Two books with absolutely nothing in common to review first, although I suppose I’ve had both for a comparatively long time. The Torbay book highlights why I do try to keep the TBR down to manageable proportions – if you read books in order of acquisition and then acquire so many books that books bought in March get read in November, there can be an unseemly time lag that makes for an oddly dislocated read when you do get to that book bought months ago. I’m currently reading another one bought on the same holiday, and I will learn my lesson and promote such time-dependent reads next time.
Jack Whitton – “Torbay: The Visible History”
(7 March 2013 – Paignton Bookshop)
A slight volume, almost invisible on the far left on the TBR picture above, bought as a holiday memento. It explains the history of the Torbay region in terms of what can be seen now, with a concentration on Torquay as the main town, but enough information about the rest of the area and some nice reproductions of maps.
Barbara Pym – “An Academic Question”
(2 January 1993)
I’ve heard quite a few Pym-ites say that this is not good, or not their favourite, and, to be fair, it was stitched together from two drafts by Pym’s literary executor and friend, Hazel Holt, but I have always liked it. I think it was one of the first ones I read, and I certainly bought it just after I graduated, so I’ve known it for just over 20 years if not longer.
I like the picture of an academic wife amidst trendy changes in higher education (which could be said to be giving the opposite side of the story to Bradbury’s “The History Man”). Life in a small university town and smaller academic community is well drawn and the tensions of modern life (and, indeed, life with a small child and Swedish au pair) are assimilated well into the more traditional portrayal of the old guard (I feel that Kitty and Coco could have been happy in an Elizabeth Taylor or Anita Brookner novel – do you agree?).
Not so much echoing of previous characters here, but we do see Esther Clovis’ memorial service again (surely an extreme case of re-using a character!) and there is an encounter with two middle-aged spinster sisters, just retired from jobs in London, who have to be either the Bede sisters or Barbara and Hilary themselves. And the librarian and his office must surely be a reference / homage to Pym’s friend, Philip Larkin, mustn’t they?
Some plot elements may be a little unsatisfactory, but it does have a decent plot, and the asides about titles of journal articles and the like are hilarious. So, I liked it, and I’ve now read all of Pym’s novels this year, as I’ve already read Civil to Strangers, the last posthumous collection, in July.
Now for some new acquisitions. I went to a “Tea with Barbara Pym” event at the Library of Birmingham yesterday – which turned out to be a dramatisation of the whole of “An Unsuitable Attachment”, cleverly done by Pym Society archivist Yvonne Cocking and acted by some local students and alumni (the chap playing Mervyn Cantrell was marvellous). It did bring out the romance which I always feel is a bit buried in the book. Anyway, there was (of course) a book table and on it (of course) a book I didn’t have, so Ali and I literally emptied our purses to get one each.
On the way home, I dropped by Waterstones as I wanted to investigate Icelandic dictionaries. Annoyingly, I can’t find the Old Norse dictionary I used to have, which contains all the grammar stuff (I wonder if my friend Nick still has his copy …) but I needed to update my vocabulary anyway, so I picked up this book, which amazingly does seem to be the most up-to-date one you can find.
It looks OK on the outside, but inside it seems to be photocopied from something from the Ark! And now I’ve gone and learned the Icelandic for linoleum. Oh well. Anyway, guide books should have the modern stuff, I have a language learning app that my friend Sandy told me about, and I certainly can’t run to the £150 for the serious dictionaries, so this will have to do. Watch for a review of my book in Icelandic soon!
Currently reading – I’m STILL on “English Eccentrics” and am trying to get that done before starting anything else. I’m over half way through now, and it is interesting, just seems a bit hard to get into and stay in …