Wednesday, 11 July 2007

On the shelf (or thereabouts)

Recently finished Running with Scissors by Augusten Burroughs and Baber's Apple by Michael Marr.  I don't often laugh out loud when I'm reading, but Baber's Apple caught me out (deliciously) a number of times.  Loved the unique Babers_apple_and_running_with_sciss voice of Beulah, Baber's alter-ego, and the opportunities this device provided for getting into his head in an often hilarious way.  Baber completes a number of journeys, apart from his whacky adventure around Kazakhstan, and it was one of those books I didn't particularly want to end---to draw out the pleasure a bit longer---but became keen to see how everything would be resolved.  The book's moving around the family at the moment, and I reckon it's going to look pretty dog-eared by the end of its own journey, which is always a good sign.

Wasn't so keen on Running with Scissors, and only persevered with it because I'd been asked to read it.  Not because I found it too confronting, but because I found it too deliberately confronting ... to the extent that I got bored (or possibly desensitised) with each new excess.  I don't often read memoir and might've made the mistake of expecting there to be a similar exploration of character growth/insight through the experiences described that I'd look for in most novels.  The intention might have been to let each scene speak for itself, but I was left feeling that I didn't really know the young Augusten Burroughs any better at the end of the book than I did at the beginning---but didn't care either.

Books_on_estuarySometimes I find myself reading a few books at the same time and at the moment I've got three on the go: The Angel Makers by Jessica Gregson, Post Office by Charles Bukowski and A Blues for Shindig by Mo Foster.  (Yeah, yeah, I'm working my way through all the PaperBooks titles, and why not?)   Am almost at the end of The Angel Makers; close enough to say I've thoroughly enjoyed it, that I've found it compelling, and that the character of Sari is very hard not to sympathise with, if not empathise with.  When Siân read it---she grabbed it first---she was visibly tense at times, as she moved from one page to the next!  There's engagement!

Burning_bright_001 Have got Tracy Chevalier's Burning Bright on the to-be-read pile.  Enjoyed Girl with a Pearl Earring, and have heard mixed reviews about Burning Bright, but I'm a fan of William Blake who features in this novel, so am looking forward to getting into it and making up my own mind.

And lastly, one of my prize acquisitions recently has been a copy of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable.  Every once in a while I discover a reference book that I make excuses for buying and enjoy placing on my bookshelf, and this is the latest additon.  It's got a wonderful collection of information---too much to describe here---and even covers 'First lines in fiction', with over 150 first lines cited.  Here, and in honour of everyone who finds sentences in nineteenth century novels a little unwieldy at times, is the first sentence from The Brewers_phrase_fable_001Black Tulip by Alexandre Dumas:

'On the 20th of August, 1672, the city of the Hague, always so lively, so neat, and so trim that one might believe every day to be Sunday, with its shady park, with its tall trees, spreading over its Gothic houses, with its canals like large mirrors, in which its steeples and its almost Eastern cuppolas are reflected, -- the city of the Hague, the capital of the Seven United Provinces, was swelling in all its arteries with a black and red stream of hurried, panting, and restless citizens, who, with their knives in their girdles, muskets on their shoulders, or sticks in their hands, were pushing on to the Buytenhof, a terrible prison, the grated windows of which are still shown, where, on the charge of attempted murder preferred against him by the surgeon Tyckelaer, Cornelius de Witt, the brother of the Grand Pensionary of Holland was confined.'


To finish with, found my way to Harriet Devine's blog the other day.  Was particularly interested by her comments on Louisa May Alcott (Little Women, Good Wives) because one of my students has been researching Rose in Bloom recently, but then I got well and truly caught up in her other literary adventures.  A blog well worth a visit.

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