Penguin Postcards for ‘A Month of Letters’

Penguin Postcards Box

100 cards to choose from…

Longstanding readers of The Landing will know that February is the time for my contribution to the Month of Letters Challenge (#LetterMo). American writer Mary Robinette Kowal runs the letter writing challenge and you can check out the Month of Letters website for details if you want to jump on board. I have always loved both writing and receiving letters and I am also a great hoarder of letters. I have stopped throwing old letters out in a fit of spring-cleaning, as I have discovered that that way lies regret. I used to have a French pen friend when I was at school (though I don’t think the relationship lasted for long) and I wish I still had the letters. The Bookworm recently asked if she could read some of the letters between me and my school friends (just think, we actually used to write to each other in the summer holidays, how quaint was that!) The nice thing is that I have letters going back for many years, from people with whom I am still in contact. What will people do in the future when they want to have a burst of nostalgia? Comb through their email archive I suppose. Methinks it hardly sounds like an enticing prospect. It did occur to me that I should have my own mini challenge to re-read an old letter on every day of the month, but I think after all that I will just stick to writing to people in February. Maybe I will save re-reading letters for the dark, chilly November evenings by the fireside.

This year, by way of a change I have decided to write postcards for everyone, from my lovely box of Penguin book jacket postcards. My original aim was to try to match a person to a book postcard, but I’m not sure how realistic that will be to manage. So far, I think I have done reasonably well matching two friends who like gardening and cooking respectively, with an appropriate choice of book title. I also despatched an art-themed postcard to a creative artist friend, so far so good. Ideally, I would like to match each recipient with a favourite author, book, genre or topic as far as possible. However, I have been through the box a few times now and I have discovered that some book titles might be difficult to place with a home. I suggest Scootering: a Penguin Handbook or Common Sense about Smoking: a Penguin Special as uncommon choices for uncommon readers. On the fiction front while Orange PenguinsA Severed Head (Iris Murdoch) and Vile Bodies (Evelyn Waugh) are fine as books, would you choose to send them as a postcard design unless you were sure of a good reception?

Penguin Postcards Selection

I’ll never use all of them…

I will write an update on my progress with the book title/matching process in a few days. Meanwhile I might delve into depths of The Landing and see what I have unread in the way of collected letters. I think I may have mentioned before that I enjoy reading other people’s letters…all above board, of course…

A New Reading Challenge?

shelves of classics

Tantalising Glimpse

I have been thinking about ways of revitalising my Landing Book Shelves challenge for 2015 and beyond. Many books remain to be read, especially if I count in all of the books belonging to He Who Put The Shelves Up as well. This means that I have plenty to be going on with for the foreseeable future. The astute amongst you will no doubt point out that if I stopped going to the library then I could concentrate better on the Landing Backlog. Book club books and miscellaneous items of review copies that come my way have also regularly distracted me. Alas, ‘twas ever thus (and it will probably remain ever thus!).

I have set myself ‘mini challenges’, challenges within the main challenge as it were, over the last couple of years of this blog. You might cast your minds back (assuming that you have been with me that long) to the Christmas Advent Challenge/Calendar, Poetry in June and The Landing Eight Challenge. All of these literary challenges duly documented, have appeared within these virtual pages. The first two were time specific and featured poetry, rhymes and fiction extracts. I really enjoyed doing those as it was rewarding to rootle through the shelves and search out pieces to read/reread and talk about on the blog. The third challenge centred on my reading a random selection of books from the shelves. This actually drifted on for longer than I had planned and I was relieved to finish my self appointed task. What is next for the Landing TBR Pile Reading Challenge? Some literary planning is urgently required, to give the Landing Blog some fresh topics to feature.

I need to choose a challenge theme first; then to establish a period for the challenge. A month is quite a handy length, as it is long enough to look at extracts from a few volumes but not too long, that I will be in danger of going off the page (as I so frequently do). That would work for poetry or short stories, or for selecting extracts or essays to feature. Or I could aim for a longer (more in depth) challenge of a few months, reading one book per month (book club style).

