midsomer Murders book, because I've never read any and I like the TV series.
  • Four Ian Rankin books - The Hanging Garden, Resurrection Men, the Black Book, and Set in Darkness - I hope they're not as gory as Rebus, the TV series!

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Booking through Thursday

Since school is out for the summer (in most places, at least), here’s a school-themed question for the week:
Do you have any old school books? Did you keep yours from college? Old textbooks from garage sales? Old workbooks from classes gone by?
How about your old notes, exams, papers? Do you save them? Or have they long since gone to the great Locker-in-the-sky?


Oh, yes I do have some old school books, library school and university books. I haven't kept them all, but I do have my school books from A Level History and English (I didn't keep the French), some old, and I mean old, text books and even some from O Levels. I also have my school report book and some copies of the annual school magazine; you got mentioned if you played in the school teams (lacrosse for me) and the exam results are listed.

This week we've been trying to de-clutter and I decided to look through my university papers and throw them out, but I just couldn't do it. So, they're still here, although when I'll actually look at them again, let alone read them, I just don't know.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Digging to America - Anne Tyler

I’m so glad I’ve read Digging to America. I’d been resisting reading it because when I first heard about I just didn’t like the sound of it; I think what put me off were the names of some of the characters, particularly Bitsy who came over to me as a know-it-all bossy woman. It just shows you shouldn’t make snap judgements like that.

This book had me captivated right from the start, with the description of two contrasting families waiting at Baltimore Airport for the arrival of two Korean babies they have adopted. The story develops as the two girls, Jo-Hin and Susan (originally Sooki) are integrated into their families – one American, the Donaldsons, outgoing and confident and the other the Yazdans, American/Iranian, reserved and restrained. Each year they have a party on ‘Arrival Day’ and it is through these parties as well as in their everyday lives that the contrast between the two families is revealed and how they are gradually brought to a greater understanding and appreciation.

There are a number of themes running through the book as well as the cultural differences between the families – what it means to be American, being one. But it’s not just specific to America. There are universal issues such as not being able to have a child; being an outsider or a foreigner, or being different; illness and death; growing old; family relationships between the generations, in-laws and the extended family; traditions, pride and independence; and in particular friendship. Even though it was a quick read, there is so much in this brilliant book, giving insight into human nature that I think it will stay with me for a long time. I shall certainly be looking for more books by Anne Tyler.

By the way, Baltimore is also, coincidentally, the setting for The Poe Shadow, which I had to stop reading once I started to read Digging to America.

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Wilberforce



D and I finished reading Wilberforce with only a couple of hours to go before the book group meeting last Thursday. As D said it was like climbing a mountain – a hard slog at first and when you get half way you wonder why you are reading it and whether you should give up but as you’ve got so far decide to carry on. When you reach the top you see that it was all worthwhile. It’s an achievement and also somewhat of a relief to complete the book.

We both found it hard to get into and probably wouldn’t have read it if it was for the book group. Part of the difficulty is that there are so many references to the people of the time, both in politics and society in general, that without some background in the period you begin to flounder and the eyes glaze over. Other members of the group had found the same. But if you like reading historical and biographical books don’t let this put you off. There are fascinating insights into family life in the late 18th/early 19th centuries, references to the French Revolution and its effect in England, visits to Yorkshire, the Lake District, Buxton (to take the water and endure the “horrible treatment of Skin Rotations’ – a massage bath lying on a flat dish of copper), and to Bath, to mention but a few.

The main cause and aim of Wilberforce’s life was the abolition of the slave trade and the end of slavery itself. He also wanted to remake England by reforming the morals, attitudes and fashions of the nation. The majority of the book is made up of the account of the twenty years struggle to end the slave trade through legislation, culminating in the passing of the Act of Abolition in March 1807. This made the slave trade illegal throughout the British Empire. In America also an Act of Congress outlawed the slave trade.

