Thank You

142004194470138886_zzjkurbS_fNormally, I try to make a point of responding to comments left on my blog individually.  I think it’s important to treat each one as if it were part of an on-going conversation and never, ever to take them for granted.  However, this time I’m making an exception because if I were to do that where my last post is concerned I would be simply writing the same thing over and over again and that would be a great big

THANK YOU

As you might imagine, my confidence had taken something of a beating but each one of you has helped to soften the blow and many of you have offered me new ways of thinking about what it is I want to achieve and how I intend to go about doing it.  Not the least, you have made me question whether or not working through official academic channels is the most productive way forward.  Reading through some of the comments that have been left on this and other blogs in recent weeks has brought home to me just how many active thinkers about literature there are in the blogging world, thinkers who are not necessarily aligned to any academic institution but who, nevertheless, offer discussions every bit as insightful and penetrating as those that might be offered by readers bound by the strictures of funding councils and academic league tables

As a result, I am going to follow Theseus’s advice to Hermia in A Midsummer Night’s Dream and ‘take time to pause’ in order to think about how else I might forward either this project or one other that I have had in mind for some time primarily through a blogging platform.  To misquote from Cymbeline:

Hath academia all the sun that shines? Day, night,

Are they not but in academia? I’th’world’s volume

Our academia seems as of it but not in’t,

In a great pool a swan’s nest.  Prithee think

There’s livers out of academia?

So, again, thank you for your support and for your help.  I am really very grateful indeed.

PS. Have you re-read Cymbeline lately?  It’s all about renegotiating a treaty with Europe so that Britain can remain a part of the EU/Roman Empire but on its own terms.  I don’t understand why it isn’t on every stage in the country at the moment.   Shakespeare really is our contemporary.

In Which I Discover That I Am Without Impact.

thelampAs some of you will know, although I retired from full-time University work some time ago I still keep close contact with the Institution where I studied and spend a lot of time around the place working with postgraduate students.  So, when a couple of weeks ago I got the sudden urge to get back into the research field myself it seemed obvious that I should first discuss what I had in mind with the senior researcher in my general field of study.

Now, to be fair, since I completed my PhD the department has shifted considerably on its axis and the focus of most of the staff and students’ work is very different from what it was.  I wouldn’t find anyone there capable of supervising my thesis these days.  Furthermore, since I am (she says, blushing modestly) the UK expert in my field I would probably find it difficult to locate anyone nationally who could supervise the first part of what I wanted to do as it consisted of extending a system of narrative analysis into previously uncharted waters.  But then I wasn’t looking for a supervisor, I was merely saying that I had some research I would like to do and asking if I could base it in the department so that I would have a community around me with whom I could discuss things.  Research can be a very lonely occupation and anyone undertaking a long term project should ensure that they have as many sounding boards around them as they can find.  I am not, it should be noted, any Tom, Dick, Harry or Alex walking in off the street and asking this.  I have an Honorary Fellowship in this department; I belong.

Well, I was given a fair hearing, but then it was explained to me that the department really wouldn’t be interested because my work would have no impact.  Have you come across the use of the word impact in HE circles?  Basically, what it means in this context is money making potential.  Any research undertaken by university lecturers these days has to impact upon the commercial world.  Having importance in the world of academia is not good enough. Discovering something new that people will find fascinating and which might spark interest in your field in other scholars simply won’t cut the mustard. No, to be allowed to pursue your chosen research pathway you have to be able to show that someone, somewhere is going to pay to have access to the results.

Does this fill you with the same sense of horror that it does me?  Isn’t education about learning rather than earning, or is that a very old-fashioned pre-Govian notion of mine?  I think I would eventually have something very interesting to say about the progression from oral story-telling to the written form via the Elizabethan theatre and the consequent changing relationship between teller, audience and the society at large.  But, surprise, surprise,  this is not going to be of interest to big business, it isn’t going to make the university a fortune, it isn’t a project they feel they can encourage.

I don’t know what makes me feel the more discouraged, the fact that I really can’t explore what seemed to me to be a truly interesting line of thought or the changing nature of the university system in the UK.  Where now does the scholar go who wants to develop a research profile in the world of the Arts or Humanities?  I really don’t think this is something you can do without being part of an active community.  That way lies the madness of Casaubon and we all know what happened (0r didn’t happen) to his magnus opus.

