To be read books July 2014OK, you know how I like to post reviews that go together? Well, these two don’t. Not only don’t these books go together, but they are about as different as you can get. One’s fiction, one’s non-fiction. One’s contemporary, one’s pre-WWII. One’s set in the UK, one’s set in the US. One I was given last Christmas, the other I bought for myself almost exactly 20 years ago. I even finished one in June and one in July! So maybe I can make a connection out of that difference … or something. Anyway, two reviews and ONLY two acquisitions from an afternoon spent with literally hundreds of books that I’d never seen before … (oh, and another one, too).

Jeff Deck and Benjamin D. Herson – “The Great Typo Hunt”

(25 December 2013 – from Gill)

One from my wish-list from Gill, and I was looking forward to an amusing book about people looking for typos and correcting them. I wasn’t disappointed: this is what the book was all about! Jeff Deck is working as an editor in Boston when he has the grand idea of touring America making changes to public examples of typos and spelling mistakes. He’s at pains to point out that he pretty well always asks permission to make the changes, and certainly never mocks those who have made the mistakes (this is a bit of an ambiguous point, because he does include examples, and isn’t that in a way encouraging us to laugh at them? I don’t know – I’m particularly careful about this kind of thing because I don’t ever want to upset my clients who might be struggling with their English writing for whatever reason, although I enjoy a good typo as much as the next editor (just not in public)).

He recruits some sidekicks for different parts of his journey around the US, and gets to work, leaving both his home town and his new girlfriend. But will he have the nerve to ask people to climb up ladders or take notices out of cafe windows and erase their own errors, and does his girlfriend really approve, or are they going to get into an argument along the great prescriptive/descriptive divide?

It’s amusing and sweet, but then matters take – perhaps inevitably – a litigious turn, and there’s angst, anguish and the threat of a court case; something that might make people think twice about taking out the Sharpie and Tippex (maybe people will realise now that I DON’T go equipped to amend typos wherever I go …). An interesting read, although perhaps preaching to the converted a bit. And will it make people actually think we DO carry around the tools of the public amendment of errors … *

* When I still worked at the university, a sign which appeared by some roadworks just off campus swiftly had the unnecessary apostrophe in “Please dismount bicycle’s before entering this area” removed, using little bits of sticky paper. Six separate people commented that I’d obviously done it. I hadn’t.

Mary Hocking – “Good Daughters”

(22 July 1994)

I read this to help Heaven-Ali celebrate Hocking’s life in June (I did start this in June, but finished it in July). First in the Fairley Trilogy, which is only one small portion of this prolific writer’s works, here we become acquainted with the three sisters; remote, mysterious Louise, all poised and ready to fall in love or rebel (or both); little Claire, with her red hair, passions and inability to keep a secret; and our heroine Alice, slightly lumpish and awkward, the misfit narrator who we will come to love.

Set in 1930s London, as events begin to unravel in Europe and having a Jewish neighbour can be something extra to worry about, the girls perhaps more worry about the mundane events of girlhood and growing up, seeing events clearly only when they relate directly to them, and thinking more about friendships, honesty and the opposite sex …

The narrative perspective shifts so that we’re given insights into the interior monologues of the high-principled father, the more prosaic concerns of the mother, the reactions and perceptions of all three girls and some important but more minor school characters and neighbours. Sometimes the language is allusive and slips away, so you’re not sure what has actually happened and have to page back or wait to see if it’s elucidated – an effective set of techniques that leave the reader standing on slightly shifting sands and tugged this way and that, much as the adolescent central characters experience their lives.

An engaging and involving and proper old-fashioned (even though published in 1984) story, with some of the wry perceptions about the characters and their motives that wouldn’t be out of place in an Elizabeth Taylor, while retaining the “I Capture the Castle” like evocation of teenagerhood.

New acquisitions:

The Last Kings of Sark I borrowed this review copy from Ali, I did read her review of it when she published it and thought I might fancy it, and when she BookCrossed it I grabbed it avidly. I’m not going to revisit the review now, but it looks like an interesting coming-of-age novel, set on the tiny Channel Island of Sark, and I’m looking forward to it. It’s a Virago book, so I may well read it in August, when I’m going to join in with All Virago (and Persephone) / All August run by the LibraryThing Virago Group – a good way to pick a chunk of books off the TBR.

Abha Dawesar Babyji and Monica Dickens Joy and JosephineLast Saturday, I helped out at the BookCrossing Birmingham stall at the Moseley Festival Street Fair. So many books, and Meg and I gave away lots of them to eager visitors, many of whom had heard of BookCrossing already. I didn’t restrain myself when a fire engine stopped at the traffic lights by us, jumping up at the open windows to give bemused firefighters some free books (this is, I must add, a tradition for the BookCrossing stall which I felt compelled to continue), but I did restrain myself when it came to limiting myself to only choosing two books from the piles in front of me – a Monica Dickens, “Joy and Josephine”, which I’d never heard of before and about which I can find little from the book itself (it appears to be about a foundling, and very good – fine!) and Abha Dawesar’s “Babyji”, which appealed to my love of Asian writing, but might be a bit much, as it’s described as a Delhi-based Lolita! Anyone read either of these and can fill me in?

No new ones for the Reading a Century of Books amongst those, but “Good Daughters” as a surprise addition for 1984, and I’ve got two more reviews that both fill in gaps in the list coming up at the weekend …