Wilberforce’s character gradually reveals itself throughout the book in extracts from his letters, diary entries, and contemporary accounts of him by friends, supporters and opponents. I particularly liked Marianne Thornton’s memory of him:

“ He was as restless and volatile as a child himself and during the long and grave discussions that went on between him and my father and others, he was most thankful to refresh himself by throwing a ball or a bunch of flowers at me, or opening the glass door and going off with me for a race on the lawn ‘to warm his feet’. I knew one of my first lessons was that I must never disturb Papa when he was talking or reading, but no such prohibition existed with Mr Wilberforce. His love for, and enjoyment in, all children was remarkable ….”

The Wilberforce household at Broomfield in Clapham was ‘a rather eccentric home’, with its unkempt shrubberies and domestic servants who “were deserving rather than efficient, nor would he cast off the useless or infirm until they found suitable berths.” The servants adored Wilberforce. Guests had to fend for themselves in “a Yorkshire “ way at dinner – Barbara (Wilberforce’s wife) would

“see that ‘Wilber’s’ plate had plenty and he was too short-sighted to notice the others; then Dean Milner’s stentorian voice (so Marianne Thornton recalls) would be heard ‘roaring “There was nothing on earth to eat”; and desiring the servants to bring some bread and butter, he would add “and bring plenty without limit”, while Mr W would join in with “Thank you, thank you kindly, Milner, for seeing to these things. Mrs Wilberforce is not strong enough to meddle much in domestic matters.”’

Wilberforce was an excellent orator, good company, and irresistibly happy according to his friends’ accounts. He was involved in so many other causes, including agricultural improvements, medical aid for the poor, education in charity and Sunday Schools, improving living conditions for the poor, campaigning against the use of boys as chimney sweeps, distributing Bibles through the British and Foreign Bible Society, improving conditions for prisoners, education for the deaf and training for young men who would make good clergymen, etc, etc. As Pollock says “Good causes attached themselves to Wilberforce like pins to a magnet.”

Wilberforce was converted to Christianity in 1785. At first he felt he was not “in the true sense of the word a Christian”, because he was still behaving as a man of the world. Pollack writes that Wilberforce “began to sicken of the profligacy and selfish luxury of the rich, of the hours they wasted in eating.” He thought he must withdraw from the world, but after correspondence and talks with Pitt and later with John Newton (author of ‘Amazing Grace’ and many other hymns) he remained in politics. He introduced family prayers in his household, and took “the Sacrament regularly. On Sundays he went to church twice, and would neither travel nor discuss politics except in gravest emergency.” He tried to introduce a new spirit of tolerance – it was his “endeavour to promote … the essentials of Christianity, softening prejudices, healing divisions, and striving to substitute a rational and honest zeal for fundamentals, in place of a hot party spirit.”

He was buried on 3 August 1833 in Westminster Abbey. Thousands of Londoners mourned.

“Two royal dukes, the Lord Chancellor, the Speaker and four peers supported the Pall. Members of both Houses walked in the procession.

‘The attendance was very great’, recorded a Member in his diary that night. ‘The funeral itself with the exception of the Choir of the Abbey perfectly plain. The noblest and most fitting testimony to the estimation of the man.’”

Writing et al

One of the promises I made to myself when I left work was that I wouldn't be doing any housework at the weekend. What have I done today? After a leisurely start with coffee whilst reading The Poe Shadow in bed, then a quick look (well not very quick) at blogs, I started to write about Wilberforce, when I was overcome with the need to tidy the house. Old habits do die hard and I spent the rest of the morning until now tidying up, dusting and vacuuming - still got upstairs to do. Then I remembered my promise and slowed down.


Litlove recently wrote a Writing Meme . The idea is to write seven random points about writing and then tag someone else. If you fancy doing this consider yourself tagged.


Here are my seven, in no particular order:

  1. I disliked doing 'Precis' in English Language lessons at school. The teacher never seemed to give us enough time and it had to be done quickly. Strange that now I find myself doing something similar in writing this blog and I'm enjoying it, but of course it's my choice and in my own time.

  2. I once set out to write a novel about life at a fairground. I didn't get very far, knowing next to nothing about fairgrounds. I haven't tried since.

