Tuesday 30 June 2009

Slight indiscretion...

A slight indiscretion I know, but I wasn't feeling hugely jolly at lunchtime, so after I'd met my boyfriend (which was lovely) and had the worst tuna sandwich in the history of tuna sandwiches, I made in the mistake (I wasn't feeling strong!) of wandering into the Oxfam bookshop in time. I had a lovely long chat with the woman at the till (who also used to be a librarian) and ended up with the above. I could have bought many more Viragos, so I was quite good. I mentioned that I wanted to read Hotel du Lac the other day, and although I've read The wedding group I wanted to own it in a green Virago. And The Edwardians is something I've also wanted to read for a while, and this is a lovely copy. I haven't yet read any Vita Sackville-West. I discovered Amanda Brookfield a few weeks ago and find her a nice light read, so perfect for summer reading. Penelope Lively is another favourite and this looks like an interesting read. Finally, A nice cup of tea and a sit down - this is the book of the hilarious website, and although I've had the book from the library, it's great to have my own copy. So there we go...

So that's my resolve gone. Particularly as I'm going to the Persephone shop tomorrow and as I said to my boyfriend...it's only polite to buy SOMETHING. The current state of the poor TBRBC below...

The fruits of my labours.

Excuse the dreadful pun. First up, jam making! I feel slightly scared by this, as surely jam making is something only my mother does! I, and my flat, are now covered in a strawberry goo, and smelling strongly of the same. It made far more than anticipated, my two jam jars were quite inadequate, so as I type, it is cooling in cereal bowls waiting to go into tupperware and be given to everyone we know. Picture one shows the saucepans (dual stirring!), picture two shows it nearly boiling over and emitting hot spits of jam, and picture three shows the finished products.

I've also now made a double batch of strawberry and clotted cream ice cream, strawberry frozen greek yoghurt, half a batch of frozen blackcurrant yoghurt (big faff trying to get blackcurrant pulp through sieve), and a batch of raspberry frozen yoghurt. We've also eaten strawberries raw. Not a bad result from £10.58!

But the piece de resistance has to be the blackcurrant clafoutis cakes I made in my new Le Creuset heart ramekins. I made this cake in a heart shaped tin for our anniversary this year, but I think this is even better! Kitsch I know! 2oz butter, 2oz sugar, 2 oz SR flour, 1 egg, 4 oz blackcurrants, and 2tbsp milk. Baked at 180C until done looking. (Recipe originally from Sainsburys magazine last year).

Summer reading - part 1

I was reading the Sunday Times Culture Supplement last night and it had a feature devoted to summer reading, so I thought I ought to get my own thoughts down about summer reading. I'm not quite clear as to whether it is simply reading undertaken in the summer (and if so I'm not sure why we would read more in the summer than in the winter when the weather is horrid and we want to stay indoors more), or whether it is because most of us take time off work in the summer and thus have more time to read then. Or whether it is purely a marketing gimmick.
Anyway, I'm going with the second reason, and as I'm off work for the rest of this week and we have a weekend away at the end of it, I thought I'd write about what I'm planning to read this week. It's only roughly formed so far, and books will be selected from my tbrbc and the library pile since there is plenty on there to occupy me - I don't need to give in and use this as an excuse to buy more!
I was reading a book by Helen Humphrey's last night when I changed my mind and decided to treat myself to a Persephone book. So I decided this morning that the plan is to read a Persephone each weekday of this week - I haven't decided which yet (although today I have Brook Evans in my bag!), but it seems appropriate since I intend to visit the shop tomorrow.
I have extra reading time tomorrow, as I'll be getting the train to London for the day, so I intend to take Jane Gardam's A Long Way to Verona which I bought back in May and have been looking forward to.
In my suitcase for the weekend, I'm packing Rose Tremain's Swimming Pool Season (because that feels like an appropriate title as I intend to visit the outdoor pool each day this week - have just been today and it was such a relief to cool off), The spellbook of Listen Taylor (by Jaclyn Moriarty (colourful summertime cover), the new book by Patrick Gale called The whole day through (as it's set in Cornwall and I want to finish it so I can lend it to a friend), and possibly a few other things.
I found my boyfriend his summer reading yesterday - he asked for some sporty books so I got him Michael Phelps (swimmer)'s autobiography, a book about mountaineering, a book about the Tour De France, and a book by Lance Armstrong (cyclist). He seemed pleased with my choice, though I'm still keen on getting him reading one of my lovely Will Fiennes books as I am so sure he would enjoy them.

(BTW - summer reading part 2 will come when we have our proper holiday and I have to pack 10 days worth of books!)

Teaser Tuesday...

Quote a couple of spoiler-free sentences from the book you’re reading to tempt others...

"But the weight of my books necessitates transport. I do not have much for thirty-five years on this earth: mostly books, a few photographs."
-- The Lost Garden, Helen Humphreys.

A friend recommended this author, and I am enjoying this one so far. Anyone else come across her?

Monday 29 June 2009

Blueberry soured cream cake

Before I took to the sofa this weekend, I did make a soured cream blueberry cake from this recipe. It was ok, but I thought it came out overly soggy, and although the cake was completely cold when I frosted it, it all ran off (perhaps because I used M and S organic cream cheese rather than more plastic philadelphia).
We did make it to a pick your own farm at the weekend, and got £10.58 of strawberries, raspberries and blackcurrants which now I'm on a mission to use up - mainly icecream but some baking too I expect.

Alas poor lady (Rachel Ferguson)

In every sense of the word! I wasn't around at the weekend as I was laid low with a horrific stomach ache which necessitated a trip to the out of hours doctor for some extremely strong painkillers, which made me feel distinctly odd. Felt a bit better on Sunday, and well enough to go to a Pick Your Own farm, but am not feeling so good today and am very glad that I have the rest of the week off and don't have to struggle through work. So apologies for my absence.

Whilst we were waiting for the doctor to call us back, I decided I needed to find a book, and I'd planned to read a Persephone this weekend. Alas poor lady seemed an appropriate sort of title, but I have to say that it wasn't a great choice as it was a weight volume which I struggled to hold up, and it required quite a lot of concentration.
However, I did end up enjoying it when I read the rest of it yesterday. It opens with a fete in aid of the Gentlewomen's Protective Association, and shows us some distressed gentlewomen, and asks how do women get into this situation. The rest of the book show us how it happens by relating the life of Grace, the youngest daughter of a large, well-to-do family. It would take too long to relate the incidents of her life, and although it was a fairly interesting plot, what I liked best about the book was the description of life in the late 19th century and early twentieth century. So, early chapters deal with the daily routine, and then the yearly routine, before showing us how frustrating it is to be an unmarried woman in that period. One sister ends up going to a convent, another gets married, but the rest are left at home with not very much to do. Attempts to find employment are blocked by their parents, in particular their mother who refuses to help to change things. As spinsters they are viewed as a social embarassment, and thus it is inevitable that they will need to be helped by the Gentlewomen's Protective Association. In fact, the book ends on a happy note, as provided for by the GPA, Grace has a better way of life than she has had for years.

On Friday I read Mary Sinclair's Three Sisters, which was very good too - another green Virago. It takes the Bronte's lives as a starting point and explores the lives of three sisters living with their vicar father, each of whom are desperate to escape. Marriage is essentially the only option, and all three sisters individually pursue the new village doctor. In some ways it was another case of women leading frustrating lives pre-women's lib, and a bit depressing for that, but definitely one worth reading.

I did do a tiny bit of baking on Friday night, and I'll post about that in due course this week. I hope to get lots of reading done this week, but I have a fair few things on (am hoping to get to the Persephone bookshop on Weds!), and definitely need to catch up on some sleep and rest.

Friday 26 June 2009

Never no more (Maura Laverty)

It was time for another Virago title last night, so I picked up Never no more from the pile of library books in the sitting room (it is a very big pile, because Oxfordshire libraries are very generous and allow one to borrow 20 books at once, and because I have my boyfriend's library ticket as well as my own).
This is the story of 13-year old Delia at a turning point in her life. Her father has just died, and her mother is about to move (with her brothers and sisters) to start a dressmaking business in another town. Delia's grandmother feels that this would not be best for Delia, and offers her the chance to stay behind and carry on attending school. The book is about her subsequent life, her relationship with her Gran...not very much happens, but it is a wonderful evocation of life in Ireland in the 1920s.
I love this sentence which is representative of Delia's feelings for her grandmother and is typical of Laverty's wonderful writing:
"Human nature is like bread I think. Soda bread calls for buttermilk and baking powder bread for new milk. Use the wrong kind of milk and the bread is sodden. Gran was the right kind of milk for me".
Almost every meal is outlined in detail in this sort of style - not just what it was, but how it was made.
The edition that I have from the library has an interesting introduction by Maeve Binchy - I've read some of her novels (Evening Class is probably the best, but there was a period when she produced almost one every year which Mum and I would get for our summer holiday) which are very light, so it felt a little strange to see her writing in quite a different context, and before her commercial success. She points out that the book is certainly not autobiographical as Laverty never lived with her Gran and that although it is a disappointment to discover this, perhaps we should see the book as the sort of childhood Laverty wished for rather than the one she actually had. She fills in some of the biographical detail to Laverty's life, which is interesting, apparently her two cookbooks graced almost every kitchen across Ireland when Binchy was growing up, which explains the attention given to describing the meals eaten in the text.

