Thursday, 31 July 2008

The Sittaford Mystery by Agatha Christie

Yes Tor, Dartmoor

I chose this, another read for the Anything Agatha Challenge, for its Dartmoor setting – Okehampton (here Exhampton) used to be our local town and, while I can't discover that Sittaford is anything other than an imaginary hamlet, I can picture the six cottages built by Captain Trevelyan, and his "big house" with its own lighting plant and electric pump (we had a pump in the kitchen of the house where we lived in the edge of the moor, with a huge plumbline which descended from the ceiling as the tank below it filled). And, as in this atmospheric tale, everyone living on the moor knew when someone had escaped from the prison at Princeton, a place whose stark grey outline reinforced every notion that its inhabitants were desperate men.

When the tenants of Sittaford House hold a séance for fun, they are startled to be told that their absent landlord, Captain Trevelyan is dead, and his old friend Major Burnaby battles through the snow to ensure that all is well. Struggling into Exhampton two and a half hours later to a silent house, he rouses the local constable and together they find the Captain dead. The window has been forced and the room is in disorder – a failed burglary seems to be indicated, but Trevelyan was a wealthy man and the Exeter police are quick to arrest his nephew, with whom he has had an argument. However, his is not the only motive, and there is the question of what the two ladies at Sittaford House are doing there, and why is the younger so nervous?

Although none of Christie's famous detectives appears, we are offered an engaging pair of young amateur sleuths in Emily Trefusis, fiancée of the main suspect, and Charles Enderby of the Daily Wire, while Inspector Narracott from Exeter is a wise old bird. As is often the case with Christie, I felt that she was slightly disingenuous in laying out information for the reader, but it's a good romp, and I'm not a competitive reader. My husband likes to store up the clues like a crossword puzzle and will even, while watching a detective story on television, press the pause button while he works out a solution. He's often wrong while I, letting it all just wash over me, can often pinpoint the murderer but not necessarily the mechanism. Which are you, Holmes or Watson?

Monday, 28 July 2008

The Time Quintet by Madeleine l’Engle

I first read A Wrinkle in Time when I was very young and it made a huge impression on me. I think it may have been the first book I read which had Science in it and one of its effects was to persuade me – hopeless as I was at science and maths at school – that these were subjects which might be interesting if only someone explained them properly. The book turned me into a lifelong reader of science fiction and a regular reader of New Scientist, although nothing has ever improved my maths. It was a book that made me confident about understanding ideas and, in that sense, I think it is probably one of the most influential I have ever read.

A Wrinkle in Time is the first of l'Engle's Kairos series, where the action is primarily outside the present-day world and time; they run parallel to the Chronos series, where the action is largely within our familiar world. Religion and science are the prominent themes in most of her writing, and some characters appear in both series (notably Canon Tallis, who is rather a favourite of mine). In A Wrinkle in Time, Meg Murry's parents are both scientists; Meg, despite intelligence which is clear to the reader from the outset, feels awkward, clumsy and unintelligent at school, and it is perhaps her unhappiness that at first creates her link to her small brother Charles Wallace, who understands that she feels out of place; the link between them is to prove vital in both this, where she and her friend Calvin O'Keefe must go to rescue Charles Wallace from the planet Camazotz, and two further books in the series, A Wind in the Door and A Swiftly Tilting Planet.

In A Wind in the Door, the second of the quintet (which wasn't actually written as such, since there are three other books which focus on the two families, the Murrys and the O'Keefes), Charles Wallace is again in danger and desperately ill, and Meg and Calvin must attempt to save him with the help of the cherubim, Proginoskes, by journeying into a microcosm. A Swiftly Tilting Planet delves into Celtic mythology to link old and new worlds and families across time, with the intertwined stories of Calvin's family and Welsh voyages to North America and Patagonia.*

Many Waters surprised me. It starts much like all the other books in the series, in the Murry family home, when suddenly Meg's brothers, the twins Dennys and Sandy, find themselves transported through time to the land of Noah and the Flood. As well as Biblical characters, monsters inhabit the land, and people are on familiar terms with cherubim and, in some cases, nefilim. Noah and his father, Lamech, are on first name terms with God, and there is an ark to build. The preoccupation with Christian theology is evident throughout all of l'Engle's books, of course, but the setting for this one was nonetheless unexpected.

