Annabel's House of Books

Noli domo egredi, nisi librum habes – Never leave home without a book.

Month: October 2009 (page 1 of 3)

The Page 56 Meme

This nice and easy meme came by way of Victorian Geek via Ibooknet blog.

  • Grab the nearest book.
  • Open it to page 56.
  • Find the fifth sentence.
  • Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  • Don’t dig for your favourite book, the coolest book, or the most intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.

Here goes: “Until late in the century, he would visit German houses in Baltimore and Pennsylvania on Christmas Eve, carrying a bundle of switches for naughty children and treats for the good ones.”

Who is this strange visitor? He’s ‘Belsnickel’ – a Dutch mythical being similar to Krampus in Austria and Germany – one of Santa’s helpers. A dour character who was popular with parents who wanted to keep their children in line.

Big apologies for posting about Christmas when it’s still October! This lore comes from a little book I just acquired called The Christmas Companion – a merry little book of festive fun and trivia – a sort of Christmas themed Schott’s Miscellany. I got this to help me write some seasonal questions for the end of term staff dinner – we like a bit of a quiz, and silly me – I volunteered to do it this year.

The Page 56 Meme

This nice and easy meme came by way of Victorian Geek via Ibooknet blog.

  • Grab the nearest book.
  • Open it to page 56.
  • Find the fifth sentence.
  • Post the text of the sentence in your journal along with these instructions.
  • Don’t dig for your favourite book, the coolest book, or the most intellectual one: pick the CLOSEST.

Here goes: “Until late in the century, he would visit German houses in Baltimore and Pennsylvania on Christmas Eve, carrying a bundle of switches for naughty children and treats for the good ones.”

Who is this strange visitor? He’s ‘Belsnickel’ – a Dutch mythical being similar to Krampus in Austria and Germany – one of Santa’s helpers. A dour character who was popular with parents who wanted to keep their children in line.

Big apologies for posting about Christmas when it’s still October! This lore comes from a little book I just acquired called The Christmas Companion – a merry little book of festive fun and trivia – a sort of Christmas themed Schott’s Miscellany. I got this to help me write some seasonal questions for the end of term staff dinner – we like a bit of a quiz, and silly me – I volunteered to do it this year.

An influential book from an influential writer …

Howards End is on the landing by Susan Hill

That pesky Susan Hill! She’s managed to set the book-blogging world alight with her latest – a memoir about reading the books in her house and the stories they are associated with. HEIOTL, as I shall abbreviate it to, has become a blogging hot topic – but in the nicest possible way…

At the heart of HEIOTL is Hill’s decision not to add to her house full of books for a year (except for books she is to review); to explore her collection and find new books to read in it, to re-discover lost gems and re-read favourites, and then to compile a list of the forty books she couldn’t live without.

Each shelf examined brings reminiscences. There are stories about encounters with great writers and celebrated personages, who all seemed to be very supportive of the young novelist, and indeed many of them became friends. I loved all this name-dropping, and particularly enjoyed the chapter about Benjamin Britten whose ‘Sea Interludes’ provided an epiphany for Hill (I love them too – they were marvellous to play many years ago in Croydon Youth Philharmonic Orchestra); the story about Alan Clark was good also.

There are many discussions of writers and their books. Hill is refreshingly honest about what she doesn’t enjoy reading as well as her literary loves – she’s no Austenite, but reveres much of Thomas Hardy, she can’t be doing with Terry Pratchett and Sci-Fi in general but did concede to liking John Wyndham but puts him in the horror pile. I was delighted that she loves Ian Fleming, John Le Carré and Michael Connelly too.

Although I haven’t read him, her chapter about W.G.Sebald does make me want to read The Rings of Saturn. She writes “But so many places on a Sebald journey are eerie, deserted, out of date, and lie under a pall of dismal weather. In The Rings of Saturn he walks through East Anglia and manages to make places I know well, and have found sparkling and lively, suicidally depressing.” I lived and worked for nearly two years in and around Great Yarmouth – a South Londoner fresh out of uni and have rarely felt so lonely as then, so I’m with Sebald on that one.

Then at the last pages we get to the final forty, the snapshot in time of the forty books she couldn’t do without – well on that day at least, for she says she would probably pick a different 40 tomorrow. The natural extension of this is to start compiling one’s own forty – but that’s another project and post!