Thursday 25 June 2009


Into work late this morning as I have a meeting in town, which gives me the opportunity to share the contents of my Persephone packages! (its going to be a short day as the college has its big three-yearly ball tonight and we have to clear out of college and lock the library down at 4pm!) I love the bookmarks that come with the Persephone titles - I'd not bought one from the Persephone shop so that is a novelty for me. I spent a large part of yesterday evening rearranging my books.

Which makes me want to ask - do you think Persephone books should be kept separately, for aesthetic purposes, or integrated, for organisational ones?

In fact, I think I'll overdose on Persephone porn with a picture of the bottom of my tbrbc which has a lot of Persephone awaiting me....
- it's not the entire collection, I think I have about 6 or 7 amalgamated in my main alphabetical sequence which I have read - see if you can spot them below. The other books on that shelf are the lovely new Emma Smith - The Maiden's Trip (far left), and the complete Greyladies collection on the right. I've mentioned them before and I think Persephone lovers might enjoy them. I haven't got as far as reading any of them yet, but I am looking forward to doing so. Greyladies are a fairly new imprint specialising in vintage crime, school stories for adults, and books by children's authors for adults - the last is especially appealing. The books aren't quite as beautiful as the Persephone books

I think I've actually got all of the Persephone titles that I want now; I've read most of the others that I'm interested in in different editions from the public library (although obviously for completist sake I'd love a full set!) So this should make it a bit easier if I pop into the shop next week not to break my no-books 6-weeks and just come out with the bag or notebook... I'm felt a bit sad as I put London child on librarything.com last night that I won't be adding any more books for a while, but it might give me a chance to catch up with a bit of my backlog.

Happy Friday everyone :)
Now that summer is here (in the northern hemisphere, anyway), what is the most "Summery" book you can think of? The one that captures the essence of summer for you?

Without a doubt it has to be The go-between by L.P. Hartley. It is set in a long, hot summer, and I read it on a bank holiday Monday in my teens, lying in the garden in the sun.

Unfortunately I can't find a copy of the cover of the version I read.

However, although it's been too hot (I found myself in the kitchen at 3.30 am last night eating ice cream to cool down, although that was partly as I had not had much dinner), I am now looking out of the window to clouds :( Here's hoping for some sunny weather when I have some time off next week.

A start in life (Anita Brookner)

I wasn't feeling very well yesterday, and had to come home from work to lie on the sofa, which meant that I missed the second Oxford Persephone book-group, of which I'd already missed the first. My ability to cope with stomach pain seems to be somewhat diminished when I am overtired. So I chose a little paperback book off my tbrbc that wouldn't require much effort to hold up (!), and fortunately didn't require much effort to read.

I picked up A start in life from the Oxfam bookshop a couple of weeks ago because according to the back of the book it was about a woman who's life is dominated by books. It was another book where not very much happened, and it was another book which was predominantly a coming of age story. The book starts with a memorable opening sentence: "Dr Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature". From this sentence, the book goes back to Ruth's (Dr Weiss') childhood, and is predominantly a coming of age story where Ruth spends her life escaping into books - from her parents, and from her perceived inadequacies, and from her inability to find love.
It was interesting to read a book by a Booker winner the day after reading an actual Booker winner. I'm really curious now to read Hotel du Lac as although I enjoyed A start in life, I'm not convinced Brookner could produce anything as good as Holiday. I'm trying to remember if I have read anything else by her, I don't think I have, although I have been wanting to read her most recent title Strangers.

I then went on and read Caro Fraser's The trustees which was absorbing enough to stop me from being bored while my boyfriend worked, but not especially memorable (although I am a fan of her books precisely for that reason), and then looked at the pictures in the Good Housekeeping "Great Cakes" book which I recently borrowed from the library, but I didn't see anything I wanted to make. Luckily I've already got plans for this weekend :)

Anyway, something that cheered me up was a nice email from Lydia at Persephone in response to my anxious enquiry about my last Persephone book. Apparently the request for the free book hadn't shown up, but she was putting The London Child in the post for me. So hopefully you won't have to wait much longer to see my Persephone pile! Am very envious that Paperback Reader went to the shop today, and I am wondering if I can fit in a quick visit next week when I am up in London to see the stage show Calendar Girls with one of my oldest friends - it is only a 20 minute walk from the theatre according to the Transport for London website...

Wednesday 24 June 2009

More on Holiday (Stanley Middleton)

I wrote quite a bit about this yesterday, but I hadn't got very far with it. However, my initial impressions happily turned out to reflect the rest of the book. I think two things stood out about it - firstly, a plot where not very much happened on the surface, but by drawing you into the past lives of the characters turned out to be very gripping, and secondly, some very beautiful writing, such as the Teaser that I transcribed yesterday.
As I wrote yesterday, it's the story of Edwin Fisher, who is on holiday in a rundown seaside resort, where he used to go as a child. The resort is wonderfully described, as are his fellow holidaymakers. But the book is not really about his holiday, it is about his relationship with his wife, from whom he is temporarily estranged. On his first night, he runs into his father-in-law in a run down pub. His father-in-law is desperate to arrange a meeting between Edwin, and Meg, his wife, and as the book unfolds we witness failed attempts to get them together. At the same time, Edwin remembers how he got together with Meg in the first place, and the events that lead to it all going wrong.
I loved this book because I love books about relationships and people's lives, and I thought this was beautifully constructed and fantastically well-written. You should read this if you ever went on holiday somewhere like Bournemouth or Bognor; there is plenty of nostalgia in the book. I[m intrigued that this book was a "joint-winner" in 1974, I should read the other winner (The conservationist, by Gordimer) to see how it compares, I suppose. But I will definitely be reading more of Stanley Middleton.

Tuesday 23 June 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

Following Paperback Reader's Man Booker post, where it looked like I had read 13 of the Man Booker winners, I decided I should probably read some more. Or at least another one, while it was fresh in my mind. I'm not sure how I came across it, but I got Holiday by Stanley Middleton out of the library yesterday. As soon as I sat down with it at lunchtime, I knew that I had to quote the first three sentences, they were fantastic and made me just want to keep on reading.

"Light shimmered along the polished pews as the congregation heaved itself to its feet, hailing the Lord's Anointed. Grain arrows waved darkly in the wood under the coating of shellac, the brightness of elbow grease. Brass umbrella-holders gleamed, but the metal rectangle to house the name of the pew's occupier had been allowed to blacken in disuse".

I know I'm not really supposed to tell you more, but I am really gripped by this book, and am only a few chapters in. It's the story of Edwin Fisher, who is on holiday in a rundown seaside resort. I love the descriptions of the resort and his stay, as it takes me back to a couple of trips to Bournemouth with my Mum and Gran when I was very little, where we stayed in a B and B, and went for walks after dinner. I haven't got very far, but Edwin has just bumped into his soon to be ex-father in law. It's really very good, and feels just right to be reading on a sunny day.
One thing that surprised me though when I picked the book up off the shelf is the printing/construction of the volume (this always interests me, as I have a work interest in bindings, as I am required to describe them when I am cataloguing a pre-1800 book); the edition I have is the most recent, published by Five Leaves, but the quality feels as if it is a book that someone had privately printed (vanity publishing perhaps). I have to say that if I had not known that this was a Booker Winner, I would not have pulled it off the shelf. But I am glad that I did.

Monday 22 June 2009

Mental Monday

I hate the Monday after term finishes, with a vengeance. The last week of term is especially busy with students bringing their books back, and this continues over the weekend when we're not there to check the books back in. I was first in today, at 8am, and could barely see the library. As you can see above.

Two hours later, I had finally checked everything in, and with the help of my library assistant and trainee carried everything to the right floor (we have 3 floors, and no lift!)...the other librarian was sensibly at a hospital appointment. I've spent the rest of the day trying to persuade the other students to bring their books back, and then sorting out the annual consignment of journals to be bound, most of which were missing. I am absolutely shattered by carrying books around and doing things to them.

