Getting to know Beryl better…

Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend by Psiche Hughes

I will happily go on record to say that Beryl Bainbridge is my favourite author. Earlier this year, I hosted a reading week celebrating her work; you can see my record of that week and a bibliography of Beryl books and reviews on my Reading Beryl page. Through searching through reviews, obituaries, TV clips etc to complement and enliven the reading of her books – I felt I had got to know her quite well. Not well enough it seems!

When I was able to get my hands on this new biography, it went straight to the top of my TBR pile, temporarily relegating Dorothy Dunnett!

beryl biogI knew she painted, but I had no idea how good she was. This biography of Beryl, which happens to be the first to be published after her death in 2010, comes from art publishers Thames & Hudson – and it anchors itself primarily in her art, although her literature is closely interlinked. Although we know Beryl as a writer first and foremost, she always painted, she sold paintings between novels, and when she periodically suffered from writer’s block, she was able to work through it by painting.

The author was a friend of Beryl’s from the early 1960s onwards; they started off as neighbours in Camden after Beryl had moved down from Liverpool, bonding over their young families. Hughes herself is a lecturer and a writer, married to an artist, so is ideally placed to write about her friend. The introduction is also written by a friend – Brendan King, who was Beryl’s editor for twenty years, and who pieced together Beryl’s final novel The Girl in the Polka Dot Dress which was left unfinished when she died.

Beryl always rejected the label of being eccentric; I’m not so sure, but she is certainly idiosyncratic – having her own consistent style which suffuses her life, and thus her art and her books. Her pictures and her novels are heavily influenced by events from her own life, and often include other subjects that fascinated her like Napoleon, pictured dancing on the cover of this book. Her paintings are delicate, many done with and ink and smudges of colour, yet their subjects are earthy. Many of the figures within are nude and Rubenesque; expressions of her subconscious?, yet she always grounds them with an object placed in the frame – a plant … or her favourite samovar even. The figures tend to have an ethereal feel, and many have reminiscent of Modigliani’s elongated faces – he was a painter Beryl admired.

Hughes writes about Beryl’s views on art…

She attended the openings of my husband’s exhibitions because he was a friend. On one occasion she even wrote a short piece for the invitation to one of this exhibitions (in July 1987), which gives a brief personal doctrine of painting: ‘What one wants from art is a personal statement, a successful arrangement of colour and shape and a sense of place.’

The picture below is a family group of the author and her family on the arrival of a new sibling, was painted in 1970, the angel was added later when Hughes had a fourth daughter.

Beryl Bainbridge's portrait of Psiche Hughes' family and the arrival of a new sibling 1970Later on, Beryl took to painting pictures based on the subjects of her historical novels, “after its completion, as if to exorcize the memory of the effort she had spent in the writing.” Hughes suggests.  The pictures included for her novels, The Birthday Boys, and Every man for himself (based on the events of Scott’s journey to the Antarctic and the sinking of the Titanic respectively), are particularly evocative – the colours of the sun on the snow, and the dark night as the ship sinks create real atmosphere.

Supplementing Hughes’s text are 108 illustrations – many in colour of Beryl’s paintings, but also photographs and book covers. The whole book is produced on high quality cream paper, with a ribbon bookmark, making it a pleasure to read.

The triple approach to Beryl’s life – artist, writer and friend really worked, and I now feel I know her a lot better. This is a lovely book. (10/10)

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I was lucky enough to receive a review copy through Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend by Psiche Hughes. Pub Oct 2012 by Thames & Hudson. Hardback, 208 pages.

Look at what I won!

I have had my moments as a ‘comper’ in the past – entering loads of competitions, and winning a few too. I haven’t done that for years though, and have reverted to not winning things in general – but this week I’ve won twice! Not only did I win a prize (a nice multi-wicked candle) in my daughter’s old school Christmas fete raffle, but I entered a twitter competition from @AtlanticBooks and blow me, I won!