Every year I say I must read more books from my TBR mountains. Do I think I could do as Hill did and not buy any new books for a whole year? It would be nice, but I don’t think I can. Simon at Stuck in a Book has set himself a post-HEIOTL challenge to buy no more than 24 books in 2010. My biggest problem post-HEIOTL is the number of books I’ve added to my wishlist, and may have to buy/acquire, after reading it – an index would have been slightly helpful here!

I love reading books about books, and this one (with its lovely cover) didn’t disappoint. Susan Hill is doing an event in Abingdon next month, and I’m really looking forward to hearing her talk about it. I also hope to fit in reading another of her novels too – The Beacon has been on my shelves unread for ages too.

This book sure has got us all thinking! If you want to read more reviews, see Dgr, Paperback reader, Savidge Reads, and Other Stories to name but a few. Oh, and by the way, if you love books about books, do read Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman – it’s utterly brilliant.

An influential book from an influential writer …

Howards End is on the landing by Susan Hill

That pesky Susan Hill! She’s managed to set the book-blogging world alight with her latest – a memoir about reading the books in her house and the stories they are associated with. HEIOTL, as I shall abbreviate it to, has become a blogging hot topic – but in the nicest possible way…

At the heart of HEIOTL is Hill’s decision not to add to her house full of books for a year (except for books she is to review); to explore her collection and find new books to read in it, to re-discover lost gems and re-read favourites, and then to compile a list of the forty books she couldn’t live without.

Each shelf examined brings reminiscences. There are stories about encounters with great writers and celebrated personages, who all seemed to be very supportive of the young novelist, and indeed many of them became friends. I loved all this name-dropping, and particularly enjoyed the chapter about Benjamin Britten whose ‘Sea Interludes’ provided an epiphany for Hill (I love them too – they were marvellous to play many years ago in Croydon Youth Philharmonic Orchestra); the story about Alan Clark was good also.

There are many discussions of writers and their books. Hill is refreshingly honest about what she doesn’t enjoy reading as well as her literary loves – she’s no Austenite, but reveres much of Thomas Hardy, she can’t be doing with Terry Pratchett and Sci-Fi in general but did concede to liking John Wyndham but puts him in the horror pile. I was delighted that she loves Ian Fleming, John Le Carré and Michael Connelly too.

Although I haven’t read him, her chapter about W.G.Sebald does make me want to read The Rings of Saturn. She writes “But so many places on a Sebald journey are eerie, deserted, out of date, and lie under a pall of dismal weather. In The Rings of Saturn he walks through East Anglia and manages to make places I know well, and have found sparkling and lively, suicidally depressing.” I lived and worked for nearly two years in and around Great Yarmouth – a South Londoner fresh out of uni and have rarely felt so lonely as then, so I’m with Sebald on that one.

Then at the last pages we get to the final forty, the snapshot in time of the forty books she couldn’t do without – well on that day at least, for she says she would probably pick a different 40 tomorrow. The natural extension of this is to start compiling one’s own forty – but that’s another project and post!

Every year I say I must read more books from my TBR mountains. Do I think I could do as Hill did and not buy any new books for a whole year? It would be nice, but I don’t think I can. Simon at Stuck in a Book has set himself a post-HEIOTL challenge to buy no more than 24 books in 2010. My biggest problem post-HEIOTL is the number of books I’ve added to my wishlist, and may have to buy/acquire, after reading it – an index would have been slightly helpful here!

I love reading books about books, and this one (with its lovely cover) didn’t disappoint. Susan Hill is doing an event in Abingdon next month, and I’m really looking forward to hearing her talk about it. I also hope to fit in reading another of her novels too – The Beacon has been on my shelves unread for ages too.

This book sure has got us all thinking! If you want to read more reviews, see Dgr, Paperback reader, Savidge Reads, and Other Stories to name but a few. Oh, and by the way, if you love books about books, do read Ex Libris by Anne Fadiman – it’s utterly brilliant.

My Season of the Living Dead is over!