In An Acceptable Time, published here as the final book in the quintet, the action takes place many years later, and focuses on Calvin and Meg's daughter, Polly, who is staying with Meg's parents in Connecticut while she prepares for university. The resourceful Polly finds herself caught in a tesseract, journeying through time to 3,000 years ago, where she meets two druids of the People of the Wind, the tribe previously encountered by Charles Wallace in the second book. An Acceptable Time completes the cycle of stories about the two families.

Earlier I mentioned the Chronos series, which shares some overlapping characters, most notably Zachary Gray, who appears in A Ring of Endless Light as well as in An Acceptable Time. The Chronos books, about the Austin family, are more firmly fixed within our reality, although The Young Unicorns perhaps stands slightly apart with its background of a cathedral and episcopal hubris, but death is a theme that runs through many of l'Engle's books; Meet the Austins actually opens with a death and particularly focuses on the effect it has on children. Handled with a Christian perspective I think it is always dealt with sympathetically and, not only shouldn't alienate readers from other beliefs, but should succeed in offering a sympathetic account of the ways in which adults and children seek to come to terms with it; in An Acceptable Time the author is resolute in describing both Zachary's fear of death, allowing him to become a relatively unattractive person because of it. Indeed, in a work which addresses a familiar and frequent theme in children's and young adult fiction, that of time travel, Zachary's own fear stands to articulate the peril which faces all time travellers: the doubt about their successful return. In this passage, Polly, trapped in the past watches her family in her mind's eye:

In this manner she moved through three thousand years. In eternity, her own time and this time in which she was now held, waiting, were simultaneous. If she died in this strange time, would she be born in her own time? Did the fact that she had been born mean that she might escape death here? No, that didn't work out. Everybody in this time died sooner or later. But if she was to be born in her own time, wouldn't she have to live long enough to have children, so that she would at least be a descendant of herself?
One of my pleasures of the last few months has been returning for a regular dip into this series and I think the attractively produced boxed set of the Time Quintet would make an excellent gift to young reader and adult alike. Since I started on the set as part of my reading for the Young Adult Challenge, reviewing it as a whole also offers me the serendipity of catching up on the challenge in one go, hence this long post. Since I have considered quite so many books at once, I thought it might be helpful to list them below. I have bolded those mentioned above.

The Time Quintet:

A Wrinkle in Time
A Wind in the Door
A Swiftly Tilting Planet
Many Waters
An Acceptable Time

Other books which feature the O'Keefes:

The Arm of the Starfish
Dragons in the Waters
A House Like a Lotus

Chronos series:
Meet the Austins
The Moon by Night
The Young Unicorns
A Ring of Endless Light
Troubling a Star

*Edited later to add that in the book the voyage is to the imaginary S. American country of Vespugia, but l'Engle used real records of Welsh immigration to Patagonia for inspiration.

Saturday, 26 July 2008

100 Years of Ermintrude

This is the first time I have ever been asked to review a book that didn't come in printed form: 100 Years of Ermintrude, by Tom Evans, is a poem in 33 stanzas reflecting on the life of an elderly woman, an e-book which can be downloaded in a Flash version so that it can be listened to and watched as well as read. The story is told backwards, in 4-line stanzas creating "snapshots" from the old lady's life, brief pinpoints of memory that illuminate a lived experience. There is an essential truth to the poem – my own grandmother is nearly as old as Ermintrude, and her memories trickle out, her mind wandering over the almost-century she has lived, with only brief clues for the listener about the density of experience that surrounds each one.

