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A Little Wintry Giveaway!

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If it wasn’t so cold outside, I would find it hard to believe that it’s December already – but the weather has been freezing lately, and the darker nights leave me in no doubt! Reading wise, November was a month of mainly German Literature, and I’m still actually reading Germans! But I’m making no real plans about what books I’ll pick up as we get to the end of the year, and I’m happy to go where the mood takes me.

3 books giveaway

What I *am* going to do, though, is have a little Winter Giveaway. I haven’t done one on the Ramblings for a while, and I have three spare wintry books to offer. These are available worldwide so please do enter!

The three books in question are:

xmas carol

“A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens

smilla

“Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow” by Peter Hoeg

gibbons comfort xmas

“Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm” by Stella Gibbons

All are new Vintage editions, with Christmassy covers, and if I didn’t already own copies myself (multiple copies in the case of the Dickens!) I would want to keep them…

To enter, just leave a comment saying which book you would prefer and maybe recommending me a good read for long, cold winter nights – I always like suggestions for what to read next! Good luck! 🙂

Big Books Update – plus some incoming….

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Surprisingly enough, I’m finding it quite enjoyable to read several big chunkies simultaneously – although perhaps I’m cheating slightly as two of them are short story collections, and I’m also reading a slim poetry volume too. Yes, that’s right – *two* short story collections, as there has been a new arrival and here is the state of the currently reading:

big books plus

The new arrival is the Aldiss collection – his short stories from the 1950s. I stumbled across this recently and managed to snag it for a *very* reasonable price online. Staggeringly, his 1960s stories will run to four volumes – what a prolific man!

This is progress so far (ignore the bottom book, the second volume of Ballard, as I obviously haven’t yet started that):

big book progress

As can be seen, I am gradually making my way into them, and I’m finding this method of reading working well. I’m reading at least a chapter of each of the big books, a short story from each of the collections and a couple of poems a day, and this has had several beneficial effects: it’s slowing down my reading, so I’m having time for each chapter to sink in; I’m not feeling I must rush to get through a book so I can pick up another one; I’m able to read a variety of things all at once!

The Dickens is proving to be excellent, and each chapter so far is introducing a new set of characters which I’m having time to get to know. I’d forgotten just how good a writer Dickens was… I’m enjoying DQ very much, though I have to admit that at the moment it reminds me very much of Pokemon: DQ and SP travel along, encounter someone or something, have a fight, get beaten to a pulp, recover, travel along, encounter…..!

As for the short stories: Ballard, of course, is masterly and each story so far is a pure gem. I’ve only read a few of the Aldiss ones so far, but I love them – so clever and so pithy and so imaginative. The poetry is coming along nicely and I’m about to start the third poet in this collection, Peter Porter.

So – thus far things are going ok with the big books – watch this space!

As for incomings, obviously the Aldiss arrived in the week, plus another couple of Modern Poets have made their way in. I hadn’t intended to do much book browsing this weekend, but things never go as planned…


finds 2

I hadn’t been into the RSPCA shop for a while, so I popped in on the off-chance to be met with a BL Crime Classic for 95p! It appears to be brand new and unread, so quite why it’s there I don’t know – but I’m not complaining! I’m trying very hard not to start a collection of these, because lovely as they are I suspect most of them are one-read books for me. But I haven’t seen this one around yet, so I figured it was worth less than a pound to try it out!

finds 22 8

The other three titles were from the Oxfam – Howard’s End is on the Landing because I’ve heard good things about it; The Man who knew Everything because it’s a Capuchin Classic; and the Vintage short story collection because it has a lovely selection of authors. All four for less than the cost of a new book, which can’t be bad…. 🙂

Books Big and Small

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At the moment, there are a number of books of varying sizes jostling for my attention. I’ve just read quite a lot of smaller volumes (getting very behind with reviewing in the process); and with a slight hint of a chill in the air, I’m feeling rather like getting lost in a big book.