So sometimes one can have too many books. But not Persephones. I'm still waiting for my last one!

A bit more autobiography, and a bit more still.

Quite by chance, forgetting that I had written about autobiographies on Friday, I found myself at work on Saturday reading Afir Nafizi's Things I have been silent about. I read Reading Lolita in Tehran a while ago, but this was quite different. I felt it was much more of a personal story than her first book, but gave no less of an insight into life in Iran (and also briefly in Lancaster in Britain when she was sent away for schooling). It's not a soothing autobiography, not just because of the political turmoil which formed the background to her childhood, but as a result of turbulent family relationships. Her father is also imprisoned at one point. I would certainly recommend this, even if you didn't enjoy Reading Lolita, because it is quite a different book, but which also explains the first book.

I got out the second volume of Penelope Fitzgerald's autobiography from the library at lunchtime, and nearly made myself late back to work because I was enjoying her stories of an unconventional married life as a writer during the war, while her husband was away and then later a conscientious objector. I didn't get very far, but I'm looking forward to the rest of it tonight.

Sunday 21 June 2009

Strawberry torte

I made this last night, an incredibly delicious strawberry torte. It's essentially a sponge cake (made half with almonds) filled before baking with fresh strawberries, which on cooking turn into a lovely sort of jam. I'm definitely making it again, and next time I'd put more strawberries in, as I only put about half the amount that the recipe specified, because it looked like a lot, and I'd forgotten that strawberries shrank.
I've also made some choc chip shortbread with a recipe that I rediscovered from an old Sainsbury's magazine that I'd not got around to making. It was interesting, as it involved using a combination of golden caster sugar and dark muscavado sugar (normally I'd use caster sugar in shortbread), and for the first time I made it in a tin, rather than cutting out shapes. Decided I need to get more use out of my flan tin, and plus the picture on the original recipe was made in a tin! It's still in the oven, as we've only just got back from 80th lunch excursion, so please excuse the lack of picture!

Saturday 20 June 2009

Lost and Found

This is a book-related post, but in a roundabout way... This DVD arrived at the cardigan establishment yesterday, it's a belated birthday present from my boyfriend (I asked him to pre-order it, but the release date got put back past my birthday, and then when it became available, Amazon omitted to post it, and then my boyfriend omitted to chase it up). I haven't yet watched it (we were still on the Tour de France DVD last night), but I saw it at Christmas and thought it was so beautiful that I had to own it. The animation Lost and Found is actually based on a beautiful book by Oliver Jeffers about a boy who discovers a lost penguin. The penguin is sad, and the boy thinks it is because he is so far from home, so decides to row him all the way back to the south pole. I don't think it will spoil the book or the DVD to tell you that when they get there the boy discovers that the penguin doesn't really want to be there, and is just looking for a friend. I shall be watching this every time I feel miserable as 25 minutes of cheering up.
Oliver Jeffers I think is a fantastic children's writer, and I'd recommend him to any of you who have young nieces and nephews to buy presents for. I bought How to catch a star for my small cousin after she enjoyed Lost and found, and her brother recently received The book-eating boy (although (excuse grouch) I never heard whether he even opened it). I had forgotten until writing this post, how much a fan of beautiful picture books I am. I will have to fish out my Angelina Ballerina and Racey Helps books and have a blog about those sometime soon.


I enjoyed reading Penelope Mortimer's autobiography (or at least the first volume), About time last night, because I always like reading people's interpretations of their childhood, although for some reason I'm never too keen on ploughing through all of the ancestral detail - I was relieved to see that Mortimer agreed with me, and stated this explicitly in the first chapter, and only started the story with her parents. It was certainly an interesting read, and I'll definitely be seeking out the second volume, About time too, in due course, as this only took us up to her first marriage, aged 21, and thus didn't detail her career or anything really regarding how she came to be a writer (the young Penelope didn't seem to be particularly preoccupied with words, although was obviously quite precocious).
However, I was disappointed. The three books I've read by Mortimer so far, Daddy's gone a-hunting, The pumpkin eater, and My friend says its bullet proof, have been fantastic literary books with twists and turns and interesting constructions. This book was just rather too linear and straightforward. It occured to me that this is frequently the case when novelists write about their early years. I was pretty disappointed when I got hold of Dorothy Whipple's autobiography recently,a nd also by Kate O'Brien's Presentation parlour. And Monica Dickens' actual autobiography, An open book, just didn't live up to her fictionalised autobiographical volumes, One pair of hands, One pair of feet, and My turn to make the tea.
Good autobiographies, that are actually genuinely good books as well as accounts of the writer's life, seem to me to be predominantly written by those who have not written novels. Some recommendations of good autobiographies would include The music room by Will Fiennes (absolutely exquisitely written), Toast by Nigel Slater (clever construction based around food and meals), and a book I keep mentioning recently, The London child in the 1870s. I also love Christopher Milne's The enchanted places, and I'm a big fan of Deric Longden's autobiography/cat books, although I don't even like cats as they make me laugh out loud.
Has anyone encountered good autobiography by a novel? I'm happy to be corrected. Or just to have recommendations of good autobiographies in general.

* My boyfriend raced through Quite Honestly by John Mortimer over the last two nights. I don't think I've seen him read so fast, he was evidently enjoying it.
* I mistakenly bought the wrong colour of tights in Primark on Thursday, and have been walking around with footballer's wife shade legs. This would be quite entertaining if it didn't look quite so bad, and if I didn't have to face Primark again to get some more in the right shade. I don't think I can face returning them (I managed to buy 16 pairs in the wrong colour!)
* Off to an 80th birthday party 3 hours drive away tomorrow, so no reading time. Might get the chance to catch up with the Archers omnibus, as I haven't listened to that for several months. Should have got an audiobook I guess, but I'm not a big fan really.

Friday 19 June 2009

A parcel!

I got excited when I got home and saw an extremely large Persephone package on the doormat (actually it wasn't on the dormat, the postman had left it outside - I'm glad there seem to be no other Persephone-philes in the immediate neighbourhood or it might not have been there when I got home!) as I thought it must be my last two books and I would be able to take a picture for you all. Unfortunately, Few eggs and no oranges is an extremely large volume, which occupied the whole package, so I'm afraid you'll have to wait a little longer. But I'll leave you with this in the meantime...


I *loved* Authenticity by Deidre Madden which I read last night, and it was a fantastic read which kept me occupied whilst my boyfriend watched the second part of the free DVD that came with the Tour de France magazine. I knew I'd regret treating him to that... (as an aside, I'm going to get some serious reading done during July as the t.v. will be taken over with TdF coverage...). Like Molly Fox's birthday, which has shot to recent acclaim with its Orange shortlisting, it was an intriguing read. It starts with one of the main protagonists, Julia, meeting a man on the verge of a nervous breakdown in a park one afternoon; she ends up keeping him company and escorting him back home. The rest of the book is about Julia, and her boyfriend Roderic, who are both artists, and Roderic's more conventional brother Dennis, and their lives and relationships (with flashback chapters to their childhood), as well as the character William, who Julia met in the park, and his family. It was certainly as good a read as Molly Fox because I was keen to find out what happened to everyone. And it was a good complement to reading An equal stillness at the beginning of the week, being about art and artists. I am surprised that Deidre Madden has not had more success until Molly Fox and will be interested to find out whether we see some reprints of her earlier work. It looks like my public library are ordering some of her backlist, and so I hope to read more of her in the future.

I also had time to start reading The Irish Country Doctor by Patrick Taylor which has just come out. I can't remember where I heard about this, but I thought it was actually an autobiography, so I was a bit surprised when it turned out to be a novel. I am sure that it must be based on personal experiences - it reads very much like James Herriot (similar style, only is a vet) or Gervase Phinn (similar style, only teaching). Nothing too literary or taxing, but a good entertaining read which I'm looking forward to carrying on with tonight.

I also (yes, insomnia hit again and I found myself up, eating madeira cake at about 1am for a few hours) flipped through Rachel Allen's Bake. At that time of night I can't focus on proper reading, even if I am awake, so magazines or recipe books tend to keep me company. I can look at the pictures and just flip idly. I was pretty disappointed by it actually. It's certainly not as a good a recipe book as Nigella's How to be a domestic goddess - there weren't any recipes that leapt out at me that I felt I really must bake now - and although there were more pictures than in Nigella, there seemed to be more of Rachel Allen than of the cakes and bakes.

Thursday 18 June 2009

Ice cream

I keep talking about the ice cream I've been making since I got my ice cream maker. So, this is the amazingly yummy (but extremely indulgent) strawberry clotted cream ice cream I made yesterday, served with gingerbread biscuits - you can't quite see but the spoon is also heart shaped!

And here is some raspberry frozen greek yoghurt that I mentioned a while ago (but made again tonight) churning round in the ice cream machine. This goes well with lemon madeira cake. It might also go well with almond or coconut macaroons.

I looked for a book about ice cream in the library at lunchtime, but they were all out, however, I came away with Rachel Allen's Bake which I'm looking forward to reading and finding something to make from. I think I've identified what I will make from Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer, but that will probably be next weekend, as although I intend to bake something tomorrow night, it needs to involve strawberries!

Ooh, and the Ka saga is over - she's home! (I can now reunite myself with my welly boots and my Hits of 1996 CD). I also arrived home to four of my new Persephone books, somewhat appropriately since it is their birthday today. I was too eager to see what had arrived, as I would have taken a picture of the envelope to tantalise you, but you'll have to wait until the rest arrive for some Persephone visual delights. I'll leave you with a picture of my car before heading off to take the raspberry frozen yoghurt out of the machine and sit down with Authenticity.

My friend says its bullet proof

I was really pleased when this book turned up from the library headquarters, as an apparently un-issued green Virago with this intriguing cover. The book fulfilled my expectations of the books by Mortimer that I have encountered so far, in that the enjoyment of the book was as much about the writing itself, as about the plot and about the characters. The book follows the story of Muriel, who is on a trip with a group of journalists to Canada. Muriel had a masectomy shortly before the book begins, which had a profound influence on her, and her relationships, and in part the book is about her coming to terms with this. But it is also about her developing new relationships - she is surprised that there are no shortage of men with interest in her - and deciding what it is she wants from life. What I loved most about this book is that Muriel is a prolific writer in her notebook - jottings about herself, observations, and other pieces of writing, and Mortimer weaves all of these into the narrative. I was a little disappointed by how it ended, it seemed inconclusive, but perhaps we were supposed to be left wondering how the trip had changed her, and how her life back at home in London would pan out.

I followed reading this last night with a race through Quite Honestly, by her former husband John Mortimer. I will be interested to see what my boyfriend makes of this, as we don't tend to like the same books. I enjoyed it immensely; in brief it is the story of Lucy who is employed to be a mentor and advisor to the ex-convict Terry. It has a simple plot - will Lucy be able to reform Terry - but it is told well, with plenty of comic incident, and chapters alternate between Terry and Lucy's point of view.

I've got Deidre Madden's Authenticity with me today. It is the story of 3 artists, so I will be interested to read that after enjoying An equal stillness. I didn't manage a quiet evening yesterday, as there were far too many jobs to do, but I'm really intending to make sure that it happens today. I am overwhelmed with books at work (carrying them around, trying to persuade students to bring them back), and looking at my tbrbc also overwhelmed me last night so I am actually feeling quite relieved about my decision not to buy any more books for a while! In the meantime, I'm thinking about buying some new shoes for the brunch, which is his the day after the wedding I bought the cardigan for, particularly as they are now nearly half price...
(And in case you're wondering, no, I still haven't got my car back).

Wednesday 17 June 2009

Bits and pieces and in praise of library stores

In the end I wasn't too disappointed by missing the book-talk about An equal stillness (it turned out to be a pretty stressful evening as just as I was about to sit down, I logged on to send a library user some pictures of a manuscript that I'd taken with my own camera (which doesn't work with my staff machine), and found out that something had gone terribly wrong with our circulation system, and all of our final year students books had mysteriously gone overdue...in short I found out that it wasn't my problem in the end, but as it's something I'm responsible for implementing in my college, I was pretty worried, and not looking forward to having to manually renew 103 people's books). I was trying to explain to my boyfriend that I think it is probably best to go to an author talk *before* you have read the book; I did this with Vikram Seth's Two Lives, and Sebastien Faulks' Human Traces and came out longing to read the book, and deeply frustrated (as I was a library trainee, on about half of what I earn now) that they were only available in hardback. Having enjoyed An equal stillness so much I was a little bit concerned that it might spoil it for me, in the way that a film sometimes spoils the book, because I had so many wonderful pictures in my head from reading the book. But actually, who am I kidding, it would have been good to hear Francesca Kay, but as she lives in Oxfordshire, hopefully another opportunity may arise.
Anyway, I had a nice evening reading Miss Buncle Married and eating homemade strawberry ice cream (75 ml single cream, 75 ml clotted cream, 50g icing sugar, 225g pureed and sieved strawberries, frozen and churned, in case you're interested). It wasn't as special as Miss Buncle's book, but it was hugely enjoyable, and had its own twist too. I won't write more about it, as I know that most of the visitors here haven't yet read the first book. But I am looking forward to reading the final volume (after a suitable pause) in due course. I noted from the inside of the cover that D.E. Stevenson was a hugely prolific writer, and I've just found this which might interest anyone who has read Miss Buncle's book. I checked my public library catalogue and found quite extensive holdings of her backlist, so I shall have a read of some of those. Happily there were a couple on site, so I picked up Mrs Tims (looks a bit like Diary of a Provincial Lady, possibly) and Still Glides the Stream, and I will let you know if they live up to Miss Buncle.
I think that I am extremely lucky in having access to a public library with such a good archive of books, as lots of the things I am interested in reading are very out of print, and thus hugely expensive on Amazon. It gives me the opportunity to try things, and if I don't like them then they can go straight back again, and it also saves on shelf space. Which brings me on to today's book - I briefly started at lunchtime the intriguingly titled My friend says its bullet proof by Penelope Mortimer, which I ordered and collected at lunchtime - I was pleased to see that it was a lovely green Virago edition with a very haunting cover. Some of you might remember her as the author of the Persephone title Daddy's gone a-hunting. She was also married to John Mortimer, of the Rumpole books, which both my boyfriend and Dad are fans of (I also picked up a non-Rumpole book for my boyfriend, called Quite Honestly, although I am not sure if he will like it as the main protagonist is female). I'm looking forward to finding out what exactly is bullet proof! I was reading her author's blurb in the front of the volume in the queue to check it out and think she sounds like an interesting character so I must hunt out her autobiography.
Here's hoping for a more peaceful evening - I'm absolutely exhausted by the end of term chaos (as you may well guess from such a rambly and unfocussed post), and the end isn't in sight for another week and a half. At least on 30th June I will be off work for 6 days - 9 more working days and counting...

Tuesday 16 June 2009

An Equal Stillness

I read this last night, and absolutely loved it. I was hoping to go and hear Francesca Kay talk about it tonight (and Mark Mills on the Information Officer), but my poor car is still poorly (this time it is the fault of Ford who apparently are incapable of packing up a new door so that it arrives at the garage in better shape than the door that has been replaced...), and Direct Line have never got back to me about that hire car (I feel a complaint coming on...).
This is a fictional biography (completely fictional, in that the character does not exist, as opposed to fictionalised biography) of Jennett Mallow, an artist. The book tells her story from her childhood and discovery of artistic talent, through her marriage and children, and the way in which it impacts on her abilities as an artist. What I found particularly special was the way in which Kay describes Mallow's paintings; the depictions are so vivid that it's almost hard to believe that this is only a book about a fictional character. In some ways, I found it reminiscent of Pat Barker's Regeneration Trilogy which is partly about artists and their lives in a period covered by the book.
It was Kay's debut novel, and according to the sticker on the front of the library copy, has been serialised on Radio 4. I expect to hear good things about this book (shortlistings for prizes, or possibly Richard and Judy), and will be interested to see what Kay produces next.

Anyway, the good news is that I managed to get hold of the sequel to Miss Buncle's book (another fantastic Persephone that I read a fortnight ago), called Miss Buncle Married. I started reading it at lunchtime, and it's just as entertaining and readable, though I'm wondering if D.E. Stevenson is going to be able to pull such a spectacular twist in this novel as the previous one. According to the prelims, there is a third book, and that is also in the store at the library headquarters, so I've decided that 85p reservations do not fall into my non-book-buying and sent off for it.
I'm going to make some strawberry clotted cream ice cream today (must remember to take a picture while the machine is on!) and then I guess I'll have a quiet sit down with the rest of Miss Buncle :)

Monday 15 June 2009

24 hours of Persephone

or thereabouts. What a lovely thought. Here is me, on the bus yesterday, with A house in the country, by Jocelyn Playfair, which has to be one of my favourite Persephone's so far. I must firstly apologise for the slightly abbreviated post yesterday, I had intended to write properly about Cherry cake...but I accidentally pressed "publish post" and then couldn't figure out how to unpublish it (I promise I will write more about it, probably when I've selected what to sample from it). I was a little short of time, as I decided that I didn't want to spend the day on my own and really wanted to see my lovely boyfriend, so I ended up following him to London, and taking the bus to see him play with his band at the police cadets passing out parade on The Mall and Horseguards parade. It was a very warm day, and some of the police cadets were quite literally passing out, but I was glad that I went, despite the hideous bus journey, and inordinate amounts of hanging around, because I was very proud to see him play at such a prestigious location, and because I got the chance to read the above book.

This is the story of Cressida, who owns a large country house in the country, and the people who live and pass through it. Partly the book is the storylines of the people in the house (a young man and his fiance (she turns out to be a bit of a b*tch!), her brother, her well to do Aunt), each of which are beautifully constructed. But it is also about Cressida's agonising over the war and its causes. And it is also a story of life on the home front. One of the most enduring motifs of the books is the repeated mention of the cabbages outside the kitchen window, a depiction of normality, yet only there as a result of the war. One of the interesting things about the book is that it was written in 1944, i.e. before the war ended - I think this gives a very real insight into how people felt about the war, rather than being influenced by hindsight; as the Persephone website says: "a novel like this one is an exact, unaffected portrayal of things as they were at the time". I loved it.

Anyway, a Persephone 24 hours. It's not hard to guess that I took advantage of the 3 for 2 for Persephone's birthday this week.
I bought a couple of books I've been desperate to own for a while, as well as a few more obscure ones that I haven't read, and one that I hadn't really spotted before. There are several more that I'd like to own, but as I've had them on loan from the public library and read them, I can't really justify it...
1. A London Child in the 1870s - this is one of my favourite books of all time; my Dad owns two other beautiful editions, but now I have my own copy.
2. The Carlyles at home - I would have bought this from Borders had their buy one get on half price extended to non-fiction - I love a good biography.
3. They Can't Ration These - one I hadn't previously spotted which appeals to my interest in WW2 home front.
4. Fidelity - another book I hadn't spotted but looks like it will be a good read
5. The Blank Wall - ditto.
6. Few Eggs and No Oranges - I've read this a long while ago, I think in the original, but it fits the same bill as number 3.
I shall take pictures for those with Persephone envy when they arrive...
Anyway, that is definitely has to be it for book buying, until the beginning of August when those new Bloomsbury books come out. I have more than enough to read, and it's holiday time anyway. Plus being the end of year, we are somewhat overwhelmed with books to check in and re-shelve, so I should give myself a break when I get home. Keep me to this!!

In other news...
* My cardigan arrived and it is every bit as good as the picture!
* I'm still waiting on my car, and really hoping it arrives in time for the booktalk about An equal stillness tomorrow night as I got this from the library at lunchtime and started it, and it is very good indeed.

Persephone offer

I know various people, like myself, are big Persephone fans, so you might be interested in the contents of this email I've just received... I told my boyfriend that I was having a book buying moratorium after payday tomorrow (embarassing cash flow crisis at the mo, involving me emptying out my piggy bank to buy lunch today and having to borrow £10 to get to London yesterday), until the beginning of August, but there is today, and there is my credit card...

15th June 2009

Dear Persephone Reader,

This year is our tenth birthday and we are celebrating on Thursday (18th June). We invited you, in the last Biannually, to a party in Lamb's Conduit Street to mark the occasion, but want to remind you again by email: all are welcome and we will be serving champagne and cups of tea all day plus cheese scones for elevenses, salads for lunch, brownies and cup cakes for tea and canap├ęs for the evening.

Also, for this week only there is a special offer of three books for the price of two ie if you buy two books you may have a third free of charge. This applies in the shop on Thursday only but on the website all this week. (The offer also applies to readers abroad, although the third book will be sent surface mail even if the other two are sent airmail.) If you would like to take up this special offer on the internet please order and pay for two books as usual, but write ‘free book please' and the title of the third book you would like in the Additional Info box on the website.

Finally, if you have not already discovered it, do bookmark the new Persephone Post. It changes every weekday and Persephone readers are finding it a fun thing to have in their list of favourites.

We do hope to see some of you in the shop at some point during the day on Thursday.

Best wishes

Nicola, Lydia and Genevieve

Sunday 14 June 2009

Cherry cake and ginger beer (or should that be rhubarb and ginger cake with peppermint tea?)

Cherry cake and ginger beer is the fantastic title of a book that I read a while ago, and managed to pick up a cheap copy of this week. This is absolutely perfect nostalgia reading (as provoked an enthusiastic response over on Paperback Reader's blog last weekend) as it is combination recipe book/digest of what they ate in classic children's books.
I shall definitely be making something from here soon, but I think it is one of those recipe books that is just as good to read as a book in itself as to cook from (in fact it may be better, as the illustrations are not of the recipes themselves, but relate to the books that the recipes come from).

Anyway, I've promised you the recipe link and picture of the rhubarb and soured cream ginger cake I made this weekend. I'm not sure if I'd make it again, I think the rhubarb needs to be cooked first to make it more moist. The ginger syrup worked well, and I enjoyed boiling it up, and I'd not made a cake with sour cream before, and it gave it a lovely light texture.

I've done some other baking too...
I made some oat and raisin mini cookies for my boyfriend's lunch this week...
...as well as some fairy cakes with sprinkles...
...and a Delia lemon madeira cake (although I didn't make mine wholemeal)...
...to go with some raspberry frozen yoghurt in my ice cream machine...
...and a quiche for tea tonight. I've not made quiche before so that was quite exciting, and enabled me to use my new quiche dish as well as one of my mini quichlet dishes. I didn't make my own pastry though, but was happy to see Anthony Worrall Thompson in Vegetarian Monthly this month saying that it wasn't worth the hassle since chilled pastry is of such good quality. These were a bit disappointing as the pastry shrank (when I blind baked them) which minimised the amount of filling I could put in, so they were quite pastry heavy...any ideas on how to avoid this??

Friday 12 June 2009

Purchasing books

I popped into the secondhand dept of Blackwells at lunchtime today, and although there were lots of quite nice copies of recent fiction, they were all hideously expensive - c60% of coverprice, so around £5, which seems extortionate when I know I could get a copy on Amazon in the region of 1p (plus £2.75 delivery). I did pick up a copy of Margaret Drabble - The needle's eye, because I am liking her books (although it's been a few weeks since I've read one) which was only 2.50 (largely because the book itself was an older Penguin edition.
It got me thinking about where people purchase their books. I tend to buy most new books on Amazon; if there's something I want a new copy of, it's bound to be much cheaper (unless the shop has a really good deal on, as you may remember the Waterstones 3 for 2 was my downfall over the second May Bank Holiday). Plus they have so much more stock - I would have bought more in the 3 for 2 had the books I wanted actually been available. However, I do buy a lot of second hand books; mainly I get these from charity shops or from Amazon, and this enables me to get books that I want for cheaper, or, predominantly because they are out of print. I rarely patronise true second hand bookshops, because they tend to be expensive (certainly in Oxford anyway). It's not surprising that so many independent bookshops (new and second hand) are struggling when we have Amazon, and when the credit crunch makes people more savvy about their shopping.
What makes me decide between second hand and new? To be honest, generally it's second hand, unless it's something lovely like the Daphne Du Maurier Virago editions, or something that is very new or a bargain. And sometimes you can get very nearly new second hand books. I've got the final volume of Edna O'Brien's Country Girls trilogy in my handbag as I couldn't wait to find out what happened (it's called Girls in their married bliss). This was a second hand Amazon purchase, at a grand total of 2.76 delivered to my door, but is "as new".

In other news...
* I rang up about my car and I won't get her back until after the weekend. She needs a new door!! Thank goodness for comprehensive insurance. I hope they saved all of my rubbish that was inside the door itself though... It's frustrating as my boyfriend is out all of the weekend and I was hoping to go and visit a friend or at least go and get some stuff from Sainsburys.
* Didn't think A particular place was worthy of being described as good as Barbara Pym.
* Very tired and worn out, thank goodness tomorrow is a short day at work and then I can come home and collapse.
* Rhubarb and ginger cake is on the agenda...and I have a fantastic book to blog about on Sunday when I do baking!

Thursday 11 June 2009

Edna O'Brien...and reading of series of books.

Had a quiet evening in last night, and finally got to read the follow up to Edna O'Brien's The country girls which is The girl with green eyes. This was a lovely book I thought, even if it wasn't hugely memorable. It's another coming of age story, following on from the previous book, and tells the story of Caithleen who defies convention and has an affair with an older married man. Reviewers on Amazon have criticised it for being dreary and bland and boring, but I found myself gripped as to whether or not their relationship would work out, and by reading about life in Dublin in the 1950s/1960s.
I'm really keen to get on and read the final volume in the trilogy, but I have a rule where I don't read two books by the same author consecutively. It's frustrating at times like this, but I find I don't get as much out of them as I might if I read them after a break (there is a danger that I will then get less if they follow behind something really good). It's nice to have a gripping trilogy though as it's often frustrating to get to the end of a book and want to know more... It reminds me of Lynne Reid Banks L-Shaped Room trilogy, which was just brilliant in terms of character and plot development and sucking you in. As a child I was always gripped by series; Enid Blyton, Arthur Ransome etc, and loved following similar characters through different plot lines. But it's unusual (correct me please!) to find good literary series/sets for adults.
Anyway, I've enjoyed these two of Edna O'Brien, and she's written a lot more. I see that our public library has a lot more of hers in the on-site store so I can get them without reservation charge, although I recall picking up one in the Oxfam bookshop back in April.

In other news...

* I treated myself to a few book reservations at the library (85p each so a bit cheaper than even a 1p book on Amazon)(I now tend to only reserve the books that cost more than 1p!). I'm interested in reading more by Deidre Madden since I loved Molly Fox's Birthday, on the orange list, and then enjoyed reading Remembering Light and Stone. Having enjoyed the Pumpkin Eater by Penelope Mortimer, I've also requested from the support stacks the book which I was originally looking for by her, called My friend says it's bullet proof. An intriguing title if ever there was one.
* One of the most useful hospital appointments I've had this morning; the doctor I saw last time had run out of ideas so I actually got to see the consultant, who has given me a new diagnosis of "chronic abdominal pain syndrome", a bit like chronic fatigue of the stomach. It doesn't move us any nearer to addressing my pain and moving my life beyond worrying about what to eat and perpetually lying on the sofa, but at least it actually makes sense, unlike IBS or any of the other things I've been palmed off with. It looks like I'm going to have to try an exclusion diet, but probably not dairy, so ice cream is still ok! At least I've got that spelt rhubarb cake recipe to try!!
* I have bought (or at least ordered) another cardigan for the wedding we're going to in July. I haven't been able to find a suitable outfit, even with the inducement of my boyfriend offering to buy me something, so I'm going to wear my "wedding skirt" (that has been worn to several weddings), with a new top and this lovely cardigan. Irresistable to cardigan girl!! I've been trying on a fascinator and some pink shoes, but need to have a look at them with the top.
* Started reading A particular place by Mary Hocking this am whilst waiting at the hospital, the book that I was attracted to because it was supposed to be like Barbara Pym. It isn't quite, and I'm unsure how much I'm enjoying it, or maybe that was because I was unable to concentrate properly. I shall finish it tonight I hope.

Booking through Thursday

I haven't done booking through Thursday for a week or so, so it's time to give it a go.

"There are certain types of books that I more or less assume all readers read. (Novels, for example.)

But then there are books that only YOU read. Instructional manuals for fly-fishing. How-to books for spinning yarn. How to cook the perfect souffle. Rebuilding car engines in three easy steps. Dog training for dummies. Rewiring your house without electrocuting yourself. Tips on how to build a NASCAR course in your backyard. Stuff like that.

What niche books do YOU read?"

* Books about outdoor swimming pools (e.g. Wild Swim, by Kate Rew, and Liquid Assets, by Janet Hall, Waterlog by Roger Deakin)

* Books about Oxford, and people who've lived in Oxford, and planning for Oxford after WW2 (e.g. Oxford Replanned by Thomas Sharp; Naomi Mitchison's autobiographies,

* Books about Cornwall (e.g. Vanishing Cornwall, by Daphne Du Maurier; my Dad's Cornish place-name book)

* Books about books, particularly nice books (e.g. The Bodleian library's wonderful things book, the Penguin By Design Book)

* From my degree I have an interesting collection of books which I love about British social history and social studies during the twentieth century and lots of WW2 Home Front history. Again, not terribly niche, although perhaps some of the titles, now very out of print, themselves are.

Probably not too off the wall actually, with the possible exception of the first. The boyfriend is really the one with off the wall books in our household - books about flying sit next to books about management next to books about computers next to books about languages next to books about cookery next to The devil wears Prada in Russian.

Wednesday 10 June 2009

Too much excitement

There has been slightly too much excitement at work today for me to get my head around writing anything meaningful on either a book related or baking related theme although I have a few book related and baking related things to mention.
Everything got a bit chaotic when a student came downstairs to tell me that water was pouring through the ceiling. We have drips, but not deluges, so I went upstairs to see what I could do (ironically my senior colleague was at a disaster planning meeting). Water was indeed pouring in through the roof and down the walls. We moved all of a student's notes which were pretty wet (she stoically said that they related to yesterday's exams, not todays), moved a lot of books off the shelves and dried them with a J-cloth, and covered one of the shelves with some sheeting. I then found my library assistant coping with another leak downstairs; the water was dripping through from upstairs. There wasn't much more we can do, apart from wait for it to dry out. Until another downpour this afternoon saw us standing upstairs waiting to see what would happen. A similar amount of water came through, but luckily nothing was damaged since I'd masterminded its move earlier. We managed to get the maintenance team over to cover the rest of the bookshelves with sheeting, so we should be ok if we get more rain tonight.
On a baking related note, I was excited to learn that I have amassed over 100 points by contributing recipes and tips and photos (mainly of my baking) to the Beyond Baked Beans facebook page (they have a website too), and have been invited to join their team. I've also been rewarded with some money to buy some kitchen related equipment, so I've been having a browse on the John Lewis website. There isn't anything particular that we need at the moment, so it will be nice to spoil myself, maybe with some more baking things.
The car, in case anyone is interested, is going to take about a week to fix (which is not good as I needed it to drive to the hospital tomorrow - will have to rely on boyfriend and bus...). The man estimated the damage to be c.£1500 (eeek!), so I am lucky that I only have to pay £350 on the insurance. I also have to pay £500 for some other previous damage (again not me) which it wasn't worth making a claim for previously as I was under 25 and my excess was £600...
I'm planning a quiet evening - the boyfriend is out, so I shall have a good read of something relaxing. Not sure what yet! I did manage a mini lunchbreak (mainly spent trying on pink accessories for a wedding outfit I'm trying to put together), but I saw a copy of Edna O'Briens The Girl with Green Eyes, the second in her girls triology, which reminded me I'd bought but not read yet, so I might get that out tonight, and then something really easy - I still have 2 Rebecca Shaws from the library which would be relaxing. And I might rearrange my books...

Tuesday 9 June 2009

Teaser Tuesdays

I was wondering how to write about the book I'm reading at the moment, and Paperback Reader gave me this idea, which is explained in more detail here. Paperback Reader explained it to me as "something that would tease and intrigue blog readers and perhaps convince them to read the book".

I picked up Penelope Mortimer's Pumpkin Eater earlier in the library. Mainly because I was looking for a book on my "I want to read list" by her, which I couldn't get hold of (and can't now remember why I wanted), so I thought I'd see if there was anything else by her. I note also that she has written Daddy's gone a-hunting which Persephone books have published.

Anyway, to do the Teaser.


" "We're off to Gstadt on Friday for a spot of skiing"...

...He beamed at me, persuasive, bland as a salesman leaving a free sample"

Otherwise what is new from cardigan girl's world of books and other things?
It's been an up and down sort of day but there have been some nice moments in there:
* I finally got around to taking a disposable camera into Boots to be developed; it's been languishing on the side since I got my digital camera, and I was pleased to find out that the original purchase price included developing, and not just developing, but the one hour service, so I was able to go and pick my pictures up after work and relive a couple of weekends away earlier this year.
* After enjoying the Blenheim tri and seeing how much my support meant to my boyfriend I decided yesterday to accompany him to the London tri even though it is a longer event and less spectator friendly. However, as it involved an early start, I asked if we could stay in a hotel. We've got a really good deal on a hotel...but I looked it up on tripadvisor and it has distinctly mixed reviews!!
* Popped into the Red Cross shop on my way back from lunch - it's worth going in most days as although there are books which have been sitting there for months, there is also quite a quick turnover. Anyway, I got a copy of Old Filth by Jane Gardam for £1.25. It's a bit battered, and is probably the one of hers that least appeals to me, but I think I would like to read it in due coruse, and it will help to complete the collection.
* My car should be de-dented tomorrow, which will be nice. I'm not driving much at the moment but my car is very much "my" space and I do love driving when I am out.
* I've found a really yummy looking rhubarb and ginger cake which I think I shall make for the triathlete once we've finished the millionaire's shortbread. Rhubarb = fruit = healthy...
*I've also just booked a place on a talk at a bookshop in Woodstock up the road from me next week - Francesca Kay and Mark Mills are discussing their recent novels, An equal stillness and The information officer. I've thought both of these looked interesting so it could be a good event. I haven't been to an author talk for a while, in fact I haven't been out in the evening for a while (once I think in the last few months), so it will be good if I manage to go!

Monday 8 June 2009

Nell Dunn

Nell Dunn is another author I've discovered by reading my way through Virago books at random. I came across Poor Cow and Up The Junction when I was ordering some DVDs for our film collection at work, and then decided to read the books before I watched the films *(see below). It's the story of a young woman living in the 1960s, and is as much a description of London in the 1960s as it is of her life. I think there is a sequel but I'm not sure what it is called. I went on and watched the film last week and was really impressed by the way Ken Loach brought the book to life using lots of music and not too much dialogue. It's gritty and not terribly cheering but definitely worth watching.
I'm now reading Up the junction, which is more of a series of vignettes than a joined up story like Poor Cow so it will be interesting to see how that translates to the screen.
(((*edit* I think what I liked so much about the books is how different they are from other Virago books that I've read. Main female character faces hard times is not an unusual theme, but so far the characters that have encountered hardship in the novels I've read have been from the middle and upper classes. I haven't really read any other "working class" centric Virago books yet, although I'm sure there must be some.)))

* I always prefer to read the book first when the book came before the film (and I don't tend to read those books that came after the film). I like to get the author's original intentions and see it all in my imagination first rather than letting the film dictate how I see things. Somehow it taints the experience of reading the book if you've already seen someone's interpretation. Almost the only case I can recall of preferring the film to the book is Mary Poppins, and I'm quite sure that is because I watched the film aged 5 or 6 and only read the book a few years later, and was very disappointed as it wasn't so exciting (I was probably only 9). The Mary Poppins books are quite dark and very different from the film, although I was interested that the stage show in London a couple of years ago was actually very faithful to the books which have grown on me as I've moved away from singing a Spoonful of sugar so frequently!

Some weekend baking

It was a busy weekend, as I was working on Saturday, and spent most of Sunday watching my boyfriend participate in the Blenheim triathlon, so I didn't do that much baking, and I didn't do that much reading either. I thought I was going to get a lot of reading time at Blenheim, but it was so exciting rushing round the course and trying to spot triathlon-man that I didn't even get my book out of my bag!
But we did need some cake to sustain us, and here's what I made:

Some chocolate and vanilla buns, loosely based on this recipe. I thought buns would be more transportable to the triathlon (I had been instructed to provide cake on the finish line, although in the event this was not taken up), plus the leftovers could go with boyfriend to the office this week. I was going to marble them properly, but I thought they looked quite good like this. And I was going to smother them in chocolate but then you wouldn't have seen the two halves!

Some fruit bread in my bread machine. I make this quite a lot and toast it. It's a combination I've refined over the last few years of breadmachining - 300g white bread flour, 80g brown bread flour, tablespoon of brown sugar, tablespoon of oil, one sachet of yeast, 250ml warm water, and a good shaking of mixed spice. Then I add 30g raisins, 30g mixed peel, and 45g currants halfway through.

Celebratory millionairre's shortbread. Based on this Nigella recipe, I made this a few weeks ago but it is a little bit of a faff, owing to having to cool each separate layer, and so I said it was only for special occasions. Still, triathletes deserve something special, so I made it again, with the addition of white chocolate buttons in a sort of heart shape on the top.

Saturday 6 June 2009

Hilary Mantel

Hilary Mantel is another of the authors who I have discovered this year, or perhaps rediscovered. I came across her a few years ago (I think courtesy of the Times/WHI Smith book offer when I got her autobiography for 99p). Giving up the ghost is an amazing story of how Mantel overcame mistreatment by the medical profession, and also had a hugely interesting life in Saudi Arabia and Africa. In fact, now that I think back to the book I can see very much its influence on the rest of her writing. The thing that I find astounding about Mantel is her ability to not be pinned to genre; she has written so widely that each book is completely different, a refreshing change in a world when successful authors stick to formulaic writing. I next read Experiment in love, which appealed to me because it is a coming of age story about three girls who go to university in the 1970s. After that I didn't read any more of her books until earlier this year. I came across Beyond Black which is a deeply unusual story about a psychic touring psychic fairs around London and really enjoyed such a novel tale. After that I think I read Change of climate, a sort of family saga. I then went onto Every day is mothers day, about a social worker, and a mother and her half-witted daughter, and completely different yet again, Eight months on Ghazzah street which is the story of an expat wife coming to grips with living in Saudi Arabia. I love the way in which every book is just so different and new to other things she's written.
There's still a lot of Mantel that I haven't yet encountered. I've got The giant, O'Brien on my tbrbc, which is set in the 18th century, and she's just brought out Wolf Hall, another historical novel. A place of greater safety is also set in the past, during the French Revolution. I'm also desperate to read Vacant possession, which is a sequel to Every day is mother's day - I want to see how Mantel handles writing a sequel and sticking to a theme that she's already written about.
I honestly can't think of another author who transcends genre quite so completely, although I'm willing to be corrected. The only downside is that having loved several of her novels so much, I can't get more of the same.

Friday 5 June 2009

Well, I wanted to write about a couple of the books that I've read this week that have really stayed with me, and today I'll write about The giant's house by Elizabeth McCracken. I can't remember where I heard about it but I chose to get a copy when I found out that it was about a librarian; as a librarian myself I love to see depictions of librarians, and I wasn't disappointed. There were lovely passages that really described how I feel sometimes (unsurprisingly perhaps since McCracken is a librarian)...
"Librarian (like Stewardess, Certified Public Accountant, Used Car Salesman) is one of those occupations that people assume attract a certain deformed personality"
"As a librarian, I longed to be acknowleged, even to be taken for granted. I sat at the desk, brimming with book reviews, information, warningsm all my good schooling, advice. I wanted people to constantly callously approach. But there were days nobody talked to me at all, they just walked to the shelves, and grabbed a book and checked out, said at most, thank you, and you're welcome when I thanked them first. I had gone to school to learn how to help them, but they believed I was simply a clerk who stamped the books".
Sad but true. Sometimes I wonder why I went to library school, and whether the people that I help realise that I have a first degree from Oxford and two professional qualifications. Sometimes I wonder why I bothered getting them.
The story too was a beautifully poignant story about the relationship that she develops with an 11 year old boy who grows up into the tallest man in the world. It's an unusual story and one that stays with you for a while.

A confession to make. Due to the hideous nature of Borders' online, I quite forgot that they still owed me two books. I remembered in the middle of the night and went along to collect them today; Making Conversation (a Persephone), and One Fine Day (Mollie Panter Downes). I also had a little indiscretion in Oxfam as I went past, picking up A start in life (Brookner) because it is about someone who loves books, and Zennor in darkness (Helen Dunmore), because I've wanted to read it for a while, it is set in Cornwall, and it was a lovely barely read Virago edition. I also picked up a book in the remainder shop for a friend (who turns out to have read it), The camel bookmobile, but it was only £ so doesn't matter too much! I have also ordered the latest two Greyladies titles (Clothes-pegs and Death on tiptoe) Unfortunately, I also recounted the to-be-read-book-case yesterday, and there were 85 books on it, so that now makes 90 (or 92 when the others arrive). I also realised that I have about 6 other books which are shelved elsewhere which I haven't read (because I love to have my Virago Daphne Du Maurier's together (I must write about book arrangement very soon)), plus 3 Angela Thirkells lent to me by my Mum and The Rector's Daughter loaned from a friend. Ho hum. Even I'm starting to feel a little overwhelmed.

