Wednesday, 24 December 2008

Monday, 8 December 2008

Christmas List 2008

Making a list... Checking it twice...

On Christmas Day I'll find out if I've been naughty or nice...

I'm constantly looking for new books to read and the ever growing stack by the bed still contains some of last year's as yet unread gifted books - however that won't stop me from wanting more now, will it?

Dreams from my Father: A story of race and inheritance & The audacity of hope: thoughts on reclaiming the American Dream by Barack Obama - I was very excited about this election, more than I have been about any UK election since I was a student and Labour got into power (I was gutted at the time, but was confused about my own thoughts on politics and this was the first election that I was eligible to vote in). It was interesting to watch as an observer how Obama was able to turn a tide and become the first Black American President - I got up at 4AM to watch it happen and felt very proud to witness this moment in time. I really want to read these books because he is a man that you feel like you want to know.

Gary Rhodes 365 - I love a good cookbook and have quite a collection, I like the 365 days of the year concept of this one.

Blink: The power of thinking without thinking and Outliers: The story of success by Malcolm Gladwell
- I liked the zeitgeistiness of The Tipping Point and so would like to see how Gladwell's thinking has developed since I first read some of his work.

One Fifth Avenue by Candace Bushnell - I'm a big Sex & The City fan and got all of Bushnell's other books last Christmas from my very thoughtful other half - I didn't even ask for them either!

Alice in Wonderland Box Set by Lewis Carroll, with illustrations by Helen Oxenbury - I like the modern illustrations that Oxenbury has done to complement the original text. I'm collecting copies of books I loved as a child - you might say I'm nesting...

Tea with Mr Rochester by Frances Towers
- the Persephone edition - After enjoying my last Persephone book, I'm looking forward to getting stuck in to another.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons - sometimes I can't believe the classics I haven't read yet, and other times it fills me with excitement to know that I still have so much to look forward to.

Any of the Manga Shakespeare series - (other than Hamlet & Romeo & Juliet, which I already own and love), the illustrations are so brilliantly executed and directed towards a modern audience and such an obvious combination of form - why didn't I think of it?

The Chronicles of Narnia by CS Lewis - Another childhood favourite, I re-read these so many times, and may yet uncover them if I search in the cupboards at my parents house this Christmas. Still - it'd be nice to have the boxed set anyway.

The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton - I saw this recommended by another blogger and thought I would enjoy it. It does seem to be out of print, but I'd quite like an old copy to try it out.

The Writers Handbook 2009
- 2009 is going to be the year that I start writing again and I want to be quite disciplined about it. I always have the best intentions, but work tends to dominate alot of my time - the new year's resolution will be about dedicating some time to writing. I'll let you know what happens!

Friday, 5 September 2008

Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson

This wonderful romp of a novel was reprinted by Persephone Books having been lost to readers for many, many years. It has become Persephone's bestseller and consequently has morphed into a beautiful piece of cinema. I have taken the time to enjoy them both and I can conclude that it has been time well spent.

The Shop...
Persephone Books ( are a publisher and bookshop with a clear mission and brand. I really admire what Nicola Beauman has done with this business - as a businesswoman she has found a distinct niche within the publishing market that promotes itself as a lifestyle choice along with what Beauman herself describes as a kind of 'soft' feminism. The 78 books that currently form the Persephone catalogue are written by mainly female writers whose books struggled to maintain long-term notoriety and which all without exception are regarded to be extremely well written. On visiting the original bookshop on Lambs Conduit Street, London and browsing for about 15 minutes in the front part (this is the shop and the rest is Persephone Headquarters) the member of staff working there was constantly answering the telephone and taking orders, business seemed to be booming... Especially in the wake of Miss Pettigrew's foray into cinema. It was an extremely pleasant retail experience - I love good service in a shop, not intrusive, yet knowledgeable and friendly - full marks were had here.

