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Catching Up With The Magazines!

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I’ve had a week of feeling under the weather (the usual seasonal cold….) and reading has been a bit of a struggle. But with Christmas in sight, I thought it might be a good time to catch up with something a little less taxing in the form of some magazines.

mags

I tend not to read high-street glossies, because there are few that actually hold my attention. I’m occasionally drawn to something crafty, but so often these focus just on card making or crochet, neither of which are really my thing.

However, I do subscribe to two lovely journals, both of which are wonderful reading but which are very different! First up is the Manchester Modernist Magazine. I can’t even recall how I first stumbled across this lovely little indy mag, but I’ve been subscribing since issue 1; it carries features on all sorts of brutalist and modernist architecture and the like and it’s a great read.

modernists

The second is probably known to many readers of this blog, and that’s Slightly Foxed, a wonderful literary journal. It’s packed with wonderful bookish pieces of a bite-sized length and makes ideal browsing. It’s also very bad for the wish list!

foxed

And if you add in the most recent Persephone Biannually mags which I have lying about, that makes a bit of a backlog… Time for some catching up! 🙂

persephone

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Home Alone for All Virago/All August

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The Children who Lived in a Barn by Eleanor Graham

It’s been a while since I picked up one of the lovely Persephone volumes I have on my shelves, and I’m not sure what attracted me to this one at the moment, although All Virago/All August (which includes Persephones) is one possibility! “The Children who Lived in a Barn” was a Christmas gift from my dear pal J. and as usual it’s a lovely one. The book is of course a classic, and Graham was editor for Puffin Books, Penguin’s children’s arm; this was her only proper work of fiction.

The original Puffin cover

The original Puffin cover

“The Children who Lived in a Barn” tells the story of the Dunnett family: Sue, Robert, twins Sam and Jumbo, plus the ‘baby’ Alice. The family live in a rented ramshackle old house near a village, and at the start of the tale their parents are called away unexpectedly by a family illness, rushing off to take their first plane flight. Amazingly (to modern eyes, anyway) they choose to leave their children at home alone, with Sue (the eldest at 13) and Robert (next down, but a boy) in charge of the younger ones. All does not go as planned, however, as the family are behind with the rent and their nasty landlord decides to evict them. A friendly local farmer offers them a barn to live in; the children move in and try to get by on their own, and also to win over the initially suspicious locals. Will they cope with cooking, cleaning, school work and the lack of money? Will they defeat the local do-gooders who want to farm them out to various carers? And what did happen to their parents.

On surface level, then, the book is very reminiscent of Enid Blyton, who wrote a number of books about children managing on their own (“The Secret Island” springs to mind instantly). However, there are differences: “Barn” comes across as having a much more adult perspective, and unlike many of the Blytons (which often involve children running away), these youngsters are staying put and carrying on with a relatively ordinary life.

So the chores are divvied up; alas, the children fall into traditional roles and Sue ends up with most of the domestics (which *did* rankle a little); but they all have tasks, they all learn to pull together and have adventures along the way. Their relationship with the villagers improves, the do-gooders get their comeuppance and at the end equilibrium returns. There *are* a few strange gaps in the story, particularly dealing with the Dunnett parents – their rushed departure and sudden return does rather stretch credibility a teeny bit in a book that’s striving to be more realistic than the usual childhood fare. And although the central character of Sue is believable and well-drawn, the rest of the family are perhaps less developed – Robert is stolid, Sam and Jumbo naughty and it was probably the whiney and selfish youngest, Alice, who really stood out in her own right alongside Sue.

Lovely Persephone endpaper

Lovely Persephone endpaper

Nevertheless, these are minor niggles, because I really enjoyed my read of this novel. Like so many Persephones, one of the most rewarding things about this book is the glimpse it gives us into the past. We take our mod cons so much for granted, and the thought of getting up at 4 a.m. on a Monday morning to hand-wash the family clothes and linen is terrifying. It’s staggering what housekeeping involved back in the 1950s and watching the children struggling to deal with endless cooking, cleaning, shopping and account-keeping alongside going to school is quite an eye-opener.

The book as a physical object is, of course, a delight. It comes beautifully reproduced with original drawings and I do wish all reprint publishers would take as much care as Persephone do. “The Children who Lived in a Barn” was a wonderfully enjoyable wallow in a tale from a lost world, and it’s really whetted my appetite for picking up more titles from my pile of Persephones!