My prize was a selection from their current list:

I’m particularly looking forward to reading The Dinner by Herman Koch since I read Stu’s review, and only this afternoon I was looking at The Potter’s Hand by A.N.Wilson in the bookshop – it’s about Josiah Wedgwood; Will Rycroft admired Patrick Flanery’s Absolution too. I shall look forward to reading those three, but know nothing about the others – but they look interesting.

I do like winning books – such fun!, as Miranda would say. A huge thank you to Atlantic Books.

Getting to grips with the phenomenon that is Lee Child

Killing Floor: (Jack Reacher 1) by Lee Child

Lee Child is a phenomenon. Made redundant by Granada TV at the age of forty, the Sheffield man who had initially studied law turned to writing and created the series of thrillers featuring Jack Reacher – there are now seventeen of them. Child is a worldwide bestselling author and now divides his time between the USA and the South of France.

I’d always treated this series with slight suspicion – they’re much beloved by the male side of my family, but I didn’t believe they would live up to the hype.  But then I saw Mariella gushing over Child  on a Sky Book Show programme, and thought – well maybe I ought to try one, I shouldn’t be so snobbish about it.

I started at the beginning – with the first novel, Killing Floor, published in 1997.  In a moment of serendipity, the day I picked up the book was October 29th.  That day you see, is Lee Child’s birthday, and Reacher’s too – the latter I knew from the first page where there is a CV of Reacher.

Reacher is an imposing chap – six foot five, dirty blond hair, fifty inch chest, and ice blue eyes. A former military policeman, he was demoted from a major to captain, but left as a major again.  Father a US Marine, so Jack and his brother grew up wherever their Dad was based.

No birth year given though.  Reacher is obviously a bit of a younger and maybe hunkier version of Child himself – who is very tall and slim with dirty blond hair.

So why, oh why, is shorty Tom Cruise playing him in Jack Reacher the movie (based on the 2005 novel One Shot) which will hit screens soon?  This is certainly a case of being glad to have formulated my own vision of the character from the book before seeing him on the screen.

Reacher is the modern day equivalent of Clint’s High Plains Drifter or Alan Ladd’s Shane. He’s a drifter and maverick, going where he pleases, paying no taxes, owning just the clothes on his back and what’s left of his army payoff. He arrives, shakes things up and leaves.

In Killing Floor, Reacher picks the wrong time to arrive in the town of Margrave, Georgia.  It was a sudden decision to get off the bus early to visit the town where a legendary bluesman had died decades before.  As soon as he arrives in town, having walked fourteen miles in the rain from the bus, he’s in trouble. The night before, there was a murder – he’s the stranger in town … he must have done it according to the policeman who takes him in.

Of course, these corrupt officers have picked the wrong buy to take the fall. Reacher is very soon able to free himself, and finds that the chief detective, Finlay, who is not part of the cabal, is under pressure. Reacher is able to put his years of expertise at the disposal of Finlay, and together with the overlooked policewoman Sgt Roscoe (who will naturally fall for his charms), they start to investigate the case. The bodycount will mount, and the layers of corruption in this little town are many; they will need all their skills to outwit the bad guys, however, by this time it’s personal for Reacher once they identify the first body …

I’m pleased to say all my preconceptions were wrong – this was a cracking good crime thriller.  Reacher is strong, physically and mentally. He’s a hard man, but one with a heart; he can love and show compassion, but won’t hesitate to kill if needed.  It’s a great move for Child to make his hero effectively a deputised sheriff rather than just a gun for hire, and it gives what would otherwise be a standard police procedural an edge.  The plot is complicated, and needs most of the 523 pages to be resolved, but it moves apace and keeps you guessing. A satisfying mystery with a charismatic hero – give me more!  (8.5/10)

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Killing Floor: (Jack Reacher 1) by Lee Child. Paperback.
High Plains Drifter [DVD] – directed and starring Clint Eastwood
Shane [DVD] [1953] starring Alan Ladd.

A woman scorned …

My First Wife by Jakob Wassermann, translated by Michael Hoffman

They often say that truth is stranger than fiction. This novel is apparently no fiction – it’s one of those ‘all names have been changed’ type books!  My First Wife was published posthumously in 1934, and was a thinly veiled account of the author’s first marriage – and that marriage was a dis-ast-ah!