Onto the Novel itself...
Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day is a Cinderella story with a twist: Cinderella is not young and beautiful, but rather a middle aged, frumpy and down-at-heel governess who cons her way into the lovely Delysia LaFosse's apartment and her life. Miss Pettigrew is painted and polished to hob nob with the social elite, and meets Joe, an underwear magnate who sees through to her very soul. It's a lovely inoffensive novel which makes you laugh and tugs at the heartstrings. This version also has some lovely illustrations and an excellent preface, setting the book in context and offering with lightness of touch, some insight into the author's world.

The Film...
It is interesting how liberal the scriptwriters have been with the plot and characters of the novel, infact much of the film bears little resemblance to the original storyline. However it manages to escape criticism because of this, due to the beauty of the film. The settings and costumes are magnificent. The contrast between the stark streets of London, Delysia's decadent apartment ( I want to live there!) and the racy Scarlet Peacock is really nicely managed. The script focuses very much on the two lead female characters and rather less on the pursuit of the men in Delysia's life and the two lead actresses (Frances McDormand and Amy Adams) put in some good performances as you see their relationship developing.

Miss Pettigrew has managed to fill three rainy afternoons for me - a visit to the shop, reading the novel, and watching the film. A satisfying way to have spent my time.

Tuesday, 2 September 2008

Wicked by Gregory Maguire

I purchased this almost three years ago in a bookshop browsing session in Barnes & Noble on New York's Fifth Avenue. As I recall I spent about two hours browsing there, had a drink and a slice of cake and then wandered down to Central Park. It was a warm day at the end of October and I was spending a couple of days alone in New York following some time in Florida with a Disney employed friend. Wicked the musical had just opened on Broadway and had a tremendous buzz about it. Try as I might, I couldn't get a single return without paying touts prices and when I saw that familiar image on a book, I thought it was the next best thing. I also bought The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell and The Notebook by Nicholas Sparks. At that snapshot point in time, my possibly somewhat naive impression was that these three books seemed to sum up the mainstream cultural zeitgeist. I read The Notebook on the flight home, and The Tipping Point over the next couple of weeks. Wicked had stayed by my bed for the last three years gathering dust.

Following the successful transfer of the musical version to the West End, I booked tickets and aimed to read the novel before I got to see the performance. I was glad I had done so, as there are many differences between the two.

Wicked is a prequel and in the latter stages parallel novel to L. Frank Baum's The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. I found the novel hard to get into, with the opening lacking some sense of pace and possibly due to the lack of a protagonist at the very beginning, indeed the novel takes us back to Elphaba's birth and the reader is not made to empathise with any of the other characters, so until we encounter adult Elphie, it leave us a little bereft. The premise is a good one and, like all good fairytales, it is dark and almost gothic in places. The character of Elphaba is particularly well conveyed and the intimacy in her adult relationship with Fiyero is very real. It is very definitely an adults book , a great read once the pace picks up, and it's intertextuality with the Wizard of Oz is endlessly satisfying.

The set prior to performance

The musical version strays somewhat from the plot lines set out by Maguire, although it is clear that in order to become family entertainment, it would have to be a little different - the scene in the club - need I continue? The focus of the story is on the development of the characters of Glinda, Elphaba and their friendship and less on the ethical struggle between good, bad and the grey areas in between.The staging of this production is no doubt incredibly expensive, but it is a triumph in theatrical design and spectacle. There is some stunning orchestration and the climax to the first Act 'Defying Gravity' is a perfect piece of theatre, which left me choked, and made the Act Two an anti-climax to an extent. Having read the novel I felt cheated by the 'Disney-fied' ending to the musical, but really that can be my only true complaint.

I'm not sure that I'll read more Maguire - I feel satisfied with this one, but it does come recommended.

