Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Eating dangerously

I've almost finished Tom Parker Bowles " A year of eating dangerously" and although I started it with high hopes, I feel it doesn't quite fulfill its promise.I'm sure that eating the hottest of hot chillies is unpleasant and possily dangerous, but is eating too much barbequed meat when judging a competition really dangerous. I think I have become a bit bored with his descriptions of over-filling his stomach; maybe I've become jaded because of too many food advertisements on television at this time of year.

Wednesday, 5 December 2007

The meme that is going round various blogs, such as dovegreyreaderscribbles and eat drink live lets me tell you

4 places I have lived
Ghana, West Africa -I spent my early childhood there, as my father worked there.
The Isle of Wight - I grew up there and although in the 60's it was a bit drab, especially in winter, I loved being able to do exam revision on the beach, then go for a swim after school.
Manchester- A student here in the late 60's, great fun and fantastic after the I o W
Hampshire - just across the water from the I o W and France

4 jobs I have had
Waitress- part-time, while still at school, in the summer holidays, hot and busy
Barmaid - temporary, helping out a friend of a friend
Trailer Librarian - it was hitched up to landrover and moved about the border of Cheshire and Derbyshire, lovely in summer, freezing in winter.
College librarian - a static, fully heated building at last.

4 places I have visited
France, often, all different parts, can't wait to go again
Santiago de Compostela
Florence - a tip- visit the Uffizzi in lunchtime, the queues are shorter and don't attempt to see everything at once.
West Coast of Scotland and very wet and very gorgeous it was too.

4 favourite foods
Ripe camembert cheese
Really fresh fish
Moules mariniere
Chocolate cake, biscuits, ice cream or plain

4 places I'd rather be
here at home
on a Mediterranean beach in summer ( especially as the weather is cold, damp and grey at the moment)
walking somewhere high and sunny, sometimes

Friday, 30 November 2007

Busy, busy

I seem to have very busy seeng people and dashing about the last week or so and am struggling with Cloud Atlas by David Mitchell, a reading group read, due to be discussed on Monday. Today like yesterday, has been a cake-baking day in preparation for the church Christmas fair tomorrow afternoon. Spending a wet afternoon in the kitchen with the oven on and putting in one cake after another is a pleasant way of spending a dark and dreary November day, so am feeling quite virtuous, even though I did finish the remains of the chocolate frosting all by myself. I've also made some papier roule earrings for the craft stall - hope they all sell.

Wednesday, 21 November 2007

Le Vaulmier and London

The visit to see how the house is getting on went well, and we saw the valley in winter, as there was snow in the Auvergne last Thursday - very beautiful but very hazardous as well. The week we were away went very quickly and now that the house is looking lighter and brighter, we can't wait to get in it, furnish it and start using it as our holiday home. But as it is still occupied by builders and has no kitchen or bathroom as yet, we will have to be patient a while longer.
I did manage to almost finsh Steph Penney's The tenderness of wolves while away. The frost and snow in the area enhanced reading about people trekking through the Canadian winter snows - it somehow seemed appropriate, although the little bit of snow we met quickly disappeared when the sun came out again.

To cheer ourselves up, we attended the Persephone lecture on Tuesday, given by Penelope Lively and held at the Art Workers Guild in Queens Square in London. The lecture was excellent, on the subject of "House and Home in fiction". The sheer number of authors and the houses or homes they described gives one a reading or re-reading list for the next few years. She also mentioned her own latest novel, Consequences, in which a cottage in Somerset is the setting for the first of the three relationships, that of Lorna and Max,which form the essence of the story and to which Ruth, Lorna's granddaughter, returns while searching for family history and finds a possible new beginning for herself. A thoroughly good read.
To make a day of it, we also visited the V & A, where we had lunch, and a look around some of the exhibits, as well as a quick dip into the British Museum before going on to the lecture.

Saturday, 10 November 2007

Book buying and borrowing

The recently arrived Persephone Books catalogue and Biennial magazine cheered me up, as the books are such a delight to own, handle and read. As a collector of bookmarks, I love receiving another beautiful and distinctive item to add to the collection. Most of my others are much more mundane, but not as disastrous to a book as some of the items that turn up in library books returned by the reading public, though I personally never found either the kipper, bacon rasher or five pound note in a book. However much I like acquiring new books, there is only so much room in the house, so a trawl round the local public library is a good source of new reading matter - my last visit yielded Steph Penney's The Tenderness of Wolves, which is still in the waiting to be read pile and Tracy Chevalier's The lady and the Unicorn, , which is a reread for me and one which I will enjoy, and will probably take to France next week when we visit the house we have bought there to see how the building work is getting on. The builder has sent us some pictures of the house with work started on it, but nothing recently, so it will be nice to see it again and see how much progress has been made. It will be interesting to see the Auvergne in autumn, as we last saw it in early August, busy with walkers and other holiday makers.