Leaving July Behind – and thinking about August reading

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July is a month that I’m going to be happy to leave behind, for obvious reasons. It’s not been easy, but books have as always been a place to hide. I’ve found non-fiction to be quite a support and I’ll catch up on the reviewing eventually.

August, however, is traditionally designated as “All Virago/All August” as readers of this blog will know and we members of the LibraryThing VMC group always try to read as many Viragos or Persephones as we can this month. I, of course, being rubbish at challenges never commit to a whole month of these books, but I’ll try my best to fit some in.

Interestingly enough, I was browsing the shelves to see which volumes appealed, with half an eye out for translated works to fit them into August’s Women in Translation Month, and I was surprised at how few of my Viragos were actually translated books. There’s at least one Persephone I have on the TBR that’s translated, and so I’ve come up with a collection of possibles for August:

august

I think there’s quite a nice selection of books in there with a lot of variety and I’m sure some will be ones I want to pick up. Then again, contrary as I am, I may end up reading something completely different that isn’t any of the ones above….. 🙂

A bookish jaunt – and the loveliness of Viragoites!

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Despite my best efforts, the books continue to pour in at the Ramblings (much to the consternation of OH, who starts to wonder where we’re going to put them all, particularly if we manage to retire to a bungalow one day…) However, I’m trying to be strict with what I keep and I suspect some may be passed on to interested readers after I’ve enjoyed them – well, that’s the theory anyway

There’s been something of a splurge of review books – which is lovely, but sometimes unexpected – and these are pressurising me to read them – I’m doing quite well and reviews will follow! Here are some of the lovelies:

hesperus

Two *very* interesting titles courtesy of Hesperus Press. Gertrude Bell was of course a pioneering woman traveller and her work has been published by Virago in the past. The Pankhurst book looks fascinating and I know of several women (Middle Child, for example!) who may well want to read it after me!

pearlmanThe Edith Pearlman book comes courtesy of Bookbridgr and John Murray Publishers, and I’m very excited about this one as her fiction has been lauded everywhere.

Then there is the ongoing Virginia Woolf obsession… Having read everything there was available in the 1980s, I now find there is more – in the form of a 6 volume set of her complete essays and her early journals. The latter managed to make its way to the Ramblings this week:

woolf journals

However, the essays are proving a little more difficult as they are often large and expensive. So far, I have tracked down reasonably priced copies of the first three volumes:

woolf essays

The rest will have to be an ongoing project…

As for the bookish jaunt – this was to London, to meet up with Elaine, a fellow LibraryThing Viragoite who was visiting from the USA. She’s managing to take in a couple of LT gatherings, and yesterday we were joined by the lovely Claire and Luci, plus Simon from Stuck-in-a-Book (who alas had to dash off early), all of whom I’d met before at my first LT get-together last year. The trains were a bit of a nightmare (involving changes at Stratford plus Tottenham Court Tube being closed) and I had my usual “what shall I read on the train?” crisis; eventually settling for this:

kyril

Annabel had given it a rave review on Shiny New Books and I had recently snagged a bargain copy, so I grabbed it on my way out – and it proved to be just the right thing for the journey (a review will follow)!

After meeting up at Foyles, we spent a lovely day pottering around the Bloomsbury Oxfam, the Persephone shop, the LRB bookshop (and very wonderful cafe) plus lunching at My Old Dutch Pancake house – yum! There were bookish finds all round, and Elaine came across an original Virago she’d been after so that was good! Star of the day must be the wonderfully generous Luci, however, who seems to turn up at get-togethers with bags of books to donate – either to charity shops or to those of us who would like them! Such kindness is a wonderful thing and I’m beholden to Luci for several treasures this weekend:

tove

I’ve become a real convert to Tove Jansson recently, so to be presented with two collections I don’t have was a real treat!ghost milkI first read Iain Sinclair a few years back, pre-blog, in the form of “London Orbital”, which I loved, so I’m very keen to explore his work further.

hall and mansfield

And finally from Luci, a Virago title I don’t have and the Collected Stories of Katherine Mansfield. These are all wonderful books and I feel very blessed to have been gifted them

You would think that would be enough for one day, wouldn’t you, but I did slip in a couple of other purchases (well – more than a couple, really). From Foyles came this – no explanation needed really:

party

From the Bloomsbury Oxfam came these:

blms oxAnd from the Persephone shop came Into The Whirlwind by Eugenia Ginzburg and some missing bookmarks:

ginzburg

But of course the best part of the day is the company – it’s lovely to chat all things bookish with people! Here’s hoping Elaine’s meet up with the Birmingham Viragoites is just as lovely! 🙂

Puppy love?

