Posted on | January 4, 2012 | 26 Comments
Happy New Year! I don’t tend to make many New Year resolutions but I made one this year to blog more frequently. Stepping back from blogging in 2011 was good for me as it allowed me more time to focus on my career and my personal life and it was also good for my reading. Ironically blogging had started to change the type of reader that I am and I needed to return to my reading roots. Last year I didn’t record what I read or how many books, although this was something that I had done pre-blogging, but I wasn’t being swayed by review copies, literary prize reading, challenges or blogging hype either. Returning to reading on a whim was good for me and I read for me again rather than for Paperback Reader. The only review copies I received were unsolicited ones and I was led more by my own instincts once again. Receiving a Kindle also revolutionised my reading as I felt that my reading options were limitless, rather than being limited to those books pressing for review.
The photo above shows my three favourite books of last year: one I had on my wishlist for years and received for Christmas 2010, another published last year that appealed, and one by the author of one of my all-time favourite novels, of whom I had been too afraid to read anything else. I think these books reflect a more balanced approach to reading that I had been missing.
However, I have also missed aspects of blogging and resolved to dip my toe gently back into it. Today has been the first day of 2012 that I have actually read anything and that was inspired by the Australian Literature Month being hosted by Kim(bofo) of Reading Matters; in the maddening throes of a reading slump where nothing would stick in the last week of 2011 and nothing was picked up in the first few days of 2012, I decided to throw caution to the wind and read something Australian. Hopefully Cloudstreet by Tim Winton grips me and doesn’t let me go until the last page.
Posted on | December 18, 2011 | 7 Comments
First of all, apologies for the delayed Persephone Secret Santa reveal and thank you to my co-host Verity for holding down the fort and providing a full list of this year’s recipients. I have had a crazy week month year and have been feeling a little under-the-weather. However, it is often in times of manic working when the perfect reminder comes along of how special Christmas is to me and injects me with some long-overdue festiveness.
Two Sundays ago (yes, Royal Mail actually deliver parcels on a Sunday in the lead-up to Christmas) I received the above parcel from my lovely Persephone Secret Santa and the abundance of beautifully-presented gifts had me squealing like a small child on Christmas morning; they were almost too lovely to open and it was all I could do to put off off that pleasure to take photographs. Helen, whom I know from the Virago Modern Classics group on LibraryThing and her participation in Persephone blogging events, thoroughly spoiled me. In my packages were Persephone book #14, Farewell Leicester Square by Betty Miller; a green Virago Modern Classic also by Betty Miller, On the Side of Angels; a Gisela Graham Christmas tree decoration; a tin of Amattler amattlons; a notebook and a bar of Jasmine-scented soap plus the wooden gift-tag above that is also hanging on my tree. A huge thank you to Helen for being so very generous and for introducing me to the wonder of amattlons (cocoa-dusted almonds from Catalonia), of which I now want to own a vat. Helen was incredibly thoughtful and chose a Persephone book for me that I have desperate to read and including a Virago by the same writer was a wonderful surprise. Moreover, Helen managed to happen across a Gisela Graham glass tree decoration that I have been coveting; I had bought one of the three Victorian-inspired ornaments in Liberty on my first visit to the Christmas shop this winter and had intended to buy the other two. Regrettably I can’t find them online to show you (and can only post one photograph in my posts) but trust me when I tell you that they are divine and are hanging in pride of place on my Christmas tree.
Rather dull in comparison is my own Persephone gift received by my Santa this year, Emily of Seriously Reading, who serendipitously played Santa to my co-host Verity.
Thank you to everyone who participated in this year’s Persephone Secret Santa, who exhibited such generosity and creativity of spirit and here is to curling up with a Persephone book these holidays.
Posted on | November 21, 2011 | 9 Comments
For the first post in, again, quite some time, I have entered into dialogue my fellow blogger and friend, Simon of Stuck in a Book. Please enjoy our ramblings about One Day by David Nicholls (the obligatory orange jacket for the book accompany this post – it appears everywhere else so why not here?!)
SIMON: So, Claire and I had both read One Day by David Nicholls, along with seemingly everyone else in the world, and we both wanted to put up posts on it. But we thought it might be fun to do something a bit different. We’re having a real-time conversation via email, and will post the results on both our blogs… hopefully it’ll have the feel of a book group, but with the bonus that we can edit ourselves to sound better! Hi Claire! Hope you’re well?
CLAIRE: Hi Simon, I am well, thank you. Funnily enough, I was watching something that provoked me into thinking about missed connections/potential but interrupted moments, which was the essence of One Day, in my opinion. I found those “what if?” and *nearly* sections of the novel both frustrating and emotive; I think we can all identify with them on some level. What do you think?
