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For once, I'm at home on a Wednesday. I now have several weeks to catch up on, and will probably miss stuff.


Currently Reading

Sunbathing in the Rain (Gwyneth Lewis) - was recommended to me by a clueless ex-colleague as being thought to be generally good on depression. Mostly it is, though I do not think there is anything in it that I hadn't learned elsewhere over the three or four years since it was recommended to me.

Pigeon Post (Arthur Ransome) - because I missed one train and the next was late, and I'd just happened to pop into the Oxfam bookshop and filled a number of holes in my Swallows & Amazons collection.

Carpe Jugulum (Terry Pratchett) - I'm now into the ones we have in hardback, most of which I hadn't previously read.


Recently Finished

The intervening Terry Pratchetts.

High Life in Verdopolis (Charlotte Brontë) - which I enjoyed hugely. I am now resolved to seek out the remaining works in the Angria and Gondal universes.

Following on from that, Firebrand (Ankaret Wells) - tremendous fun. I am a sucker for an airship and a Ruritanian landscape. This has both.

Really, what with Discworld, Angria and the half-real half-imagined Lakes, I have been having a lovely time in imaginary worlds recently.

Dracula (Bram Stoker) - for book club. I can't remember when I last read it - early twenties, I suppose. I was very struck, this time round, by the insistence on technology, and how very scientific our heroes are being in their approach to the supernatural.

Smile or Die (Barbara Ehrenreich) - a most enjoyable rant about the cult of positive thinking. Interesting to read in tandem with Sunbathing in the Rain, which is equally perceptive on the dangers of denying reality.

The Divide (Nicholas Evans) - didn't live up to the promise of its first chapter. Sentimental and unconvincing, with characters who failed to hold my sympathy.

The Monk and the Hangman's Daughter (Ambrose Bierce) - my favourite sort of unreliable narrator. I'll say no more than that.

Alexander's Bridge (Willa Cather) - my goodness, she could write. Alexander himself was tedious, but the prose is worth it.


Up Next

Some thing about London whose title I have forgotten, for book club.

Possibly The Maker's Mask, now that I have got started on Ankaret Wells.


Poetry

The Heart's Time (ed. Janet Morley) - is not quite as useful to me in Lent as Haphazard by Starlight was in Advent. I think this is because I find Lent more difficult generally.


Abandoned

Snow (Orhan Pamuk) - I put this down to finish Dracula, and when I picked it up again I couldn't remember where I'd got to and what had happened, and didn't really care what happened to anyone. So I left it under a seat at the TUC, and I hope whoever picked it up enjoys it more than I did.


Other Media

A lot of Thunderbirds, which is delightful in its combination of appalling science ("Well, Mr Tracy, the gas seems to evaporate...") and horrific workplace health and safety practices. I'm rather wishing I were liveblogging it, because it's the only way to share the joy. I cringe through the sixties attitudes.

Long Road to Peekskill (Will Kaufman) - a presentation on the life of Woody Guthrie, with an emphasis on his formation as an anti-racist activist. With songs. As one might expect, shocking and depressing (particularly when one considers e.g. Ferguson) in parts, but very interesting indeed.
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I keep missing Wednesdays. Sometimes because I am out discussing what I’ve been reading. Sometimes because I am at concerts instead. Sometimes because I just forget.


Currently Reading

Cold as Death, T. J. McGregor – cosy mystery with hurricane devastation and psychics. Follows the age-old convention of having the amateur on very friendly terms with all the professionals involved, which for some reason is irritating me intensely in this case. Possibly it’s just that it seems more implausible that the victim’s mother and the policeman involved both had a psychic reading from Our Heroine than it is that Miss Silver was governess to half of England or that murders are particularly highly concentrated in St Mary Mead and Midsomer. The plot seems to be running on pure handwavium anyway.

Twenties Girl, Sophie Kinsella – reading this in bits, but I do want to finish it.

Hogfather, Terry Pratchett – I think I may not even have read this one before, just seen the TV adaptation. I like Hex in this, and the wizards are magnificently terrible as ever, but Susan never seems to be characterised quite consistently: she’s very matter-of-fact about the supernatural, except when she’s in denial, and it always feels a bit off to me.


Recently Finished

Feet of Clay, Terry Pratchett – this is one of the best Watch ones, I think (unpopular opinion?) – very good on humanity, equality, prejudice and similar variations.

Annie On My Mind, Nancy Garden – such an angry, sweet, hopeful book, this. Some parts are almost too painful to read, even from thirty years afterwards. But I never quite manage to believe in the dénouement; I think the breach of privacy is so outrageous that if I were to believe it I’d lose all sympathy for the main characters.