Herzog is a poor writer who moves to Vienna, where he meets Ganna. She is the fifth of six sisters, she’s not a beauty, she’s eccentric, bookish, and, he finds out too, late – über-clingy. But lured on by her rich family and his debt, he panders to Ganna’s odd behaviour and lets himself be fascinated by her …

It was one of my most disastrous qualities that, faced with a self-willed person, I would lose out because the phenomenon of willpower in and of itself would put me into such a state of amazement that I could generally only come to the decision my opposite number had made for me.

Alexander had been spending the summer in the country, house-sitting when Ganna arrives on her bike, and threatens to jump in the lake (a twenty foot drop) if he won’t have her.

And she: ‘Will you have me or not?’
I didn’t know whether to laugh or be cross. ‘All right, I will, I will.’ I said hurriedly, if only to put an end to the upsetting scene, but even as I said it I had the feeling I had swallowed poison. She jumped back, dropped to her knees in front of me and covered my hand with kisses.

Not an auspicious start, and in fact it goes downhill rapidly after they’re married. They have to live off the interest from Ganna’s settlement, they can’t afford a big house, they have babies, and Ganna has very odd ideas about education. Meanwhile, Herzog dabbles at writing and tries to avoid doing anything meaningful, especially with his wife.  Eventually he leaves Ganna for his mistress and that’s when he finally realises that she will never let him go, and that all the money they have and more will be used up by the leeches she employs to fleece him, leaving him a truly broken man.

I read this book immediately after The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford, another story of dysfunctional marriages and philandering, and by the end of The Good Wife, I had had enough of this misery! Herzog is so up himself, he’s so weak and self-centred, Ganna is barking and you wonder why she settled for the first man who’d have her. Herzog treated her appallingly, and she, scorned, turned it all back on him. I really felt for their children.

But whereas Ford’s narrator was of the unreliable type, remembering things that changed the story, Wassermann’s isn’t – but of course we only get Herzog’s side of things and he is full of self-pity – none of it is his fault. I wonder if Wassermann himself was such a shit!

Even after reading Ford, I was totally engrossed in this tale which has all the vicarious thrill of a period memoir that bares all – so much so, I can’t really comment on Hoffman’s translation. Wasserman tells the story in short chapters, unnumbered, each with a tantalising title and relating a specific event or anecdote.  One such was ‘A female Don Quixote’ in which Herzog tries to explain to one of Ganna’s sisters why he was fascinated by her. He likens Ganna to the ‘idealistic battler against windmills’ – this was, of course, before they fell out.  I liked the structure and writing even if I didn’t like the antihero (7.5/10)

I read this book to take part in German Literature Month hosted by Lizzy’s Literary Life and Beauty is a Sleeping Cat

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I received a review copy from Amazon Vine. To explore further at Amazon UK,  please click below:
My First Wife by Jakob Wassermann, translated by Michael Hoffman, pub Penguin Classics, Aug 2012. Hardback 288 pages.

Incoming Beryl …

Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend by Psiche Hughes

I am inordinately excited to have been able to get my mitts on this rather different biography of my favourite author, the first full biography since Beryl’s death. Thanks to my lovely neighbours who rescued it from the Amazon delivery man and depot hell this morning, so I could share it with you.

The lovely thing is that Beryl turns out to have been a brilliant artist as you can see from the cover below, and made money from her painting when writing couldn’t provide it.

This biography comes from art publishers Thames & Hudson, and is beautifully produced on quality paper with over 100 illustrations in colour and b/w including many photos of Beryl throughout her career.

Beryl and Italian-born Psiche met in the early 1960s, they were neighbours in London and their friendship lasted until Beryl’s death in 2010.

I am really looking forward to reading this book and savouring Beryl’s art. Expect a full review soon!

If you want to find out more about Beryl, why not check out my Reading Beryl page, which contains all the reviews and links from Beryl Bainbridge Reading Week, which I hosted back in June.

