30 April 2010

Blog Improvement Project: Task 4

The Blog Improvement Project spent April on my favourite task - Blog Post Bingo! Unfortunately I borrowed somewhat too much at the library (enough so that I had to read virtually all of the last book in a single day to get it back on time). Hence I managed just six out of fourteen post types. But for the first time I did an opinion post - or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that this time around I realised a BTT post could count under that heading.

1. A Link Post: Novels Online at Chawton House
2. A Short Post: BTT: Plotting
3. A List Post: Another 26 Neologisms for Booklovers
4. An Opinion Post: BTT: Restrictions
5. A Poll Post: FAIL
6. A How-To Post: FAIL
7. A Long Post: FAIL
8. A Review Post: Book Review: The Ghost Writer by John Harwood
9. A Personal Post: Knitting up a Maelstrom
10. A Resource Post: FAIL
11. An Interview or Guest Post : FAIL
12. A Profile or Case Study Post: FAIL
13. A Post Contrasting Two Different Options: FAIL
14. A Collation Post: FAIL

Another 26 Neologisms for Booklovers

These have become a Blog Post Bingo tradition around here - you can also read the original list and the sequel. (Apologies to raidergirl3 and Suey if I’ve unwittingly pinched any of their upcoming Bookword Game ideas. And thanks to Suey for the BTT post which inspired G.)

Something that looks like a historical error, but is in fact accurate.

Containing phrases, sentences, or entire passages in a language you don’t understand.

Any book not food-related that you read while standing at the stove.

Different book, same plot.

The persistent feeling that e-books don’t truly count as real volumes.

Fitting gloom
The awful realisation that, of all the books you’re currently reading, not one of them is small enough to fit into your handbag.

Hitting the reader over the head with Very Important Messages about saving the environment.

Supposedly frightening enough to scare the pants off Dracula, but actually about as chilling as your average cosy mystery.

Picturing a character as tall and blonde until finally being told on page 257 that she’s a short brunette.

Mentally exhausted from trying to piece together the myriad elements of a convoluted plot.

A book that’s impossible for a non-expert to read due to the mountain of technical terms it contains.

The art of being polite to that irksome stranger in the bus/train/park/waiting room who keeps wanting to talk to you when you’re trying to read.

Offering one or more strong incentives to wish that fictional men could be made real.

The race to finish the chapter before you really must go to sleep.

95 copies in the library system and every single one of them checked out. Again.

Surprise at discovering that a certain author looks absolutely nothing like you’d imagined.

Quick lit
Any book naturally producing a high pages-to-hours ratio.

Fed up with the inability of non-romance authors to let their characters remain single.

Sequentus interruptus
When your library has copies of every book in a series except number three.

Turn of praise
What happens when, on second reading, you discover you don’t like a book as much as you did the first time.

An ideal world in which you can walk into any library at any time and always find a book on whichever subject you wish to read about.

So over books about people with unusual dietary requirements and extreme sensitivity to sunlight.

Historical novel which leaves the reader to guess at the year from clues in the book.

X-read vision
The ability to see plot twists chapters in advance.

Young at start
Beginning with one or more incidents from the main character’s childhood before getting into the real story.

Allowing the reader to experience an exotic locale without such inconveniences as foul weather, bone-shaking roads, or spiders the size of dinner plates.

Fractal Friday: Coppering


29 April 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Restrictions

God* comes to you and tells you that, from this day forward, you may only read ONE type of book – one genre – period, but you get to choose what it is. Classics, Science-Fiction, Mystery, Romance, Cookbooks, History, Business … you can choose, but you only get ONE.

What genre do you pick, and why?

*Whether you believe in God or not, pretend for the purposes of this discussion that He is real.

Well, first I’d conclude that God had a evil mind for coming up with something like that ... once my atheist brain had gotten over the shock!

This quickly came down to a choice between mystery and history. In the end I chose the latter, because I couldn’t bear not to. The thought of never again being able to read a book for the purpose of expanding my knowledge was too dire to contemplate.

