e a m harris

Roaming the byways of literature

Archive for the tag “books”

Holmes and Watson revealed

Holmes and Watson cover artI enjoyed this book. It is well written and scholarly without being pedantic or heavy.

However, I did find it odd reading a biography of people who don’t exist. For instance, as many biographers do, Ms Thomson speculates on what her characters were doing in the times not covered by the published stories. For real people this attempt to fill in gaps makes sense – they must have been doing something. But for fictional characters the true answer is ‘nothing’, and most of the time their creator probably didn’t give the question any thought.

Reading this book has made me want to know more of the real facts and I hope to find a good biography of Conan Doyle in the nearish future.

I recommend this to anyone who enjoys the Holmes stories and who likes a stylish, fictional biography. If you haven’t read any of the stories you’ll miss out on a good deal of the references and nuances, so I suggest you get a few of them in before starting Ms Thomson’s work.

Cover art from goodreads.

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Prizes galore

Congratulations to Eimear McBride for winning the Baileys Women’s Prize for fiction. It’s nice to read about someone pushing the envelope of the novel out and being rewarded for their courage.

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Also announced yesterday was the lower-key but still important HWA Debut Crown shortlist. The Historical Writers Association has decided that they too should have a range of  awards similar to those given by the Crime Writers Association (CWA).

It’s lovely to read about these successes. But I still wonder about those who don’t win them. Does the existence of a prizewinner affect other people’s sales? logo

As a reader I also wonder if all the hype and publicity skews what I read. While wandering round a bookshop I’m likely to pick up books I’ve heard of, even if I can’t recall why they seem familiar.

Does winning a prize affect a book’s long term sales? Or does it fade from popularity as fast as it would without the prize?

We seem to live in a world of awards and competitions. Is this a good thing? bad? totally irrelevant?

Secondhand serendipity

I recently went to Crimefest, and had a really good time. Among the many tables dedicated to books is a swap table. Browsing through the books left for swap I saw one with ‘Johnson County Library’ and a bar code on its cover.3026099

My first reaction was that someone had left their library book by mistake; then I opened it and inside was printed ‘Withdrawn from Johnson County Library’. So it was the result of library weeding and it was OK to take it.

The book was Daughter of Deceit by Patricia Sprinkle, an author I’d not heard of. I’m not sure if her work is available in the UK – Johnson County sounds like it’s somewhere in America.

I really enjoyed it. I’m so glad that someone at Crimefest left it. Now that I’ve read it I feel honour bound to pass it on to one of the local secondhand bookshelves so someone else can enjoy it too.

It is set among the very rich in Atlanta. Not an underworld setting – well-mannered, well-dressed women living in beautiful houses in a lovely town. Like my own, less wealthy, neighbours they spend their time raising families and raising funds for good causes. The mystery, when it strikes, is all the more shocking for being in such a society.

A middle-aged woman deeply into genealogy is called upon to help a woman neighbour whose world has been turned upside down by the discovery that her late father may not have been related to her at all. How did he really feel about her? Is she entitled to the wealth she’s inherited? And, to top it all, did she really shoot her husband?

I will certainly look out for more of Ms Sprinkle’s work.

Cover art from Goodreads.

The end of the 30 day book challenge

A few days ago I posted my last instalment of this challenge. I have to thank the writers of Snobbery for setting me going on what has turned out to be a long journey.

These are the stops on the way:

Day 1:  My Favourite Book
Day 2:  My Least Favourite Book
Day 3:  A Book That Surprised Me
Day 4:  A Book That Reminds Me of Home
Day 5:  A Non-Fiction Book I Like
Day 6:  A Book That Makes Me Cry
Day 7:  A Book I Find Hard to Read
Day 8:  An Unpopular Book I Think Should Be A Bestseller
Day 9:  A Book I’ve Read More Than Once
Day 10:  The First Novel I Remember Reading
Day 11:  The Book That Made Me Fall In Love With Reading
Day 12:  A Book So Emotionally Draining, I Had To Set It Aside
Day 13:  Favourite Childhood Book
Day 14:  A Book That Should Be On High School Or College Required Reading Lists
Day 15:  Favourite Book Dealing With Foreign Culture
Day 16:  Favourite Book Turned Movie
Day 17:  Book Turned Movie That Was Completely Desecrated
Day 18:  Book I Love That I Can’t Find On Shelves Anymore
Day 19:  A Book That Changed My Mind About A Particular Subject
Day 20:  A Book I’d Recommend To An Ignorant/Racist/Closed-Minded Individual
Day 21:  A Guilty Pleasure Book
Day 22:  Favourite Series
Day 23:  Favourite Romance Novel
Day 24:  A Book I Later Found Out The Author Lied About
Day 25:  Favourite Biography/Autobiography
Day 26:  A Book I Wish Would Be Written
Day 27:  A Book I’d Write If I Had All The Resources
Day 28:  A Book I Wish I’d Never Read
Day 29:  An Author That I Completely Avoid/Hate/Won’t Read
Day 30:  An Author That I’ll Read Whatever They Put Out

Most of the route has been down memory lane and it’s been useful, and at times exciting, to scour my recollections of past reading in order to write the posts. Looking back I see I’ve read a lot of great stuff.

Remembering the books has also made me remember how I felt on reading them: I had forgotten that I cried over Black Beauty, felt really cross with Dennis Wheatley, and thrilled at the description of the research in Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time.

My original plan of writing one post a week has long since failed, but I think that may have been a good thing, giving me more time to mull over what to write and, importantly, what to leave out.

I’ve considered taking up the NaPoWriMo challenge but, if I can’t stick to once a week, every day has no chance.

A quote on one of the values of reading

Anyone who says they have only one life to live
must not know how to read a book.

