Saturday, 20 October 2018

24 Hour Readathon

Can you believe it's time for another Readathon? 
Where does that time go? 
All the details for how to join in are over at Dewey's 24 Hour Readathon
The rules are very relaxed, join in as little or as much as you like. 
Read for all 24 hours or fit in as much reading as you can, when you can.
The idea is to read as much as you can with a supportive, fun group of bookish friends.

Any Australian or NZ readathoner's who'd like to keep in touch, especially during the long dark-night time of the northern hemisphere (ie our Sunday afternoon) when it feels like we're reading all alone, use the #ANZreadathon tag on twitter and say 'hi'.

I'll be using this post to update my reading stats and join in any memes or quizzes.

My Books:

Les Miserables
Starting pg: 954

Romantic Outlaws
Starting pg: 310

Starting pg: 78

William Trevor: Last Stories
Starting pg: 122

The Slightly Alarming Tale of the Whispering Wars (Bronte Mettlestone #2)
Jane Doe #1
The Restless Girls
The Afterwards


Opening Meme:

1. What part of the world are you reading from today?

I'm in Sydney, Australia.
Which means my start time is 11pm Saturday - most of my readathon will actually fall on my Sunday 21st October.

2. Which book in your stack are you most looking forward to?

I like to use the readathon to help me finish those half-read books that have been lurking by my bed for too long - it's very satisfying to finally finish a few of them. And when I get tired late Sunday afternoon, I love jumping into a few kids books. Their always fun, quick and easy to read, but also help me feel virtuous about getting some work reading done :-)

(I work in an Indie bookshop as the children's buyer)

3. Which snack are you most looking forward to?

My nan's famous choc slice (which I made to help B18's HSC study plans, but I'm sure he won't mind if I have a few slices myself!)

4. Tell us a little something about yourself.

I'm also a pokemon go player (my why I love pokemon go post is here). 
I will probably disappear for a couple of hours Sunday afternoon to go and join in the latest Community Day event.

5. If you participated in the last read-a-thon, what’s one thing you’ll do different today?
Every time I promise myself not to get distracted by external things like twitter and instagram and every time I do.
My plan this time is to limit SM time to 10 mins at the end/beginning of each hour.
I also need to go for regular little walks to clear my head.



11pm - midnight
36 pgs of Frankenstein

Midnight - 8am

8am - 9am
5 pgs of Frankenstein with breakfast

9am - 10am
morning walk & 7 pgs of Frankenstein

10am - 11am
15 pgs of Frankenstein with coffee and banana bread

11am - midday
family time

Midday -1pm
It may not look like I'm making much progress with Frankenstein...but look how small the font is and how close set the type is on each page!

12 pgs of Frankenstein

1pm - 2pm
17 pgs of Frankenstein  - FINIS 
(92 pgs in TOTAL)

2pm - 5pm
Pokemon Go Community Day
In which I caught several shiny Beldum, met several new local pokemon-ers and read nought :-)

5pm - 6pm
30 pgs of Les Mis - all caught up on my chapter-a-day challenge

6pm - 7pm
11 pgs of Romantic Outlaws, snacked and prepared dinner

7pm - 8pm
Family dinner & watched the news - no pages read.

8pm - 9pm
Bubble bath & 22 pgs or Romantic Outlaws

9pm - 11pm
Started & finished The Afterwards by A. F. Harrold - 224 pgs



8 hr overnight & 1 nap

3 walks
1 bath
1 Pokemon Go Community Day
1 longish phone call
1 TV break to watch the news

Friday, 19 October 2018

Signe Picpus by Georges Simenon

Also known as Signed Picpus or Maigret and the Fortune Teller, Signe Picpus was one of the three Maigret books that Simenon published in 1944. My 2015 edition was translated by David Coward.

According to wikipedia, Simenon actually wrote Signe Picpus in 1941. It was serialised into 34 instalments between 11th of December 1941 and the 21st of January 1942. In 1943 he decided to auction off the manuscript to benefit prisoners of war.

This particular Maigret is almost stream of consciousness in style with lots of odd little jumps and starts between Maigret's thoughts, actions and speech. As with most of the Maigret's, you can often work out what happened or who did it fairly easily. The joy of the reading experience is watching Maigret work it through in his own inimitable way. There is an engaging sense of charm and self-importance that oozes not only from Maigret, but from the writer as well.

But curiously, no reference to the war is made at all in Signed, Picpus. In fact, I spent most of the book thinking the setting was 1960's Paris, not pre-war or wartime Paris. The only reference I found during the whole book that may have reflected troubled times was,
If everyone contributes expenses, as is only natural in times as difficult as these...

There were several nostalgic, almost romantic descriptions of Paris in the summer, a sign perhaps of living through difficult times and remembering those pre-war years fondly...?
There are days which, though you don't know why, sum up a season, a phase of your life, a whole gamut of sensations. That Saturday night at Morsang and the Sunday that followed were for Maigret the quintessence of summers spent by the river, the ease of life and the simple, sweet pleasures.
The lanterns under the trees which did not have to be lit until the end of dinner; the leaves which turned a sumptuous dark green, the green of old tapestries; the whitish mist which rose off the moving surface of the Seine; the sound of laughter from the small restaurant tables and the dreamy voices of loving couples...
The Maigrets were in bed when someone had brought a gramophone out on to the hotel terrace, and for some considerable time they had heard the sounds of soft, easy music and the crunch of gravel under the feet of dancers.
But no war.

Simenon was born in Belgium and lived in France from 1922 - 1945. The New Yorker, Crime Pays Oct 10, 2011 by Joan Acocella suggested that his war time record may have be a little murky, which may be why he avoided a war time setting for Maigret? (My supposition, not Acocella's.)

In 1940, after the Second World War got under way, Simenon moved his family to a village in the Vendée, in west-central France. Because of travel restrictions, he got stuck there. In the morning he wrote; in the afternoon he played cards with the locals in a café. His war record was mixed. He ran a refugee center, very energetically, people say. On the other hand, four of the nine movies made of his books during the Occupation were produced by what he knew was a Nazi-run company. For that organization, he also signed a statement that he was an Aryan. Pierre Assouline says that Simenon was neither a collaborator nor a resister but just an opportunist.