I love learning. I love browsing the shelves and, as I did on my last library trip but one, pull an interesting-looking volume off the shelf just because it’s about the seventeenth century and I don’t know much about the seventeenth century. (Or London graveyards or Napoleonic-era codebreaking or whatever.) There’s been a lot of discussion about education here lately, with the launching of a national curriculum instead of each state for itself. With each new announcement - grammar, geography, and above all history - I feel increasingly that either I’ve been poorly educated or I have a memory like a sieve. So much of what will now be standard I don’t remember being taught, and could well not know but for my own voracious reading.

And I hate feeling ignorant, not only because it’s unpleasant in itself but because the Guilt part of my brain tells me that, being the family’s certified Gifted & Talented, I ought to be well-informed.

Ergo, history. I came to my love of history late (i.e. post-high school) and have been devouring it ever since. And if I could define the genre as any non-fiction book about anything that happened prior to, say, 1945, my restricted reading could cover an awful lot of territory.

Let’s see ... there are books about etymology, so I could acquire some new words while picking up all sorts of facts about the evolution of languages and whatever period the words originated in. There’s science history, so I could read a bit of geology or palaeontology or physics or chemistry or astronomy or botany or....

The history of art, the history of fashion, the history of music, the history of architecture, the history of one country or civilisation or another ... whatever I wanted to read about, I could find a history book to cover the topic. And improve my geography, too, with all those pretty maps :-)

And a knowledge of history makes me feel more engaged with current events, by giving me the ability to draw comparisons to things which have gone before and put present issues into a larger context. (Complaints about modern street violence always make me think of the Mohocks; the 21st century’s not that bad.) Someone or other once said something to the effect that those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it; but before you have a chance at remembering something, first you must learn it.

Knitting up a Maelstrom

It’s not unknown for me to question my sanity. Happens quite a bit, in fact, generally when I’m about to haul home too many books. Or sign up for another reading challenge.

This time, though, I really must be nuts. My knitting history consists of three scarves, a sweater, a short-sleeved pullover, two pairs of socks and a roll-up needle holder. So when you can count your non-rectangular projects on one hand, what’s the logical thing to do next?

Set out to design your own pattern, of course.

Never mind that my attempts to draft dressmaking patterns invariably end in frustration and failure. Or that maths never was my strong suit. I have a skein of blue merino, a firm idea of what I want it to look like come winter, and an abundant excess of optimism. On the other hand ... I have no real plan beyond sketching, measuring, and hoping that the numbers crunch correctly. If I’m lucky, I’ll be able to wear the end result before it gets too cold this autumn to do so.

If I’m unlucky - or just plain inept - I’ll still be working on it when I’m 30.

27 April 2010

Novels Online at Chawton House

Isn’t the internet wonderful? The other night I stumbled upon the website of the Chawton House Library. The physical library is contained in the former home of Edward Austen Knight (Yes, that’s Austen as in Jane).

And the online library has free books!

More seriously, it is, in their words, “an ongoing project making freely accessible full-text transcripts of some of the rarest works in the Chawton House Library collection.” There’s around 50 up already, by anonymous authors and women whose names have been all but lost to literary history. Since I adore classics and the late eighteenth-early nineteenth century, I am very happy and looking forward to loading up Digital Editions with some PDF files.

(Yes, I have an e-book reader on each of my computers. Yes, I have used them. No, the sky hasn’t fallen in. Yet.)

The Library is a wonderful means of bringing some belated recognition to late-Georgian women writers other than Jane Austen and Fanny Burney. Be warned, though, that the texts have not been edited.

But edited or not, who wouldn’t be curious about Errors of Eccentricity?

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m in a seaside town in Victorian England, living with an antique-dealing aunt while my parents are in India.

The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt.

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

It was one morning in the middle of the summer holidays, about four years after my parents had brought me to England, when Ellen came to my room and told me that Aunt Charlotte wished to see me at once. Ellen looked scared and I asked if anything was wrong.

