This summer, in summary

Back at the beginning of June I opted to do Cathy Brown’s summer reading meme. This involved listing either ten, fifteen or twenty books one aimed to complete between the beginning of that month and the end of August.

Ever cautious I went for just ten titles, but in complete confidence that I would over the 93 days be close to not only reading but reviewing 20 books.

So how did I do?

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Globetrotting, bookwise

I’ve not thought of myself as particularly insular where history, geography and politics are concerned but I have been aware that for some years the literature I’ve tended to gravitate towards has been firmly Anglocentric, with occasional forays in the direction of North America.

There are many reasons for this sad state of affairs but no excuses — all I can say is that it’s particularly shameful to me that a childhood growing up in what was then called the Far East, plus a subsequent sprinkling of study in some of the so-called Romance languages of Europe, hasn’t led to a broader familiarity with world literature.

So . . . Reading All Around the World. I’m not actually doing this challenge, but a recent-ish post by Lory caught my eye and I thought I’d check where, bookwise, I’ve already travelled in this year of grace, two-thirds of the way through twenty-twenty, with 52 titles under my belt.

Not far, it turns out.

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The Ruin of Books and Sarcasm

Cover generator: https://nullk.github.io/penguin.html

Alex, who blogs on fantasy and science fiction at Spells and Spaceships and tweets as (at)BlogSpells, posted this fun tweet recently:

Create your YA novel title:

The _______ of ________ and _______

1) type of place you like travelling to most — forest, church, castle etc.
2) Last thing you held in your hand other than your phone
3) thing you’re most scared of

Mine, as you can see, came out as The Ruin of Books and Sarcasm which I fondly thought had the enigmatic feel of titles like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintainance.

I also used this cover generator to produce a suitably official-looking Penguin Classics title using a photo of part of a mural I saw in Bristol.

Here is a summary of the imagined blurb on the back cover, which may or may not encourage you to go out and buy it — virtually of course!

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An unscrupulous passion

Inverted Commas 17: a Lust for Books

Freddy recognised the truth of what he said. She herself was a victim of that lust for books which rages in the breast like a demon, and which cannot be stilled save by the frequent and plentiful acquisition of books.

Freddy is the 14-year-old Fredegonde Webster from Robertson Davies’ 1951 novel Tempest-Tost, the first volume in his Salterton Trilogy. She has heard that the late Dr Savage’s library of “4300 volumes of Philosophy, Theology, Travel, Superior Fiction and Miscellaneous” is to be offered gratis to clergy of all denominations on a particular day, with the proviso that they must remove books personally. And now her lust for books has been fired up.

As well as being the date of Tove Jansson‘s birthday every 9th August is designated Book Lovers Day. I cannot let any further time pass without belatedly marking the occasion with further relevant quotes from the sixth chapter of the Canadian writer’s novel.

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Somewhere to go

Those lovely bloggers at Reenchantment of the World, Ola and Piotrek, were recently gifted the Real Neat Blog Award because, I’m guessing, their site is regarded as real neat (which it is). As part of these types of blogging awards one is often required to answer a series of questions, which Piotrek and Ola in tandem duly did here.

You may know that I eschew such exercises if ever I am nominated, sometimes because an additional requirement is to nominate more bloggers in a kind of virtual pyramid scheme, other times because the questions just don’t appeal, but mostly because I prefer to generate posts from a stimulus I myself have chosen.

But just occasionally, regardless of whether I’ve actually been nominated, something indefinable about the questionnaire does appeal, and that was the case here.

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The Inside and Out Book Tag

I borrowed this tag from Bookforager — who borrowed it from other bloggers — who had no idea where it came from — so that’s the accreditation done.

I’m not a habitual tag-user on this blog — many tags, especially those ubiquitous blogging ‘awards’, seem designed to elicit the kind of private details (name of pet, favourite place) that fraudsters seek to ferret out — so I only introduce such Q&A posts sparingly, and only when I like the tone of the questions.

As here, in which the prompts are all book-related. And, even better, there are only eight questions, substantially less than on a tax form…

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Novels about gardens

Kirsty from The Literary Sisters recently reposted one of their pieces with the title Books about Gardens, which I was so taken with that I’m going to do my version, now, at the height of summer.

As the title suggests, I’m going to refer to books I’ve read, with links to any reviews, that have dealt one way or another with gardens in the modern era. I could have included references to gardens in the wider sense — the Middle Eastern concept of the paradise garden, or Thomas Browne’s 1658 overview The Garden of Cyrus, or turf mazes and labyrinths and the wildernesses of landscape gardening — but I’ve chosen to limit myself mostly to fiction, with just a couple of excursions beyond the paling.

Additionally, I note that these are in the main the grand gardens of English country houses or urban mansions rather than the more modest domestic examples of town terraces and the suburbs or examples from abroad. It’s something I need to address in a future post, whether they exist, say, in Mesopotamian mythology, in Chinese culture, the global tradition of public open spaces or Jorge Luis Borges’ short stories.

