W.H. Smith has joined forces with Marie Curie to launch The Big Readcycle, whereby until the 28th of August you can drop off books you've read and loved and would like to pass on at collection points within Smith's stores, or Marie Curie shops, of course. In return for your donation you'll be given a voucher for 25% off books at W.H. Smith, and all donated books will be sold in Marie Curie shops to benefit that charity and further the very important work that it does.
You can find your nearest branch of Smith's by searching here and you can search for local Marie Curie shops here. The aim is to have 30,000 books donated over the next four weeks, so I'm filling a couple of bags to drop off later today. If you can do the same and want to spread the word on Twitter, use the hashtag #readcycle or link to @WHSmith and @MarieCurieUK; the latter is also on Facebook.
Later: I've delivered my load of books, and now would like to point you in the direction of some cake-related fundraising!
"Shannon studied in London during the 1880s and remained there, enjoying success as a society portraitist and figure painter. Jungle Tales portrays the artist's wife reading to their daughter, Kitty, shown in profile, and another child. The painting's title and date and its London origin suggest the little group is captivated by Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book, which had appeared in 1894...".
I saw this painting in The Met the other day and loved it - the power of a story to engage and enrapture!
I've been in New York for a few days, staying - appropriately - here.
Mr. C. and I occupied the Biography room at the hotel; each floor is dedicated to one of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System, and within that each room reflects a topic and is lavishly supplied with books accordingly, so we had much good reading from which to choose.
I am only a few pages from the end of Linda Lear's excellent Beatrix Potter: The extraordinary life of a Victorian genius, and I've been spinning it out, reluctant to leave not only a meticulously researched, beautifully written biography, but also the Lakeland world of the last century, and the book's very detailed picture of Beatrix and her abiding interests and passions. If you're at all interested in the subject, I recommend it most highly.
Before we go, here's an addition to the as yet sparsely populated Writers' Dogs archive: Beatrix in 1913 with her favourite collie Kep, who of course appears in The Tale of Jemima Puddle Duck and does sterling work regarding the fox.
Here's something I'd love to go to if I could, a printing masterclass offered by Faber & Faber:
"This Masterclass is perfect for people with no prior experience to learn how to prepare work, and print on a press from start to finish. You will learn hand typesetting in both lead and wooden type, how to lock up your work into a forme, selecting paper stock, choosing and mixing inks and how to set up the presses. At the end of the day, you’ll take home your own unique poetry print."
"Beatrix wrote to Norman Warne just after Christmas with obvious pleasure, 'Did you ever happen to see a review of the Tailor in The Tailor and Cutter, the paper which the mouse on the bobbin is reading?' She had given a copy to her old Chelsea tailor, who in turn, had shown it to a traveller from the trade journal telling him how Beatrix had sketched his shop. The 'beautiful review', as Beatrix called it, appeared appropriately on Christmas Eve. It read:
... we think it is by far the prettiest story connected with tailoring we have ever read, and as it is full of that spirit of Peace on Earth, Goodwill to Men, we are not ashamed to confess that it brought the moisture to our eyes, as well as the smile to our face. It is got up in choicest style and illustrated by twenty-seven of the prettiest pictures it is possible to imagine."
If you are a subscriber to the HNR you can read Lady of the House, my interview with Erika Robuck on her new novel The House of Hawthorne. The book tells the story of Nathaniel Hawthorne and his family from the 1830s to the 1860s but in the words of his wife Sophia. Erika drew heavily on Sophia's journals and letters to create this portrait and in doing so she became "enamored by her enthusiasm, her stubborn optimism, and her almost childlike view of the world. It was a challenge to write in her voice, and I hope I rose to the occasion.” I think Erika did.
I'm still on the early chapters covering her youth, and always interested in the genesis of creativity, I noted the passage on her childhood reading (which included " 'Miss Edgeworth and Scott's novels' ") which culminates, " ... this rich diet of art and literature contributed to a lifelong delight in rhythm, cadence, wordplay, humour, dialect and dialogue: all nourishment for her imagination and the creation of her own literary style."
