Book Shelves on the Move: A Reading Renaissance?

Book Shelves

A Fresh Reading Start?

The Landing Book Shelves (the actual shelves that is, as opposed to the blog) have had a bit of a shake-up in recent weeks, because of some building work involving window replacement. The upshot is that one set of shelves is no longer on the landing, but in the hall. As other shelves have similarly moved around somewhat, many books are now in different locations and a certain amount of confusion and mixing of genres has arisen. On the other hand, this has been a great opportunity to re-discover overlooked titles and authors. It has also had the slightly depressing result of making me realise just how many books in the house (let alone on The Landing Book Shelves) remain un-read. I shy away from doing a serious count (as Cathy at 747 Books has bravely done) because I don’t want to lower my literary morale any further. Although I am now beginning to consider re-naming the blog ‘The Household Book Shelves’ since that is a more realistic picture of the challenge ahead. At this rate I may have to ban myself from going to the library.

More Book Shelves

Plenty of Penguins

In the spirit of a spring renaissance I have therefore decided to take a positive view of the un-read books and to try see them all as so much bookish potential, rather than as a task to be completed. I think that if I persist in treating them as items to be ticked off a list, then I might as well give up the whole enterprise, since it will no longer be any pleasure. With that in mind, I have been enjoying myself by making mental note of a few random titles that had previously slipped off my radar. So far, I have accumulated about half a dozen novels, belonging to either me or He Who Put The Shelves Up, that have been floating around for a while. Some of them, such as The Llangollen Ladies (Mary Gordon) and The Children of the Archbishop (Norman Collins) are Trinity Book Sale purchases from a couple of years ago. Perhaps it is no bad thing that we missed this year’s event due to a change in dates. The half-price Saturday could be a very tempting affair indeed and consequently, inestimably dangerous to the state of the TBR Pile.

A Small Book Shelf

Mainly Children’s Books

Therefore, the next few posts will I hope, feature some true examples unearthed from the TBR Pile because of the new shelf arrangements. It has been quite nice to discover books that have languished un-noticed for months (or even years). It has even been nice to do some very necessary dusting of books and shelves as everything was put back in place. Now, at least I have clean books to read! I have even been toying with the idea of creating a proper catalogue as an excuse to practice my very rusty data base skills. I have come as far as naming a file in this worthy enterprise and that’s about all.

I am not sure yet which title will feature in the next post, but I am leaning towards political skulduggery in the sixteenth century so I have a couple of options to consider. Drop by again soon if you want to see what pops up on The Landing Book Shelves.


Romans on The Landing: Ecce Romani

Today’s post is about a studious little side-project to my TBR Pile endeavours, though I am not sure whether it will be a long-lasting one or not. I have begun to tackle a cherished ambition to have a go at learning Latin, a language that I never studied at school. My impetus for this ambition fulfilment is that The Bookworm is taking Latin classes so I thought that I would keep her company. Now, to be absolutely clear about this, she is in her second year of Latin study, so it has taken me long enough to screw my courage to the sticking place and get on with a spot of conjugating. So, without even a thought of New Year resolutions, I have acquired a new Reading Challenge.

Ecce Romani

Four to go…

I am working from Ecce Romani: A Latin Reading Course, which was passed on to us by a friend, so I need not feel too guilty if this doesn’t work out. At least I won’t have spent a fortune on my texts. The edition I have is an older version rather than the more recently updated one, but I don’t think it will make much difference. After all, the language can hardly change, can it? The Scottish Classics Group wrote the series, originally published in 1971 (Oliver and Boyd, an imprint of the Longman Group). Longman reprinted the series many times, the edition I have being the seventeenth impression (2000). I am sure that many people must have memories, both good and bad, of studying along with Marcus, Sextus, Cornelia and Flavia. It reminds me of the Peter and Jane reading books from my school days.

I have Ecce Romani books one to four to work through and then I will see where to go from there (assuming I make it that far). Alongside, I thought that I might dip into the Cambridge Latin Course (Cambridge School Classics Project) series from time to time, as this is the text used by The Bookworm. Cambridge also has online activities to tie in with the books, which might be handy for vocabulary testing. Finally, if I feel truly brave I will tackle some poetry from the poetry anthology called Carpe Viam (The Classical Association of Ireland, 1993, 1998). I am not sure whether I will get as far as the Latin poetry any time soon but I do have good intentions.

