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book meme

Thursday, 8 September 2005

Annie from Going Underground has tagged me with the book virus currently doing the interweb rounds. So…

1. Number of books I own
1000+. There’s about 500 Doctor Who books alone, but even if you discount them I’d still say over a thousand. If people can actually answer this with a figure then I suspect they need to read more. Or are very good users of the local library.

2. Last book I bought
bookshop: The Palace Tiger by Barbara Clevery and The Silver Pigs…it says over in the left ‘to be read’ column.
charity shop: Busman’s Honeymoon by Dorothy L Sayers and Girlfriend in a Coma by Douglas Copeland.

3. Last book I completed
Busman’s Honeymoon. I was in the nmood for some light crime. This book did have the unintentional side-effect of reminding me to book my chimney sweep before the month is out. Before that, it was The Palace Tiger – more light crime. I like the idea of a ‘golden era’ pastiche series set in Raj India and it was enjoyable so I may try another to see if the series is worth reading. And I’m about three chapters from the end of The Secrets of the Jin-Shei which is a curious one.

4. Five books that mean a lot to me
Eep. Can I nominate myself? Very well, in no particular order:

  • The Girl with a Pearl Earring by Tracy Chevalier
    Light and subtle, yet heart-capturingly sensual. From the light playing on the icy canals to the brush of vermillion on her apron and the heat rising from the markets, this novel slips into the brain and stays there, hauntingly.
  • The Man in the High Castle by Philip K Dick
    Really, I should say “almost anything by PKD” but if there is one which captures my favourite elements of his work, it’s this one. A writer in a present-day (i.e. 60s) America – where Japan occupies the West Coast and the Nazis occupy the East Coast – begins to wonder if the reality he lives in is real. Maybe there’s another universe out there? One in which the Allies won the war? It combines the normal reality-shift narrative with the alt-history genre and was written when PKD was going through a more self-disciplined phase.
  • Warring States by Mags L Halliday
    I feel rather daft putting this here, but it is a book which means a lot to me. It’s the first thing I’ve written where I struggled to let go at the end and where the narrative and characters are personal to me. There were also massive personal crisises during the years I was working on it but I just couldn’t let it go. So it does mean a lot. It just looks terribly self-reflective of me to choose it.
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
    Back when I moved school, aged 13, I had a conversation with my new English teacher. He – and it was an old-fashioned type in a tweed jacket – was dismayed to learn my free time reading was filled with Raymond Chandler and SF. He gave me a copy of Persuasion and told me to read it. I got as far as the end of page 1. It was alien to me: not just the world it contained or the language but the narrative. Many years later, after studying Pride & Prejudice at college – and this was in the pre-Firth P&P era – I found I quite liked Austen after all. Many years after that, I finally dared approach Persuasion again, though old memories of that opening page made me wary. I loved it. I think books that mean something may not be the best literature, or the best work by an author, but the ones that come with personal history wreathed around them. Persuasion is about being given a second chance to love, so it seems appropriate that I gave it a second chance.
  • Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier
    Gods, I’m just picking romances…This is a book in which it is the actual copy I own which means a lot, rather than the story itself. My copy was published in 1947 on the flimsiest of post-war paper and bound with purple cloth-covered card. Over the decades, the cloth has faded with the sun and the spine is worn thin. This is my mother’s copy and has travelled halfway around the world and back. When I left home, she gave it to me.
    Plus it has Cornish wreckers, a villainous vicar and a gypsy hero. What more escapist nonsense could you want?

5. Who shall I tag next?
Ladylark because she is smart, Kalima because she knows sexy prose, Badly Dubbed Boy because I’m curious, Paul From the Orient because he is clever (and because he has a book blog like mine…).

Book clubbing

Saturday, 20 August 2005

There’s a reason Iggy Pop never wrote a heady slow-swirling song about going book clubbing. Rachel Cusk in this week ever-slimmer Guardian Review (are they all on holiday, or has even the grauniad given up in the face of yet another series of X-Factor?), details one she joined:

The serious book club processed the steady stream of contemporary literature with the application of an all-female decoding centre appointed by a cultural ministry of war.

This is what puts me off book clubs. Like writers’ circles, they raise the spectre of cultural conformity and a desire not to be seen to stupid. I always suspect they magnify a provinciality of mind because the people who become regulars are as likely to be there for reassurance as for argument. Perhaps it’s the spectre of all those near silent seminars I attended at university, where no one wanted to be the first to venture an opinion in case it’s the wrong one. Or the distant echo of English classes at school, carefully decoding Thomas Hardy and not being free to say “he’s a monumental bore whose prose neither excites, invigorates or delights and whose plots are staid and stale”. It’s not the ‘set texts’ element: Austen was a ‘set text’ I disliked, unlike a year later I found myself wanting to read her again. And I could do with some order and structure to tackling the to be read mountain in my living room. So despite the fact I’m curious, I still sheer away from the idea of a book group like a frightened horse. Does anyone I know attend such things? And, like writers’ circles, can they be better than my low expectations?

