Some bookshelves

I love looking at other peoples’ bookshelves, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, so I thought I would start photographing some of them. This bookcase originally belonged to my in-laws, as did some of the books but I have bought quite a few of them.

The second shelf houses what was a great find in a second-hand/used bookshop, a beautiful copy of Elizabeth’s German Garden by a lady. I just had to buy it, loved it and it led me to Elizabeth von Arnim’s other books.

I love old leather bound books, some people actually buy them by the yard/metre but that’s madness, they’re just crying out to be read. The cream coloured book on the top shelf is the first classic book which I ever bought. I must have been about 9 years old and it is Catriona by R.L.Stevenson. I bought it because the title is my name, Katrina, only with the Gaelic spelling. When I got it home I realised that it is the sequel to Kidnapped so I had to read that one first.

A lot of books like these ones were originally given as school prizes and such is the case with The Adventures of Don Quixote. It was presented to Miss Marjory Besford for gaining certificates in English, Latin, Mathematics, Science, French and Drawing – in 1909. She was my husband’s granny.

I’ve read most of the books now, but not Robinson Crusoe or Walter Scott, and my Thomas Hardy phase was a long time ago, in my teenage days, it might be time to re-visit some of them.

I admit to buying the Penelope’s Experiences books because they are so gorgeous to look at but the writing is lovely too. They’re by Kate Douglas Wiggin who is better known for writing Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm.

Uncle Tom’s Cabin has a nice cover too. It’s another of granny’s school prizes. For me, books turn a house into a home, whether they are leather bound beauties or mass-produced paperbacks. Often the oldies are much cheaper than new ones, nowadays.

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

I requested this book from the library because I had read about it on the internet and it sounded interesting to me.

Susan Hill suffers from the same problem that I have which is that I often spend a lot of time looking for a particular book. I always think that I know exactly where it is and I’m sure I saw it only a few days ago, but it doesn’t seem to be anywhere.

Whilst looking for that book she discovered books that she had forgotten about and others that she didn’t even know that she owned. There were hundreds of such volumes and she decided that she needed to re-acquaint herself with her own books. To that end, she decided that for a whole year she wouldn’t buy any new books and would only read those that she already owned, unless it was a book which a publisher sent to her for reviewing purposes or something which she needed to read for research.

The whole book is very chatty, for instance early on she discusses her favourite print fonts which was exactly what my family and I had been talking about just a few days before, my favourites are Johnston (the London Underground) and Gill Sans (the BBC). Admittedly, their father did think we were being a bit strange.

Sickeningly, Susan Hill had her first novel published when she was only 18 and still at school but as a consequence she has come into contact with a lot of authors over the years; publishing is a very incestuous industry. Some people might find the anecdotes about other writers a bit much but I didn’t mind.

She does tend to be a bit snooty about books, she wouldn’t buy a Richard and Judy book club book for instance. But I can outsnoot her there as I’ve never even seen Richard and Judy so wouldn’t know what they recommend. Strangely she isn’t a fan of Jane Austen and won’t read anything by a Canadian or Australian.

She doesn’t like Folio books, they are too perfect apparently. I adore Folio books because they are perfect. But Susan Hill is a strange book reader, she TURNS DOWN PAGE CORNERS! I think she is one of those people who think that a battered book is a loved book, whereas I think it is just an abused book.

In the end, she didn’t do what I thought she was going to do. I thought she would read some of her backlog of unread books and maybe do a few re-reads and write about them. However she chose forty books which are listed at the end and these are the ones which she decided she must take with her, presumably desert island style.

I think I might stop buying books for a while, I don’t know if I’ll be able to last out a whole year without buying books. I’m sure I have more than enough unread books in my house to keep me going.

But the thing is, I love visiting bookshops and so does my husband so either I would have to accompany him to the shop, which would be the equivalent of an alcoholic sniffing around a pub – too tempting. Or I have to wait outside for him and take up tap dancing to stop me from being really bored – it could be a very long wait.

