I'm about half way through and loving the book, admiring Esther Freud's lightness of touch, and fascinated by the portrait of Mackintosh and his history, for despite his enormous standing now, this shows him at a time when his fortunes were on the ebb.
Here is a lovely talk about the power of fiction, and a book as "a doorway to wonder" - it should make you smile!
The 'flipside' of this, you might say, is the real experience which inspires a fictitious one, and this article reveals the fairly mundane basis for the dream-like party scene in Alain-Fournier's Le Grand Meaulnes, which itself had a very famous literary successor.
In this recent article the novelist Nick Hornby talks about writing reviews for The Believer, an American magazine which concentrates on books its reviewers like "with a nod to the concept of the inherent Good". His column has enabled Hornby to "become an enthusiast, rather than a stern, difficult-to-please gatekeeper", he says, and so I thought I'd ask you all for recommendations of books about which you feel truly enthusiastic, not ones that you've 'just' enjoyed or admired, but those which you feel compelled to press on people (if you're so inclined), ones which have inspired you, perhaps, or simply entertained you to a very high degree.
To compare and contrast, I've just read Karen Joy Fowler's We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves and Margaret Atwood's Stone Mattress: Nine Tales and both are works of high quality, very slick, very sharp. While the former takes a certain situation and charts its repercussions and associated ethical questions to great (if not flawless) effect, the latter - a collection of short stories - shows off its author's talent and imagination and provides laughs and chills along the way. I genuinely admire the art and craft of both books, I can appreciate their finer points and I commend them to you, but in terms of enthusiasm, I don't feel it as I do for books such as Alan Bradley's sparkling Flavia de Luce series (see also), and - as you may guess - History of the Rain by Niall Williams which I adored and which has yet to be beaten in my reading this year.
I could cite many more examples, but those are a couple of recent reads which stand out, one because it is clever and fun and original, the other because it has so much heart and soul in it, and both make you feel better for reading them.
Do you have any books - recently discovered or old favourites - about which you are a true enthusiast, or evangelist, even?
I'm reading Mary Stewart's The Crystal Cave just now and happened to look at the acknowledgements page last night. Among those thanked by the author is Robin Denniston, who through the 1960s and early '70s was editorial director and managing director of Lady Stewart's publisher Hodder & Stoughton.
Robin, who died in 2012, was our next-door neighbour some years ago; he was a charming gentleman and an excellent pianist. Latterly he had been with Oxford University Press, and when we knew him he had given up publishing to become an Anglican priest, so I had no inkling then of his illustrious career at Hodder and it is only now that I have discovered his connection to Mary Stewart; had I known, I'd have asked him all about her, but this piece of his (which was published posthumously) does tell us a little.
Sir John Betjeman was a founding member of The Victorian Society and campaigned to save and preserve many of the period's buildings, perhaps most notably St. Pancras Station and its attached Midland Grand Hotel (which in its new incarnation was my home last week).
Sir John is commemorated in the station by a pub, The Betjeman Arms, and by this statue by Martin Jennings. Inscribed on its base are lines from the former Poet Laureate's work Cornish Cliffs:
And in the shadowless unclouded glare
Deep blue above us fades to whiteness where
A misty sea-line meets the wash of air.
Last Thursday, the 28th. of August, would have been Sir John's 108th. birthday, and someone who recognises his contribution to the country's architectural and cultural heritage left flowers and a birthday card beside his statue - a sweet gesture, I thought.
I missed Monday night's A.N. Wilson documentary Return to Betjemanland, but thanks to iPlayer (and a timely comment from Kaggsy) I watched it last night and greatly enjoyed it. Just by the way, Wilson's last television film was on C.S. Lewis*, Betjeman's tutor at Magdalen College, Oxford, and a man with whom he did not get on; Wilson has written biographies of both.
*If you haven't already seen it, this post may be of interest.
A big 'thank you' to everyone who entered our recent draw for the Edinburgh International Book Festival/Guardian book bag, the postcards from Penguin, and a copy of Michael Morpurgo's Singing for Mrs Pettigrew: A Storymaker's Journey - all your comments were such fun to read. I have been away for a few days so have only now picked a winner (with the help of a random number generator), and that person is Di McDougall.
Congratulations, Di, and I'll get your prize in the post to you just as soon as I can.
Since the comments on the draw post were all about what you'd pack for a long journey, I should say that on my long journeys this last week - and I spent a lot of time on trains going to London and back with a day in Paris in the middle - my bag contained two small knitting projects, my camera, my Kindle (I've started Phil Rickman's The Wine of Angels on Sue's recommendation), and Alexander McCall Smith's forthcoming Mma Ramotswe book The Handsome Man's De Luxe Café which had me helpless with laughter; fellow passengers must have wondered what on earth I was reading.
... a new BBC series, The Secret Life of Books. I haven't seen a transmission date for this, but it's to be on BBC Four and will be "examining original texts, manuscripts, letters and diaries to uncover the story behind the creation of six classic books". Presenters include Simon Russell Beale on Shakespeare's First Folio, and the excellent Dr. Alexandra Harris (see this post) on Virginia Woolf's Mrs. Dalloway.
... The Golden Age of Murder (to be published in May, 2015) in which Martin Edwards looks at how Agatha Christie and her contemporaries revolutionised crime writing: "This ground-breaking study of detective fiction from between the wars captures how the social and political turbulence of the times impacted on authors and the appetites of their readers. Martin’s revelations about many of these colourful and turbulent writers, whose risky private lives inspired their more daring novels, provide a whole new insight into the generation of authors who created the prototypes for books we all still love today."
