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

Saturday, 31 December 2011

Happy New Year

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Thursday, 29 December 2011

Leaving Certificate Poetry - John Keats

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The second of the International poets that we studied was John Keats. 

Now, I'm a bit of a romantic myself, with just a touch of a maudlin streak so I settled comfortably and immersed myself in the following poems. 
After the tangled mess that is Longley, the dark deep undercurrents of Elizabeth Bishop and the subtle segways epitomising Seamus Heaney; it was a pleasure to read poems that are so straight forward. Keats says exactly what he means - with some flowery language but no subterfuge.

I remain intrigued by the man behind the poems; yet am ashamed to admit I still don't really know much about him. The little I do know seems fitting for a Romantic of his prodigious talent. At some point I have promised myself that I will find and read a good biography for him!

Although I know that he is more famous for his epic 'Odes', my favourite of this set of six is 'La Belle Dame Sans Merci', which appeals to the Gothic/SF fan within. 

Original version of La Belle Dame Sans Merci, 1819

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
    Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
    And no birds sing.

Oh what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
    So haggard and so woe-begone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
    And the harvest's done.

I see a lily on thy brow,
    With anguish moist and fever-dew,
And on thy cheeks a fading rose
    Fast withereth too.

I met a lady in the meads,
    Full beautiful - a faery's child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
    And her eyes were wild.

I made a garland for her head,
    And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
    And made sweet moan.

I set her on my pacing steed,
    And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
    A faery's song.

She found me roots of relish sweet,
    And honey wild, and manna-dew,
And sure in language strange she said -
    'I love thee true'.

She took me to her elfin grot,
    And there she wept and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
    With kisses four.

And there she lulled me asleep
    And there I dreamed - Ah! woe betide! -
The latest dream I ever dreamt
    On the cold hill side.

I saw pale kings and princes too,
    Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried - 'La Belle Dame sans Merci
    Hath thee in thrall!'

I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
    With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
    On the cold hill's side.

And this is why I sojourn here
    Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge is withered from the lake,
    And no birds sing.

When I have fears that I may cease to be, 1818

When I have fears that I may cease to be
    Before my pen has glean'd my teeming brain,
Before high-piled books, in charactery,
    Hold like rich garners the full ripen'd grain;
When I behold, upon the night's starr'd face,
    Huge cloudy symbols of a high romance,
And think that I may never live to trace
    Their shadows, with the magic hand of chance;
And when I feel, fair creature of an hour,
    That I shall never look upon thee more,
Never have relish in the faery power
    Of unreflecting love;--then on the shore
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think
Till love and fame to nothingness do sink.

On first looking into Chapman's Homer, 1816

Much have I travelled in the realms of gold,
    And many goodly states and kingdoms seen;
    Round many western islands have I been
Which bards in fealty to Apollo hold.
Oft of one wide expanse had I been told
    That deep-browed Homer ruled as his demesne;
    Yet did I never breathe its pure serene
Till I heard Chapman speak out loud and bold:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
    When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortes when with eagle eyes
    He stared at the Pacific – and all his men
Looked at each other with a wild surmise –
    Silent, upon a peak in Darien.

W.J. Neatby  - Nightingale
Ode to a Nightingale, 1819

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains
    My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk,
Or emptied some dull opiate to the drains
    One minute past, and Lethe-wards had sunk:
'Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
    But being too happy in thine happiness, -
        That thou, light-winged Dryad of the trees,
                In some melodious plot
    Of beechen green and shadows numberless,
        Singest of summer in full-throated ease.

O, for a draught of vintage! that hath been
    Cool'd a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
    Dance, and Provençal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
    Full of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
        With beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
                And purple-stained mouth;
    That I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
        And with thee fade away into the forest dim:

Fade far away, dissolve, and quite forget
    What thou among the leaves hast never known,
The weariness, the fever, and the fret
    Here, where men sit and hear each other groan;
Where palsy shakes a few, sad, last gray hairs,
    Where youth grows pale, and spectre-thin, and dies;
        Where but to think is to be full of sorrow
                And leaden-eyed despairs,
    Where Beauty cannot keep her lustrous eyes,
        Or new Love pine at them beyond to-morrow.

Away! away! for I will fly to thee,
    Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
    Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:
Already with thee! tender is the night,
    And haply the Queen-Moon is on her throne,
        Cluster'd around by all her starry Fays;
                But here there is no light,
    Save what from heaven is with the breezes blown
        Through verdurous glooms and winding mossy ways.