Saturday, 30 August 2008

Valley of the Dolls by Jaqueline Susann & Tan Lines by JJ Salem

Valley of the Dolls
is a Roman a clef novel based on real life events but within a fictional context, which I believe caused quite a scandal when it was first published - lifting the lid on fame and it's associated struggles. This is particularly resonant in a time when every facet of fame is very much played out in the public eye. Witness the downward spiral of musical prodigy Amy Winehouse for a fine contemporary example.

The copy I read was a new edition by Virago Press with a beautiful cover by Biba founder Barbara Hulanicki, which raises the cover art above the realm of your average book and is complemented by a foreword from the delightfully scathing Julie Burchill. I took this away with me on a WAG style mini-break to a lovely hotel where we were upgraded to a very civilised suite with a huge art-deco style bathroom. It rained, and I read. I have to admit I loved Valley of the Dolls, it's a real page turner.

Tan Lines is an extension of Dolls, even having three key protagonists - the author J.J Salem has been hailed as the new Jackie Collins. The novel describes a world of 'Three women. With everything they could ever need. But nothing they really want.' Sound at all familiar? Still, it's a great read, fast paced and sharply observed. This is Salem's first novel and I hope he's not a one hit wonder, as I think he has a great future writing in this genre and I very much look forward to his next project. Who will he poach a plot from next?


Saturday, 23 August 2008

The Bluestocking Society's Lit Flicks Challenge

I found this challenge via another blogger's site and it seems like a particularly good challenge to bring myself in on, never having participated in one before.

I have come up with the list below and there are reasons for each selection. Now... coming up with the list is one of the most enjoyable parts of such an experience for me - the window shopping, the amazon-browsing - it's an enjoyable way to pass the time! I will be discussing my amazon obsession in a later post, but suffice to say, it's an addiction.

Lit Flicks Challenge

Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day by Winifred Watson: I'd been interested in Persephone Books for a while having seen other bloggers post about the bookshop and the array of books they have re-printed. I visited the shop on Lambs Conduit Street last weekend and bought Miss Pettigrew there. I got the Persephone Dove Grey cover as opposed to the new illustrated cover - it satisfies my aesthetic sensibilities! I'm hoping to see the newly released film as part of this challenge.

Breakfast at Tiffany's by Truman Capote: This is one of my favourite films, I love Hepburn in it, she is simply fantastic. I've never read the original novel though and this seems like a good excuse to do it.

Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden: The film is directed by Rob Marshall, who did such a good job on the film version of Chicago. I love the way he thought through everything so theatrically, staying true to the piece as a stage show. I wonder if he'll stay true to a book in quite the same way, so reading this first and then watching Marshall's film will prove or disprove my hypothesis about him as a director.

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier: I thought I should!

Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray: Vanity Fair is a classic piece of literature that I have never even come close to reading. The film had some scenes filmed in Bath, and I'll be interested to see it and although I'm not sure it's reviews were very good, it should still be worth a look.

I'm going to order my books now, and look forward to starting the challenge in September!

Sunday, 1 June 2008

Chick Lit or not to Chick Lit?

As the time up to my break from work was approaching I plunged head first into a Chick Lit frenzy. I couldn't help it, I needed to escape! For me, Chick Lit does exactly what it says on the tin: it's extremely easy to read; characters are (for the most part) easy to empathise with and instantly recognisable; it can be completed in one weekend and has nice cover artwork (That's important in Chick Lit - makes you pick it up off the shelf).

The modern boom in this genre took off with a favourite of mine, Helen Fielding's 'Bridget Jones's Diary' (I do realise this is the second time I've mentioned it in 4 postings, which may tell you something about me). Fielding captured the paranoia of a generation of young women, fretting over things that may seem ridiculous to some, but keep others awake at night. It's widely acknowledged that Fielding based her 'comment on society' creations on Austen's 'Pride & Prejudice' and 'Persuasion', and in this illustrious company lies my point about Chick Lit - it's been around for a long time & people enjoy it: when it's good it's very, very good and when it's bad it's horrible.

