Book reivews – Deadlock and Night and Day

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May 2016I have a very interesting pair of books here, and what to me is a fascinating comparison. Dorothy Richardson’s “Deadlock” was published as part of her “Pilgrimage” series in 1921, and Virginia Woolf’s “Night and Day” was her second published novel, coming out in 1919. You’d expect to find similarities between novels with female central characters published so close together by two giants of modernist literature … but I found the differences more strong in a way, or maybe just as strong. Woolf certainly comes across as much less experimental than Richardson here, and although their themes are similar, this difference really struck me.

Dorothy Richardson – “Deadlock”

We’re up to the sixth volume of Pilgrimage now, and I admitted in my reviews of the last two volumes that I was getting a bit stuck and downcast. The title didn’t help my feelings of dread much, either! But actually I enjoyed this one – positively enjoyed it. You could tell what was going on and there was what couldn’t exactly be termed a story, but could be called a narrative arc (although the most concrete actual event, an accident, has happened between the last book and this one!). You also pretty well know where you are physically at all times.

Miriam meets Mr Shatov, a Russian staying at the boarding house, and they quickly find each other interesting and spar and discuss literature and philosophy. Miriam introduces Mr Shatov to the British Library and the works of Emerson (this will be important later on) and embarks upon a translation with him (from the Russian, via the French) which gives some lovely passages about the art and process of translation, which I wasn’t expecting. There are also some very modern-sounding rants about factory-style poor-quality translations done by banks of foreigners undercutting the prices of good translations by professionals!

There’s a good description of Miriam trying lager for the first time (yes, it’s even funny!) and her new assertiveness and willingness to strike out on her own leads to trouble at the dentists’, as she finally rallies against the extra jobs they ask her to do – this is also symptomatic of her somewhat awkward journey through life. We do wonder what will become of her.

So, a much more readable and enjoyable book which still needs to take its place in the series but does provide a lot of interest and discussion (I don’t mind wodges of discussion when I know where it’s taking place, it turns out!) and I am looking forward to the next volume.

Oh, and here’s Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings’ thoughts on the book – her review.

Virginia Woolf – “Night and Day”

(ebook, bought April 2016)

This was an odd reading experience for me, as I had to keep reminding myself I was reading Woolf. Yes, it has themes of women, marriage, and a room of one’s own, but the form of the book itself and the chapters and paragraphs is very conventional, almost reading like something by Arnold Bennett or someone else the Modernists eventually fought against. Although I did have a couple of palate cleansers between the Richardson and this one, they did chime with each other, and I found it fascinating that the so-called modernist stream of consciousness writer was writing so much more prosaically than her less well-known sister in literature.

That’s not to say I didn’t like, enjoy and happily read it. I do like traditional novels, perhaps more than experimental ones, and I loved the story of five young people in London trying to work out their ideas on life, love, marriage and work. we meet Katharine Hilbery, only daughter of a gently satirised literary family whose only real wish is to escape the endless task of writing a biography of her grandfather with her butterfly-minded mother and to study maths and astronomy. She’s pretty certain she won’t find anyone to share this interest with, but she’s lucky enough to have a room where she can hide her papers. We also meet her supposed lover, William Rodney, a boggle-eyed mediocre poet; all HE wants is to have someone to mould and teach, but he fancies himself in love with the distant and rather absent-minded Katharine. She’s admired in her turn by the self-educated Ralph Denham, who lives in an ugly house with a pet raven and writes articles about medieval history: he can be almost as po-faced as William when he sets out endless rules for friendships and dreams more than he thinks clearly. I loved the independent Mary Datchet, who indeed has very much a room of her own, although being in a good and central location, this room is often overtaken by learned societies or just friends who think they can knock on the door at any time.

Mary is reminiscent, of course, of Miriam, earning her living and working out her choice between career and love. Will she end up subsumed into suffrage or another cause, or break free, and does she really mind? Everyone in the book has choices to make: art or maths; history or law; love or marriage; love or career; adult woman or unformed maiden, and while the couples walk around London – which is a rather marvellous character in itself, with the characters’ long walks and Tube journeys around it reminiscent of both “Pilgrimage” and Iris Murdoch’s London novels – advanced theories of love and marriage are put forward for discussion.