Cambridge Latin

How far will I get?

On with the next chapter of my challenge…


A Landing Word Blight

I have been struggling to keep motivated with my Landing Book Shelves project lately, as you might have noticed. There has been a distinct lack of words appearing in the blog stream over the last couple of months. The reading part of the Landing Challenge has been making some progress but then the writing aspect has been falling by the wayside. Whether this has been to do with the so-called winter blues (I know it is supposed to be spring now but you cannot tell for the wind and rain), trying to tackle another project or life generally getting in the way, I am not sure. The sum total is a sad lack of posts written up for the Landing blog. I am not doing much better with the Landing’s sister blog Curiously, Creatively either. I am clearly being neither curious nor creative and that will have to change ere long.

Maybe I should have added that (in all honesty) a tendency to become sucked into reading the daily news on various online newspapers is also responsible for my poor output. The only thing that stops the rot is that the Irish Times limits the amount of free articles that one can access in a week. Once I reach my weekly quota then I have had it, no more news. While I appreciate that the company’s primary motive is pecuniary, I am grateful that the Irish Times cares so much about its readers wasting their time online that it blocks their viewing  after ten articles. Without that consideration, I would be wasting even more time than I do already. Sadly, the Guardian and the Telegraph are not so public-spirited and I could lose myself in news and comment threads for hours.

Having said all of that, I should point out in my own defence that I have entered a couple of writing competitions this year. Therefore, all is not yet lost as I inch my way through 2015.

Nevertheless, as we move into spring, I intend to ‘up’ my blogging game somewhat, so watch this space….



Maugham on Fiction: An Inspiration for an Essay Reading Challenge

Maugham early in his career

An early career author picture

As I mentioned in my last post, I have been reading some of William Somerset Maugham’s essays from Ten Novels and their Authors (1954, 1978). I skipped through the book to pick out authors that I have read so far for The Landing TBR project. The collection has also reminded me (as if I needed it), that I have many books on the shelves that I have not yet tackled. Perhaps this essay collection will give me the impetus to explore writers, such as Balzac and Dostoyevsky that remain on the TBR Pile. Maugham includes Tolstoy and War and Peace in his Ten Novels selection and attentive Landing readers will recall that I finally got around to reading War and Peace last year. Reading Dostoyevsky would enable me to continue the Russian literature theme that developed after my reading of Tolstoy’s novel. Maugham also writes about Emily Bronte and Wuthering Heights, which caused me to want to re-read that novel, as well as to dig out the Juliet Barker biography of the Bronte family from the back bedroom stash to check a few facts.

What I do have in mind for this year however, is to begin a new Landing Challenge to explore some of the essay collections scattered around the house (not all of them live on The Landing). I was thinking of dipping into a few collections rather than solidly reading all of them. Some collections belong to me (and I am more likely to have read some of these) but the ones belonging to He Who Put The Shelves Up are largely still on my mental ‘to read sometime’ list. My plan would be to tackle a few of the essay collections spaced out over the year, in between reading other books. I might set out to cover (no pun intended) some literary essays first, since chance led me to the Maugham collection.

Ten Novels

A bargain at 90p!

I have been trying to read up a little on Maugham’s life and career but have found several apparent contradictions in online sources so I won’t give you more than brief biographical details here. I am however intrigued enough to attempt to track down a definitive account so when I do, I will post up about it. Somerset Maugham was born in the British Embassy in Paris in 1874 and died in Nice in 1965. His father Robert was a lawyer and his mother Edith Snell was a writer. Orphaned by the age of ten, an aunt and uncle in England brought him up. Maugham was a homosexual at a time when it was still illegal and therefore dangerous to admit publicly, though his orientation was accepted in the literary circles he frequented. He did however enter into what proved to be a short-lived marriage with interior designer Syrie Barnardo and had a daughter, Liza. But more of Maugham’s life and times when I have researched further.

Of the subjects in Maugham’s collection, I have read Pride and Prejudice, David Copperfield, Wuthering Heights and War and Peace, so I will read his essays on these books and talk about them in my next blog post.

And then there’s the remaining five novels that he discuses…..back to the TBR Pile!

