Archive for January, 2011

Changing by choice

Monday, 31 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011So, it’s the end of January, and I’ve completed the month for NaBloPoMo, and am a month on track for PostADay2011. It’s been basically all books this month, but I have some ideas for getting crafts back in for February, and will make myself do some crochet stuff for March ItCroMo, although I still haven’t come up with a pattern or game for the blog as yet. Hopefully I still will…

Cover of Speech in the English Novel

Cover of Speech inthe English Novel

14. Speech in the English Novel (2nd ed.) by Norman Page

If someone had told me I had to read this book I’d probably have been very annoyed indeed, but when I chose to do so I found it very interesting, and a fairly quick read, for non-fiction. (I tend to read non-fiction a page or two at a time, whereas I devour fiction when I enjoy it.) I didn’t think I liked literary criticism in school, perhaps because it generally seemed to entail focussing on details to the detriment of the story, and without any explanation of how or why this analysis might enhance our understanding and enjoyment of the novel/play/poem/essay under discussion.

However, coming to this book for myself, and bringing my linguistic training to a developing interest (through this blog) in really thinking about what I’m reading beyond whether or not I enjoyed it, I found it both revealing and intriguing.

While the focus of the book is the place and use of dialogue in novels, the scope goes far beyond this, discussing types of speech and speech-like narrative; stylistics and realism within written speech; differentiation between different speakers and what this portrays to the reader, and more. There are plenty of snippets and sections quoted from novels published over approximately 250 years. The author suggests that the focus of this particular work is unusual, and that his purpose is to open up a discussion by setting out various features and definitions.

I’m not sure I’m ready to look into how much this topic has flourished over the past few decades, but I do appreciate that I may now occasionally notice more about the use of speech within all novels, not just English ones (or even ones in English, since Page only tangentially mentions world literature at all). I don’t think I’ll be doing so all the time, nor would I want to, since I still feel that focussing too much on the craft takes me out of the story being told, but I do think I want to follow up and read at least one of the books discussed in some level of detail here, Our Mutual Friend, by Charles Dickens. I’m dithering about simply listening to one of the three different versions on LibriVox only because after learning about the techniques Dickens used I’m inclined to want to see them on the page this time. We’ll see. I could read it on Gutenburg too, seeing as we don’t currently have a physical copy, nor is there one available locally on BookMooch at the moment.


Sunday, 30 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011I feel like an unusually large number of the novels I’ve been discussing lately have a military setting, but I suppose that’s not specifically a bad thing. There may well be more coming, too, since my DH has recommended the one he’s currently reading…


Cover of Landfall

Cover of Landfall

61. Landfall by Nevil Shute


This particular novel is set during the first year of WWII, as it had to be for any realism, considering it was published in 1940, and is about a young RAF officer on regular, boring patrol looking for German submarines and other shipping off the English East coast. Between flights he chats up a local barmaid and considers his future RAF career even beyond the current war.

One understaffed day, however, Jerry Chambers, finally sees and sinks his sub, only to get back to base to find there’s a British sub missing and he’s likely responsible…

All in all this is a nice, positive early war novel, before war fatigue had set in. We don’t meet any Germans in person, but they are up to dastardly tricks anyway, and the nobility and honour of our plucky British hero is there to be proven by the simple girl whose heart he’s won.

Class difference in relationships is certainly brought up in this novel, as something that is becoming less important but still has to be overcome, and there is a clear feeling that the war is acting as an equalising force.

Land and Sea

Saturday, 29 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011

Cover of The Sea Kingdoms

Cover of The Sea Kingdoms

13. The Sea Kingdoms: The History of Celtic Britain and Ireland by Alistair Moffat

This book was published after the author produced and presented a television series of the same name for Scottish Television, and many of its flaws and virtues reflect that beginning. I haven’t seen the series (although I might be interested). Roughly country by country the book goes through a broad Celtic history of the British Isles, including Scotland, Ireland, Wales, the Isle of Man, Cornwall and even England. It does not give any focus to Brittany, despite the early assertion that Celticness should be defined by language rather than race or other criteria.

The Celtic League and Celtic Congress consider...

The Celtic League and Celtic Congress consider Cornwall to be one of six Celtic nations.

While the editing missed a few things (one chapter in particular has an undue number of proofreading and other errors, and far too much emphasis is laid on mna si being an alternate phrase for bean si, or banshee, when any Irish child should have been able to point out that mná (women) is simply the plural in Irish for bean (woman), and thus mná sí would actually be banshees) the broad strokes of the history seemed correct where I knew enough to comment. My real quibble is with the chronology, which skips around a lot, even within given chapters, often making the point in question less clear. Similarly, a point made in one chapter sometimes appears to be contradicted in another.

