Book reviews – Dorothy Richardson and The Years #woolfalong #amreading

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dec-2016-tbrTwo final reviews for the year – of course, I’ve now got a few hours of 2016 left with no book started as I don’t like to be untidy, but there you go. Hope everyone’s had a good reading year, I’ll be doing my roundup and TBR photo tomorrow, and until then, I’ll leave you with two reviews of books connected with Modernist writers, the outcome of my competition to pass along the set of Richardsons and an offer to share one of the books reviewed here.

Carol Watts – “Dorothy Richardson”

(29 October 2016, Buxton)

Quite a hard book on the author whose “Pilgrimage” series I have of course been working through this year, which purposefully doesn’t set out to match biographical details to the novels, but instead looks at memory, relates the books to a separate short story called “The Garden” and talks a lot about the relationship of the books to the world of the cinema, which I can see, even though Richardson never mentions the cinema in the books, with all the tracking shots and changes in focus, etc.

There were some good finds in this short volume – as well as herself cutting up five volumes of Proust and reading them in a random order, Richardson apparently advocated reading “Pilgrimage” from a random starting point! There is a lot of meat in this but it was maybe a little academic for me. I do feel compelled to read the autobiography; not sure if I can face the semi-fictionalised book about her as I’m not usually keen on that sort of thing.

If you would like to read this book … As there have been a few of us reading “Pilgrimage”, I’d like to share this book about it. If you’d like to join a book ray for the book (so you will undertake to read it and post it on; it’s 90 pages long and will probably go Large Letter in the UK) then please post a comment and I’ll put a list of email addresses in the front cover and send it out.

*We have a winner* Winner of the full set of “Pilgrimage” books, chosen by random selection (numbers in a hat) is Dee! I will get in touch for your address. Of course you might like to circulate them among all three of you who entered the comp!

Virginia Woolf – “The Years”

(25 December 2016 – from Belva, my LibraryThing Virago Group Not So Secret Santa)

How fortuitous to receive this book just when I wanted to read it to round off #Woolfalong! It would make my top ten of the year easily were it not for the glaring anti-Semitism – I know it’s of its time etc. and expresses what people were thinking but it did make me pause.

But anyway, I got totally absorbed in this family saga running from 1880 to the late 1930s. It’s not nearly as experimental as “The Waves“, read earlier this month, although, as we’ll see, it’s far from being traditional. The middle generation are seen as they age from being a set of anxious children with an ailing mother to prosperous – on the whole – elderly stout folk, but the events and attitudes of the age undermine the paterfamilias, who is found to have feet of clay, and the central character, Eleanor, one of those spinsters who has lived for everyone else and not herself finds a new life of travel and maintains a gay best friend, and women move from father-funded and mocked philanthropy to independence, rooms of their own and careers.

I felt my assessment of this book as a “Forsyte Saga” with more on women’s rights and people’s feelings and better descriptions, or a “Pilgrimage” that you could actually understand and follow (there’s even a Miriam on one of Eleanor’s committees!) was a bit shallow, but the introduction to my (Wordsworth Classics) copy does in fact compare it to Galsworthy. But although it seems like a return to the standard novel in some ways, the ebb and flow of repeated memories, totem objects and thoughts is all Modernism and reminded me of “The Waves” to an extent. It’s moving, too, how episodes of childhood remain with the middle-aged and elderly and an object is given, ages, wears out, is discarded and is rescued by the servant.

Compulsive reading and an excellent finale to the year and to my participation in #Woolfalong.

Still to come tomorrow, State of the TBR, Christmas Book Pile, round-up of my reading stats, Top 10 books of the year and plans for book challenges for 2017. Happy New Year, everyone! And don’t forget to comment if you’d like to read “Dorothy Richardson”!

Book Reviews – Hypothermia and Atlantic Britain #amreading

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dec-2016-tbrTwo reviews today, both set in the North Atlantic, as I rattle through some shorter books at the end of the year. The Adam Nicolson might be a candidate for my Top Ten of the year, as it was very good, and the Indriðason was a bit of a downer, to be  honest, but well-done still.

Oh, and excitingly, my post on the Jewellery Quarter Pavement trail (the second one) was picked up by a BBC journalist and has been written about here!