  3. I 'm excellent at reading books on how to write, but just can't bring myself to do the exercises they suggest. It all seems so boring. But last year I did write 'Morning Pages', which is one of Julia Cameron's ideas in her Right to Write. I tried it for a few weeks and did enjoy it. The idea is that first thing in the morning you write and don't read what you have written. Looking back I see that I wrote about my dreams, words, thoughts on what I'd be doing later on in the day, and my childhood.

  4. After I'd read Wilfred Owen's war poems I wrote a poem on the horrors of war and submitted it for the school magazine. It must have been awful and it didn't get in. I still fancy writing poetry.

  5. In my previous job in local government I wrote many reports for the councillors to make decisions on various applications. This involved investgiating the claims, putting all the evidence for and against the proposals with a recommendation. This was satisfying, even if they were not always to everybody's liking.

  6. I am usually not very satisfied with what I write and constantly revise and cut what I've written. This was difficult before the computer made it easy. Previously my drafts were full of crossings out, insertions with asterisks, paragraphs cut and stapled at the right place. Now cutting and pasting is so much easier.

  7. Finally a couple of quotations to add to Litlove's:

"If you can't annoy somebody with what you write, I think there's little point in writing." Kingsley Amis


"Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out." Samuel Johnson

I'll post my thoughts on Wilberforce will be next, that is after I've finished re-writing and cutting it!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

The Duke of Marmalade and the Count de Limonade

These names intrigue me and I couldn't believe they were real when I read about them in Pollock's Wilberforce. All they meant to me was toast and marmalade and a fizzy drink.

So I looked them up and couldn't find out much.

Henri Christophe (Wikipedia has an article on him) had seized power in Haiti. He had created a nobility from the former slaves. Their names were derived from the slave holders' estates and so we have the Duke of Marmalade who was the Commander in Chief and the Comte de Limonade who was the Secretary of State. So, it was oranges and lemons.

I'm always going off on tangents when I'm reading a book - one book always leads to others.

Booking through Thursday

Booking Through Thursday

Do you cheat and peek ahead at the end of your books? Or do you resolutely read in sequence, as the author intended?
And, if you don’t peek, do you ever feel tempted?


I'm always tempted to look at the end of books and sometimes I do if the book is getting boring to see if it picks up. If the book is one that I can't put down then I try to resist looking ahead - not always successfully though and then I wish I hadn't!

Cat Watch

Lucy likes to keep her eye on everything.


The bees love campanulas.



Monday, June 11, 2007

Wilberforce update


I'm now about half way through Wilberforce and it is growing on me. It's quite difficult to read because there is a lot of detail about politics in the late 18th century, at the time of William Pitt the younger. It's a long time since I did this period of British history at school and then I'm sure it wasn't in so much detail. There are also big chunks quoting from original sources, which is fine for authenticity, but the 18th century style and terminology differs from the 21st century's. So, concentration is needed for this and also dealing with the number of people connected with Wilberforce. He was most certainly an active person, involved in many areas both in the political and social scene.


I hadn't realised until reading his book that Wilberforce and Pitt were such friends, nor that Wilberforce was elected to Parliament for Hull in 1780 at the age of 21. Much of the first part of the book is about his campaign against the slave trade and its long and drawn out progress through Parliament and the struggle against the traders, merchants, planters and landed aristocracy whose fortunes derived from sugar and slaves.


To help with my reading I've also dipped into a couple of books on my bookshelves - Modern England: from the 18th century to the present by R K Webb and Who's Who in British History for background information. The book becomes more readable when giving information of the social scene and personal details about Wilberforce himself. More about that when I've finished the book and have an overall view of his life.

What I like to get from a biography is a vivid impression of what the person was like, what made him or her tick and after a slow start I'm being to feel as though I'm getting to know Wilberforce as an individual.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Wilberforce and yet more library books

This is my copy of Wilberforce by John Pollack, which I've just started to read for the book group meeting next Thursday. It has a most annoying front cover because it curls upwards, as you can see. D and I are both reading this and not finding it too enthralling! I don't think we'll finish it before the meeting, but that will be OK and we will still be able to give our views. When we've finished it (if we finish it) I'll jot down some thoughts here.