On the shelves there are a few choice volumes crying out to be read:

proust

Proust has been knocking about for a while – I finished the first volume of “Remembrance” but I’ve yet to embark on the second. Also I need to catch up with my Slightly Foxed and Manchester Modernist mags.

skinny ppoetry

Then there are the skinny poetry books – volume 1 of the Penguin Modern Poets is finished! Though the review will no doubt take a while to get to as I’m a bit behind with these… Volume 2 is proving excellent so far and I’m finding myself unexpectedly positive about Kingsley Amis’s verse.

big books

And here are the chunkies! I’m a reasonable way in to Don Quixote, and I read the first chapter of Our Mutual Friend last night and loved it. Plus I’m restarting the Ballard short stories from the beginning again – the first is just marvellous, what a writer that man was…

Whether I’ll manage to read all or some of these simultaneously remains to be seen – watch this space!

 

Vintage Crime Shorts: A Trio of Tales

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After the mammoth tome which is the doorstep that is “The Idiot”, I confess I felt rather in need of something a little shorter and punchier. Re-enter “The Dead Witness” with its collection of classic crime shorts – just right to clear the book hangover! I found myself nipping through three stories one after the other, which quite surprised me – so I thought I’d round them up here.

Edgar Allan Poe – The Murders in the Rue Morgue (1841)

3-Poe-color

“Morgue” is of course considered the first ‘proper’ detective story, and despite its being preceded by “The Secret Cell”, I do agree with Michael Sims, the editor of this anthology, that Poe still deserves the title. “Cell” had none of the characteristics that Poe laid down and everyone else copied: a unique detective, with unusual characteristics, and a way of deducing facts no-one else could’ an apparently insoluble murder; the first locked room mystery; the baffled and amazed sidekick; bumbling policemen who couldn’t solve the crime. C. August Dupin is the detective, sharing rooms with a friend and exercising his brain cells (are they little and grey?) to such an extent that he can even break into his friend’s train of thought and predict exactly what he is going to say. When a mother and daughter are found brutally slain, in unusual circumstances, in the Rue Morgue it takes Dupin to solve the mystery. I shall say *nothing* about the crime or the solution, because the only downside with re-reading this story is that once you know the solution you won’t forget it, and in many ways it’s difficult to re-read! However, if you do plan to read it, please be careful of the edition you choose – I’ve seen several with cover pictures that totally give the game away…. That’s by the by, anyway. All that needs to be said is that Poe was a bit of a genius and we crime story fanciers have a lot to thank him for!

Charles Dickens – On Duty with Inspector Field (1851)

dickens

This, I confess, I found to be a bit of an oddity. More essay than story, “Field” tells an impressionistic tale of Dickens’ trip out into the worst areas of London with the real Inspector Field, seeing how the underbelly of the city’s occupants had to live. Mixing with all kinds of criminals, accompanied at all times by police officers, Dickens shows us the downside of Victorian society – poverty, starvation, crime and prostitution. It’s a beautifully written piece, full of atmosphere and poignant observation. But I couldn’t quite work out why it was here; to be honest, I would have preferred an extract from “Bleak House” showing Inspector Bucket in action! (I believe the latter was actually based on Field). Ah well – on to the next story.

Wilkie Collins – The Diary of Anne Rodway (1856)

collins

Collins is of course another important progenitor of the detective story, in particular with “The Moonstone”, considered the first detective novel in the English language and featuring Sergeant Cuff. So it’s not unusual to find him also working in this vein in short stories, and “Rodway” is an early example of telling a story in the diary form and also a female doing the investigation. Anne Rodway is poor; living in cheap lodgings, she ekes out a living sewing whilst waiting for her fiance to return from abroad where he is attempting to earn enough for them to marry. Her best friend Mary is also poor, but beautiful, and the two girls are like sisters. So when Mary is attacked and dies, it is almost more than Anne can bear. The police are convinced she simply fell and banged her head, but Anne is not so sure and when she finds a ‘clew’ (I *love* that spelling!) in form the form of the torn off end of a cravat, gripped in dead Mary’s hand, she determines to find out the truth. The story of her investigations, against the background of poverty in the city, is poignant and moving – Collins really can tell a wonderful tale, and in some ways is more readable than Dickens, who does tend to lapse into extravagances of language at times! I’ve only read “The Moonstone” and “The Woman in White” of Collins’ work, and I really think I need to read more!

