The New Year Resolution that wasn’t

The germ of this first blog post of 2022 is a resolution that I probably ought to make this year, should have made in previous years and in all likelihood will never in fact make. And if I was mad enough to make it, I would almost certainly have broken it before the end of the first week in January. So what is this dread resolution then?

It is: Not to start another book before finishing the one I’m reading and therefore not to end up with several books on the go most of the time. I would just read one book at a time, finishing it before starting the next one in the pile (or the next one that I came across). I could go as far as to say that I wouldn’t even borrow or buy another book until ready to read. (Of course, there are still many unread books here on The Landing, but that’s another resolution altogether, for another year entirely).

It does sound a very simple proposition, but I’m afraid one that would be doomed to failure were I to attempt it. Moreover, in all honesty, would I really want to make and stick to such a draconian resolution?  I do have moments of frustration when I feel that things are getting a bit silly and that I have too many books underway, but most of the time it works for me. I do generally enjoy reading in this way, moving between different genres. Though sometimes I get ‘stuck’ as it were with one book, so that it slips further and further down the reading pile as my attention moves elsewhere. It may then languish on the side-lines for a while as another book makes the running. Occaisonally I give up on a book, but mostly I come back with renewed interest.

Many of the books that leap ahead in my reading programme are library books, spotted while I shelve my section. I have recently begun to feel that I should cut down on library borrowing and return to the reading matter in hand. But feeling hasn’t yet been transformed into action. It is just so tempting to borrow yet another book, that I know that I will then start reading at lunchtime or tea break and thus add into the bookish merry-go-round.

The multiple reads situation has been compounded by my recent move into audio books. In particular, the mp3 Playaway versions that I have taken to listening to on the bus. I find that I cannot read on buses so audio books have proved very successful as an alternative. My commuting books tend to be mostly crime fiction as I find that this genre tends to liven up the tedium of travel. However, it can be irritating to have to try to zone out the travel announcements during the crucial plot points.

Here is a rough list of my current partly-read stash:

How to be a Victorian by Ruth Goodman. This is one that I’m reading in the evening, alternating with Smallbone Deceased by Michael Gilbert (1950) as a lunch and tea break read. The Victorian history is a fascinating trip through Victorian domestic life from a historian who has tried out many of the household chores herself, wearing an authentic corset to boot. The author has also tried making up some of the homemade toiletries and remedies, with some success apparently. I’d be a bit dubious about some of the medicinal preparations though!

Smallbone Deceased is a murder mystery set in Lincoln’s Inn Court, with a dead body discovered in a deed box. I have read quite a few novels from the British Library Crime Classics series, snapping them up whenever I spot one. I’m afraid that these crime novels are a big driver of my multi-read habit! Before I had finished Smallbone, I had requested (and begun reading) a copy of Seven Dead by J Jefferson Farjeon (1939). As the title suggests, this locked room mystery (always a favourite type) begins with the discovery of seven murder victims in a country house.

I have been listening to The Word is Murder by Anthony Horowitz on my morning and evening commute this week. It’s the first in the Hawthorne and Horowitz crime series and is also the first of any of Horowitz’s books in my reading history. This is very entertaining, so I think I will follow the series a little further. The next one is now on reserve, again in an audio version. Rory Kinnear is the series narrator, doing a fine job of bringing the characters to life.

The Morville Hours: The Story of a Garden by Katherine Swift. This has been on the part-read pile since before Christmas, a victim of a new glut of library books. The book tells of the development of Swift’s garden at the Dower House of Morville Hall (a National Trust property) in Shropshire, begun in 1988. I hadn’t read very far before I decided that I would like to visit it one day.

The Comforters by Muriel Spark (1957) was her first novel. This 2009 edition has an introduction by Ali Smith. Are you entitled to say that you’ve started a book if you’ve only read the introduction? Just asking.

I think that’s enough to be going on with for the time being. Of course, I haven’t mentioned the stack of library books yet to be begun, nor my Christmas gifts, nor yet, the books that I bought last autumn from The Last Bookshop in Camden Street, Dublin which still lie unread on my bedside table…

Does anyone else enjoy having several books on the go at once?

Pondering on those interminable book lists

Cover of my book of books
Book of Books

Yet again, I have to account for a long blogging gap on the Landing Book Shelves, as it has been a few months since my last optimistic post. Yet again, I am trying to get back into a reasonable writing routine. In fairness it’s not that I haven’t been writing (or reading for that matter) but that I have been writing letters and emails instead of blog posts. In addition to that are bits of writing for work so I have been attempting to keep my hand in. Sadly, it means that the Landing has been getting neglected and dusty once again. And of course, as I mentioned in my last post, technically the Landing Book Shelves doesn’t exist anymore, being now an imaginary landing. No stairs, no landing, but of course still book shelves, which is the main thing. As is inevitable in a move, much has been relocated and many books are still not really in their ideal place. 