Sparrow Story, David Rhodes. Complete disaster. I am interested how I managed to forget that this is written entirely in present tense à la Damon Runyon. I last read this ten years ago, but still...

Mary Anne, Daphne du Maurier. Rollicking. Definitely rollicking. Sex and scandal in high life. This was a rattling good yarn with an enticingly flawed protagonist. I felt that it ran headlong into a brick wall, however; the end came a little too abruptly.

Beatrice and Virgil, Yann Martel. No doubt I am an uncultured yob, but I found this pretentious and superficial and altogether too pleased with itself. I only finished it because I had to get a slow train from Liverpool Street instead of a fast train from Kings Cross.


Up Next

Dracula, Bram Stoker. Maybe Solstice, Joyce Carol Oates.


Other Media

Two Wednesdays ago I took my partner and brother to see Straight No Chaser at Cadogan Hall. Really excellent night: they are fantastic showmen as well as skilled musicians.

TV - Cosmos, original series – annoying me somewhat with its occasional ‘end of science’ assumptions – or, rather, its assumption that scientists of previous centuries were being wilfully ignorant rather than doing the best they could with the tools they had. Have got hooked on Only Connect. And I have at long last moved on to series two of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. (How, we ask, is anyone meant to take Spike seriously? I fall about laughing every time he opens his mouth. Cor blimey, Mary Poppins!)
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(A terse update because I'm pretending I'm not on the internet, really.)

Currently Reading

Twenties Girl (Sophie Kinsella) - a rather sweet chicklit ghost story. I am becoming less and less able to cope with the cringe humour associated with the genre (chicklit, not ghost stories) - Women Being Humiliated is not my idea of fun - but am managing this one so far.


Recently Finished

Maskerade (Terry Pratchett) - yay witches!

Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) - the middle was the best bit, I think. I felt it lost its way towards the end. Worth reading, though.


Up Next

Sparrow Story has arrived, so perhaps that. So did The Penelopiad and Brat Farrar, both of which my mother thought I ought to have. And whatever is the next Discworld (Hogfather?) And I have spent a lot of time today lying on my floor looking at my bookcase from upside down, and seeing all sorts of books I'd forgotten I possessed, so maybe one of those.


Poetry

Still working through the Idylls of the King - I finished The Holy Grail the other night. Very odd reading Elaine for the first time, it's been quoted so much elsewhere. Quite apart from the sequence that is sent up so beautifully in Anne of Green Gables, there's 'their eyes met, and hers fell', and this: '... of more than twice her years/ seam'd with an ancient sword-cut on the cheek/ and bruis'd and bronz'd, she lifted up her eyes/ and loved him, with that love that was her doom.' Which I know by heart - I typed that up without taking the book off the shelf - and don't know why. I will swear I've never read the poem before. The only thing I can think of is that Agatha Christie quotes it somewhere. It's plausible: she does like Tennyson, and I read the lot at an impressionable age. I have a lot of Christie stuck in my head.


Other Media

Mapp and Lucia, book (in haste, a couple of weeks ago, so I could watch it) and TV. I think they've done it rather well. Cadfael, gradually.
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Clambering back on the bandwagon. I'm picking up from the beginning of this year, having mostly forgotten what I read in December.


Currently Reading

Maskerade (Terry Pratchett) - continuing the read-through with one of my favourites (the witches and theatre: what more could the heart desire?)

Americanah (Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie) - is very good indeed, sharp and perceptive. I am particularly enjoying the dissection of academic social justice Olympics.

Twenties Girl (Sophie Kinsella), which I won't say anything about as I'm only ten pages in.


Recently Finished

Fall On Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald) - other than repeatedly giving me an O Holy Night earworm (you're welcome) this was excellent - deliciously, creepily, Gothic and treading gently on the border between the natural and the supernatural. I have to say that the last section felt rather as if it had taken an abrupt tangent into the middle of my id (partly due to one of the characters sharing my first name, which doesn't happen often), but I dare say that wouldn't bother anyone else.

The Borgia Ring (Michael White) - awful; don't bother. The modern-day police procedural plot was boring and the sixteenth century heretic plot plot was unconvincing in the extreme. And I would have expected a book that was so invested in the distinctions between the Church of England and the Church of Rome not to talk about 'crucifixes... Most were unadorned, but a few carried the image of the body of Christ'. This encapsulates the problem with the whole book, really: it wants to be about religion, but the author simply doesn't understand enough about religion to make it work.


Up Next

Sparrow Story (David Rhodes), which was my choice for book club and which I should therefore really re-read before I am called to make intelligent comment thereon. (I wasn't expecting the company to choose this one from the shortlist of three that I'd assembled, and so hadn't actually gone so far as to acquire a copy. I'm waiting for one to be delivered at the moment.)


