Friday, June 17, 2005

A day in the life of a library addict

Since returning to Guernsey at the beginning of the month, I've been to
the Guille-Allès Public Library almost every day.

On Friday morning I returned three books :

An 880-page tome on Windows XP Pro which didn't solve my problem
Jane Green's Bookends, probably great if you're under 35, but not if you're not
Dan Brown's The Da Vinci Code, far too long with a disappointing hero

A writer friend, Liz Fielding, with whom I discussed the Brown book, wrote, "I didn't enjoy Da Vinci, either. The writing style reminded me of Dennis Wheatley's satanist books. Something I out-grew with my teens."

I had forgotten about Wheatley, but I think Liz, who, by the way, recently won the RNA Romance Award for her book A Family Of His Own, is right. There is a resemblance between Brown's book and Wheatley's books.

Friday's library borrowings were

The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
Sapphire's Grave by Hilda Gurley-Highgate
Sole Survivor by Derek Hansen

It was the title Sapphire's Grave that caught my eye on the paperback fiction shelves, and the shoutline on Sole Survivor – "a fabulous novel of determination, ingenuity and love of life" sounded good and was backed up by an intriguing first line – "Red O'Hara woke at first light convinced that he should be dead and ashamed that he wasn't."

Using the library's online catalogue to check if they had the Twain title in stock, I typed in Huckleberry Finn which brought up a not recognised message. Then I had one of those maddening memory-blackouts, couldn't remember the name of the author and had to ask the duty librarian.

The copy I borrowed is the Everyman edition, first published in 1943 and reissued 1991, with a painting by George Caleb Bingham, from the Saint Louis City Art Museum, of bargemen playing cards on the cover.

There's an introduction by Christopher Morley in which he writes –
The reader with a natural faculty for enjoyment will scarcely need the author's warning notice against looking for a motive, a moral, a plot. He will see, of course, that the author includes many subtle indignations against human cruelty and stupidity. But what will concern and delight him most is that here is a panorama of happy memory. It goes back to what Mark Twain remembered from his youth; what he noticed as a child mostly made him happy, whereas what he noticed as a man made him furiously angry. One is almost grateful he died when he did, in 1910. If in his older years he would fond of alluding hopelessly to 'the damned human race,' it is hard to guess what he might have said if he had seen us now.

Windows XP Annoyances

Walking home from the library, I paused to read a notice on the window of an Internet café in St Peter Port's Old Quarter and, perhaps thinking I was a potential customer, the owner of the café came out and started chatting. His advice on my Win XP Pro problem was to install Service Pack 2.

I've also had some helpful advice from someone you've met here before, Lisa L Spangenberg a k a the Digital Mediaevalist. [See June 12 blog]. Lisa wrote -
"You might find the book and Web site Windows XP Annoyances helpful--I use it quite often to help users on campus. Of course, as a devout adherent to the Macintosh, I am required to suggest that you think about buying a Macintosh next time. It's aesthetically more appealing, and, there are no virueses for the current Mac operating system, and less than forty for the previous version."

Trying a new-to-me genre, fantasy fiction

Quote : "When she told her editor at Earthlight, Darren Nash, that Wild Magic was "Lord of the Rings meets Bridget Jones", he looked a little thunderstruck, she says."

Although my husband and son enjoyed Tolkien's books when they were first published, I never got past page five of LOTR, and was bored by Bridget Jones. So why, earlier this week, did I add Sorcery Rising, the first book in a fantasy fiction trilogy by Jude Fisher, quoted above, to my library list?

When I bounced out of bed last Tuesday morning, the name Jude Fisher was unknown to me. After an hour on the web, I joined my husband for breakfast. While he did a crossword, I went through ten back issues of The Bookseller, tearing out pages I wanted to keep. [The object of the exercise being to reduce the clutter in my workroom.]

One of the keeper pages was p 25 of the 9 May 2003 issue. What caught my eye was a picture of a woman climbing a rock face. Superimposed on the photo is the jacket of Wild Magic by Jude Fisher.

The surrounding article is headed "A world of her own" with the shoutline "Writing as Jude Fisher, Voyager publisher Jane Johnson creates fantasy novels which feature a powerful, rock-climbing heroine."

As I may have mentioned before, all my nearest and dearest are rock climbers so I understand the enthusiasm even though I don't share it. In an interview with Benedicte Page, The Bookseller's book news editor, Jude Fisher/Jane Johnson said, "My heroine is a rock climber, as I am, although she is a much better one than me. She feels a connection to the rocks she climbs, and connection is what we all want and need. If you spend all your time in an urban environment, you lose your perspective and problems like office politics and late books seem massive. When you are climbing a sea cliff three hundred feet up, the only thing that matters is your next hold. With the sun on your back, and the sea crashing away beneath you, you really do feel a genuine connection with the world."

As Sorcery Rising was out on loan from the Guille-Allès, I borrowed Wild Magic. It's well-written, but somehow this imaginary world didn't grab me any more than Tolkien's did.

Jane Johnson's day job is being publishing director of HarperCollins' SF imprint, Voyager. With M John Harrison, she has also co-authored four novels under pseudonym Gabriel King.

More fantasy

On Friday, doing some more sorting out, I read this – "25 years ago, there was only one fantasy series that ousted Tolkien's The Lord of the Rings".

It was written in bronze lettering on the gold front cover of The Bookseller dated 4 June 2004.

Turning to the inside cover, I was surprised to learn that "Between 1977 and 1983, Stephen Donaldson wrote six volumes of The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant. All six books were instant Sunday Times No 1 bestsellers. This ground-breaking series went on to sell a phenomenal 10 million copies worldwide. More than 3.5 million copies have been sold in the UK alone."