Arnaldur Indriðason – Hypothermia

(August 2015)

Another installment of the Reykjavik Murder Mystery series, and I know a couple of people have told me they start to decline in quality near the end of the series – can anyone tell me when that starts? This one was quite depressing, with the main investigation being on a woman found to have committed suicide, and following up on the loss of Detective Erlendur’s brother in a blizzard in their childhood. He has a depressing encounter with his ex-wife and regrets the mistakes he made with his children.

The other police characters don’t really feature in this novel, and are only mentioned in passing, which makes it feel a bit claustrophobic. The plot is cleverly worked out as always (although a sub-investigation that I thought would mesh with the main one didn’t seem to), but the geography (apart from some cool stuff about lakes) and the range of characters was lacking for me.

Adam Nicolson – “Atlantic Britain”

(3 September 2016 – Astley Book Barn)

I picked this off the shelf as a short book to pop into my handbag for a journey, so slightly out of order in the TBR (gasp!). It’s about Nicolson’s (a favourite author of mine, grandson of Vita Sackville-West and Harold Nicolson) sea adventure sailing from Cornwall to the Faroes up the West Coast of the British Isles, also the subject of a TV series I didn’t catch.

I loved the boating details, the beautiful descriptions, the birds and the honesty – the description of Nicolson’s near-drowning is amazingly and powerfully written, but so is his account of his relationship with George, skipper and accomplished seaman but employee and in imbalance with the requirements of filming, going wrong. He even shares George’s rather damning assessment of him as a “plucker” – one who floats from one thing to the other without really having to take responsibility, as opposed to the person who handles the risk and responsibility – which I think is a brave thing to do (he apparently ran the text by George before publishing, and they remained friends).

Full of memorable scenes and scenery, from monks in an odd community to bare rocks buffeted by the sea, and full of the wonder and horribleness of the sea – a great book.

I’ve almost finished my Hard Book about Dorothy Richardson then will I get “The Years” done in time … ? How’s your reading going?

 

Book review – Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop #amreading

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dec-2016-tbrNow, this is why I don’t do my Top 10 Books of the Year until the actual end of the year (I am aware that I need to do a Books Received for Christmas post, a round-up of the challenges and reading I’ve done this year and fit in my State of the TBR and plans for challenges for 2017 …). Because if I’d already put my Top 10 together, this book wouldn’t have gone onto it. And I’m pretty sure it’s going to be up there.

Bob Stanley – “Yeah, Yeah, Yeah: The Story of Modern Pop”

(19 February 2016)

I’ve been reading this hefty tome as my Downstairs Book (at the kitchen table and for chunks of time after lunch during the week) for quite a while now, but as the chapters are short, it’s felt like I’ve been making progress all the time. It’s the story of the modern pop era from the first singles in the 1950s to the dawn of a time when singles no longer came out on 7″ vinyl, although individual threads reach further forward and back. And pop is defined as anything popular – rap, country, r’n’b, bubblegum, doowop, shoegazing, etc., etc.).

It takes things chronologically but in short, thematic chapters – on an artist, a label, a genre – which by necessity jump around a bit, but the narrative is as coherent as it can be under these circumstances. Stanley’s amazing at pulling out tiny details and links and making connections across the whole of pop, and his footnotes are epic, amusing and human. He’s human all through it – waspish at times, with opinions: he has his likes and inexplicable dislikes, and I don’t agree with him on Erasure, but you have to be human and show your own feelings, I think, if a book like this is going to be great, and it speaks volumes that I cheerfully read chapters on bands or people I really do not care for.

The author is so perceptive on monolithic stars like Dylan, picking up on how he created his backstory and soaked up the coolness of the Greenwich Village vibe like a sponge, and he admits defeat on someone like Mickie Most, not able to give him more room because he can’t pull his story into a coherent whole. He’s great on the workings of the music business, whether it’s the Motown / Brill Building / other such song writing structures or the effect that the closing down of the pirate radio stations had on what music people heard, with The Who being lost for a while, or pointing out with a subtle reference to intoxicant of choice and hairstyle that reducing Jamaican pop to reggae and Bob Marley is like reducing British pop to blues rock and Rod Stewart.

There are Easter Egg references to Smiths lyrics and some great puns, and he doesn’t rush things towards the end, but he’s at his best when making those connections: how UK punk emerged years later in US hardcore; how the slow-mo sound of 1990s Bristol had wide-ranging routes in the 1980s and beyond; how there’s been a strand of “big men on the brink, tough guys choking back the tears” that reaches all the way back from Kurt Cobain to Frankie Laine and Del Shannon.

