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Tag Archives: Imagination

A Victorian End of Year Review (of sorts)

ImageVaultHandler_aspxAnd so, the end of 2013 has passed… and so has my two-year themed reading challenge. It’s been such fun choosing a monthly theme then piling up the appropriate books with fevered anticipation. And then posting gratuitous pictures of my personal library. The total of books read thematically has been less than impressive, as seen on my Good Reads list.

Organising my reading thematically has given me focus, made me take books off my shelves (even if they’re just been piled up and reshelved after a couple of months), and challenged me to discover new authors and genres.

However, it has sometimes been restrictive and the blogging element of the experiment has fallen by the wayside a little. I haven’t reflected on the themes deeply enough, perhaps because the reading in the end hasn’t been so focused. I’m still distracted by all the books I haven’t read, and all the books which keep piling up in our house.

So October’s theme, which melded into November and (oops!) into December, was Victoriana. I loved the anticipation of this and found some delicious looking books on my shelves (see previous post). The few novels I managed to read were successfully atmospheric and (perhaps) overly dramatic. Some were set in brothels with suitable emphasis on sexual proclivities (The Crimson Petal and the White in particular; not too gratuitous but with an engaging narrative style. And stonking good plot). There was swirling fog, gorgeous dresses, and grisly murders (at times). They all seemed to be hefty tomes with complicated plots and lots of sex. Perhaps it’s an attempt to redress the balance of our mis-conception that the Victorians repressed everything. (see Matthew Sweet’s Inventing the Victorians to redress the balance)

Reading contemporary novels set in the Victorian era has been an interesting contrast to the style and content of the ‘real’ Victorian novels I’ve already read.  Some of the Victoriana was almost a self-conscious parody, seeking to recapture the thrills of a Victorian ‘sensationalist novel’ but failing. I’d rather read Wilkie Collins or Mary Braddon, thanks.

I would recommend anyone to try a year, or a few months, reading within a certain theme; whether a particular author, setting, genre, subject matter. I have discovered some gems and authors I wouldn’t have otherwise have tried. Get out of your comfort zone and look in a different part of your local bookshop or library.

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And so as I look ahead into 2014, I’m resolving to ‘watch less, read more.’ I have many books piled up waiting to be read and am looking forward to a year’s ‘free reading’, returning to my old habits of reading different books, whatever takes my fancy…
…. but with the twist that I cannot buy any more books for myself for the whole year.

Now, that’s an idea for a year’s worth of blog posts…

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On Victoriana

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Inspired by my son’s school topic this half term, I am choosing to read a selection of Victorian inspired modern fiction. I’ve read a good selection of the ‘real’ thing although there are always gaps to fill. However, I have chosen to read modern writers’ interpretations of Victorian literature. Even within this selection I am aware there is a potential range of style: some may almost be pastiches, others add alternative voices to the established canon, some look at a familiar subject from an unfamiliar angle. Most of them would probably be viewed as scandalous if published during the reign of ‘ Victoriana’!

I’m forward to fog and furs,  crinoline, corsets and the Crimea; a selection of mystery, romance, murder, history and great costume descriptions.

Of course, the stack of books shown is another gratuitous shot of books from my shelves; there’s enough material there to last about six months. I hope I can make some progress.

Enough of this: time to read!

(not shown: collected works of Sarah Waters and Scarlett Thomas, and whatever I can find loaded on my Kindle)

 
 

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On Iris Murdoch (in Anticipation)

A collection of Iris Murdoch

A collection of Iris Murdoch

A new month, the start of a new school year, another gratuitous picture of my library.

After the Summer off (more of that later) I am returning to my self-imposed reading theme, hoping to get the literary grey cells going with a good dose of Iris Murdoch.

As you can see, I have a(n almost) complete collection of her novels (copies of Flight From The Enchanter, The Bell and Iris are mysteriously missing; particularly odd as I know I’ve read them. That will bother me all night…).

But I don’t think I really ‘get’ Murdoch. She’s a novelist who writes about ideas, about people who talk about philosophy, stringing events together to make a point, rather than a great novelist with a well-honed style.

Or at least that’s my recollection of Murdoch’s work.