I'm curious now to see if any of the other war time Maigret's are actually set in the war, or if they all have this 'anytime' feel. His ability to create a sense of place is remarkable, Paris simply jumps out of the pages of every Maigret, but it's a Paris of an unknown time. Which ultimately made Signed, Picpus a disappointing choice for The 1944 Club, but a thoroughly enjoyable rainy day read nonetheless.

  • 1. The Strange Case of Peter the Lett, The Case of Peter the Lett, Maigret and the Enigmatic Lett (1931)
  • 2. The Crime at Lock 14, Maigret Meets a Milord, Lock 14 (1931)
  • 3. The Death of Monsieur Gallet, Maigret Stonewalled (1931)
  • 4. The Crime of Inspector Maigret, Maigret and the Hundred Gibbets (1931)
  • 5. A Battle of Nerves, Maigret's War of Nerves, A Man's Head (1931)
  • 6. A Face for a Clue, Maigret and the Concarneau Murders, Maigret and the Yellow Dog, The Yellow Dog (1931)
  • 7. The Crossroad Murders, Maigret at the Crossroads (1931)
  • 8. A Crime in Holland, Maigret in Holland (1931)
  • 9. The Sailor's Rendezvous (1931)
  • 10. At the "Gai Moulin", Maigret at the "Gai Moulin" (1931)
  • 11. Guinguette by the Seine, Maigret and the Tavern by the Seine, The Bar on the Seine (1931)
  • 12. The Shadow in the Courtyard, Maigret Mystified (1932)
  • 13. Maigret and the Countess, The Saint-Fiacre Affair, Maigret Goes Home, Maigret on Home Ground (1932)
  • 14. The Flemish Shop, Maigret and the Flemish Shop (1932)
  • 15. Death of a Harbo(u)r Master, Maigret and the Death of a Harbor Master (1932)
  • 16. The Madman of Bergerac (1932)
  • 17. Liberty Bar, Maigret on the Riviera (1932)
  • 18. The Lock at Charenton (1933)
  • 19. Maigret Returns (1934)
  • 20. Maigret and the Hotel Majestic (1942)
  • 21. Maigret in Exile (1942)
  • 22. Maigret and the Spinster (1942)
  • 23. Signed Picpus, Maigret and the Fortuneteller (1944)
  • 24. Maigret and the Toy Village (1944)
  • 25. Maigret's Rival, Inspector Cadaver (1944)
  • 26. Maigret in Retirement (1947)
  • 27. Maigret in New York, Inspector Maigret in New York's Underworld, Maigret in New York's Underworld (1947)
  • 28. A Summer Holiday, No Vacation for Maigret, Maigret on Holiday (1948)
  • 29. Maigret's Dead Man, Maigret's Special Murder (1948)
  • 30. Maigret's First Case (1949)
  • 31. My Friend Maigret, The Methods of Maigret (1949)
  • 32. Maigret at the Coroner's (1949)
  • 33. Maigret and the Old Lady (1950)
  • 34. Madame Maigret's Own Case, Madame Maigret's Friend, The Friend of Madame Maigret (1950)
  • 35. Maigret's Memoirs (1951)
  • 36. Maigret and the Strangled Stripper, Maigret in Montmartre, Inspector Maigret and the Strangled Stripper (1951)
  • 37. Maigret Takes a Room, Maigret Rents a Room (1951)
  • 38. Inspector Maigret and the Burglar's Wife, Maigret and the Burglar's Wife (1951)
  • 39. Inspector Maigret and the Killers, Maigret and the Gangsters (1952)
  • 40. Maigret's Revolver (1952)
  • 41. Maigret and the Man on the Boulevard, Maigret and the Man on the Bench (1953)
  • 42. Maigret Afraid (1953)
  • 43. Maigret's Mistake (1953)
  • 44. Maigret Goes to School (1954)
  • 45. Inspector Maigret and the Dead Girl, Maigret and the Young Girl (1954)
  • 46. Maigret and the Minister, Maigret and the Calame Report (1955)
  • 47. Maigret and the Headless Corpse (1955)
  • 48. Maigret Sets a Trap (1955)
  • 49. Maigret's Failure (1956)
  • 50. Maigret's Little Joke, None of Maigret's Business (1957)
  • 51. Maigret and the Millionaires (1958)
  • 52. Maigret Has Scruples (1958)
  • 53. Maigret and the Reluctant Witnesses (1959)
  • 54. Maigret Has Doubts (1959)
  • 55. Maigret in Court (1960)
  • 56. Maigret in Society (1960)
  • 57. Maigret and the Lazy Burglar (1961)
  • 58. Maigret and the Black Sheep (1962)
  • 59. Maigret and the Saturday Caller (1962)
  • 60. Maigret and the Dosser, Maigret and the Bum (1963)
  • 61. Maigret Loses His Temper (1963)
  • 62. Maigret and the Ghost, Maigret and the Apparition (1964)
  • 63. Maigret on the Defensive (1964)
  • 64. The Patience of Maigret, Maigret Bides His Time (1965)
  • 65. Maigret and the Nahour Case (1967)
  • 66. Maigret's Pickpocket (1967)
  • 67. Maigret Takes the Waters, Maigret in Vichy (1968)
  • 68. Maigret Hesitates (1968)
  • 69. Maigret's Boyhood Friend (1968)
  • 70. Maigret and the Killer (1969)
  • 71. Maigret and the Wine Merchant (1970)
  • 72. Maigret and the Madwoman (1970)
  • 73. Maigret and the Loner (1971)
  • 74. Maigret and the Flea, Maigret and the Informer (1971)
  • 75. Maigret and Monsieur Charles (1972)

Thursday, 18 October 2018

My Purple Scented Novel by Ian McEwan

As many of you know my thing with Ian McEwan teeters on the love/hate spectrum. I suspected that the gimmicky 70th birthday short story My Purple Scented Novel would tip the scales into the negative, but I was pleasantly surprised.

Firstly, the short story was written prior to the gimmick. It was published in The New Yorker on the 28th March 2016. Fast forward to June 2018 and Penguin Random House decide that it would be a nifty thing to celebrate one of their most well-known authors 70th birthday with a bookish treat.