I am so enjoying reading all the wonderful comments on the book bag post, and you've put such thought into what you would pack for a long trip that I felt an extra prize was in order, so in addition to the bag and the postcards I've bought a copy of Michael Morpurgo's Singing for Mrs Pettigrew: A Storymaker's Journey - a line from which is quoted on the bag - to send to the winner. I haven't read the book yet (I have bought a copy for myself, too), but it sounds very interesting, being a collection of stories for young people and adults together with short essays and commentaries "to illuminate the craft of storytelling".
If you haven't already done so, please enter the draw by leaving a comment on Friday's post (I'll be picking a winner in a few days' time), and either way, have a virtual peep at the contents of everyone else's bags - there is much good reading there as well as many other delights!
To enter the draw, as we did last time, please leave a comment on this post telling us which book or books you'd pack for a long journey, or what other item you might put in the bag - a camera, a sketchbook and pencils, or some knitting, perhaps?
- Apart from the stock, Parnassus Books' shop dogs would be a major draw for me, if I lived in Nashville; booksellers of Britain, take note!
- From Tennessee to the neighbouring state of Alabama, and today is the 54th. anniversary of the publication of To Kill a Mockingbird. I've written before about the book's significance to me, but by any standards it is a very special novel, so I'm glad to hear that it has now been released as an e-book. If you have never read it you are in for a wonderful experience, and if you have, re-readings only enhance it.
- Lastly, posting has been sporadic of late as other things have claimed my time and attention. That's set to continue for a while, so apart from popping in to update my current reading and the like, I'm going to take a wee break.
While the house has been turned upside down over the last couple of weeks I've found I cannot put my mind to a book, and all I've managed by way of reading has been a page or two at bedtime, precious little of which I've actually absorbed.
Meanwhile, I'm re-organising books and disposing of a lot (and bearing in mind the advice of Marie Kondo as I go) - it's all to the good!
While the purging has been going on, I have bought the odd thing, and the bookmark pictured here came with an order from The Book Depository; do click on the image to enlarge it as you should read the various 'passport stamps'. The design was one of the winners in a recent competition.
I trust you're faring better with your reading than I am (and I must say that my lack of concentration is no fault of the book's); I hope to be back to normal soon!
Following on from Friday's post, I can report that I've now moved 300 books, sorted them, and got rid of around 100 so far - there will be more as I'm fairly getting into my stride and being quite ruthless/sensible, depending on your point of view, regarding what stays and what goes. Apart from the need to clear the study for the workmen who are coming this week, and the fact that, this lovely thought notwithstanding, I have far too many books to comfortably house, one motivating factor here was the realisation that, as it stands, my tbr 'pile' represents six to seven years' worth of reading, and given the current acquisition rate, things are out of hand.
While I was doing the sorting and looking forward to the help of a strong man to load the boxes into the car, etc., Mr. C. went to play cricket, threw himself after a ball (preventing the other team scoring four runs), landed heavily and tore a muscle in his side*. A visit to the minor injuries clinic at the hospital ensued, and he's been confined to light duties for the next little while, but the painkillers and rest are doing the trick and he's feeling a lot brighter this evening, despite the relative lack of sympathy from his otherwise loving family.
*That'll larn him.
The painting is Emmeline 'Nina' Mary Elizabeth Welby-Gregory (1867–1955), Mrs Henry John Cockayne-Cust, in the Library at Chancellor's House, Hyde Park Gate, London by Florence Seth.
I shall be spending the weekend moving hundreds of books in advance of some work being done to the house - after which all will be order and calm as above*, I hope! I doubt I'll get much reading time, but such as I have will be given over to Joanna Rakoff's memoir (see Wednesday's post) which I am enjoying enormously. I'm so pleased to see Litlove's comment there that it's a contender for her books of the year list; that's praise indeed.
I hope you have something very good to read over the next few days, or something equally diverting to do - please tell us if so, because I shall be popping back here for some light relief in the midst of all the fetching, carrying and sorting (or I could rope in the chaps from Foyles and put my feet up ...).
*In the Library, St. James' Square, c. 1805-06, attributed to Thomas Pole.
I have a lot of books that I should be talking about but somehow today I'm 'fusionless', uninspired and disinclined to make the effort, so as we haven't had a 'good words' post for some time, this will suffice. If you click on the link above and then on the wee recording you'll hear how the word is said when it has an 'h' in the middle; my Highland grandmother used to say it, but with a longer 'u', no 'h', and a harder 's', and indeed the Scots dictionary gives many spellings and examples of usage - I can't link directly but if you're so minded you can put the word in the search box here and you should find them.
Smeddum is another very good word meaning "spirit, energy, drive, vigorous resourcefulness” (there's more on it here), and of course it was the title of a short story by Lewis Grassic Gibbon; let's hope I have some of that tomorrow.
I can't close today, though, without reference to at least one book. My wish list has grown a little longer thanks to all the collections of letters you kindly recommended in response to Sunday's post, and it was further augmented this morning by a book I hadn't come across before I saw it mentioned on Twitter, and that is Reflections: On the Magic of Writing by Diana Wynne-Jones, a collection of 25 of her articles on topics including "literary criticism (such as a study of narrative structure in The Lord of the Rings and a ringing endorsement of the value of learning Anglo Saxon), autobiographical anecdotes about reading tours (including an account of her famous travel jinx), revelations about the origins of her books, and thoughts in general about the life of an author and the value of writing". It sounds fascinating.