Poetry

Dipping into Answering Back, ed. Carol Ann Duffy, which is a rather lovely collection of paired poems - in each case, a contemporary poet chooses a poem by someone else (I think all dead) and writes a reply, or a retort, or a remix.

Working my way through Idylls of the King (Alfred, Lord Tennyson) because it's January.


Abandoned

Rogue (Danielle Steele): the story was boring and the writing was insipid.

This year I am going to make more of an effort to get rid of books I don't enjoy, so expect this category to become more populous than of late...
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Currently Reading

The Left Hand of Darkness (Ursula K. Le Guin) - which is a re-read. For a supposed classic, you would not believe how difficult it is to get hold of. I finally tracked it down in Gay's the Word. It's better than I remembered (which is not to say that I thought it was bad before; it just hadn't stuck well in my memory) - I am enjoying the gentle prose and the subtleties of the politics - but ouch, the male pronouns! I've changed as much as the world has - at the time I last read this I would still have been using male pronouns for God - but this would be a very different book if it were written today.


Recently Finished

Castle Gay and The House of the Four Winds (John Buchan) - also re-reads. Again, a couple of things that show that one never steps into the same book twice. I think I mentioned last week how interesting I found the by-election sub-plot, though it's not even a sub-plot, really, it's a background that occasionally intrudes into the plot. And the other thing is how I apparently last read THotFW before I did my A-levels, which seems hard to believe, but I would swear that I never picked up on the parallels with Germany before. Evallonia is Germany without Hitler and moved a bit southwards and eastwards - the youth movement, the war reparations. I would love to know what Buchan would have done with it after 1945.

The Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe) - glorious, glorious trash, which unlike everything else on this week's post is exactly as I remembered.


Up Next

One of the delights I picked up in the course of my quest for The Left Hand of Darkness. Ancillary Sword (Ann Leckie). The Balloonists (L.T.C. Rolt). More Perfect Union (Alan Wilson). The Impossible Life of Mary Benson (which I read when it was called As Good as God, as Clever as the Devil).
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Currently Reading

Castle Gay (John Buchan) - for the first time I have made it all the way through chapter two and not skipped any of the career of Mr Thomas Carlyle Craw. I do like Buchan.

The Bonfire of the Vanities (Tom Wolfe) - also a re-read; I described it as 'magnificently tacky' before I picked it up again, and I stand by that assessment.


Recently Finished

The Lantern (Deborah Lawrenson) - at last. Seriously, don't bother. Read Rebecca instead. As an homage to du Maurier, this is an insult.


Up Next

Still The Left Hand of Darkness, if only I can find a copy. And The House of the Four Winds. (I do not possess a copy of Huntingtower. Disgraceful.)


Abandoned

Cat (Freya North) - I think I tried this before, and gave up then, too. I was hoping that, having been seriously into pro cycling for almost three years now, I would get on better with it this time around. I didn't. It's not so much the fact that this was written in 1999, when Armstrong was racing, and I'm reading in 2014, when he never raced, as the tense changes making me seasick and the extended passages with the narrative voice in dialogue with the characters, in italics to boot, which was just too much like hard work.


Other Media

There is a series about film music on BBC4 at the moment, prompted by which I watched A Fistful of Dollars. I want to watch more films, but I never quite manage to get the to cinema.
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Very briefly, as I must leave for my silverwork class in half an hour, and haven't eaten yet.


Currently Reading

Ancillary Justice (Ann Leckie) which the entire internet has been raving about, and which is every bit as good as they say.

The Lantern (Deborah Lawrenson) continues really quite dull. I don't know whether the chapters are too short, or what. The fact that I am mentally screaming 'Use your words!' at both narrators pretty much every chapter makes it very wearing. But I'm three quarters of the way through now, so I'll finish it.


Recently Finished

A Company of Swans (Eva Ibbotson), which as usual enchants me and infuriates me in pretty much equal measure.


Up Next

Both my book clubs have chosen things I have read before (The Left Hand of Darkness/The Bonfire of the Vanities) so I may or may not reread. Apart from that, I'm not sure.


Other Media

Cycling World Championships, The West Wing.
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Currently Reading

The Lantern (Deborah Lawrenson) – I read this while I eat a sandwich - twenty minutes two lunchtimes per week, hence the slow progress. I’m about half way through and the action is just starting to pick up. I think the author is concentrating so much on describing the vivid Provence landscape that little things like suspense, characterisation and plot have been lost.

Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the labyrinth as a spiritual practice (Lauren Artress) – as someone for whom the labyrinth is useful but Not All That, this is interesting but pushing my personal woo envelope a bit: the phrase ‘sacred geometry’ is, I think, the sticking point. Reading it properly, there’s nothing I actively disagree with, but I keep expecting there to be.