The Landing (The TBR Pile) Spring Clean

Recently I have been contemplating the prospect of tackling a spring-cleaning session in the magic realm known as  The Landing. Note, that I used the word contemplating which could suggest that my approach to cleaning is thoughtful and measured. It also quite plainly tells you that I’m procrastinating on the shelf cleaning front. Every time that I pass the shelves on my way either up or down the stairs, I sigh and say to myself, ‘I really must clean those shelves’ or ‘Look at those cobwebs’ or similar such sentiments. But has it done any good at all? The answer is no, it has done not one scrap of good. The dusty tomes of the TBR Pile on the bookcases still cry out for a little TLC (applied with a duster).

Bottom Shelf

Starting at the bottom

However, the time has come to gird my loins and fetch out the Mr Sheen in the interests of maintaining housekeeping standards on The Landing. Lovingly dusted and arranged on equally dust free shelves is no less than my books deserve. It’s just that I do wish modern science had managed to discover a method of banishing dust once and for all. No sooner do I finish cleaning all of the shelves in the house with their resident books then it’s time to start over. The literary equivalent of painting the Forth Bridge (I know that is really just an urban myth but as a child I used to believe it) goes on relentlessly.

The real problem with dusting bookshelves is, as you might have guessed that as I remove books from the shelves I get distracted. Very distracted…. I know that I began this blog to chart my voyage around the uncharted Landing territory (see The Prologue) but I do need to separate cleaning time from reading time. All too often I’ve found myself sitting on the stairs, duster in one hand and book in the other as I browse. This slows the spring/autumn/whenever cleaning down considerably. This inevitably exacerbates the Forth Bridge impression. And that’s before I get to tackle the bookshelves that don’t fall under The Landing project’s range.

Having said all of that, perhaps a good cleaning session will be the perfect way to decide what to cover on the blog in the next month or so. Rather like shops having a clear out that result in a summer sale, perhaps I should have a summer read as a by-product of my clear out. I’ll venture upstairs, with cloth and furniture polish in hand and see what turns up. Who knows what long forgotten novel might be awaiting my attention?  Whether my browsing (sorry, I meant cleaning) will reveal another Landing Eight remains to be seen.

Perhaps I might aim for a more modest ‘Spring Cleaning Four’ ? I’ll be back in due course, armed with the spoils of dusting…


Doctor Zhivago: More Russian Literature

Doctor Zhivago

My Christmas Present…

This reading year is beginning briskly with Boris Pasternak’s Doctor Zhivago (Vintage Books) which is a new resident on the Landing Book Shelves. Pasternak’s epic novel was a Christmas present from He Who Put The Shelves Up to enable me to continue my Russian reading period after finishing War and Peace. I just managed to finish the latter on the cusp of the New Year and I can still feel a modest glow of success at that achievement. Now that I’ve finally read War and Peace I would like to go on to read more of Tolstoy’s work, so perhaps that might be a possibility for later this year.

I haven’t yet set any aims for this reading year but my broad plan will be to continue to tackle long neglected novels (and perhaps auto/biographies too). I was interested to come across a similar challenge on Twitter where writer Lynn Shepherd is inviting people to join her in reading Samuel Richardson’s Clarissa beginning tomorrow. A mammoth literary task if ever there was one (see @Lynn_Shepherd for more information and to join in).

I hope to tie up War and Peace with one more blog post (if I can manage to write something without plot spoiling) and I will give an update on the Doctor Zhivago progress as soon as possible. I’m toying with a couple more ideas for future reads as well, so watch this space!

Meanwhile why not drop me a line below to let everyone know about your 2014 reading challenges. Happy New Reading Year to one and all!

Tolstoy: The Next Landing TBR Pile Challenge

War and Peace

Cover shows detail from ‘The 1812 Retreat – The Battle of Borodino’ by Vereschagin

I promised you an announcement on the next stage of the Landing Book Shelves Reading Challenge and here it is at long last. As you will no doubt guess from the illustration, the challenge is the reading of War and Peace (Leo Tolstoy, 1828 -1910) a big hurdle if ever there was one. This worthy challenge has been put on the Landing Book Shelves agenda because it also happens to be my book group’s project at the moment, this killing the proverbial two birds. I’m not sure how long it will take me to read War and Peace (or how long it will take my fellow book clubbers for that matter) but I undertake to offer my blog readers reasonably regular progress updates. Weighing in at 1444 pages, this lengthy tome will be read in stages in between various other books.