The short story form seems to be undergoing a renaissance in recent years. Perhaps they are the perfect way (even the only way) to engage the easily distracted modern reader from their devices. A short story can be read during a lunch break (like I read this one) or on the bus ride home. The modern short story doesn't involve any deep level commitment of time or energy. At least this one didn't for me.

My Purple Scented Novel remind me of, or perhaps sat closely next to Sweet Tooth in theme, in that it discusses, dissects and lampoons the literary world that McEwan inhabits,
We were ambitious. We wanted to be writers. famous writers, even great writers.

It features his usual exploration of deceit, loyalty and memory, with a topical nod to fake news. A self-referential moment about halfway through made me laugh out loud,
Or an episode in a novel I'd read the year before, The Information, by Martin Amis. I'm reliably informed that Amis himself derived that episode from an evening drinking with another novelist, the one (memory fails me) with the Scottish name and the English attitude. I heard that the two friends entertained themselves by dreaming up all the ways one writer might ruin the life of another.

Which basically gives you the premise for this story as well.

My Purple Scented Novel is a cautionary tale for the modern wannabe novelist. A bite-sized taste of McEwan at his cynical best.

The Child in Time
On Chesil Beach
The Best & Worst of McEwan (featuring Enduring Love, Atonement, Saturday, On Chesil Beach, Solar & Sweet Tooth)

Tuesday, 16 October 2018

Gothic Book Tag

The Classics Club Gothic Book Tag coincides with the clubs #CCdare challenge for October to read a classic book that scares you, thrills you or challenges you somehow. I've been reading Mary Shelley's Frankenstein for the very first time, in tandem with a bio by Charlotte Gordon about Shelley and her mother Mary Wollstonecraft, Romantic Outlaws.

The Gothic Book Tag is a fun way to face your bookish fears although it feels odd to be contemplating Halloween-style posts about dark nights, harvests and the dead (walking or not) as we in the Southern Hemisphere embrace new life, spring blossoms and longer days. Not that you would know it right now. After the driest winter in a long time, we have now had nearly three weeks of non-stop rain. Daylight savings started a week ago, not that you would know it, as we wake up to yet another grey, damp day that eventually peters out into more rain and gloomy evenings.

Anzac Bridge, Sydney (I was a passenger, not driving!)

Perhaps this is the perfect time, after all, for me to tackle this gothic tag!

It would be very easy to fill this book tag with Stephen King books and characters, but I'm not sure he qualifies for all my rules about what is a classic and I want to challenge myself to look deeper and further back for some of my personal scare factors.

1. Which classic book has scared you the most?

Lord of the Rings - so many creepy creatures, frightening moments and heart-in-the-mouth scenes. By the end of the three books, I'm exhausted!

2. Scariest moment in a book?

The possibility of the rats eating Winston's face in 1984 - my worst fear as well as Winston's.

3. Classic villain that you love to hate?

Randall Flagg, the Walking Dude in Stephen King's The Stand (and other books).

4. Creepiest setting in a book?

More frightening than creepy, but the futuristic world of The Handmaid's Tale freaks me out.

5. Best scary cover ever?

This is a kids book? Really!
Deliciously creepy from start to finish.

6. Book you’re too scared to read?

Ulysses - very thick, very difficult, scared I won't understand it.

7. Spookiest creature in a book?

Gollum, or maybe the Sandworms in Dune or perhaps John Wyndham's Chocky?

8. Classic book that haunts you to this day?

The fate of Tess of the D'Urbervilles angers me and upsets me to this day.

9. Favourite cliffhanger or unexpected twist?

Atonement by Ian McEwan

10. Classic book you really, really disliked?

Lord of the Flies

11. Character death that disturbed/upset you the most?

Beth's death in Little Women and Matthew's in Anne of Green Gables are up there.
But the one that really upsets every single time is Judy's death in Seven Little Australians.

12. List your top 5 Gothic/scary/horror classic reads.

Jane Eyre
My Cousin Rachel
The Day of the Triffids
The Bloody Chamber
Picnic at Hanging Rock

13. Share your scariest/creepiest quote, poem or meme.

Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

This is not meant to be a disturbing poem, I believe, but ever since the episode of Roswell where Alex dies and leaves behind a cryptic message that references the final lines in this poem, I have imbued it was a sinister meaning. It gives me goosebump shivers every single time.


Saturday, 13 October 2018

A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles

A Gentleman in Moscow has been on my radar ever since it first came out in 2016 simply because I thoroughly enjoyed Amor Towles first book, Rules of Civility. It took my book club assigning it as our October read though, to finally force me to fit it into my reading schedule.

And I'm so glad they did.

I love Russian history and lit, especially pre-revolution to WWII, which is where this book sits so neatly. The idea is fascinating - a former Count committed to house arrest, when he falls foul of the new leadership, in 'that hotel of which you are so fond. But make no mistake: should you ever set foot outside of the Metropol again, you will be shot' .

What might have been a story about Count Rostov's slow descent into madness and depression confined within the walls of one hotel for the rest of his life, is actually a delightful reminder of how to pay attention to the small details, make the best of a bad situation and how to find joy, purpose and meaning in the world around you, no matter how confined. In fact, confined is the wrong word.

Rostov had the happy knack of enlarging his small world. He befriended guests, staff, children and was regularly visited by friends. He explored every inch of the hotel to discover its secrets, mysteries and beauties. He created work for himself and learnt to live with less stuff. He lived a rich and fulfilling life within the walls of the Metropol, until he couldn't anymore.

If you love historical fiction and you're looking for a charming, nostalgic story to while away a few lazy days, then this is the one for you. Its undemanding but entrancing at the same time. I loved it from start to finish.

You can visit Amor Towles' blog where he answers various questions about the writing of this book including the diamond shape that structured his story as well as the doubling of time until the halfway mark where it then reverses and halves. I didn't pick up on either of these features during the reading of the book, but it was satisfying to read about them after I had finished.

If you'd like to discuss the ending with me in the comments, please fell free, just add **spoiler alert** - thanks.

