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A belated round up of some short Christmas reads! ๐ŸŽ„๐ŸŽ„๐Ÿ“š๐Ÿ“š

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Christmas 2021 seemed to come and go very quickly, although it was lovely while it lasted; and I did manage to squeeze in a few festive titles which I thought I would round up briefly in one post. One was an old favourite book, one a favourite author making a polemical point, and one a lovely gift I received – let’s take a look!

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens

I might as well come straight out with it and say that this is one of my favourite, desert island books. I’ve read it so many times it’s ridiculous, and I’ll watch pretty much any adaptation of it (I’m even convinced by the Muppet Christmas Carol!) So during a particularly trying time over the festive period, I picked it up and re-read it in one sitting and loved it all over again. Unforgettable characters, wonderfully creepy ghosts, such a clever narrative and completely unputdownable. A nasty protagonist who gets redemption and a second chance – what’s not to love? I think I need to re-read this every Christmas!!

A Christmas Tree and a Wedding by Fyodor Dostoevsky (with spoilers!)

Still in the mood for something Christmassy, I saw this get a mention on Brona’s Books, and discovered that I have a copy in the nice chunky collection translated by Constance Garnett which I picked up recently. Truth be told, it’s not really that warm and cuddly (well, you wouldn’t expect that from Dostoevsky, would you?) The story opens with the narrator attending a Christmas party; something of an observer rather than a participant, he particularly notices a beautiful 11 year old girl who eschews the boisterous play of the rest of the children and goes off quietly to another room to play with her doll. However, she’s attracted the attention of an older business man (particularly as her family are rich) and in a toe-curling scene he follows her to the other room and attempts a mild kind of flirting. My skin crawled, I must admit, and even more so when five years later the narrator sees the young girl being married off to the same man in a society wedding. This is something which has come up before in Russian literature, and the famous painting “Unequal Marriage” by Vasili Pukirev (which I’ve mentioned before on the blog) exemplifies the issue. An uncomfortable and unsettling read, and evidence of Dostoevsky’s social concerns.

A Christmas Memory by Truman Capote

My final Christmassy read was a real treat in the form of a lovely gift from my blogging pal HeavenAli. A Christmas Memory is a beautiful little hardback collection of five stories by the great Truman Capote, none of which I’d read before, and they made the perfect companion to New Year’s Eve!

The five titles are A Christmas Memory, The Thanksgiving Visitor, One Christmas, Master Misery and Jug of Silver. The first three stories are autobiographical tales based on Capote’s childhood, with the young boy Buddy standing in for the author. Basically abandoned by his parents to live with relatives in the country, he had a strong bond with a much older cousin who he calls Miss Sook. Despite the vast difference in their ages, the two are mentally sympatico and very close; and two of the stories explore their Christmas rituals, the comfort she provides when he’s bullied and the deep love which exists between them. The third Christmas story tells of Buddy’s reaction to spending one holiday season with his father in New Orleans; the stark contrast to his normal life unsettles him, as do the glimpses of the adult world, but the book still ends on a moving note. All three stories are beautifully written, capturing so vividly Buddy’s life in the country which although hard, still seems idyllic to him, spending his time making and flying kites, and going off on adventures with Sook and their dog Queenie. The title story in particular is an American classic, and I can see why – it’s beautiful and poignant, and a reminder (if I needed it) of what a very great author Capote was.

The other two stories in the book are standalones; Master Misery is a strange and disturbing little tale of a young woman struggling to make a living in winter-time New York, who ends up selling her dreams to a mysterious man; it’s dark and intriguing with a very unsettling end. And Jug of Silver is set in the country again, where a kind of Christmas miracle takes place, and again Capote brilliantly captures his setting and characters. I loved the whole book – thank you Ali! ๐Ÿ˜Š

So that’s it for Christmas reading for a while (or at least until December this year!) Three very different but all very interesting books, and I enjoyed them all in different ways. Now, it’s onward into the new year and some non-seasonal reading! ๐Ÿ˜€

Penguin Moderns 35 and 36 โ€“ Marlon and melancholia…

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After the excitement of considering revamping the Penguin Projects, it seems only fitting that I should continue to move on through the various collections I have; and after the disappointment of my first foray into Japanese Literature Month, I thought I would return to the Penguin Moderns to try to ensure a good read – which these two certainly delivered!

