I do love reading books set in bookshops. Recently I very much enjoyed The Diary of a Bookseller by Shaun Bythell. It recounts the joys and pains of running a second-hand bookstore and is full of amusing anecdotes. I do not much share Shaun’s reading tastes, and almost every book he himself read or recommended, or even sold, seemed to have been written by a man and I was tempted to send him a good list of books by women. But his book was funny and sad at the same time, and it did make you ponder the troubled future of bookshops. He describes how one day he shoots a kindle, then sticks the damaged kindle on the bookshop wall, as a warning to his customers of what e-books are doing to shops like his.
Naming of Parts by Henry Reed
Henry Reed (1914 – 1986) was a journalist, radio dramatist and poet. He’s not particularly well known today, but I have always loved his war poem Naming of Parts:
Today we have naming of parts. Yesterday,
We had daily cleaning. And tomorrow morning,
We shall have what to do after firing. But today,
Today we have naming of parts. Japonica
Glistens like coral in all the neighbouring gardens,
And today we have naming of parts.
Throughout the 19th and early 20th centuries many English citizens travelled to Italy and even settled there. Some went for the warmer climate, others because it was a cheaper place to live. However, many of these travellers refused to really adapt to an Italian life-style. In A Room with a View, E.M. Forster makes superb comedy from the contrasts.
Although I recognise that A Room with a View is not as great or complex a novel as is A Passage to India, I do prefer it. I love the book’s contrasts between an uptight English Edwardian village and the passion and beauty of Italy, I love the way music is used to tell us so much about character, and I always laugh over Charlotte Bartlett who is just like one of my own relatives.
My reading year has gotten off to a cracking start. Let me share with you some of the books I’ve really enjoyed:
A Strange Beautiful Excitement: Katherine Mansfield’s Wellington 1888 – 1903 by Redmer Yska. I thought I knew a lot about New Zealand’s greatest writer and I even some years ago recorded a CD for a British recording company on Mansfield’s life and writings (you can buy my CD Finding Katherine Mansfield here), but this book was a real eye-opener.
I was so delighted the other day to discover that a new jigsaw puzzle featuring covers of various Jane Austen-related books includes the American cover of my book about 200 years of Pride and Prejudice. It has been said that “life is a jigsaw puzzle with most of the pieces missing” – perhaps that is why I find it satisfying and calming to work on a puzzle.
Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson
Under the wide and starry sky
Dig the grave and let me lie:
Glad did I live and gladly die,
And I laid me down with a will.
This be the verse you ‘grave for me:
Here he lies where he long’d to be;
Home is the sailor, home from the sea,
And the hunter home from the hill.
Oscar Wilde once described a second marriage as “the triumph of hope over experience”, and these words are only too true in the case of Helen Huntingdon, heroine of Anne Brontë’s powerful novel, The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Helen’s first marriage is miserable, violent and lonely, but she is a strong heroine who emerges from the experience wiser and able to make a better choice. Her second love affair is markedly different from her first.
This was a novel that shocked the Victorian reading public – “coarse”, “brutal” and “morbid, revelling in scenes of debauchery”, were just some of the insults thrown at it. Critics felt she had focused on morbid and disagreeable subjects, and that her book should not be read by young females. However, the novel also excited readers and within a month of publication, a second edition was being prepared. I think it is a remarkably modern novel and still highly relevant today.
Here are some convenient links for Anne Brontë & The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.
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.