I cannot see what flowers are at my feet,
    Nor what soft incense hangs upon the boughs,
But, in embalmed darkness, guess each sweet
    Wherewith the seasonable month endows
The grass, the thicket, and the fruit-tree wild;
    White hawthorn, and the pastoral eglantine;
        Fast fading violets cover'd up in leaves;
                And mid-May's eldest child,
    The coming musk-rose, full of dewy wine,
        The murmurous haunt of flies on summer eves.

Darkling I listen; and, for many a time
    I have been half in love with easeful Death,
Call'd him soft names in many a mused rhyme,
    To take into the air my quiet breath;
Now more than ever seems it rich to die,
    To cease upon the midnight with no pain,
        While thou art pouring forth thy soul abroad
                In such an ecstasy!
    Still wouldst thou sing, and I have ears in vain -
        To thy high requiem become a sod.

Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!
    No hungry generations tread thee down;
The voice I hear this passing night was heard
    In ancient days by emperor and clown:
Perhaps the self-same song that found a path
    Through the sad heart of Ruth, when, sick for home,
        She stood in tears amid the alien corn;
                The same that oft-times hath
    Charm'd magic casements, opening on the foam
        Of perilous seas, in faery lands forlorn. 

Forlorn! the very word is like a bell
    To toll me back from thee to my sole self!
Adieu! the fancy cannot cheat so well
    As she is fam'd to do, deceiving elf.
Adieu! adieu! thy plaintive anthem fades
    Past the near meadows, over the still stream,
        Up the hill-side; and now 'tis buried deep
                In the next valley-glades:
    Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
        Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?

Ode to Autumn, 1819

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
To bend with apples the moss'd cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o'er-brimm'd their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reap'd furrow sound asleep,
Drows'd with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers:
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cyder-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings hours by hours.
Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too,--
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day,
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing; and now with treble soft
The red-breast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

Ode on a Grecian Urn, 1819

Thou still unravish'd bride of quietness,
    Thou foster-child of silence and slow time,
Sylvan historian, who canst thus express
    A flowery tale more sweetly than our rhyme:
What leaf-fring'd legend haunt about thy shape
    Of deities or mortals, or of both,
        In Tempe or the dales of Arcady?
    What men or gods are these?  What maidens loth?
What mad pursuit?  What struggle to escape?
        What pipes and timbrels?  What wild ecstasy? 

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard
    Are sweeter: therefore, ye soft pipes, play on;
Not to the sensual ear, but, more endear'd,
    Pipe to the spirit ditties of no tone:
Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave
    Thy song, nor ever can those trees be bare;
        Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss,
Though winning near the goal - yet, do not grieve;
        She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,
    For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair! 

Ah, happy, happy boughs! that cannot shed
    Your leaves, nor ever bid the spring adieu;
And, happy melodist, unwearied,
    For ever piping songs for ever new;
More happy love! more happy, happy love!
    For ever warm and still to be enjoy'd,
        For ever panting, and for ever young;
All breathing human passion far above,
    That leaves a heart high-sorrowful and cloy'd,
        A burning forehead, and a parching tongue. 

Who are these coming to the sacrifice?
    To what green altar, O mysterious priest,
Lead'st thou that heifer lowing at the skies,
    And all her silken flanks with garlands drest?
What little town by river or sea shore,
    Or mountain-built with peaceful citadel,
        Is emptied of this folk, this pious morn?
And, little town, thy streets for evermore
    Will silent be; and not a soul to tell
        Why thou art desolate, can e'er return. 

O Attic shape!  Fair attitude! with brede
    Of marble men and maidens overwrought,
With forest branches and the trodden weed;
    Thou, silent form, dost tease us out of thought
As doth eternity: Cold Pastoral!
    When old age shall this generation waste,
        Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
    Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say'st,
"Beauty is truth, truth beauty," - that is all
        Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.

* * * * *
School Days Over

Monday, 26 December 2011

The Day of the Wren

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Happy St Stephen's Day...or Boxing Day (if you must).

I hope you're all feeling rested after yesterday's celebrations and food!

Back home (in Ireland), the 26th was historically celebrated as The Day of the Wren - Lá an Dreoilín. It is believed that this tradition emerged out of older Pagan or Druidic rituals, co-opted into Christian celebrations.

In the olden days; the Wrenboys/Strawboys/Mummers (originally male only, though later young women were allowed to join) would capture an actual wren and mounted it (ALIVE) onto a staff pole decorated with ribbons. This was later changed and a fake bird was hidden, rather than hunted. They would then travel throughout the local town seeking donations. The money raised would be used to throw a huge party that very evening - one the whole town would attend. Any money left over would be passed  onto the local schools. 

