e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the month “May, 2012”

An Irish friendship wish

A friend recently emailed me the following wish. I pass it on to everyone who reads this post.

May there always be work for your hands to do;
May your purse always hold a coin or two;
May the sun always shine on your windowpane;
May a rainbow be certain to follow each rain;
May the hand of a friend always be near you;
May God fill your heart with gladness to cheer you.
and may you be in heaven a half hour before the devil knows you’re dead.


A great day out at Crimefest

Yesterday we went to Crimefest – a real treat for crime fiction fans. We attended fascinating panel discussions, an interview with Jeffery Deaver and some interesting discussions. We also met old acquaintances from previous years and caught up with their news. The day finished with a reception at which the Crime Writers Association announced their awards shortlists.

And, of course, we bought a pile of new books.

Literary festivals of all sorts are popular. There’s a wide choice, from general ones like Bath or Cheltenham, to special interest ones for crime, science fiction, fantasy and romance. There’s always a holiday feel to them and its great mingling with other readers all having a good time.

Replace a word with ‘librarian’

Browsing through Twitter this morning I came across this London trend #replaceawordwithlibrarian.

I think it has something to do with a campaign to save libraries.

Whatever the reason for it, some of the tweets make lovely reading:

like Holly Bodger’s

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a librarian.

or Philip Ardagh’s

The name’s Bond. Librarian Bond.

Joking aside, all efforts to keep libraries open and free to their users are vital. A local library is a treasure-house of knowledge, thought and entertainment available to rich and poor alike.

Closing one now may save a few pounds; restocking and reopening it in the future would cost thousands. Short-termism is always more expensive in the long term.

Read this book and weep

The book of my title is The Book of Lost Books by Stuart Kelly. It’s subtitle is very appropriate:

An incomplete history of all the great books you’ll never read.

The author looks back through the history of literature and tells us what is known of great lost books. The history of literature is a long one – going back to the earliest days of writing in places like Sumeria, Egypt, China – and the opportunities for even famous books to vanish are numerous.

The classical age in Europe is one of the best known, partly because the authors who have survived commented on their colleagues and predecessors who haven’t. But even the very literary Greeks and Romans produced many Mr and Mrs Anonymouses not to mention Mr Who-was-Homer?.

We leave the realm of this vagueness the nearer we approach the present. It’s interesting to read about what we haven’t got of Lord Byron, Jane Austen and other well-known people. Most of them are Westerners but Asia has its own ‘lost’ catalogue and a few chapters introduce us to it.

The last author dealt with in the book is Philip K Dick. Three of his known works have vanished. I suspect that Dick himself was responsible for this; by the 20th century he should have had access to ways of not losing things if he didn’t want to.

The works Kelly covers are just the ones we know about – how much more has turned to dust over the centuries?

Carlos Fuentes dead at 83

The death of a great writer is always a loss to the world. In the case of Carlos Fuentes the world has also lost a political commentator who remained engaged until the end.

The international community has been quick to recognise this loss and his fellow journalists have written many obituaries.

There are already a number of WordPress blogs expressing a range of feeling. Not surprising – all bloggers are writers, even the ones who only publish photos usually write something, and we have lost one of our leaders.

But we have not lost his work and that will live on for as long as great literature is read.

Scottish crime: ‘Cradle to Grave’ by Aline Templeton

I’ve just finished reading this novel and while it’s by no means perfect, I enjoyed it and found it gripping.

It’s set in a small town and surrounding countryside in Scotland and the author takes full advantage of the Scottish scenery and weather.

The story follows two main threads: the death (before the book starts) of a baby followed by the acquittal of the nanny accused of the crime, and the major international crime some of the suspects take part in.

Although there are several murders, most of the violence takes place offstage.

In addition several of the police people have private troubles to cope with.

There are quite a number of points of view, but they are well handled so it’s always clear whose eyes we see things through.

It’s an energetic mélange of action and speculation that holds the attention and saves a few unanswered questions right to the last page.

Danger! Pansies!

The other day I happened to be walking down a street I rarely visit, admiring the front gardens as I went. They were all so different and all so glowing with late spring flowers and new greenery.

I came to one with several large tubs of pansies dotted around on paving. A slight breeze set them shivering. All those black and yellow pansies hunkering down suddenly looked like clusters of tiny tigers preparing to pounce out of their tubs. I’ve never thought of pansies as aggressive before.

As I went on my way, my musings about the personalities and intentions of plants reminded me of a wonderful book I read some months ago: Weeds and Wild Flowers, poems by Alice Oswald with etchings by Jessica Greenman.

Alice Oswald imagines the mental life of plants with clarity and beauty. She sees a kind of cross-over between their world and ours.

Stinking Goose-foot has grown human

It could happen to anyone.

I have never thought of Narrow-lipped Helleborine as ‘hard-worked’ or ‘reliable’, nor Narcissus as having an ‘invisible self whose absence inhabits mirrors’, but now I’m beginning to see flowers in a different light.

Bad language, censorship and all that

Today the BBC carries and article on the decision by BBC America to bleep out some of the bad language in the TV show The Thick of It.

Reading it has made me think about censorship in general. Personally I don’t care if certain words are bleeped, but I suppose if you are a writer working in the gritty tradition you might find it irritating. The nature of the word removed is probably less important than the fact that the bleep is an obvious intrusion from the outside world into the world of the story. This is what would annoy me as a writer and as an audience member.

Censorship has been around probably since the beginnings of language, and it’s been misused as often as used sensibly. It’s had a bad press for many years, however and by whom it is applied.

The internet has moved censorship into a whole new world, with numerous new reasons for doing it. Not surprisingly there are many websites devoted to it. Some of them deal with the subject in general and others concentrate on specific news items (Index on Censorship has international coverage). There are also a number of campaigns – mostly against (among them the National Coalition Against Censorship).

As with so many human activities, there’s no perfect system – only what most people in a particular place and time want or will put up with. In the case of TV broadcasts some audiences expect, and maybe want, bad language to be bleeped out. At the same time some writers feel that it should be left in as this is what they intended. I can see both sides of that argument. I tend to side with the audience (I have a customer service background), but I may change my mind if anything I write ever gets censored.

‘Impressions’ Book

‘Impressions’ Book.

This is a reblog from Claire Atkinson’s Urban Photography blog. I love Claire’s photos. They’re really different.

Connections and commenters


I’ve finally got my act together enough to check my most frequent commenters and pass on the Commenter Award.

The commenter list changes often, so this is just a snapshot of it’s state today. In no particular order the frequent commenters are:

Somersaulting through Life

Hank at Spacenoodles

Seasons and Impressions

Silently Heard Once

Oldstick’s Blog

Jueseppi B at Obamacrat

According to the rules I could nominate one more of my choice, but I can’t choose so I will leave the seventh position blank.

I would like to take this opportunity to thank all the people who visit my blog. Your ‘likes’ and comments are greatly appreciated. You are a lovely, friendly, supportive group of people.

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