Book arrangement

Well, here is the promised post about book arrangement; it's been germinating in my mind for a few weeks now. After looking at my to-be-read-bookcase the other day, I started thinking about how I arrange my books. Because even though I have a rapidly expanding bookcase of books which I've not yet read, a number of unread books have made it into the main collection (this is mainly because I want to keep all of my Daphnes together, and there are a few books which I have which are very low priority reads, or just got shelved before I had a tbrbc).
The majority of my books are fiction, and I have them arranged in one long run, alphabetically by author. There's a few exceptions where an oversized copy doesn't fit on the smaller top shelves, and obviously the majority of the books which I haven't read. My collection of Chalet School books is another exception as I have a very tiny bookcase by my bed which is the perfect size for these smaller books, and just big enough to take the collection of around 80 little books (EBD only wrote 58 but I have some duplicates in different editions).
The problem with this is that it isn't hugely aesthetically appealing. My Dad has always arranged his books by size (and he has even more books than me, so I'm not quite sure how he finds anything). The majority of my Persephone books are currently on the tbrbc, and I'm going to be sad to split them up and interfile them with my collection when they've been read, because I think they look so good together. It's the same with Virago books; I'd love to have my new Daphne Du Mauriers sitting next to the new Rosamund Lehmanns, and have a section devoted to the old green editions. Unfortunately the librarian in me wins out and demands that they are shelved rationally.
Non fiction is a bit more complicated. I haven't (breathe a sigh of relief) got as far as to classify my books according to Dewey Decimal or Library of Congress or even my own classification scheme. However, I have grouped them loosely by subject. Most of my nicest hardback books are non fiction and I keep them on the one nice bookcase in my flat (see below), and they are sort of arranged by size within subject. I've got a shelf of biography (although this is arranged according to subject's surname), and a shelf of history. And a shelf of nice hardback books (less logical I admit...) And I keep my recipe books together, and my health books, and my guide books in one place. It's not hugely satisfactory and it offends my inner librarian but I haven't come up with doing it in a better way that doesn't make the sitting room look completely like a library.
I do think that my books make my flat aesthetically appealing, much better than wallpaper.

In other news...
* I'm trying to get a hire car so I'm not completely stuck at home tomorrow - can you imagine how much cake my boyfriend would come home too? All of my friends and family seem to be otherwise occupied so it might be a bit of a dull day :(
* A lovely book arrived in the post this morning - Vera Brittain's Honourable Estate. It's quite a big volume, but I'm looking forward to it. I've read her Testament of Youth and Testament of Friendship and find her a fascinating character, but I hadn't realised that, like her friend Winifred Holtby, she'd written some fiction too.
* I read Girls in married bliss last night, finishing the Country Girls trilogy, but I was disappointed. The story wasn't nearly so gripping as the previous volume, and somehow it didn't seem so well written. I don't know if I was disappointed because I read it so soon after The girl with green eyes or whether it was just a disappointing book...

Thursday 4 June 2009

Seaside holidays!

We've just booked two nights away in a few weeks time. I can't wait - I've got 3 six day weeks to get through at work, as well as my Gran's 80th which involves a 300 mile round trip, and two weekends when my boyfriend is otherwise occupied on my day off.
I'm already trying to decide what books to take with me. When I go away I love to read something where it is set - memorably I've read My Cousin Rachel in Cornwall, as well as Justine Picardie's Daphne (and last year we watched Jamaica Inn in Cornwall and went to see it the next day); I've read the School at the Chalet in Innsbruck and Jo Of the Chalet School (which has a Christmassy bit) in the Alps at Christmas. I read Goodbye to Berlin in Berlin and The Mitford Girls biography just after a break in the Cotswolds where I saw their graves.
But sometimes its nice to take something light, as well as something a bit heavier. It's not as if I don't have plenty to choose from. And I'll need to choose something for my boyfriend too (The Book People have a 10 book set of PG Wodehouse which I'm really tempted to get for him although unlike me he seems to prefer books coming in in ones and twos, he gets overwhelmed a bit more easily).
Talking of seaside makes me think of ice cream - I've just got an ice cream maker and am in the middle of making a batch of frozen yoghurt. I've read a couple of good books in the last few days, but I will blog about them tomorrow when I'm not in the middle of making ice cream and baking (I'll blog about that too!).

Wednesday 3 June 2009

Book buying break?

I had a look at my to-be-read-bookcase this am, and rather more significantly I counted the number of books on it. 86. Although it's down to 84 after I took two books with me to read on the train to London. Even at the rate at which I read, that nearly two months of reading. Plus the 20 or so books I have from the library. I know I'm paranoid about running out of reading material, but this seems excessive. I think the trouble is that I'm so excited about reading at the moment, that reading one book leads me onto others (by the same author, by the same publisher, by different authors). I do generally save book purchases for reading on holiday, but I don't think we've booked long enough for me to catch up.
However, some idiot has badly scraped my car (merely lef in the driveway of our block of flats), and I'm having to get it repaired. Boyfriend reckons it's about £700 of damage, so I've claimed on my insurance (extremely helpful young man at Direct Line), but there's still a £350 excess. Plus it's holiday season coming up and we're hoping to squeeze in an extra mini break amid all of our plans.
I'm not sure if I can do it though - who can resist a bargain in the Red Cross shop near where I work (e.g. a beautiful hardback of Andrew O'Hagan's Be Near Me for £1 or some tattered Mary Wesley's for 50p each)?
I wonder how big other people's tbr stacks are??

Tuesday 2 June 2009

Summer sunshine

I love the way that the sunshine makes everyone feel cheerful - we'll all be back to our grumpy selves soon, as apparently today is the last day of sunshine. I don't hugely mind as I'm back in a run of 6-day weeks, so I'd rather the weather saved itself for July and August and September when I won't be at work very much at all! Plus my sandals are making my feet hurt, so I'm desperate to get back into my knee length boots. On the other hand, we bought an ice cream maker last week which arrived last night, and I know my boyfriend is desperate to play with it, and rainy weather doesn't encourage ice cream eating so much. There will be, I'm sure, an ice cream element to this blog very soon.
Anyway, various other things to feel cheerful about:
1. The large stack of books which had arrived from Amazon when I got home last night and nearly prevented me from getting in the door. Somehow everything I'd ordered arrived all at once - 3 second hand Viragos, a Persephone, Emma Smith's the Maiden trip in beautiful hardback, and a copy of the Rough guide to Happiness which I think my boyfriend and I will enjoy reading. I'm now up to 826 books on librarything.com; I'm not sure this is a good thing.
2. WH Smith and the Times run a 2.99 book offer, where if you buy the Times in WH Smith you can get a book for 2.99. I've got quite a lot of things through this offer in the past, but there hasn't been anything I've wanted for ages. But this week it's the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society which I've been desperate to read but is always on loan at the library. So I went and got that this lunchtime.
3. I loved Joan Bakewell's All the Nice Girls... I don't think it was exactly great literature, in terms of the writing, but it was very cleverly crafted, keeping you guessing right up until the end. And it was obviously hugely well researched. The book is mainly about a school and a selection of pupils/teachers during WW2 which adopts a ship under the British Ship Adoption scheme (apparently the scheme existed during the 1930s, and was essentially developed in order to help give the children extra geographical awareness); but there is also a story set in 2003 going on. Really really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend it.
4. I've just started reading A particular place by Mary Hocking, which you may remember was one of the books advertised in the back of a book I was reading last week. Apparently she's a bit like Barbara Pym. We'll see if I agree. Anyway, she's written a lot so if I enjoy this one...
5. I'm off to London tomorrow for work, so I get an extra couple of hours reading time!

Monday 1 June 2009

Two really good books

Amid all of that baking over the weekend, I did some reading too. And two of the books were particularly worth mentioning.
On Saturday afternoon, lying in Christchurch meadows, and then on the sofa at home whilst my boyfriend tackled mountains of washing up, I read The death of the heart by Elizabeth Bowen. What a fantastic read. It took me a little while to get into (sometimes it's difficult to concentrate reading outdoors) but then I was gripped. It's another coming of age story, about Portia, an orphan (of complicated family circumstances) who goes to live with her relations and falls in love for the first time. It's a story of different relationships with a huge amount of insight into how mixed up they can be. Definitely to be recommended. One thing that puzzles me though, is why Elizabeth Bowen is published by Vintage and not Virago, I'm sure she'd be a candidate for the latter.
On Sunday, whilst watching my boyfriend perform with a concert band in Amersham gardens, I rattled through DE Stevenson's Miss Buncle's book which was a real page turner - it's another Persephone title, and I'd love to read the sequel, but I guess my chances of finding Miss Buncle gets married are rather slim. Anyway, this is the fantastic tale of a woman who anonymously writes a book about the people of the village she lives with who are transformed by a mysterious visitor out of the personas that they carefully present to the public. The real villagers are horrified by their depictions, but gradually reality begins to mirrow the book. Absolutely brilliant idea, and beautifully written.
I was planning to try a Deidre Madden today, and had it in my handbag ready, but I picked up a new Virago from the library at lunchtime which I've been desperately awaiting - it's by Joan Bakewell, and is called All the nice girls. It's set during the Second World War, and although I think it will be a fairly light read it seems to far as if it has been very well researched (only had time for 10p while eating sandwich). Boyfriend is off to buy a bike (another one!) tonight, so I hope to have time for it then. It's strange, I watched a lot of tv, or more specifically DVD boxsets and films back in Dec/Jan/Feb when I was first feeling really poorly (as opposed to just poorly); now I'm feeling a bit better and the weather is better I can't bear to have the tv on so it's reading all the way!