Annabel's House of Books

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

Month: February 2010 (page 1 of 3)

LOTR Readalong Month Two: The Fellowship of the Ring

It’s the end of the second month of the LOTR Readlong and I’ve finished LOTR: Fellowship of the Ring Vol 1.  This month Clare at The Literary Omnivore is hosting, if you want to check others’ progress, but here are my thoughts on the second half …

Just in case you live on a different planet and haven’t read or seen it – rather unavoidable plot SPOILER alert! 

In Book Two, the Fellowship of the Ring is both formed and broken on the first leg of the journey to take the ring to Mordor. Winter means they have to go through the mountains via the mines of Moria, and it is here, in just a few pages, that one of the biggest events in Book 2 happens – Gandalf falls to his presumed end holding off a demonic Balrog.  It all happens rather too quickly and you could be forgiven for having thought you’d missed it – in fact I read it twice.

The Fellowship have to concentrate on staying alive, and don’t stop to mourn so quickly is Gandalf’s fate relegated to the background. At last the eight arrive at Lothlorien, and meet Galadriel, who is the second-most interesting character so far, (Aragorn is first of course).  She is a real fairy queen with telepathic powers; Frodo is a little in love with her and offers her the ring, and she of course, graciously refuses knowing how it would corrupt her.

The Fellowship have to take their leave and on they go, tailed by Gollum whom we don’t meet properly yet, but has been lurking out of sight for ages.  Soon they have to make a choice, whether to go via Gondor and help Minas Tirith, or head directly towards Mordor…  Frodo as ringbearer gets to decide and retreats to ponder the decision, but Boromir has a funny turn desiring the ring and goes after him. Frodo (gasp!) puts on the ring to avoid Boromir’s nasty intentions and runs for it.  Luckily for him Sam is on his tail, but thus the fellowship is broken.

In this first volume  there have been moments of great peril and episodes of sheer elven bliss, but, as with all great fantasy arcs, there are greater battles yet to come.  It’s one helluva setup!   We’re in the early stages of addiction – enough to carry on, but secretly knowing that temptation will keep us reading – even when you’ve read it before and remember the key events that will happen – if anything that makes it even stronger.  Knowing that the fellowship doesn’t last and that the narrative will split makes me miss those who will be off doing something else while we follow one half or another already – but the anticipation is greater…

Bring on The Two Towers !

I’m falling out of love with magazines …

This week has been so busy, that I’ve not got much reading done, let alone posting. But I did pick up a magazine or two to browse and this got me thinking …

Last year I posted about my favourite mags and how I loved them and others. Now there are only four that I still subscribe to that I wouldn’t want to stop, and they are: The Word, Empire, Nat Geographic and The Literary Review, as described in that previous post. I still read these few from cover to cover and then leaf through again before passing them on.

… But with any others, and here I principally mean interiors and women’s monthlies, I find myself leafing through them, but not taking it in. There’s so much recycling of articles – yet another chic flat with a Balzac armchair and acres of gleaming white shelving or the remodelled Victorian terrace with open-plan kitchen-diner extension to die for; endless recipes on what to do with leftovers or cooking gourmet meals in minutes; and, dare I say it, all the human interest stories of infidelity, surviving breast cancer, it goes one and on, (and that’s not including fashion and beauty pages which I’ve never read anyway).

What’s your relationship with magazines these days? Are you suffering from recycled-article-fatigue like me? Am I just getting more and more middle-aged? I think the answer must be just to READ MORE BOOKS!

Reading the Canongate Myths, vol XIII

Orphans of Eldorado by Milton Hatoum

I’ve temporarily jumped to the current end of the Canongate Myths series to read this short novel inspired by Amazonian fables of an enchanted city, and the search for Eldorado. The action centres around the Brazilian city of Manaus which, although situated way up the Amazon, is a major port.

Arminto Cordovil is in love from afar with Dinaura, an orphan from up the river under the care of the Carmelites. Florita, his family housekeeper tells him stories about the Indian girls, that they want to walk into the river to seek the enchanted city. Arminto gets permission to date Dinaura, but then his father dies making him an orphan too – his mother had died in childbirth. Arminto has to take charge of the family shipping empire and plantations further up the Amazon. When the freighter, The Eldorado, crashes, Arminto sees it as an omen, and combined with his obsession for Dinaura, things start to get out of control, especially when he discovers the truth about his father’s business.

Life up the Amazon at these faraway trading posts is vibrantly brought to life, for despite the remoteness, the river brings a diverse and rich mix of people to the steamy paradise. Arminto, having had a hard relationship with his lone parent, and ignoring advice from Florita and his father’s lawyer Estiliano, becomes obsessed with searching for his own private Eldorado. Although it was beautifully evocative of the region, and I felt at home with placing it timewise back around the 1930s, I didn’t feel as in touch with the myth of the enchanted city that inspired the story. I would have loved to hear more about the mysterious indigenous people and their legends, but Arminto was a rather unreliable narrator, smitten as he was. Fans of Love in the Time of Cholera by Marquez, will enjoy this little tale, and perhaps notice some parallels.

