Weekly Fragments ~ Monday February 10th

virgilio-dias-universitc3a1ria-2011-o-s-t-60-x-60I don’t know why I call these posts ‘weekly’ because they’re anything but.  However, Sporadic Fragments doesn’t have quite the right ring to it so Weekly Fragments it is.

Those of you who are truly eagle-eyed will have noticed that I have very definitely not kept up with my promise to read fewer crime novels this year, but there is a reason for that and I want to explain myself before exposing you to at least two new reviews over the following week.

Life, in the form of my health, has gone decidedly pear-shaped in the past few weeks and I’ve found myself stuck at home not knowing from one day to the next whether or not I’m going to be able to do any serious reading and thinking.  I’ve had to give up my teaching and support work for the moment and this, as you can imagine, has been really frustrating.  So, in order to feel that I’m doing something useful, I’ve gone back to reading ARCs through the good offices of NetGalley. This suits me perfectly at present because most of the books aren’t going to be published for some weeks and so I can read and review them on the good days and then store away the accompanying posts until the books become generally available.  However,  it does mean that my reading is limited by what NetGalley makes available and the only books at the moment that I am even remotely interested in are all crime novels.

Of course, on those good days I am also reading other material, but all the really interesting stuff takes a little bit more brain and definitely more continuity than I can offer at present and so is tending to pile up waiting for better times.  I have recently finished Penelope Fitzgerald’s wonderful novel, Offshore, and I even wrote a cracking good post (if I say it as shouldn’t) about it.  Unfortunately, this was last Wednesday afternoon, when the wind and the rain here were doing a passable imitation of Lear’s blasted heath and it wasn’t until I tried to publish it that I discovered my broadband connection was down, that I had been working offline for all but eighty words of a nine hundred word post and consequently it hadn’t been automatically backing up.  When I pressed the publish button the whole thing, with the exception of the first paragraph, was wiped out of existence.  Let me tell you, there was much gnashing of teeth and turning of the air blue. The Bears had to put their paws in their ears and very nearly sent me to wash my mouth out with soap and water.  I will re-write the post at some point but there is little more disheartening than having slaved over a piece of writing only to then find you have got to do it again.  All this is being saved to Pages paragraph by paragraph as I write!

The one book I really regret having not yet got round to is the January pick from Heywood Hill, Javier Marías’ A Heart so White, but I promise that this is the next one up as soon as I’ve finished my current book group read, Stephen Dau’s The Book of Jonas, which I will definitely be writing about because it is a most unusual piece of work.  Fortunately, February’s book hasn’t yet arrived so I’m not feeling too pressured.

And a final note, again, I’m afraid, just for those of you who are local.  I’ve just received notification from the RSC of two sessions that they are running with Hilary Mantel about Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies.  The first is on Saturday March 22nd at 11.15 and is just a very short (45mins) discussion between Mantel and Mike Poulton, who adapted the novels for the stage, but the second, which is on the Sunday, is a five hour affair from 11.00, entitled Cromwell’s Court and is a day of talks exploring the context of the novels with Mantel and various Tudor experts.  I think these are open to general bookings and if you’re interested I suggest you get in quickly because tickets are going fast.  Again, do let me know if you are going to be there.  It would be great to meet up.


Note to self…….

war-peace…don’t earwig other people’s conversations if you can’t listen to them and keep a straight face at the same time.

Overheard this morning in a local tearoom.  Proud grandfather:

“Of course, Lily-May is doing really well and Tolstoy is coming along nicely at school now.  He can almost write in full sentences.”

That’ll be War and Peace by the end of the week, then?