I am prepared to be challenged.

But where should I start?

 

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On June’s Journeying

Bob: The Man on the Moon by Simon Bartram. Highly recommended by me - and my kids

Bob: The Man on the Moon by Simon Bartram. Highly recommended by me – and my kids

Perhaps I was enjoying my sci-Fi and fantasy month too much, I extended it half way into July. Admittedly, I enjoyed entering into new worlds, an author’s imagination, imagining ‘what if?’, what’s out there, what are the limits…

it was good to get away from the ordinary and humdrum; to travel to another planet, to imagine the future.

I can begin to understand the genre’s appeal. A little like habitual readers of romance novels, reading a sci-fi or fantasy novel is a time to escape,to turn away from the domestic everyday concerns and let Ian author take you on an incredible journey.

But at heart, what really matters, what I think draws people back is the humanity (even if not humanoid); it’s seeing what people do, think, feel, interact in extreme circumstances. Even if they’re a vampire. Or green.

imagei enjoyed my ‘June Journeying’ but I think my visa’s expired. I shall return to earth and the next (mini) theme..

P.S. here’s what I managed to read:

The Passage – Justin Cronin

Enter Wildtyme – Paul Magrs (an almost random choice from my library; a time-travelling fantasy with its roots in Darlington bookshop. And there’s a sequel: Wild Thyme Beyond)

The Light Fantastic -Terry Pratchett (a rollicking ride!)

The Player of Games – Iain M. Banks (hard work but it paid off; I had to be totally focused)

(Non sci- Fi: This Is How It Ends – Kathleen McMahon (passed the time entertainingly for a day in hospital); The Betrayal – Helen Dunmore (a reading group choice; I alway love her novels))

Here’s what I have left in my overly ambitious pile to read – one day:

The Gone Away World – Nick Harkaway

Darkmans – Nicola Barker

Under the Dome – Stephen King

The Magician – Raymond E. Fiest

The Left Hand Of Darkness – Ursula Le Guin

The Earthsea Quartet – Ursula Le Guin

Jack Glass – Adam Roberts (I can’t wait to start that; a combination of the Golden Age of sci- Fi and the Golden Age of crime fiction.)

Oh, perhaps I can squeeze another book in….

 
 

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On big books

imageAs part of my self-imposed, extended sci-fi & fantasy month of June, I read Justin Cronin’s The Passage; a 960-something sprawling tome full of viruses, vampires, nuns, survivors and a young girl called Amy.
It’s a great read – the first part of a projected trilogy – and I’d heartily recommend it, particularly if (like me) you don’t usually enjoy sci-fi. It’s well-written, compelling, moving and engaging. And there’s a bearable version of a vampire legend.
But you have to commit to a book as long as this.
It’s a huge book to lug about (I have a ‘real’ copy, resisting the temptation to buy it again for my Kindle) and the action takes place over a century or so time span. There is a large cast of characters. And vampires, twelve of them.
It took me about five weeks to get through this, having read about 300 pages when I first bought it a couple of years ago. Not bad going, but I was reading other books in between and alongside so hadn’t been entirely faithful to Amy and her defenders.
This is where I come unstuck.
I cannot always commit.
I am a book magpie. I like gathering books around me, attracted by glittery things, piles of paper to line our nest. And thus, restricting myself to reading one book at a time is difficult: I am not sure what mood I will be in, where I’ll be reading, how much time I have available, whether I’m looking after the children, or whatever else I am doing.
This is why I am unlikely to finish The Game of Thrones; I am completely lost only a third of the way through the first instalment, without an end in sight. It’s just the War of the Roses with lots of snow and a big wall, right?
But I committed to The Passage (mostly) and am pleased that I persevered. Having finished it last night, I now feel footloose and fancy free! I don’t have to move the book’s heft up and down stairs; I can look at other books, with the chance of spending some time with them instead.
So, what’s next? A few more days of sci-fi & fantasy? I’m sure I can squeeze in a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel…

 
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Posted by on 12/07/2013 in Uncategorized

 

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On Not Reading But Writing

I’ve been spending more of my free time writing and performing than usual this month.
Admittedly, that’s not a very long time in measurable terms, but it has made me think in terms of a word-producer rather than merely a word-consumer. It’s as though I’ve broken through the fourth wall and am looking at the inner workings of the art form.