These books are beckoning me.
They're all library books I picked up on Friday. As someone else had reserved it I had to return a book to our local branch library. I didn't intend borrowing anymore books- I've plenty to read. BUT, Arlington Park and Digging to America were on display on the returns counter, along with other books on the Orange Prize Shortlist and so I thought, why not borrow them. The winner, Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie had already gone out, or I'd have borrowed that too.

A quick tour round the library shelves and I also found books by Anita Brookner, Joyce Carol Oates, Reginald Hill and Melvyn Bragg that I hadn't read. So they all came home with me to add to the To Be Read piles. I really like this little branch library as it always seems to have interesting books, good displays and friendly staff.

Friday, June 08, 2007

On Trying To Keep Still – Jenny Diski

This book captivated me. I have read some good books this year, but this one outshines the rest. When I wasn’t reading it I was thinking and talking about it. It’s about experiencing an experience, becoming aware of experiencing the experience and so losing the experience.

I have had the experience of experiencing Jenny Diski’s travels during a year when she visited New Zealand, spent three months in a cottage in Somerset and went to sample the life of the Sami people of Swedish Lapland. No need to go those places myself now. Really, I could be tempted by a trip to New Zealand, but that is only a pipe dream. Now, a cottage in Somerset - that is a real possibility.

I can see myself living in that cottage, but I would not want to be there alone. Her description of her drive to Lilstock, in Somerset identifies the pleasure and gratitude of the present-moment experience of being in a beautiful place, even though this then conjures up the consciousness of


“that terribly difficult business of experiencing experience. I am so conscious
of me being here, of being me here, not somewhere else, having this experience,
that I lose my awareness of what is pleasing me in order to think about the
pleasure.”

To me being in the right company as well as in the right place enhances rather than diminishes my pleasure.

I don’t need to visit the glow-worm caves or Doubtful Sound in New Zealand, now that Diski has described them to me; indeed she had to miss out on an actual visit to the caves but enjoyed a virtual trip courtesy of an imaginative reading of the brochure – what more could we want, particularly as the actual visit to Doubtful Sound was disappointing? And I certainly don’t want to go to cold, dark Lapland even though the enchanting, mythical, magical forest “a glittering fairyland labyrinth” lit up with frost “making an intricate latticework which sparkled, twinkled, actually dazzled the eyes, as if the forest had been sprinkled with a layer of diamond dust” is beguiling. This is counterbalanced by the difficulty in living in such a hostile environment. Intriguingly this visit was aimed at advertising tourism.

Of course this book is not only about travelling. It is also a personal memoir, and is about being still, being alone, wanting to be alone, phobias and the problems of coping with life and especially with aging. There is so much in this book that I can empathise with that it is almost alarming. Jenny Diski wants to be alone to a greater extent than I do, but I still identify with feelings such as not wanting to make a noise in case people notice that I’m there, not wanting others to worry about me, and worrying that others are worrying about me; feeling the need to do something such as going out for a walk – not the desire to do it for itself but the feeling that I should want to. On a practical level I also have difficulty with “left” and “right”. In my mind I see left and say right etc and like Diski I can only visualise a route for a short distance before it disappears in a grey fuzz in my mind.

There is so much more in this book; it describes adventures in places at the opposite ends of the earth intermingled with personal insights and meditations on solitude and stillness, consciousness and belief systems. I found it a moving, amusing, thought-provoking and original book.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Borrowed Books


These are some books that I have recently borrowed from the library, including Relics, which is Book Crossing book. I finished reading Death's Jest-Book a few days ago and have today finished Jenny Diski's On Trying to Keep Still, which I could hardly put down - I found it a compulsive read.

More in my next post on these two books.

I have yet to start the other books. I find it impossible not to borrow books even though I have plenty of my own that are unread.

I may read John Brewer's Sentimental Murder next. I fancied reading something different and thought this sounded interesting when I read about on Of Books and Bicycles' blog. The preface states that it is the investigation of an 18th century killing and attempted suicide. It explores "the relations between history and fiction, storytelling and fact, past and present." So, Brewer examines the facts relating to the murder of Martha Ray, the mistress of the Earl of Sandwich, by James Hackman, a young clergyman. He also looks at how this killing has been retold by journalists, novelists, poets, doctors, biographers and historians over the last two centuries.