Monday, 29 October 2007

I've just started reading Irene Nemirovsky's Suite Francaise for a book club meeting - on Friday. But it is already grabbing my attention, so unlike a recent meeting in which only one person had actually finished the book we were discussing, one hadn't even started it, and the rest were at different parts through it, I think we'll all have read it. I must admit that I hadn't realised that she had written so much before the Second World War, so will try and seek some of them out. My other read of the moment is Jane Brocket's The Gentle Art of Domesticity, which I came across when I discovered her yarnstorm blog, which I have found very enjoyable. The photography is really inspiring in both book and blog, and has prompted me to keep my little digital camera to hand. Jane is so inspired by colour herself and she expresses that feeling really well. Although I'm not a knitter or crocheter, I do sew and make cakes from time to time, and have done all my adult life, especially when I had two teenage sons at home. I've always sewn clothes , curtains , cushion covers , bedspreads and so on for myself and for the boys when they were small. I must admit I got a bored when a lot of the sewing seemed to be patching the knees and hems of school and other trousers, just so the child was in a fit state to leave the house!

Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Andrew to Zadie

I've recently finished reading Andrew Motion's memoir In the Blood, which I found very absorbing. He managed to get the reader into his world very successfully, although I thought that world to be a slightly melancholic one, probably because the story starts with the accident which his mother suffered, and the implications of it were then a sort of shadow in the background of the rest of the narrative. As a contrast to that I've also just read Zadie Smith's On Beauty, which I've been looking out for at the library for a while - I didn't want to read it enough to buy it or even reserve it - sometimes it's nice to leave things to chance. The first book read by the reading group I set up at Shirley Library was White Teeth, which some of the group found hard going and one or two thoroughly enjoyed. I found On Beauty rather different from White Teeth, as the cast of characters is not quite as eccentric but still fairly international and the relationships not quite as complex, which makes for a slightly easier but still enjoyable read. The relationship between the two families, both men academics with non-academic wives who become friends of a sort, and their children, most of them at college or having just left or about to go is portrayed is all its argumentative detail and is all the more enjoyable for that, it's what gives the book life and humour. The ending is also one of hope for the future, not what it appeared to be turning out to be.

Saturday, 20 October 2007

A one nighter

Earlier this week my sister, husband and self spent a night on Brownsea Island, in Brownsea Castle. We travelled over from Poole Harbour and walked up through the garden to the Castle, had lunch then walked the length of the island. The weather had dried out a bit following the rainy morning, and we saw lots of wildlife, some really tame ducks and peacocks and wonderful views. The next day was absolutely glorious, with warm sunshine, clear blue skies, and beautiful autumn colours on the trees. The formal gardens at the Castle were still looking good, more end of summer than actual autumn, and the walk we took after breakfast took us a different route to the other end of the island ( it's only about a mile or so long) by way of the cliff tops and seashore on the south side, facing the Purbeck hills. The peace and quiet were really soul restoring - it must have been like this in more parts of the country before the blessed infernal combustion engine powered its way into our lives and consciousnesses. The north side of the , facing Poole harbour is noticeably noisier. After lunch and another little wander through the gardens near the Castle, we caught the launch back to Poole and so on home.

Thursday, 18 October 2007


We had a "bring a recycled item" event at church recently - I took some papier roule earrings I had made, in a box papered with a magazine picture. The earrings were made with magazine picture paper too and were very successful, so now I'm making some for the Christmas Fair, to be held at the beginning of December. Other types of recycling include remaking an old sundress into a summer skirt - it's made out of a rather nice cotton black and white print, and was just the thing to wear this summer with a black top too a summer funeral.

Wednesday, 10 October 2007

Are male cooks taking over?

