Books

Battling Tsundoku by daintydora

Tsundoku: the condition of acquiring reading materials but letting them pile up in one's home without reading them.

I've always loved books and reading, and over the last few decades (I feel old writing that), I've acquired books at a rate much faster than I've been able to read them.

I read as much as I can, but it's averaging out at anywhere between 25-35 books a year.

I'm disappointed in myself as I type that number as I would always have described myself as a 'prolific' reader; mad for books, a lover of being transported to far away places in other people's fabricated worlds. But it turns out I'm as busy as the next person and perhaps not prioritising reading as much as I should be?

Battling Tsundoku - So.Many.Books
Battling Tsundoku - So.Many.Books

Hot on the heels of reading 'Spark Joy' by Marie Kondo of magical-life-changing-tidying-up fame, I realised that many of the books I was hoarding on my shelves had appealed to me at the time of purchase, but when I looked at them now I didn't feel in the least inspired to read them.

I went through a major 'geisha' phase at one point in my early twenties, and had managed to collect numerous books on the topic and by Japanese authors, which eventually spilled over into a love of Chinese fiction and history. I read Wild Swans in tears, and Amy Tan with intrigue and had managed to acquire a battered copy of 'Mao'. Mmm.

I realised quite happily there were plenty of books I could 'let go' and that I wouldn't miss; clearing a path for the books I really did want to read and still haven't. Atonement. In Cold Blood. White Teeth (I know, I've had that since I was at university - what's wrong with me?!)

Over the last few days I've carried three huge bags full of books to my local charity shop.

Some of them I've bought from there so it feels good to take them back; others have been like family friends. It was time to let them go and I don't regret it. They deserve to be read and that's not going to happen on my over-burdened shelves.

Battling Tsundoku - So.Many.Books
Battling Tsundoku - So.Many.Books

Some books I had read once and thought I might read again, but when it came to it, I knew in my heart of hearts that it wasn't going to happen. And as Marie Kondo encourages: if you really miss something, need it or want it, then you can always buy it again...or get it from the library.

As a writer, I want to make sure I really am supporting my local library, so on the way back from the charity shop with my last donation, bags empty, I stopped in to see what was on offer and borrowed three new books. I read Kate Tempest's The Bricks that Built the Houses in a matter of days, and now I'm onto Jessie Burton's The Muse. It's good. (I loved The Miniaturist too.)

Now when I pass my bookshelves I can see the books I've neglected, the gold rising to the top.

Battling Tsundoku - So.Many.Books
Battling Tsundoku - So.Many.Books

Some books I'll always keep if they've been special gifts or are inscribed (to me or others), but you can't keep everything.

And in a few years, maybe I'll get round to reading some of them again. Or not.

I'm feeling lighter. At least 50+ books lighter.

My Tsundoku habit is finally under control, and this time next year perhaps my shelves could be almost empty, but I doubt it, and I don't think I'd like that either #booklove

Reading challenge 2016 (+ book reviews) by daintydora

I love reading and sharing book-notes with like-minded friends, but I've found the summer to be a particularly fallow patch in my reading capacity. I live in Scotland so I can't blame the weather as a distraction...so if not the weather, then what?

I have been catching up on magazines, and of course, editing my own novel, so perhaps those things are to blame. And time speeds up with each passing year. Everyone knows that, right?

At the start of 2016 I set myself a reading challenge to imbibe *at least* 20 books over the course of the year, and I'm kind of on schedule but I'd like to have read more. Much more. These are on my 'to-read' list, along with a whole bookshelf of reading inspiration:

Reading Challenge 2016

Then of course, there's the library.

It's like I'm 'saving up' books for a special occasion, the perfect time, their perfect time for me and me for them?

I don't for a second pretend to be on-trend, current, following the 'Top 10', bestseller lists or aligned with any particular genre. I go with what's on my shelf, what piques my interest in the moment.

Here's my reading challenge progress so far (check out my list from the same time last year):

Harley Loco by Rayya Elias

Wow, this was a punch in the face of a book. I read this as a precursor to my first trip to NYC and it set me up for searching out 'the alphabets' and imagining the changes that have incrementally altered the fêted New York landscape that has spawned a thousand super-stars of music, fashion, design, photography, celebrity. Such a powerful story of identity, reinvention, success and addiction - to everything - but mainly to life.

The Siege, Helen Dunmore

The mountains of snow, the desperate cold, the short Russian winter days, the deprivation. I was gripped from the first page and even now, remembering it, I'm transported right back to the simple allotment that helped keep Anna and her family alive. And the honey. The precious jars of honey. There's a sequel on my list: The Betrayal.

The New York Trilogy, Paul Auster

This was disturbing and unsettling from the start, and in places infuriating. I wanted to give up half-way through the second part, but I carried on and was quietly impressed by the thread that ran through each of the three parts. Which led me on to...

Winter Journal, Paul Auster

I was intrigued from the start (still in the bookshop), by the descriptions of a life lived through various events, physically experienced through the sense of the body. It was an illuminating insight to Auster's career as a writer and I particularly loved the long stream-of-consciousness sentences filled with emotion and description. I loved the link with New York too, which I could appreciate from having by then visited myself. I've kept it on my shelf because I might just read it again. And I wrote down extracts I'd bookmarked along the way; always a good sign.

