FRANCIS BRETT YOUNG – Far Forest

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Acquired via BookCrossing 10 May 2009 – RABCK from Millycat

An excellent read. In fact, so absorbing that, when I got to a particularly exciting bit yesterday morning, I nearly missed my bus to work!

A Hardyesque chronicle covering the early years of a girl, Jenny Wilden, born into poverty and hard physical work in the Black Country.  She is hived off to her grandfather who lives in an Edenic, pastoral, forest landscape in Shropshire.  Although more hard work and poverty is her due, she learns to love and identify with her rural landscape, and to see its older values in contrast to the urban environments of the industrial Black Country.  Her cousin David and his dad Jem in turn contrast Far Forest with the grimy excitements of North Bromwich (our Birmingham!) and the coal and smoke ridden valleys of South Wales.

Jenny and David have a hard few years of it, separately, as they learn about love and life, hardship and loss.  Connected by more than their family, they lose track of each other as they follow the paths available to people of their class and time.  The Boer War impacts but it’s mainly environment and family that affect their lives.

A little melodramatic and Mary Webb-like at times, but this is no problem – it’s an older and slower read with intricate descriptions of nature and town and the events fit in with the characters and their time.  As mentioned above, at times I couldn’t put it down.  If Jenny and David survive all the onslaughts on their characters and very survival, then surely they deserve some respite…?

SHALLY HUNT – The Sea On Our Left

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Bought 22 May 2009 – Barnardo’s, Kings Heath

I will usually just pick up Summerscale travel books whenever I see them, as they offer quirky and individual travel tales, often written by fairly ordinary people.  This one is no exception, as a middle class, middle aged couple set off to walk around the coast of Britain.  They do it the "wrong" way (clockwise – I’ll have to check my other circumnavigation books now to see how they go!) and start off having to go backwards through all the guidebooks.  Just as fascinating as the scenery and folks they meet along the way are the everyday details of boots, plasters, tents, and, not least, their own relationship.  I do feel for Shally as her husband marches off ahead, and really appreciated her honesty about her feelings about the project and indeed that fast-moving husband of hers.

I wonder how they settled back down again once they’d finished the walk.  It was lovely to read about the support of their family, friends, fellow Rotarians and complete strangers, and the only improvement I would have wanted to see would have been more, and more detailed, maps.

W. F. DEEDES – Dear Bill: W.F. Deedes Reports

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Acquired via BookCrossing 28 Feb 2009 – at the Birmingham BookCrossers’ meetup

Read and enjoyed.  A life in journalism and politics and perhaps a different angle to the one I would normally see or seek (although I have the Norman Tebbitt autobiog and the Brenda Maddox book on Mrs T in my TBR, so not sure that’s an accurate statement…).  I enjoyed both the background to life at the Telegraph and in politics.  He has a terse and dry (not in a bad way) way of writing which is a bit like Eric Newby’s and this made for a good straightforward read although I did get a little bogged down in the relations of his many travels in the later parts of the book.

ROBBIE COOPER – Alter Ego: Avatars and Their Creators

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From Library

It’s difficult working in a great library and seeing so many of the books pass through your hands. I’ve only got 5 out at the moment… and two have now been read.

This was a fascinating book – bascially a photography project undertaken by the author, where he takes a portrait of a… well, person involved in virtual worlds – I’d hesitate to call them "gamers" as there’s a fair few Second Lifers in there and I know some of them (us?) don’t do gaming or count SL as a game as such. Anyway, there’s a portrait of the person, some info about their age, location, time online per week, and then on the opposite page a picture of their avatar and a paragraph about their feelings about avatars, the world they inhabit, etc.  I was pleased to see there’s a fairly big range of people, older and younger, male and female, different ethnicities, including some "famous" folk like that real estate woman in Second Life and some of the founders, also the chap who founded MUD1.  I was interested to see that some people do, like me, create an avatar to resemble them accurately (including some people really steeped in the world, not just women light users like me) as well as those who enjoy the freedom to change gender, appearance, race and even species.

A fairly quick read but ever so interesting. Matthew was interested to see I was reading it, as he read an article about the project in his Edge magazine ages ago!
 

NELLA LAST – Nella Last’s Peace (ed. Patricia & Robert Malcolmson)

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21 Apr 2009 – Amazon voucher from Christmas

Sequel to Nella Last’s War, this finds the Barrow housewife and her family struggling through the post-war years of rationing, queues and drabness.  Once again, Nella is a fascinating read, with views both of her own situation and far beyond out into the world. Neighbours and other characters from the town are portrayed economically and amusingly or touchingly (sometimes both) and her situation, while specific to her time and place, becomes universal when she discusses her marriage, in-laws up and down the generations etc.

I seem to have read NL’s War via BookCrossing so will look out for a copy to keep with this one.