I've not got on too well with some of Anne Tyler's books in the past,but maybe I'll like The Amateur Marriage. The blurb says that it is an "achingly poignant and unforgettable novel". I hope so.

The Edwardians by Vita Sackville-West looks like a complete contrast to the Tyler book, being set in fashionable Edwardian England.

Jane Austen's Persuasion is a re-read, always satisfying. However, Joseph Roth is an unknown author to me. I think Susan Hill was recommending his books a while ago so I hope this one The Emperor's Tomb about the last days of the Austro-Hungarian Empire will live up to its promise.

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Lucy's World

This is Lucy in her garden.

She had a visitor this morning.




Obviously we'll have to get a "squirrel proof" bird feeder.

Sunday, June 03, 2007

May - Books of the Month Part 2


Time to continue my thoughts on the books I finished reading in May. But first I thought I’d write about today’s Alphapuzzle. This is rated 5 (which is out of 10, so an easy one) and the target time for completing it is 18 minutes. The clue is “Sane wanderer”, which I didn’t get – so no extra letters to help with the puzzle, but I was really pleased (I’m easily pleased!) that I finished it in 20 minutes, still with no idea about the answer to the clue. It was only when I read all the words that I realised – it was so easy really. Can you guess?

To get back to my other obsession – books – still to write about are The Woodlanders and Body Surfing. In what follows I do indicate what happens at the end of The Woodlanders, so if you don’t want to know, be wary.

I started reading The Woodlanders (a library book) a few weeks ago and at first I only read it in small chunks and it was only when I was well into it that I read it at more length. It certainly grew on me; so much so that I’ve now bought my own copy. The library book is a Penguin Classic publication (1981) with an introduction by Ian Gregor, a professor in English Literature. I’ve found before that it’s not a good idea to read an introduction before reading a book, as it often gives the plot away, which spoils it for me. So I don’t read it until I’d finished the book itself. I think this intro is really good, I suppose because I agree with his analysis. My copy is an Oxford World’s Classic (2005 edition) with an introduction by Penny Boumelha, from the University of Adelaide, who has written widely on nineteenth century fiction. I look forward to reading her introduction to see how it compares.

What I particularly like about The Woodlanders is the way Hardy describes the landscape (the whole book is full of trees!) of Little Hintock in his fictional county of Wessex and integrates them with the characters. An example is his description of Giles Winterbourne as:

“He looked and smelt like Autumn’s very brother, his face being sunburnt to wheat-colour, his eyes blue as corn-flowers, his sleeves and leggings dyed with fruit stains, his hands clammy with the sweet juice of apples, his hat sprinkled with pips, and everywhere about him that atmospheres of cider which at its first return each season has such an indescribable fascination for those who have been born and bred among the orchards.”

There are so many beautiful descriptions of the woods I could quote them all day. Here are some extracts:

“ … trees, in jackets of lichen and stockings of moss … At their roots were stemless yellow fungi like lemons and apricots … Next were more trees close together struggling for existence, their branches disfigured with wounds resulting from their mutual rubbings and blows … Beneath them were the rotting stumps of those of the group that had been vanquished long ago, rising from their mossy setting like black teeth from green gums.”

And:
“It was an exceptionally soft, balmy evening for the time of year, which was just that transient period in the May month when beech trees have suddenly unfolded large limp young leaves of the softness of butterflies’ wings. Boughs bearing such leaves hung low around and completely inclosed them, so that it was if they were in a great green vase, which had moss for its bottom and leaf sides. Here they sat down.”

At the heart of the book is the story of Grace, who has been educated out of her social class, returning to the woodlands and the interaction between her, her family and the two male characters, Giles, the woodman and Fitzpiers, the doctor, from an aristocratic background. Also interesting, are the details of the matrimonial law of the time and the portrayal of Victorian conventions of emotional and sexual relationships, so different from today. As Ian Gregor writes, “Grace’s concern for her reputation as a married woman, Giles’s self-effacing loyalty, literally to the point of death, strains credulity to the point of irritation.” I didn’t find it irritating but I did find myself thinking during the section where Grace and Giles keep apart that this was not realistic – but maybe it was.