The Clancy Boys popularised the song below:

The Wren Song
The wren, the wren, the king of all birds,
St. Stephen's Day was caught in the furze,
Although he was little his honour was great,
Jump up me lads and give us a treat.

As I was going to Killenaule,
I met a wren upon the wall.
Up with me wattle and knocked him down,
And brought him in to Carrick Town.

Drooolin, Droolin, where’s your nest?
Tis in the bush that I love best
In the tree, the holly tree,
Where all the boys do follow me.

Up with the kettle and down with the pan,
And give us a penny to bury the wren.

I followed the wren three miles or more,
Three miles or more three miles or more.
I followed the wren three miles or more,
At six o’clock in the morning.

I have a little box under me arm,
Under me arm under me arm.
I have a little box under me arm,
A penny or tuppence would do it no harm.

Mrs. Clancy's a very good woman,
a very good woman, a very good woman,
Mrs. Clancy's a very good woman,
She give us a penny to bury the wren.

Sunday, 25 December 2011

A Discovery of Nonsense (sorry, Witches, sorry)

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What an utterly ridiculous book this is.

Firstly, a background as to why I read a paranormal romance book during the week before Christmas; the cover. We bought it for work because I'd seen it *everywhere*, the cover looked really pretty, and I just got a bit excited about it. Then I come home and my sister eyes it up (and may I remind you this is the sister who slept in Team Jacob sheets for years) and says possibly the wisest thing that's ever come out of her mouth. "That's not a real blurb, is it?".

And that's when I should have known! Because if a book is any good, if it has a decent story arch or thematic device or some sort of brilliant character holding the whole thing together it has a shitting blurb. This DOESN'T. It has what is later revealed to be a QUOTE from the book, and three incomplete sentences that would have my GCSE English teacher reaching for her big red pen. I KNOW this. I CATALOGED this nonsense, for fuck's sake! I had to make the abstract up! When will I bloody learn!

It's also really thick, like 700 pages thick, and I read a really thick book last Christmas and figured, sure, that'll keep me going over the Seasonal Festive Time. But noooooooo. Because it's bollocks. Great big fat, dialogue heavy bollocks.

Think the worst parts of Laurell K Hamilton (including the phrase 'training shoes completed the outfit' which made me just howl with laughter), combined with the crappyness of Twishite combined with The Historian. Then take out The Historian and beat yourself soundly for even beginning to compare by what is in comparison a masterpiece of modern fiction with this tripe.

And what pisses me off so much is how much I enjoyed it! Seriously, I know I'm going to do my usual rip-to-shreds now, but I had proper good fun reading this book!

A good first third of it is set in a library, The Bodleian Library for good measure. Diana is this scholar researching the history of alchemy calling up ancient manuscripts in one of the most respected and beautiful libraries in the world. This is relevant to my interests, yes. Then on the third page, half way down it turns out she's a witch. And the book doesn't start with some big reveal, she just drops that in there real subtle like, oh it made me tingle. I was absolutely hooked, proper loving it, excited about the mysteries of the manuscript, about a heroine who was mature and therefore relate-able, about the prospect of a bit of romance later as promised to me by the non-blurb on the gorgeous cover.

And then we meet Matthew.

Matthew is the hero, and a vampire. Though he's not just a vampire, he's a Manpire. Manpires are like regular vampires but their machismo is just SO GINORMOUS that they have to have is shoved roughly down the reader's throats. Edward is not a Manpire, Jean Claude might be a little bit. But there is no bigger Manpire than Matthew.

I fucking hate Matthew. He's a bellend. A patronising, selfish, big-headed, difficult, Heathclifftion cosy jumpered bellend. As anyone who saw my utter utter rage on Twitter the other night will testify to-I don't like bellends. Especially ones who get away with it.

Diana, who starts off well, suddenly turns into this utter wimp like emopausal bintette, falls in love with Matthew after knowing his for a week and not sleeping with him (but more of that later). The word 'irrevocably' isn't used, Thank Christ (every time I see that word in YA all I can think of is Inigo going 'I do not think it means what you think it means'), but you get the general idea.

And of course he falls in love with her, showing this love by stalking her, watching her sleep, taking her to yoga to a place where he knows she'll feel uncomfortable and not really letting her walk any where without his clutching her to his Massive Manpire Chest. Honest to God Diana spends the majority of time she is with Matthew either under his arm, or in his arms, or with him nuzzling her in some totally inappropriate manor infront of at least one of their relatives. Including his mother, Ysabeau, who could be a Strong Independent Woman character but turns out to be a pathetic as the rest of them proclaiming her beloved twatty son to be the head of the family and therefore some kind of Great God despite being an incredibly powerful and resourceful vampire herself.