Masterful, amazing, a brilliant read and highly recommended.

I’ve got myself on to Iris Murdoch’s collected letters now, and am also going to try to give Woolf’s “The Years” a go, as I have a few more reading days left in the year. I might even finish the Hard Book about Dorothy Richardson I’m trying to read … watch this space for a few more reviews before the Top Ten. How are you all doing in this middly-bit of the holiday season?

Book review – The Waves #Woolfalong #amreading

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dec-2016-tbrWell, what can you say about such an iconic and rather daunting book? I’ve so enjoyed taking part in #Woolfalong this year and was determined to fit some reads into the last section, Woolfalong Phase 6, in which we are asked to read any or all of “Jacob’s Room”, “The Waves” and “The Years”. So I started this a few days ago and finished it having woken early on Christmas Day with nothing particular to do (we were off to extended family, bearing gifts of Schloer, so got away without too much prep). I hope this review does it justice!

Virginia Woolf – “The Waves”

(4 January 1992)

This examination of six lives from childhood to middle age starts off with short sentences said by each of them, which feels like a clever word game such as the Bloomsbury Set would play, until you realise that it’s their internal monologues at work. Although the “Susan said,” etc. could feel a bit forced, it does make sure you know who’s talking and what they’re likely to be on about, so anchors you in this experimental world.

As the characters progress through life, their memories echo down the years, some fading, some becoming more insistent, and their preoccupations may change on the surface but their essential beings don’t seem to. They reflect on each other and particular episodes – hinging on two gatherings in youth and later years – in a way that seems almost Cubist, from different and sometimes surprising angles. As in Richardson’s “Pilgrimage”, the most important events occur off-stage and are referred to and reacted to rather than seen. I found Bernard, the writer, and his soliloquy that forms the end of the book, quite moving.

The book feels in part like a critique of gender roles, with the options for women in particular pretty limited (lover, wife, eccentric), and Susan in particular seeming to be lost in her role as matriarch, even though she longed and planned for it. To be fair, the men also seem to be set inside their suits and limited by their schooldays, and does Bernard actually ever produce anything apart from his interminable notebooks?

I felt a bit daunted approaching this one, obviously last read as a student, but was pleased I picked up on the echoes of T.S. Eliot that were mentioned in the Introduction to my World’s Classics edition. I did very much enjoy the beautiful evocations of the sun rising, moving and setting above the eternal waves in the interludes, and making my way through the characters’ stories.

I did actually receive a copy of “The Years” (in an omnibus with “Between the Acts”, very pleasingly, as I read that in an e-book edition) for my LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa, so might be able to squeeze that in before the end of the year. I’m still working my way through “Yeah Yeah Yeah” and have reached the 80s and times I experienced myself, so that book just gets better and better. I’m reading a Reykjavik Murder Mystery for a bit of light relief and you will NOT get my books of the year post until 31 December or 1 January, depending on when I finish my last book of the year! Who knows what gems will leap out at me!

I hope you’re all getting some nice reading time and opened lots of book-shaped parcels yesterday. Including my BookCrossing Secret Santa opened earlier in the month, I have acquired 11 new books, which seems doable and not stressful to the TBR …

Book review – London War Notes (Persephone)

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dec-2016-tbrAnother book finished and this was a really good one. A 2015 Christmas present from fellow book blogger and BookCrosser, Ali, this was a lovely treat and very different to other books I’ve read on the Second World War. I do love Persephone books and have almost half of what they’ve published now – do have a peek at their website for some more treats. I have one volume of this author’s short stories (the non-war ones, “Minnie’s Room”) which was also an excellent read, so she’s highly recommended.

Mollie Panter-Downes – “London War Notes”

(25 December 2015 – from Ali)

A set of edited Letters from Abroad sent back from London to America during the Second World War, this is very different from other books I’ve read on the subject or written at the same time. It’s full of information and follows events in order as histories do, and has accounts of the general mood of the people and the effect of bombings and rationing as the diaries to, but it falls between the two (in a good way) and offers a different and fascinating reading experience.

It’s cool and calm, reporting on what’s actually happening when people know, of the effect of not knowing what’s happening when they don’t, commenting on overheard and reported conversation, speaking of the general mood, but in an objective and slightly distanced way. It does get a bit more involved and nuanced as the war wears on (David Kynaston makes this point in his excellent Introduction but I’d noticed it, too) and people’s responses are perhaps a bit more complex, but it retains this essential objectivity, also staying away from descriptions of horrors or details of targets.