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I received a review copy via Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
Beryl Bainbridge: Artist, Writer, Friend by Psiche Hughes, pub Oct 2012 by Thames & Hudson, Hardback, 205 pages.

Modern Art is not rubbish

What Are You Looking At?: 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye by Will Gompertz

The BBC’s Arts Editor, Will Gompertz, is unusual for an arts commentator – he has a sense of humour and a mission to enthuse us about his subject. He is uniquely qualified – having worked for the Tate Modern and performed a stand-up show about modern art at the Edinburgh fringe. A colleague of mine met him at a recent charity event, and said he was wacky and brilliant company – he sounds a great guy, and he always comes across as if he enjoys his job when you see him on the TV.

I love art – ancient and modern. I know what I like, but I don’t know enough about most of it to set it into context properly, especially modern art.  In that, I have taken after my father, who enjoys modern art for what it is – which in some respects is what many abstract or minimalist artists intended, but I haven’t needed to take it further – until now, when I managed to get my hands on a copy of Gompertz’s new book.

What are you looking at offers a personal introduction to the subject aimed at a wide audience. Gompertz is the perfect guide through the web of all the ‘isms’ and movements of modern art.

After a sketch outlining the first true avant-garde act of modern art – Duchamp’s 1917 work, ‘Fountain’ – a signed urinal, we divert back to the Impressionists, the previous band of art rebels, to set the scene. Talking about abstract art in general, Gompertz says:

You could argue that Manet started it all back in the mid-nineteenth century when he began to remove (abstract) pictorial detail in his painting The Absinthe Drinker (1858-9). Each subsequent generation of artists eliminated yet more visual information in an attempt to capture atmospheric light (Impressionism), accentuate the emotive qualities of colour (Fauvism), or look at a subject from multiple viewpoints (Cubism).

From then on it’s a broadly chronological journey up to the present day from the Impressionists through Bauhaus and Surrealism to Pop-Art and bringing us totally up to date with the YBA (Young British Artists). A helpful fold out ‘tube map’ of the isms and key artists shows how all the different schools of modern art grew out of each other and how they interlink, and a handful of colour plates and a few monochrome pictures help elucidate the key works described.

Gompertz’s style is clear and easy to read, chatty and humorous when needed and it is full of anecdotes which bring the artists to life. Whether you agree with him or not – I’m afraid that no-one will make me enjoy the paintings of Bacon or De Kooning – I did appreciate reading about them.  He also has no sacred cows:

There are times when those of us involved in the arts talk and write pretentious nonsense. It’s a fact of life: rock stars trash hotels, sportsmen and women get injured, arts folk talk bollocks. Among the main culprits are museum curators, who have a tendency to write slightly pompous, wholly incomprehensible passages exhibition guides and on gallery text panel.  At best their talk of ‘inchoate juxtapositions’ and ‘pedalogical praxis’ baffles visitors: at worse it humiliates and confuses and puts people off art for life. Not good. But in my experience the curators are not trying to be deliberately obtuse; they are talented individuals catering to an increasingly broad constituency.

There are omissions – the Op Art of Bridget Riley only gets a passing reference, as does early David Hockney. Others who don’t feature include Georgia O’Keefe, giant scribbler Cy Twombly (another artist I don’t get!), much of sculpture, photography in general except for the work of Cindy Sherman, and installations of the kind that tend to win the Turner prize, which is another thing Gompertz doesn’t comment on.  A book of this kind can’t hope, or want, to be all-inclusive however, and all the key artists and art movements are there and will give you a path for further personal research.  An appendix lists where you can see the works mentioned.

I found the chapter on Post-Modernism particularly useful. For instance, you have to know that Cindy Sherman’s photographs are designed to be stills from non-existent movies that reference other films. Gompertz says: “But the truth is that Postmodernist art rewards knowledge much like a cryptic crossword, where comprehension comes from solving the puzzle.”  