As a form of book blogger procrastination, I have recently been downloading my library borrowing history for the last few years. It’s as good an occupation as any for an autumn evening and my rationale (excuse?) for doing this is that I am going through a phase of puzzling flashes of déjà vu about odd bits of plot and conversation. Had I read this particular book before and forgotten most of it? It is unnerving to think that I may have completely forgotten having read a particular book, so I thought that I would remind myself of what I have read (or at least what library books I have read) in recent years. It’s taken me a while as I have been combing through the list taking out DVDs and books for my fellow readers in the house (they know who they are!)

In addition to this list, I used to jot titles in a couple of old notebooks, of my reads each year but that lapsed as a regular habit a few years ago. Hence my interest in my library account history. Having downloaded the library list, I am now not quite sure what to do with it. Somehow, retaining a digital list doesn’t seem to be in keeping with the original notebook list going back into the early 1990s. It lacks a certain bookish charm shall we say. But, the thought of transcribing a couple of hundred or so titles into a notebook is daunting. To add to this digital list, I am accumulating yet another digital list (footprint?) of the audio books that I have downloaded from the library website. Now this list only dates back to earlier in the year so it is much shorter (at least at the moment!).

And finally, let me not forget to mention the list of books that I have yet to read. This is worse than the TBR pile, but it has at least the advantage of taking up less room in the house than a physical stack of books. It does however exist in a variety of places, which makes it a rather slippery thing to audit. I have an official notebook for titles that I come across, but in reality, I tend to jot them down in any notebook that comes to hand. This means that I come across random jottings, months or even years after the fact. Occasionally these notes can be very cryptic, if I only had a bit of information to hand and not complete title, author, publisher etc. Even more cryptic are the dread scraps of paper and Post It notes tucked away for safe keeping!

So, what purpose these lists? And should I just stop keeping them up?  Who is going to be interested in my reading archive? The problem is that I think I would miss compiling my reading lists, even if keeping them up has become patchy in recent years. The lists provide a literary trip down memory lane now and again. It amuses me to remind myself of what I was reading for instance, in 1993, which is the year of my earliest entries. Off the top of my head, I wouldn’t have been able to tell you what I read in any given year, but once I look at the list, it all comes flooding back to me. Well mostly. Sometimes I simply have no recall of a particular book. I was also relieved to pin down one suspected case of déjà vu: I had previously caught snatches of the audio version at my mum’s house.  Phew!

To sum up the situation, I have lots of lists about books (both actual, virtual, read and unread) and I have no idea whether this is a good, necessary or sensible thing or not. Any thoughts?

A Brief Notice: The Landing Book Shelves is on the move!

You may think that things are never-changing here on The Landing, but that is not in fact the case. There is always a certain degree of book shuffling going on in addition to new arrivals taking up their rightful place. Rarely of course, is there a literary departure! Now however, we have to contend with a much bigger upheaval; a major event in the Landing’s ten year plus history. The entire landing book realm has been relocated, not merely away from its location on the turn of the stairs, but to a new abode altogether. At the moment the un-boxing stage is yet to be completed but the core of the blog’s material will not be on a landing, for the simple reason that there is no landing here.

Yes, the crucial fact of the matter is that in a bungalow, there can be no landing and therefore no Landing Book Shelves. I have contemplated changing the name of the blog to reflect the new surroundings. So far, I have only come up with ‘Front Room Book Shelves’ or perhaps ‘The Study Book Shelves’, neither of which really work for me. If you recall, the blog gained its title partly from the fact of there being books on the landing, but it was also inspired by the title of Susan Hill’s literary memoir Howard’s End is on the Landing. That makes it as much a metaphorical book shelf as a real one (I think).

I am therefore working my way round to deciding not to change the title of the blog at all (of course changing that, would also mean changing the blog’s Twitter handle) and simply going along in the same old way. My only worry is that this action will make me guilty of misinformation of which apparently, there is a lot about these days. Do I wish to add to it? On balance, considering that the blog location has always been as much an imaginary book haven as a real set of shelves, I think I will leave The Landing Book Shelves name well alone…   

Recipes: from an Old Farmhouse by Alison Uttley

Cover of Recipes from an Old Farmhouse

An evocative image

I wanted to follow up on the last Landing post on foraging-related books with another foody feature. This book is part memoir of a Derbyshire country childhood and part recipe book by children’s writer Alison Uttley (1884-1976), who was best known for her Little Grey Rabbit series and also the Sam Pig books. The recipe book was first published by Faber and Faber in 1966 and I recently treated myself to the copy shown here, which is in very nice condition. Something to cheer me up during the spring Lockdown! It is a beautiful little hard back book decorated with black and white sketches by Pauline Baynes. The drawings complement the text beautifully. Recipes has been reprinted more recently, but I opted for a copy of the original edition and wasn’t disappointed.