It is just as well that the idea of reading War and Peace for book group came up as it is likely that it would have sat on the Landing Book Shelves almost indefinitely. I say ‘almost’ because I really and truly meant to get around to reading it sometime. I bought my copy in May 1992 with the intention of reading Tolstoy’s epic during my summer holidays. After all this time I can’t recall what I did read that summer, but it certainly wasn’t Tolstoy. So, it’s better late than never on the Russian classics front I suppose.

War and Peace was first published in 1869 (I’ll fill in the publication history in a future post) and the paperback edition that I have on The Landing was first published by Penguin Classics as a two-volume edition in 1957. The one volume edition came out in 1982; the translation is by Rosemary Edmonds from 1957 with revisions in 1973. I’m by no means an expert on the virtues of one translation over another so I will have to trust to the reliability of Penguin Classics in this instance. There are more recent translations available (for example from Penguin Classics and Vintage), but as this is the copy I have on The Landing, I’ll go with this one unless any reader out there tells me that I would be better served with a different translation.

I will be embarking for nineteenth century Russia just as soon as I’ve finished my library book and a couple of review books….I promise…

The Landing Eight Re-Visited

It has now been at least a year since I began reading through what came to be known as the Landing Eight selection. If you remember, (assuming that you have been with me that long) I picked eight titles at random as a way of starting my challenge to read all of the un-read books on the Landing Book Shelves.  So far so good; but since several other books came my via the library, random acquisition and review copies, at times my Landing Eight sub-challenge has struggled a little. Having said all of that, I can now report that finally I have finished reading the last two books on my list. All that remains for me to do now is to write-up a couple of posts about the books and I can then move on to tackling more of the TBR Pile. And there’s certainly plenty of titles on the shelves for scope!

This was the original Landing Eight list culled from the huge TBR Pile. For my own satisfaction, I’ve crossed off the books that I have read and posted about (there is something greatly rewarding in crossing items off a list; it’s either really therapeutic or very childish and possibly both at once)


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)


I will write-up In a Free State next, since I have already flagged this one up, though I became side-tracked by Naipaul’s letter and then one thing led to another. The Frontenac Mystery will follow on from that and then my mini reading challenge will be complete.

At that point I’ll have to decide what to read next. Maybe I’ll have a non-fiction series next.

Any thoughts on a reading method will be gratefully received, just drop them in the comment box! Until next time…happy reading…   

From Cakes to Books: a snatch of memoir

celebration cake

An edible report card…

At the end of the last school term I put my cake decorator’s hat on and made a cake to celebrate the end of primary school for my daughter’s class. My cake decorating past goes back a few years, since long before my bookselling days, and I have tried to put together a short piece about how it began.

Here it is (though no doubt this isn’t the final version!).  I have been working on bits and pieces of memoir for a while; basically tinkering with the same few episodes over and over again. I hope that I will soon feel inspired to move on with my project. I might even manage to connect all of the episodes together into a more or less coherent version of my life at some point.

The Cake Lady: birthdays, weddings and yet more birthdays


Browsing through photos of the celebration cakes that I created during the 1980s brings back memories of another life; when I became known to my regular customers as ‘The Cake Lady’. It made me sound rather like an eccentric Alan Bennett character. By way of contrast I was also dubbed ‘the modern one with the ear-rings’ by an elderly customer, which may or may not have been a compliment.

My enterprising daughter has had the lovely idea of making a cake decorating album. She assembled several years’ worth that had been quietly languishing in a jiffy bag. The album was my Mother’s Day present, labelled Mummy’s Cake Album and prettily decorated with chicks and eggs. I am undecided whether I am more proud of her efforts or my own.

I became a self-employed cake decorator more by accident than design and I never made any money at it. In fact, after dutifully maintaining accounts my turnover was non-existent. I don’t think that’s what people normally mean by tax-free status. No Swiss bank account for me. I was rather dampened to discover that I had actually had a loss making operation. And so the photographs are all that remain of my would-be business empire. Mr Kipling and his ‘exceedingly good cakes’ had nothing to fear from me.

I trained in Birmingham in the late 1970s at what was then known as the Birmingham College of Food and Domestic Arts. It didn’t occur to me then to wonder what those ‘domestic arts’ were but sadly it’s too late to find out now. It felt incredibly grown up to be at college and learning a trade. No more bells; and school uniform was exchanged for bakery whites purchased from the Army and Navy Store. I also bought a splendid set of knives, thermometers and icing tubes, some of which I still have. 

