The dreaded V-Day is almost upon us….

February 9, 2012 at 9:03 pm | Posted in love | 4 Comments
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…so to ‘celebrate’, I’ve decided to list my favourite literary lovers.

1) Cecilia and Robbie in Atonement. So gorgeous, and so goddamn tragic (though the casting of Keira Knightley and James McAvoy as the star-crossed lovers may be partially to blame for my use of the former epithet). And Robbie writes a very dirty love letter.

2) Antony and Cleopatra. She pretends she’s killed herself, so he kills himself; he dies in her arms, so she kills herself. What could be more tragic than that? Perhaps Shakespeare inspired The Smiths? ‘To die by your side, would be a heavenly way to die…’

3) Jude Fawley and Sue Brideshead in Jude the Obscure. Yeah, so there’s suicide here too, and a nasty scene with a pig. And – SPOILER ALERT – they don’t ultimately end up together. But Jude loves Sue, and Sue loves Jude, and but for a bit of fratricide, they might have stayed together.

4) Humbert Humbert and Lolita in Lolita. You might not like it; in fact, you’ve probably not even read it and have already decided that he’s a pervert, pure and simple. But this IS a love story.

5) Hanna and Michael in The Reader. Hmmm…suicide, murder and an unusual coupling…can you sense a pattern here? Despite her sadism, despite her war crimes, and especially despite her illiteracy, I believe that Michael never stops loving Hanna.

Enjoy your V-Day, happily or unhappily single or paired up. And maybe try to have a normal, boring relationship, unlike this lot.

I’m with you on the printed word, Jonathan Franzen

February 6, 2012 at 6:02 pm | Posted in books, Ebooks | 1 Comment
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It’s probably snobbery, to be honest, which makes me prefer the book to the ebook.  For me, the desire to possess the very newest form of technology (i.e. the Kindle, in this case) strikes me as a petit bourgeois, Del Boy desire, and yet I fully acknowledge that this is an unattractive and hypocritical point of view, as I am lying here writing this on my IPhone. But I’ve never understood parents who allow their children to have televisions in their room from a very young age, nor my brother-in-law’s desire to own as many giant plasma screens as possible.  I’m positive I could live without a television, and indeed did so when I lived in Berlin for a year.

But I digress.  Like Henry Porter in the Observer, I don’t think that ‘the printed word [is] the guardian of all democratic values’.  It’s an aesthetic appreciation of the printed book which makes me value it far more than I ever would an ebook ( even the word itself kills a little something in me).  But it is precisely this widespread aesthetic appreciation of the hard copy which has seen vinyl remain so popular.  After all, there is nothing quite like the crackle at the beginning of a song played on 12″, or the turn of a page of a book.  And would it have had the same effect if my English teacher at Eton had hurled his Kindle across the room instead of a paperback, when he demonstrated Roland Barthes’ ‘author is dead’ theory?

I have had a lovely, lovely weekend…

February 4, 2012 at 6:58 pm | Posted in books | 2 Comments
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…because I met my dear friend in a pub in Kew yesterday afternoon, had a lovely conversation with him which led to dinner at Pizza Express, followed by watching Pyscho back at his.  It has also been very lovely because I just met the wonderful writer Jacqueline Wilson at an event at which I was working at the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill.  This was all rounded off, naturally, with a gin and tonic.  What a great start to my week off.

The Birdsong backlash begins…

January 24, 2012 at 11:33 pm | Posted in books, History, love, relationships, Uncategorized | 1 Comment
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It was inevitable, really.  Most critics have praised the BBC’s Birdsong production, so one grumpy old man journalist had to fight popular opinion, didn’t he?  It’s like Harry Potter and the Twilight Saga: many people will hate them simply because so many people love them.

So what, exactly, was David Aaronovitch’s problem with the production? Well, for starters, there were too many posh people, apparently.  Let’s not forget that ‘Other classes took leading roles in the First World War’.  Except no one’s forgetting, David: what about the character of Firebrace? Not exactly a toff, is he?