There’s a great deal of humour and affection in the novel, not things you’d generally associate with Woolf’s more muscular writing, I feel, but making the book very readable.

There are interior monologues, but not what you’d call stream of consciousness passages; even so, we get a good idea of what’s going on in the characters’ heads, using this more traditional method. And, of course, the characters go to the British Museum and even read Emerson, drawing those threads between my readings of the two novels ever closer together.

I’m really glad I read these books so close together, because my reading of them both has been made more interesting. And I’ve now finished the section of #Woolfalong that looked at the early and late novels, even if I read the later one before the earlier one!

Currently reading … NOTHING! Nothing on the currently reading pile so far! I’ve cleared the decks for #20BooksofSummer, so presumably I’ll be starting one of those at bedtime, although I do have a couple of slim volumes of Woolf short stories to read for this section of the #Woolfalong …

 

Book reviews – An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth and Edith Sitwell

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May 2016Two biographical works today – one an autobiography and one a biography; one a male astronaut and one a female poet. Chris Hadfield’s book has an openly didactic purpose, to teach us the life lessons he has learnt through his training and work as an astronaut, and Green’s book has a different purpose, to reclaim the reputation of a rather lost poet. I’ve been reading like anything to try to gain a clean sheet to start #20BooksofSummer on Wednesday, so hopefully you’ll read a few reviews over the next two days …

Chris Hadfield – “An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth”

(3 June 2015 – The Works)

The autobiography of the famous Canadian (OK – did you realise he was Canadian?) astronaut, including life tips gained from his very rigorous training and equally rigorous way of life. These include gems for the less flippant such as always be prepared, even to extremes (he once taught himself to play Rocket Man on the guitar IN CASE Elton John realised he played the guitar and invited him up on stage. He didn’t), preparing for the worst, sweating the small stuff and taking pleasure in the effort not the outcome.

But even though his children apparently call him The Colonel, it’s not all barking instructions. It’s amusing and self-deprecating, although the aforementioned rigour does come in, apparently gained from his own upbringing and carried through into his own raising of his family (he does appear to be wistful about some of this).

I loved the details of his space training and life – including why jam is tricky on the International Space Station, what to do when you’re exercising, and general life in space, and it was also interesting to learn that it was one of his sons who was behind a lot of his social media phenomenon. Being fairly honest-sounding, admitting his mistakes, giving lots of interesting details and being well-written, this was a pretty compelling and quick read.

This book will suit … people interested in self-help through learning life lessons, people interested in space exploration

Richard Greene – “Edith Sitwell”

(2 April 2015 – Fopp in central London)

I bought this book, along with Michael Rosen’s Alphabet one, on a trip to London where I claimed I wasn’t going to buy any books. But how could I resist this one, as I’ve been collecting stuff about the Sitwell family for years?

This is a very good biography which pays as much attention to the development, inspiration, reception and technique of Sitwell’s poetry as it does to her chaotic and argumentative life, seeing to restore her lost position as one of the best twentieth century British poets. He traces her development to Walt Whitman and other American poets and suggests that the lack of anyone else writing like her, as well as post-war fashions in poetry, have dragged her reputation down as no one really knows what to make of her.

Greene keeps very competent control of the skeins and ribbons of Sitwell’s family, retainers, associates, friendship circles, feuds and enmities, keeping us clear on who is who, too. He retains a clear affection for his subject while not drifting into the hagiographical: he is clear-sighted about her profligacy, slip into alcoholism and increasing bad temper, while seeking explanations but not excuses. He’s also very funny on occasion.

He’s very good on the reviewers of her book and the context of poetry and literary criticism, and hopefully this will indeed do something to restore her reputation. The book is beautifully referenced, and a real work of bibliographical art.

This book will suit … any Sitwellaholics who might be out there. Anyone else?