Our response to poetry is highly subjective and, while my own taste runs more to Eliot, and to complexity of rhythm over rhyme, I can appreciate nonetheless the way in which these simple four-line verses strip away superfluous words to produce a series of tiny cameos that build to create an entire life. Each scene encapsulates a moment and encourages the reader to think about the implied events around it. Because the act of remembrance is reflective, Ermintrude offers the reader a different perspective with which to view their own life.

I can think of a number of friends who would love this little book. It has charming and colourful illustrations and, in the Flash version both music and reading (by Louise Howson) offer a pleasantly intimate feel.

Thursday, 24 July 2008

A reading meme

Susan at You Can Never Have Too Many Books tagged me for this meme, and today seems a good day to do it – I've been housecleaning most of the day and I need a bit of time sitting down before I start doing anything else. Eldest son coming home this evening for a couple of days – well, not home, he has a home of his own in Edinburgh, and I try not to say "coming home" to him because it seems a bit presumptuous! I'm looking forward to his arrival, and am going to bake this afternoon.

Do you remember how you developed a love for reading?
Not really, I can barely remember not being able to. I know I read fluently quite early, but perhaps the love was instilled by all the people who read to me. My theatrical parents were infrequent visitors to my grandparents' house, where I lived until I was six, but they brought books when they did visit, and my aunt – five years older than me – was already a bookworm.

What are some books you read as a child?
Beatrix Potter. My father brought me wonderful records of three of the stories, with delightful songs; listening to them became a ritual. I loved Mrs Tiggy Winkle and, best of all, the Tailor of Gloucester. Winnie the Pooh, which was comfort reading. I remember reading it to my little brother and crying with laughter at Tiggers Can't Climb Trees. Someone came to see what evil deeds we were perpetrating to cause such hilarity, and found us sitting in my bed with tears streaming down our cheeks. Carbonel by Barbara Sleigh was a founder member one of my precious Puffin collection.

What is your favourite genre?
Crime writing of the cosier type; I'm not so keen on the very gritty stuff that tends to prevail these days, and I prefer British or European writers, on the whole. The other favourite is fantasy, particularly in the Young Adult bracket, which is often original and creative

Do you have a favourite novel?
I find this an impossible question. On the bookshelf next to me bed is a row of precious books, but it changes from time to time, not least as I find new candidates. Most re-read novels include Emma and Pride and Prejudice, The Rosemary Tree and The Little White Horse by Elizabeth Goudge and Dodie Smith's I Capture the Castle and The New Moon with the Old, but Noel Streatfeild's Saplings may well become a member of the group. Sitting rather oddly alongside these mainly comfort reads would be Excession by Iain M. Banks and anything by William Gibson.

Where do you usually read?
For maximum pleasure and comfort, on my bed with a dog. But the real answer is anywhere and everywhere, since I rarely leave home without at least one book and, if I'm going away overnight, the minimum is two. This is because these days I am fussy about what I try to cram into my brain – I don't want to read the cereal packet, I don't like newspapers and magazines and I know the railway timetable backwards after 15 years of constant travel.

When do you usually read?
Whenever I'm not doing anything else. Always when I go to bed, often during the night because I don't sleep well and, if I'm working at home, for 20 minutes after lunch.

Do you usually have more than one book you are reading at a time?

Oh yes! But generally not more than two novels at once, then there will be some non-fiction, a cookery book or two, something on the countryside, a short-story collection and the latest issue of Slightly Foxed, the "real reader's quarterly", on which I am now completely hooked.

Do you read nonfiction in a different way or place than you read fiction?
Yes, I dip into it rather than reading straight through, so it generally takes me longer. I'll also return to earlier sections to check facts or to think through an argument. Occasionally I will be so absorbed that I'll blast right through something, especially memoirs, biographies and so on, but I'll often round off my reading for the day with a bit of the current novel.

Do you buy most of the books you read, or borrow them, or check them out of the library?
My sons and I occasionally share books and I do borrow from the library, but not as often as I used to because the local one is dire. When I worked in Edinburgh I used the library there for books and music, and do miss the choice. And this is going to sound rather pathetic, but my friends are all far-flung, so borrowing isn't really an option!