This is an anonymous quote and I think I’ve come across it several times in the past. My own feeling is that the extra lives available from books are usually only part lives – very few books cover the whole of someone’s life. But if you read a lot, think how many extra lives you’ll have had by the time you reach the end of your real one.

There are, of course, other ways of getting these extras. Story and biography telling were originally oral. Sitting round the fire listening to the wise woman’s description of the deeds of your ancestors must have been similar to sitting in the library reading about Harry Potter.

Even when we aren’t reading, other lives are available to us through imagination. Last time I was at an airport, waiting for my flight to be called and annoyed at how time was crawling rather than running, I started to wonder where all my fellow waitees were in their minds. Perhaps they were exploring alien planets, swimming the coral sea, winning in the Olympics or dating the boy next door.

We also get some extra moments in our dreams. I frequently dream whole days with friends I haven’t seen for years or even with people I’ve never met. These too are extra experiences that add to our down-to-earth real-time lifespan.

Islamic Manuscripts

TIMAWhile browsing through Twitter I came across mention of The Islamic Manuscript Association. I’d not heard of it before so naturally I googled it.

Their website led me down several new-to-me and forgotten-by-me paths of knowledge. Among other things they have a list of links to relevant organisations, and what should I find there but a link to the Library of Congress Romanization Tables, which I used to consult when I was a student working part time filing Library of Congress cards. One for Memory Lane.

Another of their links led to an organisation called Thesaurus Islamicus which is concerned with preservation of the Islamic patrimony. I’m not sure why they include ‘Thesaurus’ in their name as they seem to do much more than assemble words.

And I found a lovely new-to-me word: codicology. It is the study of books as physical objects. It’s apparently a slightly vague term. It may include things like studying the handwriting, marginalia and illustrations as well as attributes like inks, paper, parchment, binding and so on. According to Wikipedia, codicologists may also study the history of libraries and other collections.

A special word for the study of books! I really like that. So now when I buy a new book because I admire its binding and illustrations I’m participating, in a tiny way, in codicology.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 19: A book that changed my mind about a particular subject

I find this challenge unanswerable. I can’t recall having my mind changed by reading anything. Opened, expanded, developed – yes, too many times to count – but actually changed, no. Though there are some changes that might come close.

For instance I’ve read books that persuaded me that a topic I thought uninteresting was in fact fascinating. I’ve read a history of a hat-making firm (whose name I’ve forgotten) and another one about engineering company Stothert & Pitt and been gripped by the details of their businesses. I also love specialist magazines on subjects I’m not normally concerned with – ones for hobbyists in model railways, chess, birdwatching – most subjects open up a window on other people’s interests and on the richness of life and culture. passover plot cover

Other books have made me look at something in a different way. One of these is The Passover Plot by Hugh J Schonfield. This book looks at the life, death and resurrection of Christ from the point of view that he was a man who engineered the events described in the Bible, but was too badly injured to survive. There’s a lot more to the author’s thesis than this and I have to admit I’ve forgotten a good deal of it, but it was interesting to see how a story I knew very well could be reinterpreted in a completely different way from the traditional one.

Learning completely new things from books is a given. In my reading I’ve delved into areas of history and science that I didn’t even know existed.

But I still don’t feel that any of these has changed my mind.

Cover art from Goodreads.

You can’t stop a booklover

You can’t stop a booklover.

 

This is such a fantastic picture. My thanks to Travel Between the Pages for posting it.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 13: A favourite childhood book (maybe)

imagesDoing this challenge, I’ve written about several childhood books already. So many of the questions are about things from the past. Unavoidable I suppose, how can something be my ‘fave’ or ‘most hated’ or ‘too emotional’ if I haven’t read it in the past.

Looking at the list of items to come though, I can see there are a couple of questions that look to the future or the what-if. The future and the what-if are places the mind can really run riot and create whole libraries of loved stories without the effort or cost of writing or buying them. I look forward to those challenges when they come round.

But rather than go on with the past right now, I thought I’d change today’s questions a little and look at some ‘might have beens …’ – some of the books that might have been childhood favourites if I’d read them as a child or at all.

I start with the Narnia books. I read the first one as a young adult and quite liked it, but having seen two great films made out of them, I think I should have persisted and really got into the Narnia world.

Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series, would definitely be among my childhood favourites if it had been published when I was a child and if I’d read it. I could say the same of Harry Potter.

E. E. Nesbit is an author quite a number of my friends praise and say they loved. Far too late for any of any of her books to become childhood faves of mine and I doubt if I’ll ever read them. Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome is another series I missed out on.

None of these are individual books and most are in series. Is this because people remember them better having read several? or is it because something only becomes a favourite if one can immerse oneself in its world at intervals?

Picture from Harper Collins.

30 Day Book Challenge – day 12: A book so emotionally draining I had to set it aside

In today’s challenge I look at two emotions: fear and disappointment.

The stand-out contender for an emotionally draining book is, for me, beyond doubt Dracula by Bram Stoker.

I read this when I was a teenager, and it is still the scariest novel I’ve ever read. So terrifying did I find it that I could only read a few pages at a time. Then I had to put the book somewhere I couldn’t see it (not in my bedroom!) and leave it for a few days while I recovered from the frights.

cover artAs I progressed I got so that I could read a whole chapter at a time, but I still took weeks to finish it.

This experience has become my standard of scariness, and all other horror books have fallen far short of it, producing more disappointment than fear. In fact the overwhelming emotion of disappointment has caused me to set several aside – permanently rather than for a few days.

I have never re-read Dracula. If I did would it too produce  disappointment? Maybe one day I’ll find out.

Cover art from Page Pulp, which has an article on the Many Covers of Dracula.

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