From The Secret Woman by Victoria Holt, p. 17.

25 April 2010

Weekly Geeks: Reading Globally

Weekly Geeks

So this week’s Weekly Geek task (if you chose to accept it), is to tell us a little about your experiences Reading Globally. Answer as many or as few of the questions below:
  • Do you deliberately read globally, and if so, do you track your reading in this area?
  • Have you joined any reading challenges which encourage reading from around the world? If so, what are they?
  • Do you visit bloggers who blog outside of your country? If so, what have you learned from reading their blogs? Consider sharing a couple of links to book bloggers who motivate you to read around the world.
  • Where do your reading around the globe book suggestions come from? Magazines? Web sites which feature books in translation? Publishers? Other bloggers? If you have a particularly great site for recommendations, give us a link!
  • Do you read books in translation as part of your global reading experiences? Share some of your favorite books in translation.
  • Is there a particular country, or countries, which you would like to learn more about? Why?
Something similar appeared as a Geeks topic nine months ago, and it turned out I’m not overly well-travelled. You can add China to that second map in the post linked to above, but that’s it.

I have done some non-US and -UK literary travelling this year, to France and Italy and Turkey and even Lithuania ... all of it from several decades to several centuries ago. Lithuania’s bound to have changed a bit since the fourteenth century. So, I don’t think that really counts.

(If WG were to ask about literary time-travelling ... I’d have a lot of frequent-reader miles!)

This time I’ve taken a different look through my reading records. Last year, around 70% of my reading was classics, historical novels, and non-fiction. In 2008 it was 62%, in 2007 it was 53%, in 2006 it was 65%, in 2005 it was 60%, and in 2004 it was 58%. So far this year the proportion is 50% (and rising). The overwhelming majority of the non-fiction I read is instructional-type stuff, history, or books about the quirks of the English language. Add to that (or rather, subtract as well as that) everything set in an alternate reality or the future, and the way I read doesn’t leave much room for present-day visits to other countries.

Last year when I mapped out where in the (modern) world I’d been with my reading, I felt guilty about concentrating my attention so heavily on America and England (especially the latter). Now, though, I realise that thorough globe-trotting isn’t possible without sacrificing my beloveds - classics, historicals, and non-fiction. In fact, on average over those years, less than 23% of my reading would qualify as contemporary fiction - and most of that is probably crime novels.

So in the interests of helping to expand my global reading: What are some good mystery novels or series set somewhere exotic in the present day?

And now I’m off back to Turkey ... in 1915.

23 April 2010

Fractal Friday: Persian


Book Review: The Ghost Writer by John Harwood

The Ghost Writer Growing up in the barren town of Mawson, Gerard Freeman loved to hear his mother tell him stories of her childhood in England - of Staplefield, and country rambles, and her grandmother Viola. But after the day she catches him with the photograph of a dark-haired woman he found in a locked drawer, she never speaks of her past again.

After her death, Gerard becomes intrigued afresh. Her chronic fears about his safety and her warning that one came true appear to have been connected to the ghost stories Viola wrote. Going to England and digging up his family’s past suddenly takes on a new importance - the more so as it will get him closer to his other obsession, pen-friend and epistolary girlfriend Alice Jessell. Soon Gerard realises that his mother isn’t the only woman with an elusive past.

For a while I thought one of Viola’s ghost stories would prove to be some kind of instrument of evil. A haunted ghost story - how great would that have been? But sadly it was not to be. (*Files idea away for future reference*)

Viola’s tales, interleaved into the main story, were my favourite bits of the book. I love a good haunting, and classic ghost stories such as those by M.R. James and Sheridan le Fanu. They’re suitably eerie and convincing imitations of late-Victorian writing, and often their inclusion serves to advance the plot. By reading his great-grandmother’s work, Gerard arrives at some important clues about his family’s past and the meaning of his mother’s warning that “one came true.”