I think I would allow myself to borrow modern books from the library though because I want to read the books which have been recommended by blogbuddies. Is that cheating?

This is the first Susan Hill book which I have read for many years. I remember reading some of her books in the 1970s but in the 80s I read a magazine article which she had written about the very short life and death of her baby daughter. It was very moving and I had just suffered a miscarriage myself so I think I have unconsciously avoided her since then. I might have a look and see what else she has been writing more recently, via the library of course.

If anyone wants to know which books Susan Hill chose for her Final Forty list, let me know and I will add them to this post.

Classic Children’s Literature

I’ve made a bit of a study of classic children’s literature over the years and although I don’t count myself an expert on the subject, I felt I just had to write to The Guardian Review about last week’s article by A.S. Byatt.

So I was really pleased to see that they had actually published the letter yesterday and illustrated it with a cartoon.

Letters section of Guardian Review 6/3/10

For some reason the Review letters aren’t on the website so I can’t link to them. I took a photo of the page instead. Here’s a close-up of my letter and their cartoon which was by Tom Gauld.

In general it was quite a good article but I do think that Byatt might have made some mention of the fact that so many of the authors she mentioned were actually Scottish.

I find that people from England tend to take it for granted that the great children’s classics were written by English writers. However, J.M. Barrie, George MacDonald, R.L. Stevenson, Kenneth Grahame and A.A. Milne were all Scottish. In the case of Milne, I believe he was born in England but brought up by Scottish parents and had a grandfather who was a church of Scotland minister. Just thought I’d mention it.

BBC Top 100 books.

I’ve just discovered that I’ve only read 45 of the BBC Top 100 books. That’s a bit of a shocker, I thought that I would have read at least half of them.

Obviously I’ll have to get stuck into the list and tick a few more off.

The Haunted Hotel by Wilkie Collins

I have to thank JaneGS and The Classics Circuit for encouraging me to read Wilkie Collins because I don’t think I would ever have got around to him otherwise. I’m on my third one of his now, (The Woman in White) but I read The Haunted Hotel over the Christmas holidays. Although I enjoyed it I was quite happy that it was a really short one, as I have so much of a backlog now.

Lord Montbarry has jilted his fiancee Agnes and married Countess Narona instead. As Agnes is well loved by everyone, they all turn against Lord Montbarry, however it seems to me that he was never a popular person. Even his brothers didn’t seem to get on with him, so the mystery to me is why Agnes was so in love with Montbarry in the first place? But such is life, I suppose.

Things don’t go well for the newly weds from the beginning and Lord Montbarry becomes very stingy with money. In an effort to save on hotel bills he rents a dilapidated, damp palace in Venice and his new wife’s ‘brother’ joins them there. The servants who have been brought from England are appalled at the behaviour of their mistress with her so-called brother and decide to leave for home as soon as they can.

When Lord Montbarry’s family in England hear that he has died they aren’t too surprised at first but then they discover that two insurance policies have been taken out on him and their suspicions are raised.

What had really happened to Lord Montbarry? Well I’m going no further so as not to spoil it for anyone.

I would recommend this one as an introduction to Wilkie Collins as it is a lot less wordy than some of his others. I can only suppose that at the time he wrote it he wasn’t being paid by the word – as so many authors were – and that was always a great incentive for them to pad things out. Either that or the opium that he had become addicted to by this time had exhausted him so much that he didn’t have the energy or the inclination to make it longer.

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens

Peter Pan in Kensington Gardens.
by J.M. Barrie.

I’m lucky enough to have my mother’s 1925 copy of this book, which has the lovely Arthur Rackham illustrations. Obviously this book comes under the category of a book from childhood but I’ve read it a few times since then and I always enjoy it. It is the very beginning of the Peter Pan story and is actually the middle section of The Little White Bird which was published before Peter Pan and Wendy.