As an avid lifelong reader and collector of cookery and other books about food, I've recently noticed that there seem to be more books , recipe, cookery, call it what you will, by men than women, with the possible exception of Nigella Lawson and her latest offering, Express. The titles I've been buying, reading and sometimes cooking from have all been by men, and include Nicholas Clee's Don't sweat the aubergine and his blog - he wrote about oxtail stew a couple of days after I'd just made a huge one at home, with meat from my local butcher, Upton's of Bassett in Southampton, who also make delicious pies and pasties. Nigel Slater 's Real fast food is another recent buy - I gave the free copy I acquired when I bought a magazine to my son- which has some good recipes and ideas, even though it was first published in 1993. It would now seem to have become one of those kitchen classics, which one returns to again and again. Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall is another food writer with strong opinions on lots of different aspects of food. His recent collection of journalism "Hugh fearlessly eats it all" is an interesting gathering of articles covering a wide variety of food issues and makes me think that bit harder about what I'm eating. A recent visit to one of the three local branches of Waterstones bookshops showed that the faces on display in the Cooking section were mostly male. A few years ago it was probably more female than male -but there are probably now more professional chefs publishing books and appearing on television. This seems to be a re-run of the early days of cooking on TV, when those appearing on TV were mostly male , for example Graham Kerr, Philip Harben, although not forgetting the terrifying Fanny and Johnnie Craddock

Sunday, 30 September 2007

The siege and not joining a book club

It would probably be difficult to find two more contrasting reads than the two books I'm reading now. Helen Dunmore's The Siege is a beautifully written story of a family during the siege of Leningrad in 1941. She describes the winter with its beautiful snow and deadly cold with language that is particularly poetic, but when describing the feelings of the main characters, the language is more prosaic and down-to-earth. This contrast adds to the tension in the story - will these people whom we have come to know, survive the winter and the siege. A really compelling read, and should lead to some interesting discussions at the reading group meeting. The other title is No, I don't want to join a book club by Virginia Ironside. Much more brittle, about a woman reaching sixty and becoming a grandmother within a few months. There are a few "they didn't have those in my day" statements which, being sixty, are just plain wrong, as I can remember for a fact that they did. Very much a Londoners view of life, too, as the diarist spends her time visiting the Tate, various expensive restaurants and talks about her Freedom card. However, despite these few carping critiicisms, its quite fun, and hasn't made me want to hurl it across the room, as I did with Bridget Jones Diary. As this is also a Book Club read, the comments from the other readers should prove fascinating.

Friday, 14 September 2007

Author talk

On Wednesday evening, had a busy time with first a meeting of the Reading Group I belong to, dicussing Audrey Niffenegger's The Time traveller's wife, which, once I and a couple of other group members had got over the challenge to the imagination at the beginning of the story, found fairly enjoyable as the story of a relationship. It did more or less hang together. However two members couldn't get on with it at all, and really struggled; one of them didn't finish it, as she disliked it so much. I have to say that I tried to read it about a year or so ago and didn't really get over the challenge at the beginning, so gave up on it, but I did persevere when it was suggested as a read for the group.
This briefer than usual meeting was followed by a talk about her first published novel , Three Mothers, by Sonia Lambert. She gave a brief outline of how she came to write it and mentioned that it was strongly autobiographical - she had done a little bit of research into her family background, and although she was brought up in Southampton ( the talk was held in Shirley Library in Southampton) she set the book in Brighton. It was pleasant to meet the author of a book we had all read as a group, as she was fairly clear eyed as to why she wrote - it certainly wasn't to get rich, but to tell a story as well as she could. The talk was organised by the City Library service, following a suggestion by the novelist's mother, an avid user of Southampton's public libraries. I was impressed by the way Sonia Lambert describes the emotions felt by the characters in her novel so intensely.

Wednesday, 5 September 2007

Love and loss

Having been very familiar with the name of Adele Geras as a writer of books for children, I was intrigued to pick up her Made in Heaven, a title for adults. I thought at first it was going to be a bit too sentimental for me, with its emphasis on the trappings of a wedding, but it proved to have more in it than mere sentimentality, although it didn't seem to dwell on the turmoil of emotions generated by the break-up of long standing relationships as much as those desribed by Sandra Howard in her first novel Glass Houses - this latter proved quite a breathless rush of a read, with a gallop through the political scene at Westminster as well as the editor's job of a major newspaper, while describing the development of an affaire between a newly promoted minister and the newspaper editor. Although I thought it might turn out to be merely a romance, there was more to it than that, so I await the next novel by this writer with interest.
Although both these books have elements of loss as part of their themes, the loss delicately described by John Boynes in his novel
The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas will haunt me for a long time. The writing is from the point of view of a young German boy during World War Two and describes his growing friendship with another boy, in the remote place he and his family have moved to. Although this is supposed to be a book for children, it is a perfectly satisfying read for adults as well.