Penguin Modern 34 โ€“ The Duke in his Domain by Truman Capote

Capote is an author with whom I’m fairly familiar (and who probably needs no introduction); I read “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood” back in the day, and loved and admired both. In particular, I find his journalism compelling, so I was particularly keen on reading this short work: a profile of the young Marlon Brando, marooned in a Kyoto hotel whilst filming “Sayonara”. First published in 1957 in the New Yorker, the piece makes absorbing reading.

As Capote reveals, he had first run into Brando in the actor’s early years appearing on stage in “A Streetcar Named Desire”. Then, Brando had been at the start of his career; here, he’s at the top of his game, a box office certainty, and in many ways an enigma. Whether attempting to write his own screenplays, studying the various philosophy books strewn around his room or juggling his entourage, Brando remains basically unknowable, completely enigmatic. Capote observes and records, as the perfect journalist would do, and really captures the time and place and the mystique.

What struck me, too, as I read this Modern, was the strong impression I got from it of Japan; a stronger impression, I have to say, than I got from “The Housekeeper and The Professor”…. Which I suppose tells you much about the quality of Capote’s writing. An excellent entry in the Penguin Moderns collection and a nudge to me to read more of Capote’s non-fiction!

Penguin Modern 36 โ€“ Leaving the Yellow House by Saul Bellow

The next Modern is an author I know of but have never read – Saul Bellow. A Canadian-American author who won all manner of literary prizes (including the Nobel), I guess maybe “Herzog” is his best known work. First published in Esquire in 1958, and in book form a decade later, “Leaving the Yellow House” is an evocative and beautifully written story of a woman and a house and the West.

The main character is an older woman called Hattie, who lives on her own in the Yellow House near a desert town by Sego Desert Lake. Hattie is a hard-drinking character with a past; and a car accident and injury forces her to attempt to face up not only to what’s happened in her life so far, but also whether she has any future. Her only friends are a few local neighbours, some of whom will help and some who will take advantage; and as the story progresses we explore Hattie’s past with the various men in her life, her complex relationship with her friend India, and her drinking. That latter element has become the most important part of her life (in fact, certain flashbacks hint it might always have been), and I ended the story wondering what would eventually become of Hattie.

“Leaving the Yellow House” is a title with a double meaning as you’ll see if you read this story; and I do recommend it highly. It’s beautifully written, very evocative and captures the area in which Hattie lives vividly. Bellow obviously deserved all the awards he received, and this was a brilliant introduction to his writing.

*****

So once again, a pair of great Penguin Moderns featuring two titans of American writing.ย  Re-encountering Capote was a real joy, and discovering Bellow a revelation. And that’s basically what I’m hoping to get out of these little books – renewal of acquaintances or an introduction to new writing. Perfect!ย  ;D

Books. Tomes. Publications. Texts. And a marvellous festive treat from @BL_Publishing !

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It’s the usual story on the Ramblings: despite my best intentions, books *will* keep finding their way into the house… In fairness, I have bought very few of them, and I *have* piled on the floor in one of the Offspring’s ex-bedrooms at least 100 volumes to be sold or donated or passed on to friends. So the house rafters will hopefully survive for a little longer, and in the meantime I thought I should share some book pictures – because, let’s face it, we all get vicarious pleasure from seeing other people’s book hauls!

First up, the charity shops. I should just avoid them, I suppose, but *do* pop in every week – and mostly I’m good, reminding myself that I have plenty to read at home.

However, the previous weekend I couldn’t resist another Allingham (I kind of think I might have read this once, but I can’t remember) – it sounds good and was terribly cheap! The Capote short stories is a book I haven’t come across in my second-hand book searching, and I blame Ali – she’s reviewed Capote’s short stories glowingly, and although I’ve read his longer works I haven’t read this, so I had to pick it up.