Alison Uttley gives us recipes that her mother used in the farmhouse kitchen, including recipes given by friends and neighbours. These were named for the donor, for example ‘Mrs Lowe’s Parkin’. The book is divided into sections with anecdotes, reminiscences and recipes. If you wanted to try out any of the items, you would need to scale down and adapt the recipes as Uttley gives the quantities and methods as they would have been used by her mother at the end of the nineteenth century in the farmhouse oven. So, you would need to figure out the oven settings and alter the timings accordingly. The recipes aren’t laid out as recipes as we would find them in a cookery book nowadays, but they are easy enough to follow. I’m planning to try one or two of the cakes or puddings in smaller quantities.

I have found overlaps with my foraging post as in a few of the recipes given, Alison Uttley talks about foraged ingredients gathered by the family. I was particularly taken with her account of the annual cowslip gathering expedition with her mother. They took a clothes basket out with them to fill with blossoms. She describes it beautifully here,

Black and white illustration of the author's mother and the maid picking cowslips, with the children in the background

Picking cowslips

One morning in April my mother would announce that we would pick cowslips for cowslip wine. We would set off after breakfast, the servant girl, my brother, my mother and I, with a clothes-basket, and several smaller baskets. It was exciting to run down the first big field, deep down to the gate that led to the cowslip field. By the gate we left the clothes-basket, and we each took another basket and began to gather the flowers.

It sounds idyllic but it was also hard work for all of them, Uttley describing herself as ‘dazed with stooping to the ground’ after a few hours of picking. It sounds as though the children were allowed to go off and play though, while her mother and the maid carried on for the whole day. But of course, the work didn’t stop there. What Uttley refers to as ‘peeping’ was the next task: removing the flowers from the stalks and calyces. That task must have been mind-numbingly tedious as well as an instigator of repetitive strain syndrome. I find it bad enough picking stalks off fruit for a modest sized batch of jam, so I’m not sure how I would have coped with that mammoth preparation session.

Black and white title page illustration for the chapter on beverages, showing entwined branches with culinary equipment hanging off them.

Chapter title page

I’d actually love to be able to try making a small batch of cowslip wine, but cowslips are quite rare now in Britain and also in Ireland according to Zoe Devlin’s website, wildflowersofireland.net. However, she does go on to point out that the plant has made a comeback in Ireland in recent years, so perhaps it will continue to spread.  In his foraging guide Food for Free, Richard Mabey suggests that the huge quantities of petals used in making ‘one of the very best country wines’ has probably contributed to the flower’s scarcity in Britain. He comments on the ‘devastation that some of these recipes must have wreaked on flower populations’. Thankfully now, you can buy cowslip seeds as well as other wildflower seeds to grow in your own garden and even up the balance a little. I somehow doubt that I will be able to grow enough flowers to make wine, though cowslip growing is to be one of my projects for next year (I have the seeds ready!) As far as beverages are concerned, I think I will have to stick to making elderflower cordial, the only problem there being that the best blooms always grow too high to reach!

I hope to return to the book for another Landing post, when I have had a go at some of the recipes. Meanwhile, I will decide where to go for August’s Landing Tales post when I have scoured the book shelves again!

Are there any Alison Uttley fans out there? Does anyone remember her Traveller in Time, televised by the BBC in 1978? I loved the series then, but wonder how it would stand up now.

(Pauline Baynes illustrations scanned from my copy of Recipes) 

 

Two ‘Wild Food’ books: Food for Free and Wild and Free

Before we go any further I would just like to say that it’s a moot point whether these books a) really count as Landing Tales reads as they don’t live in that shelf region and b) would really be a better fit into our retired craft and garden blog Curiously Creatively. I say moot point, because whatever the arguments either way, these foraging books are what I have decided to feature in today’s blog post. And anyway, as you all already know, I can be somewhat flexible as to what constitutes a bona fide Landing Book Shelves title. As to the subject matter, I refer you to the Landing Excursions category and to the occasional garden or cookery feature that creeps in here. So that’s that out of the way then…

Front over of the 1992 edition of Food for Free showing a variety of plants.