Recently Finished
Like Water For Chocolate (Laura Esquivel) – this worked better for me than Malinche did. Esquivel’s noble and heady disregard for the normal laws of science is more appropriate in this folk tale than in the quasi-biography. I am not usually one for recipes in novels, but the ones in this book felt like an organic part of the story rather than a self-conscious gimmick. While there were parts of this that concerned and/or irritated me, I did enjoy this book.

Cell (Stephen King) – well, he’s very good at what he does, but my goodness, it’s a depressing world to wander through. This one has of course dated quite dramatically, what with the rise in smartphones; it’s comparatively rare to see someone actually talking on a mobile phone. And I did wonder what was meant to be going on in the rest of the world.

The Spirit Level (Richard Wilkinson; Kate Pickett) - very suspicious of this, on account of the inadequately labelled graph axes, and by how much I want it all to be true.


Abandoned

Cat’s Eyewitness (Rita Mae Brown and Sneaky Pie Brown) – Don’t anthropomorphise animals. They don’t like it. All the animal dialogue in this made me cringe so much I had to give up on it.


Up Next

Whatever gets picked for the next book club.The Left Hand of Darkness, which I've already read, so I will not break my heart over getting it. And probably Ancillary Justice (Ann Leckie), though it is rare for me to get round to reading or watching something the same year that the rest of the world raves about it.


Other Media

Well, this week's Doctor Who was not without faults but was amazingly powerful. I’m re-watching The Way, in chunks, and thinking about how real life makes for a terrible story. Run out of cycling (at least until the world championships) and cautiously pleased with Formula E (although approving neither of FanBoost nor of playing music over the race). And I say again: I will miss the Mythbusters build team.
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Currently Reading

For once I only have one book on the go: The Spirit Level by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett. Required reading for young trade unionists, I suppose. I'm rather suspicious of it as I find myself thinking that surely all this is obvious.

I am also dipping into Music of Silence (Brother David Steindl-Rast) but I wouldn't say I'm reading it in the same way I do other books. It almost wants to go in with the poetry - not that there is any, this week.


Recently Finished

Bel Canto (Ann Patchett) which was beautiful; I cried through quite a lot of it. Proves that it is entirely possible to write a book full of sympathetic characters. This despite the set-up, which is a hostage situation. Slightly uncomfortable with the banana republic in which it's set not having a name - always seems like a bit of a cop-out to me. But really, this was lovely.

Scarlet Feather (Maeve Binchy) - irritating but compulsive. Couldn't stick the hero, who was the jealous sort who didn't like his girlfriend wearing mini-skirts. Also not keen on the author's obvious double standards. But I finished it, which is saying something when you consider that the prologue alone runs fifty pages long.

The Chalet Girl (Kate Lace) - I somehow feel that it's not fair to dissect this from the point of view of a lifelong Anglican. But I'm going to, because this raised my hopes - for scandal in the close! - and then dashed them. The heroine is the daughter of a bishop, which is where all the Barchester comes in; however, the author has clearly not done her research. The bishop is a cartoonish blood and thunder Evangelical obsessed by Sin, but at one point appears at a social occasion in a purple 'soutane'. Then there's the bit where someone says that he was made a bishop to 'shut him up'. The Church of England is not the savviest of organisations, I have to admit, but I don't think it's as thick as all that.

More seriously, I didn't feel that the characterisation was at all consistent. Much was made of the hypocrisy of the bishop, but the moral compasses of the other characters felt severely off-kilter. In particular, the heroine's unquestioning involvement in a dubious business practice didn't sit at all well with her guilt over her past.

I hated the hero of this, too; he's employed on a trashy magazine and at one point is shown including an unflattering picture of a celebrity on the grounds that 'she shouldn't have been off her face'. Not a move to gain my sympathy.

tl;dr I would have gobbled this up had Susan Howatch written it (radiant, ravishing Westhampton!)

The Voice (Seicho Matsumoto) - short murder mystery stories translated from the Japanese. The pacing of some of these felt a little off; more than once I was able to guess the twist, and there seemed to be a lot of extraneous clue-gathering and other filler.

And I finally finished Fame is the Spur (Howard Spring), which proved to be only mildly depressing in a "show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart; show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains" kind of way. Once I'd had a chance to really get dug into it I enjoyed it, bar some distasteful male gaze-y stuff. Not convinced by Spring's habit of killing people off with no warning for, so far as I could see, gratuitous drama.


Up Next

Fiction: continuing with the light stuff, I think. Non-fiction: Walking a Sacred Path (Lauren Artress).


Other Media

Lots and lots of cycling on the telly. No other telly. Doctor Who was spectacularly silly in the grand old manner. Many songs on Youtube - a Facebook friend is doing a musical round-the-world tour, linking a video each day, one for each of the UN-recognised nations.
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Currently Reading

Still on Fame is the Spur, still think it's going to end up being very depressing, still going very slowly.