Weekly Fragments ~ January 15th

37788084343093605_97fq9uva_fSo, here we are again, back from the hospital and slowly beginning to return to what passes for normal in this household.  I shall be in and out attending clinics for the foreseeable future but not, I hope, having any further procedures.  I have no intention of regaling you with all the indignities of the previous week but feel I must share, if only to gain sympathy points, the ultimate in NHS fashion accessories this year, namely the outsize paper trousers with a flap in the back.  Clearly designed for someone coming in at a UK size 24 (I am a UK 8) keeping them up was a major challenge.  Oh, and did I mention they were sage green.  I feel safe in predicting that these are not going to catch on as the must have fashion item for summer 2014.

Being flooded with just about every drug going doesn’t leave you in the best frame of mind for tackling anything too challenging when it comes to reading.  In fact there were days when the best I could manage was to raid The Bears CD collection and let Stephen Fry read to me from the Harry Potter books.  As I would be perfectly happy listening to Mr Fry read the London Telephone Directory this wasn’t too much of a hardship but I was still glad when I could pick up a real book and read for myself again.  Nevertheless, I have to admit to having pretty much stuck to detective fiction for the last week with the exception of the book I need for tonight’s book group meeting, Sathnam Sanghera’s memoir of growing up in the TopknotWolverhampton Sikh community, The Boy with the Topknot.  I have been both fascinated and extremely moved by Sanghera’s story.  I taught many children from backgrounds similar to his in nearby Birmingham and I am appalled at just how ignorant I was about the difficulties faced by the women in particular as they tried to make a home for their families in a culture so completely alien to anything they had known before.  However, Sanghera’s family suffered even more than most because both his father and his eldest sister suffered from schizophrenia.  I seem to remember Dirk Bogarde in one of his autobiographies remarking how important it was that you should always be ill in your own language.  Imagine not merely being ill but being mentally ill and not having the words to describe what you are going through.  It simply doesn’t bear thinking about.  The group member whose selection this is used to be a GP in the next-door authority to Wolverhampton and I am going to be really interested to hear her speak about why she chose the book and how it relates to the experiences she had during her time in practice.

n390265Apart from that, as I say, I spent most of last week back in the world of crime fiction.  Having very much enjoyed Claire McGowan’s most recent novel, The Lost, I went back and read her first book, The Fall.  Unlike The Lost which is set in McGowan’s Irish homeland, the earlier novel is set in and around London and explores the universal hatred for anyone in the banking community after the crash of 2007.  When Charlotte’s fiancé, Dan, is accused of murder the whole world is quick to convict him mainly on the grounds that if he is a banker he must be corrupt.  The fact that there is evidence that suggests this isn’t the case is easily pushed to one side.  The book is a chilling exploration of how little attention is often paid to facts when the alternative is a good story and for a first novel I thought it very good indeed.  I said when I read The Lost that in Forensic Psychologist, Paula McGuire, the author might have discovered a character on which she could build a series and I’ve just noticed that she has a second book about McGuire coming out in April.  As I thought she captured the Irish setting extremely well, I’m looking forward to this and McGowan has gone onto my list of authors whose works I want to read as soon as they are available.

n438880That list is growing further, I’m afraid, following the discovery of another Irish crime writer in the person of Brian McGilloway, whose book Hurt has also been amongst my reading over the past few days.  This, his most recent novel, is set in and around Derry and is the second in a series about DS Lucy Black, a member of the PSNI’s Public Protection Unit.  Working mainly with children in care who have gone missing, Lucy already has a back story that I am going to have to explore because it is clear that her first case featured in Little Girl Lost is one that is going to haunt her throughout her subsequent career.  Like McGowan, McGilloway depicts the tensions that still run deep in the Irish community extremely well.  What is more, unsurprisingly, he writes beautifully. I say unsurprisingly because a bit of digging unearthed the fact that he is currently Head of English at Derry’s St Columb’s College.  This may not mean much to you but I have a friend, now a leading Old Testament scholar, who was at St Columb’s, as were his three brothers, the eldest of whom was in the same class as Seamus Heaney.  You don’t get to be Head of English in Seamus Heaney’s old school without being able to write well.     In addition to the Lucy Black series, the writer also has five books in a series set in the borderlands between Northern Ireland and the Republic.  If I do have to go back into hospital any time soon I have my reading already sorted.