Anyway, Diana calls up this manuscript and for some reason, which never actually gets fully explained, vampires and witches (who all descend from the same women who got deaded at Salem but are still run by a MAN) and daemons, who are genetic bloopers descended from actual humans as opposed to an inherited creature like witches, or created like vampires, all want at this manuscript, but, oh no, it's disappeared, and Diana is nearly killed a couple of times and massively threatened loads and so Matthew must clasp her to his Manly Manpire chest AGAIN and cart her off TO FRANCE where she will be safe, with his mother.

Loads of shit happens, most of which I can't remember, but this book would massively appeal to people who like books with lots of MINUTE DETAIL in it because that really is all it is. It's not well written in the slightest, but I could tell you every single thing about the world she's created because everything is so minutely explained. Oh and Diana brushes her hair a lot. And likes tea. See, I remember that. Couldn't tell you the plot, but I remember the important bits.

Parts of the book are fascinating, and the best written parts are the bit that Harkness knows well; scholarly works and history and science. I loved the idea of the Knights of Lazarus and all that went with that, it just didn't need the sloppy shit that went with it. The library, the university and all that world was so well realised and the 'creatures' all made sense and were a brilliant and well executed part of the book.

But Matthew is by far the star of the show. I've Goodreads it (this is the sort of book you have to, just for the comedy gold it brings up) and one reader said they were into him because they would welcome 'the challenge of loving him'. Now I know as someone who has been single since 2008 I'm not the biggest expert in this whole relationship thang but I always thought a challenge was something like climbing a mountain, or running a marathon, or getting a Masters or something. Not, you know, loving someone. What would be the point of that. 'Oh but for the brief few hours he clasps me to his Manly Chest it's worth the years of emotional pain and torment and self-sacrifice.' Yeah, course it is...

Here is my list of Massively Douchey Things That Matthew Does
I only started taking notes from about page 289, so there may be many, many more utterly shit things Matthew does that made me want to punch the book in the face, but these are my particular favourites.

1) They are going riding. Diana is a competent and practiced horse rider, and she examines the horse, puts the relevant horse riding equipment on the horse, and talks about how much she knows what she is doing with the horse. Matthew then still lifts her up and puts her on the horse.
"'Will you never wit until I help you?' he growled into my ear.
'I can get on a horse myself' I said hotly.
'But you don't need to.' Matthew's hands...." etc etc ad naseum.
See, you don't need to do anything strenuous anymore now you have Big Strong Manpire to carry you. GAAAAAAAAAAH.
And this is what modern women aspire to meet. The world has failed somewhere, I swear down.

2) Diana is trapped down what is basically a fuck off hole in a castle, except it's got some bollocksy scholarly name in French. She is visited by the ghosts of her mother and father who tell her the stories they told her as a child to encourage her to 'stay strong' (the worst phrase in the English language) also known as waiting for the Big String Manpire to come and rescue her. (You know that bit in Kill Bill Vol. 2 where Una is buried alive and she gets herself out using her fingertips? That). Anyway, so Diana, having been dragged about a bit and tortured in a way that I couldn't really imagine the description being as banal and un-involved as the descriptions of her making a cup of tea, or having water pouring out of her cheeks (they're called similes and metaphors, they're really cool, you should learn how to fucking use them) and she starts being told about how her prince will come and rescue her (GAAAAAAAH ONE INCH PUNCH MATE, ONE INCH PUNCH) and she thinks
"Why would anyone want to be with a useless witch".
THIS is my main problem; Diana has such ridiculously low self esteem that she can't believe that someone as mannish and handsome and wordly etc etc etc as Twatthew would want to be with someone like her. But instead of the book being Diana turning around and thinking "I'm awesome" all you get is Diana having her face cupped in his manly hands as he strokes her bottom lip and tells her "you're awesome to me". Great. Nice one, Twatthew, way to make a woman constantly dependent on you as her one source of approval. That's not massively psychologically abusive/manipulative AT ALL NOW IS IT???? Grrrrrr twat.

3) Diana is always, always referred to as "Matthew's". Matthew says she is "mine!" like a spoilt two year old on his first day in nursery too many times for it to just be a one-time drunken "get in my bed, woman, mine" thing, which is the ONLY time claiming ownership is acceptable and must immediately be followed by an apology the next day. You can't own a person, that's illegal. AND DIANA ACCEPTS THIS. When she is 'marked' as his by having his crest burnt into her back, she is more worried that some harm will come to her precious Mafffou than angry that she has basically been branded like a slave.