While I know this is not per se a picture book, a few more illustrations scattered through the text would have been welcome. I didn’t really need the occasional cartoons that pop up here or there – the only slightly heavy-handed nod to remind us this is a book for everyone. There are two sections containing around 20 colour plates, plus another fortyish illustrations in black and white.  Given that the book’s RRP is £20 (not £19.99!), another insert of colour plates, even if it added a couple of quid more, would have been nice – someone willing to pay £20 would probably part with £22 say, (or it’s on-line discount price equivalent).

I’m lucky enough to have seen works by many of the artists mentioned, so I could visualise most of the broad styles from Gompertz’s great descriptions. I learned a lot, and I’d recommend this book thoroughly for its lucid text, (another good Christmas present idea).

Going to see art is better though, and my next visit to the Tate Modern will be a very different experience – which is, of course, what the author hopes we’ll all do having read his book.  (8.5/10).

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I received a review copy from Amazon Vine. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
What Are You Looking At?: 150 Years of Modern Art in the Blink of an Eye by Will Gompertz. Pub Penguin, Sept 2012, 435 pages incl indexes. Semi-hardback.

One man’s version of love and betrayal…

The Good Soldier by Ford Madox Ford

Subtitled “A Tale of Passion”, Ford’s 1915 novel has one of those first lines that tend to come up in quizzes: “This is the saddest story I have ever heard.” We picked it for our book group to discuss in November, after several of us having loved the recent BBC adaptation of Ford’s later set of novels Parade’s End.

The Good Solider is a tale of two couples, The Ashburnhams, Edward and Leonora, and John Dowell and his wife Florence. The story is told by John, looking back over a period of years in which the couples spent too much time together, resulting in a disintegration of both of their marriages which accelerates once the Ashburnham’s ward, Nancy, joins the party.

John and Florence are American, and John, a Philadelphian, tells us a little of his wife: “Florence was a Hurlbird of Stamford, Connecticut, where as you know, they are old-fashioned than even the inhabitants of Cranford, England, could have been.”  The Dowells are ‘leisured Americans’, ex-Pats, spending some months in the South of France, and some at a German spa town each year – for Florence’s heart.

It is at Nauheim that they meet the Ashburnhams, and Florence immediately adopts them as they represent the epitome of everything she aspires to, having an English country manor, and Edward is an Army captain, on sick leave from India. Florence is always keen to show be the tour guide, showing off her research and knowledge – ‘intellectual slumming’, her husband calls it, but of course she is cultivating Edward from the outset.

It becomes clear quite quickly that there is no love lost between Leonora and Edward. He is a hopeless romantic and spendthrift, she tries to keep in him check, but there is little if any intimacy between them.  John and Florence too, have an outwardly sexless union.  John is gullible, fearful for the state of her heart; she is just playing him along. It’s all very claustrophobic and frankly rather nasty.  There’s nothing to like about any of the quartet, although oddly, John never loses his respect for Edward, the ‘Good Soldier’ of the title.

I did find this a hard book to get into, it wasn’t until around page one hundred, nearly half way through, when it clicked and things started to get interesting, so I’m glad I persevered.  This initial hard-going is due to the narrator John’s meanderings, digressions, and repetitions. John takes several months to recount his tale, and he keeps remembering things, and then realising that what he’d said before was slightly different to his new reality, so we have a new version of what happened – the chronology is not straightforward to unravel. He’s a classic unreliable narrator, but he doesn’t seek to deceive, only remember.

Along with the iterating and evolving story which goes round and round, Ford has a habit of re-using words and phrases – in consecutive sentences. It irritated me at first, but then I realised it was the way John was talking, pausing and repeating himself slightly differently again for emphasis. Mostly this is odd words, but in the following quote he does it repeatedly, and I rather liked that:

… I stood upon the carefully swept steps of the Englischer Hof, looking at the carefully arranged trees in tubs upon the carefully arranged gravel whilst carefully arranged people walked past in carefully calculated gaiety, at the carefully calculated hour, the tall trees of the public gardens, going up to the right; the reddish stone of the baths – or were they white half-timber chalets? Upon my word I have forgotten, I was was there so often. That will give you the measure of how much I was in the landscape.