In complete contrast I was also reading Anita Shreve’s Body Surfing. I like Shreve’s books, but I didn’t think this was one of her best books. Interspersed with my reading of The Woodlanders, it provided a good illustration of how society has changed, both in attitudes to women and to social conventions. Sydney is a 29-year-old woman, who has been once widowed and once divorced. She spends a summer tutoring Julie, a teenage girl, in an ocean front cottage in New Hampshire. This location is the same setting of other Shreve novels – I feel now as though I know this house and its previous owners.

This is a book full of emotion as Julie’s brothers compete for Sydney’s’ affections and the tangle that follows, eventually unravels. Part of the reason I found this less satisfying than other books by Shreve is that it is written in the present tense, which I assume is supposed to make it more immediate and stream-of-consciousness stuff, as though you’re inside Julie’s thoughts maybe, but it just doesn’t work for me. Still, I do like the descriptions of the landscape in this book, so different from the Hardy landscape, for example:

“On the porch, red geraniums are artfully arranged against the lime-green of the dune grass, the blue of the water. Not quite primary colours, hues only seen in nature.

Knife blades of grass pierce the wooden slats of the boardwalk. Sweet pea overtakes the thatch. Unwanted fists of thistle push upward from the sand. On the small deck at the end of the boardwalk are two white Adirondack chairs, difficult to get out of, and a faded umbrella lying behind them.”

And finally, this is a book that kept my interest to the end and like The Woodlanders is a book that I’ll re-read one day.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

May - Books of the Month

Despite the risk of being reviled for "yammering" (see my previous post) I'm writing about the books I've read in May. No apologies - this does not pretend to be a "review", I wouldn't be so presumptious, but these are just my thoughts on the books I've read.

I've slowed down in my reading this month, partly because I've been blogging more, but also because some of the books have been long and detailed. So, I've read 6 books. The first one to be finished was
The Giant's House, which I've already written about. I read two non-fiction books - a biography Daphne by Margaret Forster and Alistair McGrath's The Dawkin's Delusion? which is a critique of Richard Dawkin's God Delusion.

Daphne is an extremely well researched and informative account of Daphne Du Maurier's life, taken from her letters and private papers, with personal memories of her from her children, grandchildren and friends. I did't realise until I started this that this year is the 100th anniversary of Daphne Du Maurier's birth and my reading was enhanced by several broadcasts on the radio and television of dramatisations of her books, plus the excellent programme made by Rick Stein "In Du Maurier Country", filming the locations of her books and interviews with her family. I'm also enthusiastic about Rick Stein's books and programmes, (cookery for those who don't know) - but I digress.

There is too much I could say about Daphne, not least that it is a candid account of her relationships, eg her troubled married life; wartime love affair; and friendships with Gertrude Lawrence and Ellen Doubleday, as well as an excellent source of information on Du Maurier's method of writing and views on life. She doesn't sound an easy person to live with or be related too, but that doesn't detract from her passion for writing and Cornwall. Of course there is Menabilly and the biography gives so much detail of her love for the house and how she renovated and restored it that made me realise all the more how poignant it was when she had to give it up. What makes this book unforgettable for me is Forster's eloquent way of writing, including so much detail, but never being boring or stilted, leaving me wanting to read on and on. And the book is illustrated with lots of photos.

In complete contrast to this is the Dawkin's Delusion, which I borrowed from the library. I read Dawkin's book earlier this year and didn't have it to hand when I read this one (I've lent it to my son), so I had to rely on my memory of The God Delusion. I was interested to read what an Evangelical Christian had made of Dawkin's book and wasn't surprised - he didn't agree with Dawkins! For an excellent review of Dawkin's book have a look at Bill Hanage's article "Them's fightin' words" on LabLit's blog . I think I got more out of this article than from McGrath's book.

Turning to the fiction, I read Blessings, by Anna Quindlen, The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield, Body Surfing by Anita Shreve and finally Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders.