Do you keep most of the books you buy? If not, what do you do with them?
As far as I'm concerned, books are for keeping. I've said here before, I think, that I bitterly regretted having parted with a couple of boxes of books when we moved house, thinking that I would be able to borrow them from the library, only to find that libraries don't believe in books any more. I do swap a few on Bookmooch, though, in order to clear a bit of space on the shelves.

If you have children, what are some of the favourite books you have shared with them? Were they some of the same ones you read as a child? One of my pleasures is that my grown-up children now recommend books they think I'll enjoy. But yes, of course I read books that I'd enjoyed to them, and was delighted when my elder son told me recently that he remembered Mary Plain (Gwynedd Rae) with so much affection that he'd bought himself a copy. The best children's books are timeless and those Puffins held up well.

What are you reading now?
On the bedside table are: Miss Bunting by Angela Thirkell, Fugitive Pieces by Ann Michaels and Christie's Miss Marple stories are the fiction line-up; A Short History of Myth by Karen Armstrong, which I need to get back to; The Whole Beast by Fergus Henderson, an amazing cookbook which I want to post about; two books which I am reviewing for work; Slightly Foxed 18 and the first of SF's beautiful pocket editions, Blue Remembered Hills by Rosemary Sutcliffe.

Do you keep a TBR (to be read) list?
Just a pile, which comprises more books than I dare count. Also a notebook, in which I list recommendations from fellow bloggers, which isn't quite a TBR list, more of a "look out for these" list.

What’s next?
Next time I'm in London I am planning a trip to the Persephone bookshop with a pile of book tokens clutched in my hot little hand, so I shall be checking everyone's recommendations on their blogs and thumbing through the catalogue to give me with a list of possibles, but I'll also allow plenty of time for a really satisfying browse. I'd like a visit to my favourite secondhand bookshop soon, too – Barter Books at Alnwick.

What books would you like to reread? Anything I've really enjoyed. I love to re-read, for me it's the sign of a good book. You'll laugh, but when I'm really loving a book I'll get two-thirds of the way through, then go back to the start, to make it last. And occasionally I'll finish something and start again at once. I don't always list the regular re-reads on my monthly booklists, so I'm not sure what the proportion is, but I should think one in five is a re-read. By the way, I read fast.

Who are your favourite authors?
William Mayne, Garth Nix, Elizabeth Goudge, John Courtenay Grimwood, Dodie Smith, William Gibson, Angela Thirkell, Michael Innes, Margery Allingham...

Now, I must go and make a marmalade loaf or there will be nothing to eat when the sons get hungry! I'm not going to tag anyone else but if you haven't done it and would like to, please go ahead. And please tell me if you do, I love reading the answers.

Tuesday, 22 July 2008

More on children's books

Callmemadam asks at her blog whether a list of children's books such as the one I just posted should include books that were landmarks in children's literature even if one didn't like them.

That's a question I considered at some length, so I think I could say a little more about my choices. I actually consider that, with the possible exception of Treasure Island, which as I've said I found unreadable – though I quite accept that lots of other people enjoy it – my list is pretty comprehensive. I believe it does a reasonable job of representing the best in children's literature from the period 1840-1975, at least from a British perspective; where personal preference came in was in choosing which book from an author – I allowed myself to choose my favourite at times, rather than having to decide which might be someone's best work (anyway a subjective judgement).

Authors considered, and rejected, include those who had written books which I thought entertaining and amusing, but not necessarily memorable. However, since this is my list of recommendations, I also included some books I remember with great affection, but would certainly be missable from the point of view of others. For instance, I can't really see some of my friends and acquaintances settling down with a cup of tea and The Chalet School and Jo or Riding with the Lyntons, both of which gave me a good deal of pleasure as a child; also, I wanted to include an example of the genres, girl's school stories and pony books. Furthermore, it's hard to imagine anyone settling down and reading their way right through my list (except me, since I've already mentioned my plan to write about as many as possible here). However, the list is intended to stand as a resource for anyone who wants to use it thus, and I will happily add as a postscript books recommended by others, with the caveat that I haven't read them and can't therefore personally recommend them (though I will happily read anything I can find).