SIMON: Good point. I suppose, in outline, One Day is fairly inevitable – we know the lives of Dexter and Emma are going to overlap after their day/night together at the end of university – otherwise there wouldn’t really be any point to the novel. So Nicholls had to lace it all with will-they-won’t-they moments, near-misses and misunderstandings etc. I suppose One Day could borrow that ‘only connect’ mantra from Howards End – it’s about two people trying, and repeatedly failing, to connect with each other. I was worried it would feel too gimmicky, the concept of coming back to each of them on the same day every year – or too full of coincidences – do you think it was?
CLAIRE: I felt it was very contrived. The anniversary of when they met happened to be the same date as all of those key moments in their relationship and [the big spoiler at the end!]? Really? Life is full of coincidences but I think that Nicholls took the gimmick too far. I agree though that it is about two people trying -and failing- to connect with each other. I think that the reason I found it so frustrating is that those near-misses and misunderstandings are such an integral part of life and something we have all fell victim to at some point … I felt that Emma and Dex’s relationship was hopeless/futile and that these connections are so often outwith our control/at the whim of fickle fate and a bitchy traveller who steals other people’s books!
Your allusion to Howards End reminds me of the tribute the book made to Tess of the D’Ubervilles and Hardy; it’s been so long since I read Tess (and I have a hopeless retention for key plot details) but what was the relevance between it and One Day?
SIMON: Oh gosh, now you’re testing me… The letter goes missing under the carpet in Tess, maybe that? Can’t see much of a link between the two, myself. Nor did I find One Day as contrived as I’d thought it might be – because big events were recalled, rather than all happening on July 15th. But I agree that The Big Spoiler Moment happening on the same date as their meeting was a coincidence too far…
Whilst we’re on intertextual references – I was chuffed to see what Emma had on her bedside table at the beginning of the novel. Now I can’t remember what they all were (argh!) but I do know that I’d read them all – there was Milan Kundera, maybe a Muriel Spark? It certainly made me like Emma, at the start at least. I’m easily won over like that. How sympathetic did you find Emma and Dexter, and did it change as the novel progressed?
CLAIRE: That sounds about right; I knew it was something about miscommunication/confessions going astray! I did think it was clever that we were told rather than saw some of the key moments in their relationship as everything occurring on July 15th would have been ridiculous,
I was delighted by the intertextual references – we do love our books about books! I took note of this wonderful quote about Muriel Spark.
But at the best of times she feels like a character in a Muriel Spark – independent, bookish, sharp-minded, secretly romantic.
I certainly warmed to Emma, at the start, due to her love of books; however, both she and Dexter grated on my nerves throughout and not just because of their ineptitude in getting together. My sympathies towards Dexter changed as the novel progressed, as I found Dexter became more sympathetic, but, conversely, Emma became an unsympathetic character. Regrettably, Emma was far from the Muriel Spark character that she professed to be. Ultimately, I didn’t like either of them very much- did you?
SIMON: There were definitely moments when I couldn’t imagine Dexter being any more loathsome. The period where he was constantly on drugs, doing appalling television, feeling self-important and neglecting Emma – I just wanted her to high-tail it outta there. I found this quotation, from that year, one of the most moving in the book:
Dexter, I love you so much. So, so much, and I probably always will.’ Her lips touched his cheek. ‘I just don’t like you anymore. I’m sorry.
I think the conflict between loving and liking someone (romantically or otherwise) is something with which we can all identify. Nicholls phrases it so simply there – and since it comes at the end of a long scene where Dexter has proved unbearably awful, and Emma has tried so hard, I found it really powerful.
But I came out the opposite of you – by the end, I liked them both. Eventually I even warmed to Dexter! How important do you think sympathising with characters is in One Day?
CLAIRE: Oh, that’s interesting. He was loathsome but I think as the novel -and the years- progressed I understood Dexter more; I think he was an addict, which, as I said above, made him more sympathetic to me. Emma, I thought, was dissatisfied/unfulfilled and although that made me sad it also made me find her a little… fickle; once she had Dex she still wasn’t happy and it was inevitable that their story had a tragic ending (spoilers galore! I think that there is a statute of limitations, especially on a book that is everywhere. Mwah ha ha). I found it sad that as a thirty-eight year old Emma was so disillusioned by love and far removed from her twenty-two year old self.