Food for Free, 1992

Food for Free by Richard Mabey (Harper Collins 1972, 1992) was given to me about a year ago and is a former library book, so it had already performed much service by the time it passed into my hands. I think there has been a more recent reprint, which I may try to buy. Wild and Free by Cyril and Kit Ó Céirín, (O’Brien Press 1978; Wolf Hill Publishing 2013) actually belongs to The Bookworm, though I confess that I have rather commandeered it lately. This is what happens when you buy people books that you really want for yourself! Both books were originally published around the same period, looking at British and Irish wild food respectively. There is of course much overlap between the two books as far as flora and the uses to which they were/are put. Each book has its own approach, Food for Free being more of a field or gatherers guide to edible plants. It gives notes on habitat, season and details on how many of the plants have been used in the past, sometimes with basic cooking instructions. For some plants, the text merely notes that the plant is edible (eg the White and Red varieties of Dead-Nettle) without any further detail. In contrast, Wild and Free presents a collection of methods for a range of dishes, cordials, wines, jellies etc based on a seasonal foraging calendar and tried and tested family recipes. The Ó Céiríns write in detail of about twenty-four sources of food, giving plenty of instructions for making such tasty items as elderberry syrup, nettle soup, crab apple wine and a whole host of blackberry treats. There also seems to be a lot of beer and wine recipes!

As the Bookworm and I have a penchant for foraging, they are both handy books to dip into now and again as we like to extend our foraged food range now and again. Up until this year, I’d say that we have arrived at a fairly regular pattern of free range goods, focussing mainly on berries. Usually we end up with a good supply of blackberries, haws, rosehips, rowan berries and elderberries in the freezer for jelly making. We have used various recipes for preserves, but most frequently the Thane Prince book mentioned over on Curiously Creatively. The exception to all of the berry harvest is elderflowers, which we have picked for a lovely refreshing cordial in the last few summers (one batch already made so far this year, we hope to do another). Wild and Free gives a recipe for Elderflower pancakes that I would like to try for a change – I imagine they’d be great for a weekend breakfast.

Cover of Wild and Free showing blackberry jam & fresh berries.

Wild and Free, 2013

But in this particularly strange spring and summer, with the help of our two foraging guides, we have branched out slightly and explored some new foraged food. For quite a while we have been thinking of turning towards having a go at collecting some young ‘greens’ from the wild plants on offer to see if we could make a meal out of wild vegetables. As Richard Mabey points out, ‘It is easy to forget, as one stands before the modern supermarket shelf, that every single one of the world’s vegetable foods was once a wild plant’. This is obvious if you think about it, though as The Bookworm pointed out, you can quite see why nobody ever thought that cultivating and selling nettles was a great idea. Though maybe, a cultivated nettle would have no sting?

As you might have guessed, nettles were one of our target greens, having been meaning to make nettle soup for years. Funnily enough, we were rather wary about the idea of picking something so stingy to eat! Tip: stout gloves are required. It is also worth poiting out that venturing near a nettle patch with ripped jeans means that you get your knees stung at the very least. In the end, our foraging and cooking went very well thanks to the handy recipe in the Ó Céirín book. In the chapter on nettles, the authors retell a story about St Columcille and his Lenten instructions that his soup of nettles, water and salt should have nothing else ‘except what comes out of the pot stick’. The enterprising cook apparently hollowed out the pot stick and poured milk and oats into the broth. A much more substantial meal. Inspired by a note in Mabey’s book, we have also tried Goosegrass or Sticky Weed, which he tells us was recommended in spring soups and puddings by the diarist John Evelyn (1620-1706). We did ours in a pasta dish, which seems to be a much more twenty-first century twist on things.

Moving on to something that we still haven’t tried yet, I was tentatively considering looking for mushrooms and fungus. Mabey’s book has a section on fungus, which I found fascinating reading. I would love to try foraging for edible fungus, but I am aware that I need to do much more research first. At some point I hope to attend a workshop as a starting point, though I’m not sure if I will ever feel confident enough to try it for myself. In the meantime, I am happy to try to merely spot a few examples. The authors of Wild and Free describe a lovely foraging session, when they once gathered bags full of field mushrooms on a walk, which sounded fantastic. Sadly, we don’t live within easy reach of green fields, despite our lifting of distance restrictions now. That’s one for the future. Meanwhile, I will settle for our usual delicious berry harvesting.

I would love to hear from anyone who forages or who has any good book recommendations to pass on to us.

Frankly Feminine: A Little Worldly Advice from the 60s

Cover of Frankly Feminine, spine facing

Frankly Feminine, 1965

Frankly Feminine: A book of comprehensive information and advice for the woman of today was edited by Eileen McCarthy, published by The Grolier Society Limited, London, 1965. However, despite the publishing date, much of its content seems to me to hark back to the 1950s rather than the Swinging Sixties, with its emphasis on the hearth and home.