Now, the task is to work out a few options and make a decision; easier said than done methinks. One choice would be to select a publisher or an imprint and read one title a month perhaps. I could tackle some unread Penguin Classics, Orange Penguins, Modern Classics or Twentieth Century Classics. Then there is a batch of Canongate Classics and several Pimlico non-fiction titles. Not to mention my green and gold ‘Book Club’ classics series (of which Diary of a Nobody was one). Several remain unread to this day, so perhaps that would be the way to go….

I’ll let you know when I have managed to come to a decision!

Catching up with Naipaul: In a Free State

In a Free State

Next choice…

In this country in Africa there was a president and there was also a king. They belonged to different tribes. The enmity of the tribes was old, and with independence their anxieties about one another became acute. The king and the president intrigued with the local representatives of white governments.

As I mentioned before, the Landing Book Shelves* edition of In a Free State contains alongside the title piece, four other short stories. Two are first person travel narratives, extracts from a journal which bookend the stories as a prologue and epilogue. Following the prologue are two short stories, ‘One out of many’ and ‘Tell me who to kill’. All of the pieces comprising In a Free State have themes of alienation, displacement and racial tensions. People such as Santosh in ‘One out of many’ have emigrated, and now find themselves struggling to make sense of a new environment where they cling to the periphery of an unfamiliar society. All of the pieces give you plenty of food for thought while not being particularly cheery reads. I  just want to focus here on the title piece (which has since been published separately) to give you an idea of the themes running through the  book as a whole. 

The lines I’ve quoted above are from the deceptively benign opening to the novella In a Free State, sounding somewhat like the start of a simple fable of two warring factions. You imagine that it will all probably come out alright in the end. But a few lines further in when the reader learns that despite the king being more popular with the white people, they are going to support the president because he is stronger, then you suspect that things are not going to be straightforward. By the time you finish the first paragraph you know that armed conflict between the president (who is in control of the army) and the king and his people is inevitable. The president having the support of the white people naturally tips the balance of power.  

The structure of the plot is based around a car  journey, which is a useful device to develop characters and introduce places and events. The road trip sees a couple of white travellers, Bobby and Linda making the 400 mile journey from the capital where they had been attending a seminar to what is still, despite independence,  known as the ‘Southern Collectorate’ . Bobby is a government official and we first encounter him in a hotel trying unsuccessfully to pick up a young Zulu man with whom he shares a drink.  Linda, a colleague’s wife and Bobby aren’t friends, despite or perhaps because of the claustrophobic nature of compound life. Their road relationship fluctuates between being companionable and prickly during the journey as events overtake them; and also as they discuss their feeling towards Africa, its people and its politics. Bobby, sporting a ‘native shirt’ seems anxious to fit in and show solidarity with the African population, having a  ‘brisk, friendly, simple voice he used with country Africans’. At one point Linda challenges his attitude over giving a couple of African hitchhiker a lift by saying, ‘I’m not going to get myself killed simply because I’m too nice to be rude to Africans’. 

Naipaul successfully builds up the tension during the drive as Bobby and Linda become aware that inter-tribal antagonism is building up to the extent that the President’s camp is hunting the King down. Part of the way into the trip Bobby and Linda discover from an American acquaintance that a 4 o’clock curfew is in place in the Southern Collectorate which will mean breaking the journey with an overnight stop. They stay in a run-down hotel where the owner, an elderly white colonel treats his black members of staff just as appallingly as he would have done in colonial days. A distinct atmosphere of menace hangs over the few hours they spend at the decaying hotel. The next day on the home stretch, Bobby and Linda are caught up in a tense, violent incident at a checkpoint, before they finally make it back to the apparent security of the government compound.

After reading Naipaul’s Booker Prize winning novel I was left feeling rather jaded and very disillusioned with human nature. Few of the characters in the story seem very appealing and many, such as the colonel are pretty unpleasant. Naipaul doesn’t seem to spare any of the races: he paints an unattractive picture of most of the white, black and Asian characters. It is hard to find any warmth in the novel, gripping as it is, and there seems to be little optimism for the future in this un-named African state. Greed, corruption, apathy and violence punctuate the action in the story. Naipaul provides no easy answers to questions on the nature of post-colonial society. 

My final Landing Eight book will feature in an up-coming blog post and then I will be trawling the shelves for more material. I do hope to introduce a couple more #LandingAuthor items in the near future too. I also hope to ensure that things aren’t so quiet on The Landing during the autumn months as they’ve been lately.