4) The line that made me throw the book at the wall...
" Matthew took my hands in his, 'That's enough bravery for one day, ma lionne'."
Might as well have patted her on the fucking head. Twat.

5) Oh, and then a whole PAGE later, when Diana magically discovers she has another in a seemingly limitless list of plot-enhancing powers, he tells her she isn't going to use it in the same way you'd tell of a child who's just discovered swearing. AND SHE ACCEPTS THIS.

6) Oh shit, turns out, despite never having sex because Matthew has decided that Diana doesn't have body autonomy and instead should just let him finger her occasionally on demand, they could have babies. Diana tells him she shall take some magic contraceptive tea. Matthew tells her 'You'll do a damn sight more than that'. He NEVER offers to take precautions himself, he TELLS her what she will do with her own body and then PRESUMES that it will be her fault anyway if they do get pregnant because she is so much 'stronger' than him.

And the sex thing? The sex thing really pissed me off. 'We have all the time in the world' (so?), 'We don't have to rush' (it's not like it's making a fucking pastry, mate, it's just sex), 'I want to get to know you're body'(and learn how to control it). I think @prototypecube, who was good enough to hear out my twitter rant put it best. "Hey bellend I want a good fu* bellend crams shushy finger onto her lips* "sssh my sweet, we do not need to rush, rest now". This perfect 140chars sums up the entirety of Diana and Matthew's relationship, and to be honest most of the plot.

There is a term from what Matthew does to Diana throughout the book; gaslighting. If this was my mate I'd have her out of this relationship a long time ago. Only, wait a minute, this entire book covers A MONTH OF THEIR LIVES???? THEY MAKE ALL THESE DECISIONS ABOUT THE FUTURE OF THE ENTIRE SHITTING WORLD IN A MONTH??? SHE TAKES 688 PAGES TO COVER A MONTH???? GONE WITH THE WIND COVERED FIFTEEN YEARS IN THAT TIME!!!!

A LOT happens in the book, but to be honest I was so fixated with anger on how much of a massive bellend Matthew was I kind of forgot how much I enjoyed the rest of it. It's very every silly, and things magically happen to move the plot along so much it's like she was making it up as she went along. And you know what the worst thing is? I can't wait to read the next one...

Honest to God, this is how they get you...

Happy Christmas!
BookElf xxx
I made this: Unknown at 7:00 am 0 comments Links to this post
Leeds Book Club would like to wish you 
a very very

Hope Santa brought you everything your heart desired.
Or at the very least a huge amount of chocolates!

Friday, 23 December 2011

Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus

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We take pleasure in answering thus prominently the communication below, expressing at the same time our great gratification that its faithful author is numbered among the friends of The Sun: 

Dear Editor— I am 8 years old. Some of my little friends say there is no Santa Claus. Papa says, “If you see it in The Sun, it’s so.” Please tell me the truth, is there a Santa Claus? Virginia O’Hanlon

Virginia, your little friends are wrong. They have been affected by the skepticism of a skeptical age. They do not believe except they see. They think that nothing can be which is not comprehensible by their little minds. All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours, man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. He exists as certainly as love and generosity and devotion exist, and you know that they abound and give to your life its highest beauty and joy. Alas! how dreary would be the world if there were no Santa Claus! It would be as dreary as if there were no Virginias. There would be no childlike faith then, no poetry, no romance to make tolerable this existence. We should have no enjoyment, except in sense and sight. The eternal light with which childhood fills the world would be extinguished. 

Not believe in Santa Claus! You might as well not believe in fairies. You might get your papa to hire men to watch in all the chimneys on Christmas eve to catch Santa Claus, but even if you did not see Santa Claus coming down, what would that prove? Nobody sees Santa Claus, but that is no sign that there is no Santa Claus. The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see. Did you ever see fairies dancing on the lawn? Of course not, but that’s no proof that they are not there. Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world. 

You tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived could tear apart. Only faith, poetry, love, romance, can push aside that curtain and view and picture the supernal beauty and glory beyond. Is it all real? Ah, Virginia, in all this world there is nothing else real and abiding. 

No Santa Claus! Thank God! he lives and lives forever. A thousand years from now, Virginia, nay 10 times 10,000 years from now, he will continue to make glad the heart of childhood.

Francis Pharcellus Church
Francis Pharcellus Church
Merry Christmas everyone!

* * * * *

Christmas - Table of Contents

Thursday, 22 December 2011

The Light Bulb Moment Review

I made this: BookElf at 12:09 pm 1 comments Links to this post
The Light Bulb Moment is a collection of pieces from various women and men, edited by Sian Norris, loosely based on the question 'what was the lightbulb moment when you became a feminist?'.