I have had this hefty lifestyle tome for several years, a birthday gift from He Who Put The Shelves Up. True to my usual form, I haven’t ever sat down and read it from cover to cover, though the Bookworm has virtually done so in my stead. She can quote bits of advice on various bits of social etiquette with complete confidence (which can be rather disconcerting at times!)

The Editor’s begins, ‘For today’s woman the world is limitless. She can come and go about the continents and the oceans; soon, if the fancy takes her, she may be exploring space, and setting up home on a satellite.’ However, McCarthy goes on to write, ‘but we shall always have the trick of finding our greatest contentment within a small and homely circle.’ Apparently ‘today’s complete woman – who sees the stars around her and finds her happiness still in her home, with her family, and friends’ is for whom this book is written.

So, all of that sets up a contradiction straight away; modern woman can do all sorts of things, but her place is still really in the home, especially if she wants to be ‘complete’. Even if she does make it into space, she will still want to be a homemaker on Mars. Oh, not forgetting that she will still have to maintain her figure to get the husband to put into said home in the first place.

A glance at the book’s contents reveals that Frankly Feminine tackles everything from beauty to gardening and room design to house insurance, as well as wedding, maternity, childcare and family life. The book also offers a crash course in cookery, covering baking, cuts of meat, types of fish and cooking for Christmas and other events. You could even learn basic plumbing and carpentry techniques from this handy volume. As the book chidingly points out, ‘Handywomen sometimes fall down on jobs because their toolbox is poorly stocked.’ The book is full of useful household management-type practical tips (handy in a pre-internet era). How about the removal of stains for instance? Frankly Feminine gives a comprehensive list of likely fabric stains and their removal. You could probably find an answer to almost any household problem. And, in these days of soul-searching about how much impact we have on the environment, perhaps some of the domestic advice could come in useful again. Anyone up for making some homemade cleaning products?

Frankly Feminine seemed to have its eye firmly on the better class of woman (complete or otherwise), giving advice on what household linen to buy and what cutlery will be required when setting up home for the first time (fish knives and soup spoons definitely, though you could apparently buy mustard and salt spoons later). And there are hints about keeping your silver cutlery in good condition. There was plenty of detail about dinner service buying and discussion about different sorts of glassware (Scandinavian, Venetian, French etc) including what sorts of glasses are for serving which wine. There was a clear expectation that the readers of this volume would be hosting dinner parties.

The fashion and beauty advice do take priority though, with careers, interview advice and driving tips trailing behind in the pecking order. There is much emphasis on having and keeping a good figure to the extent of having a ‘Plump-up routine’ for women who would like to gain or re-gain curves. Plenty of advice here for looking after face, hair, hands and neck too, though there is not a single non-white woman to be seen in the book and a definite fondness for featuring pretty, slim blondes in the Grace Kelly line. I was fascinated to read the section about foundation garments. I have somehow never associated girdles with this era. But here you can find instruction on the buying and wearing of appropriate underwear. Apparently, it was most important to get, ‘exactly the right garments that are going to pull you in, smooth you out, or prop you up in the right places.’ Sounds like a major task indeed. But never fear, it was a ‘matter of joint operations’ between a woman and her trusty fitter to ensure that the girdle producing the ‘slickest job’ for her ‘particular anatomy’ would be purchased. Phew, that’s alright then.

Much of the personal relationship advice (with men, family, friends) given in the book sounds so jarring to a 21st century ear, as Irish Times journalist Rosita Boland discovered in 2014 when she and some friends reviewed that section. Frankly Feminine encouraged women to see men not as friends but as potential husband material. The opinion of Boland’s readers was not generally favourable to the tenor of much of the advice given. That’s not surprising when you read, under the sub-heading ‘Giving in’:

There is no real equality between the sexes, and those who think otherwise are merely deluding themselves. Women have freedom, opportunity – but this doesn’t put us on the same footing as men. Fortunately, we aren’t natural world-shakers. We know that success doesn’t put its arms round us when we’re tired and can’t sleep at night. So, if we’re wise, we know when and how to give in gracefully. The benefits it brings are well worth while.