Otherwise, I didn’t like The Ghost Writer as much as I expected I would after having enjoyed The Seance. Gerard takes his time getting the story going; I started to get impatient, wanting him to quit the teenage angst and the sighing over Alice and hurry up with adulthood. When he did, and the mystery-solving began, I was hooked, even though I found Gerard a bit bland. That might have been intentional, the better to show him as the innocent in jeopardy that he became, and probably it was inevitable after such an insular, smothered upbringing. But it still irked me just a little, as did his failure to see a fairly obvious sign that something wasn’t right.

The ending was ... how can I do this without revealing too much? ... not of my favourite sort for this type of story. If not for Viola’s stories I might have felt cheated. And I couldn’t help wondering how it was even possible; how a certain character managed all that they did for as long as they did. The preceding twists and turns, however, made up for the disappointing resolution.

Rating: B

20 April 2010

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m at the court of Charles I, observing the shifting fortunes - and the eccentricities - of a gentry family.

The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War, and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England by Adrian Tinniswood

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

What if he talked? Sir Edmund bumped into him toward the end of April, and noticing that he was dressed in his buff coat as though he was preparing to go into action, commented hopefully that “if he does, some lucky bullet may free her of this misfortune.”

From The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War, and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England by Adrian Tinniswood, p. 102.

15 April 2010

DNF: The Painted Duchess by Anne Bruck

2010 TBR Lite Challenge

The Painted Duchess Maria Teresa, Duchess of Alba, has finally pushed the Queen beyond endurance. Banished from the court to the country estate of Piedrahita, the duchess sets off with a cavalcade of servants and an unexpected inheritance - her new ward. Consuela is as serious as Maria Teresa is frivolous, and her rival in looks. Also of the party is Francisco de Goya, who will immortalise Maria Teresa as the Maja.

I know I said in a recent BTT post that I intended to finish this book for the sake of the history. But that was before I realised that I could just as easily keep a watch on the biography section of the library - and if I should find something relevant, it will doubtless be more informative and less painful to read.

I really, really wish someone had given a copy editor the unpublished manuscript and the proverbial blue pencil, and told them to go nuts. Maybe then it wouldn’t have driven me nuts. Every page I read, I itched to edit. The prose was awkward, the dialogue needed more commas, and the POV hopped about like a kangaroo on speed.

For example:

....rode toward the Sierras along winding tracks that seemed to Consuela to lead up and into the depths of night.

Beata took Tadea to the chapel to light candles and kneel in prayer.

Any other night, thought Consuela....

Two changes of perspective in as many sentences.

Also, this: She smiled a little to herself at the thought of what Beata was saying at that minute.. At this point, Beata was travelling in another carriage. Was she psychic? Or: ....large cliffs, gouged out and left standing by some violent torrent millions of years ago..... In the eighteenth century (where, after looking Goya up in the encyclopaedia, I finally estimated the novel was set) hardly anyone had dared even imagine that the world could be that old.

Possibly the story was good. I was told by someone who’d read it that Goya was wonderful. But my pedantic soul just couldn’t see beyond the bad prose. Still, you have to award at least some points to a book which opens with a royal catfight.

Read: 87 of 428 pages

13 April 2010

Book Review: The Other Queen by Philippa Gregory

The Other Queen In 1569, Mary Queen of Scots is placed in the custody of George Talbot, Earl of Shrewsbury. Tutbury Castle is a glorified prison, but Mary has every confidence in her ability to escape. There is no shortage of people willing to help an anointed queen back to her rightful place in the world, and if she exerts sufficient charm her gaoler just might become one of them. George is dazzled by the lovely young queen, and cannot help going against his better judgement to provide her with whatever concessions he can. This raises the ire of his wife Bess, who can only watch in horror as their fortunes are drained by Mary’s spendthrift ways. Worse, Bess is increasingly aware that she has done the last thing she ever wanted - married a fool.

For the first few chapters, the way in which the book is written - three different first-person viewpoints, alternating chapter by chapter - annoyed me. Then I got used to it. Then two of those viewpoint characters began driving me nuts instead.