Like many of the contributors, my answer to this would probably be "I've always been". This doesn't stop this being a fascinating and moving collection that had me nodding my head throughout as well as reaching for my notepad to add various books mentioned and instances discussed to my 'read about' list.

The pieces are grouped (sort of) by theme, so you'll have stories about when the writers were children, stories of activism, stories focusing on the anti-porn movement, or vawg, or other issues. The stories are all written in distinctive styles, Sian has done very well in her editing in allowing the contributors to maintain their 'voice'. One piece written as a poem in particular "Girls Get Jam" (sorry I immediately lent this book to fellow feminist R so haven't got the name of the woman who wrote it in front of me) was excellent, and I'll be contacting her to request permission to post it up here.

There are a lot of big names in the book-which I think is my only issue with it. Having Laurie Penny and Jo Swinson as contributors might have added as certain gravitas for publicity, but Penny's contribution is the article from the Graun about The Female Eunuch which isn't even very insightful and I've already read on about fifty different websites a hundred times, and Swinson contributes an entire page. Wowsers.

Another thing this book shows is how much activism in inherited. I'll put my hands up here and say my hippy parenting from feminist lefty Guardian reading Northern parents may have contributed slightly to my politics a bit, but Finn Mackay's history of activism in the family, growing up on Greenham Common and having Julie Bindel round for dinner didn't inspire me. How is someone so influential in feminism being the product of a system that creates and supports influential people any different from someone being equally influential in another spectrum being a product of the system that creates and supports their peers? You can't really crap on Cameron and his ilk for being a Tory Scumbag, in power solely because of his privilege and inherited position and wealth when you're who you are because of where you come from too. This made me think about how I criticise others, who can't help not having a massive lefty for a dad and being force fed politics from childhood. Forgive them, for they know not what they do, and I know not either, to be honest. (I still would say that, having seen Finn Mackey speak a few times she is still the most powerful public speaker I've ever seen and still makes my heart beat that little bit faster every RTN).

However, these teeny criticisms aside, I loved this book. It made me cry small tears in places. Recognising a lot of the names as people I would be now proud to call friends, I was shocked at how much shit some people have gone through that I knew nothing about. It's like one of the contributors says "women don't talk about it". There were moments where I wanted to jump on a megabus and give all my sisters magic heeling boob hugs!

This book isn't one I'd recommend to people who aren't already feminists, as it's more of a reminiscence and reflection piece than a call to arms. It is also very limited in the scope of who is included, which Sian acknowledges. However, if you've got a family member or friend who is any way interested in the history of the woman's movement, gender or feminism I would give them this book as a wonderful New Year's gift. I've already passed it on, and shall definitely be buying a couple more copies to stick around some of the pubs in Leeds, as this would be a great book to dip into.

You can buy The Light Bulb Moment here.

Happy Reading (and Happy Christmas!)!

BookElf xxx

Sunday, 18 December 2011

Chris-tmas Surprise!

I made this: Unknown at 6:50 pm 1 comments

Our good friend Chris Nickson (music journalist, author and Leeds Book Club podcast buddy) has very kindly sent us this complete short story - an exclusive for our readers.

The story features our favourite Leeds based Constable - Richard Nottingham - during a cold December morning.

As always, we would like to thank Chris for his generosity!
And recommend that all crime buffs check out the two (soon to be three) books in the Richard Nottingham series (reviews are linked below!)..

* * * * *
Chris Nickson

Richard Nottingham - Book 1 - The Broken Token Review
Richard Nottingham - Book 2 - Cold Cruel Winter Review

Christmas Short Story - Annabelle Atkinson and Mr. Grimshaw

Richard Nottingham - Exclusive - Short Story - Home
Richard Nottingham - Exclusive - December

Chris Nickson - Interview

Follow Chris on Twitter - @ChrisNickson2
Best Book of 2001 - Library Journal Award

* * * * *
Chris Nickson Table of Contents
* * * * *

Friday, 16 December 2011

Christmas Read-A-Long - Stave Five

I made this: Unknown at 6:58 pm 0 comments Links to this post
And now, the end is near...

I LOVE this time of year! LOVE IT LOVE IT LOVE IT!

I hope that you're still with us; still enjoying this most wonderful of all Christmas books!

Only one section left to go - and you'll have earned your Christmas treats even more!!

A Christmas Carol Rough Guide
Stave Five  - 16th December

FREE versions of A Christmas Carol

A Christmas Carol for Kindles
A Christmas Carol for iBooks

While you can download the whole book here from Project Gutenberg in a number of different formats. 