This all serves to make it a highly differentiated and very valuable resource, written for information then and there rather than private introspection or later history. It’s fascinating to think that these letters to New York were where a lot of Americans must have got their information on the war – and, later, their countryfolks’ reception in Britain – from.

The writing is impeccable, with a novelist’s touch on the dialogue and description, and those well-known events, figures and attitudes are seen freshly again. Important and interesting – a great combination.

So on Christmas Eve in Iceland there’s a tradition called Jólabókaflóðið or Christmas Book Flood, where people give each other books then curl up and read them. I and my husband Matthew will be doing that soon (well, I’ll be continuing with “The Waves” – he might have a new book under the Christmas tree, shhhhh) and so Happy Christmas to all you readers (and readers) and I’ll be back with new reviews soon xx

Book review – Silas Marner

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dec-2016-tbrAfter that brief foray into tourism in my own city, it’s back to the normal run of book reviews. I’ve finally managed to grab some reading time as work diminishes for Christmas so be prepared for a few reviews over the  next few days (might skip Sunday …). I’ve also updated my Century of Reading list with books I’ve bought recently – I now only have 31 years to find (I’ll be doing an update on that and all other challenges on January 1). Let’s start with a classic …

George Eliot – “Silas Marner”

(11 July 2016, charity shop, Bridlington)

I really have gone from a book acquired at Christmas 2015 to one picked up in July, but only because I picked this one off the shelf to go in my handbag for some bus journeys (I’m also reading a slim volume about Dorothy Richardson but that wasn’t brought out of the handbag quite so readily …)

Now, the thing I thought I knew about this book, along with everyone else, is that it’s about a crotchety old man who’s redeemed by adopting a small child. Well, actually, it’s about an awful lot more than that, and said child doesn’t even appear until two-thirds of the way through the book!

The hero, the weaver, Silas, is battered down by the conservatism of religion, shunned by his own chapel community after being betrayed by a friend and then a loner in his new community partly because he’s not a churchgoer. The aristocracy doesn’t come out well, either, with the local squire half-cut most of the time and producing sons who are either weak or bad. Goodness seems to be embodied in both people who are true to themselves, honest and look out for their fellow villagers, like good-hearted Dolly Winthrop, and in the web of rural society itself.

The theme of consequences is handled very cleverly. When you think Eppie is going to be spoiled by Silas not being able to bring himself to punish her, she’s clearly not, villains have an undignified rather than evil end and when lies are found out and discussion had about what would have happened if the lies hadn’t been told, all is not as the liar or the lied-to assume.

One point that really amused me was a character being compared to a guinea pig. Now, this book was published in 1861 and I have no real view on when guinea pigs were introduced as pets in the UK, but I’d somehow assumed later than this. But …

Mrs Crackenthorp – a small blinking woman who fidgeted incessantly with her lace, ribbons and gold chain, turning her head about and making subdued noises, very much like a guinea-pig, that twitches its nose and soliloquises in all company indiscriminately – now blinked and fidgeted towards the Squire

Isn’t that marvellous. Another great read from Eliot, and I am so enjoying gradually making my way through her works. I only have Scenes from Clerical Life, Romola and Felix Holt to go now.

I’ve also finished Mollie Panter-Downes’ “London War Notes” and hope to review that tomorrow. I’m working steadily through “Yeah Yeah Yeah” – which is marvellous, a real treat and sure to be one of my top ten books of the year if I can finish it in time – and I think it’s time for “The Waves” for my upstairs read. I do have some Kindle books to get on with, as those that I won on NetGalley are coming up for publication time now (I’m obeying the review embargoes even though some reviewers have posted reviews already). And I need to read a Reykjavik Murder Mystery soon, as I have been acquiring Ragnar Jónasson’s “Snowblind” series on Kindle, too. What are you reading at the tail-end of the year?