I’m currently finishing Virginia Woolf’s rather un-Woolf-like “Night And Day” in my slightly delayed reading for Ali’s #Woolfalong. It was published almost contemporaneously with Dorothy Richardson’s “Deadlock”, and I’m drawing lots of interesting parallels as I go.

 

#20booksofsummer 2016

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20booksofsummer2016Hooray – it’s time to do the 20 Books of Summer challenge again. This is run by Cathy from 746 Books, and I really enjoyed doing this last year (see my round-up post) even though I started late and didn’t get going until mid-June. I liked finding other readers and bloggers out there through the hashtag and the updates on Cathy’s page, and seeing how people I knew were doing.

I got a bit over-excited when I heard it was happening again, and put together this pile. Note that it’s all real books this time, no Kindle books. I expect to read some other books around these, and Kindle books will be there, but I wanted the feeling of working through a lovely pile.

Also, the lovely pile is actually a virtual pile as I couldn’t have my TBR this messy! I’ve taken the front shelf of my TBR, a couple of things off The Pile and then selected volumes I definitely want to have read by 4 September. There’s a mix of Viragoes, social history, sports biography, classics, lighter novels and Iceland stuff (given that I’m going there again later in the year) which I think represents my reading tastes quite well.

So, what have we got?

20 books of summer 2016

20 books of summer 2016

Michael Rosen – Alphabetical – a wander through the alphabet, history and bits of knowledge.

Charlie Hill – Books – a satire on the book industry. He’s a friend of several of my friends, too.

Alistair and Jonathan Brownlee – Swim, Bike, Run – about being a triathlete. Which I will never be, as the only one of those I can do is run. But should be inspirational in some way.

Joanna Biggs – All Day Long – a day in the life of people who do lots of different kinds of jobs

David Kynaston – Modernity Britain – can’t wait to read this one, the next instalment in his wonderful social history of Britain

Cathy Kelly – The Honey Queen – because we all need a light novel, esp amongst all that social history

Ranulph Fiennes – Cold – his adventures in cold places. I love Polar exploration and mountaineering books, and have since I was very young; this should be inspiring for my endurance training, too!

Julia Strachey – Cheerful Weather for the Wedding – one of two given to me last autumn by book blogger Jane at Beyond Eden Rocks and much looked forward to.

Ann Bridge – A Lighthearted Quest – ditto the above and I loved her Illyrian Spring

Edith Wharton – The Reef – this will be in August for All Virago/All August.

George Eliot – The Mill on the Floss – because it’s time for some more GE and another I haven’t read yet.

Nilanjan Choudhury – The Case of the Secretive Sister – light relief and a BookCrossing book to leave somewhere.

Andrew Flintoff – Being Freddie – because I like a sports autobiography and I like cricket.

Salman Rushdie – Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights – because Mr Liz wants to read this along with me, him on audio book.

Arnaldur Indriðason – The Draining Lake – because I haven’t read a Reykjavik Murder Mystery for aaaaaages.

Edith Wharton – Hudson River Bracketed – hm, another Wharton. But Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings has this TBR, too …

Jane Smiley – The Greenlanders – one of her few I haven’t read, and takes the format of an Icelandic saga – what’s not to like?!

A.S. Byatt – Ragnarok – if I get here, I’ll be up to Christmas 2015 books!

Auður Ava Olafsdottir – Butterflies in November – an Icelandic book that’s not nordic noir!

Sogur ur Biblikunni – the book of Bible stories in Icelandic I didn’t manage to read last time …

I’ll be marking these book with the tag and linking back to this page, which will keep a note of everything together (you can see my 2015 books on there, too) Exciting! Who else is in?

Do you think I’m biting off  more than I can chew? I do have a few trips that I can take these on, and I’m trying to read more and make more time for reading – PLUS I have a whole two weeks on last year, and I only DNFd two books last year because I wasn’t enjoying them, not because I ran out of time! Have you read any of these or do you want to warn me against any?