* * * * *
Christmas - Table of Contents

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Leaving Certificate Poetry - Michael Longley

I made this: Unknown at 9:00 am 0 comments
The second (of three) Irish poets studied during my Leaving Certificate was Michael Longley.

This Northern Irish poet was utterly unknown to me before my final year at school. Of all the poems we read over and over and over again; these were the ones I struggled with the most. He manages to cram so much into each poem; every time that you see a particular perspective you realise that there are at least three more that you haven't yet considered. 

An Amish rug is perhaps my favourite. I'm a romantic at heart and everything about this just sings to my soul. The one I had to spend the longest on was Mayo Monologues - I hate that I understand the speakers perspective. I don't want to, I still to this day wish that I didn't. 

I guess that's the power and beauty of poetry. It gets under your skin.

An Amish Rug

As if a one-room schoolhouse were all we knew
And our clothes were black, our underclothes black,
Marriage a horse and buggy going to church
And the children silhouettes in a snowy field,

I bring you this patchwork like a smallholding
Where I served as the hired boy behind the harrow,
Its threads the colour of cantaloupe and cherry
Securing bay hales, corn cobs, tobacco leaves.

You may hang it on the wall, a cathedral window,
Or lay it out on the floor beside our bed
So that whenever we undress for sleep or love
We shall step over it as over a flowerbed.


Last Requests


Your batman thought you were buried alive,
Left you for dead and stole your pocket watch
And cigarette case, all he could salvage
From the grave you so nearly had to share
With an unexploded shell. But your lungs
Surfaced to take a long remembered drag,
Heart contradicting as an epitaph
The two initials you had scratched on gold.


I thought you blew a kiss before you died,
But the bony fingers that waved to and fro
Were asking for a Woodbine, the last request
Of many soldiers in your company,
The brand you chose to smoke for forty years
Thoughtfully, each one like a sacrament.
I who bought peppermints and grapes only
Couldn't reach you through the oxygen tent.


(Mayo Monologues 3)

I wanted to teach him the names of flowers,
Self-heal and centaury; on the long acre
Where cattle never graze, bog asphodel.
Could I love someone so gone in the head
And, as they say, was I leading him on?
He'd slept in the cot until he was twelve
Because of his babyish ways, I suppose,
Or the lack of a bed: hadn't his father
Gambled away all but rushy pasture?
His skull seemed to be hammered like a wedge
Into his shoulders, and his back was hunched,
Which gave him an almost scholarly air.
But he couldn't remember the things I taught:
Each name would hover above its flower
Like a butterfly unable to alight.
That day I pulled a cuckoo-pint apart
To release the giddy insects from their cell.
Gently he slipped his hand between my thighs.
I wasn't frightened; and still I don't know why,
But I ran from him in tears to tell them.
I heard how every day for one whole week
He was flogged with a blackthorn, then tethered
In the hayfield. I might have been the cow
Whose tail he would later dock with shears,
And he the ram tangled in barbed wire
That he stoned to death when they set him free.


Enough running water
To cool the copper worm,
The veins at the wrist,
Vitriol to scorch the throat -

And the brimming hogshead,
Reduced by one noggin-full
Sprinkled on the ground,
Becomes an affair of

Remembered souterrains,
Sunk workshops, out-backs,
The back of the mind -
The whole bog an outhouse

Where, alongside cudgels,
Guns, the informer's ear
We have buried it -
Blood-money, treasure trove.


Here are two pictures from my father’s head—
I have kept them like secrets until now:
First, the Ulster Division at the Somme
Going over the top with ‘Fuck the Pope!’
‘No Surrender!’: a boy about to die,
Screaming ‘Give ’em one for the Shankill!’
‘Wilder than Gurkhas’ were my father’s words
Of admiration and bewilderment.
Next comes the London-Scottish padre
Resettling kilts with his swagger-stick,
With a stylish backhand and a prayer.
Over a landscape of dead buttocks
My father followed him for fifty years.
At last, a belated casualty,
He said — lead traces flaring till they hurt —
‘I am dying for King and Country, slowly.’
I touched his hand, his thin head I touched.

Now, with military honours of a kind,
With his badges, his medals like rainbows,
His spinning compass, I bury beside him
Three teenage soldiers, bellies full of
Bullets and Irish beer, their flies undone.
A packet of Woodbines I throw in,
A lucifer, the Sacred Heart of Jesus
Paralysed as heavy guns put out
The night-light in a nursery for ever;
Also a bus-conductor’s uniform—
He collapsed beside his carpet-slippers
Without a murmur, shot through the head

Before they could turn the television down
Or tidy away the supper dishes.
To the children, to a bewildered wife,
I think ‘Sorry Missus’ was what he said.