Normally I do not have to sympathise, or even like, characters in order to enjoy a book but with One Day I think it hampered my enjoyment. Although I liked it well enough I did not love it. I needed to be more invested in their story, to will them together, but I didn’t care enough about them; Em/Dex are not the star-crossed lovers of our generation. Do you agree?
SIMON: I had a fairly odd relationship with the novel – in that, whilst I was reading it, I loved it. I raced through it on holiday – and you know me and long books; it doesn’t often work. But almost as soon as I finished it, I started doubting myself. Had I really liked it as much as I thought? Was it actually a very good novel? I did care about the characters – I must have done, to make me find it so compelling. But afterwards I started to think – is Nicholls a good stylist, for example, or simply good at making a novel pacy? (Is there a difference?!)
CLAIRE: I think there is a difference. I similarly found it compelling-and we have established it wasn’t due to my love for the characters- but I think it suffered from undue hype. Surely to be classed as an epic love story of our times, we have to be more engaged and invested? Mr Darcy doesn’t start out as likable but, oh my, is his and Lizzie’s story compelling. One Day was absorbing and it absorbed me for more than one day but I don’t understand why so many people love it/cry over it. I saw the tragic moment coming, although it did make me gasp a little. However, I don’t think that really answers your question. It was a good read but not a good book, if you see the same difference as I do?
SIMON: That’s exactly it! Except I might be a trifle more generous and say it was a great read but not a great book – it might just sneak into ‘good book’ territory for me. I have a feeling that those who wept/cheered over One Day either have had close experiences, or have yet to read P&P etc. (or my favourite romantic couple, Jane/Toby in The L-Shaped Room.
CLAIRE: I will temper my comment by saying it was a good read but not a great book (that seems fairer and more truthful to my own feelings). I hate to say it (well, not really) but I think that as far as mainstream love stories go, Emma and Dexter, are fitting but they were too close to … human for me; I prefer my love stories either more romantic/idyllic or far grittier (of which polar opposites both of your examples fit). Emma and Dexter’s story was distinctly average
SIMON: Like you, I more or less saw the tragic end coming. That’s one moment which I thought the film did extraordinarily well – and I wished I hadn’t known it would happen, because it was quite a shocking moment of film.
Ah, the film. Let’s swap our reading glasses for our cinema specs for a mo – first off, who would you like to have played Emma and Dexter? I would have loved Emma to be Romola Garai, which was only enforced by seeing her in a smaller role in the film.
CLAIRE: I haven’t seen the film (I know!) I meant to… then all the criticism of Anne Hathaway’s shifting accents deterred me. Did you find though while reading it that you had the cast in your mind’s eye? I always find it hard to re-imagine a character once they have been imagined for me onscreen. I love Romola Garai, however, and think she would have made a lovely -and altogether more sympathetic- Emma; as for Dex, I’m not sure… somebody that does cad and endearing/vulnerable/messed up male well.
SIMON: I never visualise characters when reading, so I was pretty open to any actors, visually at least. Gotta say, I’d never heard of Jim Strugess before One Day, but he was a brilliant Dexter. Dexter’s more annoying phases were played with an undercurrent of embarrassment, so that he never felt quite as loathsome as he did in the novel. Anne Hathaway… oh, Anne, I love you normally, but that accent was beyond dreadful. Most of the time she was vaguely British, and then she would lapse into ee-by-gum Yorkshire. No, Annie, no.
CLAIRE: I’ve seen Jim Sturgess in a film before and thought he was well cast (not seeing how he actually comes across onscreen though, I can’t judge if I was correct.)
SIMON: We’ve not really covered all the other characters… have to admit, Emma’s boyfriend Ian made me feel very uncomfortable – mostly because I kept wondering how similar he was to me! I’m totally the guy who makes jokes all the time, whatever the tone of the situation… What did you think of Ian and Sylvie, as the substitute partners for Emma and Dexter?
CLAIRE: Ian made me very uncomfortable too; he started off sweet and self-deprecating and then became quite scary. I don’t think you should be at all concerned of being the same as him, Simon! He had his insecurities and was obviously very much in love with Emma; I did think it was good of Nicholls to bring him back for Dexter in end, which redeemed his character. Sylvie never really rang true for me; she was quite one-dimensional and what was with her family?! The Sylvie of early Dexter/Sylvia and the Sylvia at the end of their marriage were disparate but, then, people and relationships evolve/devolve. Neither character was a fitting substitute character, I thought, but acted as a foil to the “meant to be” partner.
SIMON: Sylvie’s family were ghastly, weren’t they? ‘Are you there, Moriarty?’ sounds like the worst game ever, and I usually adore silly family games. I wish Nicholls had made her a little more believable, as a person Dexter would have picked. Ditto swarthy French bloke, for Emma.