Still, allowing for this not being a ‘scholarly’ history, I think it’s well worth the read, for bringing Celtic past and present together, as a true cultural heritage and largely ignoring (or at least downplaying) the tourist tat. It also makes a good argument in bringing forward the sea links that were so important in the early parts of this history (which includes some decent discussion of the Viking influence on the Celtic lands, and a return Celtic influence on Scandinavia) when land travel was often more difficult and nearly always slower.

I enjoyed this a lot, and may well follow up on the bibliography, if I can find the books. (I randomly came across this in a second-hand bookshop in Jerusalem.)

Curiously late

Friday, 28 January 2011
The Curious Incident...

Image by Vasanthakumar via Flickr

NaBloPoMo Jan201128. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon

Pretty sure I reread this one last summer because I was talking to DH about it. Not that he‘s read it yet, of course!

After leaving it this long, however, I haven’t got much more to say than I did last time. Still funny and plausible and touching without being mawkish. If you haven’t read it yet, then do! (And that applies to my DH too! 😉 )

Time passing

Thursday, 27 January 2011
Cover of "Noah's Compass"

Cover of Noah's Compass

NaBloPoMo Jan2011Memory lapses scare me. Not an experience I like. It’s one of things that puts me off drinking alcohol.

47. Noah’s Compass by Anne Tyler

For a book about memory I found this surprisingly unmemorable. Perhaps I should read it again, but I think I’d have to be in a very particular mood to want to do so. Maybe that’s a bit unfair, but I didn’t find this especially enthralling. I certainly didn’t mind finishing it, but it’s certainly not taken on favourite book status either. I really shouldn’t have left so long before discussing it, however, as that certainly isn’t helping my recall.

The characters are not unrealistic. I think the problem was partly that I was interested in where the first chapter seemed to be going, and then it didn’t. And while the twist possibly made for a more exciting story, it still didn’t come across as an exciting novel. Perhaps I should give this another go, as I feel like I’m missing something, and that this should be a book I’d like more.


Wednesday, 26 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011Like Clover, its immediate predecessor in the What Katy Did series (although Katy is barely present in this volume at all), which I discussed a few days ago, this was well read for LibriVox by Elli. I’ve heard this reader on other things as well, and she’s generally very good indeed, with expression and obvious care and understanding for what she’s reading. My two (very minor) quibbles with her reading are that she can be a bit quiet and that a few words are pronounced a little unusually. I’m quite happy to listen to more of her narration, however.

12. In the High Valley by Susan Coolidge

So,  we’re a few years after the close of Clover; the eponymous heroine of that book now having been Mrs Geoff Templestowe a few years, with the third sister, Elsie, having in the meantime married their cousin Clarence, Geoff’s partner in the High Valley ranch. At the start of this book Imogen and Lionel Young are on their way to join those living there. In England they are neighbours to the Templestowe family, and have met Geoff and Clover on a visit the couple made ‘home’. Lionel is back in England temporarily, to bring his sister to the High Valley where he is to become a third partner, with his sister to keep house for him. Unfortunately, she doesn’t rave about America, Americans, or Clover in particular the way those around her do, and she doesn’t quite have the social graces to hide the fact, either. She does her best, but perhaps isn’t quite cut out for rural Colorado

Free Books!

Tuesday, 25 January 2011
Eight Hamodia books

Eight Hamodia books

We just got our prize from a Chanuka raffle, and it’s a nice one. Expect reviews of at least some of these in the next few months.

As for free books for the rest of you, I just learned of new ways to access the cornucopia of material available on Project Gutenberg, Librivox and elsewhere. (I’ve recommended both of those sites here many times before.)

E.C. recently recommended a freely downloadable Kindle application for the PC, which you may find useful for paid products or free ones.

Somehow I missed it three months ago when it apparently started, but is now offering random rateable chapters of Librivox books to listen to. Each chapter has a link to the work’s info and download page so that ifwhen you find something you like you can listen to the whole thing. This seems like a great way to find new audiobooks (the RSS feed of what’s newly published is another), which I believe is the intention, but I also enjoyed just listening to what came up, hitting “Next” if I wasn’t interested in what came up. For me, poetry and chapters of old favourites were best for this, but some new random chapters were good to, even without knowing what came before. (This works better with non-fiction than novels, in my opinion.)


Monday, 24 January 2011
Yahoo avatar portraying woman and baby with cold

Feeling snuffly

I’m hoping to do a proper post for Monday, but baby and I are both rather under the weather, and I don’t have anything to rant about!


A terrible book with atrocious morals

Sunday, 23 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011As I intimated last night, I’d have given up on this book entirely by about the halfway point, if it hadn’t been for wanting to express what I’ve been feeling about it here. I was hoping it might redeem itself towards the end, but it just kept getting worse and worse.

(I’m not going to hold back on spoilers here, so be warned.)