So, with great reluctance I have had to stash my great plans back into the inner recesses of my mind.   The world will have to live without my words of wisdom on the prologues and epilogues of Jacobeathan plays and what they have to tell us about the morphing role of the story teller in our society.  I was, of course, encouraged to look for something else that I could pursue, something that would have impact.  But, as those of you who have followed the research path will know only too well, if you are going to devote all your energies to one particular course of study it has to be something you are happy to live with for the two, three, four, however many years it takes to complete and I have no intention of devoting the next half decade to making money for the current educational hierarchy.

PS  Sorry for the rant.  This is something I have needed to get off my chest and I thought you might understand.

The Last Book

tumblr_lptmh1EY1E1r1sle6o1_500I have a new mattress.

Wow!  I can hear you all saying.  That is just what I wanted to read about today.  Bear with me.  It is, I promise you, highly book related.

Last night was the first night on said mattress and, as I’m sure you all appreciate, such a night is never likely to be the best night’s sleep you ever had.  Consequently, while I’m sure most of my dreams could be summed up as a load of rubbish, I just happen to remember what last night’s load of rubbish was about.

I was in Stratford, on my way to a performance of The Merchant of Venice, when it became apparent that there was some sort of panic going on.  A deadly spore was working its way down the country and there was nothing that could be done about it.  Death was imminent for us all.  (Shades of John Wyndham, I would have to say, although I haven’t read him for years.)

Well, it takes more than a threat of immediate death to stop me going to the theatre, so it was quite late at night when I got home and settled down with The Bears to discuss what we were going to do about this dire state of affairs.  The answer was precisely nothing – except work out which of the unread library books upstairs in the study we were going to try and read before this ultimate in library closures came upon us.

Now I think you have to admit that The Bears and I had got our priorities right.  If the world is coming to and end then make sure you read as many books as you can before the calamity hits.  When I woke up and discovered that for once it really was all just a dream, I was interested to remember that I wanted to go for new books rather than spending time with old favourites.  But what about you?  If a John Wyndham-like plague were to sweep across the country and you knew you only had time to read one last book what would you choose?

Perhaps what I should have looked for was a volume on how to choose a mattress that is dream-proof!

Acquisition Day

Pears-©-The-Henry-and-Rose-Pearlman-Collection-300x237

First and foremost, thank you all for your kind wishes in connection with our domestic crisis.  I can’t say that it is as yet resolved, but The Bears and I are in what might be described as the eye of the storm, so yesterday I took the opportunity to hop on a train and take myself off to Oxford for the day to see the Cezanne and the Modern exhibition at the Ashmolean.

I came very late to an appreciation of art and even later to an awareness of the greatness of Cezanne.  We don’t have a work by the artist in the Barber and so it was only when a self-portrait came on loan last summer that I had the chance to explore his talent first hand.  The opportunity to see several of his watercolours and four of his oil paintings all at one go was too good to miss so I have been hoping a day would materialise when all the auguries came together and I would be able to make the journey.  Yesterday it did.

I don’t have the vocabulary to describe the paintings, I’m afraid.  The best I can say is that if you’re able to get to Oxford while this show is on then you won’t be disappointed.  Typically, while I loved the Cezanne’s and especially the still life above, it was one of the other paintings in the exhibition that really took my breath L1988-62-16_0away and that was this one by Alfred Sisley.  I’m afraid this reproduction does it no justice whatsoever because the really glory is in the texture of the paint and you can’t make that out at all.

By the way, there is a lovely story attached to the painting of the pears.  Apparently, the artists Pissarro and Degas both wanted to buy it really badly and the only way they could decide who should have it was to draw lots.  Degas won.  I can’t quite see that means of acquisition catching on at Christie’s anytime soon.

Well, my acquisitions didn’t include any of the paintings.  (I think the powers that be at the Museum might have had something to say about that.)  But who can go to Oxford for the day without going into Blackwells?  And who can come out of Blackwells without a bagful of books?  I think I was very restrained in only buying five -although it has to be said I’m not sure that Jolyon Bear agrees with me.

IMG_0185Unlike Waterstones, Blackwells still does a three for the price of two offer and I’m a sucker for anything that looks like a bargain so the top three were part of that offer.

I’m not a great reader of short stories, but everyone has been telling me how superb George Saunders’ collection Tenth of December is and of course it recently won the Folio Prize, so I thought I would try and ignite my appreciation for the form with what seems to be a first-class example.  The blurb promises that this is

George Saunders’s most wryly hilarious and disturbing collection yet [one that] illuminates human experience and explores figures lost in a labyrinth of troubling preoccupations. A family member recollects a backyard pole dressed for all occasions; Jeff faces horrifying ultimatums and the prospect of DarkenfloxxTM in some unusual drug trials; and Al Roosten hides his own internal monologue behind a winning smile that he hopes will make him popular. With dark visions of the future riffing against ghosts of the past and the ever-settling present, this collection sings with astonishing charm and intensity.

One a day, I think, until I see how I get on with it.

Then there is Graham Joyce’s most recent novel The Year of the Ladybird.  I first came across Joyce through Some Kind of Fairy Tale, which I wrote about here.  I loved the psychological reality of Joyce’s storytelling and I’m hoping that this book will be similar in its effect.

It is the summer of 1976, the hottest since records began, and a plague of ladybirds speckles the countryside. A young man called David leaves behind his student days to begin the adventure of growing up. A first job in a holiday camp beckons. But alongside the freedom of a first job and the excitement in dangers of first love, political and racial tensions are simmering under the cloudless summer skies. And who is the man in the dark suit, with the boy by his side? Outside on the sands, glimpsed through a heat haze?

David discovers there is a terrible price to be paid for his new-found freedom and independence. The price that will come back to haunt him, even in the bright sunlight of summer.

And, making up the trio is the latest offering from Elizabeth Strout, whose Pulitzer winning Olive Kitteridge is one of my favourite books of all time.  The Burgess Boys is about two brothers.

Haunted by a freak accident that killed their father when they were children, Jim and Bob Burgess escaped from their Maine hometown of Shirley Falls for New York City as soon as they possibly could. Jim has belittled his bighearted brother their whole lives, and Bob, who idolises Jim, has always taken it in his stride.

But their long-standing dynamic is upended when their sister, Susan – the sibling that stayed behind – urgently calls them home. Her teenage son, Zach, has landed in a world of trouble and Susan desperately needs help. And so the Burgess brothers returned to the landscape of their childhood, where the long-buried tensions that have shaped and shadowed their relationship begin to surface in unexpected ways that will change them forever.

It sounds similar territory to her previous books but when she explores it so well, there is nothing wrong in that.

Then there are two books in a genre that I can never resist – books about books.

The first, An Everywhere by Heather Reyes, subtitled a little book about reading, has an endorsement on the back from novelist and poet, Helen Dunsmore.

I have so much enjoyed ‘An Everywhere’.  It is a brilliant travel guide to the city of books: the city we hold within us, and the one we share with all its other citizens.  I love Heather’s passion for reading and the blend of erudition and intimacy that she brings to the discussion of what reading is and what books can do within a life.  It is such a truthful book, honest about panic and anguish, and fascinating about what happens when the panic ebbs and the reader continues.

It sounds intriguing and I think this is probably the one I will start to read first.

Finally something I picked up on the off chance – a book that might be brilliant or might not – A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cossé.  Amazon says of it

Ivan, a one-time world traveler, and Francesca, a ravishing Italian heiress, are the owners of a bookstore that is anything but ordinary. Rebelling against the business of bestsellers and in search of an ideal place where their literary dreams can come true, Ivan and Francesca open a store where the passion for literature is given free rein. Tucked away in a corner of Paris, the store offers its clientele a selection of literary masterpieces chosen by a top-secret committee of likeminded literary connoisseurs. To their amazement, after only a few months, the little dream store proves a success. And that is precisely when their troubles begin. At first, both owners shrug off the anonymous threats that come their way and the venomous comments concerning their store circulating on the Internet, but when three members of the supposedly secret committee are attacked, they decide to call the police. One by one, the pieces of this puzzle fall ominously into place, as it becomes increasingly evident that Ivan and Francesca’s dreams will be answered with pettiness, envy and violence

which makes it sound rather more prosaic than do the the blurb and the comments from the reviewers.  I know nothing of either book or author.  Has anyone else come across them?

So, all in all an excellent day out made even better but the fact that for once all the trains were on time.  In this life what more can one ask?

Still Here

DSCF0001Just to say that we are still around but we are having something of a minor domestic crisis here in The Bear Garden and until it is sorted out we are all doing our best to be very quiet and very sensible and trying to restrict our swinging from the lampshades to no more than six times before breakfast.

Once it is resolved we will be back, calm, quiet and collected, as if nothing had ever happened.

Love to you all,

The Bears.

P.S.  If you are having a domestic crisis too, we are very sorry, but please don’t send it our way.  One is enough!

Around the World in 80 Books ~ Chapter One

imagesHard on the heels of a bookish weekend in Stratford came the Library of Birmingham’s Around the World in 80 Books day – a day so full that there is no way that I could possibly begin to tell you about it in just one post.  So, over the next week I’m going to put together a number of different reports and hope that by the end of it you will all feel that you had as good a time there as I did.

The day had been organised in conjunction with Oxygen Books and Malcolm Burgess opened proceedings by talking about the impetus behind the company and the city-pick collections that are their speciality. I don’t know if you remember the time when The Bears suddenly decided that we were emigrating to New York. (It was after a particular fine New York Phil Prom and it was only when I showed them that there were no subscription tickets left for the orchestra’s forthcoming season that I was able to persuade them to unpack their suitcases.)  As a sop to their ardour I asked for suggestions for books set in New York so that we could at least visit in proxy.  Well, had I known about city-picks, I would have had no need to canvas for ideas.

City-picks came about after the company’s founders searched in vain for fiction that would tell them about Athens while they were on holiday there.  So disappointed were they that they decided there must surely be a market for publications that brought together examples of literary writing about individual cities in order to give the traveller some idea of where they were going and how other people had responded to their destination before they arrived.

There are now nine books available, one each on:

New York

St Petersburg

Istanbul

Venice

Amsterdam

Dublin

Berlin

London

Paris

I would have thought this an excellent idea even if Malcolm Burgess hadn’t provided us with lists of some of the material to be found in five of these books.  Here, for example, is a selection of what is contained in city-pick Paris.

Andrew Hussey, Paris: The Secret History (2007)

Muriel Barberry, The Elegance of the Hedgehog (2006)

Adam Gopnik, Paris to the Moon (2000)

Irène Némirovsky, Suite Française (2004)

Janelle McCulloch, La Vie Parisienne (2008)

Faïza Guène, Just Like Tomorrow (2004)

Ernest Hemmingway, A Moveable Feast, (1964)

Edmund White, The Flâneur, (2001)

Simone de Beauvoir, Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter (1958)

Simone de Beauvoir, The Prime of Life (1960)

Julian Barnes, Metroland (1980)

Colette, Claudine in Paris (1901)

Claude Izner, Murder on the Eiffel Tower (2007)

Julian Green, Paris (1983)

Jeremy Mercer, Books, Baguettes and Bedbugs (2005)

Cara Black, Murder on the Île Saint-Louis (2007)

Much as I’d like to re-visit Paris, I know that at the moment it isn’t a realistic possibility.  However, working my way through a reading list like this would be a very acceptable second best, and having relevant passages preselected for me and neatly packaged up into one book, the cherry on the top of the Eiffel Tower.

As a friend said to me, she could feel a Summer School coming on and given that we haven’t yet selected our theme for this year’s gathering I’m certainly going to give some thought to suggesting that we pick a destination and then mine the Oxygen Books lists for specific titles.

In the meantime I’m looking out for a copy of the New York city-pick to see if there are any books included that we didn’t read the last time round – just in case The Bears get any more big ideas about packing up house and home and ferrying us all across the Atlantic.

Hilary Mantel and the Respectable Face of Soap Opera

PT-AM705_BK_Cov_DV_20091009120647I spent a large part of last weekend in the company of Hilary Mantel as the RSC staged two events considering the phenomenon of the rise and rise of Thomas Cromwell in the public perception as a result of her novels, Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies, and their subsequent stage adaptations.

On Saturday morning Mantel and the playwright, Mike Poulton, spoke about the challenges inherent in taking two such wordy novels and transferring them to the not quite two hour traffic of our stage, but nevertheless into a tight five hour schedule.  Unusually, as these events are normally chaired by someone from the RSC Events Department, this was headed up by the Associate Director, Greg Doran, whose first prompt was to ask just why we had all become so fascinated by the Tudors in recent years.  Mantel was quite definite about this.  The Tudors, she said, are the respectable face of soap opera and just as we are fascinated by the doings of current royalty and those to whom we afford celebrity status so to we have a fascination with those in similar positions in the past.  We are penny plain, they are twopenny coloured.

I think what interested me most about the discussion that then ensued was the extent to which Mantel had been involved in the staging of her books.  It certainly wasn’t simply a case of handing over her work and letting Poulton do his.  She appeared to have been there at every juncture, helping the cast understand the individuals they had been asked to play, working out which scenes were to be included, which to be omitted and how the decisions thus made could be moulded into an acceptable whole.

