April plans, high excitement at the Ramblings, new arrivals – and 1977! #iconoclasm


Reading plans? Ha! Not a thing I’ve been doing over the recent year or so, which has worked well for my reading psyche; but I think I might have to be a tiny bit more organised during April, particularly as this is imminent:

Yes, it’s only a couple of weeks until Simon and I co-host the 1977 Club; and as I’m still afloat (just!) in a sea of review books, I obviously need to get focused so that I can have some 1977 reading in place too. Mind you, complications have set in because of the unexpected arrival of some lovely volumes at the Ramblings – I think the place is definitely turning into some kind of book magnet…

First up, OH surprised me with an unexpected Easter present, which was very lovely of him and it’s a lovely thing:

It’s a very gorgeous, illustrated edition of “Ulysses”, as you can see – the ‘Dublin Illustrated Edition’, no less and the pen and ink drawings inside are very striking indeed; here’s one:

“Ulysses” is on my reading bucket list, and I think OH was prompted by my watching of a documentary on Joyce recently (yes, documentaries again!). This particular edition is a lovely hardback with a decent sized type and so I think this will be readable and handleable. So maybe 2018 will finally be the year of “Ulysses”…

Next up, yesterday also saw the belated arrival of my Mothers’ Day gift from the three Offspring. They asked what I wanted and instead of listing lots of little bits and bobs, I said can I have this please?

Lo and behold! Here it is – the Penguin Moderns boxed set! Such joy! 50 little volumes of wonderfulness in a gorgeous box – I am *so* lucky (and I do have very well-trained children…)

The trouble is, I feel a Project Lurking – that of reading them from 1 to 50 and posting on each volume. Knowing my record with reading projects (Penguin Modern Poets, anyone? yes, I know I’ve fallen off the wagon a bit there) I suspect I would get distracted half way through. But it’s sooooooo tempting…

But yesterday also brought the Most Exciting Arrival in the form of this – “Iconoclasm in revolutionary Paris” by Prof Richard Clay:

Those of you who are concentrating (pay attention at the back there, please!) may recall me rabbitting on about this book after Christmas, as it’s been impossible to get hold of a copy and I had to resort to getting one of my Offspring to borrow a copy from the university in which they work. I’ve still been fairly desperate to own a copy (as a rapid read over Christmas was *really* not doing it justice), and so I went into overdrive when one of the many alerts I’d set up with online booksellers pinged into my inbox saying it was available at a More Reasonable Price than hitherto – followed by more and more alerts! A quick search revealed that the book appears to have been reprinted because there are lots more out there – and as the last copy I saw online was almost £1,500 (and a used annotated one at that), the price I had to pay for this was payable. And it arrived yesterday and I was unreasonably excited all day. Here it is, on some piles with which it might possibly have connections:

And here it is again, standing smartly on the shelf where it will eventually sit for good, with some related publications of interest:

I have had to make a new space on what you might call the Pending Shelves for some of the incomings and here are the newbies all together:

And do you know what? I’m actually going to take a little bit of credit for the republication of this, because I *did* actually send several nagging emails to the publishers pointing out that it’d be sensible to do a reprint, bearing in mind the vast amounts being charged online for old tatty copies. Looks like they listened! I said in my previous post “I would like to *own* a copy of this one, but that ain’t happening any time soon by the look of things…” – I guess everything comes to she who waits! 🙂

However, I’m afraid those aren’t the only books which have arrived recently at the Ramblings. I might have got carried away with some online offers:

I’ve been really enjoying the “Civilisations” series on BBC2 recently, so when I saw Mary Beard’s tie in book on offer I snapped it up – and I added “Utopia” on to get free shipping. I had a copy of “Utopia” once back in the day, but I either haven’t got it still or just can’t find it – either scenario is plausible given my record of mislaying books. I loved Binet’s “HHhH” and I’m equally intrigued by the idea of “The 7th Function of Language”. I’ve resisted up until now but too many recent reviews made me give in. And the John Muir book has been on my wishlist for *ages* and it was payday and I thought “WTF life is too short” and clicked. “Utopia” is potentially causing me brain strain, as I have a sort of “Utopian Reading List” put together by “The Happy Reader” and the thought of a Utopian reading project is doing my head in. Book addict? Moi? Ahem…