Thursday, 30 August 2007

Summer reading

Now that summer holidays are coming to an end, how many books did people manage to read while away. I find that it depends on the type of holiday taken. If, for instance, I'm on a holiday touring round foreign cities, doing a lot of sightseeing I cannot settle to anything too demanding to read, as often the only reading time is a few minutes last thing at night, or odd moments during the day, so choose something light and funny, or a short story collection. If a stay in a gite or rented house is the choice, then something more demanding may be in order, as I can find the time to spend an hour or two just reading while sitting in the garden ( my favourite ). The types and number of books I take to a rented house are more critical, and I usually end up with about half-a-dozen for a two week holiday, some of which should be long and fairly complicated, and a couple of which should be shorter and lighter just for a change of mood. I am always pleasantly surprised to find anything readable in any holiday house that i have rented, especially if it's abroad and the reading matter is in English. My husband usually takes just one novel - for the last two years it has been Charles Dickens' Nicholas Nickleby.

Sunday, 19 August 2007

Birds without wings

I've spent some time in France recently, where we have just bought a house, so the time away was not exactly holiday, what with visiting the notaire, meeting the builder, getting the electricity switched back on, and setting up the phone - the lady who dealt with us in the France Telecom office in Aurillac was a model of patience, helpfulness and all round good customer care, (in the proper sense of that phrase) and the phone is now duly installed. I took a selection of books to read while away but only manged to finish one, Kate Atkinson's Not the End of the World, a collection of short stories ideal for the circumstances, and also started reading Louis de Bernieres' Birds without wings. partly as an antodote to IKEA and MFI kitchen catalogues. The story relates the lives and loves of the inhabitants of a small village on the coast of Turkey during the early part of the twentieth century, including the First world war and the subsequent conflicts in the Balkans and previuos Ottoman Empire countries. It also includes a description of the early life and rise to fame of Kemal Ataturk. I found it fascinating and throughly enjoyed it. Like Captain Corelli's Mandoline, it required a bit of patience at the start. I found the descriptions of the relaxed attitudes to religion of both Muslims and Christians heart-warming while reading them, but surely real life was a different story. The chapters describing the events at the front line at Gallipoli are however far from heart-warming, but one soldier's view of how he came to be there and what happened to him and his fellow soldiers, and what he felt about it. The aftereffects of the wars were the terrifying aspects, for individuals and whole communities.

Friday, 27 July 2007

Motherhood and more

I've recently finished reading Sonia Lambert's first novel Three Mothers for a reading group - we are meeting the author in September, along with another reading group in our area. This was well-written, although I found the timeline, which kept jumping back and forward as the memories of the women were related, somewhat confusing. Not precisely enjoyable, as one of the themes is terminal illness, but well handled and interesting. A fairly accomplished book for a first novel.
Another recent read was Can any mother help me? by Jenna Bailey. Based on a collection of letters which formed a secret correspondance club, now housed in the Mass Observation archives. The letters were written as articles , then circulated by mail to the next reader. They make fascinating social history, and although when I started the book I had doubts about how interesting I would find it, I carried on and found myself gripped by the lives of these women, mostly of my mothers generation. The editing of the letters has been skillfully done, and there is sufficient biographical detail to give a picture of their individual circumstances. A fascinating book.
We are off to France at the weekend, so am hastily gathering reading matter for a week in the Auvergne, which seems to be as wet as here!

Wednesday, 11 July 2007

Libby Purves

I've just finished reading Love songs and lies, the latest novel by Libby Purves. I have enjoyed her radio programme Midweek, on Radio 4 Wednesdays at 9am for a long time, although Francine Stock is presenting it at the moment - don't think she lets the writers and others have their say in quite the same way as Libby sometimes did. I've followed Ms Purves writing career since reading her first novel Casting Off and have enjoyed most of her books. Casting off is about a middle aged woman sailing away , leaving her husband standing on the quayside, after a marital row. Like all good fiction , there is a happy ending, but with some exciting and dangerous adventures along the way. Many of her other books reveal some of life's major issues - the latest novel brings up the subject of paternity and the consequences of concealing it. I have also chuckled wryly at the descriptions of the chaos family life can sometimes become in even the most well-educated homes, while reading How not to be a perfect mother and its follow-ons. It certainly was an excellent antidote to some of the other baby and child care books at the time, and helped me keep my sanity as a working mother with babies.