The Birmingham Jewellery Quarter Pavement Trails 2 – The Charm Bracelet Trail

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Jewellery quarter pavement trail charm braceletIn my first post, I talked about the basics of the Jewellery Quarter Pavement Trails and shared photos of all (but one! Noooo) of the Findings Trail. That made for a long old article, so I decided to pop this one into another post. So, here we have the Charm Bracelet Trail. My best friend Emma and I decided to walk both Jewellery Quarter trails, clutching a camera (Emma) and a damp leaflet (me) in the drizzle – a perfect British Day Out as I’m sure you’ll agree. It was great fun being tourists in my city, and doing something you wouldn’t necessarily do (I have been to the Pen Museum, and that’s very good, too).

We actually did half of the Findings Trail, then up and down the Charm Bracelet trail in the wrong order, then the rest of the Findings Trail. I’ve posted these in the order in which they appear in the leaflet, starting at the bottom of Newhall Hill, intersecting with the other trail at the junction with Graham Street, but then continuing up Frederick Street into the heart of the Jewellery Quarter.

The Charm Bracelet Trail

This trail was designed by artists Mick Thacker and Mark Renn. Where the Findings Trail has squares let into the square-paved pavement, this one has a rather charming (aha) brick shape which fits in with these pavements. The designs are flatter and they all feature some chain links at the top that would form a chain joining all of the charms.

You start this one at the bottom of Newhall Hill and it takes you all the way to the top of Frederick Street on the right-hand side as you walk up. The pieces aren’t numbered or lettered but they are quite easy to spot.

The key, is, of course, the start of the trail, and this one also includes the thanks to the funders.

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Then we have the Silent Boot, which refers to an 1890s design of police boot designed to help catch wrongdoers. In the photo at the start of this article, you’ll witness our delight at my Doc Marten’s shoe fitting into the design: here’s the unadorned version:

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Did you know that Washington Irving, who wrote Rip Van Winkle, stayed in the Jewellery Quarter and wrote his book there in 1818? I will admit that I didn’t know this.

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Hooray for the reforming Chartists – a huge crowd gathered here working towards reform in 1832 and this one celebrates them:

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I also didn’t know that the FA Cup was made here but it was, and here it is, looking a little damp.

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The whistles for the Titanic were made by J. Hudson Limited – they still make the same whistles and they’re called Acme Whistles, which is pleasing (they also make the Acme Thunderer, which is a football thing). We loved the little whistles on the chain.

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Matthew Boulton, our famous industrialist, is commemorated next. That’s a file profile, isn’t it.

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As well as a pen nib manufacturer, there was a Turkish Steam Bath near to the Argent Centre.

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This anchor commemorates the Assay Office, the anchor being the hallmark symbol for Birmingham. This is commemorated in the beer bottle plaque in the Findings Trail, too.

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I love these nib displays – they have ones like this in the Pen Museum, which is fab and well worth a visit. You can make a nib from scratch and play around with quill and dip pens. This commemorates Joseph Gillot, another overlap with the Findings Trail, but it’s lovely to have these names mentioned and remembered.

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The Hockley Flyer is the quarter’s trade magazine and is still going strong and making interesting reading:

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We get into World War Two and the Jewellery Quarter now, with this piece commemorating a badge-making firm targeted by bombers during the war …

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… and this absolutely lovely Bits For Spitfires piece, celebrating the fact that both commemorative medals and parts for the planes were made here. Emma and I liked the way it looks like an Airfix model.

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The famous School of Jewellery is celebrated on Frederick Street:

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We also really liked this piece commemorating the Vittoria Restaurant, which apparently featured “peas like emeralds” – as we’d just had our lunch when Emma photographed this one, we decided to feature our toes (and Emma’s skirt) in the photo.

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The last piece in this trail is the Chamberlain Clock, the famous landmark celebrating Joseph Chamberlain which was erected in 1903. Not sure why we added ourselves into this one, too, but it was a lovely ending, within sight of the clock itself.

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We managed not to photograph the clock or the rest of the JQ, marching back down Frederick Street with a plan to get round the rest of it before tea time. A quick mention should be made of The Button Factory, which is a great pub on Frederick Street, in an old button factory and keeping a lot of its detailing. We had a lovely lunch there, and they do all their frying in rapeseed oil, which is brilliant for any of us on low-cholesterol diets. I do like chips. It was really quiet on a December Monday but friendly and warm.

The Button Factory Birmingham Jewellery Quarter

Do pop and read all about the rest of our exploits that day taking in the Findings Trail as well!

All photos taken by Emma Volante, all food and drink paid for ourselves. More info about the Pavement Trails and a link to the leaflet can be found here.

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