Fortunately I’ve been able to exercise more restraint in the charity shops and only these have come home with me recently (as well as the GAD collection I posted about recently):

The Camus, of course, had to come home – I don’t think I’ve ever seen it before. And the Penguin Story is just lovely, an old history of one of my favourite publishers with gorgeous old-fashioned illustrations. The Marina Warner was essential too (did you notice another one of hers lurking in an earlier picture in this post?) I read a lot of Warner back in my 20s and I’m keen to read more.

Ok. Phew. I think that’s it. I’ve just finished reading a review book which I’ll cover in the next few days and which was just marvellous; plus I have some Shiny New Books reviews coming up too, which I will link to. What I actually pick up to read next is another matter. OH suggested I should perhaps pace myself with “Ulysses”, just reading a section each day alongside something else, and I may well try that. Who knows – watch this space… 🙂

Meanwhile, Happy Easter to those of you who celebrate – make use of the lovely break from work, if you have one, by doing plenty of reading! 🙂

A Glittering Collection


Fly Away Home by Marina Warner

Why, why, WHY have I never read Marina Warner’s fiction before now??? She was a regular presence in the 1980s, appearing on TV in fascinating programmes and writing wonderful books exploring feminine and feminist history and myth-making. Warner’s a highly regarded Professor, a DBE, and yet until now I’d somehow managed to miss the fact that she writes fiction as well. However, luckily Salt Publishing have just brought out a new collection of her short stories, “Fly Away Home, and were kind enough to provide a copy for review. Salt are based in East Anglia, which is my neck of the woods, and it’s wonderful to see that they’re bringing out new short story collections – for reasons I’ll expand on later.

fly away home

“Fly Away Home” contains 20 short works, ranging from just a few pages to long pieces. And the range and variety of the stories is quite breathtaking; Warner seems capable of turning her pen to any kind of story and narrator, from an ageing drag queen to a 13th century anchorite. Many of the stories comfortably straddle the divide between fantasy and reality, bring the unusual into the everyday in a way that’s totally convincing, and every one packs a punch of some kind. So “Melusine: A Mermaid Tale” plays with our expectations of a fairy tale; “Brigit’s Cell” contrasts two voices that are centuries apart; “Sing for Me” delves into the delicate area of the differences between our private and public actions; “Forget my Fate” touches on a number of subjects, including the immigrant experience and the ability of music to transcend; and “After the Fox” looks at tricky human relationships.

And that’s just a few of them…. Each story is such a gem that I had to pause in between reading them and take a break, just to let the last one assimilate – a different approach to my normal gulping down of books, and a valuable one as I was able to appreciate just how good Warner’s tale-telling is. What’s so impressive is how she’s able to effortlessly take on the persona of whoever (or whatever!) she wants to use to tell the story, and how she does it faultlessly.

marina warner#

I mentioned earlier how pleased I was that Salt were publishing collections of contemporary short stories; and one of the interesting things about this book was looking at the list in the back of where the stories first appeared, which ranged from websites, magazines and on the BBC. Dovegreyreader had a really interesting post here recently about short stories and how difficult it must be to get them published and taken seriously nowadays. Certainly, Warner seems to have managed to find outlets for hers, but thank goodness there are publishers prepared to put out collections of work like this – the thought of these stories not finding a wide audience is unthinkable.

“Fly Away Home” is most definitely one of the best short story collections I’ve read in a long time, in fact some of the best contemporary writing (and I’m notoriously fickle about new books…) Thanks go to Salt Publishing for providing the review copy – this may be the first fiction I’ve read by Warner, but I’m certain it won’t be the last! 🙂

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