But, now that my mind is clearing, I do want to turn my attention to something with a little more bite to it.  I’ve just about finished The Goldfinch and will write about that in more detail soon.  My next book group read will be Penelope Fitzgerald’s Offshore and if I have time I would like to look as well at the collection of her letters that has been sitting on my shelf for far too long.  Eventually I want to read the new biography however I’ll have to wait until it’s available in paperback, I’m afraid.  And, I also have the latest offering from Heywood Hill, but that is going to have a post of its own.  Suffice it to say that Lisa has come up trumps again.

Weekly Fragments ~ January 3rd

virgilio-dias-universitc3a1ria-2011-o-s-t-60-x-60First and foremost a Happy New Year to all of our friends in the blogging world from both me and The Bears.  I would get The Bears to come and greet you personally but they are still sleeping off their Hogmanay excesses.  Too many marmalade sandwiches are good for no one, especially when said marmalade is laced with whiskey!  We hope the year brings you all that you could wish for and definitely no unpleasant surprises.

If there were going to be any New Year’s Resolutions in this household then cutting back on the marmalade sandwiches should really be at the top of the list.  However, we’ve never been ones for making such resolutions mainly because we know that collectively we are so very bad at keeping them.  In fact, setting something out as a resolution has always appeared to be a certain way of ensuring that it will never actually come to pass. Nevertheless, when I look back over my reading habits as inscribed here, there are certain trends from last year that I want to put a stop to and so while not offering them as anything so concrete as a set of resolutions here are some practices that I would like to see change over the next twelve months.

First and foremost, I want to read a wider range of books in 2014 than has been the case recently.  If I look back over the last year crime fiction has predominated.  More to the point, re-visiting crime fiction has taken up an inordinate amount of my reading time.  I now know that there has been a very good reason for this.  Just before Christmas, following a quite frightening run of health problems, I had to come off the medication I’ve been taking for the past while.  This, of course has had other consequences because I was on said medication for a very good reason but a positive result is that I have quite simply got my brain back.  I hadn’t realised how dulled and lethargic the drug was making me feel because it crept up on me slowly but I now understand why there have been times in 2013 when re-visiting old friends was the only reading I felt capable of doing.  I will still be acquiring new fiction by my favourite crime writers but book for book the sheer volume is going to have to fall.  In its place I want to read more contemporary fiction, especially looking for writers whose works are new to me so that I can then tackle their back catalogues, and to return to reading new children’s and YA fiction, something that I let lapse when I retired, a state of affairs which I now regret.

Linked with this is a desire to read with more attention to and appreciation of the books I pick up.  I only have to look back at some of the blog posts I wrote last year to know that I haven’t been doing that, especially if I compare them with even earlier pieces.  At present I can blame this on the medication as well, but if the situation continues I won’t have that as an excuse and I know from previous experience that reading and writing with attention is a practice you have to make a habit of or it is far too easy to become superficial.  This year that won’t do.

And neither will wasting good reading time with activities that are really nothing other than time fillers.  I’ve never been an avid watcher of television but I do have a nasty habit of picking up either a jigsaw or a killer sudoku simply because neither of them ask very much of me mentally.  Bad Girl!  Equally, I need to think about the reading I do when I’m out and about.  I very often have an hour or so to fill between events at the University and because I don’t carry a physical book around with me (back problems) my practice has been to put a crime novel for re-reading on my mini i-Pad.  Well, that won’t wash any longer.  (See my first resolve above.)  What I thought I would do instead is use the time to catch up on the back catalogues of some of the writers I have recently come to appreciate but whose earlier works I missed.  I have in mind Penelope Lively, Anne Tyler and Ann Patchett as starting points, but there are plenty of others who would easily fill that particular slot.  My only concern is that may well mean that at times I will have four books on the go at once.  I know that a number of you manage that on a regular basis but it will be unusual for me. I shall have to see how it goes and perhaps have a rethink half way through the year.