…the boredom of waiting for your flight to be announced in airports, the deadly tedium of standing around the luggage carousel as you wait for your bag to tumble down the chute, but nothing is more disconcerting to you than the ride in the plane itself, the strange sense of being nowhere that engulfs you each time you step into the cabin, the unreality of being propelled through space at five hundred miles an hour, so far off the ground that you begin to lose a sense of your own reality, as if the fact of your own existence were slowly being drained out of you, but such is the price you pay for leaving home, and as long as you continue to travel, the nowhere that lies between the here of home and the there of somewhere else will continue to be one of the places where you live.

White Oleander, Janet Fitch

This book was a birthday gift from my mother and I'd heard of it but never sought it out myself. The descriptions were so beautiful to be almost painful, and I had to read some passages twice, sometimes three times so I didn't miss the elegance of each word. I was helplessly captivated by the scent of the title, by the descriptions of each new setting Astrid inhabits, and as soon as I'd devoured the last page, I immediately watched the film and was utterly disappointed in the casting and the ending. How many times do I need to learn this lesson? The film will always spoil the book.

The Italian Girl, Iris Murdoch

This is the first book I've read by Iris Murdoch, despite frequent, fervent recommendations of 'The Sea, the Sea'. I bought it in a second-hand bookshop in Glasgow, Voltaire & Rousseau on Otago Lane, and the cover appealed to me, as did the title. I raced through it in two nights and can't wait to pass it on to a friend. (The same friend who recommended 'The Sea, the Sea'.)

Artful, Ali Smith

This was gifted to me and I found it intense, a bit awkward, but ultimately a literary education. I bookmarked a million pages to return to and note down the references or the phrases. The premise of the book was clever and haunting and I wish I was as clever as Ali Smith.

At one level reflection means we see ourselves. At another, it's another word for the thought process. We can choose to use it to look into the light of our own eyes , or we can be light sensitive, we can allow all things to move over and through us; we can hold them and release them, in thought. Broken things become patterns in reflection. The way a kaleidoscope works is to allow fragmentary or disconnected things to become their own harmony.

Mom & Me & Mom, Maya Angelou

An autobiographical work of her early family life, this again was the first book I've read by Angelou, a deeply interesting woman who I see and hear quoted all the time. The words were big on the page and big in meaning and I read this quickly (that appears to be the trick). I'm sure I took quotes from this too but I can't find any of them. I remember the fierce passion and love between Maya and her mother, Vivian; it leapt from the latter pages.

Gone Girl, Gillian Flynn

OMG don't get me started on this! I was so late to the party on this and it made me feel like I had to save it up for a rainy day. Then I dived in. I have to admit that I didn't like the style of writing at first, not the diary entry format - I loved that - but there was something about the prose that jarred somehow? I can't put my finger on it and I'm sure people will say that about my writing one day, but then, then (and I hope they say this too), I couldn't put it down.

I was obsessed and had to keep myself 'pepped up' with hits of more 'reveal', squeezing in intense drip-feeds when I was supposed to be doing other things. There was a lot of the 'c' word, and I don't mean Christmas. I couldn't stop saying it after reading this (thankfully, I'm over that now...).

I knew there was a film with Rosamund Pike and so I imagined her as 'Amy' right from the start, and again, as soon I finished reading I watched the film. And I wasn't half as disappointed as I was with the film of White Oleander. In fact I wasn't disappointed at all, #griplit.

Buddha Da, Anne Donovan

A change of pace and I felt I really wanted to read this as the setting is very similar to that of my own novel. I'm not a native Glaswegian so reading in dialect slowed me a little, but I loved this spiritual journey that led me down familiar streets in a new and delicate way. I loved the Buddhist connection as a sporadic meditator who would like to do more, and I loved the ending.

The Girl on the Train, Paula Hawkins

After Gone Girl, I felt I had to get on-board with TGOTT. It was compelling in a different way and gripping, yes, but less psychological (for me) than Gillian Flynn's masterpiece. I can't wait for the film starring Emily Blunt as Rachel. I won't be able to resist.

The Strange Library, Haruki Murakami

I got this out of the library in fact, and read it in a night. The illustrations were almost better than the story, which was indeed very strange. Murakami is one of my favourite authors though and I love his fearlessness for delving into his imagination and marrying fantastical concepts and plot lines with seemingly normal occurrences. What could really go awry at the library?

Read it and find out.

This is the bit where I add in another five or ten books because I'm sure I've read more this year but now can't remember and so I'm left with a blank. Why haven't I been writing it down? What is wrong with me? What kind of reader am I; a passive doe caught in the headlights of my own bookcase? Actually, my books were boxed up for a while as I spent five weeks doing DIY in May/June. Maybe that's why I haven't read much? The truth finally reveals itself.
Moving on...

Sane New World: Taming the Mind, Ruby Wax

I was interested in this one as it focuses on mindfulness to unlock the secret of a 'tame' mind. I've never thought of myself as 'normal' and often struggle with an over-excited and unfocused mind, so taming it somehow, by whatever means necessary, is always appealing. I enjoyed this book in that there was a lot of science about the brain and neuroplasticity and the different areas and how they link together. I didn't agree with everything that was said but finished reading with plans to redouble my efforts in the areas of mindfulness and meditation.