NICOLA BEAUMAN – A Very Great Profession (Persephone)

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Bought 14 Apr 2009 from the Persephone shop on Lambs Conduit St with token from Bridget

How fortuitous that this lovely, wallowy book should come to the top of Mt TBR just when I was in solitary confinement and needed something lovely and wallowy to read!  It also brought back memories of my lovely day trip to London with Ali for Persephone buying purposes, at Easter.

Taking me straight back to my University days in the late 80s/early 90s when reclaiming women writers was the big thing and my Women’s Lit tutor, Peggy Reynolds, was busy on about Aphra Benn etc, this is a survey of women’s writing between WW1 and WW2. Taking themes such as love, sex, psychoanalysis, it looks at these themes in the books which became the mainstay of Beauman’s Persephone Books publishing efforts so many years later.  I’ve read a fair proportion of the books mentioned, which made it a joy to read with that thrill of recognition – oh, is she going to include x by y in this section…?  True to women’s studies, herstory etc, Beauman puts enough of herself and her foremothers in to make it recognisable but not unprofessional.  And in the excellent Afterword to the 1995 edition, not only does she foreshadow her own publishing programme, but also takes issue with the over-feminist theorists of the times between the editions and the critical reaction – which pleased me as, although studying some of this stuff in academia, it always seemed to me to miss the point slightly.

So, a good workwomanlike survey, a lovely reclaiming, and a look at how far we’ve come, both in terms of the beginnings of the liberation of women from their proscribed lives at the end of WW1 to their flowering freedoms in the 1930s, and in terms of the liberation of many of these excellent novels and novelists from languishing in the dusty realms of the out of print list into the fresh, lovely green and grey of Virago and Persephone reprints.

IRIS MURDOCH – The Black Prince

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Bought 19 Jan 1995

Not sure if I’ve read this since then.  A fascinating book, full of echoes both within the book and of other works in the oeuvre (both before and afterwards: a lot of the tone reminded me of The Sea, The Sea).  I enjoyed it and am struggling a bit to work out what the others (well, one has not finished as she couldn’t stand it and one says it’s very different from the others, so far) found so different, as to me it fits firmly into the works, tone and subject both, and although slightly odd things happen to some rather unattractive characters, I found it playful (maybe I’m taking too much of an intellectual, cold pleasure in the metafictional aspects and, particularly, the examination of how literary theorists attack texts) and enjoyable.

Will look forward to the ensuing discussion! 

CHARLOTTE MOSELEY (ed.) – The Mitfords: Letters Between SIx Sisters

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24 Jan 2009 – birthday present from Jen

I’d been after this one for ages and it took me a while to read, as letters are an easy thing to pick up and put down and I had other reading goals to complete in the meantime.  Anyway, I took some big gulps of this over the weekend and got it finished.  A lovely book and you get a real sense of the women as *sisters* – the biogs and even the other letters I’ve read tend to treat them separately, putting them together only when they clashed.  But here we have the real, everyday work of keeping in touch, worrying to eath other about a particular sister and, as the book moves on, inevitably sharing their grief at the losses of friends and then, with horrible inevitability, each sister as she dies.  

Beautifully edited and introduced by Charlotte Moseley, who as usual includes just enough to help us out but not so much information that we’re flooded.  An introductory piece at the beginning of each section helps put things in context and help us understand what we’re reading.

Marvellous letters, great photos and facsimiles throughout, and truly a book to treasure.

SUZANNA CLARKE – A House in Fez

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Bought 21 Apr 2009 – Amazon Christmas vouchers

Suzanna and her partner, Australians in Morocco for a holiday, throw all caution to the wind and decide to buy a dilapidated house in Fez and do it up. The usual trials and tribulations ensue.  Clarke tries to be fair, balancing her annoyance at being used and diddled with an understanding of how she seems rich and probably foolish to the residents.  They obviously care about community and history, and are pleased when their undertakings are praised by those in the know.  It does seem slightly an advert for their Moroccan blog, but then this isn’t pushed at the end of the book, so I’ll take it as an interesting and well-done narrative of their time in Fez.

MONICA FERRIS – Cutwork

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23 Feb 2009 – Amazon marketplace

Bought to fill a gap in the Ferris spiral I’m running.

Next in Ferris’ Needlecraft Mysteries and once again she manages to keep things lively and varied, this time introducing different viewpoints to the story as we chapters through different characters’ eyes.  An artist is murdered at the local art fair.  At first it seems a simple case and with an easy-to-find perpetrator, but things are never as simple as they first seem (otherwise we wouldn’t have these books, would we!)  Betsy’s relationship with best friend Jill (who always looks like Jill Halfpenny off Corrie in my mind even though she’s not supposed to) is strained and then strengthened and all in all this was an enjoyable and well-done read.

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