 

Book review – Attila the Stockbroker – Arguments Yard

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Attila the Stockbroker argument's yard

Atilla the Stockbroker with Arguments Yard

Just one review today because I want to make sure I tell the author about it and spread the word, and I don’t want it all mixed up with another book. This is not a review copy, however: I did buy the book myself, with money AND a random Birchfield Harriers pen I gave Attila when his pen conked out half way through signing my copy.

I have retained fond memories of the gig I attended with my (still) good friend Sarah at university in the (ahem) 90s. When we realised his tour would be passing through the Kitchen Garden Cafe in Kings Heath, it was a no-brainer. Such a good gig. He hadn’t changed! But of course he must have – we realised to our slight horror that we are now WAY older than he was when he stood in front of us about 3 miles and a lifetime away! If you get the chance to see him, go. He’s done so many gigs that he’s super-professional, and is such a good DIY punk ranting poet and singer that every song and every word is personal and his rapport with the audience amazing. But let’s review the book – with some photos of then and now …

Attila the Stockbroker – “Arguments Yard”

(21 April 2016 – bought from the author)

Liz and Sarah, Selly Oak, back in the day (let's say)

Liz and Sarah, Selly Oak, back in the day (let’s say)

Attila is a real proper DIY poet and musician – he’s been self-publishing his books and music for years, booking all his own gigs, doing everything himself. He put this book out with Cherry Red so he could get the distribution, but he’s been independent of the music business and mainstream media for years. Of course, as a self-employed person who’s done all her own marketing and found all her own customers, I found a lot to relate to in this, and I found the details of how things changed from noting down phone numbers and producing flyers to harnessing the powers of the Web and modern technology fascinating.

But that’s not the whole story, of course. It’s an autobiography, and takes a fairly standard format, apart from some concurrent chapters at the end which deal with his beloved football club, and the loss of his mother to Alzheimer’s (a particularly moving chapter, of course, simply consisting of a poem, which brought many stiff upper lips and blinking away of things in the eye during his performance). There are lots of great and often hilarious details of gigs gone wrong, gigs gone right, trips and performances. Lots of old friends make an appearance: Billy Bragg, Pill Jupitus, John Otway, The Men They Couldn’t Hang (hooray – wish I’d worn my Tshirt to the show, now, although I did wear my “this is what a feminist looks like” one instead).

Attila says slightly belligerently early on that we’re to expect to find this written as he speaks, and so it was – but I found it extremely well written and very well edited, too, so no problems there – in fact fewer than in many other books I read! There were some great photos, too, to go with the stories and personalities.

Liz and Sarah 2016

Liz and Sarah 2016 at the gig

Although Attila (who was, in fact, a stockbroker[‘s clerk] for a brief period of time) is a self-confessed shouty man with bad table manners, and there are some yucky bits, it’s essentially a kind, decent, community spirited and benign book, the work of a man who cares about his family and his fellow men, can admit his mistakes and can change his mind. However, he’s not a cuddly figure of the woolly Left by any means – he has a strong call to action: leave the hand-knitted muesli and copies of the Guardian and get out and do something is the message, and he’s still giving no shrift to Thatcher and supporting the legacy of the miners.

Sorry, went a bit political there. But this is a political book – as well as a blinking good read.

You can buy the book direct from the Attila the Stockbroker website, and as he says there, at all of his gigs, from the Cherry Red, Waterstones and Guardian websites and many branches of Waterstones and independent bookshops.

 

Book reviews – Flight Behaviour and Roy Jenkins

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May 2016Nothing connecting these two this time – I didn’t even finish them both! One of them is tipped for the top 10 of 2016, the other was eagerly anticipated but ultimately disappointing. One is being pressed on everyone I know (Mr Liz is reading it on audiobook at the moment) and the other will be Bookcrossed away out of the house … I think you can guess which is which!

Barbara Kingsolver – “Flight Behaviour”

(21 May 2015)

Yes – I’m under a year behind (just). You can see this one on the TBR photo above – it was third on the shelf but the first fiction read so off it came.