The Chalet Girl (Kate Lace) - unashamed chicklit with surprise Barchester. I am not convinced that the author knows a huge amount about the inner workings of the Church of England, and I am (again) having thoughts about how many cathedral cities can one fit into the south of England anyway, but will write more about this next week.

Scarlet Feather (Maeve Binchy) - possibly a 'too famous to need editing' problem? Lots of repetition. Also I hate the hero, who is jealous and possessive. And yet somehow I haven't stopped reading it...

The Lantern (Lawrenson) - continues purple and boring and I wish to slap a lot of the characters.


Recently Finished

Malinche (Laura Esquivel) - was very interesting but suffered from not knowing whether or not it was fiction or history, and also not having been very transparently translated. To my shame I'd never heard of Malinalli before.


Up Next

Not sure. Might really be The Spirit Level this time. It depends on whether my brain has grown back.


Other Media

More of La Vuelta. Also Lego Lord of the Rings - Anne played and I watched.
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Currently Reading

Fame is the Spur (Howard Spring) - I have reached the end of part I; finding it rather slow going as I fear I'm going to end up hating the main character and would rather not.


Recently Finished

No! I don't want to join a book club (Virginia Ironside) - exactly the right sort of thing to read in the bath while feeling snuffly and sorry for oneself. I liked Marie and her friends, though I felt that none of the revelations about being sixty were really that startling - or, for that matter, particularly connected to age.

Cocktails for Three (Madeleine Wickham) - pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. I wasn't convinced by the naive Candice and her problem, but the other two of the titular three were attractive and believable characters, whose various dilemmas felt real and were treated compassionately.

Remember Me? (Sophie Kinsella) - clichéd but entertaining amnesia plot, three years of life lost, etc etc. No idea whether the depiction of amnesia was realistic, but I rather enjoyed this.


Up Next

Back to Malinche, I think.


Poetry

The Orchard Book of Poems (ed. Adrian Mitchell) when I couldn't sleep last night. Absolutely delightful as ever.


Other media

Now thoroughly hooked on The West Wing; will have to trawl further charity shops for later series. Other TV consumption centred around the Vuelta a España. Devastated that the build team is leaving Mythbusters. (OK, perhaps not devastated. Mildly peeved.)
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Currently Reading

Fame is the Spur, Howard Spring. This for HQ book club, which does rather tend to go in for lugubrious political novels. My father describes it as 'band as before, but not so good' - but since I had not read any other Howard Spring that didn't mean much. I am a chapter in so far (chances of finishing it before I leave on Friday: low) and impressed by the linking of the Great War and Peterloo.

Malinche, Laura Esquivel. The story of Malinalli, Hernán Cortes' translator. It's clearly been thoroughly researched, and the details are precise and vivid, but the prose is very clumsy. I think this may be a translation issue.


Recently Finished

Stir-fry, Emma Donoghue. Utterly delightful. One of those books that makes you wish the slow train went just a little bit more slowly - as it was, I finished it on the way home. Such a rich, deep book, with the most perfect ending. I loved it.

White Feathers, Susan Lanigan, which I have been ridiculously excited about for months because I SAW THIS BOOK BEING WRITTEN, PEOPLE! Bits of it, anyway. Actually, the loveliest part for me was seeing how all the snippets I'd already seen (David Wentworth Hopkins! the importance of Russian literature! Sybil and Roma in Greece!) fitted in to the overall arc.

And knowing there is More Lucia Damnit that didn't make it into this novel is terribly frustrating. Lucia is a fantastic character, even in her limited role here. I do hope she gets her own book.

Anyway - a token attempt at an impartial review. The plot turns on the start of the Great War in 1914, and the pressure placed on men to enlist. More specifically, the pressure placed on women to place pressure on men to enlist - and for the central character, Eva Downey, it's sharpened to an 'either/or' point, when she is forced to make the choice between denying her sister a potentially life-saving operation and presenting her lover with a white feather. The results are, of course, devastating.

Eva is a convincing character, simultaneously clever, confident, and out of her depth. I've mentioned Lucia Percival above - a Jamaican nurse and aspiring opera singer, who's very vivid and three-dimensional. Christopher Shandlin, Eva's sometime teacher and eventual lover, also deserves a mention. (Usually teacher-pupil relationships squick me no end, but both try so hard here to do the decent thing that they get away with it.) Oh, and Sybil! I like Sybil a lot. A definite page-turner, particularly once the war gets under way.