Thursday, 11 October 2018

Stories and Shout-Outs

One of the things I love about reading is the synchronicity that can happen sometimes. Last night I finished A Gentlemen in Moscow after a wonderful reading week in its company. This morning I started Frankenstein, which I thought was set in Europe somewhere, maybe Switzerland. It may still be, as I've only just tackled the four letters that begin the book. However our early epistolarian is writing from Russia no less, which has provided me with a lovely transition between my two books.

I also recently spotted the Personal Poetry Challenge thrown down by Karen @Booker Talk.

So I got to thinking that learning some poems by heart could be a) a good way to help keep my brain working and thus mitigate the potential of dementia and b) a means to encourage me to read more poetry.

It got me thinking. I have a number of snippets of poems under my belt. For instance every autumn I manage to get out at least one 'season of mists and mellow fruitfulness' and when I'm feeling harried and hurried I usually throw down a 'and miles and miles to go before I sleep'. It makes me feel close to my Pop. He grew up in the early 1900's and rote learnt numerous poems and odes that he could still recite just weeks before he died at age 84. He was very proud of his ability and didn't need much encouragement to recite. I particularly loved his knack for big words when reciting This is the Domicilary Edifice Erected by John (the much wordier version of This is the House That Jack Built) and I loved how he dared to stir up my sister when we were young with 'There was a Little Girl Who Had a Little Curl'.

I then had to learn large segments of the poems of Judith Wright and John Donne for my HSC exams, which I can still recall but not with confidence. More recently, I enjoyed learning about the six poems of Robert Frost that both boys studied for their HSC exams.

I have no way of fitting in another thing of any kind right now, but I love this idea and will tuck it away for future reference. If you'd like to join Karen in memorising William Wordsworth's sonnet Composed upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802 pop over to her blog.

One thing I always make time for though is Non-Fiction November with Katie @Doing Dewey! It's a lovely way to reflect on my year of reading non-fiction.

The 20th October is also time for the next 24 Hour Readathon. You can sign up here. The start time for Sydney is 11pm which means that most of my readathon will actually take place on Sunday the 21st.

Simon @Stuck in a Book reminded us that next week is time to go back in time with The 1944 Club. He and Karen host this biannual event where they encourage bloggers to read a book published in the same year.

I've been meaning to join one for years, but have managed to miss it every single time or failed to source a book from the appropriate year in time.

Any sort of book is welcome – novel, non-fiction, short stories, poetry – and any country or language, so long as it was first published in 1944!

This year I actually have a Maigret book on hand ready to go. Signè Picpus is #23 in the Georges Simenon ouerve. It has the added advantage of being a quick, easy read for me as well.

Grief and grieving has been front and centre of our family life this past year. The death of my much loved father-in-law has been hard. The sadness and sense of loss comes in waves. There's nothing new I can say about this that hasn't already been said or written before. However reading the words of others can sometimes provide solace or at least remind us that we're not alone, often when we need it most.

I think that's one of the reasons why we read - for those unexpected comments that speak to us across the page, like it was meant to be that we read that book at that particular time.

This week Shelf Love's review of Sabrina reminded me that "the way to get through grief is just to get through it" while reading Frankenstein reminded me that "nothing contributes so much to tranquillise the mind as a steady purpose - a point on which the soul may fix its intellectual eye".

We've certainly been keeping ourselves busy enough this year, but we're aware that the busyness is a way to avoid being consumed by our feelings. Engaging with our intellectual activities (work, blogging, reading) feels like a more positive way to use this busyness.

So, in memory of my dearly loved, poetry reciting Pop, who died in 1986, I will leave us with a poem. This is not one of the Wright's that I learnt at school, but given that I turned 50 earlier on this year, it seemed the most appropriate.

Turning Fifty

Having known war and peace
and loss and finding,
I drink my coffee and wait
for the sun to rise,

With kitchen swept, cat fed,
the day will quiet,
I taste my fifty years
here in the cup.

Outside the green birds come
for bread and water.
Their wings wait for the sun
to show their colours.

I'll show my colours too.
Though we've polluted
even this air I breathe
And spoiled green earth;

though, granted life or death,
death's what we're chosing,
and though these years we live
scar flesh and mind,

still, as the sun comes up
bearing my birthday,
having met time and love
I raise my cup -

dark, bitter, neutral, clean,
sober as the morning -
to all I've seen and known -
to this new sun.

Judith Wright

Monday, 8 October 2018

Frankenstein by Mary Shelley - The Preface

Who knew that when I decided to join in Marg @Books in Bloom's #Frankenfest as my #CCdare choice for October, that I would be opening up a can of worms simply by reading the Preface!

I'm reading the 1999 Wordsworth Classics edition that includes the original 1817 Preface by Percy Bysshe Shelley as well as the 1831 Author Introduction by Mary Shelley (it also have an Introduction by Dr Siv Jansson that I will save for the end to avoid spoilers). The book was originally published on the 1st January 1818.

This is my first time with Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus. I have never read or seen any movie versions of the story. I have a vague notion of the story - the creation of a man-made creature by a mad doctor that runs amok - is the best synopsis I can provide at this point. And most of that comes from my knowledge of The Rocky Horror Picture Show - the modern, sexualised spin-off.

I was therefore blissfully unaware of the controversy that has surrounded the novel since its publication about who actually wrote the book. How did I not know about this?

How did this controversy even happen?

Actually I know exactly how it happened.
It's the same thing that successful, intelligent, creative women have had to struggle against, in what feels like forever. It's why women published book anonymously or under a male pseudonym. It's why women like Mary Shelley got slut-shamed and lived a life of isolation for daring to run off and have babies with a married man, while the man gets high-fived for being such a smooth dude.

From Mary's Author Introduction in the 1831 edition we learn that -
  • Mary was born to two 'distinguished literary celebrity' parents, William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. She grew up in a literary, philosophical, modern thinking world where women (her mother, anyway) could write and be published (under her own name).
  • She 'scribbled' and wrote stories throughout her childhood.
  • She spent most of her childhood in Scotland (where part of the book is set).
  • Shelley, Lord Byron and Mary discussed the latest scientific thinking, shared stories and ideas.
  • She and Shelley edited and assisted each other with their creative efforts.
  • Frankenstein was born from a ghost story telling session in Switzerland with Shelley, Byron and others. 'I busied myself to think of a story - a story to rival those which had excited us to this task. One which would speak to the mysterious fears of our nature, and awaken thrilling horror - one to make the reader dread to look round, to curdle the blood and quicken the beatings of the heart.'
  • Mary has a believable and fairly common tale of the origin of the idea for her book 'My imagination, unbidden, possessed and guided me, gifting the successive images that arose in my mind with a vividness far beyond the usual bounds of reverie.'
  • 'At first I thought but a few pages - of a short tale; but Shelley urged me to develop the idea to greater length. I certainly did not owe the suggestion of one incident, nor scarcely of one train of feeling, to my husband, and yet but for his incitement, it would never have taken the form in which it is presented to the world.'

