“Let us read, and let us dance;
these two amusements will never do any harm to the world.”

Monday, 15 February 2010

Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep - Mary Elizabeth Frye

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Do Not Stand At My Grave And Weep

Do not stand at my grave and forever weep.
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn’s rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and forever cry.
I am not there. I did not die.

Later version:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,

I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there. I do not die.

Table Of Contents - Poetry

This is what happens when you leave me alone with the internet...

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Wednesday, 10 February 2010

BookElf's Top Reads Ever (so far...)

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It's the evening shift and I'm on my own. The shelves are neat, and shelving done. The New Book List is updated, the gate count inserted onto the spreadsheet. The students are happily tapping away, and all I have to do is relax and decide once and for all my Top Reads which I would recommend to anybody (and frequently do!).

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman
I first read this at university when we were learning about structure and pace within the short story. It is a first person account of a Victorian woman whose MCP husband and doctor have decided is mentally ill, and who is kept locked in the attic room of a house where she can 'recover', away from the stimulation's of daily life such as thinking, reading, writing, getting to know her new-born son, that sort of thing. She becomes gradually more and more obsessed with the room's hideous yellow wallpaper, and what lies beneath it, until by the end of the book she has actually been driven mad. Chills flood you in the last paragraph, and hate seethes for the idiot man who has locked her away. What is worse is this story happened to her, and to thousands of other women in the Victorian period who dared to think for themselves, or want a life of their own choosing.
If you enjoy this, then I recommend Maggie O'Farrell's The Vanishing of Esme Lawrence, which is totally different in style, but still excellent, a fun book for a long train journey say, also about the treatment of 'madness' in women, this time in the 1920s.

The Red Tent by Anita Diamant
If you know anything about Jewish history you will appreciate this book. Rachel and Leah stand as good wife and good mother respectively, and if you've read the Handmaids Tail then you'll know about Bilpal. Diamant paints the story as a nomadic family, with all of Jacob's 'wives' being sisters, and describes the family from just before Jacob arrives in their lives, until the time of Joseph in Egypt. This book is very femo-centric, with long lush passages describing child birth, periods (the idea of having five days off to sit on the straw in a lovely tent and gossip with your mates is something that, come the revolution, I will bringing BACK! I am unclean! I must therefore holiday!), the sisterhood in general. It is flowery and feminine and everything that goes with it, which I would normally be disparaging of, but it made me weep for about four straight hours after I finished it and therefore has to be in The List!
If you like this then read Four Mothers by Shilpa Horn (translated from Hebrew), which would be at No. 11 if such a thing were aloud and is to be honest better written than this book, but the ending didn't have such oomph.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
So very very very very funny, this novel defined my sense of humour for years (the Quivering Brethren, Something narsty in the woodshed, Old Churches, The Parrot....). Flora Poste is everything a heroine should be, I kinda want to be her. When her parents die she goes (against the better judgement of her posh London friends) to live with strange relations the Starkadders in the country. The Starkadders are a mixed bag of weird; Judith is a manic-depressive obsessed with her son Seth: Seth is a ranging bounder obsessed with himself: Husband Amos is a Preacher of the Night and the matriarchal Aunt Ada Doom saw something narsty in the woodshed and therefore never leaves the farm (or allows anyone else to). With the good sense typical of the 1920s, Flora takes on these characters and more, and sorts their lives out for them. The book is a damning parody of the wishy washy hit-yourself-on-the-brow-look-at-the-milk-blood-of-the-setting-sun nonsense that is pastoral romance (sorry, but it is!) and is just too good.

I Capture The Castle by Dodi Smith
A proper coming of age masterpiece, this rambling and often odd tail is that of Cassandra Mortmain (who again, I would love to be) and her dysfunctional family growing up in a dilapidated castle in rural England in the 1920s ish. Cassandra lives with her spoilt beautiful sister, depressive writer father and pre-hippy stepmother who likes to wonder around the moors naked but is the only one keeping the family together. When a rich family of Americans moves into the neighborhood the Mortmain's lives are changed forever as the two sister's learn about life, love, and growing up (God, I sound like an advert for the film, which is also excellent and stars your man from the recent BBC Emma- don't worry she's not miscast in this!). Funny and tragic in equal measure, the story weaves along beautifully, it is so well crafted and Cassandra is just so hard to dislike as a narrator. She should have written a sequel as its one of those 'what happens next' books, and I'm waiting for one to be published that I can be very negative about like all the P&P ones (the worst one being the Mary Bennett one, awful!).