A few years down the line, I was, as they say resting between engagements when I first began to make cakes from home. There was never a grand plan as initially it was something to do while unemployed. In theory, working from home is a fantastic idea: no boss, no commuting, etc. In practice, I found that it often meant that I iced cakes at midnight. I also lived in a flat almost permanently festooned with half decorated cakes and finished cakes awaiting either collection or delivery. Delivering was a bit tricky since I hadn’t passed my driving test. Fortunately, most customers were happy to collect.

Birthday cakes were my ‘bread and butter’ trade but I also made several wedding cakes including a four tier hexagonal of which I was particularly proud. I loved making kids’ birthday cakes, but did become mildly exasperated by traditional ‘pink/girl and blue/boy mentalities. Someone once requested ‘Thomas Tank engine’ for a girl and I felt like cheering. ‘My Little Pony’ cakes were nowhere near as much fun as smoke breathing dragons or even rabbits in hats. But Winnie the Pooh (the EH Shepard version) was always my favourite subject

I began to build a photograph album for prospective customers and even produced a price list. Well, when I say ’I’ actually a friend typed and photocopied it while my sister did the artwork. The tedious part was mine and that was doing the costing; my main problem was judging profit margins. But it helped to have a proper list as I always felt squeamish about asking for money, though I think my prices were reasonable.

While working as a cake decorator I also worked at a delicatessen which also sold my cakes and later I ran my own market stall for a time. A regular customer base for celebration cakes gradually built up. At one point I even went leaflet dropping around the well healed leafy suburbs of Birmingham to drum up business. Another outlet for my cakes was acquired when an American acquaintance put me in touch with the owner of a cookie shop in the city centre.

The major snag with retail outlets was that I had to discount prices. There was also much more enjoyment in dealing with my personal customers and discussing their requirements. It was nice to chat to customers about their order and get some feedback too. My pinnacle of achievement was a child liking her cake too much to cut it on the big day (a duck in a mob-cap and apron).

 Literally ‘success on a plate’!      

My next post will be a return to books and the Landing Reading Challenge, I promise. Meanwhile, if anyone has any memoir writing tips, I’d be glad to hear them.

Naipaul and a Quick Landing Eight Recap

As I am feeling very spring-like this on this lovely sunny morn, I will embark upon a fresh assault on the remaining titles on my Landing Eight challenge list.  Put it down to the sense of anticipation from knowing that the month of May is only hours away around the corner.

Just to recap for those of you not paying attention at the back, here is the original list:

A pile of classic novels



The Daughter of Time Josephine Tey (Orange Penguin)

The Frontenac Mystery François Mauriac (20th Century Classics Penguin)

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)

I have now reached the exciting final stages of this challenge which dates back to last summer (was it really that long ago?), with only two more books to read. What happens after completion of my task is anyone’s guess at this stage. I will have to come up with a fresh mechanism for tackling the unread books on The Landing I suppose. Though as I have mentioned in a previous post, I do have a plan to defect to The Bedroom Bookshelves during the summer to finish reading Dorothy Dunnett’s Niccolo series.

In a Free State

Next choice…

In the meantime I will be settling down to read  V.S. Naipaul’s In a Free State which we have in an Orange Penguin edition from 1983 (reprint of the 1973 edition). It was originally published in 1971 by Andre Deutsch and won the Booker Prize of that year. In this volume the novella ‘In a Free State’ is preceded by two shorter pieces ‘One out of Many’ and ‘Tell Me Who to Kill’ and all of these pieces are bracketed by a prologue and an epilogue. In a more recent Pan Macmillan edition from 2011, the title piece is published on its own, a decision endorsed by the author as his preface makes clear.

This is not only a so far unread book, but also an as yet unread author for me so will be a first on two counts. It may well be that I should have begun with one of Naipaul’s earlier books such as A House for Mr Biswas (1961) but I have to abide by the terms of my challenge. As you probably know, Naipaul has generated as much sharply critical comment as plaudits for his work but I will talk more about that next time I post.

For now, I will just get on with the book! If anyone out there has read it, you’re welcome to drop a line in the comment box with your thoughts. 

And a ‘Happy May Day’ for tomorrow – dancing around Maypoles is optional!