Finally, I’ve decided to give the blog a simpler look.  But I expect you’d noticed that already.

So, with all those good intentions in mind what do the early days of the New Year hold?  Well, to start with I’m off into hospital next week so there may be a bit of a gap between posts.  I’m not sure how long I’ll be out of commission but I’ll catch up with you all as soon as I can.  By that time I should have finished The Goldfinch and Sara Paretsky’s Critical Mass.  Next on the list are William Brodrick’s The Discourtesy of Death, Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and Jonathan Stroud’s The Screaming Staircase – one each from my modern fiction, new crime and children’s literature resolutions – and downloaded onto my i-Pad is the first Penelope Lively I need to catch up on, Treasures of Time. Come to think of it, given how much time you normally spend waiting around in hospital it might not be a bad idea to make a second novel available.  Definitely better to be safe than sorry.   And of course, by then, there will also be whatever the second parcel from Heywood Hill’s Year of Books turns out to contain.  This time I will try and restrain myself long enough to photograph it for you.

Happy New Year.

Weekly Fragments ~ December 17th

quill_n_paperI’m posting here later than I intended mainly because much of this last week has been spent going back and forth to my doctor and consequently I have to give advance warning that much of the early part of next year may well be spent going back and forth to the local hospital.  If, therefore, I should suddenly vanish from the ether for longer than expected you will know that it is because I am either being filled full of extremely nasty substances or having equally nasty foreign bodies put into places which were definitely not originally designed to accommodate them – or quite possibly both.  The irony of all this is that while I am now living with a certain amount of discomfort this is because I have had to come off a particular medication and as a result my mind is clearer than it has been for at least the last twelve months.  It is worrying how the effects of seemingly innocuous drugs can creep up on you without you realising the extent of the damage they are doing.  I knew I had been a bit on the dopey side recently but I hadn’t understood how much until the cause was removed.

Still, enough of that other than to say that it has rather got in the way of my reading these past few days and I have to admit that I still haven’t started my Heywood Hill book, The Great Fire.  However, I hope to put that right later in the day and to finally wean myself away from the crime fiction which is always my standby when I don’t want to have to think too much.  Over the weekend I read the latest in the Rebus series, Saints of the Shadow Bible and I’m halfway through a novel by an Irish writer new to me, Claire McGowan, called The Lost.  This is McGowan’s second book and deals with the search for two young women who have gone missing in the border area of Northern Ireland.  She has been likened to Ruth Rendell, but for me she reads more like Jane Casey and, as I prefer Casey to Rendell, that makes her a firm recommendation.  Having spent much of my working life in the company of people who in one way or another were touched by the problems in the province during the very worst of the troubles, I think she’s caught the atmosphere perfectly and I am certainly going to be getting hold of her previous novel,The Fall.  From what I can gather about the earlier book, McGowan is writing one offs, which is a shame because in forensic psychologist, Paula Maguire, I think she has a character worth developing. However, that’s the way S J Bolton, for me the very best of the younger generation of crime writers, started out and once she ‘discovered’ Lacey Flint she allowed her to grow and is developing a compulsive series around her.  Perhaps McGowan will do the same.

Saints of the Shadow Bible was a satisfactory enough read and if I hadn’t known Rebus of old I would probably have been well pleased by it.  But, I do know Rebus of old and consequently I was disappointed.  What is happening to him as he gets older?  The man is turning into a positive pussycat.  I don’t want to spoil it for those of you who haven’t yet got to the top of the library waiting list but when you see who ends up as his drinking companion you will be shocked indeed.  The Rebus I know, if not quite love, would never have been seen dead in such company.