The 1817 Preface by P.B.S was written as if he were the author, although he provided none of the origin details that Mary did in her introduction.

In a letter to Walter Scott from 2nd January 1818 P.B.S. wrote about the book he had enclosed for Scott to review by saying -

My own share in them consists simply in having superintended them through the press during the Author’s absence.

Yet Scott still attributed Frankenstein to Percy. A letter from Mary to Scott on the 14th June 1818 tried to rectify the mistake -

I am anxious to prevent your continuing in the mistake of supposing Mr Shelley guilty of a juvenile attempt of mine; to which – from its being at an early age, I abstained from putting my name – and from respect to those persons from whom I bear it.

Over the years people have scoured letters and hand writing samples to try and prove one way or the other who wrote Frankenstein or how much input P.B.S may have had in the creative process. Curiously I didn't find very many articles on how much input Mary may have had on Percy's creative process except to acknowledge her posthumous role as editor of his poems.

Since this time we have had a gay rights activist claim that it had to be P.B.S who wrote the book because it was actually all about homosexuality. This claim was then counteracted by Germaine Greer in one of her fairly typical back-handed ways by saying it had to be written by a woman because it was so bad!

Frankenstein is a masterpiece; masterpieces are not written by self-educated girls and therefore Frankenstein cannot have been written by Mary Shelley. If Frankenstein is not a masterpiece, the thesis collapses. Though millions of people educated in the US have been made to study and write essays about Frankenstein, it is not a good, let alone a great novel and hardly merits the attention it has been given, notwithstanding the historic fact that its theme has inspired more than 50 (mostly bad) films. 
The Guardian 9th April 2007

This has only whetted my appetite for Frankenstein, Mary Shelley and the rest of her work. And I think it's also time that I jump into the bio about Mary and her mother, that has been skulking on my TBR pile for ages, Romantic Outlaws: The Extraordinary Lives of Mary Wollstonecraft and Mary Shelley by Charlotte Gordon.

A list of the various texts discussing the authorship issue are:
  • James Rieger, “Introduction.” Frankenstein; or The Modern Prometheus. Bobbs-Merrill, 1974.
  • Anne Mellor, Mary Shelley: Her Life, Her Fiction, Her Monsters. Methuen, 1988.
  • Marie Hélène Huet, Monstrous Imagination. Cambridge, 1993.
  • John Lauritsen, The Man Who Wrote Frankenstein. Pagan Press, (2007).

Saturday, 6 October 2018

#6degrees October

#6degrees is a monthly meme hosted by Kate @Books Are My Favourite and Best.

Oftentimes I haven't read the starting book for this meme, but I can assure you that I only play the next 6 books with ones I have actually read. 
If I've read the book during this blogging life, then I include my review, otherwise, you just have to take my word for it!

This month the starting book is The Outsiders by S. E. Hinton.
Are you game?

Old image alert - Kate @Books Are My Favourite & Best now hosts #6Degrees but this is a good refresh of the rules.

The Outsiders is one of those coming-of-age stories that I never got around to reading during my own coming-of-age stage or at any other stage of my life.
So I will have to stick with this one well-known fact about The Outsiders to get me to the next link on my chain.

A more recent version of a bildungsroman (I love any chance to use that fabulous German word) is
Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky.
It follows a group of high school friends through the eyes of a naive, younger narrator.

Hopefully they won't grow up to be like the friends in The Secret History by Donna Tartt!

A number of my bookshop colleagues had been raving about this book for years - they couldn't believe that I hadn't read it.
On a holiday to the Mornington Peninsula a number of years ago, I spotted a copy in a second hand bookshop.
It was a fun, lazing by the side of the pool kind of read, but ultimately left me scratching my head, wondering what all the fuss was about.

Another secondhand bookshop find that has proved to be more of a genuine and long-lasting thrill was Australian Classics by Jane Gleeson-White (especially because it is now out of print).

I thought I'd done a pretty good job, over the years, of reading many of the fabulous Australian classics - until I read this book.
I now have a list of Aussie must-reads to get through.

Another recent read that left me with a long list of books to read was Paul Kalanithi's When Breath Becomes Air.

This was Kalanithi's search for meaning, understanding and connection in the face of death.
How we approach the end of life with dignity and individual choice is the main discussion in Atul Gawande's Being Mortal.

This was an incredibly moving and thought provoking book and reminded me why I love non-fiction so much.
It can open up a world of thought and ideas that you could otherwise dismiss, miss or ignore.

Since I've been on a medical jag with this months #6degrees I will finish with another medical memoir that I could have easily dismissed as not being of any concern of mine.

Avalanche was one woman's discussion about the IVF journey she and her partner went on.
It was quite a harrowing read, and for me, a searing indictment on the IVF industry taking advantage of cashed-up vulnerable people.

October has been a circle of life #6degrees for me, starting with coming-of-age stories through to end of life before cycling back to the very start of our life story.

Where did your links take you this month?

Wednesday, 3 October 2018

The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch

For the very first time, I've actually read my latest #IMreadalong book during the month selected by Liz @Adventures in Reading. The September read was The Nice and the Good first published in 1968 (a very good year, I might add) which makes it 50 years old.

It was an odd mix of murder mystery, rom-com and rural farce not unlike The Diary of a Provincial Lady of Cold Comfort Farm (both stories that left me cold and unmoved, wondering what all the fuss was about). If not for this readalong with Liz, I suspect I might feel the same way about Murdoch's books. 

Murdoch's books are about intelligence, philosophy and the craft of writing, they are not about heart and soul. The only way I can get through them is to embrace the cognitive element and research the sh*t out of them (to paraphrase Matt Damon in The Martian).