Not Bess. I admired her determination to fulfill the trust placed in her by the previous husband who bequeathed his lands to her care. Having to contend with two queens, an earl, and William Cecil to do so, only a quite formidable woman could have succeeded. Her plans were self-centred - she gave far more thought to her beloved Chatsworth than to her husband - but in that age, a woman would be well-advised to hold on to whatever security she could get. And if her youth was behind her and her husband a fool, land was the best security available. If she had been the centre of the novel, I’m sure I’d have enjoyed it more.

But George and Mary ... I’ve long been aware that few things will make me dislike a book faster than a female character pining for Mr Wrong. Turns out if you reverse the genders, the effect is the same. Ignoring both his monarch and his wife to go sighing over said monarch’s rival and prisoner ... George, whatever were you thinking?

And while I can appreciate that a monarch bred to rule in an age that believed in the divine right of kings would have a strong sense of her own importance, Mary’s arrogance left me wanting to slap her. So did the way she made free with large quantities of other people’s money. A character who doesn’t comprehend the value of money is a character guaranteed to drive me crazy.

Reading about her, I couldn’t quite decide whether she was the victim more of the plots of others or of the webs she attempted to weave herself. Sometimes, when she was waiting and hoping again for Bothwell to come and rescue her, she seemed incapable of doing much for herself; yet at others she was audacious in her attempts to free herself. Her one good trait (in this version of her, at least) was the capacity to endure. Nor could I fathom just what her relationship was with Bothwell; perhaps it was regal reticence, but the suspicion did occur to me that the author herself was undecided.

In that “again” lies the great flaw of this novel: It’s repetitive. Bess worries about money and mentally curses George. George traipses after Mary with puppy-dog eyes. Mary anticipates the moment when her supporters will carry her to the throne of England and looks down her nose at people. Over and over and over. It’s a shame it was given to me; I’d feel guilty trading in a gift at the UBS.

Rating: C-

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You? / Teaser Tuesdays

It’s Tuesday, Where Are You?

I’m in the English town of Spilling, juggling the demands of full-time work, two small children, and a husband who doesn’t know I’ve been unfaithful. Last year I had a fling with a man who told me he was Mark Bretherick. Now the real Mark Bretherick’s wife and daughter are dead, and I think someone’s trying to kill me.

The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

I run to the door, out into the hall, and freeze, nearly dropping the pictures. He’s there, back in his chair in front of the stove.

From The Point of Rescue by Sophie Hannah, p. 129.

11 April 2010

Library Loot

Library Loot

The Point of Rescue
Revolutions in the Earth
Brilliant Women
Gallipoli Sniper
The Verneys
500 AD

The Point of Rescue - Sophie Hannah
Revolutions in the Earth: James Hutton and the True Age of the World - Stephen Baxter
Brilliant Women: 18th Century Bluestockings - Elizabeth Eger and Lucy Peltz
Gallipoli Sniper: The Life of Billy Sing - John Hamilton
The Verneys: A True Story of Love, War and Madness in Seventeenth-Century England - Adrian Tinniswood
500 AD: A Journey Through the Dark Isles of Britain and Ireland - Simon Young

Vive le subtitle!

Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Eva and Marg.

08 April 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Plotting

Plots? Or Stream-of-Consciousness? Which would you rather read?

Plots! I have had one experience with stream-of-consciousness (Mrs Dalloway) and I would need to read some seriously glowing reviews before trying it again. I found it frustrating and tedious; I like books to have some kind of narrative trajectory, not just ramble along.

06 April 2010

Teaser Tuesdays

Teaser Tuesdays TEASER TUESDAYS asks you to:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page, somewhere between lines 7 and 12.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from - that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

The Hereditary Princess had to reassure her father that, on her instructions, the Prince would write no more, as the King disliked answering letters. Accordingly, when they heard at Windsor that the Prince had had an accident out shooting in Germany, no great sympathy was felt for him.