All for now, and in the meantime drop me a line if you have any thoughts on Naipaul’s work.


 * And thanks to He Who Put the Shelves Up since I’ve been using his copy!

More catching up: Landing Eight Challenge

Murderers and Other Friends

Legal Memoirs…

In case you were all thinking that I had allowed my Landing Eight Challenge to fade quietly away, I will just slip in this quick post to let you know the next book to be read from the pile. After much deliberation I decided on the one remaining re-read in the pile (the other one having been Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time).

I have opted to read John Mortimer’s Murderers and Other Friends (Orange Penguin edition) again. This title was grabbed for the Landing Eight pile because it has been several years since I originally read it. According to the note written in side the cover in my own fair hand, the book was a Christmas present in 1995. Try as I might though, I cannot recall from whom I received this volume of memoir (apologies to the unknown giver).

The trigger for picking up this book now and not saving the treat of a re-read for the end of my challenge, was that I happened to come accross a DVD of the first episode of Rumpole of the Bailey  while I was browsing in the library. Actually it would probably be incorect to call it a first episdoe since Rumpole first appeared  together with his wife Hilda (She Who Must Be Obeyed) in a BBC Play for Today in 1975. Rumpole became a series in 1978, produced by Thames Television. Mortimer’s memoirs of his work as a barrister were the inspiration behind Rumpole’s creation.

Now, I will re-aquaint myself with John Mortimer and report back in due course…

John Buchan on film: those elusive thirty-nine celluloid steps

Orange Penguin cover of The Thirty-Nine Steps

Our edition of The Thirty-Nine Steps

As I mentioned previously, I watched one of the film versions of John Buchan’s classic adventure The Thirty-Nine Steps after reading it recently. The Hitchcock re-telling was one of my favourite screen versions, made in 1935 and starring Robert Donat (as Richard Hannay) and Madeleine Carroll (as Pamela). It was not until I read The Thirty-Nine Steps that I realised just how far were the screen versions from Buchan’s original story. I thought I knew the plot (more or less, a variation here and there perhaps) but now I concede that I knew absolutely nothing. Except that, thirty-nine steps (albeit with variant meanings) were involved and so was a large segment of rugged, almost deserted (except for the baddies) Scottish landscape.

For those of you who have never read The Thirty-Nine Steps, I will give a brief outline of the plot before

Cover of The Thirty-Nine Steps

A first edition of the novel

confusing you with the plot of the film: Hannay is a Scot, recently returned to the Old Country from South Africa who is heartily bored after three months. After an evening at dinner and a music hall show, he has determined to leave for the Cape if nothing interesting turns up within another day. Something certainly does turn up and Hannay finds himself fleeing across Scotland in several different disguises while in possession of a secret that could mean the difference between war and peace. Figuring out what or where the thirty-nine steps might be is a vital part of his un-looked for mission. As Buchan wrote the book in 1915, the plot’s threat, which involved the assassination of a European leader, was rather apposite. The Thirty-Nine Steps was Richard Hannay’s first adventure and it involves him in some tight moments and plenty of narrow escapes.

Moving on to the film version: I found to my surprise that whereas in Buchan’s original novel I found a distinct lack of women characters, two feisty ones pop up in the screen action. In the book, an occasional anonymous female supplies much-needed sustenance (fleeing dastardly spies is hungry work), but where, oh where is the glamorous Mata Hari type figure (Annabella Smith, played by Lucie Mannheim) that I saw in the film? In Buchan’s spy yarn, a mysterious American called Franklin P Scudder gives the vital information to Hannay. He does eventually wind up dead, but not as soon and arguably not as splendidly dramatically as Smith does.  In Buchan’s world, spying is obviously strictly a man’s game.

Film poster of Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll

Film Poster

Hitchcock’s film further alters the female/male balance of the cast by adding the cool and elegant Pamela, to function as the ‘love interest’ part of the chase. I wonder what Buchan, who died in 1940 thought of the changes made to his story. He did not live to see the further screen adaptations, none of which was any more faithful than the 1935 film to the original tale. Carroll’s character is noticeably less exotic than the deceased Annabella Smith is but sparks soon fly between her and Hannay. Initially she disbelieves Hannay’s far fetched claims so betrays him to the police before finally realising that he was telling her the truth all along and so she helps him.

