Apr. 30th, 2009 05:32 pm
girlyswot: (Default)
Because it feels like a while since I've done a meme, even though it probably isn't.

More than you ever wanted to know about how I feel about books )

Adopt one today!Adopt one today!Adopt one today!Adopt one today!Adopt one today!Adopt one today!Adopt one today!
girlyswot: (Default)
So, I like pink. You may have noticed. I always have, though for a while I pretended I didn't because it wasn't cool.

Anyway, despite my predilection for the colour, I do not believe that absolutely everything must always be produced in pink. Least of all, books. So although I very much approved of most of Jacqueline Wilson's choices of top children's books, I was somewhat shocked by the amount of pink and sparkly.

My editions of her choices are:

Ballet Shoes: paperback, sort of beige, I think
A Little Princess: paperback, nasty mustard yellow and black
Little Women: hardback, red
The Railway Children: paperback, orange with photo on the front
The Family from One End Street: salmon pink (this one looks quite similar to the current edition)
What Katy Did: hardback, red
Mary Poppins: hardback, green

Many of these were passed down from my mother. None were chosen by me in a bookshop, as far as I remember. All were (and still are) very much loved. I recently lent my copy of Mary Poppins to a friend who is seven and just starting to enjoy reading 'proper' books. She didn't seem to mind that it wasn't pink either. Because, after all, it's what's inside that counts.

Adopt one today!Adopt one today!
girlyswot: (festival of britain)
I've been thinking sporadically over the last couple of weeks...

And now I've written that sentence, I really want to end this post there.

...that it would be nice to be reading some Cambridge books while I'm here. I often like to do this - I took The Nine Tailors with me for a memorable holiday in Norfolk; Persuasion when I visited Lyme Regis; one of Bill Bryson's books about America when I was in the US; Outlander in the Highlands and so on. But I've been struggling to come up with any. Which strikes me as odd. I have several very much loved Oxford books - Gaudy Night, The Ready Made Family, The Subtle Knife, and so on.

What am I missing? What would you recommend? Preferably fiction, set at any time within the last 800 years. Though if you have a particularly splendid non-fiction book set in the city that you want to suggest, I'm open to that too.

ETA: Suggestions of Cambridge poems also welcome. The only one I can think of is The Old Vicarage, Grantchester.

Adopt one today!
girlyswot: (couple)
My Harlequin Romance

First comes love, then comes forgiveness...

But a widowed cowboy struggling during the Depression doesn't have much faith in either—until he meets feisty Ros in the Australian Outback at the boardinghouse they share. She's an award-winning writer who could love his boy and heal his own heart. But how can Charlie trust a hopelessly romantic woman in the profession he blames for his greatest loss?

Ros understands Charlie's pain. She has her own secret anguish, and believes her dreams of a husband and child are beyond reach. Still, she can pretend when he asks her to play his temporary fiancée to protect his son. And if God would grant her one miracle, He knows exactly what her hopelessly romantic heart is yearning for....

Now come on, you'd read that, wouldn't you? I certainly would. *giggles*

Go here to 'write' your own. And here to download a free Harlequin eBook (various formats available). I chose the one with Marlboro Man Charlie someone in chaps on the front cover.

Someone stop me now... )


Jan. 16th, 2009 04:33 pm
girlyswot: (novel rules)
I've been thinking about this subject for a little while and then last week I started reading Ian McEwan's Enduring Love which crystallised some of the thoughts I've been having.

It seems to me that a lot of advice to writers at the moment focusses on the 'point of view character' rather than the 'narrator'. The point of view character is usually (always?) part of the action and indeed the advice is often to choose the character who is most affected by the action, to give the greatest dramatic impact to the writing. Stories written in this way are often very good at drawing the reader in, so that we feel as if we are living the events of the story ourselves. This can be extremely effective indeed. The 'book' disappears and the 'world' is created instead.

What has irritated me is the implication that this is somehow the only way to write a story, or the 'best' way to write a story. Yet, when I look back at the books I most love, I find that very few of them indeed were written this way. I like books that give me different perspectives. In fact, I really like books written by that most-maligned of characters, the omniscient narrator. I like stories that offer a reflection on the events they relate. I like knowing more than the characters sometimes. I like being reminded that I am a reader. I like to be told a story, without being expected to live through it.

In Enduring Love, there is a first person narrator who is at the centre of events. But there is a very clear sense that he is relating this story with the perspective of hindsight, offering us his later reflection on the events. So he says things like:

What idiocy, to be racing into this story and its labyrinths, sprinting away from our happiness...

Knowing what I know now...

What I describe is shaped by what Clarissa saw too, by what we told each other in the time of obsessive re-examination that followed...

He's telling us his story, not as he experienced it in the moment, but as he thinks of it now, at some later date, after he's talked it through with others and thought about it. He can draw us in with his hints of things to come. He can give us different perspectives - not only what he saw, but what Clarissa later told him she saw. He can be conscious about the process of editing and shaping a story out of the events of his life. He's not completely omniscient, but omniscient enough (I haven't got very far through it yet; this may change and he may prove to be an unreliable narrator).

In Francine Prose's 'Reading Like A Writer' she talks about the problem of knowing the implied reader. I think this is a thing McEwan does well. There is a very strong sense in his books of these stories being told in specific situations to a specific audience. We know (by the end, at least) who Briony in Atonement is writing her story for and that shapes the story throughout.

So here's a little challenge. Who are your favourite literary narrators (named or unnamed)?
girlyswot: (Default)

I came across this in an article I was reading this morning and thought it had some relevance to the 'JKR's word as canon' debate.