And I think the last choice says it all. I've bogged myself down with lots of things and often struggle to plough through non-fiction, even when I'm interested in the topic, as it's not exactly in the category of #griplit is it? Or maybe it is for some people, but sadly, not for me.

I shared a reading-round-up last year, A Blogger's Year in Books exactly a year to the day, today. There's loads of non-fiction in that so maybe I'm just making up excuses?

THE WORD email newsletter imageNewsletter Alert!

In other news, I've started a newsletter celebrating words. I've called it 'THE WORD'. Original aren't I?

Sign up in the side-bar or click here.

It's a fortnightly email and the second mail-out goes out this Thursday (because Thursday's words have far to go...)

Thanks for err, reading. Let me know what you're reading right now, and also: what's your favourite word?

Midweek Poetry: Ode on a Grecian Urn featured in debut novel 'Follow Me' by daintydora

I wasn't familiar with 'Ode on a Grecian Urn' by John Keats before I read the debut novel 'Follow Me' by Victoria Gemmell. Follow Me by Victoria Gemmell

An extract of the poem appears three-quarters of the way through the book and fits the story perfectly; a story centred around the deadly allure of the 'Barn' which re-imagines Andy Warhol's Factory in the fictional Scottish town of Eddison.

These lines particularly haunted me:

Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
...Who are these coming to the sacrifice? To what green altar, O mysterious priest...

The story starts in the aftermath of Abby's apparent suicide - the fifth in the small town within a year - and which her twin sister Kat struggles to believe can be the truth behind her death.

As we step further into the 'deadly allure' of the Barn, into the underground art world constructed by both Michael and Rob, the dialogue pops from every page, rooting the story in action and drawing us deeper into the secrets of Eddison woods until the final twist.

I know I would have loved going to the Barn as a teenager, immersing into a more adult world, the heady creativity of the art scene: poetry, music, the smell of paint fresh on a canvas and of mysterious college boys playing in a band, a dark layer of mystery in their eyes.

Oh I wish I was a teenager again! OK, maybe not...but I definitely loved being drawn into this gripping Young Adult story.

I was even able to meet Ida, the designer behind the cover art for Follow Me at the book launch in Waterstones, and get a signed 'first edition' of the novel which feels very special.

Holding a book in your hands, a real book, and having it signed by the author is a tangible modern-day magic in today's digital world.

Follow Me Book Launch - Famous for Fifteen MinutesFollow Me Book Launch Night Napkin

The idea of being 'famous for fifteen minutes' (or even fifteen seconds) is very alluring for many of us, turning the spotlight on today's celebrity-obsessed society. Would you have been lured to the Barn, or stayed away?

Read a Q&A interview with Victoria and get an insight into her inspirations and writing process.

Buy Follow Me (#followmetothebarn...)

Follow Me Cupcakes

NB: I know Victoria personally and am delighted to promote her debut novel on this blog. This is not a sponsored post.

 

'Echoes' from William Ernest Henley for National Poetry Day by daintydora

In celebration of National Poetry Day 2015, I've chosen to feature a poem from a beautiful old book I discovered last week in one of my favourite charity shops in Glasgow. The collection is titled 'London Voluntaries' by William Ernest Henley, and the paper is satisfyingly thick and creamy with that lovely whiff of rich literary history...

Book of Poems by William Ernest Henley

Echoes

x

 

THE sea is full of wandering foam,
The sky a driving cloud;
My restless thoughts among them roam...
The night is dark and loud.

 

Where are the hours that came to me
So beautiful and bright?
A wild wind shakes the wilder sea...
O, dark and loud's the night!

These words speak to me as much now as they might have done when they were first written in 1876.

Poetry has no use-by date. Words live on.

The sage and gold copy I have was published in London in 1907, but the first edition was published in January 1898.  Something I particularly love about books - old and second-hand books -  is finding a hand-written inscription, like this one:

Book of Poems by William Ernest Henley

A Kindle can't ever hope to convey this kind of personalised message; the fading, often illegible script of someone taking the time to inscribe good wishes or friendship or love, and write the date, marking that moment forever in time.

For me, there is a beautiful poetry to that simple act, all in itself.

Henley also made a dedication to his wife, itself a poem.

Reading these words more than a hundred years later does nothing to strip them of their intimacy and intent, which leaps from the page as if the ink were still wet or the words being spoken by Henley himself, right now.

William Ernest Henley 'Poems' inscription to his wife

So I suppose, this post is a celebration of both poetry and books. Words handwritten or printed on carefully chosen paper.

Works of art, words of art, undiminished by the passing of time.

Thanks to National Poetry Day for reminding us to celebrate the poems of our time and the poems of the past, while nurturing the poets of our future.

On that note, why not dedicate a poem to someone you love?

Or revisit this beautiful ode to the lakeside solitude of Cadenabbia, Italy by Henry Wordsworth Longfellow.

Or my own ode to the Supermoon.

Poetry is the salve of the soul, capturing meaning and emotions, and deciphering the puzzle of life.

 

Paris: It's a Moveable Feast by daintydora

I said I was going to read A Farewell to Arms, and I am, but first I was lured by the much slimmer volume of A Moveable Feast. (I'm not scared by big books - I got through The Goldfinch in a week...)

But who wouldn't be tempted by these first words on the back cover, so evocative of a carefree youth; a wistful existence, smoked in a thousand cigarettes, fresh from the lips of literary giants, and immortalised in film, music, art and iconography the world over?