One book which is on the list but gave me food for thought is The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. I was persuaded by my husband that it should be included – he read it to a class of 9-year-olds and they all loved it. I don't, but I heard daily about their enthusiasm for it and saw some of the classwork it inspired, and I can't argue with its right to be here. When it comes to writing about it myself I shall have to try to approach it with an open mind.

So, if you think I've missed landmarks, please tell me what, and why it should be here.

Saturday, 19 July 2008

101 Children's books, 1840-1975

As promised, here is my personal choice of children's books that you may have missed during childhood but might consider catching up on now. Since it is based on my own reading it has a definite UK bias, and I have ruthlessly limited myself to one book by each author (very difficult, which book by Edith Nesbit is really my favourite?) Nonetheless, you can reasonably assume that, where authors have written more than one book, I am confident in recommending their work, although I must add that Enid Blyton only got in by the skin of her teeth. My choice is largely aimed at the older child, so it doesn't include many the excellent books which children read with pleasure, but were not specifically written for them (for instance, Jerome K. Jerome's Three Men in a Boat) and picture books have been ignored, with one or two exceptions, most notably Maurice Sendak's Where the Wild Things Are, which ought to be on everyone's reading list. It should be remembered that good illustrations play an important part in children's literature, and some of the books listed below have been illustrated by remarkable artists such as C. Walter Hodges, Charles Keeping and Pauline Baynes; for adult readers I would almost always recommend finding an edition with the original drawings. I've also mostly omitted short stories, choosing only to include a small selection of the most famous. I think the book it hurt most to leave out, because it's so very different from the one by Dodie Smith I chose to include, is The Hundred and One Dalmatians, which ought to be on any list of classic children's books, but if I started listing multiple titles by authors, it would go on for ever. The most notable omission is R.L. Stevenson's Treasure Island which is, as far as I am concerned, unreadable, and I think few people now read G.A. Henty's Under Drake's Flag.

The titles below are listed in chronological order and, where a book is one of a series, I have either chosen the first or, occasionally, my own favourite. Readers are bound to find glaring omissions (which may represent authors I should have read, but can't remember, like K.M. Peyton), and I will be delighted to hear about them, and may even be persuaded to add them to the list! Remember that 1975 is the cut-off date, though, which was chosen as the beginning of a period when I was mostly required to read The Very Hungry Caterpillar many times a day! A classic, yes, but not much meat for the hungry adult reader.

Finally, there is information about almost all the authors listed below on Wikipedia and, frequently, information on individual books, so the only links I have included are to my own reviews. Another good site, with bibliographies and cover artwork, is Fantastic Fiction. Either site should offer advice about the order in which series should be read.

[s] denotes at least a sequel or, in many cases, a series; [ss] denotes short stories

First, the two collections I talked about in yesterday's post:
Brothers Grimm, Household Tales (1812) [ss]
Hans Christian Anderson, Fairy Tales (1835) [ss]