- In relation to our forthcoming book group reading/discussion of Jane Eyre, many of us wondered how we would respond to the book now, coming back to it later in life, having first read it in our teens. The almost inevitable change in perspective we will bring to it is very interesting for many reasons, not least as Diane Setterfield says, "To reread is not only to circle back in time to a book, but to rediscover yourself and measure the distance – and the closeness – between who you are and who you used to be".
- The Romantic Novel of the Year Award has gone to Joss Stirling for her Young Adult novel Struck. It's the first time a YA book has triumphed, but regardless of genre, a prize is no surprise when you realise that Joss Stirling is actually Julia Golding who is very good both on the page and in person, as you'll see here.
- On the subject of literary prizes, I intended to write about The Slightly Foxed Best First Biography Prize when it was awarded back in November and somehow the post never materialised, but the book which won sounds as though it would be of interest to many of us, so better late than never ... Those Wild Wyndhams: Three Sisters at the Heart of Power by Claudia Renton, was commended by Lucy Hughes-Hallett, biographer herself and one of the judges for the prize: "Mary, Madeline and Pamela Wyndham’s connections – familial, sexual and social – place them at the heart of a Britain which was brought to an end by the First World War. Through their love affairs and marriages, their house-parties and their patronage, the three sisters dominated a milieu where high society, high finance, politics and the arts were interconnected. Biography has been called the “higher gossip” – this book, ingeniously structured and written with fluency and wit, demonstrates how enjoyable, and how historically illuminating, high gossip can be."
- For anyone looking to buy a copy of A Work of Beauty: Alexander McCall Smith's Edinburgh, from which I quoted the other day, I'm told by Booksource that it should be back in stock in bookshops and with online retailers early next week.
- Those who commented on the British and American covers of Anne Tyler's new novel are all in favour of the latter design; no votes, as I write, for the less distinctive UK one. I'd love to know the thinking behind both, and ask jacket design teams why they so often opt for the bland and generic over something more imaginative.
- Since news of Harper Lee's 'new' novel broke last week there has been much talk in the press and online about the author's capacity, the likely quality of the work - given that it was in essence a rejected piece on which she built her classic, and the rights and wrongs of publishing it. Comment has rangesd from the cynical to the trusting and optimistic, with Miss Lee herself reported as saying she's "alive and kicking and happy as hell with the reactions to [the novel]". Regardless of of the book's merits or demerits - and we'll discover them in July - I hope that the author is indeed as strong as she indicates, and that her judgement in this matter is clear-sighted and serves her well.
- Lastly, an important note to authors: if you haven't already signed up for PLR, or if you haven't recently updated the books/editions of yours which are registered, do so to ensure that you don't miss out on any payments which would be due to you. On the subject of libraries, the latest library loan statistics have just been published (for more statistics and regional variations follow the links here).
I've written before about the significance to me of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird, and it's a book in a category all of its own. So special is it that I don't know if I dare read Go Set A Watchman, the novel Miss Lee wrote before it but which features Scout and Atticus in later life - a book that has never been published, was thought to be lost, has been rediscovered and is now to come out in July.
- Wolf Hall watchers, wasn't it at Montacute House that the archery scenes and Cromwell's and Henry's conversation in the pavilion in last week's episode were filmed? Ben Pentreath has been visiting the gardens and has posted some great photographs here (scroll down).
- Following on from this post, and rather in the spirit of the song "I danced with a man who danced with a girl who danced with the Prince of Wales ...", at dinner with an Oxford friend a few days ago, I learned that he knew Tolkien and Hugo Dyson at Merton College in the early 1970s. More recently, as a fellow of Magdalen, he occupied what had previously been C.S. Lewis' rooms (see also this); having been a guest there myself I couldn't in all honesty say that an aura lingers, but maybe just an inkling* ...
That break in transmission was unintended - I've been laid low with a lurgy (debilitating but not remotely serious) and am just getting back to normal now. Emails were beyond me when I was ill, so apologies to anyone who is waiting to hear from me as I work through the backlog. As for reading, I'm scarcely any further on with either book than when I last posted so I've nothing much to report on that front.