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Flush: A Biography by Virginia Woolf

When I was looking back on my reading for 2014, one of the things which gave me the most pleasure was the fact that I really reconnected with Virginia Woolf’s writing, and in a way that’s made me keen to keep that connection going in 2015. I had my first flurry of reading her books in the 1980s which was everything I could get hold of – the novels, the diaries, essay collections, letters, biographies, the lot. I’ve revisited her intermittently over the years, but since I started blogging I’ve dipped in with some essays and fiction. But it was taking the plunge and returning to “Mrs. Dalloway”, my first Woolf, that was really pivotal. I was delighted and relieved that it still had the same effect on me, and I’m currently pursing her books of complete essays (but that’s another story…)

So the fact that my lovely VSS, Genny, chose to gift me the Persephone edition of “Flush” was serendipitous to say the least. I probably haven’t read this title for 30 years, and I actually don’t think I’ve revisited since the first reading (when I was reading all Woolf’s novels in order). “Flush” is a bit of an oddity and I was interested to see what I would think of it this time round – so it was the first book to come off the Christmas pile!

Photo courtesy theidler.co.uk

Photo courtesy theidler.co.uk

The original Flush the dog was, of course, the spaniel belonging to poet Elizabeth Barrett (Browning), given to her by Mary Russell Mitford, and a dear companion through her years of seclusion as an invalid. Woolf chose to write a biography of the dog, which in fact also ends up being very revealing about the life of Elizabeth herself! So we see events through the eyes of a dog, from his early life running wild in the fields, through the transition to a house dog, pampered and faithful friend to EBB; then Flush is kidnapped and held for ransom, in some ways a pivotal event as we see Elizabeth stepping outside of her seclusion to go to the rescue. Finally, Robert Browning enters the scene; the relationship between Flush and his owner changes, and he is witness to the marriage and elopement, seeing out his days in exile with the Brownings in Italy.

The tale of the Brownings is of course a fascinating one on its own, but by telling the story through a biography of Flush, Woolf lets us look at the tale very differently. There is a strong link between EBB and Flush, and their lives are also constrained in similar ways. However, the foreword by author Sally Beauman invites to look at “Flush” with yet another layer of meaning, whereby she links Woolf herself with the subjects of her book.

Beauman makes a strong case for the parallels between EBB and Woolf in her introduction: both had domineering and somewhat weird fathers; both suffered illness, with their health closely guarded by their husbands; and both longed to break out from that control (as did Flush!) I’m not sure whether this was a deliberate subtext by Woolf, a subconscious one or just a modern reading we might impose, but nevertheless it’s a fascinating interpretation. Whether or not you accept this particular idea, I believe Woolf is definitely comparing the life of Flush and his mistress: the dog becomes domesticated and controlled, confined to the bedroom like EBB and it is only when she breaks free that he does too.

Elizabeth Barrett and Flush 1841 - courtesy http://cambridgecanine.com

Elizabeth Barrett and Flush 1841 – courtesy http://www.cambridgecanine.com

But enough of interpretation; what about the writing? Well, this is Virginia Woolf we’re talking about her so the prose is fluid, beautiful and eminently readable. It’s just such a joy to read her work again and to revel in the wonderful structure of her writing, her flights of fancy, the compelling nature of her books. Woolf apparently wrote “Flush” as light relief from composing “The Waves”, one of her more complex novels, but light it is not. It contains life, love and the world, and really what more is there? She paints a vivid, impressionistic picture of EBB through the life of her dog, and also provided a touching portrayal of the world of dogs as a species.