My Family and Other Animals by Gerald Durrell
Another 1920s/30s comedy, this time autobiography. Gerry's family hate cold, wet, miserable Britain so much they leave to live in Corfu, which comes across as simply magical. The family are again made up by a whole host of colourful characters (noticing a theme, are we?), my favourite of which is Mother. Made me laugh about 100 times the first time I read it and still does. You wish you were part of this family, who charm everyone they meet with their strange, yet beautiful ways.
I have not read Gerald Durrell's other books, which is very bad of me, but if someone were to buy me them for Christmas I would very much like to spend an afternoon on the sofa with them as he is an excellent writer and has comedic timing down to a tee.

Far From The Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
Bathsheba Evergreen has inherited a farm which is falling down around her when a man from her past Gabriel Oak, who was a Shepard until his sheep tragically (and how) top themselves, comes to save her and act as Bailiff, they fall in love eventually and everything is great. The End. But of course, it ain't like that because it is Hardy and he is a genius and if I could I would have everything he's written in here. This is my favourite because of the bit where Fanny Robin, who is heavily pregnant and abandoned by the best villain in the whole world Sgt Troy (boo hiss) is walking up a hill towards the workhouse to give birth, when you know she won't come out of it again, and everything is just hopeless and she's counting the lampposts to keep herself going and you've just got tears running down your cheeks and you know, you know what she's feeling because YOU'VE BEEN THERE MAN, YOU'VE JUST BEEN THERE!!!!!

Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
It's just lovely and the film is sooooo crap. All the interlocking stories work, the characters are real, the descriptions of the tropical but ever so polite landscape and so vivid, its just a really really good book and a beautiful love story and gives you hope that, really, everything is going to be alright in the end. You do spend the first read flicking through remembering who everyone is, though, especially if you are not used to Spanish fiction, so you might want to note yourself a little family tree, or is that too geeky for words?

Forever Amber by Katherine Windsor
Is about four inches thick and is about women in Restoration England. Do not let this put you off, it is brilliant, my desert island read and every single woman I have lent it two (three, more to come!) has lost a fortnight to this book. Amber StClare, the heroine, is a bold strumpet of a ho who goes from illegitimate country wench to mistress of the Kind of England in 700 pages, via every single part of London in the reign of Charles II you can think of, the theatres are there, the dueling, the highwaymen, the fire, the plague, the fops and dandies, the rogering and the corruption of the courts. You will hate her, be prepared for this, but it is so incredibly addictive you won't care!
It is also historically accurate, as it was written after Windsor's husband did his dissertation on the period, so for anyone thinking history trash, no, not history trash.

Nicobobinus by Terry Jones
Best children's book every written. Rosie said to her best friend to Nicobobinus (the most unfortunate child to ever stick his tongue out at the Prime Minister), lets find the land of the dragons, Nicobobinus said he would rather not, and anyway, he wasn't sure if he could. Yes you can, said Rosie, you can do anything...

Happy Reading!

Not Waving, But Drowning - Stevie Smith

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Not Waving, But Drowning

NOBODY heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.
Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him his heart gave way,
They said.
Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

Table Of Contents - Poetry

Monday, 8 February 2010

On Not Judging Books By There Cover and Other January Tales…

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Now I will be the first to admit, when it comes to books, as with most other things in my life, I am a bit of a backwards snob. I like classics, well some classics, and keep meaning to read more of them (especially the Russian greats of which I have shamefully read none- sorry Russia), but, when it comes down to it, I just love trash!

When I was a teenager I had a complete fetish for books by Emma Blair. There was a shop on the seafront that sold three-for-a-fiver, far too tempting! My favourite was called ‘A Most Determined Woman’. Our plucky heroine is beautiful, feisty and confident with fire behind her eyes that hid passions and a nature as fiery as her long tendrils of red, sorry, flame coloured, hair, of course. Fire seems to feature a lot in these things. Personally I’ve never met a woman who could be described as inflammatory, but then I don’t live in 19th century Glasgow so who am I to comment?