Thursday, 28 June 2007

Two biographies

I recently read Patrick Marnham's " Wild Mary: a life of Mary Wesley" while on holiday in France (weather being absolutely awful ) and found it quite interesting. I had read several of her novels not long after they were published and proving to be very popular with the reading public. I enjoyed reading them, but don't necessarily think of them as great literature, more as good middle-brow reads. I feel that the biography is about the same level - I found it filled in many gaps in my knowledge of the authors life and background, and did re-awaken my interest in her novels. I found a second-hand copy of A Dubious Legacy, which is one title I don't remember reading, so am looking forward to catching up with that soon.
I also finished Alexander Master's "Stuart: a life backwards", which one of my book club companions found a bit too much like work. I found it a bit hard to get into, as I didn't think I would find the subject particularly sympathetic, but was soon gripped by the events by which Masters gets to know Stuart. The Book Club felt that although Stuart's life may not have merited a footnote in anyone else's view, Masters had written a sympathtic biography of a man who had come to mean a lot to him as a friend and fellow campaigner in the fight to free two Cambridge charity workers who were unjustly jailed for allegedly allowing drugs to be sold in the charity premises, and that Stuart's life, with his dysfunctional family, disability and frequent imprisonments, still came across as a real, though exasperating person.

Wednesday, 27 June 2007

Reading groups

Since the act of reading , at least by most literate adults, is normally a silent, solitary occupation, the act of joining or even setting up a reading group might seem to contradict the reason for reading. However I have found that talking about books in a group who have all read the same book as me certainly adds to my reading experience and impacts on how I remember a book, and may make me read something that I intend to read when i can summon up the energy, will or whatever to get round to it. I am enjoying Yiyun Li's Thousand years of Good Prayer at the moment, a title I came across last year and suggested to one of the book groups, as did another member, so we'll be discussing that later in July. An upcoming book group read is Kiran Desai's The Inheritance of loss, which I read last year just after it won the Booker. I found it an interesting read, although not a perfect book. The contrast between the lives of the judge's granddaughter, living in the foothills of the Himalayas, and his cook's son in America was quite well done . I can still remember the atmosphere of the judges house that the writer evoked for me and the restaurent in America where Biju worked. Whether it was the best novel published in 2006 is probably a moot point, as is whether or not I re-read it.

Sunday, 20 May 2007

Holiday reading.

Have just finished Matthew Parris's Castle in Spain, the story of how he found and restored, with his family, a ruined house in northern Spain. I enjoyed the articles in the Times about this venture, and it was good to catch up with the finished product, so to speak. I've also just started Sebastian Faulks Human Traces, which is proving gripping. As husband and I are going to France later this week, I'm also hunting out books to take with me So far I've collected Wild Mary, a biography of Mary Wesley by Patrick Marnham, Alexander Masters Stuart, a life backwards, Sarah Dunant's In the company of the Courtesan( I loved her Birth of Venus) Jed Rubenfeld's Interpretation of Murder and Manette Ansay's Blue Water. I tend to take too many books and end up not reading one or two, but cannot imagine being without a book to read or worse , having read all I've taken with me , and not wanting to re-read any. Two of these, the Jed Rubenfeld and the Alexander Masters are for the two reading groups I belong to. Last time we went to France, I finished the couple of books I took before we came home, so I've probably gone for overkill this time.

Tuesday, 15 May 2007

I spent last Saturday in bed, feeling doped out with antibiotics and painkillers, so finished reading Catcher in the Rye, by J D Salinger, the choice for Mondays Reading Group meeting. I found it rather sad, had understod it to be the ultimate book aboutt a teenage boy growing-up in 1950's America - but I'm not sure the main character/narrator does much of that in the tale he tells. Sure, he does some grown-up stuff ,if you can call it that, smoking like a chimney, getting drunk, trying to get laid by a prostitute, but ultimately it's more about his loss of the companionship of his younger brother and how the only person who he seems able to communicate with is his eleven year old sister. An interesting read, which provoked a fairly lively discussion at the group meeting. Our next read is Jed Rubenfeld's The Interpretation of Murder, which the library could only supply us with 2 copies of , all other 27 being on loan. I bought one in the Sainsbury's opposite the library for £4.99, and may sell it afterwards on green, a useful place to buy and sell recent books and which may net me £3.00+. I recently ordered Yiyun Li's Thousand years of good prayers for another reading group I attend and the order came in about 3 or 4 days and cost £3.75.

Thursday, 3 May 2007

Starting out

I have just read the article about the situation of the professional librarians in Hampshire in Update (journal of CILIP) - very sad, for both the staff and the users of the service. It's all very well to chase number of items loaned as the main means of showing how well a public library service is used, but if one of the criteria is also how satisfied users are with staff knowledge , how does getting rid of the trained and qualified members of staff help?

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