I particularly like the fact that the Myths series is worldwide in scope and I am looking forward to exploring further beyond the classics. It is a shame though, that having started off in hardback, new additions are now paperback only, (which is exasperating to collectors). Early editions tempted us with volumes from Donna Tartt, who seems to have disappeared from the list of authors in Orphans, but we are promised more myths from A S Byatt and Natsuo Kirino amongst others, plus those already published, and the next is the controversial The Good Man Jesus and the Scoundrel Christ by Philip Pullman, published on April 1st! (Book supplied on request by the publisher, 6.5/10)

An evening with Sara Paretsky

Sara Paretsky, the creator of Chicago private investigator V.I.Warshawski, was in town yesterday to coincide with the publication of Hardball, her P.I.’s thirteenth outing.  Arriving, she cut a cool figure, clad in gold and skinny trousers with a trendy leopard-print cap and her short cropped silver hair. The audience immediately warmed to her, with her sassy wit and ironic take on life, evident from right from the start of the evening.

Paretsky is a Kansan, who’s lived in Chicago since the late-1960s. She arrived as a political activist, trying to help the tribe-bound city to integrate.  She started by telling us a bit about Chicago politics, “In Chicago we’re proud of our corrupt politicians!”  There’s a long history of corruption which still goes on, with the city alderman (she calls them alder-creatures) who tried to sell Obama’s senate seat up for trial soon…

Her first novel Indemnity Only was published in 1982, and introduced us to Victoria Iphigenia Warshawski, a Chicagoan with a Polish cop father and Italian mother.  VI is sassy, with a strong fashion sense, and is not backward in trying to find out what she needs to solve a case, which tends to lead to her getting beaten up. Like her creator she has a strong sense of social justice.

After reading from Hardball, she took questions from the audience. Paretsky told us she came up with the surname  Warshawski to celebrate her own descent from European immigrants, adapting Warsaw into Vic’s name.  She gave Vic an Italian mother as going to Italy made her feel at home – the Italian and Chicagoan loud and busy lifestyles are very similar. She also revealed that she’s not really ageing Vic and her other recurring characters any more – they started off ageing in real time, but now hover!  She loves all her characters and couldn’t kill any of them off, including the dogs.

She made Chicago sound a very vibrant city, and was very proud of all the work she’s done to support the democratic cause that helped to Obama to make history.  She was also not afraid to air her views, punctuated with witty asides that made for an entertaining evening.  It’s years since I read one of the middle novels in the series, now I’m looking forward to starting back at the beginning having met her.

A Gripping Novel of Sri Lanka and London

Brixton Beach by Roma Tearne

This is one of the books chosen for the C4 TV Book Club, it’ll be featured at the end of February. Although I thought it looked interesting I wasn’t in a hurry to read it, but then the publisher offered me a copy as the Oxford-based author is coming to my local bookshop Mostly Books in mid-March to take part in a special book group evening – then I couldn’t resist. It is a wonderful book, so I am really glad I read it.

Roma Tearne is Sri Lankan, and fled the country aged ten to live in England, where she qualified as an artist, (the cover artwork is her own). She is now a creative writing fellow at Oxford Brookes, and this is her third novel. All her novels are set against the backdrop of the Sri Lankan Civil War from 1983 onwards; it had grown out of the Singhalese independence movement which had marginalised the Tamil minority, leading to the ‘Tamil Tigers’ thirty year campaign to create an independent Tamil state. It finally ended in 2009.

The novel tells the story of Alice, who has a Singhalese mother and Tamil father; she is just nine when the war starts. It’s increasingly hard for a mixed family to live in Colombo. Father, Stanley has applied for passports for them so they can move to England. He’ll go first, and find a job and a house, Sita and Alice will follow.  Her beloved artist grandfather Bee wishes they wouldn’t go, but has hopes of a better life for them, as they’ve already suffered. Sita lost her second baby due to the drunken negligence of a drunk doctor who wouldn’t treat a Tamil.  By the time Stanley sails for England, his relationship with Sita is effectively over, but they have to go. It’s too dangerous for them to stay with Bee; anyone with Tamil connections could be rounded up by the army, and never heard of again. Alice and Sita arrive in England, to stay in a dingy, dark house in South London. Sita can’t stand the cold and damp climate, and retreats into her shell further. Stanley doesn’t stay for long either. Alice is left to forge her own way, and she begins to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps as she shows talent at art too.