Last year I found out that Ms Blair, whose books I still occasionally turn to in moments of crises (you can buy them in any good market for about 50p and I recommend you do, if only to see how the other half live, Moonlit Eyes is probably the best written and most inventive), is actually a man called Ian. I wasn’t entirely sure how to take this, I mean, I’d loved Emma, seen her as a bit of a sister-under-the-skin. But then my equalist principles got the better of me and now I love Ian just as much, even more so for having the balls to write such girly books. When I find out than Chris Ryan is actually Christine, I will be a happy BookElf.

In recent years, though, my trash consumption appears to have lowered. I now read ‘proper’ books, bestsellers, modern thinking women authors, Booker winners, books that get reviewed in actual newspapers. I do treat myself to the occasional chick-lit, but I try to limit this to once every three books.

What I don’t read, however, is what I would consider ‘proper’ trash. You may have realised by now my distain for modern gothic fiction, for example. I also could never see myself picking up a Patricia Cornwell, or her ilk, for pleasure. Oh how things change. This January, I decided to break some boundaries, explore new horizons, and embarked on a proper trash fest.

This was facilitated somewhat with N finally deciding that she needed more room on her bookcase (why not just buy more bookcases? Works for me…) and generously donated a expansive collection of novels by a certain Laurill K Hamilton, the Anita Blake vampire series. The front cover of the first book (of 16! Cheers N! That’s my spring gone!) was illustrated by a baaaaad late-90s semi-porn picture of a lady vampire, black corset and all, fangs bared, head thrust back, long black tresses spilling onto alabaster shoulders, the works. Its title- Guilty Pleasures…not exactly the sort of book you can get out on the bus!

At first, I was weary. I’m sure you can understand why. I’ve always liked the mantra ‘read impressive books-it makes you look good if you die in the middle of them’. What would people think if they saw me reading what was basically half an inch of printed adolescent fantasy? Then I started to get into the book. I really really didn’t like Anita at first, far too cocky, far too arrogant, too smart for her own good. Then I warmed to her. She is an animator, ie she possesses the power to raise the dead, and she also kills errant vampires, which for some reason are massive and live legally all across America. Think an older, slightly wiser Buffy with cops. The books were sold to me as porn (I’ll freely admit the main reason I took them on) so I was very disappointed to find no explicit sexy scenes in the first book. Then I flicked through the next 15. Good lord. Never mind Team Edward, try Team Richard/Jean-Claude/Nathanial/Asher/Dan/Zebulon/Gad (at some point along the way she just nails the entire cast of Joseph and his Technical Dreamcoat, or at least it feels like it). It’s not even that sexy, just weird, and not having read them (only just finished Book 2 The Laughing Corpse, which was very very enjoyable. I’m trying not to read all of them at once as that would be geeky) I can’t say how it all fits in the plot, but it certainly brings an edge to an otherwise bloodstained pallet.

By the end I was even proud to take it out on the bus. I sat next to a rather nice looking young man wearing a cravat of all things reading from an old complete-works on the 49 a couple of weeks ago who looked at me with absolute disdain when I pulled Guilty Pleasures out (even more so when you consider at the time I was carrying a handbag saying ‘when I have a little money I books, and if there is any left over I buy food’ from Borders (RIP), and had a carrier bag of paperbacks from my latest RSPCA 99p binge under my arm) but I thought, you know what mate, I’ve already read Hamlet, so think what you like about me, but at least I don’t LOOK like an unapproachable freak to the masses, even though you and I know different.

One issue I do have with the books, and as I’ve said, I’ve only read the first two, are that her descriptions of environments are stilted, as if she hasn’t entirely imagined then in her head. There are a lot of weird long corridors and stairwells the characters suddenly find themselves in, and I couldn’t imagine the action taking place in any specific space, more as if it were occurring in a film studio, or in a black mist of fog. Apart from this, highly entertaining and enjoyable reads.

However, Anita Blake DOESN’T win my book discovery of the month- which would be shocking were it not for me reading the book of the month on the back of my try-new-things ethos. For some ridiculous reason involving a pernickety library assistant who doesn’t understand the concept of genre, I spent four hours of my life sticking little pictures of robbers on all the crime and thriller books the other day (not that I mind as sticking on stickers and peeling them off is just about my most favouritist thing to do in the world and if you want to get in my good books quickly take me to Waterston’s and let me loose on the three-for-twos, because those are the best ones to peel). I obviously started reading the blurbs and came across one by Neil Cross called Burial. Seriously recommended. I started it at about 9.30 at night, put it down at 2, scared stupid. Had me on edge the entire way through, you totally cringe at some of the protagonist’s decisions and the ending is one of the most powerful and haunting I have ever read. Made me get out of bed and go round my entire house (which has three floors and five other people living in it) making sure the windows and doors were locked. Read this book!