The Civil Servant
He was preparing an Ulster fry for breakfast
When someone walked into the kitchen and shot him:
A bullet entered his mouth and pierced his skull,
The books he had read, the music he could play.

He lay in his dressing gown and pyjamas
While they dusted the dresser for fingerprints
And then shuffled backwards across the garden
With notebooks, cameras and measuring tapes.

They rolled him up like a red carpet and left
Only a bullet hole in the cutlery drawer:
Later his widow took a hammer and chisel
And removed the black keys from his piano.

The Greengrocer
He ran a good shop, and he died
Serving even the death-dealers
Who found him busy as usual
Behind the counter, organised
With holly wreaths for Christmas,
Fir trees on the pavement outside.

Astrologers or three wise men
Who may shortly be setting out
For a small house up the Shankill
Or the Falls, should pause on their way
To buy gifts at Jim Gibson's shop,
Dates and chestnuts and tangerines.

The Linen Workers
Christ's teeth ascended with him into heaven:
Through a cavity in one of his molars
The wind whistles: he is fastened for ever
By his exposed canines to a wintry sky.

I am blinded by the blaze of that smile
And by the memory of my father's false teeth
Brimming in their tumbler: they wore bubbles
And, outside of his body, a deadly grin.

When they massacred the ten linen workers
There fell on the road beside them spectacles,
Wallets, small change, and a set of dentures:
Blood, food particles, the bread, the wine.

Before I can bury my father once again
I must polish the spectacles, balance them
Upon his nose, fill his pockets with money
And into his dead mouth slip the set of teeth.

* * * * *
School Days Over

Friday, 9 December 2011

Book Swap Cafe 164

I made this: BookElf at 11:22 am 0 comments Links to this post
Just a quick reminder that the Travelling Suitcase Library will be having another book swap tomorrow, the 10th December, at Cafe 164 between 11-3ish.

We'll have the usual book swap, so bring your tomes, and pick up your festive read. Plus the gorgeous and talented @Decknologist will have his decks set up to spin some festive "wax" (look at me being all down with the kids!) so tweet him your requests.

Cafe 164 is next door to the Leeds Gallery, opposite the bus station, and sells a wide range of teas, coffees and soft drinks. If you are desperate for a festive tipple, please do bring a bottle!

Cheers, and see you then,

BookElf xxx

WSwanLBC - Book 1!!!

I made this: Unknown at 9:00 am 0 comments
White Swan LBC

Date:  Sunday 8th January 2012

Time:  6:00pm

Address: Swan Street, Leeds 

Book the First: Suttree by Cormac McCarthy

Notes: Free Wifi available!
Come along for good company, good booze 
& great books!

For further details, please email me at leedsbookclub@gmail.com or tweet me @LeedsBookClub
The Pub can be contacted on @WhiteSwanLeeds
And feel free to let us know your thoughts using #WSwanLBC!

 * * * * * 
White Swan LBC

Book 05 - Atomised - Michel Houellebecq
Book 04 - Even the Dogs - Jon McGregor
Book 03 - Slaughterhouse 5 - Kurt Vonnegut
Book 02 - The Swan Thieves - Elizabeth Kostova 
* * * * *
Book Club - Table of Contents

* * * * *

Thursday, 8 December 2011

The Lightbulb Moment-bit of a plug...

I made this: BookElf at 11:24 am 0 comments Links to this post
As many of you will know, I am a feminist. Not everyone is, and that's their choice, but I am very proud of my belief in equality for all regardless of gender and love hearing from others who also feel the same way.

That's why I'm really chuffed to announce a new book, edited by my Sister-From-Another-Mister, the amazing Sian Norris, that brings together a collection of stories from feminists about how they came to be one.

Here is what Sian says about the project...

‘After reading ‘Click’ I felt very strongly that we needed this book for the UK. We have such a rich feminist scene here. I thought it would be fascinating to hear how the women and men involved in UK feminist activism ‘found’ feminism. And I was right! These stories are so diverse and unique – I hope that people will enjoy reading them as much as I have. By bringing together the stories from women and men from a range of communities and generations, The Light Bulb Moment hopes to offer a snapshot of feminist activism in the UK today, and share the stories of the women and men involved.'

Personally I cannot wait to get my hands on a copy, and I encourage you all to too. Crooked Rib is a brand new independent publishing outlet that deserves support, and I hardly ever do plugs so I feel no shame in this one. Also if you order before the 16 December, the book is a mere £7.99, so would make a cracking little stocking filler for any feminist friends...

I'll have a review up as soon as I've got my own!

Happy Reading
BookElf xxx

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