Exactly.

Paris: A Moveable Feast

I've been to Paris three times, (once as a student, once with a lover, once with a husband...), though I've just realised: never in summer.

And I like to think that the implied resonance applies equally to 'young women'. Thanks Ernest.

Still, in my head I can imagine the French musicians and the artists with their easels around the Montmartre and the Sacré-Cœur.

I can see the pigeons and the crêpe vendors, almost taste the chocolatey squidge of Nutella in my mouth, as elegant Parisians stalk the streets, stopping in little cafés to drink coffee and wine and smoke and talk in their language of love.

Ahhhh. I'll leave you with that thought!

Bon samedi, mon amie.

 

A Blogger's Year in Books (So far) by daintydora

I love to read, and I love to share my thoughts on the books that I've devoured; especially those with beautiful covers and end papers. In a new literary-link-up devised by Laura Fisher of The Lovely Jumble, myself and a host of bookworm-bloggers will be sharing our Blogger's Year in Books - the journey so far - and celebrating what it is to get lost in a good book - or not...

The Baroness - Inside Cover

Here's my list in roughly chronological order, from January to now (17 in total):

The Mammoth Book of Shark Attacks - Alex MacCormick

OK, I'm a little obsessed by sharks - my Nana was a lifeguard on the beaches of Cape Town, South Africa - and I've been working stop-start-stop-start on my 'family story' of her life and my mother's early life. I wanted to make sure I had my facts straight about sharks, whilst also feeding my fascination for them (see what I did there?)

The book was very interesting, if gruesome in parts. I had a lot of shark-related nightmares while I was reading it.

War Paint: Madame Helena Rubinstein and Miss Elizabeth Arden, Their Lives, Their Times, Their Rivalry - Lindy Woodhead

This was a rich and detailed insight into the lives of two famous, female pioneers in the beauty field. It was quite hard-going in places and took me a long time to read, despite it being such an interesting story of innovation and rivalry.

I don't think it was the fault of the book per se, it's just hard sometimes to absorb so much detail in non-fiction form; remembering all the dates and names of those involved. Ultimately it was a huge insight into the lives of these two women and all that they gave us: it was Helena Rubinstein who first came up with the mantra of 'Cleanse, Tone, Moisturise'. Amazing!

The Amateur Marriage - Anne Tyler

It took ages to read this book too (maybe a month) because I wasn't prioritising my reading at this time. I enjoyed it but I kept having to re-read pages because I'd lost the thread of the story. The characters felt real and true though and I loved being immersed in the wartime nostalgia of Polish 'Polka' dances and that first heady sense of falling in love, the backdrop of war, the sense of community. Moving and tragic.

The Good Communist - Doris Lessing

Based around a group of squatters who come together to 'join the revolution' in the early eighties, Alice is a conscientious home-maker who cooks and cleans for her comrades, all in the name of 'the cause'. I was fascinated by the details of life as a squatter and the careful force of Alice's character. I was left at the end with a sense of wanting more (always a good sign), and the story still lingers dark in my mind.

Second Hand Books (by Doris Lessing & Violette Leduc)

In the Prison of her Skin (L'Asphyxie) - Violette Leduc

I'd seen a film of her life and been inspired to read this, though at first I struggled to get into it. She writes in a clever and spare manner using metaphor to convey meaning on subjects that are shocking and revelatory. The story lingered on in my mind after I closed the last page; haunting and sad.

Office Girl - Joe Meno

Crazy, mad, wonderful - I read this in a few days and soaked up the adventurous exploits of the protagonist Odile with delight. Find out what I did, as inspired by her 'guerrilla acts'.

A Tale for the Time Being - Ruth Ozeki

Loved this book - beautiful and mesmerising and once I'd read the first few chapters I couldn't put it down. Read my detailed review.

Cyndi Lauper: A Memoir - Cyndi Lauper

An interesting insight into her early life and struggles. I kept having to look up all her music videos as I went along - she has passion and she's never been scared to show it.

Shop Girl - Mary Portas

Little snippets of her early life connected through memories of music, fashion, food and drink, as well as the devastating premature death of her mother which left her bearing the brunt of familial responsibilities. I find this kind of book very inspiring as it proves that so many people experience hard times, setbacks, heartache and are shown 'tough love'. It's what you do next that counts.

The Distant Hours - Kate Morton

A page-turner, Kate Morton really knows how to tell a story. Very evocative and beautiful too, filled with atmosphere and meticulous detail and a castle that whispers with the distant hours...

Snapper - Brian Kimberling

A book about birds and life and finding your path. The second or third chapter had me a bit bored but then I rampaged through to the end in one sitting. Funny and inspiring. Here's a little quote:

On June 22 that summer between five and eleven in the morning I found twelve nests. That's more than most people accomplish in a lifetime. Two were Kentucky Warblers and one was an Ovenbird. The females of both species are deeply crafty."

The Baroness Book Cover

The Baroness: The Search for Nica the rebellious Rothschild - Hannah Rothschild

I found this book fascinating and it led me off in so many tangents, discovering the jazz compositions of Thelonious Monk and wondering about moths and butterflies. It covers a lot of ground and is peppered with sadness.

There was a parallel with Pannonica and my Nana - both set sail for faraway shores on large passenger liners, finding out upon arrival that their mothers' had passed away. That really struck me.