I was a little frustrated by the way some important episodes (Eva's roasting for cheating, for example) happened off-screen, and there were a few turns of phrase that struck me as anachronistic. The only real major weakness, though, was the fact that we didn't see enough of Imelda, the consumptive sister, to make her a compelling character, and therefore make Eva's dilemma really convincing.

All the same, I very much enjoyed this book (and no, I'm not just saying that!) and I think it is going to be big.


Up Next

Not sure. By the time I get to the end of Fame is the Spur I'll probably be in a completely different mindset. Maybe The Spirit Level.


Other Media

I watched Bill and Ted' Excellent Adventure for the first time the other night. It was quite fun, but I didn't really see what all the fuss was about. Also continuing with The West Wing.
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Haven't done one of these in ages. I'm not going to try to catch up: here is what has actually been happening this week.


Currently Reading

The Lantern, Deborah Lawrenson, picked off the work swap shelf because I needed something to read while I ate my lunch and the blurb reminded me of pre-Starbridge Susan Howatch. This is set in Provence and the prose is as purple as the lavender fields. I'm only a couple of chapters in so far; I will probably give it a bit more before abandoning it, but it does seem to be in danger of collapsing under the weight of its own descriptions. The hero hasn't got cerulean orbs yet, but I suspect it's only a matter of time.


Recently Finished

Agent Zigzag: the most notorious double agent of World War II, Ben Macintyre - ripping true life yarn. While I felt that really one folk dancing joke was enough, I did enjoy this, and found it a very easy read.


Up Next

Fame is the Spur, Howard Spring, which I intend to borrow from my father and read in the four and a half days I'm on the Isle of Wight. I see no way this can possibly go wrong. On the mainland, Stir-fry, Emma Donoghue, which a friendly BookCrosser sent me a few days ago, and which is looking at me from the top of the bookcase.


Poetry

Connie Bensley. Really quite remarkably good - sharp and well-observed.


Other Media

I gave up on The Cycle Show after it combined creepy pickup-artistry, indulgence of bad driving, and two worthy stories in one episode. Still less failly than Top Gear, but then I gave up on Top Gear years ago, too. I have just started watching The West Wing, having picked up the first season for £4 in a charity shop. Two episodes in, and I'm interested, although having to stretch my attention to get my head around a large cast talking very fast with an American accent (no, I've not been watching much TV recently...)
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I haven't been reading much the last few weeks. Not a huge amount to report this week, either.

Recently finished

The Rosie Project, Graeme Simsion. This had the old compulsive plot thing going on, but I felt very uncomfortable reading it, and if it hadn't been for book club I'd probably have abandoned it. The portrayal of the protagonist felt caricatured and geared for cheap laughs. All the way through I felt it was mocking my friends, and possibly me.


Currently reading

European History for Dummies, Seán Lang. Does what it says on the tin - very much in the honourable tradition of Horrible Histories, but with actual dates and stuff, which is what I need at the moment. I could do without the feeble puns in the section headings, but otherwise I'm reasonably impressed.

The Naming of the Dead (Ian Rankin), for the other book club. Not getting on very well with this: Rebus annoys me. I'm hoping it will pick up.


Up Next

I picked up The Bishop's Mantle (Agnes Sligh Turnbull) in a charity shop the other day. I've seen this recommended around and about as a kind of American Barchester, so rather looking forward to this.


Poetry
Allen Ginsberg
Emily Dickinson
John Donne


Other media

Pretty much exclusively Wimbledon at the moment.
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Currently Reading

A publication to which I will refer as Watery Atlantean Homes 2012, and which is scaring me so much I can't use its real name. Also The Artist's Way (Julia Cameron) - though I am not so much reading this as doing it, and going wheeee shiny new project, as is my wont.


Recently Finished

Life After Life (Kate Atkinson) - which the world has been raving about, and which I certainly enjoyed. The conceit is that a child (born in 1910) lives her life over and over again, changing certain decisions, wilfully or otherwise. On the hwole, this worked, though I found some of the storylines worked better than others, and when the real historical figures popped up I got very irritated. (I don't mind a cameo from some august personage, and I enjoy fictionalised history à la Anya Seton, but when fictional characters start changing history I start to cringe.) I was most enthralled by the blitz sequence, which managed to be both gruesome and moving, and compared favourably with -

The Piano Teacher (Janice Y. K. Lee) which I read immediately afterwards, and which was clumsy and cardboard by comparison. Set in Hong Kong in the early fifties and the early forties, it also has the Second World War front and centre. It ought to have been a more interesting (because less familiar) story, but the author gave me no reason to care about any of the characters, and so it just went yada yada war misery yada yada death gloom blah. I think, too, that the dual storyline didn't work; the two streams were insuffiently integrated and neither felt finished or satisfying.