The book starts with The Grand Tour of the Gardens, in which the gardens and some of the characters to be found there are described. Sexism is rife as you would expect from something written so long ago and by a Scottish man, but it is all quite tongue in cheek.

J.M. Barrie had a wonderful, fantastical imagination and a beautiful way with words.

Babies were birds before they were human and have to think hard to remember the time when they could fly.

Peter Pan escapes from being human by flying from the nursery window ledge when he is only 7 days old and flies to Kensington Gardens.

He knows that it must be past lock-out time as the place is full of fairies who are too busy to notice him. When he meets with Solomon Caw after flying to the island in the middle of The Serpentine he realises that he has lost faith in his ability to fly and so is stuck on the island. Solomon declares him to be a Betwixt-and-Between.

Although he is happy on the island for a while, he misses being able to play the way children do and begins to plan how he can escape from the island. Eventually he pays the thrushes to build him a nest big enough for him to fit into and he sails over to the gardens again, but he can only leave the island at night after the park is closed.

The girl in this book is called Maimie and when she is locked in the gardens overnight, the fairies build a little house around her so that she doesn’t die of the cold.

If you have read Peter Pan you might find it interesting to read the book which it developed from.

When Barrie was just 7 years old his 14 year old brother died in an ice skating accident and it is thought that this tragedy was what prompted Barrie to write about a boy who didn’t grow up.

J.M. Barrie is one of the few authors who made up a name for a character which became popular with parents. He came up with it because a wee girl of his acquaintance who couldn’t pronounce the letter ‘r’, described herself as his little ‘fwendy’.

You can visit the Barrie family home in Kirriemuir and the original Wendy house, which is the old wash house in the back garden. Kirriemuir is about 40 miles from where I live. It is quite a pretty small town which differs from most Scottish towns in that it was built from red sandstone instead of the usual grey.

When J.M. Barrie died in 1937, he chose to be buried in Kirriemuir with his family instead of in Poets Corner in London.

I reviewed this book as part of the Flashback Challenge.

Here is a video from 1937 showing some places of interest around Kirriemuir.

2010 Flashback Challenge: January

Strong Poison by Dorothy L. Sayers.

It must be about 30 years since I first read this book and although it isn’t my favourite Sayers read, I think this is a good one to start with. It was written in 1930 and was her sixth murder mystery to be published.

It introduces us to the character of Harriet Vane. At the beginning of the book she is on trial for the murder of her ex-lover, who has been poisoned. Lord Peter Wimsey sees her in court and becomes interested in the case as he can’t believe that she is a murderer, although all the evidence points to her.

He takes on her case and during the course of his investigations he falls in love with Harriet making it all the more important that he can save her from the gallows.

Lord Peter owns a detective agency which is disguised as a typing bureau which is staffed by women who can infiltrate offices and companies which need to be investigated. The nickname for the bureau is ‘The Cattery’ and half in jest – half in earnest Lord Peter has compiled a list of rules for his employees. Rule 7 is:
Always distrust the man who looks you straight in the eyes. He wants to prevent you from seeing something. Look for it.

A very good maxim – I think.

The story line is autobiographical, telling of a disastrous previous relationship and although Dorothy’s lover wasn’t poisoned, she probably wished that he had been. She didn’t seem to have much luck with men and seems to have written the character of Lord Peter Wimsey to suit her perfect idea of a man. The character of Harriet Vane is very much based on Dorothy herself.

I enjoyed re-reading this book, but then I’m keen on things which are set in the 1920/30s. I started reading Dorothy Sayers books in the 1970s and in 1978, completely by coincidence we moved to Essex and the office window of my new workplace looked into what had been Dorothy Sayers back garden in Witham. She was long gone by then as she died in 1957.

I’ve also enjoyed viewing the various adaptations of her books over the years on the television.

Edward Petherbridge was perfect as the aristocratic detective and Harriet Walter seemed made for the part of Harriet Vane.

If you enjoy vintage murder mysteries you will probably enjoy this book.