The book has a depressing attitude to what a woman might expect from a relationship with a man. Frankly Feminine encourages women to think of men as large overgrown children who can’t really be expected to be relied upon. It says that women should allow for men’s ‘superiority complex’ and that fact that ‘Most men have very little sense of humour about themselves’. Hmm, not very promising. However, some of FF’s advice can be sensible such as pointing out that we can’t expect happiness to come from without (‘like manna from heaven’), it has to come from within ourselves. Also, ‘Never make the mistake of thinking that life would be marvellous if you were doing something different’. Or, as I remember from my childhood, the grass is always greener attitude. Quite a wise observation. As Veronica, one of the readers in Boland’s article pointed out, some of the relationship advice is, ‘like modern positive psychology. All that is beautiful: how to be happy with life’. There are useful and sensible pieces of life advice here, about being confident and independent, but the man/woman advice in particular seems very dated.

As a piece of social and cultural history, Frankly Feminine is very instructive. This is a fascinating book for dipping into, but probably of more use now for the practical angle than the relationship advice. Having said that, some advice would now be out of date, such as the advice that sun-tanned skin was a good thing to have. Of course, much of the social etiquette would now be behind the times, but perhaps the advice on being a good guest still holds true! And the correct way to eat artichokes might come in useful (but not on a first date perhaps) as well as how to mix cocktails.

Maybe FF could form the basis of a reality television show, where women get to try out life as it was once lived? Just a thought…

A Landing New Beginning…

Section of non-fiction bookshelf

A few more to read…

As I am sure I don’t need to point out, it’s been a while since I visited the Landing Bookshelves, so things are a little dusty around here at the moment. The spiders and their cobwebs have certainly taken over here. I have recently found myself at home with time on my hands during the last couple of months so it seemed a good idea to spend some of this time rummaging around in the Landing domain. However I am forced to admit that I have so far avoided doing any cleaning while I browsed. In so doing, I have re-discovered a few treasures tucked away (needless to say, rather dusty ones) and a many still un-read tomes. Plenty of food for thought.

During my enforced stay within the confines of the Landing, I have become convinced that if somebody confiscated my library card (OK, both of them) and my debit card then I would still have plenty to read for a very long time to come. Now, this profound realisation takes me back several years and to the very raison d’être of the Landing blog in the first place. I set myself the task of reading around the bookshelves situated on our landing in 2012 and clearly I haven’t finished yet. Hmm, I wonder why that could be. I must stop buying and borrowing books if I’m EVER to finish this project… Part of the fiction bookshelf

You’ve probably guessed by now however, that although there are indeed (three) bookshelves on the landing itself, the strict definition of the ‘Landing Bookshelves’ has become somewhat of an elastic concept. I have dipped into bookshelves all over the house and most recently have been ferreting in the Bookworm’s shelves while she is away. I also occasionally trawl through books belonging to He Who Put The Shelves Up (Am I the only person who buys gifts of books that I would like to read myself? Surely not).

As I have mentioned above, I have strayed somewhat from my original reading plan and I have incorporated library finds, purchases, review copies etc into my Landing blog, which while it dilutes the TBR content, doesn’t (I hope) detract from the range of literary topics covered. I have also really enjoyed having a few writers along to the blog to give a guest post or to answer a few questions on their latest book. The first of these was Andres Neuman, all the way back in 2012. Perhaps an author post is an idea to revisit in the future.

What I am trying to get around to saying here, is that I have really enjoyed writing this blog, despite the fact that my original bookish intentions have gone off the rails at times. Now, after a gap of a year I would like to get this blog back on the road. I hope to get back into a reasonably regular pattern of blogging before the year is too much older. I’m not promising to avoid library reads but I will delve a little more deeply into the extended Landing Bookshelves. I plan to work out a theme for a mini-series of monthly posts and get the old fingers tripping over the keyboard more regularly this year. I have decided that having kept the Landing Bookshelves going since 2012, it was a shame to give up on it without giving it another go.

More soon, but meanwhile if anyone would like to drop me a line to let me know if you have a favourite blog item, please feel free to do so!

 

 

Month of Letters Round-Up: Final Stages

Month of Letters yellow logoI did say on an earlier post that I would give you an update on my Month of Letters progress and so here it is. The short version is that I am still keeping going and I think I can safely say I am on track to complete the month. If you want a bit more detail than that, do read on And if you want to look at one of my previous Month of Letters post try here or here. You might want to give it a try yourself next year!

As I have done before I jotted down a list of possible recipients before starting, beginning with family and friends back in the UK. I have begun to see Month of Letters as a wakeup call where I have become slack in keeping in touch with old friends. I then add all of my Ireland based friends, most of whom are in Dublin. I suppose really I end up re-writing my Christmas card list in February (maybe next Christmas I should simply file it away for February instead of putting it in the recycling bin).