The author has managed to conjure up an utterly compelling portrait of life in Sri Lanka at the start of the unrest, and the waves of tragedy that besets the Fonseka family.  She captures perfectly Alice’s struggles to come to terms with all that happens to her, and her chance of finding real happiness.  After Alice, Bee, her grandfather is a fantastically well-drawn character, artist, patriarch, and compassionate soul who is willing to risk all to help those in need.  The heat and humidity of the troubled paradise contrasts keenly with the bleak urban strangeness of London.   The novel however, starts off with a prologue set on the day of 7/7/2005  when bombs went off in London, bringing home to us the similarities of what had happened in Sri Lanka decades before.

This was a deeply affecting read for me, and you can’t help wondering how autobiographical it is – I’ll get a chance in a few weeks to find out when we meet Roma.   I found it far more compelling than Brick Lane, and I will look forward to reading her other novels too. I highly recommend this book. (Book supplied by the publisher, 10/10)

Gaskella’s Midweek Miscellany #3

In this week’s Miscellany, an interesting debate on charity v secondhand shops, a progress report on the LOTR readalong, and some new arrivals at Gaskell Towers …

Something which caught my eye at the weekend was a post by Scott Pack at Me & My Big Mouth on a big debate topic about charities edging out proper secondhand bookshops. This is a debate that has been going for some time. Apparently second-hand dealers have shut up shop in Oxford due to the success of the Oxfam bookshop for instance.  However that pesky Susan Hill upped the ante with her article in the Spectator Blog. Please, do read them both and make up your own mind.

What do I think?

Well – Abingdon where I live currently supports six+ charity shops, two wonderful independent bookshops, a WH Smith + Tesco – we don’t have a dedicated secondhand bookshop – but do have a library too.  That makes a huge number of places to get books for all budgets in just a small town.  So far they all co-exist with each other – although WH Smith has only been in place literally next door to ‘The Bookstore’ since just before Christmas. Personally, I always prefer to shop in our local independents where possible.  However as charity shops go, I almost exclusively support, by buying from and donating to (gift aiding my donations), our local children’s hospice shop – Helen & Douglas House. I know families who have used it, and a nurse friend works there.  Although they now have over twenty shops in Oxfordshire, our local one has a large turnover of good quality books at fair prices, and I know where my money’s going; that reassures me more than anything else.  

Wherever else I go, I find it hard to walk past a bookshop – of whatever variety, but I have noticed less second-hand bookshops, (I’ve never been to Hay). But then I buy online too – and the second-hand market appears to be thriving there – is that where they’ve all gone then?


Now to the LOTR Readlong.  This month we embarked on the book proper with The Fellowship of the Ring.  Claire at The Literary Omnivore is hosting this month, if you want to check others’ progress.

It definitely feels like the real thing after the narration of the Hobbit, however we’re eased in gently with some Hobbit history, before we meet them.  Gandalf turns up and  Frodo finds out about his burden, then thinks about it until almost winter before setting off on the epic journey. 

Once they’re out of the sphere of their world though, they soon get lost and have to be rescued by Tom Bombadil (twice).  Bombadil, who represents nature is a kind of Green Man, and is only really interested in maintaining the land’s status quo, and is jolly boring, boringly jolly, so it’s a relief when they get to Bree and meet Strider … (aaah!  Aragorn – sigh …).  Then they’re dodging the black riders and having a long, hard journey until they reach Rivendell – which is like a five star hotel with all the facilities.

One thing the film did, was to enlarge the few women’s parts in the story – much was made of the romance between Aragorn and Arwen, Elrond’s daughter.  I probably never really noticed it on previous readings, and it doesn’t get many lines here, but I was sensitised to it by the film and was glad to spot them this time. 

So things are starting to hot up, and I was really beginning to enjoy it all once again and looking forward, (with some trepidation knowing what happens) to the second half and beyond. A wrap-up post on LOTR Book 1 will follow nearer the end of the month.


Finally, some recent additions to the TBR mountains…

    The Still Point by Amy Sackville. I fell in love with the cover instantly. It starts in the Arctic a hundred years ago when an explorer goes missing. Then a hundred years later his great-grand-niece is sorting out the family home and the inherited clutter from the fated expedition and a discovery gives her cause to review her knowledge of her ancestor’s relationships and her own. I can’t wait to read this one.
    Little Hands Clapping by Dan Rhodes. I’d have bought this book eventually anyway, but Simon’s championing of it led me to order the hardback and I’m looking forward to diving into it soon.
    Troubadour by Mary Hoffman. Another book with a lovely cover, this is a historical novel for YA/adults featuring a young noblewoman who runs away with a troubador to escape marriage. Set in the Cathar region of southern France during the Crusades, this was recommended to me my Mark at Mostly Books.

    The Illusionist by Jennifer Johnston. One of the Not The TV Book Group choices for March. I’m looking forward towards being able to join in the discussions – my copy of the first book for last week didn’t arrive in time. On Sunday 21st Feb the group will be discussing one of my top books from 2009 The Girl with Glass Feet by Ali Shaw, hosted over at Savidge Reads – see you there I hope.
Older posts
%d bloggers like this: