Summer sizzlers

Courtesy of blogger Cathy Brown of 746Books.com I’m planning to join in the meme of Twenty Books of Summer. All this requires is for me to draw up a list of books to read between the start of June and early September, but with the option of changing titles, the number of books read or, indeed, the period of reading: my kind of challenge in fact, infinitely malleable!

Here now is my chance to tackle and reduce my list of Classics Club titles, to read the Roddy Doyle novel I won in Cathy’s Begorrathon this year, and to finish The Deptford Trilogy for Lory’s Robertson Davies Reading Week.

The theory is that, having completed over thirty titles in the first four months of this year I can at least manage twenty in this coming three-month period, but that would require judicious choices: books that aren’t too long, for example.

So herewith is my initial pick of twenty titles to complete by summer’s end.

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Titles in search of books

I’ve often got book titles muddled in my head before wondering what they would be like if they had really existed.

How, for example, would these presumed lost works stand up as literature, as classics?

  • A Timely History of Briefs: possibly a soft-porn title to be kept under the counter?
  • Shady Gifts of Feys: a fairytale of bondage and more, perhaps.
  • The Unbearable Importance of Being Lightly Earnest: a lost title by Oscar Kundera — or was it Milan Wilde? I get confused.
  • Noh Country for Omens: Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens adapted by Cormac McCarthy for the Japanese stage.
  • You Rang, M’Lord? A lost episode of Downton ghost-written by Tolkien, originally titled The Rings of the Lord.
  • Scents and Sensitivity: Jane Austen’s handbook on allergic rhinitis and other aspects of hay fever, edited by Noel Coward.
  • Tender Is The Knight: prequel by Sir Walter Scott Fitzgerald in which Ivanhoe gets saddle-sore.
  • A Room of One’s Own with a View: the tale of Rapunzel re-imagined by Woolf and Forster.
  • The Angry Caterpillar: the diary of a butterfly larva with IBS.
  • Alice threw the Working Class: how Dodgson’s heroine rose above her humble origins to graduate from Oxford debt-free.

Suggestions below, please, as to the kind of mash-ups you wouldn’t mind seeing on bookshelves.

Close encounters

We’ve not long passed May Day, the waymarker for the second third of the year. I thought I’d just do a little crystal-gazing and a quick retrospective in the lull between reviewing one book and the next.

First, the scrying. May being Wyrd & Wonder month, with a focus on fantasy, I’m firming up what I’d like to read over the thirty days. In the photo above, going left to right, you can see my final (?!) choices for High Fantasy, Low Fantasy and Grimdark, and below these, Urban Fantasy, Portal Fantasy and my take on Fairytale.

Still to be decided are Magic Realism and Myth, but I have a shortlist for both; and which titles will emerge will be as much a surprise for me as it will be for you. Will they be as mainstream as the others or rather more obscure?

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Willoughby reads

Willoughby Chase, by Pat Marriott, as it appears only in the American first edition https://joanaiken.wordpress.com/2013/08/22/willoughby-chase-chosen-as-a-creepy-house-for-this-years-summer-reading-challenge/

A brief notice for all fans of Joan Aiken and the Wolves Chronicles: a number of enthusiasts will be doing a group read of The Wolves of Willoughby Chase sometime in August, and tweeting about it using the hashtag #WilloughbyReads.

The read is hosted by Benjamin Harris (@one_to_read), the tag originates with Ed Finch (@MrEFinch) and other signed-up members include Lizza Aiken (@LizzaAiken) and of course myself (@calmgrove). Do join in if you’ve a mind to and are on Twitter.

I meanwhile will be ploughing through the remainder of the Chronicles, taking a slight excursion next with Midnight is a Place (in the same world but not directly linked) before rejoining the saga proper.

All through May I shall be reading fantasy of various stripes and shades, courtesy of Wyrd & Wonder (#wyrdandwonder), and even if you’re not a fan of the genre I hope you’ll find something of interest in my several ramblings.

Finally, here’s the official reminder of my seventh year anniversary with WordPress, received today!

Seven Year Hitch

Once-upon-a-time realms

Inverted commas 9: Imaginary Worlds

Imagination like all living things lives now, and it lives with, from, on true change. Like all we do and have, it can be co-opted and degraded; but it survives commercial and didactic exploitation. The land outlasts the empires. The conquerors may leave desert where there was forest and meadow, but the rain will fall, the rivers will run to the sea.
— from the foreword of Ursula Le Guin’s Tales from Earthsea (2001)

The late Ursula Le Guin knew all about fantastic realms. She created several, including the abiding world of Earthsea, that archipelago of islands amidst a boundless ocean.

In her foreword to the collection of short stories about this world she took a tilt at what she called commodified fantasy which, she asserted, “takes no risks: it invents nothing, but invents and trivialises.” We’re well aware of that derivative impulse that somehow diminishes what it feeds on: we see it constantly in never-ending book franchises, films, TV series, video games and assorted spin-offs: it’s a desperate experience to watch as they dilute the originals, before squeezing every last drop of merchandising out of them.

But she is optimistic about the capacity of the imagination to mount rearguard actions whenever needed, to defend against insidious exploitation whether of the commercial or intellectual kind:

The unstable, mutable, untruthful realms of Once-upon-a-time are as much a part of human history and thought as the nations in our kaleidoscopic atlases, and some are more enduring.

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“A near-divine miracle”

Lucy Mangan: Bookworm.
A memoir of childhood reading
Vintage 2018

“[Y]ou simply never know what a child is going to find in a book (or a graphic novel, or a comic, or whatever) — what tiny throwaway line might be the spark that lights the fuse that sets off an explosion in understanding whose force echoes down years.”
— Chapter 8

Lucy Mangan knows what it is that makes someone a bookworm because she is one herself. And as a retired teacher (and former schoolboy, now recidivist bookworm) I can vouch for the fact that throwaway lines, whether written or spoken, are often the unexpected catalysts in later life determining personal philosophies or prejudices, likes or hates, potential triggers for creativity or lasting pessimism.

Bookworm is for all those who from an early age discovered that books are one’s entry to lives beyond our immediate experience. It’s also for those who have forgotten what it was that they read at that age, or have foolishly put it behind them as inconsequential: because this is not merely a nostalgia-fest, it’s an examination of how one person went on a voyage of discovery to visit people and places and different times, to see how others have lived and may still live their lives; and through her voyage one may see what nuggets of truth she has brought back that may enrich our own lives.

Above all it’s a plea not to deny children the pain and pleasure that access to all literature affords them:

[C]hildren should be allowed to read anything at any time. They will take out of it whatever they are ready for. And just occasionally, it will ready them for something else.

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