I suppose we should be drawing this discussion to an end, since it should take up less than one day(!) – can I just say, though, what fun it’s been, Claire! I hope the readers enjoy the format (shameless plug for ‘we love you guys’ comments!) Perhaps we can just sum up our thoughts in one or two sentences?
CLAIRE: It’s been a pleasure, as always!
Hm, one or two sentences? One Day was a book about missed opportunities and failed connections and, regrettably, it failed to connect with me.
SIMON: Nice! Ok, my turn. One Day felt like a great read one day, a good read the next day, a mediocre film a later day, and a great conversation today!
Posted on | October 23, 2011 | 19 Comments
I’m not planning on making any changes to last year’s swap, except for the addition of Verity as Santa’s helper; we’ve split the work so that I will be responsible for coordinating sign ups and Verity will assign Santas. I am relying on participants to publicise the event, however, as I am out of the blogging loop and would love for this fun event to reach even more people than last year. For anybody new to this event (of which I hope there are many) please have a look through Persephone Secret Santa archived posts to see how much fun previous years have been.
Without further ado, instructions for participating are as follows:
1. Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org on or before November 6th (two weeks today) with your name, address (all personal information will be destroyed after completion of gift exchange), a list of Persephone titles you have read and/or own/wish for and specify whether or not you are willing to ship your gift internationally.
2. During the week commencing November 6th names will be randomly drawn and participants will be notified as to who they are playing Santa to (do please look out for this email from Verity – it may possibly go to your junk mail).
3. Using the list of Persephone titles provided by your recipient, go back through your assigned blogger’s posts looking for favored authors or subject matter and choose a title you know the blogger will enjoy.
4. At this point, it is up to you as Santa how creative you wish to be in the workshop. You can order the book, have it gift wrapped and sent straight on to the recipient…or you can have the book sent to you first and go a step further by including a small gift that is homemade, bookish in nature or related to how you celebrate Christmas, then wrap it all up and send it on its way. Either way make sure you include a card revealing your identity. (Please indicate in your email if you will be including an additional gift.)
5. With the increase of packages being sent during the holidays, please aim to have your package delivered before or during the first week of December. Take into account the extra time needed if shipping internationally or if you are going on holiday/to see family over the holidays.
6. On December 16th, have a festive get together by revealing your Secret Santa is in a blog post and sharing what he (or she) brought you.
7. Spread the word … the more the merrier! Please feel free to use the image above.
If after signing up, something comes up to where you cannot participate, let me know as soon as possible so that I can make other arrangements. Please consider all costs involved before participating (for the book, for any shipping, the additional gift, etc.). This is meant to be fun, not stressful, and I wouldn’t want anyone to feel overwhelmed by the commitment. Do please note that Persephone Books have recently raised their prices.
If you have any questions, you can leave a comment or email me.
Thank you very much to Verity for joining me in this year’s fun.
Posted on | August 2, 2011 | 6 Comments
It has been said often but bears repeating: one of the most surprising but wonderful by-products of blogging are the friendships that have been forged through a shared passion for books. I consider myself blessed to have met (in real life and virtually) so many people who I have an affinity with, “kindred spirits” as one literary heroine would refer to them. One such person is Cardigan Girl Verity who I have grown considerably close to over the last two plus years, conversing -through various technological means- daily. Through a love of Persephone Books and our mutual collections of Virago Modern Classics, Verity and I have come to know each other in a way that extends beyond our mutual love of reading and hosting our Persephone Reading events.
Those of you who follow her blog will know that Verity is off to get married and that happy event takes place today in Austria. The wedding lunch in Oxford takes place on the 13th and I am lucky enough to be attending and celebrating with Verity and Ken. In the meantime, please join me in wishing Verity and Ken good luck for the day(s) and a lifetime of happiness together. *Throws confetti*
*The inspired idea for this blogging reception of well-wishers was all down to the lovely Rachel/Joan Hunter Dunn of Flowers and Stripes. Verity has text to say that she is incredibly touched and is reading even though she shouldn’t be as internet use on her mobile is so expensive in Austria! She couldn’t sleep before her big day and went online to be greeted by such a warm outpouring of congratulations. She cannot comment from her phone but sends many thanks to all who have participated.
**The photograph above was my virtual participation in Verity’s Hen Party. I was unable to be there in person as that was the day I flew out on holiday but Verity sent me a Hen’s kit (minus the Philip Treacy fascinator-design challenge, sniff) and I partied in advance.keep looking »