Meanwhile, I have a crowded weekend working up something, a mountain of day job writing to complete, someone visiting and a trip to Edinburgh. (Did I mention I have a ticket for Serenity? Oh, I did? Want me to mention it again?) At least I have some wine in the fridge and a vaguely clean attic for once.

Lazin’ on a Sunny Afternoon

Saturday, 13 August 2005

Lazin’ on a Sunny Afternoon
Originally uploaded by Mags.

Settling down in the garden, with all the key requirements for a reading session (garden chair, sunglasses, fresh hot tea).


Saturday, 2 July 2005

This morning, I decided to try tidying the shelves of the study/attic. So far I’ve managed to literally decimate them and have twenty books stacked up waiting to go to the charity shop. They’re mostly:

  • UFOlogy
    A subject I lost interest in quite a while ago. I did keep the small section of 70s “gods are aliens” paperbacks. I should maybe call that “von Daniken’s corner”. As a child I was fascinated by his books: the text is not particularly readable, although you can argue charitably that its the translation which is at fault, but I loved the images and ideas. On the other hand, a lot of Fortean mass market books tend to have a particular style. I’ve been reading The Case of the Cottingley Fairies and have been stuck by its failings. I’m not going to review it here as I’m going to try for the Fortean ‘classics’ review slot with my opinion.
  • Cat care manuals
    I used to worry about things like “why is the cat eating grass?”, “are they supposed to walk backwards as they puke?” etc. but I think my basic cat maintainence skills are now sufficient for me to ignore the manuals. Although I’ve kept Dr Xargles Book of Earth Tiggers, obviously.
  • The Da Vinci Code
    I was going to pass it around for others to enjoy my marginalia (“that’s wrong!”) but I think it’s better off in the charity shop. The novel was always going to have a hard time with me: I work in internationally reknown museums, I’ve read a lot of articles over the years on Rosslyn and the Templars, and I’ve got an art history degree. But even if I allow that most readers will not know the backrooms of museums, the Temple in London or that Leonardo Da Vinci’s name should be shortened to ‘Leonardo’ not ‘Da Vinci’, I still didn’t find the novel enjoyable. Highly readable, of course, but my airport thriller choice will remain Robert Harris.

The main problem is that even with these books taken out, I still don’t have room for the Warring States research books. I want to keep them together. I need more shelves.

Note: I have no idea if my CSS and HTML is OK under bloggers new code. If it isn’t, I’m afriad I won’t be fixing it straight away…

The guilty pile

Saturday, 11 June 2005

I always feel vaguely guilty when I fail to finish a book, as if the fault must lie with my application, concentration or (lack of) brains and cannot possibly be the fault of the writer and/or their prose, theme etc. One thing maintaining this blog is making clear to me, though, is that I must become more ruthless. If I’m not getting anywhere with a book, if it sits in my bag or by my bed (or next to the bath) for months and the bookmark never shifts, I should acknowledge my abandonment of it. My pile is nearly at 50 books so I must accept that some times I can’t read a book.

Often I buy a book, get a few pages in and promptly abandon it for something else. I just read Silverfin, for example, which languished at the bottom of my bag for the entire London/Paris holiday whilst I read a copy of The West End Horror found in a flea market. I eventually picked Silvefin back up and read it on a trip to Bournemouth. It was great fun and rather enjoyable but it just clearly wasn’t right for my mood in Paris (“Silverfin is a great novel for reading in Bournemouth” isn’t really a selling review, is it?). The Gabriel Garcia Marquez Collected Stories has been lurking first in my bag then on my coffee table for upwards of three months, however, so I think the time has come to admit it has been abandoned. I might pick it back up again in a few years, I might not.

Right now I’m reading Cranford by Elizabeth Gaskell. An Eng. Lit. friend called her “b-list” in terms of the classics of Victorian literature and I’m not sure I’d disagree. What struck me about Cranford, however, was that it was a mid-Victorian version of Desperate Housewives. Obviously, there is rather less sex with gardeners/plumbers/hookers and so far no one has murdered anyone, but it did come out serially and it does involve a group of middle-class wives and the gossipy microcosm they inhabit.

If a married couple come to settle in the town, somehow the gentleman disappears; he is either fairly frightened to death by being the only man in the Cranford evening parties, or he is accounted for by being with his regiment, his ship, or closely engaged in business all the week in the great neighbouring commercial town of Drumble.

The book may yet become abandoned, as a trawl around the local charity shops today produced another five books for the pile.


Thursday, 12 May 2005

Despite no longer being required to read Victoriana, as my own venture into the genre is off to bed, I have added reading.victoriana as a genre tag. I seem to have read three in the last few weeks alone…

Victoriana is, obviously, distinct from reading.C19th which is genuine Victorian fiction.

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