I can imagine that in many instances having such a hands-on author must be a playwright’s worst nightmare, but this partnership seems to have worked very well. Perhaps this was in part because Mantel doesn’t seem to be the least bit precious about her books.  “They are not holy writ,” she said.  “In every instance there were several ways in which the scenes I created could have gone onto the page.  Putting them on the stage is simply exploring another set of possibilities.”

And, those possibilities were many and varied.  Mike Poulton spoke about having to find the play in the novel and pointed out that there were many scripts, each with a slightly different focus, that could have come out of the books and his job was to find one that worked on the stage but was also true to the original.  And to history – apparently, version five left out the Reformation!  Even now, when the productions have just two more days to run in Stratford, the work of adapting goes on.  A theatre having unexpectedly become available, the company is moving down to London. (Get your tickets now! The box office took over a million pounds on the first day it opened.) However, the Swan is a thrust stage, whereas the audience at the Aldwych will be separated from the action by a proscenium arch.  This means that much of the play has had to be re-staged and parts of the script tinkered with.  No play ever stays the same throughout its run, but in this instance it seems to be even more of a growing entity than usual.

Inevitably, the question of the third book in the trilogy, The Mirror and the Light, came up.  When she was asked about this again in the Sunday morning session, where she led a discussion on the real Thomas Cromwell, Mantel was clear that we couldn’t expect it anytime in the very near future.  2015 was definitely ruled out.  But, that too is intended for the stage as well as the page.  In fact, given that she and Poulton were apparently working on the script for Bring Up The Bodies before the book was even published, it is likely that he will see it before anyone else.

The Sunday session, Cromwell’s Court was much more academic in nature and I’m not going to attempt to document all the discussions that took place.  Mantel gave the keynote speech and addressed the reasons why the reading public knew so little about Cromwell.  He’s not there in romantic fiction because in general such novels are not interested in politics and it was politics that interested Cromwell above everything else.  In terms of documentation he exists only in relation to the policies that he pushed through.  His private life is almost completely absent from the official record and it is the private lives of individuals that have tended to attract writers.  He has, in recent years, found his way into crime fiction, where politics can often be at the root of any motivation.  But even there he hasn’t been central.  “History deals the cards but the trivial makes the cut.”  For Mantel, however, it is the politics that is of real interest.  It is why she brought this man out of his relative fictional obscurity and subjected him to the light of public scrutiny, examining his policies and the manner in which he negotiated his way through the treacherous rapids of the Tudor Court.

I learnt a tremendous amount over the weekend about both Cromwell and Mantel’s relationship to him.  I was left wondering, however, about the nature of the third novel, The Mirror and the Light.  I’d assumed that it would take us through the years between the death of Anne Boleyn and Cromwell’s own execution in 1540 but something Mantel said made me question whether it will be as simple as that or whether we might find ourselves covering old ground but seeing it from a different point of view.  In one sense I rather hope that is the case.  I don’t think I have the stomach to watch a man I have come to admire being brought down by those who despised him simply because of his lowly beginnings.  One of the things that most angered me, although it didn’t surprise me, was the statement made by one of the other speakers on Sunday that Cromwell’s rise would have been seen by many as against God’s natural order and his death therefore as a just act restoring that order. Mantel, thank goodness, has turned any such ideas completely on their head and brought into public prominence a politician I certainly wouldn’t mind having in government today.

 

Does It Have To Be Either/Or?

ImageEarlier this week I was at an event where the prizes were awarded for an essay competition that had been set for our English with Creative Writing undergrads.  The topic they were asked to write on was: In our digital age, what value do books still have? and before the winners were announced a panel of speakers, drawn from different areas of the literary world, were asked to address this question themselves.

Fortunately, the audience was allowed their say as well because one of the problems I had with the responses from the panel was that there appeared to be a view forming that in the future it had to be either/or, the paper or the digital version and I don’t see that being the case at all. Certainly, at the moment, I happily alternate between the two, depending on whichever is the more convenient at the time.  If I’m out and about then it is likely to be the digital version of a book I have with me mainly because I have a back problem and the lighter my bag is the better.  My little i-Pad mini weighs less than most paperbacks and means I don’t have to carry a separate notebook or diary with me either.  What is more, if I’m going places where I might have to wait, I can have two books with me for the weight of one – a real benefit for those of us who spend time in outpatients on a regular basis.