Captain Maryatt, Children of the New Forest (1847)
R.M. Ballantyne, Coral Island (1857)
Charles Kingsley, The Water Babies (1863)
Louisa M. Alcott, Little Women (1868) [s]
Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass and What Alice Found There (1871) [s]
George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind (1871)
Susan Coolidge, What Katy Did (1872) [s]
Johanna Spyri, Heidi (1872) [s]
Anna Sewell, Black Beauty (1877)
Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884)
Oscar Wilde, The Happy Prince and Other Tales (1888) [ss]
Andrew Lang, Prince Prigio (1889) [s]
E. Nesbit, Five Children and It (1902) [s]
Rudyard Kipling, Puck of Pook's Hill (1906) [s]
Kenneth Grahame, The Wind in the Willows (1908)
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables (1908) [s]
Frances Hodgson-Burnett, The Secret Garden (1909)
Walter de la Mare, The Twelve Royal Monkeys (1910)
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan (1911)
Jean Webster, Daddy Long Legs (1912)
Hugh Lofting, Doctor Dolittle (1920) [s]
Eleanor Farjeon, Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard (1921) [ss]
Richmal Crompton, Just William (1922) [s]
Margery Williams, The Velveteen Rabbit (1922)
A.A. Milne, Winnie the Pooh (1925) [s]
Henry Williamson, Tarka the Otter (1927)
Erich Kästner, Emil and the Detectives (1929)
Gwynedd Rae, Mostly Mary (1930) [s]
Arthur Ransome, Swallows and Amazons (1930) [s]
Alison Uttley, The Country Child (1931)
Norman Hunter, The Incredible Adventures of Professor Branestawm (1933)
P.L. Travers, Mary Poppins (1934)
Enid Bagnold, National Velvet (1935)
John Masefield, The Box of Delights (1935) [s]
Laura Ingalls Wilder, Little House on the Prairie (1935) [s]
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit (1936)
Noel Streatfeild, Ballet Shoes (1936) [s]
Elinor Brent-Dyer, The Chalet School and Jo (1936) [s]
Mervyn Peake, Captain Slaughterboard Drops Anchor (1939)
Maria Gleit, Child of China (1939)
Geoffrey Trease, Cue for Treason (1940)
Pamela Brown, The Swish of the Curtain (1941)
Mary Treadgold, We Couldn't Leave Dinah (1941)
Margot Pardoe, Bunkle Began It (1942) [s]
Antoine de Saint-Exupery, The Little Prince (1943)
Violet Needham, The Woods of Windri (1944) [s]
Enid Blyton, The Island of Adventure (1944) [s]
James Thurber, The White Deer (1945)
Elizabeth Goudge, The Little White Horse (1946)
T.H. White, Mistress Masham's Repose (1946)
Tove Jansson, Finn Family Moomintroll (1948) [s]
Dodie Smith, I Capture the Castle (1948)
A.F. Tschiffely, A Tale of Two Horses (1949)
Anthony Buckeridge, Jennings Goes to School (1950) [s]
C.S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia (1950-56) [s]
E.B. White, Charlotte's Web (1952)
Mary Norton, The Borrowers (1952) [s]
Burgess Drake, The Book of Lyonne (1952)
Monica Edwards, Spirit of Punchbowl Farm (1952) [s]
Lucy M. Boston, The Children of Green Knowe (1954) [s]
Rosemary Sutcliff, The Eagle of the Ninth (1954) [s]
Edward Eager, Half Magic (1954)
William Mayne, A Swarm in May (1955) [s]
Gerald Durrell, The New Noah (1955)
Barbara Sleigh, Carbonel (1955) [s]
Diana Pullein-Thompson, Riding with the Lyntons (1956)
Ian Serraillier, The Silver Sword (1956)
Henry Treece, The Children's Crusade (1958)
Michael Bond, A Bear Called Paddington (1958)
Jean Craighead George, My Side of the Mountain (1959)
Alan Garner, The Weirdstone of Brisingamen (1960) [s]
Norton Juster, The Phantom Tollbooth (1961)
Roald Dahl, James and the Giant Peach (1961)
Phillipa Pearce, A Dog So Small (1962)
Madeleine l'Engle, A Wrinkle in Time (1962) [s]
Joan Aiken, The Wolves of Willoughby Chase (1963)
Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (1963)
Clive King, Stig of the Dump (1963)
John Rowe Townsend, Hell's Edge (1963)
Nicholas Stuart Gray, Grimbold's Other World (1963)
Ian Fleming, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang (1964)
Susan Cooper, Over Sea, Under Stone (1965) [s]
John Christopher, Tripods (1967) [s]
Roger Lancelyn Green, The Luck of Troy (1967)
Emile Genest, Myths of Ancient Greece and Rome (1967)
Russell Hoban, The Mouse and His Child (1968)
Ted Hughes, The Iron Man (1968)
Victoria Walker, Winter of Enchantment (1969) [s]
Elisabeth Beresford, Vanishing Magic (1970) [s]
Robert C. O'Brien, Mrs Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971)
Peter Dickinson, The Dancing Bear (1972)
Rumer Godden, The Diddakoi (1972)
Richard Adams, Watership Down (1972)
Penelope Farmer, A Castle of Bone (1972)
Andre Norton, The Crystal Gryphon (1972)
Nina Bawden, Carrie's War (1973)
Helen Cresswell, Lizzie Dripping (1973)
Penelope Lively, The Ghost of Thomas Kempe (1973)
Diana Wynne Jones, The Ogre Downstairs (1974)
Jill Murphy, The Worst Witch (1974)
Robert Westall, The Machine Gunners (1975) [s]