The book was universally enjoyed by our book group and we debated for ages over the characters – whether any of them had any merit whatsoever, and decided that Edward came out top by a small margin despite being a serial philanderer – he was a decent sort underneath.

We all felt that this was a book that would benefit from re-reading – indeed I’d like to very much.  Even on a first read, as a book group choice, it gives loads to discuss so I’d highly recommend it. (8/10)

See also what Hayley of Desperate Reader thought of this book.

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I bought my copy. To explore further on Amazon UK, please click below:
The Good Soldier: A Tale of Passion (Oxford World’s Classics), other cheaper editions available.
Parade’s End, again other cheaper editions available.
Parade’s End [DVD], BBC 2012 starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Rebecca Hall.

The man with a word for everything …

An evening with Mark Forsyth

One of the surprise bestsellers last Christmas, thanks to being serialised on BBC Radio 4, was a little book all about etymology – The Etymologicon, by Mark Forsyth.  It is all about the strange connections between words and phrases through finding where they come from, so you can link “church organs to organised crime” and “brackets to codpieces”.

Forsyth is obviously hoping for a repeat performance from his new book, which will also be a Radio 4 Book of the Week in December.  The Horologicon celebrates all the oddest words in the English language, and as a device for introducing them to us, Forsyth has contrived them into a wander through the day according to which hour they may be of most use in.  There are words for ‘lying awake before dawn and worrying’ – uhtceare (Oot-key-are-a) from the Old English; to gongoozle – ‘to stare at a canal and do nothing’; and wamblecropt – to be ‘overcome by indigestion’.

Both books are great fun to dip into, but as much fun was hearing Forsyth talk about them as I did last night at Abingdon’s historic Roysse Room. He obviously has a great passion for language, and is rather geeky about it – in a good way I hasten to add, but he was also extremely funny to listen to.

His well-polished talk’s theme was essentially that “there are really good reasons for reading dictionaries apart from social inadequacy.”, he said.

Firstly – Etymology. Forsyth told us all about how film buffs are related to buffaloes – as buffalo (ox) leather was used to polish / buff things and it’s pale like skin – hence in the buff.  It’s also very strong, and the New York fire brigade uniforms used to be made of it, and the firemen were known as buffs – and had a following who used to turn up to see “a good conflagration” and these enthusiasts became known as the buffs instead, and the word was adopted to mean any sort of knowledgeable fan.

Another reason for reading dictionaries is to rediscover lost words – like those I already highlighted above. And finally – to give you an unbiased glimpse into the compiler and their subject’s lives.  Here, Forsyth told us how he managed to track down, in a bookshop in Cornwall, a rare copy of Cab Calloway’s autobiography which had as an appendix his Hepster’s dictionary: The language of jive – Calloway is most famous for performing Minnie the Moocher. Forsyth is also a fan of old farming dictionaries full of obsolete terms for fungal diseases of cows etc.

Before the book signing, it was over to the audience for questions – who did their best to catch him out with obscure dialect words. I bet this happens all the time, but Forsyth was quite the gentleman letting them have their moments, whilst mentally noting them down for future reference I’d wager.

Forsyth’s blog The Inky Fool is worth a visit for more etymological musings and to get a flavour of his books, which I’d heartily recommend as good wordy fun for Christmas!

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I was given/bought my copies. To explore further on Amazon, please click below:
The Etymologicon: A Circular Stroll through the Hidden Connections of the English Language
The Horologicon: A Day’s Jaunt Through the Lost Words of the English Language


The TBR Double Dog Dare

For the past two years, James over at Ready when you are CB has hosted the TBR dare, and I signed up for the full dare both times. The TBR Dare became the TBR Double Dare, and this year has become the TBR Double Dog Dare, as James’s dog Dakota is in on the act!

The dare also has its own page where you can sign up if you wish.  It’s very simple. You are dared (not challenged), to reduce the size of your TBR stack by only reading books you already own (or have on order) between Jan 1st 2013 until the end of March.  You can make sign up for as long or short a period as you want, and make it fit your reading patterns.