The rather large volume that is “Middlemarch” is a Bookcrossing book – they have a little selection in my local Nero, and since I always have a coffee there on a Saturday I always check the books out. I have a very old and gnarled Penguin of the book, but the type is so small that it’s off-putting – so I figured this might spur me on to read it. It’s in almost new condition with decent size type and lovely white pages (as opposed to the brown and crispy ones of my old book) so that’s a bonus!

However, the bestest find (so to speak) of recent weeks is this lovely!! I’ve written about Anthony Berkeley’s works before on the blog – I love his Golden Age fictions, as he brings such a twist to the format, and in particular the British Library Crime Classics reprint of “The Poisoned Chocolates Case” was a really outstanding addition to their range. It seems the BL are not the only ones going in for classic crime reprints (although I would say they are leading the field), as this is a Collins reprint which seems to be part of a series of ‘Detective Club’ reissues. A lovely hardback in a dustjacket, for ยฃ2 not to be sneezed at. I can see myself picking this one up very soon!

Then there are the review books…. gulp. As you can see, a few have been making their way into the Ramblings – some rather substantial and imposing ones amongst them, particularly from the lovely OUP. The hardback Russians are calling to me, particularly “Crime and Punishment”, which is long overdue a re-read. Then there’s another edition of the quirky and entertaining Stella Benson from Mike Barker.

As for the Christmas paper… well, you’ve probably picked up on social media and the like that the British Library have a rather special volume planned as their Christmas Crime Classic this year, and this is what popped through my door, beautifully wrapped.

Early Christmas present – has to be good! This will be the 50th British Library Crime Classic, and it’s being released in a hardback with special extra material. Inside, it looks rather like this:

Isn’t it beautiful? The story itself sounds wonderful enough, but the book comes with an exclusive essay on the history of Christmas crime fiction, as well as an introduction, all by the marvellous Martin Edwards. And the book itself is beautifully produced, with the usual gorgeous cover image, plus a ribbon bookmark (I *love* books with a built in bookmark). What a treat! Part of me wants to devour it straight away, and part of me wants to wait until Christmas – what torture. Thank you, British Library!

So – some fascinating incoming books, I feel, and yet more difficult decisions to be made about what to read next. At least there’s not much risk of me running out of things to read…. ๐Ÿ˜‰

In which I wonder… just why *is* my memory so hopeless?????

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You might wonder what prompted that thought – and I’ve never prided myself on having a particularly great memory – but the story goes like this!

Whilst having a rummage around notebooks, as you do, trying to find just the right one to jot down notes, or comments on books I’m reading, I stumbled across one that I briefly kept in the early 2000s. In some ways you could say it was a primitive form of this blog – I simply noted the date I’d finished a book and *very* brief details of what I thought of it. It was quite fascinating to look through and see what I was reading at the time (a *lot* of Mishima for a start), but also quite revelatory in that I knew I’d read these books, I’d obviously loved them but I couldn’t for the life of me remember anything about the plot or characters!

If I’m honest, that’s one of the reasons I started blogging; apart from wanting to share my feelings about the books I read and love, it’s a way of recording in more detail what they were about and which bits I responded to. And writing here has helped with this (along with keeping a spreadsheet of reading and books bought!) However, I was totally flummoxed by a few entries when I was reading Truman Capote. I knew I’d read “Tiffany’s” and “In Cold Blood” way back, but apparently I also read “Music for Chameleons” and was mightily impressed – which surprised me somewhat as not only couldn’t I remember that, I also didn’t think I owned it….

music-for-chameleons

A serious rummage through the stacks (and it took a while, because I’d moved the Capotes and some others from where they’d always lived on the shelves) revealed that I did indeed own the book – so I obviously *did* love it back in the 2000s!

I guess the solution will be eventually to get my whole collection onto LibraryThing or some very big spreadsheet – and also to knock the shelves into some kind of logical order. Then I might have a chance of remembering what books I own, where to find them and whether I’ve read them.

Or maybe it’s just my age! ๐Ÿ™‚

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