The extra research that I'm doing for these books has made me delve deeper into IM's themes, interests and intentions. I've explored some of her philosophical ideas, translated her many uses of Latin, French and German phrases and googled the various art works, authors and poets that she has mentioned in her books. These are things that I enjoy doing, as long as I don't have to do it for every single book that I read!

The Nice and the Good led me straight into the arms of the elegiac poet, Sextus Propertius (circa 50 BC - 15 BC). One of our main characters, Willy is writing a book about Propertius. I now know enough about IM to realise that this is significant. Just reading some of the quotes most famously attributed to Propertius, quickly showed that many of her plot points and character arcs could be linked to these. (The link attached to his name above, takes you to a translated reproduction of his Love Elegies where he waxes lyrical about his love for Cynthia.)
  • Let's give the historians something to write about.
  • Love is fostered by confidence and constancy; he who is able to give much is able also to love much.
  • Let each man have the wit to go his own way.
  • To each man at his birth nature has given some fault.
  • If you see anything, always deny that you've seen; or if perchance something pains you, deny that you're hurt.
  • Anyone who is an enemy of mine, let him love women, but let he who is my friend rejoice in men.
  • Afflicted by love's madness all are blind.
  • Let each man pass his days in that endeavour wherein his gift is greatest.
  • Never change when love has found its home.
  • Let no one be willing to speak ill of the absent.
  • Love can be put off, never abandoned
  • At last, an injury suffered brings you back to my bed, expelling you from the doors of another.
  • Tell me who is able to keep his bed chaste, or which goddess is able to live with one god alone?
  • Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Propertius And Cynthia At Tivoli by Auguste Jean-Baptiste Vinchon

Murdoch believed that humans are by nature deeply narcissistic but that genuine love - love of beauty or love of genuine good in another can change this. The Nice and the Good is all about the tension between this kind of genuine love and self-love. Murdoch uses red herrings, secrets, the supernatural and various other complications to drive the tension. Everyone seems to be hiding something in this book.

The Nice and the Good is also, quite obviously, about being nice and/or good. Or not. I could probably write a whole post just on that idea alone, but will leave that for others in the #IMreadalong to cover this off (hopefully).

Naturally the sea features significantly, not only in the lives of our characters, but also as a symbolic element for Murdoch to play with. My research for this particular book revealed a whole lot of stuff about katabasis - a descent or journey of some kind into the underworld, downhill, sinking, retreat, down south or to the coast and it's opposite idea anabasis - usually a trip from the coast to the interior. Obviously the cave scene was a katabasis device that led to a transformation for Pierre and Ducane. The ripple effects of this descent also changed the lives of everyone else involved.

Murdoch described her books as being either opened or closed. Open stories were driven by character and closed books were driven by plot. The Nice and the Good is obviously an open book, with it's large cast of characters.

One of our main guys, Richard had a thing for a piece of art called Venus, Cupid, Folly and Time also called An Allegory of Venus and Cupid and A Triumph of Venus by Agnolo di Cosimo (1503 - 1572), also known as Bronzino. It was painted in the Mannerist style with the classic figura serpentinata feature highlighting movement, tension and proportion.

Murdoch describes the painting via Paula with,
The figures at the top of the picture are Time and Truth, who are drawing back a blue veil to reveal the ecstatic kiss which Cupid is giving to his Mother. The wailing figure behind Cupid is Jealousy. Beyond the plump faced girl with the scaly tail represents Deceit. Paula noticed for the first time the strangeness of the girl's hands, and then saw that they were reversed, the right hand on the left arm, the left hand on the right arm. Truth stares, Time moves. But the butterfly kissing goes on, the lips just brushing, the long shining bodies juxtaposed with almost awkward tenderness, not quite embracing. How like Richard it all is, she thought, so intellectual, so sensual.

Many phrases associated with this work of art, also reflect the themes of the story - Ambivalence, elusive, lust, fraud, envy, unchaste love, transience of physical pleasure, crowded, beasts, madness, erotic, 'looking good' rather than 'being good'. And a discussion about the artist, sounds very much like Murdoch herself,
Is it liking or loathing? He lacks human warmth, you could say. He doesn't feel for his sitters as Rembrandt felt for his. He is intellectually removed. He scorns or inwardly mocks just as much as he preens and flatters. 
The Independent 2012, Great Works: An Allegory with Venus and Cupid, By Bronzino by Michael Glover

Murdoch is a particular type of English writer. Intellectual, distant, cool. The lack of warmth in her writing and the confusing messages about love and goodness are making me doubt whether I care to know any more about the philosophical musings of Simone Weil, Plato or Murdoch.

I underlined a lot of sections, but on rereading them, found that most of them were significant within the story and revealed much about IM, but very few of them felt significant to me.

I did like, towards the end,
Perhaps there were spirits, perhaps there were evil spirits, but they were little things. The great evil, the dreadful evil, that which made war and slavery and all man's inhumanity to man lay in the cool self-justifying ruthless selfishness of quite ordinary people.

The past is gone, it doesn't exist any more. However, things that do exist are responsibilities occasioned by the past and also our thoughts about it, which we may not find it very easy to control

Without the extra research I think I would find these books rather dull and uninspiring. It's the layers that make them interesting in an intellectual way, but it's very hard to feel any emotions or care very much about any of her characters.

I appreciate Murdoch's books but I don't love them.

P.S. The foot on the left hand side of Bronzino's painting is the one famously used by the Monty Python crew.
P.P.S. The painting is hanging in the New York headquarters of the horologists in David Mitchell's The Bone Clocks.

The Nice and the Good was shortlisted for the 1969 Booker Prize.

Saturday, 29 September 2018

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller

Historical fiction is my favourite of all genres. It's probably also why I love classic books so much. Even if they were contemporary stories when written a hundred years ago, they are now historical fiction to me.

I'm not sure why I love being immersed in a time so far removed from our own, except I do love learning about times and places and peoples I would otherwise know little about. I love the imaginative journey, based on factual information, that my favourite historical fiction writers take me on. I also love the sense of continuity I get by seeing that even though our worlds may look and sound different, that people still go through the same emotional journeys regardless of the the historical era.