Again, I accept the dare, and plan to go the full three months once more.  The only exceptions for me will be reading group books if I don’t already own them, and I will allow myself one new review copy per month that needs reading before 1st April – but only if it’s totally irresistible.

Note – the TBR Double Dog Dare does not stop you acquiring books to read afterwards. You can build up a lovely stack of new books to dive into in April if you wish.  The first rule of the dare is to have fun!

The Liebster Award

Karen at Miss Darcy’s Library nominated me for the Liebster Award (German for dearest or beloved), given and passed on by bloggers to blogs that are newer to them. In this meme you answer seven questions put to you by your nominator, then compile your own seven questions and tag some other blogs to pass it on to. I particularly like the fact that you are encouraged to publicise blogs that are new to you in this meme.

Here are my answers to Karen’s questions…

1. What is your favourite reading spot?
At the moment it’s in bed – first thing in the morning and last thing at night. However I do lust after a giant armchair – one big enough to put my feet up on – the Conran Matador one in red (right) would be perfect.

2. What do you think of movie adaptations of famous books? Do they enhance or hinder your appreciation of the book?
I tend to be of the persuasion that generally prefers to read the book first, then see the film or programme, so my own vision of it is not influenced.  But, if the adaptation is classy and the casting good – it can enhance a later reading.  Reading   the Harry Potter books for instance, was more fun after the films started (mostly due to the wonderful Alan Rickman as Snape), similarly Colin Firth is now forever Mr Darcy…

3. Has a book ever made you want to travel to a particular place?
A single book, probably not.  But with each book set in Venice I read and there are many, the desire to visit the city grew and grew. We went about six years ago, and loved it – I should probably return soon.  I treasure the little drawing my daughter did (left) – she was 6 then – what perspective!

4. What is your reaction when someone you know dislikes a book you are especially fond of? Have you ever quarrelled over a book?
Ha ha. It depends on who’s doing the disagreeing!  We’ve had some really great discussions at our book group over books that divided the group. Fitzgerald’s Tender is the Night was one which I adored, and others hated – but the discussion was good, and it’s still a personal favourite.

5. Do you like knowing all about an author before you start reading their work or do you think biographical details aren’t necessary to understand and appreciate a book?
I always read the author biog and look at their photo if there is one because I’m nosy, and it’ll usually give little hints to their areas of expertise and interests which make reading the book more interesting. I wouldn’t necessarily check them out any further before reading, but I often look them up after finishing the book if I enjoyed it though.

6. In your opinion, what makes an excellent book review?
Ooh – that’s difficult. It very much depends on whether what I already know about the book/author, and very importantly, who’s doing the reviewing.  I need to get a feel for the book: its broad themes, major characters, main plotline direction, but I don’t need much detail, the right feel is enough.  However I do need confidence in the reviewer, be it another blogger, writer or critic – that’s something you build up as you get used to their style.

7. And just for fun: Mr Darcy or Mr Rochester?  Darcy = Colin Firth – nuff said!

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That was really fun, and made me think – thanks Karen. Now it’s my turn to ask the questions…

  1. Does blogging every get in the way of reading for you, or does it enhance it?
  2. How often do you re-read books, and which have you re-read the most?
  3. Are there genres of writing that you won’t read?
  4. When you go on holiday do you take a holiday from reading, or is your case full of books?
  5. How do you shelve your books: alphabetically, fic and non-fic, or by theme etc?
  6. Tell me about an author you’ve recently discovered (whether new or old), and want to read much more of.
  7. … and finally for fun, what books do you want for Christmas

I’m going to tag a few bloggers whose blogs I’ve discovered this year and am enjoying.  There is absolutely no compulsion to do the meme or pass it on – unless you want to that is, so I nominate Page Plucker, The Book Trunk, Alex in Leeds, Heavenali and The Book Boy. Anyone is welcome to have a go too if they wish, and do go visit the blogs I’ve nominated, they’re all great.