A few quick literary links…. @lithub @parisreview @guardian


A lot of lovely blogs tend to have regular features with links to all the exciting posts, articles and features that pop up on the InterWeb. It’s not a thing I generally do, but today’s newsletter from LitHub had some links I just felt I had to share!

By Ginny from USA (book sale loot) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

Feminize Your Canon – a really interesting initiative from The Paris Review (which has been widely shared on Twitter today). It’s a new monthly column celebrating neglected woman writers, starting with Olivia Manning, and deserves to be read and applauded. You can subscribe to receive daily updates from the PR which are always worth reading as well.

Top 10 lost women’s classics – an interesting piece from the always-interesting Guardian newspaper in a similar vein, which has some very intriguing books featured.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

Penelope Lively on Virginia Woolf – on LitHub this time, a fascinating extract from Lively’s book, “Life in the Garden”.

If you don’t subscribe to LitHub’s daily newsletter, I’d suggest signing up. A daily dose of literary links can be just what the doctor ordered – although always potentially bad for the wishlist and TBR…. 🙂


A Philosophical Exercise of Memory


A House Unlocked by Penelope Lively

Penelope Lively is one of those British authors that we somehow almost take for granted. She’s been writing fiction since 19970, starting with children’s books and then moving onto adult novels, and is still producing work (her most recent being a memoir in 2013). I first encountered her through the children’s books which I read in my young adult years and loved for their mixture of fantasy and reality, tapping into the oldness of Britain and its legends and past. There was much wonderful children’s fantasy produced in the 1960s and 1970s and I’d like to revisit it one day.


However, I’ve not yet managed to tackle her adult novels (although there are several lurking on Mount TBR). This volume, an autobiographical work based around her grandparents’ house, seemed a steal for 50p in the charity shop and was excellent reading during my recent struggles!

The house concerned is Golsoncott in Somerset, and Lively takes the novel approach of selecting a particular aspect of the building and its contents, using this as a jumping off point for a series of meditations on all manner of subjects from the decline of Pelican blue covered paperbacks to the shifting expectations of women from the 1950s onwards. Memory is the key here – the book was published in 2001 and Lively is contemplating the changes that have taken place during the previous century, much of which she has lived through, and that which she hasn’t she has fairly direct knowledge of. It’s a fascinating idea, and makes for an engaging book and some very thought-provoking discussions.

“Recollection cannot be shared – that fragmented vision with which each of us lives. In those old photographs of my young grandmother an incarnation of a person I would one day know looks out at me from elsewhere… when I pore over those groups I see them sited not in a place but a time.”

From what I recall of Lively’s fictions she’s very concerned with how the past and present interlink and inform each other, and that’s very to the fore here. She’s constantly exercising her memory to recall the layout of the house, which still exists, but only in her head. And she’s very good at getting into the mindset of a person from the past and imagining how they would have perceived things.

On the journey through Lively’s houses and meanderings we meet a wonderful array of characters – most notably her formidable grandmother and her artistic aunt Rachel, both striking personalities in their own right. Then there are those who have dipped in and out of the life of the house, including evacuees from London, a refugee from Nazi Germany and another from the Russian revolution. All have their stories to tell and Lively includes them all here.


This was such a rich and satisfying read – slowly paced (and perhaps with just the occasional repetition), thoughtful and reflective, it’s a very clever way to look at the big changes in the world while recording the biography of a house and its occupants. The places where she considers the changes to women’s lives, to the structure of marriage and how different things have become in just one century are really eye-opening. It’s most definitely time I pulled more of Lively’s books off the shelf! 🙂

On taking a little break from books (but not from reading!)


That’s a heading that sounds a little alarming, and I confess that I’m actually struggling a bit with reading at the moment. It’s not so much the reading of the books when I actually get going, it’s settling on what I want to actually read – I’ve started several recently and discarded them almost straight away because the mood just doesn’t seem right.

(Image courtesy Cafepress)

(Image courtesy Cafepress)

I wonder: have I overdone it and exhausted my brain a little? I’ve certainly read many volumes over recent weeks, so much so that I have quite a reviewing backlog. Usually, flinging myself into the nearest book tends to work but it hasn’t recently, and I’ve had a few disappointments too, so perhaps something radical is needed.


Therefore, having just finished the Penelope Lively I picked up at the weekend (and jolly good it was too – review will follow!) I think I might spend a day or two reading Slightly Foxed – I have part of the last issue and the lovely new one which arrived today, and it may be that some shorter non-fiction pieces will do the trick.