Paradise News (David Lodge) was rather sweet, though felt really quite dated. I suppose one could call it a belated coming of age story. In Hawaii. Content note for period appropriate racism, homophobia, etc, the period in question being the 1980s.

The Days of Judy B (Rose Heiney) - I bought this a while ago, before Libby Purves started annoying me - Heiney is Purves' daughter. I'm not sure whether it's brilliant or infuriating or failly or what. It hit close to home, and also didn't. At twenty-something (something early, too) Judy B is a gossipy yuppie columnist and also a complete social failure. I have been a complete social failure and occasionally it felt like what's shown here but mostly this was over the top and ridiculous.

Hide (Lisa Gardner) - thriller picked at random from the box at the top of the pile, and actually pretty good. I thought it was going to be a tedious witness protection slog, but it had a number of satisfying twists. It lost it towards the end, where too much had been witheld earlier, though.

I have a post on nitpicks in most of the above coming separately.


Up Next

The book clubs have chosen The Rosie Project (Graeme Simsion) and The Naming of the Dead (Ian Rankin). I have obtained the former but not the latter.

Need to join the library.


Other media

The new Cosmos, despite the freaky excuse-me-you-have-a-spaceship-in-your-eye credits sequence. Not bad, though I am saddened by the lack of Caroline Herschell. Lots of cycling - the Women's Tour, and now the Tour Series. We don't have a TV here yet, though.
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I'm a bit low on reading material at the moment, because almost all my possessions are a hundred miles away. I'm finishing up all my Surrey library books before I leave.


Currently Reading

Silence and Honey Cakes: the wisdom of the desert (Rowan Williams) - some absolutely brilliant stuff in here. If I had post-it notes to hand I'd be sticking them in every page.


Recently Finished

The Wayward Bus (John Steinbeck) - parts of it made me head!desk but the description is gorgeous. Plus it's got a bus in it.


Up Next

Anything. Ought to be Life After Life, but this will depend on whether it's reasonably accessible post move. If not, I'll resume the great Pratchett read-through.


Other Media

Almost cried at the last episode of Rev., yes. A great variety of songs on Youtube.
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Currently Reading

The Wayward Bus (John Steinbeck). Wondering whether Pa has read it; it feels as if he ought to have, but I don't remember his ever mentioning it. I am swimming in the gorgeous descriptions and rolling my eyes at the occasional Fail.

Pilgrim's Progress (John Bunyan) - Christiana is objecting to the fact that robins eat spiders. Good protein on a spider, I'd have thought.


Recently Finished

Abiding (Ben Quash) - never really got into this, and I don't know whether this was because it was too lightweight or too heavy. Some interesting thoughts on the verge of moving house, and some good leads on things I might like to read/watch, but not the Lent book I was looking for.

The Gap in the Curtain (John Buchan) - I am not entirely sure how I feel about this. The first chapter was rather embarrassing, in the same way that the Professor Challenger books get embarrassing when Arthur Conan Doyle gets into spiritualism. The rest of it was great, proper Buchan with adventure and creepiness in more or less equal measures. I'm finding it easiest to think of this as a supernatural AU.

Out of the Blue (Charlotte Bingham) - was dreadful; needed some serious editing. I am ambivalent about 'show, don't tell', but my goodness, I could have done with being told a lot less here.


Up Next

Silence and Honey Cakes (Rowan Williams) - will need to take it back to the library before I leave Surrey.

Life after Life (Kate Atkinson) - is for book club, but I've heard very good things about this and am looking forward to it.


Poetry

A. E. Housman and Leonard Cohen.


Other Media

Rev. gets more and more harrowing, and, as it moves further away from the cringe-humour, easier to watch. (My most painful episode is still the one with the inter-faith football match.)

Listening to a lot of Tom Paxton; also the King's Singers Lord's Prayer sequence/meditation/album/thing.
kafj: headshot of KAFJ looking over right shoulder (Default)
Currently Reading

Out of the Blue (Charlotte Bingham), which is pretty awful. It's a sort of time-travelly chick-lit (may be reincarnation rather than time-travel - they are just about to bring in a medium) with nasty misogynistic overtones (except for when it's a character the author likes) and absolutely no sense of time. Which is a problem, given the theme. The characters are not believable and the language is clumsy. Also, if the author must employ moustachioed-RAF slang, she might at least spell it correctly.

Nearly finished the first part of Pilgrim's Progress, though I fear I am not giving the spiritual discourses the attention that Bunyan would wish.


Recently Finished

Mary Barton (Elizabeth Gaskell). Do not use this as an organising manual. Or as a campaigning manual. Actually, I did enjoy the two separate halves of this book, but they don't mesh together very well, and Gaskell doesn't know enough about how trade unions work to make part two follow plausibly from part one. I'd recommend Strumpet City as a less sensationalist take on a similar theme.