Anna Quindlen is a new author to me. I came across her whilst reading
Danielle's blog. Blessings is a satisfying read about a baby abandoned outside "Blessings", a large house owned by Lydia Blessing. The baby is taken in by Skip, the caretaker cum handyman-gardener, who looks after her at first in secret. The past of all the characters is slowly revealed and the effect that the baby has on them all. It's a sad book over all, with regrets for what has happened in the past. I shall look out for more books by her.

As for The Thirteenth Tale, I have resisted buying this book, after reading either how fantastice people have found it, or how disappointing it is. The copy I read is a BookCrossing book I found in our local coffee shop. It took me some time to get into this book and I found myself being both reluctant to read it and yet unable to stop. It was only with the appearance of the governess that I found myself actually enjoying the book - and that is the second section. I usually give up on a book before then. Part of the problem I have with this book is that I couldn't really like the characters, even Margaret, the narrator irritated me somewhat, even though she loves books. Another problem is the ending, which I found to be contrived. All in all, it is not a book I'll read again and I'm going to release it back to its travels.

Which brings me to The Woodlanders. I borrowed this book from the library to read before continuing with Tomalin's The Time-Torn Man. I enjoyed it so much that I went out and bought a copy for myself. I'll post my thoughts in another post. This one has gone on long enough and the sun is shining!

Me thinks she doth yammer too much!

I've just been reading about the letter on the Persephone website that describes blogging as "yammering".

It seems to me that it's Persephone that's doing the yammering - what a silly thing to write. They obviously are oblivious to how pompous and condescending their attitude is. But then, I've found this is so in many areas of life. There are always "us" and "them", whether it's in a professional situation at work, or socially. That's just human nature, sadly.

As for me I thought a long time before stating my blog. I'd read others' and enjoyed them, but hesitated to join in as I thought that I can't write as well as, say, Litlove at Tales from the Reading Room or Dovegreyreader. But then I love books, libraries, book shops and am always reading and having written factual reports for work for several years that had to be in a certain style and format I wanted to experiment and have a go myself. So BooksPlease it is, because they do please and if you'd asked me when I was a child what I'd like for Christmas or my birthday I'd reply "Books, please". Still do.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Daisy Lupin's Poetry Fest

Daisy Lupin has started a new blog devoted to poetry and the theme for June is Poetry we loved as Children.

The poems I loved as a child were by Robert Louis Stevenson in A Child's Garden of Verses. My Great Aunty Sally, who was my mother's aunt, gave me this book for my birthday one year. I was reminded of it when I read Pinkerton's Sister (wonderful book, full of allusions that brought back so many memories including this book of verses). Unfortunately I can no longer find the original book she gave me and so last year I bought this edition.

There are so many poems in here that I liked that it's hard to choose just one. So, I 'vepicked three.

This one I learnt and used to recite as fast as I could, trying to imitate the speed of a train:

From a Railway Carriage

Faster than fairies, faster than witches,
Bridges and houses, hedges and ditches;
And charging along like troops in a battle,
All through the meadows the horses and cattle:
All of the sights of the hill and the plain
Fly as thick as driving rain;
And ever again, in the wink of an eye,
Painted stations whistle by.

Here is a child who clambers and scrambles,
All by himself and gathering brambles;
Here is a tramp who stands and gazes;
And here is the green for stringing the daisies!
Here is a cart run away in the road
Lumping along with man and load;
And here is a mill, and there is a river:
Each a glimpse and gone forever!

Another favourite was:

Windy Nights

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at se,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he;
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.

I could go on and on, but I'll finish with this, which was so true for me as a child. Other children would be playing in the road, but I had to go to bed (well they were a bit older than me) and I would look out of the window and wish I was outside with them. This brings it all back!

Bed in Summer

In winter I get up at night
And dress in yellow candlelight.
In summer quite the other way,
I have to go to bed by day.

I have to go to bed and see
The birds still hopping on the tree,
Or hear the grown-up people’s feet
Still going past me in the street.

And does it not seem hard to you,
When all the sky is clear and blue,
And I should like so much to play,
To have to go to bed by day?