Pannonica lived her life to the full though and took risks and had it all - money, furs, jewels, a Bentley - and was admired. She wasa good person and did so much to help and champion those less fortunate than herself. That was the lasting take-away from this book, and is in itself so beautifully inspiring.

The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

Completely hilarious, truly laugh out loud funny - I couldn't stop laughing and read this in a day.

The Rosie Effect - Graeme Simsion

As above. Maybe not quite as funny, but I was still laughing, a lot, out loud (and the first/only book I've read on a Kindle.)

The Goldfinch

The Goldfinch - Donna Tartt

By far the best book I've read this year, I read it within a week. I wrote a detailed review with some of my favourite quotes, including:

She was the golden thread running through everything, a lens that magnified beauty so that the whole world stood transfigured in relation to her, and her alone."

More, Now, Again - Elizabeth Wurtzel

I've read this before and it is a pretty shocking account of being addicted to Ritalin, amongst other things, and the obsessional behaviour of someone in the grip of addiction. I kept putting it down and reading other books in between but that's probably because I had read it before.

Some of the detail is so extreme I can't believe she was able to remember - and then reflect back on this period in her life - to write the book. I also remember reading her 'Prozac Nation' as a teenager and being riveted.

Henry's Demons - Patrick & Henry Cockburn

Very interesting read. I read it primarily for research purposes but it was an engrossing story told from the point of view of both a father and son, of living with schizophrenia.

Second hand books in Leakey's bookshop, Inverness

I'm surprised by the number of memoir/non-fiction books I've read this year - 8 out of 17. Also by the number of books that I've read that I've found so sad. Am I drawn to that kind of book? Is life - and therefore the mirror that is fiction - just brimming over with sadness?

I think it's interesting to document the books you've read - and also how you felt about them/how they made you feel - to both remember and reflect but also to see how much more you could have read if you prioritised reading a bit more.

I read an article (can't remember where) from a blogger who had deliberately published a list of all the books he'd had time to read while eschewing all television and social media. I rarely spend more than an hour a day watching television, if I watch it all, and I've often said that if I lived alone I wouldn't choose to own one at all.

Food for thought?

And have you read any of these books this year?

Continue the inspiration and find out what the rest of the bookworm-bloggers have been reading:

The Lovely Jumble

Bird and Fox

Nanjing Nian

Blink Blackburn

She Who Rambles

Girl Fifteen

One Small Life

Saint Cardigan

Lisa Berson

Tread Kindly

 

 

Book Review: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt by daintydora

What an amazing book. A huge book. The longest, most engrossing book I've read all year: The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt. The Goldfinch

For me, The Goldfinch is a masterpiece (pardon the pun!), and I couldn't put it down. I rushed through the pages, lapping up the descriptions and the constant drizzle of rain.

Atmospheric, intense, intimate, engrossing, beautiful and sad.

I've loved Donna Tartt's work since I read The Secret History, circa 2004; that dreamy place when I was in my early twenties and it was autumn and the story just sang to me leaving a lasting impression.

But then The Little Friend - so rich in detail and so tautly drawn, yet the ending frustratingly disappointing. I didn't recover from that for a while.

My bookshelves already bulge with unread titles, and so I didn't rush out to buy The Goldfinch when it came out last year. And I'm glad, because instead it found me on a rainy Monday morning, whispering its call from the central podium in my local library.

I'd heard and read mixed reviews, things along the lines of  'I couldn't' finish - it was 'too boring' or 'nothing happened', and even 'it was too depressing.'

This just shows that you can never please everyone with the creative work you do, that you have to tell the story that you have inside that begs and pleads to be released, coming to you in dreams and filling your mind with plot twists at the most unexpected times (driving, in the supermarket queue, at 6am when you're still half asleep...)

At first I found the constant use of brackets to expand on certain points very distracting, yanking me from the story for what I felt were unnecessary asides and back-story. But after that died down and I wove into the heart of the tale, the image of The Goldfinch - the title painting - anchored to a point; I was hopelessly under its spell.

I even dreamt about it one night - the characters, the smells, the sights, the sounds - because it is with such skill that Donna Tartt has woven the story in rich, tantalising detail.

Here's a few of my favourite lines (no spoilers):

She was the golden thread running through everything, a lens that magnified beauty so that the whole world stood transfigured in relation to her, and her alone."

Beautiful. And isn't this so true:

We don't get to choose our own hearts. We can't make ourselves want what's good for us or what's good for other people. We don't get to choose the people we are."

The conjuring of an antique furniture restoration workshop:

Dust-furred windows: gilded cupids...the reek of turpentine, oil paint and varnish...spicy mahogany, dusty-smelling oak, black cherry with its characteristic tang and the flowery, amber-resin smell of rosewood."

I felt like I was there - and like I wanted to be there.

And then:

...those images that strike the heart and set it blooming like a flower, images that open up some much, much larger beauty that you can spend your whole life looking for and never find."

Mesmerising words and flow that transported me into that fictional space, a space I couldn't wait to return to each day. I devoured this book within a (busy) week and although there was a lot of detail and description, for which Donna Tartt is famous, I found this book a real page-turner.

The plot twists when they came were huge.

Finally - because I could quote the whole book - this line near the end sums up the journey of life in a melancholy, wistful reflection by the central character:

...I thought of all the places I'd been and all the places  I hadn't, a world lost and vast and unknowable, dingy maze of cities and alleyways, far-drifting ash and hostile immensities, connections missed, things lost and never found."