From Princesses: The Six Daughters of George III by Flora Fraser, p. 167.

04 April 2010

Weekly Geeks: Checking Out Libraries

Weekly Geeks

National Library Week is coming up in the U.S. April 11-17, and April is School Libraries Month (2010 is the 25th anniversary). This got me wondering about the state of libraries around the globe.

What’s your earliest memory of a library? What was it like for you? Were you more likely to hang out in the gym or the library when you were in school?

How’s the health of the library system in your community? How do you support your local library? How often do you check out books from the library vs. buying books? Tell us what your favorite library is like and include some photos if you can.

My earliest memory of a library is, naturally, my primary school library. All I remember doing there is getting teased, so let’s move on while I try to forget I remembered it.

That was followed, academically, by my high school library. Searching for interesting-looking adult novels (not that many), gossiping with friends when I should have been working, dodging my library-fan nemesis ... plenty of memories there. It was also the place where, in Year 10 English, I looked up a single encyclopaedia entry related to the Wars of the Roses - the only piece of non-Australian history I met the whole four years. (If I didn’t read, and watch documentaries, I would probably think that Tudor was an architectural style and everything Georgian came from one of the states of America.)

In years 11 and 12, I practically lived in the library when not in class, and was only disappointed that it didn’t open during recess as well as lunch! Sometimes I did homework, sometimes I read books from the city library system, sometimes I read books off the school’s shelves. I never borrowed one of the latter, and no-one else ever borrowed them either. Whichever one I was halfway through, it was always there when I wanted it. It was in that library that I discovered Margaret Atwood and first read Sense and Sensibility.

And on Friday afternoons in Year 12, when I had a free period next to lunch, I went to the local library and borrowed my books for the week. It wasn’t long before the bus drivers knew me by sight and stopped asking to see my student ID. I still have fond memories of that library - browsing the shelves in lovely peace and quiet, developing my interest in non-fiction, loading up my book bag and wondering how I’d squeeze it into my poky little locker during my Psych class.

Now I have access to the Brisbane library system - which is thriving, not unexpectedly as it is a major city. Sometimes it’s hard to track down a specific book - when there’s a mere handful of copies between 33 branches, or worse, only one. But when I’m aimlessly browsing there are invariably far more books than I could possibly carry - or read. I don’t visit the library all that often, as I always borrow enough for several weeks. In fact, my relatively infrequent library trips supply at least half of my reading material each year. I’d like to use it more often, but that would require a miraculous vaporisation of my non-reading to-do list!

01 April 2010

Booking Through Thursday: Fool

Since it’s April Fool’s Day, I toyed with different ideas of questions for today.
  • Who’s your favorite “fool” of a character, and why?
  • What authors have fooled you? By a trick plot twist? By making you think their book was any good when it wasn’t?
  • What covers have fooled you into reading books you hated … even though the covers were wonderful?
  • What’s the best April Fool’s Day trick you’ve ever seen/heard about/done?
Ultimately, I couldn’t pick … so choose the one you like best. Or answer all of them! Or make up your own.

I think Bridget Jones is the only “fool” I can bear to read about! Generally, foolish characters annoy me. I prefer reading about people who are capable of outsmarting me - or who at least refrain from doing dumb things.

I don’t often choose a book based solely on its cover, but there have been a few that looked far better than they were! The Virgin’s Lover by Philippa Gregory irritated me because Elizabeth behaved like a ... well, a fool, over Dudley. (See above.) The Crimson Petal and the White by Michel Faber looked lovely - and got a glowing review in the Courier-Mail - but produced a whole lot of frustration. (And what a coincidence ... Agnes was a fool.)

And when I did once pick a book on (fabulous) looks alone (Lovesong by Elizabeth Jolley) it bored me so much I couldn’t come close to finishing it.

I don’t recall there being any fools in it, though.

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Header image shows detail of A Young Girl Reading by Jean-Honoré Fragonard, c. 1776