I must have noticed this striking advertisement for The Last Chronicles of Thomas Covenant the first time I saw it last summer. But because I'm not a fantasy reader it had minimal impact, and I shouldn't have added it to my stack of tear sheets this week if I hadn't been writing about Jude Fisher.

At his website I learned that
"Born in 1947 in Cleveland, Ohio, Stephen R. Donaldson lived in India (where his father was a medical missionary) until 1963. He graduated from the College of Wooster (Ohio) in 1968, served two years as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, doing hospital work in Akron, then attended Kent State University, where he received his M.A. in English in 1971.

After dropping out of his Ph.D. program and moving to New Jersey in order to write fiction, Donaldson made his publishing debut with the first "Covenant" trilogy in 1977. That enabled him to move to a healthier climate. He now lives in New Mexico.

The novels for which he is best known have received a number of awards. However, the achievements of which he is most proud are the ones that seemed the most unlikely. In 1993 he received a Doctor of Literature degree from the College of Wooster, and in 1994 he gained a black belt in Shotokan karate from Sensei Mike Heister and Anshin Personal Defense."

Whether Donaldson will convert me to fantasy where Tolkien and Jude Fisher have failed, I'll discover when I've worked through the current book stack.

The excitement of the first comment

It's an exciting moment for a new blogger when they find that someone has made a comment.

The first person to click on the comment button here was Jozef Imrich Esq who posted a snapshot of himself with a black dog and wrote
Well deserved attention ...
C.S. Lewis wrote in the last chapter of "An Experiment in Criticism:'
'Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.'

Quite how that relates to last Sunday's blog I'm not sure.

Newsletters : one of the best

How many newsletters do you subscribe to?

At the moment I'm subscribed to five, one of them being A Common Reader which this week gave details of a title missing from my Nancy Mitford collection.

The Bookshop at 10 Curzon Street: Letters Between Nancy Mitford and Heywood Hill, 1952-1973, described in the newsletter thus -

On my first pilgrimage to G. Heywood Hill, the legendary London bookshop, I nearly bypassed the discreet storefront, until my attention was caught by a blue English Heritage plaque proclaiming, "Nancy Mitford, Writer, worked here 1942-1945." During those years, in fact, she effectively ran the enterprise while Heywood Hill himself served as a soldier. After the war, Mitford resided in France, where she composed the best of her comic novels as well as her extraordinarily engaging biographies of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XIV, and Voltaire. Yet her abiding interest in the bookshop at 10 Curzon Street -- both in its stock and its customers -- is evidenced by her delicious correspondence with her former employer. Animated by wit, learning, and the highest class of gossip, the letters collected here, edited by John Saumarez
Smith, the shop's current manager, offer irresistible literary entertainment.

Bravery in Blue John Canyon

My second book buy this month [the first was Susie Vereker's Pond Lane and Paris] is Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Aron Ralston, the courageous young American climber who was forced to amputate his right hand while trapped in the Blue John Canyon in Utah in May 2003.

So that's £16 sterling [US$29, Aus $37] spent on new books in June. Nothing spent, so far, on used books, although I've browsed in the Oxfam shop and the second hand books stall in the old market building. Not an impressive outlay, but better than nothing. After months in the back of beyond, not spending anything much, it takes me a while to get back into my shopping stride.

Aron Ralston's website, designed by Soulkool, takes forever to download on my 52 kps dial-up connection. I sat gazing at the black splash screen for several minutes before anything interesting came up. What's the betting that the guys who run Soulkool are all in their twenties, have broadband and don't realise that millions of web-users are in their parents' and grandparents' age groups and prefer sites to load in the old-fashioned kind of flash, not the kind invented by Macromedia.

I'll write them a note to suggest they ginger things up.

As usual I'm overruning and must hold over my reaction to Madame Bovary until next time.


At 19 June, 2005, Blogger Stephen said...

I doubt that Stephen Donaldson's Thomas Covenant books are the right way to get into heroic fantasy. It's not that there is anything wrong with using the word "coruscating", but using it every 30 pages? And "atrabilious" probably only deserves a very occasional outing, rather than the extensive work out it gets. Add to that the occasional hammy expression ("even his beard bristled with anticipation") or hackneyed phrase (on seeing an arm of the sea between the heroes and their destination, one hero says "these straits are dire indeed"). I reckon that you would be better off with Lord Dunsany, or possibly Robert Holdstock's wonderful "Mythago Wood".

What happened to "The Shadow of the Wind"? You took that out of the library but haven't put it back yet.

At 19 June, 2005, Blogger Lisa Spangenberg said...

Donaldson't chief virtue as a writer is his astonishing ability to engage in the comma splice, and, perhaps more strikingly, to depress his reader.

Skip Donaldson; if you want to try "heroic" or epic fantasy other than Tolkien, try Ursula LeGuin's "Earthsea" trilogy; much better than Donaldson.

At 20 June, 2005, Blogger Adrian Weston said...

Fantasy thoughts: I wouldn't begin with Donaldson who I find as irritating as he is compelling. Doubling up the genres as it's children's fantasy I'd strongly strongly recommend trying Diana Wynne Jones Dalemark Quartet. Wynne Jones is a stellar writer so anything of hers is worth looking at - but the Dalemark Quartet is the broadest and deepest so to speak. As a publishing industry footnote, she's also a beneficiary of the Potter phenomenon as HarperCollins reinvigorated her backlist as a response to the Potter hype. Wynne Jones is the vastly superior writer. I think the Dalemark books are from OUP though - do try them. I'd love to know what you think - oh (and nerdy comment here) make sure you get them in order!

As a PS, by the way, I've ended up starting a blog (unintentionally) as a result of stumbling across your blog and then surprisingly finding your reference to my amazon reviews of Mary Stewart. I don't know if I should thank you or not!

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