Cover of

Cover of Daughter of Satan

11. Daughter of Satan by Jean Plaidy

This is the story of a proud woman under a changing set of judgemental religious and other social groups, and yet it’s the morals of the narrative I have a real problem with. From a young girl Tamar is supposed to have enjoyed the power of being seen as the devil’s daughter and thus automatically a witch, and played up to her reputation. However she discovers that she wants love rather than hate, and so starts giving herself over, one way or the other, to men who abuse her and/or those about her:

  • She takes her protector’s admission that he raped her very young mother while dressed up in costume – why her mother thought it was the devil – as part of a ceremonial he didn’t even believe in as a simple explanation of why he has occasionally, most desultorily, attempted to protect her, but as no reason to find any fault in him, and accepts him as her loving father.
  • While for most of the first half of the book she hates Bartle Cavill for physically attempting to rape her, and then twice coercing her into allowing him into her bed by threatening those she loves, she later on decides it’s all okay because she really loves him, even though he continues to have no respect for her feelings. While rape fantasies have a very long literary history, I’m still really not interested, as they make me feel sick to my stomach.
  • She marries a Puritan minister she knows full well looks down on her and wants to ‘tame’ her, in alternating feelings of wanting to obey his principles and trying to show him up.

Beyond the sickening morals of the book, at least as much as the protagonist, who has the excuse of a very weird upbringing in a very charged environment (she and her family are threatened by several literal witch-hunts, which ultimately kill her mother and step-great-grandmother), large parts of the story simply make no sense. Just because it’s a topic I’ve been reading up on, for example, Tamar saves her several-weeks-old-but-near-death baby in one night by unswaddling and washing her, and then taking her to bed to breastfeed on demand all night. I sincerely believe in the importance of breastfeeding, but the storyline is nonsensical: either she has been feeding the baby since birth anyway, or she wouldn’t have the milk to do it (she has older children of three and five, but since they sleep that night simply next to her – but hadn’t been doing so previously – while the baby nurses it doesn’t sound like they’re still nursing to keep up her supply).

There simply seems no point to most of what happens, and no particular conclusion at the end of the book that we couldn’t have had several times before. While some of the emotional vacillation may be realistic for some people we’re given nothing in Tamar’s earlier portrayal to have it seem realistic for her, nor are we given any reason to like Bartle even when he becomes the hero of the hour; he’s still overbearing and emotionally abusive, if no longer physically so to Tamar.

There’s no real depth to any of the characters besides Tamar, and even what seemed interesting about her ends up multiply contradicted by the end of the book. Richard, her father, is possibly the second most developed character, and he never becomes much more than his first description:

One look at him was enough to show him to be a most fastidious man. … He was pale of face, haughty and most elegant; he looked what he was — a mixture of savant and epicurean.

It seems to me that the author simply noticed the 17th century confluence of the naval disputes between Spain and England, the Inquisition and other religious persecutions of Christian denominations other than the nationally established one, and the constant persecution of women generally and anyone who could be accused of ‘witchcraft’, however defined, as well as how that led to the beliefs and practices of the Massachusetts Bay Colony. She is certainly trying to hark towards historical and literary references such as Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter and the Salem Witch Trials.

I suppose what I’m trying to say is that this book had a lot of potential in its topics. Unfortunately, I hated it, and won’t be keeping it. Nor will I be looking out any more books by the author.

(Hm, I must have forgotten to ever put The Scarlet Letter on the 2009 list or then discuss it on the blog. I certainly listened to it on Craftlit.)

Past and present

Saturday, 22 January 2011

NaBloPoMo Jan2011I thought I might have a new book for the reading list and to discuss here already, but I haven’t quite finished it, so here’s another catch-up from 2010. Far less frustrating than that current novel, which I’m literally only reading the second half off to discuss here!

Cover of Frogspawn and Floor Polish

Cover of Frogspawn and Floor Polish

62. Frogspawn and Floor Polish by Mary Mackie

I assumed I must have discussed this book here before, but apparently I actually hadn’t reread it in the past three years. It’s part of a trilogy discussing the author’s experiences living at Felbrigg Hall, a National Trust property her husband Chris Mackie was working at and then managing.

Like the others it is both informative and amusing, with a few laugh-out-loud moments. As a former long-term National Trust member, it’s decidedly interesting to find out more of the behind-the-scenes action, and the lives still lived at these properties we mostly only see as day visitors, trying to get a taste of what went on there in the past.

Despite all my intentions I never did get out to Felbrigg itself, not having any other reason to go in that direction, but I much enjoyed the NT sites in and around London, and previously York, when I was living there. If we lived in the UK I’d probably be a member still.

But back to this book. While I believe all three of the series were written after the Mackies left Felbrigg, this third is the one that’s really set after they left, with much discussion of their later visits back, and reminiscences of their own time there. This makes it possibly more episodic than the others, although I don’t call that a fault.

Well recommended for anyone who enjoys gentle humour, background looks at public places, or National Trust members generally!