Miss Barrett’s bedroom — for such it was — must by all accounts have been dark. The light, normally obscured by a curtain of green damask, was in summer further dimmed by the ivy, the scarlet runners, the convolvuluses and the nasturtiums which grew in the window-box. At first Flush could distinguish nothing in the pale greenish gloom but five white globes glimmering mysteriously in mid-air. But again it was the smell of the room that overpowered him. Only a scholar who has descended step by step into a mausoleum and there finds himself in a crypt, crusted with fungus, slimy with mould, exuding sour smells of decay and antiquity, while half-obliterated marble busts gleam in mid-air and all is dimly seen by the light of the small swinging lamp which he holds, and dips and turns, glancing now here, now there — only the sensations of such an explorer into the buried vaults of a ruined city can compare with the riot of emotions that flooded Flush’s nerves as he stood for the first time in an invalid’s bedroom, in Wimpole Street, and smelt eau de cologne.

I could get all fan-girl here and rant on about what a genius Woolf was, but if you’ve read and loved her you’ll know this already; if you don’t like her work then nothing I say will convince you. “Flush” is possible a good way to get entry into Woolf’s writing, though, as it reads a little like a cross between her novels and her essays and might be less intimidating that something longer.

VW courtesy the Persephone website

VW courtesy the Persephone website

I’m not sure whether I subscribe to Sally Beauman’s interpretation of the extra level, although it is intriguing, but I’ve definitely read the book differently this time round; in particular, the parallels between Flush and EBB weren’t so obvious to me before. But even if we don’t look for other meanings, we are left with a beautifully imagined and told tale of a dog and his mistress, a moving story that actually made me a bit teary at the end. I’m so glad that my love of Woolf really rebooted in 2014 and I’m hoping that in 2015 I’ll continue to discover more in one of my favourite authors! 🙂

So. I popped into the library yesterday to collect a book…

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This one in fact:

carey

I’ve enjoying reading and listening to John Carey’s thoughts for a while and I dealt with the book itch by reserving it from the library. Trouble is, it came in a couple of weeks ago and I forgot about it… Luckily (or unluckily) Simon at Stuck-in-a-Book mentioned it as he’d got a copy for Christmas and this reminded me and so I went to pick it up – which was a mistake, as it turned out, because the library sale section (old and unwanted books) had been revamped and I also came out with these:

library

I think I can hardly be blamed, though! The Orwell is a hardback of some uncollected pieces which will match my boxed hardback complete works thingy. The Persephone (a Persephone!) is the same collection of Dorothy Whipple short stories that captivated my friend J. in the Bloomsbury Oxfam. And the third book is a selection of Julian Maclaren-Ross’s letters (why does my library want to get rid of his books??) All for £3.40….. Not that I need any books after Christmas…

And then there was this in the Oxfam:

leeI read “Cider with Rosie” at school when we studied it in my Grammar School days. I loved it on first reading and hated it after we’d analysed it to death. But I’m intrigued by his Spanish Civil War days and so I figured maybe I should revisit and see what I make of it all those years late…. And £1.99 is not a bad price.

However, I got home to find a lovely review book from Michael Walmer:

charteris

And there is the Willa Cather from Heaven-Ali’s lovely giveaway:

my antonia

Well, I can’t deny that Mount TBR is out of control – it’s the floorboards I fear for most at the moment….. :s

The offending articles…

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Ok, final thoughts on the tatty books – I promise not to moan any more after this! And here they are in all their glory:

They don’t look quite so bad from a distance, do they? I have made the decision to keep the third volume of the Forstyes as it *was* cheap and the main issue was the lying and the inaccuracy:

The description!

The description!

That’s how they described it (you can see the dirt on the cover even in my bad photo). And this is the page block:

But it will do to read – and HeavenAli has come up with the great idea of the Forsyte Sage for a 2015 read so we will be doing this, and she’s going to put together a post – hopefully more will join in!

Meanwhile, my book nerves have been soothed by the arrival of a brand new pristine volume from Persephone – their new Classic version of “The Home-Maker” by Dorothy Canfield Fisher:

Doesn’t it look lovely? And it sounds great too! Apart from that, I have been restrained this weekend, only bringing home a Tatyana Tolstoya from the Samaritans:

Having finished up reading “Look Who’s Back” (an incredible book in more ways than one – I shall review it in November for German Reading Month), I’m now limbering up for Margaret Kennedy Reading Week – “The Feast” awaits me!

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