So that’s another three tales from “The Dead Witness” – my only quibble with the book so far would be the minor one that the compiler hasn’t put the publication date next to the title of each story. That would have been useful, in my view!

 

Dickens in December: re-reading A Christmas Carol

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In this year of celebrating one of the country’s greatest novelists, Beauty is a Sleeping Cat and Postcards from Asia are running a “Dickens in December” event and I have decided to join in by reading at least one of the great man’s works! Today is the day earmarked for a readalong of “A Christmas Carol”, probably his best-known book, and one I’ve read many times over the years – though not recently, I must say.

xmas vintage

I should confess up front that I have had to re-read this book before today as I this is my final day at work before the Christmas break and so finding any reading time today will be very unlikely (despite ACC being a short work!). I have a lovely new volume of ACC (plus other Christmas stories) in the Vintage set presented to me by my lovely OH earlier in the year, so this is the one I read.

There can’t be many people who don’t know the plot of “A Christmas Carol “- miserly old man is visited by ghosts and is redeemed and turned into a Good Human Being in time for Christmas. The story is ingrained in our collective consciousness – the name of Scrooge is now synonymous with meanness and the expression “Bah, Humbug!” was plastered over Christmas Santa hats when I went round town last weekend. So you might be forgiven for approaching this book with a slight sense of knowing the plot and wondering what the point of reading it again is.

Alistair Sim as Scrooge

Alistair Sim as Scrooge

Well, the joy of the language for one thing. From the opening sentence, Dickens draws you straight into the plot and writing is just wonderful. In a short work like this, Dickens’ wordplay is condensed to the essential and in some ways is all the better for it. He can paint a picture in a short paragraph that will stay with you and haunt you, appropriately enough.

What also impressed me about this work was the incredible amount that Dickens packs into his 100-odd pages. You get four main ghosts (and a host of others); misery and poverty; life stories; comments on the state of humanity; and at the end of it joy and redemption. It takes a real skill to get so much into a story which is so well told. As for the characters – well, there’s a beautiful cast and they come alive instantly. Scrooge and his late partner Marley, who are driven by business; Scrooge’s poor clerk Bob Cratchit and his happy but impoverished family, including poor frail Tiny Tim; Scrooge’s family including his nephew Fred; his first employers, the Fezziwigs; his lost love Belle – to name but a few. Yes, that many living and breathing amazing characters in such a slim novella – a sign of genius in my opinion.

And there are many messages embedded in the story about charity and meanness; the poverty and suffering in Victorian society, particularly among children; the curse of acquisitiveness; the joy and happiness that can be gained by having a family – but this never gets in the way of the plot. One of the most chilling parts is when The Ghost of Christmas Present reveals two emaciated children beneath his robes and declares that the boy is Ignorance and the girl is Want. Dickens was a crusader for social reform and the book reflects his deeply felt concerns without the story suffering.

Charles_Dickens_1858

This *is* the quintessential Christmas story and it would also be a fabulous introduction to Dickens for anyone who hasn’t read him yet and is a bit intimidated by the size of some of his books. I found this moving, scary and uplifting and I was knocked out by it after not reading it for many years. Thanks to the ladies for organising the readalong and getting me to revisit this one – I love it all over again!

July Reading Plans: A Spanner in the Works

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I had a feeling that attempting plan a month’s reading was tempting fate, and sure enough….. a spanner has been well and truly thrown into the works thanks to my OH’s generosity!

OH is not a Book Person (though he does read) – he is a Major Film Buff! However, he has known me long and well enough to know that books as gifts are always a Good Thing. So for our anniversary he has presented me with something I have been coveting for quite a while, a lovely sets of all 16 Dickens novels in matching Vintage covers! What Dickens I have is in tatty mismatched covers and by no means complete, and seeing this lovely set for a very reasonable price in the Book People catalogue has had me pining for it for a while. I rather hoped the couple of hints I dropped would bear fruit, and they did as the books were duly presented, together with a little specially constructed shelf to hold them (which will sit on top of another unit) and some very Miss Havisham muslin pieces “to keep the dust off them”.

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So what to read next? 16 enticing volumes sitting looking at me, crying “Read me”. I knew the July plan was too good to be true….

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