Opening with a memorable scene of the novel’s heroine, Dellarobia Turnbow, struggling up an Appalachian hillside in unsuitable footwear, ready to throw away what little she has, this is a wonderful and unputdownable novel. Although it does have an intention to educate people about global warming and the plight of migratory species, as with her other books with a message, it’s never didactic or preachy, and the information comes organically rather than being bolted on.

The community, overcome by a huge and seemingly miraculous flock of butterflies, the scientists who come to study them, Dellarobia and her dreadful wool entrepreneur mother-in-law (I loved the details of her business acumen), enchanting but never sickly sweet children and naughty best friend are all drawn absolutely beautifully and completely believeable. Dellarobia’s friendship with lepidopterist Ovid, and through him with knowledge and learning, is wonderful.

As with her other books, and a feature of other favourites of mine like Larry McMurtry, Kingsolver’s deceptively plain and easy style makes the book read like it’s happening in front of your eyes: it’s real. She’s so technically adept, without showing the workings: there are so many delicious doublings and echoings in the structure, colours, events and descriptions. The sense of place is astounding, too.

Although I know a fair bit about global warning and migratory insects, there is always something to learn. I was particularly struck by the lack of choices available to the very poor – even though I keep myself informed, this was really brought home to me reading this book. It was also excellent on the perils of handing anything on in a small community: things have a habit of coming back to haunt you, whether that’s the dress your rival wore on prom night 12 years ago or something a lot more shocking.

I loved this book. It’s the kind of book that makes you a) want to immediately purchase and consume all the other books by the author that you haven’t yet read, and b) thrust it at everyone who hasn’t yet read it. Mr Liz is only part way through the audio book – read by Kingsolver herself (not available from Audible – bah – but he got the CDs out of the city library) but reports that he loves it and it’s extremely well-narrated.

This book will suit … anyone who likes a good read, who is interested in the world and human relationships. That’s everyone, right?

John Campbell – “Roy Jenkins” (DNF)

(28 March 2015, Oxfam, Macclesfield)

The last of the Macclesfield haul, and I’d been looking forward to Roy as he made his way up the TBR.

Alas, although I love a political biography and this is acclaimed as a good one, and I wanted to learn about the founding of the SDP, I could not get past my growing dislike of the man. I don’t mind unlikeable characters in fiction, but living in the world of one for a long book of non-fiction is A Bit Much. Even though he read Iris Murdoch’s novels and met her once.

The private school-educated children, the plummy vowels, the posh friends, the country house, the wine and the multitudinous affairs, all from a socialist born and bred chap from the Welsh Valleys really put me off, and I got half way and gave up.

I’m currently reading Attila the Stockbroker’s rather marvellous and very funny autobiography and, in a TBR twist that will get my non-fiction ratio up again, a very interesting biography of Edith Sitwell. I do have some more Pilgrimage to face once one of those is finished, and I want to read Woolf’s “Night and Day”, or at least start it before the month is out, so I can do the (very slim volumes of) short stories next month.

What are you all up to? I’m caught up with the blogs I read now, thank goodness, having some good conversations there, and hoping for some here. Have you got half way through someone’s life before giving up on them (in book form, of course!)?

Oh – I have a Book Confession, too, I forgot: I bought Salman Rushdie’s “Two Years, Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights” because Mr Liz wanted to read it and I thought it would be nice to do another readalong. So that’s sitting on top of the Pile at the moment. I really haven’t acquired that many books recently, though, have I!

Book review – Katy’s Pony Summer

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Katys pony summer

Well it actually feels like the summer now, doesn’t it; I read this lovely book last month when it wasn’t nearly so warm and sunny, so it’s a perfect book for all weathers. The author, Victoria Eveleigh, was kind enough to send me a copy, as I’ve read all of her other Katy, Exmoor pony and Joe books (stick the author’s name in the Search box to find all my previous reviews) and I’ve held this review back until the book was officially published – links to find out more and buy at the bottom.

Victoria Eveleigh – “Katy’s Pony Summer”

(15 April 2016, from the author)

Fifth in the lovely Katy series, in which we grow up with Katy and learn about Exmoors and general pony management alongside her – with the humour and charm that you’d expect from a classic pony book, but brought up to date with modern lives and technology.