There aren't any more words.

Just get it and read it and let me know what you think (I wish I was in a book group right now!)

I don't think you'll be disappointed. I *hope* you're not disappointed.

 

NB. In case there is any doubt, this is not a sponsored post. I'm simply a satisfied reader and appreciator of well-written books.

 

Friday Diary: 12th May, Mass Observation & the diary of an Ordinary Woman by daintydora

This week I kept a day-diary on Tuesday 12th May for the Mass Observation's annual call-out to capture the everyday lives of people across the UK. Mass Observation Archive Poster

Why 12th May?

In 1937 Mass Observation called for people from all parts of the UK to record everything they did from when they woke up in the morning to when they went to sleep at night on 12th May. This was the day of George VI’s Coronation. The resulting diaries provide a wonderful glimpse into the everyday lives of people across Britain, and have become an invaluable resource for those researching countless aspects of the era. May 12th 2015 is likely to be quite an ordinary day, but for those researching, the ‘ordinary’ it can often provide extraordinary results.

I'm just getting ready to send my 12th May diary in to the archive, having written previously about my love of keeping a diary and my favourite female diarists.

What I love so much about Mass Observation is the idea of contributing to a public research project where my words will not only live on beyond my life, but also help to inform researchers of what life is like for 'an ordinary woman' in 2015. (Writing this makes me think of Anne Frank and her famous diary, though she did not have an ordinary life at all.)

I wrote a 12th May diary last year. It's interesting to read back over what I wrote then and remember that day so vividly.

It's also topical to republish this book review that I wrote about Margaret Forster's Diary of an Ordinary Woman. It is written in diary form with just the occasional authorial note, so immediately draws you into the visceral first-person narrative.

Starting off in 1913 when the protagonist - Millicent - begins her first diary at the age of 13, the strong character voice from the outset reveals Millicent to be selfish, stand-offish and pass-remarkable which causes friction in every relationship she has - with family, friends and lovers.

She comes across as reserved, prim, lacking in warmth and not hugely likeable, but with strong principles and a determination to achieve something important.

As well as this she wants - demands - a room of her own (while growing up) - shades of Virginia Woolf - space of her own (as an adult), and time to think, reflect and process her thoughts.

And write her diary.

The short entries of the diary-format kept the pace up for me, and I liked the fact that Millicent wasn't some people-pleaser character that can do no wrong. She is often misconstrued and misunderstood. This only served to make her more real to me.

Part of the appeal of the book was to experience the events of the early twentieth century through Millicent's eyes. Autobiography almost; social commentary.

Before long, war breaks out and the entries evoke the fear, uncertainty, rationing, hardships and day-to-day considerations of London at that time - Millicent must always carry her gas-mask with her for example; she has to spend the night in an underground station during an air raid.

I had read a similar diary a few years ago which also recalled war-time London - Love & War in London - A Woman's Diary 1939 - 1942 by Olivia Cockett. It was both compelling and sad all at once; not knowing what was going to happen next, but understanding the constraints of living in the midst of war; experiencing that heightened sense of futility, fear, frustration and unfaltering hope for peace and freedom and an end to the uncertainty of the situation, all the while reminding myself that what was on the page actually took place.

Back to Millicent. It was just before the midpoint of the book that I flicked to the end. Not to find out what happens at the end, or to read the final page. I would never do that. I just sometimes like to know how many pages there are in the book. How many I have left. Sometimes I want there to be more because I'm enjoying the story, other times, not so much. Either way it's like a reading reward.

Anyway.

The page I found was the Author's Note. I didn't think it would be any kind of spoiler - usually this part goes along the lines of "...blah blah lives alone with ten cats and a budgie in Nottinghamshire and this is her third book.", or "...blah blah has travelled widely, lecturing in creative writing at blah blah university and now has 2 children with blah blah and they all live in a grand old house in London."

I didn't see any harm in reading the few lines that presented themselves. Teeny, tiny lines. A short paragraph. Huge mistake.

***Spoiler, Spoiler***

It turns out that the diaries were complete fiction, not real at all, fabricated; not the actual story of a woman growing up in war-torn London, just a figment of the author's imagination (and research).

A gamut of emotions followed: anger, upset, disappointment...disgust. It almost stopped me reading on. I had believed in Millicent being real. All that was ruined and the whole thing felt like a sham. An empty shallow sham of a book. I hadn't read the back cover, just picked up the book at a tombola, put it on a shelf, then picked it out at random and started reading. There's a lesson learnt.

And I don't know if it was finding out it wasn't real, or just the second part of the book wasn't as strong, but I didn't enjoy it as much from then on in, and particularly not the dénouement.

What I did love however was the reference to Mass Observation.

The Mass Observation Archive was originally founded in 1937 as a social and anthropological exercise in gauging and capturing the thoughts, opinions and day-to-day doings of the population through diary writing. 'Millicent' hears about it, and decides she will contribute her own musings and experiences.

This chimed with me as I too am a mass observer. Major confession. I've been sending diaries and replies to 'Directives' for around three years now. Each response is archived forever and is used for research purposes.