I am inclined to agree with C. S. Lewis who commented on his own book, Till We Have Faces, : "An author doesn't necessarily understand the meaning of his own story better than anyone else..." The act of creation confers no special privileges on authors when it comes to the distinctly different, if lesser, task of interpretation. Wordsworth the critic is not in the same league with Wordsworth the poet, while Samuel Johnson the critic towers over Johnson the creative artist. Authors obviously have something in mind when they write, but a work of historical or theological or aesthetic imagination has a life of its own.

Book meme

Oct. 1st, 2007 07:24 pm
girlyswot: (Default)
 From [profile] dogstar101  I love this kind of list!

These are the top 106 books most often marked as "unread" by LibraryThing's users (as of today). Bold what you have read, italicize what you started but couldn't finish, and strike through what you couldn't stand. The numbers after each one are the number of LT users who used the tag of that book.

My list )

19 read;
7 started but unfinished;
1 I absolutely couldn't stand.

What do I conclude?  I know my limits as a reader and don't even try difficult books.  I was surprised how many of these I'd never heard of, actually.  And a lot that I've decided I never want to read.  Surprisingly few trashy romantic novels on the list.  ;)
girlyswot: (Default)
Often I find myself thinking about the HP fandom when I'm supposed to be working and vice versa. Partly this is because of an interesting overlap in terminology - I'm reading through books on the formulation of the New Testament canon at the moment. Someone recently described JKR's interviews as 'deuterocanonical' and, of course, we're all accustomed to the terminology of canon in the HP world.

For the book that I spend most of my days and hours and weeks and years studying (the Christian bible), there is no possibility of interviewing the long-dead human authors. The only way to establish what they meant in their books is by means of the text itself (once the relevant historical, linguistic and other analyses and comparisons are done). The text must stand alone in creating meaning, telling stories, establishing characters and so on.

I think perhaps this is why I am so ambivalent about, oh all right, opposed to, treating JKR's interviews as if they are 'canon'. Someone recently made a comment about the HP characters only existing in JKR's head and that she knows them better than anyone and that's why we should listen to her interviews and take her comments as absolute.

I disagree. I don't think Harry Potter lives in JKR's head. I think he lives in the text of the seven books. I profoundly hope that JKR will never be tempted to write 'book 8' but if she ever were to take on such a task, I think she'd quickly discover that some of these things she's saying just wouldn't work in the world and with the characters who already live on the pages of her books.

I also think that we as readers shouldn't need to ask her questions. Before book 7, yes of course - there were questions that we knew we needed answers to (and we also knew they were the ones that wouldn't be answered in interviews) but now we have the whole story, the completed canon. And it is quite clearly complete. I thought DH was a tour de force and I have to say that it has changed my opinions of Rowling as a writer quite significantly. She has told a great story, one that has real depth and meaning, and one that has power to change its readers' minds and hearts. The story is done and should be allowed to speak for itself. The answers to all the questions we need to know are there already in the text and it's lazy to ask JKR to spell them out for us.
girlyswot: (Default)
If you haven't yet discovered the joy and delight and sheer silly fun that is reading a Jasper Fforde novel, then you have a treat in store. Fforde writes about books, about reading books, about the world within the book, about the interaction between text and reader (not so much author) and does it all with utterly hilarious jokes. It took me a long time to notice that the romantic male lead is called Landen Parke-Laine. Try saying it out loud. Then add in the fact that his parents are Houson and Bildon.

Puns aside, the Thursday Next novels deal with time travel, goo, the Goliath corporation, smuggling cheese out of the People's Republic of Wales, and how to restore the kidnapped Jane Eyre to her novel which, since it is written in the first person, can't exist at all without her.

I read the fifth TN book on the plane last week. Fforde has also written two books in the Nursery Crimes series which are also fun. But not as much fun as the Thursday Next books, in my opinion.

girlyswot: (Default)
I've just read C. S. Lewis's essay on 'good' and 'bad' literature.  Essentially he argues that 'good' literature is determined by the kind of reading it permits, invites, and perhaps even compels.  Good literature may allow 'bad' readings, but bad literature (like bad music, bad poetry and bad art) will never sustain a 'good', literary reading.  A literary reading is seen in things like the desire to re-read, an open-ness and receptiveness to allowing the text to mould and transform you, and time spent thinking about the text itself (rather than just the ideas it refers to).  This is distinct from the 'unliterary' reading which 'uses' the text for information, entertainment or other things (which, Lewis asserts strongly, may be good things in themselves).

Anyway, it made me think quite a lot about fanfiction.  I can count on less than the fingers of one hand the number of fanfics I've read that I've wanted to re-read, to savour, to mull over.  Or those where I've been blown away by the literary artistry of the text itself.  Or those that have done anything more for me than pass a dull hour or two.  After the End, perhaps.  Roger and Lisa springs to mind (and probably others of St M's too).  

I'm sure that this is, at least in part, to do with the democratization of publishing.  But I wonder if it's also partly to do with things like serial publication of chapters?  And reading on screen?

Anyway, this is how Lewis's essay ends, and this is what I wanted to share with all of you who are authors, in grateful thanks:

Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom fully realise the enormous extension of our being which we owe to authors.  We realise it best when we talk with an unliterary friend.  He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world.  In it, we should be suffocated.  The man who is contented to be only himself, and therefore less a self, is in prison.  My own eyes are not enough for me, I will see through those of others.  Reality, even seen through the eyes of many, is not enough.  I will see what others have invented.  Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough.  I regret that the brutes [animals] cannot write books.  Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee; more gladly still would I perceive the olfactory world charged with all the information and emotion it carries for a dog.

Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality.  There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege.  In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality.  But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself.  Like the night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see.  Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.

Thank you.


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