So, what about the week ahead?   Well, I really am going to start The Great Fire later on today and then where more literary reading is concerned it will be either The Luminaries or The Goldfinch.  Would those of you who have read them have any suggestions as to which I should try first?  I’ve also decided that I’ve been wrong to neglect what’s coming out in the way of Children’s Fiction and at some point this afternoon I’m going to collect Marcus Sedgwick’s She is not Invisible and Rebecca Stead’s Liar and Spy from the library.  I’ve also downloaded the Dutch children’s classic The Letter for the King by Tonke Dragt, which has just been translated for the first time and which I’m really looking forward to being finally able to read.   I’m not going to give up the crime scene altogether, however, and have The Late Scholar, the new Peter Wimsey as told by Jill Paton Walsh and the latest William Brodrick, The Discourtesy of Death to start, as well as Louise Penny’s most recent Inspector Gamache novel, How the Light Gets In, saved specially for Christmas Day.

Oh and yesterday I did manage to get away from the doctor long enough to see the second episode of The Hobbit.  Do you know, I think Tolkien would have recognised at least a third of it!

Weekly Fragments ~ December 1st

woman-reading-by-the-harbour-james-tissotI feel a celebration is in order simply because I’ve actually managed to reach this weekend in one piece.  I can vaguely remember looking forward to this Saturday and Sunday from the distance of a fortnight ago and not being entirely certain that I was going to make it.  But, here I am and all is well, if you don’t count the fact that I am now so far behind with my course on historical fiction that the course itself will be historical by the time I catch up and that I have two days in which to read On Chesil Beach for a reading group meeting early next week. This will be a third reading for me and having just looked over the first dozen or so pages I am very interested in how much my reaction to the text is altered by having discussed it with other groups in the past.  This is very much a book where every word is laden with meaning once you know where the author is going.  More than most it is a novel(lla) where re-capturing that first response is completely impossible.  I am going to have to temper my remarks when it comes to the meeting because the other members of the group haven’t read it before and consequently will have had a very different experience.

Part of what has made these last few days so hectic has been a rash of visiting speakers.  Some were excellent including the lecturer who started out by declaring that ‘common sense is wrong’!  That’s my sort of academic. However, the one whose topic appealed to me most turned out not only to be a poor speaker but to have set off to tell the world about his research before he’d actually done any, or at least not enough to have anything to say about it.  As always that was so embarrassing, especially when it came to question time, because it was difficult to ask anything that didn’t make his inadequacies even more apparent than they already were.  The thing with visiting speakers is that you don’t just have to put aside the time to listen to them, but also the time to entertain them and to see that they get back on their train safely – and it’s all good reading time.  You can see I’m not feeling very hospitable at the moment. I do try not to let it show.

But, I have got some reading done.  I finished Naguib Mahfouz’s Palace Walk and loved every word of it.  We had a first rate group discussion and then the following day, quite by chance, I got into conversation with someone who had lived in Cairo for over forty years and said that the Cairenes who remember the city in the days with which the latter part of his trilogy deals say how accurate he was in his depiction of both the people and the atmosphere.  I really want to read the other two parts of his tale, but they are so substantial and there is so much else I want to read in the very near future that I’m afraid it’s going to be some time before I get round to them.

Another substantial read is the latest in Elizabeth George’s Inspector Lynley series, Just One Evil Act.  Coming in at well over six hundred pages I’m beginning to think that this is too long and that it would really have benefitted from a good edit.  I normally gobble my way through George’s work, but I can feel my self getting edgy and wanting to push the narrative on.  I will finish it, if only to find out if the goodie really is going to turn out to be a baddie, albeit a misguided one, but I suspect I shall start skim reading before too long.

And last weekend was taken up with the theatre in one form or another. On Saturday I went over to Stratford to see the RSC’s Antony and Cleoptra, which has been slightly tinkered around with and re-set in the time of Napoleon with Rome transposed to France and Egypt to Haiti.  It sounds as though it shouldn’t work and indeed the critics were scathing, so I wasn’t expecting much.  However, I thought it was excellent.  The transposition really emphasises the contrast between the two cultures and the verse was beautifully spoken.  I came out having had a very much better afternoon than I’d anticipated – always a bonus.  I think it’s still running so if you’d been thinking about going but have been put off by the reviews you might want to think again.