My month of vampire reading is over – Ended! Finito! I’ve read six novels back to back, mostly extremely enjoyable until I came to the last. Dracula – the Un-dead by Dacre Stoker and Ian Holt …

Co-written by Bram Stoker’s great-grandnephew and a vampire expert, this official sequel tries to shoehorn in every single bit of vampire lore in existence into its length, moving the action on to 1912, twenty-five years after the original novel ends. Someone is after the survivors of the original band of heroes who ‘killed’ Dracula and is picking them off one by one. It appears to be another evil historical figure – Elizabeth Bathory, (another real person who is reputed to have bathed in girls’ blood), or could it be Jack the Ripper(!), or has Dracula risen again from the undead. It’s up to Jonathan Harker’s wife Mina, and son Quincey to stop them or be killed themselves.

The novel was never sillier than when they put Bram Stoker himself into the plot as a struggling writer trying to put on a play of his novel – for a book supposing to put right the injustices done to the Stoker family when they were denied royalties for Dracula in the USA, I couldn’t understand this move. Mercifully, it was a quick read – fans of Dan Brown should love it!

*****

I finally watched the film of Twilight yesterday. I loved it! I liked the Twin Peaksy feel and the lighting. I felt that Bella came across as having a bit more self-determination than in the book, and of course it pared away some of the frustrating talk that clogged up the novel. I also like how they handled the vamp’s shimmering in the sunlight. Of course, the two lead characters were lovely to look at which always helps – Kristen Stewart reminded me of Harry Potter’s Emma Watson with dark hair and a bit less earnestness – they have very similar facial expressions. The result is, of course, that I may have to read a seventh vamp novel very soon – New Moon, but first I need a break – I’ve a book group choice and some ARCs to waiting to be read!

A chilling and contemporary twist on the vampire novel

Let the Right One In by John Ajvide Lindqvist

All the other vampire books I’ve read in my ‘Season of the Living Dead’ have been rather cosy or had a good sense of humour.

But then they’ve been mostly aimed at teens and young adults.Then I came to a Nordic vampire novel Let the Right One In, and found something truly dark and horrific that needed a strong stomach and nerves of steel. It is a real contemporary chiller, full of violence and gore, totally relentless – yet at its heart is a the redemptive relationship between a twelve year old boy and a 200 year old vampire frozen into the body of a young girl.

The book is set in and around an anonymous housing estate, built at the edge of a forest in the suburbs. We are introduced to Oskar, twelve years old, fat and geeky, who is the chief victim of the class bullies, and we immediately feel for him. But then we meet Håkan, a quiet newcomer to the town; but he’s also a seedy forty-five year old in a raincoat and has serial killer written all over him – he’s carrying a cylinder of anaesthetic, and he’s prospecting for a victim – it doesn’t take long, and then it’s horrorshow time!

Meanwhile Oskar meets Eli, a strange young girl who only appears in the evenings in the playground. They gradually strike up a friendship and once they realise that their bedrooms share a wall, they start to send morse code messages to each other; Eli’s the first girl who’s ever noticed Oskar. The rest of the supporting cast comprises a group of old men, drifters and alcoholics who meet at the pub – one of them thinks he saw something on the night of the first murder but they’re all too scared. Eventually all of these character threads come together.

I won’t expound any more on the plot as it would spoil the suspense; suffice it to say there are some particularly disturbing scenes in its 500+ pages. The relationship between Oskar and Eli is fascinating; Eli is of course a vampire. When Oskar finds someone to love it is touching, it is also the beginning of his growing up, being able to stand up for himself.

Oskar held the piece of paper with the Morse code in one hand and tapped letters into the wall with the other…
G.O.I.N.G. O.U.T.
The answer came after a few seconds.
I. M. C.O.M.I.N.G.
They met outside the entrance to her building. In one day she had … changed. About a month ago a Jewish woman had come to his school, talked to them about the holocaust and shown them slides. Eli was looking a little bit like the people in those pictures.
The sharp light from the fixture above the door cast dark shadows on her face, as if the bones were threatening to protrude through the skin, as if the skin had become thinner. And …’
What have you done with your hair?’ He had thought it was the light that made it look like that, but when he came closer he saw that a few thick white strands ran through her hair. Like an old person. Eli ran a hand over her head. Smiled at him.
‘It’ll go away. What should we do?’

This novel was entirely different to any other vampire story I’ve read. It was thoroughly modern with no hints of Gothic melodrama at all. It was too long, but thoroughly gripping if you have the stomach for it. Moreover it takes our current fascination with all literary things Nordic, particularly crime novels, to another different level. Read it if you dare! (9/10)

P.S. Just got the original Swedish movie to watch. Apparently it’s marvellous.
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