Birth of Venus

From Teri

My intention to do something really imaginative in the mail line this year has not actually transpired. In fact, I am being a very thrifty correspondent and operating a ‘using up’ system, which I am aware may sound rather heartless. However, it is all in an environmentally aware kind of a way really. I have collected up so many postcards over the years that to either dump them or buy yet more would be foolish. And anyway, I do have some nice cards to bestow. This year I have been using up my Penguin book jackets, Spike Milligan cartoons and some Chagall cards from The Tate Gallery. I have also indulged my passion for free stuff, acquiring book marks, postcards and tourist information cards to enclose with a note for my international recipients.

Excavation: Iraq 1933-34

From Barbara

The one big difference for me in doing Month of Letters this year is that I no longer have my dad’s birthday to mark, as he died in June 2016. I also used to squeeze in my parent’s anniversary card at the end of the month since it fell at the beginning of March, so that has now gone. I gave the challenge a break last year for these reasons, but decided to return afresh this year and try to include as many people as possible who mattered to me. It’s never too late to make an effort somewhat greater than clicking on a Facebook ‘like’ button for a change. I will say no more for fear of sounding mawkish but you see what I mean.

So now I am on the home straight with only a few more posting

Winnie the Pooh, Piglet & Heffalumps

From Karina

days to go so I might have to double up a bit more to fit in the waifs and strays. I have been writing to my mum more often these days and also sending mail to our daughter who is studying away so I already have been doubling most days. This year I have included some new faces, as I have despatched postcards to new correspondents gained from the Month of Letters membership. This has broadened my range to Canada, Scotland and Northumberland (and I haven’t quite finished). I have added in here pictures of some cards that I have received in return, but the nice thing is that I usually find that replies trickle through into March, which makes February into a nice long month really.

And now I am off to pen my last few postcards of the month!

 

TBR Pile Update: It’s growing larger, not smaller

TBR Pile Bedside Table

Not getting any smaller…

I am yet again becoming worried about the size of my TBR Pile, as I seem to be adding to it faster than I am reading it. The interesting aspect of this TBR growth is that new piles have begun to accrete in different places. To be strictly accurate, the growth in the bedside table pile is not a new phenomenon, but the strangely solid, immovable quality is a new feature. In the past, bedside table books tended to come and go, so the whole pile had a fluid feel to it. However, for the best part of this year, the books on the pile have been behaving like a sticky post or a pined tweet, and staying firmly put. That is not a good sign. Now, I will admit that books have remained on my bookshelves unread for about twenty years, but a bedside reading table isn’t supposed to work like that. I am not sure why, but it just isn’t. This is not a restful state of affairs I can assure you.

Strangely enough, a couple of books on the Bedside TBR pile have no right to be where they are, as I have actually read them. Why I have not re-homed them by now, I have absolutely no idea. Well, except for the small matter of running short of shelf space in the fiction section (AKA the bedroom bookshelves). An Instance of the Fingerpost (Iain Pears) and a Presumption of Death (Dorothy Sayers and Jill Paton Walsh) will definitely be heading for a charity shop soon. I brought them back this summer from another TBR Pile at my mum’s house. The Iain Pears novel had languished unread for years and I am glad that finally I managed to read it, as it was both gripping and atmospheric. As you might recall, I am fond of historical skulduggery and this was an excellent example of 17th century political and religious machinations.

My guiltiest TBR confession is that Kevin Barry’s Beatlebone has been awaiting reading since I received it as a ‘Secret Santa’ gift last year. I did begin to read it a few months ago but I put it aside after becoming distracted by something else. I think I made it to page twenty-two before Mary Queen of Scots came between us. My only excuse is that I must have still been in a historical frame of mind at the time. I think this was after Arbella Stuart and Elizabeth I, but before An Instance of the Fingerpost. As it happens, I still haven’t finished My Heart is My Own (John Guy), having paused for breath round about the time of the Earl of Bothwell’s marriage to the queen. If anyone had poor judgment in husbands, it was Mary Stuart, though to be fair the first one (the French Dauphin) was not her decision.

The Other TBR Pile…

TBR Pile Desk

Even more reading here!

The recently instituted Desk TBR Pile is largely composed of library books and new additions (OK, I know there aren’t supposed to be any new additions, but it just sort of happens to me). I am looking forward to reading Chris Cleave’s Everyone Brave is Forgiven, passed on to me by a friend. I started reading it on the Luas on the way home and was immediately taken with the story, though I decided it could wait its turn while I finished something else. The library book of the moment is a collection of pieces, Mrs Griffin Sends her Love by Miss Read (Dora Saint) that I spotted recently and picked up in a fit of nostalgia. My mum first introduced me to Miss Read’s chronicles of the fictional English villages of Fairacre and Thrush Green, when I was a teenager, so I was pleased to discover this collection. Dora Saint’s daughter Jill has written the foreword to the book, published in 2013 to mark her mother’s centenary year. The onset of winter is an apt time to be reading these short pieces, as it reminds me how hard life would have been in rural England (and Ireland) a comparatively few years ago. Thank heavens for indoor plumbing!