Then on Sunday I went to see the NTLive streaming of Nick Dear’s version of Frankenstein and found that I was having precisely the opposite experience.  While I could see that Dominic Cumberbatch’s performance was a tour de force, the continued iteration of the evil of mankind was just too much.  There are some good people around and occasionally it would be nice to see that fact celebrated.

Looking forward, as well as the McEwan I have to read Salman Rushdie’s The Moor’s Last Sigh for a different group and I’ve just picked up the new Sara Paretsky, Critical Mass.  Paretsky is my favourite of the American crime writers.  I love how she has not been frightened to let V I Warshawski age along with the series and thereby have to face the annoying frailties and limitations that come with getting older.  She is my role model and I can’t wait to get through all my prescribed reading in order to spend some quality time with her.

And then, of course, there is the little matter of the first book from Heywood Hill, which ought to be dropping through my letter box towards the end of the coming week.  The question is, will I have the courage to open the package and see what it is!

Weekly Fragments ~ November 15th

142004194470138886_zzjkurbS_fI’ve had a rather difficult week in some respects and so I haven’t really got as much done as I’d hoped I would the last time I wrote one of these Fragments.  I could really do with a picture of someone tearing their hair out rather than sitting reading as if there was all the time in the world to pour over the newspaper before gently contemplating what the world has to offer after that second cup of tea.  In part this was my own fault because for reasons I will tell you about in a later post I took myself off to London on Tuesday and by Wednesday had to recognise that this is a trip I no longer have the necessary stamina to undertake.  I still haven’t completely recharged my batteries and as a consequence I am yet again behind in my reading.

I have almost managed to catch up with the lectures for my Historical Fiction MOOC and will find some time later today to go over to our discussion site and add to the comments there.  I’m still bitterly disappointed by the choice of books set for this course and eventually gave up on Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane.  Life is just too short and my time too precious to spend it reading a book that simply doesn’t catch my attention, especially as I had to work my way through another such novel for a reading group last week.  I said last time that I wouldn’t have picked up Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred Year Old Man who Climbed out of the Window and Disappeared off my own bat but was willing to give it a try because so many people had said it was worth reading.  Well, I’m sorry but I have to disagree.  When I think of all the excellent fiction there is out there just waiting for someone to come along and translate it I despair that novels like this get picked up and accorded so much attention. Given that it is advertised as an International Best Seller I recognise that I must be in the minority here, but to be truthful there wasn’t that much enthusiasm for it in the group as a whole when we met on Wednesday to discuss it.  Perhaps we all had the wrong sort of sense of humour.

I was also disappointed with the crime novel I’d picked out to leaven the work load.  I posted about Val McDermid’s latest Tony Hill novel, Cross and Burn, last weekend and explained there how I felt that this book had come out too soon and was still in need of a lot of work.  Those of you who know me will be aware that this is an increasingly anguished cry of mine because I’m convinced that popular authors are being pushed into publishing one book a year for the Christmas market whether said book is ready or no. This one wasn’t.  

However, just in case you think I’m in a real grump (I am, but I’m trying to find a bright spot) I did also read the new Ben Aaronovitch Broken Homes. If you haven’t read Aaronovitch’s crime fiction it’s rather hard to explain what it’s about.  I once saw it described as a cross between the police procedural and Harry Potter and that isn’t as far fetched as it might sound. This is the fourth in the series and I’m telling you now that if you don’t start at the beginning with Rivers of London you don’t stand any chance whatsoever of understanding what is going on, but I think it’s worth the journey.  As you get to know Peter Grant, a young PC who suddenly finds himself caught up in the London manifestation of a mythical and magical underworld linked through their alchemical heritage (the London practitioners are known as Issacs after Newton) to the past history of the capital, you learn with him just how much of that past is still potent and influential.  Of course, you are going to have to suspend your disbelief as you meet the spirits of the various London rivers and watch as Peter does battle with the Faceless Man, but at the same time Aaronovitch manages to conjure up the essence of London as it is today and patch the two together seamlessly.  I suspect these novels are an acquired taste but one that I am definitely cultivating.

So, what is on the cards for this week.  Well, I have to read the next book for my Historical Fiction course, Geraldine Brooks, The Year of Wonder. This is about Eyam, the small village in Derbyshire whose inhabitants agreed to seal the village off in 1666 to prevent the plague from spreading to neighbouring settlements thus condemning themselves to almost certain death.  I’ve read a number of Brooks other novels and enjoyed them, so I’m hoping that I’ll fare better with this than with the previous two selections.  However, I know Eyam very well and so I am going to be hypercritical, I’m afraid.  This is a true story and those courageous people deserve to be treated with respect and dignity, so I’m going to be demanding a lot where this set text is concerned.

Then I have my next book group read to finish for Wednesday.  This is Naguib Mahfouz’s novel Palace Walk, the first of his Cairo trilogy and a work influential in his being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature.  I’m about a quarter of the way through and I can see that it is a very well written book, but I’m finding it hard to sympathise with Mahfouz’s portrayal of Cairo society during the First World War.  I accept that it was a world where the men got their way in everything and ‘respectable’ women were incarcerated in the house for pretty much the totality of their lives, existing only to serve their husband’s will, but it does make it hard to sympathise with any of the characters and The Bears are having to frequently put their paws in their ears to block out my vitriolic comments as to what I would do to the main male protagonist should I get anywhere near him with a sharp knife.  I suspect that this is one of those cases where you need to read the whole trilogy to really appreciate the role of any one of the three books, but whether I shall have time to do that in the near future I very much doubt.

Where lighter reading is concerned I have the latest in Laura Wilson’s Ted Stratton series to begin.  The Riot is another London crime novel, this time set in 1958 and centred around the Notting Hill Riots of that period which grew out of increasing racial tension in the capital and the rise of Rachmanism – so maybe not so light after all.  The thing I love about this series is the detailed way in which Wilson captures the social history of the time.  The first book, Stratton’s War, is one of the best evocations of the London Blitz that I know as well as being a first rate crime novel.

And only one theatre visit this week, Tartuffe at the Rep this afternoon.  I don’t know much about the play or the production so I’m going with an open mind.  Some you win and some you lose – that’s my philosophy where the theatre is concerned.  I’m hoping this one will be a winner.

Weekly Fragments ~ November 5th

tumblr_lptmh1EY1E1r1sle6o1_500A number of my blogging friends regularly post a piece at the end of each month looking back over their recent reads and projecting forthcoming books for the following four weeks.  It’s not something I’ve ever thought of doing myself, mostly because I rely to a large extent on libraries for my reading material and I can never predict what (if any) books are going to turn up.  However, over on her blog Of Books and Bicycles, Rebecca has a recent post where she looks forward to her forthcoming reading week and that strikes me as a very good idea, if only because it might make me organise my mind enough to recognise the difference between what needs to be read and what I want to read and to be realistic about the time I have available for either.

And, I have to say that the week ahead looks crowded!

Yesterday saw the end of the month from hell in which I had to lead the discussion in all three of my reading groups.  Now, don’t get me wrong, I love belonging to reading groups.  I never fail to learn something new about the books through discussion and I suppose that to some extent they are a substitute for the days when I was leading reading groups in university classes.  Officially they were called seminars, but if they work properly reading groups is what they should be.  However, taking on three new books in short order was silly and I’ve already taken steps to ensure that the same thing won’t happen next year.