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Worlds apart

Gliffaes Country House Hotel walled garden © C A Lovegrove

Philip Pullman’s The Subtle Knife wends a different path from its predecessor Northern Lights in that instead of the reader inhabiting Lyra’s world for the duration one now starts moving from world to world.

The UK editions help us keep track of these different worlds with the author’s symbols in the margins of each page: the silhouette of a hornbeam tree for Will’s world (and ours), a dagger motif for the Cittàgazze world, the alethiometer standing for Lyra’s home world and a starburst symbol for the world in which Lord Asriel is building his fortress, the one intended for the republic of heaven.

Within these worlds representing different spaces in the boardgame of Pullman’s imagination the author moves his pawns and knights, his rooks and bishops, his kings and queens. Inevitably during the game some pieces are removed permanently from the board.

Warning: spoilers ahead

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Quandarification

I’m still in a state of ‘quandarification’. (Is there such a word? Well, there is now!) At the start of the year, when the word pandemic was something most of us associated with ancient history, I made a resolution to reduce book acquisition in the noble pursuit of tsundoku reduction.

Anybody afflicted by tsundoku will know that bittersweet feeling of guilt and pleasure with accumulations of unread books, but in a bid to support local business during lockdown I broke my resolve at the end of March.

Now, halfway through this crazy year, I think it may as good an opportunity as any for a quick bookwise review, and to also check on that quandarification.

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A desk of one’s own

Image credit: thegraphicsfairy.com

We are full of contradictions, are we not? Diligent one moment, listless the next; viewing life with equanimity yesterday, choleric today; thinking seven impossible things before breakfast but still insisting there is only one right way to boil an egg.

I’m a contrary type. To give just one example among many, the one which is the topic for this post: I’m normally a fairly tidy person — everything in its place — meaning I delight in uncluttered rooms, streets free of litter, political positions clearly stated. Dust and debris and detritus offend me; I’m pernickety about recycling in the correct containers; chaotic emotions confuse me.

That’s all well and good … until it comes to books. More specifically the spaces where books accumulate when they’re being used, such as desks and bedside tables. And then the contrariness kicks in, and tidiness goes metaphorically out the window.

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Summer reading

I’m coming to the end of one reading focus, the Wyrd and Wonder fantasy blogging event (cohosted by Lisa, Imyril and Jorie) and have been pleased with the material I’ve got through. And so the next focus which I fancy subscribing to is Cathy Brown‘s 20 Books of Summer.

Actually, for this event one is free to go with any number of options and so it is that I’ve aimed to be sensible by choosing just ten titles (though, as Cathy says, one can up this number, change titles, or even admit defeat).

Also, next month is Jazz Age June, a new event set up by Laurie @ Relevant Obscurity and Fanda at ClassicLit. This reading event runs from June 1st to 30th, aiming to explore the 1920s through literature and other arts.

So as we approach the cusp between one month and the next here is my catalogue raisonné of books read and to-be-read, which I offer for your possible delectation and deliberation.

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Books in the time of coronavirus

Phil Shaw’s Shelf Isolation 2

In the midst of the coronavirus crisis many of us have resorted to fiction for consolation, distraction and information.

Myself, I have generally avoided harrowing dystopian tales, inventive novels about conspiracies, and books about personal tragedies — there’s enough of all this in real life which I can access through print, social and broadcast media.

Instead I have gone for more optimistic fiction, whatever ends in what Tolkien dubbed eucatastrophe, the upbeat ending, instead of the catastrophic conclusions where hearts hang heavy and melancholy pertains.

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Telltale signs of a booklover

Top Ten Signs I’m a Book Lover

I’ve borrowed this meme from a few blogs who follow Top Ten Tuesday (though I don’t do so myself) because, I suppose, it’s a chance to talk about me again.

After all, it’s not a coincidence that the word meme has the first person singular twice over, surely?

Anyway, here are the telltale signs I’m a bibliomane,* not listed in any particular order. One or two signs seem to match up with the things listed by other bloggers, but I can’t help that — birds of a feather and all that!

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Bookish thoughts

Book-ish, Crickhowell

You may remember that I made a conscious effort to resist acquiring books new to me for as long as possible, bearing in mind the many, many unread titles that I already had teetering on my shelves.

As we’re now a quarter of the way through 2020, you bibliophiles out there may (or, more likely, may not) be wondering how well I’m resisting.

The brief answer is, not bad, as I’ll explain. But I’m now in a quandary.

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Beating the Bounds

Physics building, Royal Fort House and Gardens, Bristol (photo: Ben Mills)

Even if your patience hasn’t worn too thin you may nevertheless be glad I’m planning to make this a last discussion post about Diana Wynne Jones’s novel The Homeward Bounders (1981).

If you’ve arrived new to the wider discussion, my review of the fantasy is here, some observations about the author’s intentions here, and possible links with another novel, Edith Nesbit’s The Story of the Amulet, can be found here.

But (as usual) my thoughts may well be rather too eclectic, so I humbly apologise if my speculations prove a tad over-enthusiastic. If you’ve read the novel you may more easily follow my line of argument; if not then just enjoy the ride! (But beware, there are massive spoilers.)

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