I probably should return to one of my TBR Piles now… How is yours getting on these days?  

Culture Night: Owt for Nowt?

Brocure Cover

Our passport to culture!

Last Friday evening saw yours truly, accompanied by The Bookworm heading into Dublin’s city centre for some more Culture Night activity. As usual, we had been studying the brochure and marking possible activities. We had decided to more or less stick to the ‘Trinity and South Georgian Quarter’ to be handy for the Luas. In no particular order (as if memory serves me), here is our final tally of venues visited: The Arts Council, Merrion Square; the Pepper Canister Church; the National Gallery of Ireland; and the Science Gallery. We listened to musical offerings at the NGI and Pepper Canister and then explored differing ways of seeing at the Science Gallery. I am not sure whether tea and cake at the NGI counts as a cultural activity, but it was very tasty all the same. We were disappointed that three of our book marked events were cancelled, but it was not clear whether this had any connection to the bus strike or not. Particularly, we felt the loss of the light show at the Royal College of Surgeons as we had planned to round off our night seeing the 3D display before jumping on the Luas to head home.

On the morning after the night before, I scrolled though plenty of tweets from happy, satisfied Culture Night goers and event organisers. However, poet Colin Dardis made the reasonable point that ‘If you loved the free events at #CutlureNight remember to support your local artist and pay for their work during the rest of the year!’ Art practitioners and writers clearly all need to eat and welcome paying punters. One commenter, The Fingal Pimpernel went a stage further and declared ‘Great as I think #CultureNight is it shows up how stingy fuckers will turn up in huge crowds for free but won’t pay their way other 364 days’. I’m not sure whether the latter comment was intended to be genuine or tongue in cheek (such is the peril of Twitter) but as a dedicated Culture Night-er, I felt vaguely miffed at being apparently included under this tag. Confession: I admit to a liking for free stuff to do; after all, what parent doesn’t welcome the opportunity to do interesting (even educational) activities with kids that doesn’t break the bank. Having said that, I am not averse to paying for events etc and I frequently do so during the rest of the year. As a member of the book trade, I try to do my bit by attending (paid) events to hear my favourite writers. Now, I can’t be sure how many other Culture Night visitors fall into that category, but inevitably you are going to get folks who always want something for nowt and will never pay for anything. To some extent, I suppose such people fulfill a function on occasions such as Culture Night, by performing the role of ‘warm bodies’ to help to give the event its air of success.

Nevertheless, I  feel that complaining about ‘stingy f****s’ misses a couple of the great aspects of Culture Night. One of the big attractions for me, (and judging by the queues, I am not alone in this) is the opportunity to view places usually closed to the public. It’s a chance to see behind the scenes, in a way that another great festival, Open House, also offers. In other words, many people are just plain nosy, rather than miserly in their Culture Night activities. For example, one of the biggest queues I saw on the night was to tour Iveagh House, home of the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. There is usually a queue of similar length to have a tour of Freemasons’ Hall; to the extent that it took us about four years of dedicated event queue monitoring to nab an Open House tour in a quiet-ish moment last year. One of my regular Culture Night/Open House goals is to add another previously unexplored building to my repertoire.

Culture Brochure

Deciding on our culture route!

Another great aspect of Culture Night is that institutions and charities not directly involved in the business of culture open up and invite visitors to learn something new. For example, Concern Worldwide, The Mendicity Institution, Amnesty International and Focus Ireland were all giving talks and raising awareness of their work. Add to that various community groups such as the Irish Polish Society and the Afghan Community of Ireland and you can see that there is much more to Culture Night than an open invitation to free loaders. It is also worth pointing out that many of the places open, such as the national cultural institutions would be free to visit anyway (though donations are requested). There is the additional pleasure of visiting cultural venues after hours, which can only be good for encouraging people to take the time to browse the exhibits. Visiting places out of hours feels like a delicious treat to be savoured.

I think it is reasonable to suggest that many people who visit places during this events will follow up new discoveries and pay for events or buy a piece of art in the future. All in all, I think that the Culture Night is a positive initiative one which should have a productive knock-on effect over the years. Or maybe that is just my wishful thinking. I admit though, that it is going to be hard to calculate the benefits in terms of hard cash to various arts organisations, practitioners and writers.

I would be interested to know your thoughts on this question…