Showing posts from 2015

Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols (1898-1983)

The books that I discovered in my father's loft after his death are turning out to be a treasure trove of delights. Before finding the collection I suffered from the delusion that I was reasonably well read. But I have found books by authors about whom I previously knew nothing, or very little, yet who were, or are, very well-known in the post-war years (I am old enough to still refer to WW2 as 'the' War).

Currently I am reading Merry Hall, by Beverley Nichols, which was first published in 1951. What can I tell you about the book and its author? It is a charming and witty book that will delight anyone who is interested in gardens (Nichols is best remembered as a writer of gardening books though his range was extensive) and anyone interested in the social history of an England that has long-vanished - vanished unless you happen to be Prince Charles and live in Highgrove House

Merry Hall is autobiographical writing - the first in a trilogy of books about the discovery, purcha…

Ode To Autumn by John Keats

I looked out over the garden early this morning on an Autumn mist, which put me in mind of one of my favourite poems - To Autumn by John Keats - one of the first poems that I was required to learn in grammar school. In a letter to a friend Keats wrote that the fields of stubble that he saw when walking reminded him of a painting. I think the poem has a melancholy tone, which perhaps is an indication of the personal problems that Keats was experiencing at the time of writing. It was the last poem he wrote because circumstances had forced him to give up the life of a poet to earn a living. Some have read it as an allegory of death. Indeed, one year later the poet died in Rome, at the age of  twenty six. Here it is.

To Autumn by John KeatsSeason of mists and mellow fruitfulness!   Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;Conspiring with him how to load and bless   With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;To bend with apples the m…

Holiday Reading

I'm flying off for a holiday in Spain on Thursday. There was a time when on holiday I would stagger to bed after the witching hour loaded with rioja or sangri - but not nowadays I like to be tucked up by ten, cuddling a book. So I've been thinking about what bedtime reading to pack. Last Saturday I bought the first volume of a fairly recent Faye Weldon trilogy to slip into my bag. But I couldn't resist reading it -  so now I need something else.

My opinion of Habits of the House (2012)? Well, I have to say that, though I am normally an avid and enthusiastic reader of Fay Weldon's books, my reaction in this instance is lukewarm. The book is infused with  customary humour and keen observation of human nature but I just couldn't engage with the characters, or care about what happened to them. But I'm willing to concede that the fault may lie with me rather than the writer - she is, after all, a Professor of English Literature at the University of Bath Spa, and was…

The Hearts and Minds of Men by Fay Weldon

Fay Weldon is my all time favourite contemporary writer. She has been writing novels, short stories, screenplays and more for 5 decades and has been awarded a CBE in the Queen's Honours and Fellowship of the Royal Society of Literature. What I love about Ms. Weldon's books is the characterisation, which is often in the form of an omniscient and dispassionate view (albeit from a feminist perspective) of the motives behind the way that  her characters act and drive forward the plot. Fay Weldon has an educational grounding in psychology, which is evident in this aspect of her writing. Added to this, Miss Weldon is incredibly imaginative.

At the moment I am re-reading The Hearts and Minds of Men, first published in 1987. Ms. Weldon uses an interesting literary technique in this narrative: she writes from a third person omniscient point of view, with the author frequently directly addressing the reader - which creates a chatty conversational impression. A tug of love child is …

The Bookseller of Kabul - A Must Read

This book review is for anyone who has been out of circulation/off the planet for the past ten years or so and consequently has not heard of or read The Bookseller of Kabul. I am now on my third reading in ten years and am so enraptured by the book that I have taken time out from a beautiful early autumn afternoon in my garden to tell you about it.

It was written by a Norwegian lady, Asne Seierstad in 2002 and has now been translated into many languages. Ms. Seierstad has received numerous awards for her journalism. She has worked as a foreign correspondent in Russia, China, and reported on the ward in Kosovo for Norwegian television. In 2003 she reported on the war in Iraq from Baghdad.

In 2001 whilst in Kabul she met by chance a bookseller and became so interested in his story that she invited herself to live with his family for three months, only venturing out into the dangerous streets of Kabul wearing a burka to disguise her identity and protect herself from harm. The Bookseller …

The Scold's Bridle by Minette Walters

The mark of a good yarn is surely when dust starts to accumulate on the furniture and the dishes start to pile up by the sink. I have just finished reading a whodunnit which had this effect upon me.