I’m not claiming that my few words thrown onto the page are necessarily any good, that I’m ever going to be the next ‘Big Thing’, or even that more than a few people will hear or read my words; but I have been encouraged to keep throwing those words down, challenging myself to express and experiment, to find my written voice.

The discipline of a fortnightly writers’ group has been instrumental in this experimentation, as have been a few sessions with a group of amazingly talented and inspirational performance poets. I have been involved with two performance events in the past week – one in a church, the other in a gallery – and produced pieces specifically for these events. Hearing one’s words performed by actors in a splendid setting is transformative; both for one’s words and for one’s view of oneself as a writer.
I AM a writer!

Most of the pieces have been poetry but I enjoyed the challenge of writing a prose piece, creating a character based on an artwork. The resultant piece – read by an experienced actor in front of the Victorian painting- owed much to my formative teens obsessed with the Bronte family and was probably not wholly original, but I relished the time to create and explore a moment in someone’s life, a person who only exists in my own head.

Detail of a reworking of this picture ( in London's V&A) was on the front cover of my copy of Agnes Grey; inspiration for a piece performed at Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, where this picture hangs.

The Poor Teacher by Richard Redgrave (1849) Detail of a reworking of this picture (in London’s V&A) was on the front cover of my copy of Agnes Grey; inspiration for my piece performed at Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead, where this picture hangs.

And so, I continue to find brief moments to write, enjoying the challenge of wringing out the words to express something, I also continue in my reading quest: themed and reflective, (self-)directed and disciplined.
Now, excuse me, I have another Regency romantic hero to fall in love with…

 
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Posted by on 18/02/2013 in Uncategorized

 

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On giving away books

Every few months we enjoy a day out to Barter Books in Alnwick; a beautiful market town on the North East coast with amazing gardens, castle and one of the best second hand bookshops -ever. It’s a family favourite: husband sees books leaving the house ( they run a barter system), children watch trains running above the bookshelves (it’s in the old railway station), they ‘drive’ the book bus while browsing for their own books, we get to rummage through shelves and shelves of books of all descriptions; to top it all off, we can warm ourselves by the fire and rejuvenate in the restored cafe.
As I handed over my bag a few weeks’ ago, bulging with about 30 books to offer for barter, I found myself wondering (again) why I find it so hard to give books away. Why am I so attached to them? Why do I always hesitate before handing them over?

I don’t see myself as a particularly materialistic person. But I find it difficult to resist buying another book to add to my ‘must read’ shelves. Books represent an indulgence; I don’t buy lots of shoes, jewellery, clothes, go on expensive holidays, etc. so buying a book, whether from a charity shop, at a reduced price, or throwing the latest bestseller into the basket with the shopping, is only a minor, insignificant indulgence. Isn’t it?

Buying a book represents so much. Having a book indicates the intention to read it. I have promised myself the time to enjoy reading this book; it represents ‘me time’; a moment to be selfish, to sit down, enjoy an escape from daily demands and responsibilities, to listen to and experience another person’s stories, experiences or knowledge.

I know I can achieve all this by borrowing from my local library (which I do, very regularly), but owning my own copy makes the contents more personal. I can read it in my own time, without a renewal deadline. I can lend it, enjoy receiving it back, chat about it, return it to my shelves. I also become attached to certain editions, remembering where I was when I read it, occasionally leaving a memento of a particular time in the books’ leaves.

So often though, a book on my shelves represents a desire to read it. I often fill my shelves with books I either want to read or feel I should read. My bookcases are aspirational!

But, of course, there comes a moment when I realise I can pass on a book.

I can give it a new life, save it from languishing, un read on our shelves. I might have read it before but not fallen so in love with it that I cannot see it go; in fact, I might not have read it at all (yet). It is my responsibility as a bibliophile to pass books on, to share their physicality and their contents.

And so, farewell (some) beloved books. Live again…

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Posted by on 17/11/2012 in Uncategorized

 

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