Monday, February 05, 2007

Six of the best

[Thanks to advice from Michael Allen, a k a Grumpy Old Bookman, I've been able to correct the wrong date showing on this blog earlier today. He reminded me about the Post Options button which I had completely forgotten about. Thank you, Michael.]

Also in today's blog

More about Maggs

As I mentioned in Friday's blog, Grumpy Old Bookman tells us his heart sinks if a chapter is 35 pages long. He prefers 10 pages or less.

On Saturday morning I browsed our sitting room bookshelves and selected six favourite titles to check their chapter lengths.

1 Patrick O'Brian's Master and Commander [1970] has 346 pages divided into 12 chapters. Slightly over 28.5 pages per chapter.

2 The Rains Came by Louis Bromfield [1939] has 576 pages divided into four parts containing 56, 13, 49 and 27 sections, the equivalent of 145 chapters. That's just under four pages a chapter.

You'll find some interesting comments about the movie version of this novel at the blog of Amardeep Singh, Assistant Professor of English at Lehigh University.

3 Peking Picnic by Ann Bridge [1932] has 328 pages, 25 chapters i.e. just over 13 pages per chapter. Ms Bridge is not too far outside GOB's approval zone.

4 The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grame [first published in 1908 but mine in the 54th edition pub. 1937] has 248 pages in 12 chapters. Oh dear, more than 20 pages per chapter so a heart-sinker for GOB.

About this book, Wikepedia tells us, "The book made Grahame's fortune, enabling him to retire from his hated (though respectable and well-paid) bank job and move to the country. He spent his time by the River Thames doing much as the animal characters in his book do, namely (in one of the most famous phrases from the book) 'simply messing about in boats'. It can also be viewed as a commentary on class dynamics in British society. Roughly speaking, the 'River-Bankers' represent the upper classes, while the 'Wild Wooders' represent the lower."

Admittedly I was under ten when I first read this marvellous tale, but I've read it many times since and never thought it had anything to do with class dynamics, whatever they may be. To most readers, the River-Bankers are nice people and the Wild Wooders are scary.

5 Lee Child's One Shot [2005] 483 pages, 17 chapters. 28 pages a chapter.

6 Spies by Richard Ben Sapir [1985] 360 pages 27 chapters. 21 pages a chapter.

Whether Grumpy Old Bookman has read these novels, who knows? But, if he hasn't, he has missed some great books.

My feeling is that chapter length is unimportant. What makes a chapter seem tediously long or grippingly short is the balance of dialogue and narrative.

More about Maggs

As a matter of courtesy, I usually tell people I've blogged about them. After writing about them on January 23, I emailed a note to Maggs Brothers Rare Books, saying I hoped they didn't mind my borrowing a picture of their Travel Room.

A reply came from Sophie Schneideman who works in the Modern Books room [see photo], her specialities being illustrated books, private press books, cookery and bibliography.

She wrote "Dear Ms. Weale, Thank you very much for your email. We are thrilled by your blog. How very charming and very gratifying. Also, what a wonderful blog. I shall be a new watcher. Kind regards Sophie Schneideman, Maggs Bros Ltd., 50 Berkeley Square, London W1J 5BA.

I rather hoped they might have a first edition with the original jacket of The Rains Came, but they don't at the moment. The only jacket to be found on the web is a horrible one showing the stars of the film, Myrna Loy and Ronald Colman.

Not that I would pay serious money for an immaculate first edition to replace my battered one. Forty years ago, perhaps. But at my age weeding out rather than acquiring books seems more sensible.


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