Saturday, 12 July 2008

101 - Dalmatians? No, books, of course...

From Vassilisa the Beautiful, a Russian folktale, illustrated by Ivan Bilibin

This week sees a big event, well, for me at any rate. It has taken me some weeks to research and compile a list of 101 children's books that I consider necessary reading for the well-rounded adult. I will be posting it during the week, with a permanent link from the sidebar.

Having compiled the list, I thought it looked quite short – until it occurred to me that the next stage would be to review them all! That will really take some time since, while I have quite a few of the books on the list, I don't have all by any means. There is one book that I know is one there which is very hard to find, but only one, and it is to be hoped that the library will be able to supply some of the missing titles. As I review I'll link from the original list.

I greatly enjoyed putting the list together, checking publication dates, thinking of authors I might have missed and canvassing family opinion. It covers the period 1840-1975, though I have also listed the two great collections of fairytales by the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Anderson. They are really required reading because they underpin so much that comes later, along with the fairytales of Charles Perrault. In the list is my favourite children's collection of classical myths, but my other major source for myths and legends, fairy and folktales as a child was the wonderful Arthur Mee's Children's Encyclopaedia. I don't suppose they would look very tempting to the modern child, but they had superb collections of stories and I used to spend hours in total absorption. The web now offers excellent equivalents, especially at sites such as Project Gutenberg and SurlaLune Fairy Tales, and any reasonably-sized library should have something to offer. For an introduction to Greek myths for older readers, I don't think Robert Graves can be bettered.

My decision to stop at 1975 was made because there have been so many excellent books published for children in recent years that their inclusion would have made the list unmanageable; however, I probably shan't be able to resist starting one in due course.

Wednesday, 2 July 2008

Second Canadian Book Challenge

I've been brooding on my choice of books for this challenge for a couple of weeks now. I'd have liked to read something from each province but, while authors from Ontario are over-represented in British bookshops, it can often be hard to find books from anywhere else in Canada. The easy route is to choose 13 Canadian books more or less at random, as I did in the first challenge (though I only managed to read seven), but I thought it would be fun to try something a little different this time. "New Canadians" was tempting, and would have offered the chance to re-read a book I liked very much: Van de Graaff Days by Ven Begamudré, a writer who came to Canada from Bangalore, but now lives in Regina.

In the end, though, I decided to take advantage some of the un-read books from the first challenge, and go for The McClung, 13 books by women. I haven't chosen all of them yet, but here is the core list:

The Tent by Margaret Atwood
The View from Castle Rock
by Alice Munro
The Green Library
by Janice Kulyk Keefer
Oryx and Crake
by Margaret Atwood
by Carol Shields
A Boy of Good Breeding
by Miriam Toews
The Last Stronghold
by Margaret Bennett (about the Gaelic diaspora to Newfoundland)
Fugitive Pieces
by Anne Michaels

That leaves me with five books to find, perhaps from new works published during the course of the year or – and I like this option - chosen from reviews by fellow participants from either the first or second challenge.

Tuesday, 1 July 2008

May/June books round up

Recent acquisitions...

