I have just fallen in love! The man I’m in love with is called Daniel Gray and I have never met him, but I have read his book, Scribbles in the Margin: 50 Eternal Delights of Books and I know he is absolutely a man after my own heart. I have only two complaints about his book – it is not long enough, and it comes to an end. I just wanted to keep reading, saying YES, YES, that’s just how I feel, I totally agree, as I did so.
We recently had some guests over for dinner who had never been in our house before. (Which, by the way is not the picture above, that’s the library at Westbrook Station, Queensland, ca. 1898.) They sat for a few hours in our lounge facing two large bookcases which must hold at least a thousand books. And they never made a single comment about the books all night. About 500 of the books are about Jane Austen, so it is an unusual sight to say the least, but even that provoked no comment.
Stop All the Clocks by W.H. Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He is Dead,
Put crêpe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East, my West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song,
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Bring together a luxury train, a snowy landscape outside, a corpse on board, a group of suspects trapped in a confined space, and a funny little Belgian man with an egg-shaped head … and the scene is set for one of Agatha Christie’s most famous novels, and one for which she had a particular fondness. Murder on the Orient Express was first published in 1934, at a cost of seven shillings and sixpence per copy, and it has never been out of print since.
I love reading good murder mysteries. I love the sense of closure when the criminal is found out and brought to justice, I enjoy being part of the chase, I love the puzzle and knowing that I should try and pick up clues as I read. And of course, Agatha Christie is probably the most famous writer of mysteries of all time. Come with me on a literary exploration of one of her classic novels.
Here are some convenient links for Agatha Christie and Murder on the Orient Express.
I am a grandma!! Little Arabella arrived into this world in the evening of 30th November (which is Mark Twain’s birthday, so an auspicious day from a literary point of view)and I am fast discovering the truth of Shakespeare’s words: “a grandma’s name is little less in love than is the doting title of a mother.”
Many of you have ordered my literary monographs and enjoyed them. However, I am very aware that going into my website and using Paypal just to spend $3 is a pain if you are doing it every month. So I have decided to offer a full year of fabulous reading to all of you, with 12 monographs about great books and their authors.
A book plate (sometimes known as an ‘ex libris’, from the Latin for ‘from the books of…’) is a small decorative label pasted inside a book. Usually a book plate bears a name, a motto, coat-of-arms or badge that relates to the owner of the book. They illustrate pride in ownership of the book, and also evince their owner’s desire to be able to prove that the book belongs to him, should it go missing or be claimed by someone else. Book plates can really help a book make its way back to the rightful owner.
It was a dark and stormy night in 1816 when some bored writers were staying by Lake Geneva, and one of them suggested they all try their hands at writing ghost stories. They took up the challenge, and the result was Frankenstein, written by a teenage Mary Shelley. The others, Lord Byron who made the suggestion and Dr Polidori, Byron’s doctor, wrote their stories too, but none of these achieved the fame gained by Mary’s story of a scientist and a monster.
Abou Ben Adhem by Leigh Hunt
Abou Ben Adhem (may his tribe increase!)
Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,
And saw, within the moonlight in his room,
Making it rich, and like a lily in bloom,
An angel writing in a book of gold:—
Exceeding peace had made Ben Adhem bold,
And to the presence in the room he said,
“What writest thou?”—The vision raised its head,
And with a look made of all sweet accord,
Answered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”
“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”
Replied the angel. Abou spoke more low,
But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,
Write me as one that loves his fellow men.”
The angel wrote, and vanished. The next night
It came again with a great wakening light,
And showed the names whom love of God had blest,
And lo! Ben Adhem’s name led all the rest.
Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca is a novel with two heroines, though one is nameless and the other is only a memory. It’s a novel which has a hero who is a murderer. It has a haunting opening sentence which has become justly famous, and since its publication in 1938 Rebecca has enthralled readers and remained Daphne du Maurier’s most popular book.
Unless you are one of the lucky few, writing is not usually a lucrative profession. Many a writer has had financial problems, has written a pot-boiler just to reduce debt, or has died leaving only manuscripts behind. Somehow it always seems to redress the balance somewhat when a famous writer has been featured on a bank note or coin. Jane Austen has just gone on to the English £10 note and the £2 coin (making her the first person ever to simultaneously be on her country’s notes and coins), but which other authors have been honoured in this way?
I have just finished reading the last of Donna Leon’s series of crime novels set in Venice. For years now there has always been another book featuring the delightful Guido Brunetti and his family to look forward to, but now I’ve read the most recent and will have to wait for Donna Leon to write more (the next one, The Temptation of Forgiveness is due out next year).
For as long as there have been books, readers have felt a need to mark their place so that they know exactly where to start when they next pick it up. Bookmarks are therefore almost as old as books themselves. It is thought that bookmarks were used in 1stC AD codices. The oldest surviving bookmark dates from the 6thC AD. Made of leather and vellum, it was attached to a Coptic codex. Early bookmarks, it seems, were firmly attached to a volume. Detached bookmarks have not survived from early times, but no doubt readers used scraps of paper, bits of fabric, or anything that came to hand, much as many readers do today.
Sigrid Undset, one of the authors to appear on a bank note, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1928, mainly for her novel Kristin Lavransdatter. The book is a trilogy about life in Norway during the Middle Ages (its 3 books are The Wreath, The Wife and The Cross), and I’ve been re-reading it with enormous pleasure. Kristin is a heroine on the lines of Becky Sharp and Scarlett O’Hara, a feisty and wilful woman whose life is a tumultuous one.