The Barchester Chronicles

I was lucky enough to be given the DVD’s of The Barchester Chronicles as a Christmas present and I’ve just finished viewing it all. I think this was one of the few classic book adaptations which I saw on television before I had read the books, so I had no idea if the BBC had done a good job or not.

I just knew that I really enjoyed the series, well you can’t go far wrong with such a brilliant cast I suppose. It was the first time that I remember seeing Alan Rickman in anything and he made a wonderful job of portraying the ghastly Obadiah Slope. Barbara Flynn looks so young too, it was made in 1988, which I can hardly believe.

Donald Pleasence, Nigel Hawthorne, Geraldine McEwan,Susan Hampshire and Clive Swift are the main players.

The series is based on the novels The Warden and Barchester Towers, by Anthony Trollope. A newspaper sets out to rid the Church of England of nepotism, using a young local doctor to spearhead the campaign. The reverend Harding, who is well-loved in the local community is targeted by the newspaper and his name is dragged through the press. At times of great stress, Mr Harding (who is in charge of the church music) plays the air cello whilst he is in mid verbal flow. I thought this was a great way of showing how emotional he became and I was pleased to discover that it is in the books.

When the old bishop dies, he is replaced by Bishop Proudie (Clive Swift) and his wife (Geraldine McEwan), with Mrs. Proudie very much the one wearing the bishop’s hat. I think that this might be quite a common occurrence as at the time the series was first aired they were exactly like a certain bishop and wife couple of our acquaintance with a diocese in the west of Scotland.

Throw in Alan Rickman as Obadiah Slope, Mrs. Proudie’s sleazy side-kick and you have a very entertaining series. Don’t be put off by the ecclesiastical ambience of the whole thing.

Trollope seems to have had as much fun with names as Dickens did. One character is called Sir Omicron Pie and there is a Sir Lamda Mewnew, both doctors to the bishop.

It’s a good long while since I read the books but viewing the series again has whetted my appetite so I’m hoping that I enjoy them as much as I did after watching the series the first time.

Flashback Challenge

I’ve been reading about all these book challenges that are going on and thought that it was about time that I signed up for one myself. The Flashback Challenge seems like a great excuse to re-read ‘old friends’ and I’m really enthusiastic about it, so I’m planning to read 12 books again, one for each month of the year – and here they are.

Flashback Challenge books

As I’ve never participated in a book challenge before, I’m just presuming that the idea is you write a review in your blog. Anyway, that’s what I’ll be doing with these books, although not particularly in this order.

1. The Enchanted April – by Elizabeth von Arnim.
2. Lark Rise – Flora Thompson.
3. And Quiet Flows the Don- Mikhail Sholokhov.
4. The Fortunes of War – Olivia Manning.
5. Strong Poison – Dorothy L. Sayers.
6. The Railway Children – E. Nesbit.
7. The Golden Age – Gore Vidal
8. To Kill a Mockingbird – Harper Lee.
9. Scenes of Clerical Life – George Eliot
10. Peter Pan – J.M. Barrie.
11. Kidnapped – R.L. Stevenson.
12. Rebecca – Daphne du Maurier.

I’m looking forward to it.

Memoirs of an Infantry Officer

If the Armistice Day commemorations and the documentaries about The Great War have given you an appetite for more, then you might be interested in this book.

It is a fictionalised autobiography of the war poet Siegfried Sassoon’s experiences in the trenches during 1916 and 1917. The main character George Sherston is Sassoon himself and the action starts at the Army School and goes on to describe the characters and actions along the way.

Sassoon became disillussioned with the war and he ended up being sent to Craiglockhart Hospital in Edinburgh, mainly because the poet Robert Graves (David Cromlach in the book) had managed to convince the authorities that Sassoon had shell shock.

It’s a great read if you are into the First World War. However, I was always aware that if Sassoon hadn’t been born into a very wealthy family with influential connections, he would have been put up against a post and shot.

For more information go to the online Sassoon manuscripts which I reached via this Guardian article.