Here’s hoping that the reader’s block goes and normal service is resumed asap! :s

Little Black Lovelies!


I have (rather sadly) spent most of this week in a state of great excitement about the impending publication of the Penguin Little Black Classics – 80 volumes at 80p each to celebrate 80 years of Penguin Classics. There’s a remarkably wide of range of authors represented, including many of my favourites, and so I’ve been keen to get my hands on some!

Penguin-330x330I was also very keen to buy them at a proper bookshop, rather than online, so I popped into my local Waterstones last week to find out if they would be stocking them. They told me they were going to be stocking the whole range – yay! – and when I went in today they’d done a wonderful display on the first floor next to the fiction section – I wish I’d had my camera on me, but anyway, well done Ipswich Waterstones!

I confess I came home with several of them – and I could have happy picked up the lot! – but here are the ones I chose:

black stackAnd here they are, all spread out:

black flat

The top row is Russians (of course!) – Tolstoy, Leskov, Chekhov, Turgenev, Dostoevsky and Gogol.

The middle row is English language writers – Conrad, Darwin, Whitman, Wharton and Pepys.

And the bottom row is Japanese/Chinese authors – Basho, Kenko, Shen Fu and Pu Songling.

They’re beautiful little books, worth 80p of anyone’s money – and I suspect more of them might make their way into the Ramblings before too much longer…

As for other weekend purchases – well, I was restrained:


A nice hardback of “A House Unlocked” by Penelope Lively – I’ve read all her children’s books and have several adult ones on Mount TBR – but this was only 50p and sounded fascinating!

So today has been a very happy bookish Saturday! 🙂

The Further Exploits of the Queen of the Oxfam Shops


No, that isn’t the title of a recent read – and lest anyone thinks I’ve gone rather arrogant, I should point out that I didn’t take that moniker upon myself! One of my lovely friends on the LibraryThing Virago group (you know who you are!) jokingly dubbed me that recently when we were having a conversation about Penelope Lively. I’ve only ever read Lively’s children’s novels and so another Viragoite urged me to get some of her work. I knew I’d seen some in local charity shops – hence my new title! And when have I ever turned down the challenge to track down a book? However, I tracked down more than I had anticipated… This is the pile I came home with and this is the story!

Off I trotted into the Big Town, and it turned out there *were* quite a few Penelope Lively books in the charity shops. I decided to be restrained and selective and picked out two I thought appealed, having a good read of the back blurbs, and they were only £1 each:

I remember reading about “The Photograph” when it came out and liking the sound of it. As for “City of the Mind” I have a thing about architecture and as this one is based around a London architect it was an obvious choice.

So I did think I was doing quite well with the restraint thing, until I hit the Oxfam… They had no Lively fiction but did have one of her books of autobiography:

Then I had a look at the general fiction and lo and behold! A Tove Jansson!!

Simon T at Stuck in a Book has always sung her praises and was encouraging me only recently to read some of her work – so grabbing this was a no brainer!

I should have left the Oxfam then, but I had one of those feelings you get when you’re on a book search…. I’d been looking at my Amazon wish list and one of the books on it was The Portable Hannah Arendt. The book is one I’ve wanted to pick up for a while, and although it’s not over expensive online, when you add on postage the price shoots up. Arendt is an intriguing woman, and she floated back into my thoughts because my friend H, who I saw last week, is very keen on her work – which reminded me I wanted this book. And oddly in the Oxfam I felt the pull of the philosophy section (not where I usually go) and there, sitting on the shelf waiting for me, was this:

Serendipity or what? You tell me – but it cost slightly less than the online copies and there’s no postage on top *and* it’s in excellent condition (important, because I’m so fed up with buying misdescribed books!) Phew!

So I came out of the Oxfam with a lighter purse (not by too much, though) and a much heavier bag. What happened next in The Works I refuse to take any blame for…. I had to go in there anyway for some stationery. And they have boxes and boxes and boxes of books for £1 at the moment (some even less). So it would have been foolish not to browse, no? These are what I found:

Uncle Silas was £1 and sounds creepy classic fun. The Spark was also £1 and is a Virago I don’t have. The Emma Tennant was 59p (59p!!!) – for a Canongate Classic!! I read Tennant in the 1970s/1980s but can recall absolutely nothing about her work, so this is a good chance to rediscover her.

I blame my friends on the Virago group – totally – my book habit may be a little out of control but they can’t say they haven’t encouraged me!! 🙂

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