One side effect of playing with Google to research for blog pieces is that you find out other snippets of information. I found a site set up in tribute to Madeleine Carroll, who was apparently one of the few film actors to make a successful transition from silent movies to talkies. She was born in West Bromwich, England of an Irish father (Co Limerick) and a French mother and spent part of her early career with Barry Jackson’s Birmingham Repertory Theatre. A memorial was set up in her hometown in 2010 and an account of her life by Derek Chamberlain was published by Troubadour Publishing Ltd. If I manage to get a picture of her memorial next time I am in the area, I will post it up.

Follow the links given in the text for further information. Thanks to Wikipedia for the gorgeous The 39 Steps film poster and the shot of the first edition jacket.

If you are interested in further information about John Buchan’s life and work, I found a link to the John Buchan Society which has plenty of useful material.

Now, after John Buchan, which of the ‘Landing Eight’ shall I tackle next….Any thoughts?

A Glimpse of the TBR Pile: A Reading Challenge

shelves of classics

Tantalising Glimpse

A friend has given me a suggestion for a way of tackling my TBR Pile Reading Challenge, so I am basing this piece on that feedback (thanks Teri!). Never let it be said that I fail to listen to sensible advice (especially when I asked for it in the first place).

Various tantalising glimpses have been given of my Landing Bookshelves, but I have not actually written down any of the titles that I may tackle during my trek around the TBR Pile. This post is an attempt to remedy the lack thereof. It will probably be a random list as I am about to leave my computer and browse the shelves for ideas. The plan is to simply jot down any title from the TBR Pile that takes my fancy and present the list to you, dear reader, as an indication of my future (good) intentions.

Before I set off for uncharted (and possibly shockingly dusty) territories, I will just draw to your attention that I have set up a Bibliography page on the site, where I plan to list all of the books mentioned (however briefly) in the Reading Challenge blog posts. Some titles may be out of print, but I will try to remember to give details of dates, publishers etc in case anyone wants to follow up on anything. I hope to update the page regularly and even to maintain strict alphabetical order (that might be a challenge in itself).

(Noises off...)

Now, that was quick; I am back already from the cobwebby wastes of the upper storey with my list of books; in no particular order I hasten to add.

On the menu: The Landing Eight

A pile of classic novels



The Daughter of Time Josephine Tey (Orange Penguin)

The Frontenac Mystery François Mauriac  (Penguin Modern Classics)

The Go-Between L P Hartley (Penguin Classics)

In a Free State V S Naipaul (Orange Penguin)

The Periodic Table Primo Levi (Everyman)

The Diary of a Nobody George & Weedon Grossmith (Guild Publishing)

Murderers and Other Friends John Mortimer (Orange Penguin)

The Thirty-Nine Steps John Buchan (Orange Penguin)

Some of the above will be re-reads but most of them are genuinely from the TBR Pile that constitutes much of the Landing Bookshelves, but I will leave it until a future date to disclose which are which, thus creating a modicum of suspense. I will not promise to read them in any particular order, but rather as the fancy takes me. I have also spotted a more few books that I would like to write about, but I will tuck them in here and there as a surprise literary morsel in between courses.

Feel free to suggest any preferences as to reading order. In the meantime, I will be busy cleaning my bookshelves; I may be some time.

Until we meet again behind the TBR Pile…

Studying the Shelves: Books Galore on the TBR Pile

I have arrived at a point where I have become extremely sidetracked into reading books other than those on The Landing, so I thought I’d do a quick tour of the shelves to remind myself what I am supposed to be reading. Not that it will do much immediate good as I have just begun Jane Harris’s Gillespie and I and I am completely hooked. I have started, so I’ll finish…

book shelves

Where do I Start?

Taken at random, these are a couple of the shelves that this Reading Challenge is all about:

section of book shelves

A Few Orange Penguins

I have been going around snapping bits of the shelves in an effort to record the shelves for posterity (and inspiration). Let’s hope it works!

shelves of classics

Tantalising Glimpse