'The Love of Her Life' by Harriet Evans
A more multi-faceted protagonist than we are used to, some real emotion, an interesting reveal and glitter on the cover. A weekend's reading.

'Wedding Season' by Katie Fforde
Very sweet romance with a good pace to the plot and a number of well crafted characters. Very suitable for any reader who has found themselves attending upwards of a couple of weddings this summer. Three days.

'Plotting for Beginners' by Sue Hepworth & Jane Linfoot
Yawn. I think I was in the wrong demographic for this one. I nearly put it away half way through, but stubbornness made me stick it out until the end. This took ages as I started reading something else alongside it.

'This Charming Man' by Marian Keyes
This is an interesting one as it threatens to transcend the genre through tackling the topic of domestic violence and it's hidden nature. Humour is added through the cross-dressing characters - this is less crazy in context than it sounds here. A week's reading.

'Divas Don't Knit' by Gil McNeil
This has a good story at it's heart and a very current hook, picking up the revived trend for knitting. It was a nice read, but hasn't affected me beyond that. A day.

Once in a Blue Moon

I've been doing a significant amount of reading of late, but haven't found the time to write anything about it. Now I have a month's respite from work I'm glad I can use this time to get my mind back in order, exorcise the million thoughts that are roaming around up there, and attempt to maintain some sense of the status quo. I'm hoping to complete one post a day, until I've managed to clear the backlog of thoughts and then hope to continue at a somewhat more leisurely pace.

I'm also hoping to do some writing over my month's holiday, I've been feeling for a number of years that this is something I want to explore again, which I haven't done since University, and which I think will help to restore some balance between my work and my life - reading and writing being 'life', not 'work'.

Sunday, 4 May 2008

Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas

'To begin at the beginning'...

I was arranging a visit to Mousehole, Cornwall and whilst researching my visit (incredibly sad, yes - well informed, yes) I stumbled across Thomas' connections with this pretty village. A friend of his, Wyn Henderson, owned the now demolished 'Lobster Pot' harbourside. Thomas delighted in the village and proclaimed that he too, wanted to live somewhere like that. Llareggub, the fictional village Thomas describes is based on another harbourside village in Wales, but the influence of Mousehole on Thomas' creative thoughts is distinctly recognisable to anyone who has visited it and whilst I was reading, I imagined Mousehole through his eyes - the buildings and characters so incredibly vivid. We wandered along the harbour at night after a drink in the local hostelry - finding it silent and still, save the sound of waves against the sea walls.

This is a beautiful piece of writing: lyrical, humourous, quirky and theatrical. The voice of the narrator is particularly intelligent:
You can hear the love-sick woodpigeons mooning in bed. A dog barks in his sleep, farmyards away. The town ripples like a lake in the waking haze.
A picture of a community painted in words. Genius.

Friday, 18 April 2008

I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith

I was drawn to trying I Capture the Castle, as so many women cite this as being their favourite book. There are many points about the novel that I find absolutely charming: it's division into three phases of Cassandra's growth - each attributed to a different journal; Smith's descriptive skills and ability to capture the character's idiosyncrasies channeled through Cassandra's narrative voice; the empathy one feels with the character of Stephen, even as we view him through Cassandra's eyes.

On the other hand I found, until the very end of the novel, that the narrative voice (the character of Cassandra) was extremely irritating. Whilst I am prepared to accept that this was easier towards the end of the novel as she was growing up and less 'consciously naive', as she is described by Simon, and therefore this irritant is a deliberate narrative device... it still annoyed me and marred my enjoyment of the story Smith is telling her readers.

The claims of some to favour this novel over any others seems a little 'consciously naive' in itself to me - perhaps a little like my own claims for Breakfast at Tiffany's to be my favourite film of all time (although I adore it, in reality it's Bridget Jones' Diary that I'll return to again and again on a rainy day) and consequently it sits uneasily on my conscience and grates... just a little.

Next up... Under Milk Wood