The most recent discussion was of Jeffrey Eugenides’ Pulitzer winning novel, Middlesex, which I read when it first came out but which was new to everyone else in the group.  I have to say I chose this with some trepidation because there are a number of people in that particular group who are very traditionalist in their view as to what a novel should be like and I knew that they were going to find not only the subject matter but also the style very challenging.  However, I happen to think that Middlesex is one of the great novels of the last decade and anyway, the teacher in me still thinks that people should have their reading horizons challenged, so I carried on regardless.  In fact, only two of the group had a problem with the book and the rest couldn’t sing its praises loudly enough. Almost everyone had had difficulties getting to grips with the blend of the post-modern and the traditional, especially as it manifests itself in Cal’s very particular narrative voice, but once they’d tuned in to what Eugenides is doing there they were fine.

Even though that may be out of the way, belonging to three groups means that the next read is always on the horizon and so one of the books I need to read this week is Jonas Jonasson’s The Hundred-Year-Old Man Who Climbed Out Of The Window And Disappeared. I’m promised by everyone I know who has read this that I am going to really enjoy it, which is reassuring because it definitely isn’t something I would have picked up for myself.  The other ‘needful’ book is Katherine Howe’s The Physick Book of Deliverance Dane which is the set text for next week’s lectures on the MOOC course I’m taking on Historical Fiction.  The portents aren’t so good where this is concerned.  Two of the friends with whom I’m taking the course have already had problems with the novel and I think we’re all beginning to wonder whether the books chosen aren’t a reflection of the authors willing to lead seminars rather than texts that illustrate the best available in current historical fiction.  It’s a shame because the lectures from the professor are very good indeed and he has tried to be innovative in the way he’s set up the course. It’s certainly better than any of the other literature MOOCs I’ve taken.  But, it does show how difficult creating a new module from scratch can be and just how many are the pitfalls you have to avoid.

My ‘want to’ reads all arrived from the library yesterday and they’re all crime novels.  I have these for three weeks and so I must try and limit myself to just one a week, because I know what I’m like when I get my head down in crime fiction – I’m unlikely to surface until it’s finished.  So, this week’s treat is the new Tony Hill and Carol Jordan novel from Val McDermid, Cross and Burn.  I think the highest praise I can offer McDermid is to say that I love her stand alone novels as much as I do her series books, which suggests that it is her writing rather than her characters that I respond to.  This is my last thing at night book when I have finished everything I need to read for the day and can reward myself with sheer indulgence.  For the rest of the day I have given it to The Bears to hide.  I know my own limitations where temptation is concerned!

The other ‘literary-type’ occasions that this week holds include two visits to the theatre.  On Saturday I’m going to the Rep to see a staged version of The Anatomy of Melancholy, which some friends saw in London and have throughly recommended and then on Sunday I’m going to a screening of the National Theatre’s The Habit of Art.  This got rather mixed reviews when it was on in London, but it stars the late Richard Griffiths and I can’t pass up any last opportunity to see him at work.  Two days out at the weekend is going to seriously curtail my reading time so I may have to report a level of failure this time next week, but best foot forward.

A Passing Thought…….

globe-burningDSC04032smallI am going over to Stratford later to see the RSC in Thomas Middleton’s A Mad World My Masters and I’ve just realised that it is exactly four hundred years ago today since their predecessors’, the King’s Men, theatre, The Globe, burnt to the ground.  I’m in The Swan, which isn’t that big, so with luck I should be somewhere near a fire exit, but I will definitely be checking where the closest way out is as soon as I take my seat.

Fragment # 2.

349_1The Barber Institute is proving to be a veritable mine of possibly useless, but certainly fascinating, information.  So, fresh from their Painted Lady tour I come armed with the knowledge that the masks constructed for the Venetian carnival were made deliberately with very tight bridges across the nose.  Thus, not only was your face completely disguised but also your voice because all you could do was talk as if you had a very nasty head cold.