Katy’s all set to have a proper pony girl summer, just like in the books, including camping out with her best friend, but of course nothing goes to plan, she finds an injured foal and then ends up facing spending the summer nursing him, not something she’s naturally adept with at first. People rally round, and even her dad, who famously doesn’t like horses, ponies or especially Exmoors, starts to come round in a very sweet and amusing way.

There’s also a mystery, as someone is breaching fences and possibly poaching. The wonderful deer of Exmoor are in danger, but these men’s actions have other repercussions, too. Will the bogs of the moor claim a victim as the girls set out for a quick camping trip? Possibly? Will you end up cheering on an almost inanimate object in the form of one of these bogs? Possibly? Will the foal heal well enough to be able to enjoy a normal life? You can’t be sure on that one, as Eveleigh has included nature red in tooth and claw in her books before …

Another lovely read; this series really does belong with the classic pony books, enhanced by the delightful illustrations.

Learn more on Victoria Eveleigh’s website and order direct if you wish to avoid the big retailers; the book is also available to buy from Amazon.

Book reviews – Between the Acts and The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue

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May 2016Two very unlike books today, I’m afraid – wanted to get the Woolf reviewed as near to the end of Heaven-Ali’s #Woolfalong Phase 2: Beginnings and Endings project as I could, and then I picked a tiny one off the beginning of the shelf to read in scraps of time. They can’t all be matching pairs, can they? Anyway, I have a general project to read more saga stuff and #Woolfalong is one of my projects this year, so …

Virginia Woolf – “Between the Acts”

(March 2016 – ebook)

Woolf’s last novel and published unreviewed, this is a little uneven, and I can see where I would have edited it. But there’s a lot to like – the sense of place, mentioned by so many people, is beautifully done, and the still-feudal village, with the villagers marshalled by Miss La Trobe to put on a pageant at the Olivers’ is described so wonderfully.

The stream of consciousness technique Woolf is famous for is still there, but it’s so much easier to manage than, for example, Dorothy Richardson’s. We see the progress of the day the book covers through various people’s eyes, and the stream of consciousness itself is gently satirised when we read about Lucy Oliver’s mind wandering through huge tracts of time and place when she seems like she’s doing something quite ordinary.

We particularly inhabit the head of Isa, wife and mother but dreaming of more, with her secret poetry. She reminds me a little of a younger Mrs Ramsay from “To the Lighthouse”. The discord that is often needed for a good plot (although there’s not much of a plot here, not that it matters) is provided by the rather dreadful Mrs Manresa who turns up with young male friend in tow, and Miss La Trobe acts as a kind of observer and commentator, a little like Lily Briscoe in “Lighthouse”. The whole did remind me of A.S. Byatt’s Frederica quartet, which starts with a pageant and has a book within a book later on – although I could have done without the chunks from Miss La Trobe’s play – it would be interesting to see if they would have withstood Woolf’s next draft. A good read.

This book would suit … people who like books about village life, quiet books where not much happens externally but a lot goes on in the heads of the characters. Perhaps not the Woolf to start with, but still a good read.

“The Saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-Tongue”

(Oxford Waterstones, 14 March 2015)

No. 03 in the Penguin 80 (books at 80p each published for the publisher’s 80th birthday: I managed to resist the temptation to buy the set), t his is the only Icelandic Saga represented in the collection. It’s a very good introduction to the sags, as its 52 pages have a bit of everything that the larger ones are famous for: chieftains, impetuous sons, law-givers, sea voyages, allegiances to foreign kings, poetry and insults, fights, men vying for the love of the same woman, dreams interpreted as prophecies, and then the formulaic chapter openings, poems, potted ancestries and shifting tenses common to the genre. A good story, too.

This book would suit … someone looking for a low-risk introduction to the sagas – some of the BEST LITERATURE IN THE WORLD (for example).

Currently reading, oddly enough, good old Roy Jenkins and Simon Armitage’s wonderful book about Iceland. More on them soon.

 

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