Various Pets Alive And Dead (Marina Lewycka) - the banking collapse, as seen from within and also from Doncaster, via the perspective of an ex-commune family, one of whom has sold out. Rather fun but not her best.

Dash & Lily's Book of Dares (Rachel Cohn and David Levithan) - I was whingeing last week about first-person narrators. I nearly gave up on this one before the end of the first page because Dash was so annoying. So was Lily. But they improve as their paper relationship progresses, and this is quite a sweet book.


Up Next

Not sure; will see what I feel like on Monday morning.


Other media

Not much, due to sudden explosion of social life. I got to Monday night's Rev. on Thursday, by which time I'd been largely spoiled for the particularly topical aspects. I have to say that it didn't have me in tears, unlike the last time it dealt with this issue, although I did yelp in pain at a particular line of the Archdeacon's...
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The last two Wednesdays have been occupied with work-related socialising, and next week at least looks set to continue the pattern, so for the moment the reading post is decamping to Saturday.

Currently reading

Mary Barton (Elizabeth Gaskell) - I am a few chapters into this, and am mostly being irritated by the incessant footnotes. I can't tell whether this is Gaskell's fault or Penguin's - will have to look at another edition to check. What is also very noticeable is that she is writing for an audience who is most definitely not me - she's almost apologetic about the anger of John Barton, for example, and I hear far worse daily. On the same subject, which is a bloody disgrace in 2014.

In deliberate Lent reading, I am still going with Pilgrim's Progress (John Bunyan) - am now at the Delectable Mountains, further than I've ever got in the past, at least in the grown-up edition. Last night I was reading it in bed, with a chocolate biscuit and a shot of Cointreau. I dread to think what Bunyan would have made of that. I am still reading Abiding (Ben Quash), on a chapter-per-week basis. I find that I had read more of this last year than I had thought, and am concluding that it isn't going particularly deep.

Various Pets Alive And Dead (Marina Lewycka) - I stupidly borrowed the hardback, so not progressing fast, as it's competing with the other weighty tomes for my evening brain. But it's good fun so far. Likewise Les Misérables (Victor Hugo).


Recently finished

Three Men on the Bummel (Jerome K. Jerome) - not as good as Three Men in a Boat. Too much generalisation about the German character and not enough bicycle-related hilarity. I enjoyed such bicycle-related hilarity as there was, mind.

Big Brother (Lionel Shriver) - less fat-shaming than I expected, but that's not saying much, because there was still a huge amount of fat-shaming. Not believable. When you get to the twist, you understand why parts of it are not believable, but I - and the rest of the book club - felt that it was a bit of a cop-out.

Thought: it is currently considered undesirable for authors to stop their novels in order to pontificate. Is first-person narrative misused in an attempt to get around this?

Perhaps in the case of Big Brother. Not so much so with Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn). I was again annoyed by the unreliable narrator(s) (is this because people can't write unreliable narrators these days, or because I'm fifteen years older and more cynical than I was when I read that Agatha Christie?) - but I stayed up to finish it.

The Weather in the Streets (Rosamund Lehmann) - dreamy and pragmatic and cynical all together. I loved it, though it leaves a bitter taste.

The Subterraneans (Jack Kerouac) - rather faily, but honest about it. Last week may not have been the week to read it, as I was variously exhausted, drunk, hungover, and feverish. Or maybe it was. And who needs punctuation, anyway? Comes in the same volume as Pic, which I did not read.


Up Next

Life After Life (Kate Atkinson) has been selected as the next book club choice, though I have yet to obtain a copy. Possibly The Years (Virginia Woolf) or Nocturnes (Kazuo Ishiguro).


Poetry

It was Housman's birthday a couple of days ago (by bridges the Thames runs under...). Thinking it's time I had another go at Blake, too. I wonder where my copy's gone.


Other media

Rev. is back. Hurrah! It is still hitting my embarrassment squick, but it is still so good that I'm still watching it. I had been losing interest in The Musketeers (why, in the name of all that is good and logical, does d'Artagnan find out about the destruction of his farm - which has been hardly mentioned since week 1, if that - from Treville? Really, if that's how he looks after it I'm not surprised it got raided) but it has recaptured me with some awesome nuns. I am a sucker for awesome nuns.
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(notes, so I remember what to write up next Wednesday)

I was in the middle of

Pilgrim's Progress (John Bunyan)
Abiding (Ben Quash)


I had recently finished (only just finished, in some cases)

Gone Girl (Gillian Flynn)
Big Brother (Lionel Shriver)
The Weather in the Streets (Rosamund Lehmann)


I was about to start

Three Men on the Bummel (Jerome K. Jerome)


And I am too tired to write anything about any of them tonight.
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