The Scold's Bridle by Minette Walters is a murder mystery in which the elderly victim is found naked in her bath, an apparent suicide, wearing a scold's bridle that has been festooned with nettles and daisies. The protagonist in this tale is Sarah, the young and naive village doctor, who at one point has the finger of suspicion pointed in her direction. The book is well written and well characterised, liberally sprinkled with Shakespearean references and quotes. My only criticism is that the physical pain inflicted on people who were forced to wear the particular instrument of punishment featured in the book seemed to be overlooked (though I suppose that drawing attention to this may have turned the book into a horror story, and I wouldn't have carried on reading) .

The Scold…

Neville Shute:Round The Bend

I'm still reading my way through the collection of books that we found in my father's loft when clearing his house. My bedtime reading this week was Round The Bend by Neville Shute.

Round The Bend was written in 1951, shortly after the author emigrated from England to Australia. The themes of the novel include racism and the importance of private enterprise. The background of the narrative is the establishment of an air freight business in the Far East in the years after cessation of WWII hostilities. It is written in the form of a first-person biography by the narrator Tom Cutter, but the central character gradually throughout the course of the narrative becomes Constantine Shaklin, a Russian/Chinese aircraft engineer who unwittingly becomes the centre of a religious cult that is based on the merit of good work, and which transcends existing religions. I found some aspects of the opening chapters quite surprising in so far as terminology used by some of the characters t…

An Impossible Marriage

Occasionally I become aware of yawning gaps in my knowledge. This week, still reading my way through the books that I found in my father's loft, I came across a copy of Pamela Hansford Johnson's An Impossible Marriage, published in 1955 for The Companion Book Club.

I had never before come across the author and was impressed and intrigued by the book to the extent that I delved into the internet. I found to my surprise that Pamela Hansford Johnson once enjoyed what we might nowadays call celebrity status. In fact, her life was so interesting that a biography has recently been written about her - 'Pamela Hansford Johnson: Her Life, Works and Times', by Wendy Pollard.

Ms. Pollard divorced her first husband in 1949 in order to marry the novelist C.P. Snow and eventually became Baroness Snow. The couple are described in the Spectator's leader to a review of Wendy Pollard's biography as Literature's least attractive power couple. I won't go into detail of he…

Reading My Way Through The Library

If you have read my previous posts you will know that when clearing my father's loft we found a large  collection of books. Some have been donated to Oxfam, some have been dumped in the public recycling skip, two collectables have now been sold, for £27, and as a voracious reader who now has time to spare I'm reading my way through what remains. I'm embarrassed to admit that until I came across a copy of A Room With a View I had never read any E.M.Forster - an oversight that I am now correcting. I've ordered a biography from the public library and will shortly start to read some of his other novels. As you know, several of his books have been made into films, including A Passage to India and Howards End. What I enjoyed most about A Room With a View was the literary irony. In many respects the novel reminded me of Jane Austen, giving a witty glimpse into contemporary society - albeit early 20th Century as opposed to Jane's late 18th century offerings. Like Austen, F…

Do You Have Collectable Books In Your Attic?

We have been busy clearing  my father's home and found quite a large collection of books in the attic - many of them children's books belonging to myself and my sisters, dating back to the 1960's. Many of the books have now been delivered to the Oxfam shop but I have been busy checking online the value of some of the hardbacks.I've discovered that some of them are collectable - particularly the Biggles books by Captain W.E. Johns, and the Enid Blyton books. I also found a copy of Education in Plato's Republic, published in 1917. It's so rare that I couldn't find it online. So I have been occupying myself preparing a spreadsheet of the books that are in reasonable condition and have posted some of them for sale on Amazon and Ebay. If you still have the books that you loved as a child you might want to think twice before throwing them away.

P.S. I also found a small collection of classics which I am planning to read/re-read. Currently my book at bedtime is A…

Haiku for my father

I wrote this haiku on a wet morning, looking out on my garden to the patio where the remaining plants from my father's greenhouse wait to be planted out.

  Father, fond farewell.
                                                     Dark clouds pour pelting raindrops
                                                     Drench weeping fuchsias.

My Dad loved gardens and gardening. At one time he had over 120 different varieties of fuschia and only a few weeks ago, at the age of 91, was growing bedding plants and planting up hanging baskets for family and a handful of old customers. He died unexpectedly on the 14th June 2015 and we are having his funeral on Friday. His last few weeks were wonderful. He went on a short cruise of the Channel Islands with his son-in-law, calling at France to visit Monet's garden; and three days before he died my son took him out for dinner at a favourite pub.

Poetic Cacophony at its best

My stick fingers click with a snicker
And, chuckling, they knuckle the keys;
Light-footed, my steel feelers flicker
And pluck from these keys melodies.

Player Piano by John Updike
Cacophony: A discordant series of harsh sounds that help to convey disorder. Enhanced by the combined effect of the meaning and the difficulty of pronunciation.

Why not try it?

Poem - When You Are Old by W.B.Yeats

Continuing the love theme that I introduced into my blog earlier this week  -

When You Are Old
W. B. Yeats, 1865 - 1939
When you are old and grey and full of sleep, And nodding by the fire, take down this book, And slowly read, and dream of the soft look Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace, And loved your beauty with love false or true, But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you, And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars, Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled And paced upon the mountains overhead And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

Yeats was born in Dublin, the son of the well-known Irish painter John Butler Yeats. He initially intended to follow in the footsteps of his father but came to prefer poetry. He became deeply involved in Irish politics, was a strong advocate for independence from England, and at the forefront of the Celtic Revival. The great love of his life was the Irish revolutionary Mau…

Poem - Woman's Constancy by John Donne

Continuing yesterday's theme of poems dedicated to women, here is one in a different vein. I think it's a good example of 16th-17th cultural perceptions of women. At the time that Donne was writing England was a patriarchal society in which women were regarded as dangerous, irrational and fickle creatures who had to be kept on a tight leash. Hence a woman was the property of her father until she was married off, after which she became the property of her husband. Similar attitudes prevail today in some parts of the world.

This poem is written in sonnet form -very popular at the time. I think it could equally apply to men, though the title is Woman's Constancy.

Now thou hast loved me one whole day, Tomorrow when thou leav'st, what wilt thou say? Wilt thou then antedate some new-made vow?     Or say that now We are not just those persons which we were? Or, that oaths made in reverential fear Of love, and his wrath, any may forswear? Or, as tru…

Beware of Plagiarism

Plagiarism gets people thrown out of college. Writers sometimes finds themselves in court if they publish the original work of someone else under their own name and it's much easier to detect nowadays - there are a number of online checkers available. Here's a link to one of them 

To try it out simply copy and paste a section of text. The software will perform an internet search for matches.

The Poetry Library | Southbank Centre | Home

Books for Book Lovers: The Folio Society - Where Beautiful Books Live

I don't normally promote businesses on my blog but as it's Christmas I'm making an exception for the Folio Society (perhaps in the secret hope that one amongst my family or friends might treat me). If you are a true book-lover it's possible that like me you appreciate a book for it's aesthetic and tactile qualities almost as much as for content. In which case you may want to look at the beautifully bound offerings on the Folio Society website. These books are of enduring quality. Having said that, quality comes at a price. If you would like to give a very special edition of a book as a gift, or perhaps start of library of classics to pass on to the next generation,  this is the first place to look.  Some early editions have become collectors items.

Desiderata - Words for Life


Writer's Research Resource

Most people who enjoy writing and have ambitions to be published find that they need to research a topic at some point. Which can sometimes be problematic. I'm lucky at the moment because I'm studying with the Open University and have online access to a huge database of books. But my studies end in June and then the resource will no longer be available to me. That's when I may need to turn to an online resource where there are millions of books that you can preview or sometimes read for free. Researchers simply need to type their subject into the search box and a long list of books with appear.  If there isn't a digital copy of the book that you want the site tells you where one can be borrowed or bought. It even comes up with a list of libraries near to your postcode address. Magic.

Candide - an irrepressible optimist