When Millicent was writing about how wonderful it would be to contribute to Mass Observation, I was thinking, I really need to get my latest response sent in. I felt a kinship and a synchronicity which drew me into the book even further, so it felt doubly disappointing to find this was just another clever deceit of the author.

Would it have been better to find out at the end? Would I have guessed by then?

Answers on a postcard.

NB. The book review part of this post was originally published in 2013.

 

'A Tale for the Time Being' by Ruth Ozeki by daintydora

Yesterday I sat in the sunshine binge-reading the second half of this amazing novel by Ruth Ozeki - A Tale for the Time Being. I was completely engrossed in it, turning pages that almost ripped in my haste to find out what was going to happen next, and to me, that is the joy of reading.

"For the time being,
Words scatter...
Are they fallen leaves?"

There were beautiful descriptions and evocative passages, often peppered with Japanese words with their translation in the footnotes. I've always been interested in Japanese culture so it was great to feel like I was 'learning' a few Japanese words.

Other words that imbued me with a sense of far-away places and a dream-like in-between kind of world: gingko, temple, bento, shrine, cedars, dogwood, cherry blossom, wolves.

Events such as 9/11 and the Fukushima earthquake/tsunami are woven into the story, with an increasing sense of authorial anti-narrative as concepts of time, destiny, fiction and fantasy are explored and exposed.

And there were many references to 'sitting zazen' - a specific kind of seated, Buddhist meditation, which was particularly appropriate as I had just been for an hour-long meditation on Sunday.

I wanted to share these little passages as they resonated so much with me:

"The only time they ever throw anything away is when it's really and truly broken, and then they make a big deal about it. They save up all their bent pins and broken sewing needles and once a year they do a whole memorial service for them, chanting and then sticking them into a block of tofu so they will have a nice soft place to rest. Jiko says that everything has a spirit, even if it is old and useless, and we must console and honor the things that have served us well."

I thought that was beautiful, and it made me want to save even more things instead of throwing them away.

I save a lot already, like this teabag. And I just learnt about saving wool scraps so that birds can use them to build nests. How lovely is that?

This book really took me on a journey, a tale for the time being, and this line also struck a chord:

"It made me sad when I caught myself pretending that everybody out there in cyberspace cared about what I thought, when really nobody gives a shit. And when I multiplied that sad feeling by all the millions of people in their lonely little rooms, furiously writing and posting to their lonely little pages that nobody has time to read because they're all so busy writing and posting, it kind of broke my heart."

Quite.

I'll finish with this quote which is listed in the footnote of the page as a seventh-century Chinese saying:

"A great man should die as a shattered jewel rather than live as an intact tile."

There is something so strangely sad but beautiful in that line. We are all precious jewels.

 

Second hand bookshop finds by daintydora

I love books. Real, physical books. Big books, small books, old books and new books. And I love visiting unusual bookshops and finding out of print or second-hand books.

Leakey's Bookshop Inverness

On New Year's Eve I found myself in Leakey's secondhand bookshop in Inverness; a cavernous old church filled to the gunwales with a smuck of interesting books, maps, prints and the biggest wood-burning stove I've ever seen (because it's cold up North!)

My two 'finds' were the debut novel of Violette Leduc, In the Prison of her Skin (or L' Asphyxie in French), and Doris Lessing's The Good Terrorist. I was delighted with these two hardbacks and that I found them in the old church bookshop.

Second Hand Books (by Doris Lessing & Violette Leduc)

I only heard about Violette Leduc after watching the film Violette last year, about her life and the influence of Simone de Beauvoir on her writing (and vice-versa). It was a fascinating tale with glorious attention to detail in terms of the fashions (hats, gloves, dresses, shoes...*swoon*) as well as the interiors of both Violette's and Simone's respective rooms/apartments, and of course the iconic backdrop of Paris.

I can't wait to read all of Violette Leduc's books.

Violette Leduc - In the Prison of her Skin Doris Lessing - The Good Terrorist

With Doris Lessing, I've got the first two volumes of her autobiography, and am fascinated by the details of her childhood growing up in Africa. I think I'll come back to these once I've read some of her fiction.

Books piled high in Leakey's bookshop, InvernessLeakey's Bookshop, Inverness

And I'll definitely visit Leakey's second-hand bookshop again the next time I'm in Inverness; for the books, but also to try out the little cafe that was closed on the day I visited. A little Highland gem!

 

Jack Kerouac - The Lost Novel by daintydora

At the moment I am reading - savouring - Jack Kerouac and his 'lost novel'. It begins with what was Kerouac's first novel, long before On The Road, inspired by his experiences as a sailor in the Merchant Marine. The 158-page handwritten manuscript was somehow 'lost', and never finished, but is now published in all its rich, mad, brilliance:

"Into this book, The Sea is My Brother, I shall weave all the passion and glory of living, its restlessness and peace, its fever and ennui, its mornings, noons and nights of desire, frustration, fear, triumph, and death..."

Jack Kerouac - The Lost Novel

It continues with other, much shorter unfinished stories, brimming with life and ideas, plus letters and diaries that are so immediate and personal and show his development as a man, an individual, and a writer.

He writes his letters as a stream of consciousness; immediate and personal, gambolling with the vibrancy of his thoughts, his enthusiasm and passion for life.