It comforts me to know that I'm not the first person to feel sad, scared, excited, hopeless, fearful, depressed, out of my depth, deliriously happy or just plain flat. Reading how other people, in other times, have survived and learnt to navigate a graceful way (or not) through their emotional stories, helps me to find ways to do the same in our more modern world.

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller is a Napoleonic era story all about people running from their pasts; that thing so many of us have tried to do as some point. The hope that moving away or moving on or changing one's surroundings will help us find a better version of ourselves or escape an older unpalatable truth.

However, as we all learn eventually, you cannot run from your past or who your really are, it will always come back to haunt you, one way or the other, until you face it square on, accept it, deal with it, learn from it and incorporate this into a newer, evolved you.

It seems that everyone in Now We Shall Be Entirely Free has a secret and something to hide. Shadowy figures dictate/guide the behaviour of our lone gunman as well as the family of siblings that we later find on an island off the coast of Scotland. Our protagonist is riddled with guilt and doubt and we're not quite sure, as the reader, where the truth lies.

The ending doesn't necessarily clear anything or everything up either. We learn about the truth of the matter that drives the story, but many things are left unresolved. Who was the unknown General that directed Calley to track down and kill Lacroix? And to what purpose? What was his motive? Was it a way for Miller to show us that Calley was not, and never would, be a free agent or free from his past. Was he making a comment on the importance of childhood in nurturing emotionally healthy adults?

We also explore the impact of war on not only the ones doing the soldiering but on innocent civilians as well. The civilians of little Spanish villages and those in England left to live with their returned traumatised soldiers. No-one leaves a war zone unscarred. Except perhaps those shadowy power-hungry figures behind the scenes pulling the strings. 

This story felt more straightforward than Miller's previous books, but there were still plenty of Miller's trademark twist and turns and unexpected insights. Miller writes a tense cat and mouse chase mixed with some romantic ideals and psychological insights. I enjoy the suspense, the little insights into human behaviour, the quiet moments between people that feel very authentic, but I do wish he would give us a little more resolution. But perhaps that's life. Nothing is ever resolved to our satisfaction. We all have memories we'd rather forget, yet finding a way to live with them can finally bring us a sense of peace. There's always things left unsaid, undone, but we continue on, searching for peace and freedom and a sense of belonging in this crazy, chaotic world we find ourselves living in.

However, if anyone would like to discuss the ending with me in the comments below, please do! One day I think it meant one thing; the next day another. I'd love to hear what you think.

And if you haven't read any Andrew Miller before, and you love great storytelling with an historical fiction setting, then this is your guy.

Wednesday, 26 September 2018

The Annotated Persuasion by Jane Austen & David M. Shapard

I have read Persuasion so many times I've lost count.
It's pretty much the same story for all of my Austen's. 

I reread them for comfort as well as the pure pleasure of spending time with a good friend.
But as with all long-term friendships, a time comes when you realise that maybe you're starting to take each other for granted. You stop being curious and simply accept their presence in your life. It can take a concerted effort to reinvigorate the relationship, add some pizzazz and spice things up with a new twist!

For Jane and I that time had come. It was time shake things up and delve deeper to learn something new about each other. But how to see something so familiar through fresh eyes? What else could I possibly have to learn about JA that I haven't already come across in the numerous bio's and books I've read about her over the years?

The only thing I hadn't tried before was combining the non-fiction with the fiction - reading about the times, the places, the language, the history as they influenced JA in writing a particular story.

 Which is why I have decided to make the next couple of years my Annotated Austen Extravaganza!

I've never read any annotated version of anything before, so I approached this first attempt a little cautiously. In case annotation was something that I didn't like, I decided to start with a well-known, much-loved story. A story that wouldn't be spoilt for me by any adverse conditions or reactions to a different format.
Just like Captain Wentworth, I was half agony, half hope!

Would all this extra information distract from the reading experience or would it enhance my enjoyment of the story as well as make me admire JA's abilities to craft a story even more?

To cut a long story short, yes.
Yes, I enjoyed reading the annotated version of Persuasion, but I did have some reservations.

At times it did disrupt the flow of the narrative, and often times I thought this disruption was unnecessary. Since I have read JA so many times, I understand her use of language and the different meanings of certain words between now and then. The definitions therefore annoyed rather than edified.

But I loved the extra background detail about JA's reading habits, her literary influences and her relationship with Stoicism. I enjoyed having connections made between events in her own life and events within the book. I poured over the old pictures and drawings of dresses, carriages and maps of the local area.

We all know that Persuasion is not without it's flaws - Shapard discusses these thoughtfully, as one who also loves this work and it's author as much as we do. His aim is not to tear it down or judge harshly, but to wonder what may have been if JA had had more time to edit and revise Persuasion.

Reading The Annotated Persuasion was a bit like a first date. Awkward at times, but with a lot of good will, intentions and hope. As we relaxed into each other's company, annotated edition and I got to know each other better,  and it feels like the start of a promising new relationship.


Sunday, 23 September 2018

Stories & Shout-Outs

I had forgotten all about my semi-regular Stories & Shout-Out meme, until a recent bout of blog-itis had me scrabbling for blog post ideas. The lovely, supportive NancyElin reminded me of this meme and a time when I used to have lazy, quiet Sunday evenings in which to write.

My Sunday evenings may no longer be quiet or conducive to writing and reflecting, but I'll give it a shot!

As many of you know, I enjoy checking out the longlists and shortlist of many literary awards. I know I will never read ALL these books, but I do like to see what is being rated by others, all around the world, as great contemporary literature.

One of the longlists I genuinely look forward to every year is the Canadian Giller Prize, partly for the pleasure of seeing some of my favourite bloggers reading and reviewing it as part of the Giller Prize Shadow jury.
I'm particularly keen to get my hands on a copy of Vi as I loved Thuy's previous two novels.

As for this year's Booker say I'm feeling meh about it is an understatement.
I have The Overstory on my TBR pile, but I don't feel very inspired at all.

However, I have been inspired by Adam @Roof Beam Reader and his Sunday Salon.
With my life the way it is at the moment, I often don't actually read it until Thursday, but I really like his views on the world and his ability to source interesting articles across a broad spectrum of topics.