I keep hoping that I will get back into my stride after a difficult spring, in which there has been even less time for writing than I expected, but each time I say that normal service will shortly be resumed there has been a setback. There have been a further two in the past week and, once again, I don't really know what the immediate future will hold - very trying, as I like my routine. However, a brief round-up of books read and challenges un-met is in order now.

The Red House Mystery was my contribution to the Obscure Book Challenge. I was very pleased with my choice, and will post about it in the next few days.

My reading for the Canadian Book Challenge suffered badly earlier in the year, but I have managed to catch up a little, with seven books completed and posted on. Thanks are due to Steve Zipp for sending me a copy of the intriguing Yellowknife, which I really enjoyed. And thanks also to John for hosting the challenge. I'm looking forward to the second, and my choice of books will be the subject of my next post. I had hoped I might have time to complete an eighth book over the weekend, Douglas Coupland's The Gum Thief. About half-way into it, I decided that it would go on hold for the time being – too great an identification with Coupland's dysfunctional families being less than ideal for me at the moment, as I find myself brooding on our fragile hold on mortality.

I'm way behind, too, on posts for the Young Adult Challenge, though I have actually read 6 books. I'll try to keep up for the second half of year, though.

For the Anything Agatha Challenge, which ran until the end of this month, I have completed and posted about three books. To celebrate the end of the challenge we watched Marple: At Bertram's Hotel last night; I find Geraldine McEwan's portrayal of Miss Marple too birdlike, too spry. The trouble with television adaptations which follow a really good version is that they introduce quirks to make them different. We should have watched Joan Hickson instead.

I'm equally behind on the Short Story Challenge, but there's still time to rectify that, as it runs throughout 2008 and, while I have given up on the Graphic Novel Challenge, since trying to complete it was making me feel a bit pressured, I am still making my way slowly through my planned reading; my younger son went off with a pile of it, too, but it will come back eventually, and the site offers a means of finding others I might like to read, which was the point of starting it in the first place.

Below are the books read in May and June. I've linked to those I've already written about here, and those in bold I plan to post about over the coming month. I have reluctantly conceded that I don't have time to write posts about everything I read, which was my intention when I started this blog. I meant to write at least a few lines on anything I completed, but I find it hard to keep to that. On occasion, I post a brief comment on Library Thing.

Thanks are due to Susie Vereker for suggesting that I might like Hazel Holt's genteel mysteries – I do, very much – and I warmly recommend Susie's own book Pond Lane and Paris, which was delightful company on my last Devon trip; it's so pleasant to read about grown-up people with whom one can identify. Very much in the Mary Wesley mould, but a little more plausible!

(If I haven't highlighted a title here, it doesn't mean that I won't write about it, but just that it's not at the moment on the list of posts that I have committed myself to.)

  • My Turn to Make the Tea by Monica Dickens
  • The Gum Thief by Douglas Coupland
  • The Sunday Philosophy Club by Alexander McCall Smith
  • The Red House Mystery by A.A. Milne
  • The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood
  • Saplings by Noel Streatfeild
  • Pond Lane and Paris by Susie Vereker
  • Zoology by Ben Dolnick
  • Pelagia and the White Bulldog by Boris Akunin
  • The Good Good Pig by Sy Montgomery
  • The Tomb of the Golden Bird by Elizabeth Peters
  • The Remains of an Altar by Phil Rickman
  • Love on the Borders by Martin Bax
  • Sorcery and Cecelia by Patricia C. Wrede and Caroline Stevermer
  • Yellowknife by Steve Zipp
  • Salal by Laurie Ricou
  • A Death in the Family by Hazel Holt
  • The Private Lives of Pippa Lee by Rebecca Miller
  • The River at Green Knowe by Lucy M. Boston
  • The House of Arden by E. Nesbit
  • A Dubious Legacy by Mary Wesley
  • Incarceron by Catherine Fisher
  • The Code of the Woosters by P.G. Wodehouse
  • Before Lunch by Angela Thirkell
  • The Angel in the Corner by Monica Dickens