End Note- also just finished a really nice little read, Beyond the Great Indoors by Ingvar Ambjornsen. Very well written and what I’m guessing is an excellent translations, not speaking much Norwegan myself! Elling and his housemate are two middle aged men who have graduated from a half-way house to the ‘real’ world, this is there story of the first year on their own. I hate the phrase ‘heart-warming’, even more so ‘life-affirming’, but this is just that, as well as funny as anything. Fans of Curious Incident, or anyone with a heart and a sense of humour would enjoy.

Happy Reading!

Sunday, 7 February 2010

Book Club the Forth

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Book Club the Fourth - AVIDREADER - 07-02-2010
Agreed on: Company of Liars by Karen Maitland (BookElf)
Agreed on: Firman by Sam Savage (AvidReader)
- The Book Thief by Marcus Zusak
- The Company of Liars by Karen Maitland
- 'Alice in Wonderland' 2010 Tim Burton Film
- I am a Cat by Soseki Natsume


We welcomed our guest, discussed the fantastic (imho) Alice in Wonderland, and began our session. 

The first book to be discussed was Company of Liars.

  • The final two chapters absolutely ruined the book for her, making Phee so angry that she wanted to throw the book out of the window!
  • Still, easier to read than the Shardlake books, and enjoyed the scene setting immensely. 
  • Completely agreed, finding the first two thirds to be fantastic, but the final third to let the book down. It actually felt like two different books, one awesome, the other shockingly bad. 
  • Thought that the blindside - the Wolf - appeared too late in the book to actually make an impact. 
  • We all agreed that the relationship between the brother and sister degenerated and wobbiled a bit in the middle. 
  • The superstitions were beautifully explored and there were many aspects to enjoy but in the end the book, which had been based on a rational world, became a fairy tale, with an evil magical child who did it all, purely because she could. 
Ok, when it comes to the voting process, the notekeeper (me, obviously, hense the need for a title) interjected, indicating voting patterns in the past, as I felt that the initial votes were too high given the negative responses that we had all encountered.
In the end, the dynamic duo agreed and the end results were

BOOKELF 6.5/10                  
BOOKN00B 6/10                  

Our guest Lela, strangely enough, decided not to read this one. 

We then moved onto the Book Thief (which came highly recommended by my mate S)

Oddly, and I still can't remember why, the votes took place first with this book, and were...
BOOKN00B 10/10  
AVIDREADER (Spinal Tap moment) 11/10  

  • Particularly liked the first chapter, and the relationship between the protagonist and her adopted father. 
  • Cried at the ending
  • Completely agreed. Cried twice at the book. 
  • Liked having Death as the narrator. 
  • Did enjoy the way that the relationships were portrayed.
  • However, felt that the device (Death writing the book) was unnecessary. In fact, felt that there were too many devices throughout. 
  • Moreover, she couldn't read the narrator bits without hearing the Terry Prachett characters voice. 
  • Really didn't enjoy the first chapter (I believe the word toss was used). 
  • Didn't think that it was a bad book, and would certainly recommend it to others to read. 
  • Thought the story was beyond solid, but didn't need the jazz, or the need to go 'Quentin Tarantino on your ass' ***(quote of the month)
  • Enjoyed the set up, the initial separation of the mother and child.
  • Loved the use of poetry, and images - most obviously in the book within a book aspect of the story. 
BOOKN00B - Particularly liked the character of the Mayor's wife. 
AVIDREADER - Liked that we could see why she behaved the way that she did.
BOOKELF- Whiney, whiney, whiney (much hilarity ensued when we realised that she was pouring me a glass of wine and not in fact commenting on the book.)
BOOKELF - Good relationship, and friendship.

Lela had already decided to read this, and borrowed my copy!

We also briefly looked at I am a Cat - an unfinished book from a few month ago.

  • Loved the parts outlinging the Cat's life but struggled more with the Master aspects. 
  • Will not be finishing the book. 
  • 3/10
  • Concurred.
  • Will not be finishing the book, as there are other books she is more enthused by. 
  • 3/10

A very enjoyable evening!

Original LBC

Meeting 08 - A Chat
Meeting 05 - Firman - Sam Savage


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