Mr Books & I started a travel blog a couple of years ago on the strength of our trip to Cuba.
We'd had lots of interest and questions about how best to travel around Cuba, so thought that we could document what we had learnt.
Like most of the stuff we dream up, it was a really great idea!
But finding the time to turn it into something we could be really proud of has been a struggle.
Life has thrown so much stuff at us in the past two years, I wonder how we're both still standing sometimes.
Part of our resilience though, comes from our many wonderful, happy travel memories.
Given that longer form travel posts are not in the foreseeable future, we decided to start a photography meme (called Thursday Travels) that could keep the site active as well as remind us of many of the amazing places we've experienced.
We hope you can drop by, share a pic of your own and spread the word to other bloggers who like to travel and take photos of the world around them.

Currently Reading:

Les Miserables - chapter a day
I'm back on track with this, just in time for Hugo to wax lyrical about young love - ugh!!

Now We Shall Be Entirely Free by Andrew Miller
I loved Pure (in a love/hate kind of way) but I'm loving this one in a less complicated fashion.
It's fabulous historical fiction, not done justice by the cover or the title.

The cover is actually quite lovely up close, but it doesn't jump out, visually, on a bookshelf with lots of other bright, new releases. I'm 3/4 of the way through and have so far failed to see why this cover was chosen or why the title is relevant.

The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch
A mystery with a Diary of a Provincial Lady twist?

As a write this, I realise that I am seeing some connections between these two books:
  • families with unusual ideas about life and love.
  • the sea.
  • a mystery that follows us (and the main character/s) all the way through the story.
  • post traumatic war disorder.

Coming Up:

FrankenFest with Marg @Books in Bloom to combine with The Classics Club's Goth Month.

I'm contemplating joining in or instigating some kind of Moby Dick readalong next year.
August 2019 will be 200 yrs since the birth of Herman Melville
The book has 135 chapters plus epilogue.
There is also the Moby Dick Big Read podcast.
I wanted to somehow combine the two as I've heard this classic can be a difficult one to get through on one's own.

My Weekend:

One of the things keeping me busy at the moment is my garden in the mountains.
It's mostly an Australian native garden, created by the original owner.
I've spent the past few years, tidying it up and making it my own as time and weather permits.
This weekend I thoroughly weeded, pruned and replanted one small section of it.
Finishing it off with some lovely, new, sweet-smelling chipped mulch.

I'm not thinking about how many more weekends I will need to do the entire garden!

Tuesday, 18 September 2018

Books I Read in High School

JoAnn @Lakeside Musing has recently been revisiting her high school texts.
It got me thinking...and discussing with the family about the highlights of our school reading lives.
The tragedy was gradually revealed, though, as B21 and B18 shared not only their lack of inspiring, interesting school texts, but the utter dearth of said texts in the first place.

Mr Books and I, over 30 years after the event, could recall every single book, play and poet that we read for our HSC years, and with a little more effort we could also recall most of the books read throughout years 7 - 10 as well.

Whereas both boys only remembered their meagre list of texts thanks to our prompts.

It seems like the teaching of English no longer stresses, you know, actual reading!
The books selected, according to the boys, were ones that could be read aloud in class, as no-one was expected to actually, you know, read the books by themselves at home.

They also don't remember discussing the books except in terms of purpose and narrative style.
They memorised certain critical phrases and ideas that they then regurgitated in exams, with no idea what any of it meant.
They didn't even have to read the books in question as none of the exam questions or class discussions were actually about, you know, the story.
The book was selected purely as an example of a text type and that's all that mattered for the rest of the course.
The joy of reading and language was completely absent.
Author intent and individual reader experiences were irrelevant.

Neither boy now reads.

Which breaks my heart.

B21 used to be an avid reader, but a combination of getting his first smart phone in the middle of his high school years & the current mode of teaching English stopped all that dead.

B18 always struggled to get into reading.
He just didn't see the point of it.
After constant trying, we finally found that he enjoyed stories like Wonder by R. J. Palacio, but as many of you probably already know, books like Wonder are not very common in the junior fiction market.
Since his high school years, anything to do with reading or books has been anathema for him.
Any need or desire he may have had for stories, magic or imagination he found in movies and getting lost in another's world now happens via games like Fortnight.

Given the amount of joy, comfort and companionship that books and plays and theatre have given both Mr Books and I over the years, we wonder what the boys will turn to during their own future times of need.

Perhaps, we're being old fashioned fuddy-duddy's.
Maybe the wonderful world of new technology, AI and AR will provide our Gen Zedder's with their own kind of joy, comfort and companionship?

I'm also forgetting, that during my school years, our parents were worried about the effects of television on our minds and lives.
Schools had stopped teaching grammar and our parents generation was horrified.
What were we doing to our kids and what did it mean for the future?

Maybe, I am now simply on the other side of the generational divide.
Oh the irony!

I just hope that I live long enough to enjoy watching our Zedder's angst over the educational standards inflicted on their oh so modern kids.

My School Texts

Andrew Marvell
John Donne
Judith Wright

Pride and Prejudice
The Great Gatsby
To Kill A Mockingbird
Lord of the Flies
And Then There Were None

Major Barbara
Saint Joan
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll
King Lear
Merchant of Venice
Romeo and Juliet

Mr Books

(A) Judith Wright
John Donne
Rime of the Ancient Mariner - Coleridge

Grapes of Wrath
Pride and Prejudice
Brave New World 
Swallows and Amazons
To Kill A Mockingbird

King Lear
Merchant of Venice
Under Milkwood
Streetcar Named Desire
The Importance of Being Ernest
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll


Robert Frost
(A) Peter Skrzynecki

Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-Time
Catcher in the Rye

(A) Gary's House
Merchant of Venice
Midsummer Night's Dream
(A) Summer of the Seventeenth Doll


Robert Frost

Curious Incident of the Dog at Night-time
(A) Sabriel
(A) The Rabbits by John Marsden & Shaun Tan

(A) Summer of the Seventeenth Doll

He also recalls that early in Yr 7 or 8 he may have watched a TV version of a Shakespeare play.
It may have had fairies in it, but he can't really remember.
And he doesn't care.