The proximity afforded by writing in the first-person seems heightened when reading a personal diary or journal, and I felt like a confidant while reading Jack's ‘Journal of an Egotist’, close enough almost to hear his voice speaking the words to me. I have tried to imagine living in his time (a time without the internet and social media) where letters were the only way to communicate the rich and complex web of ideas and sparks of genius that Jack shared with his close friends, particularly Sebastian Sampas.

An extract from the 'Journal':

December 9, 1940 Nearing Midnight
Dear Sirs:
Do you mind if I let my heart out, splattering all its delicate essences over these following pages? Well, you'd better not, because that's what I'm going to do. That is the purpose of the 'Journal of an Egotist'. If you don't believe, if you are a misbeliever in the conformity of my title with my work, then just shut up and read. It's coming.
A letter to Jack from Sebastian:
To Jack Kerouac From Sebastian Sampas I shall not put the date because an erratic person never counts time (Do you understand?) Mon Chér Baron!
It is Sunday about seven o'clock and I am sitting at my desk and writing to Jack Kerouac. Is that name off? If so, so is the person.

As I’m reading through the journal and early writings, absorbing every word, every sentence, I’m imagining too, Jack as Sal Paradise in On the Road, and thinking about the 'beat generation' and the beat style, the rhythm of life when the non-essentials are stripped away; raw and free.

And it at once inspires me and saddens me because I wish I was as brave as he was and I wish I’d found his novels earlier so I could share that same passion a decade or so sooner.

'The Lost Novel' was a gift from my Mother, and I didn't start reading it straight away. In fact, I have had it some time. I very much believe in the Doris Lessing view on books and reading:

"Don’t read a book out of its right time for you"

I found it compelling and absorbing, sturdy and descriptive, unsatisfying in one sense (when the principal story The Sea is my Brother abruptly ends), but so generous in its depth of experience and 'supreme reality' as Jack called it .

I guess that’s a bit like the sea.

 

Voyage in the Dark by daintydora

A few weeks ago a friend leant me a copy of Jean Rhys' 'Voyage in the Dark'. It's a slim volume; only 159 pages. The cover is visually appealing (and I am a bit of a culprit for 'reading a book by its cover'...), but I wasn't sure if I was really going to like it.

Rewind to a few years ago; another friend had waxed lyrical about 'Wide Sargasso Sea', also by Jean Rhys, which I enthusiastically read but just couldn't engage with. At all.

I mean I read the words, but I just couldn't get on board with the story. I wasn't taking it in. The words hovered at the surface of my short-term consciousness as if I was reading on autopilot (I was), and after a few pages, I had no better idea of what was going on. I got to the end, and I still didn't know the story that had taken place on the pages in front of me. I didn't even take from it a lasting impression of textures, colours, atmosphere.

Maybe I was tired, stressed; not quite in the zone for that book at that time? Maybe it's because Jane Eyre isn't an all-time favourite so I had no buy-in to the back story of the 'crazy lady in the attic'? Either way I wasn't longing to read more of the same. End of.

Until Voyage in the Dark came my way a few weeks ago. I was skeptical. I read the back. I like a recommendation and I like being exposed to new and exciting things that I wouldn't necessarily choose for myself. So I started reading.

'He kissed me again, and his mouth was hard, and I remembered him smelling the glass of wine and I couldn't think of anything but that, and I hated him.'

Wow. From the first few pages I was gripped by the sheer simplicity of the sentences and structure, but how it beguiles and beckons and teases and expresses so much in very vivid, striking prose. I cared about the characters. In fact, I felt like I was Anna.

'This is a beginning. Out of this warm room that smells of fur I'll go to all the lovely places I've ever dreamt of. This is the beginning.'

I savoured the words, careering towards the inevitable denouement but hoping, oh hoping, that Anna was right: 'It can't be that, it can't be that. Didn't I always...'

'...Never mind, you're a good little cow; you'll be all right,'

Once my train arrives at the station and everyone gets up and files off and I am still sitting there, clinging to the wonderfully succinct sentences and paragraphs and chapters and the wonderful intoxicating journey that Jean has me caught up in. This is a special book, and a special author.

Of course, as soon as a thing has happened it isn't fantastic any longer, it's inevitable. The inevitable is what you're doing or have done. The fantastic is simply what you didn't do.

In the version I read there was an introduction by Carole Angier, Jean's subsequent biographer. Though I prefer to dive right into a book and find the details of the author's life more poignant once I have actually read their work, I was sad to learn that success came 'too late' for Jean Rhys. I had known before, briefly, of the late recognition of her work, and apparently, Voyage in the Dark is said to be her most successful book. But too late for Jean, coming as it did when she was in her late seventies.

The piano began to play, sickly-sweet. Never again, never, not ever, never.
Through caverns measureless to man down to a sunless sea...' (I love Coleridge)

When I search for her in Google, her young face pops up in black and white. She was beautiful in a subtle way, and I felt the sorrow in her eyes, from reading her words, and knowing how much of her writing was autobiographical. How sad that much of her life was spent on the ugly side, in dependency - to men, and to alcohol - and in prostitution. I think it is true that our experiences make us who we are, and Jean certainly had a unique childhood growing up in Dominica.

'I don't want to sell my coat...'
'I hate men,' Ethel said. ''Men are devils, aren't they?'

Jean Rhys, rest in peace. And know that your work keeps on giving. Although it was applauded and acclaimed too late for you to enjoy its success and fortune, be glad that you have left a rich written legacy for others to discover and devour.