At home, I am more likely to read with a real book.  To some extent this is because a lot of my reading at home is done for reading groups or teaching purposes and despite the search mechanisms that are now available on most e-readers I still find it easier to locate a passage that is sparked by discussion in a paper copy of a novel than I do on the electronic version.  All three of my reading groups started out really enthusiastic about being able to get the chosen texts on an e-reader but in each case we have veered back to the real book for ease of reference.

Of course this may change as the years go by.  I would hazard that there are very few people left who still choose to read from a handwritten scroll rather than a printed codex, but we are more than six hundred years on from the invention of the printing press.

So, I put my pennyworth in for a dual economy and the freedom to choose whichever format took my fancy at any particular time.  However, as the discussion developed, one area in which it appeared there really was a distinction was in respect of what we actually choose to download to our e-readers.  With the exception of classics available for free, we all agreed (and there were about fifty of us there) that we bought downloads that we wouldn’t really want to keep or to read again.  Anything that we really valued as a story we wished to return to we actually bought in book form.

Now, if you think about it there is a kind of perversity at work here.  If you want to hang onto a book it is much easier to do so in digital form.  To begin with, in my case at least, it means that I don’t have to find space for it on bookshelves that are already full to over-flowing.  In addition, if it’s a book to which I might wish to return I’m more likely to have it to hand anywhere if it’s on a device that accompanies me wherever I go.  But that isn’t what I do and it doesn’t appear to be what other people do either.  I would have asked if this came about because subconsciously we are all aware that we don’t actually own the books that we download, but only have them on lease from whichever company supplied them to us, but from the horrified looks on some of the audience’s faces when this was mentioned it was apparent that they hadn’t realised this was the case.

So, what do you put on your e-reader and why?  Is there a distinction between what you download and what you buy as a hard copy?  And, if you were forced to save just one format, which would it be?

Grrr!

virgilio-dias-universitc3a1ria-2011-o-s-t-60-x-60Yes, Grrr!  It really has been one of those weeks.  I won’t take you through the whole tale of woe, but don’t think you’re getting away without the edited highlights.  Namely, the estimate for a new bed that turned out not even to be a good guess, the dripping radiator and then the seven hour wait for the gas man who was to mend it and who was supposed to cometh sometime between twelve and six only to eventually turn up at five past seven.

However, the most challenging bit of Grrr! this week came in the shape of a cloze procedure test that was the length of an entire book.  Do you remember cloze procedure from your days at school?  The most common form was a passage where every tenth word was deleted and you had to work out what that word was from the context.

So, for example, lifting a passage from one of my own recent posts, you might get something like this.

For no really good reason (i.e. I know nothing — his work and therefore don’t really have a right — have an opinion) I have always consigned Shute’s work — the internal shelf marked ‘romantic novels, not for me’.  —, when this turned up on the group list I — say I was particularly looking forward to reading it.  — wrong can you be?  It is, as one member — the group said, quite simply a good old fashioned —.  Shute doesn’t try to do anything clever with his —; he simply sets out to tell a first-class — about characters with whom the reader will be able —empathise.  I have spent the weekend laughing and crying — way first around the Malay peninsula during the Japanese —, then followed by the Australian outback in the years — after the Second World War and I can honestly — that I haven’t enjoyed a book so much for — long time.

I used to set this sort of exercise a lot when I was teaching just as long as the children were able to work in pairs and therefore had to be prepared to justify their decisions to someone else.  It’s fighting your corner that makes you think about the finer points of your choices.  But, over the last couple of days I have radically altered my view after being sent a download of a book where every instance of ff or fi or fl was missing.  Believe me, after working your way through three hundred plus pages of

she had clenched her sts so tightly her nails were digging into them.  ‘Stupid.’  She had thought the sweats senseless, but to submit to the dark rather than taste even the rst tide of suering was worse

cloze passages don’t seem like quite such a good idea after all.

I know it’s a privilege to be able to use NetGalley to read books before they have been officially released but some publishers do make life very difficult for you to write the review that is the condition of that privilege.  By the time I got to the end of this particular book I knew that I had forgotten various aspects from the beginning of the story simply because I had had to concentrate on the individual words rather than the overall tale the author was constructing.  It’s also very unfair to the writer because my reaction to their work is inevitably gong to be coloured by the difficulties I had reading it.

So, all in all a Grrr! week.  I just hope you all had a better one.

PS,  Jolyon Bear (he who looks after the money) let me buy the new bed, but he wasn’t happy.  He had a Grrr! week too.

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.