His second issue is with the fact that there are lots of ‘lingering glances’ and ‘slowly melting eyes’ before the love affair between Stephen and Isabelle begins.  What’s the matter, David? Do you need the actors to enunciate what they’re feeling every five minutes?  Can’t you decipher what is being implied? Poor David.  You’ve obviously not seen Lost In Translation.

He also questions whether Wraysford ‘would […] really be thinking of his Grand Meaulnes time with the heroine before final curtain down’. Do any of us really know what we’re going to be thinking just before we bite the bullet? I’d like to think I’ll be thinking of the people I’ve loved, and – stop reading now if you’re a prude – I may even recall a time I slept with one of them.  Sex is a massive part of life, David: deal with it.

I also disagree with his argument that casting directors are only scouting for pretty boys now.  Redmayne is a really talented actor who can convey more meaning in a glance than many can in a soliloquy.

Finally, ‘if I were a woman enjoying passive oral congress’ with Eddie Redmayne, I’d be grinning like a lush in a winebar. Face facts, Mr Aaronovitch: you’re wrong about this Birdsong.

Holocaust Tourism

January 21, 2012 at 8:23 pm | Posted in History, Holocaust, The History Boys, Uncategorized | Leave a comment
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Poland is trying to make Wolf’s Lair, one of Hitler’s Eastern European dwellings, a tourist destination. Concentration camps and other more artistic memorials to the Holocaust are one thing, but one of Hitler’s houses is quite another.  Can you imagine trying to explain to your colleagues the origins of your boutique hotel?

In The History Boys, there is a scene in which holocaust tourism is debated.  Hector, the boys’ eccentric General Studies teacher, wonders what happens when students visit the camps: do they eat their lunches there? Do they take photos? And if so, are they smiling in the photos?

I’ve been thinking about all this after I read Richard Morrison’s column in Times 2 yesterday.  He mentions a noisy ice cream van inappropriately parked outside Mauthausen labour camp, and it reminded me of my visit to Dachau when I was sixteen. I found it completely bizarre and almost eerie that a man should choose to jog round the perimeter of a former concentration camp.

I can’t tell you what is appropriate behaviour at Auschwitz. But I can tell you what isn’t.

http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/opinion/columnists/richardmorrison/article3292109.ece

 

 

What will survive of us is love

January 15, 2011 at 11:13 pm | Posted in books, debate, men, Waterstone's, work | Leave a comment
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The Doobyman

When I was but thirteen or so (ok, sixteen, but I wanted to go all poetical), my parents started giving me £100 a month pocket money (what a spoiled brat I was).  It never went very far, for on that first Saturday of the month, I would hotfoot it to Canterbury in search of the finest gin, kitten heels and new publications.  Yes, I would dabble with Methuen, the charity shops and the independent bookshops, but Waterstone’s was my favourite.  Back in the day, there was only the one in Canterbury, the ‘chip shop one’, as I call it, and I would linger there in the poetry section, hoping to meet my future husband (what a ridiculously romantic teenager I was).

 I am no longer that sixteen year old in her secondhand Burberry trench, scouting the Sylvia Plath section for lines to rip off.  Twelve years on, and my lyrical tastes are more Thomas Hardy and Hugo Williams than the suicidal poets (although Anne Sexton’s verse is truly beautiful).  But I still believe in beautiful bookshops, and I still rage against the company which offers half price chocolate at its tills and employs someone who thinks The Life of Pi is a cookbook.  I still believe in bookshops in beautiful buildings, where the booksellers actually know if Nigel Slater wrote a cookbook called Simple Suppers and who the author of The Master and the Margarita is.  And I really do believe that the company for whom I work will rise, Phoenix-like (how fitting), out of its slightly financially dubious ashes and remain the bookseller’s in which I once loved to roam and for whom I now love to work.  Simples.

Blue Monday indeed

May 24, 2010 at 7:55 pm | Posted in books, Boredom, Literature, Reading, sleep, Uncategorized, Waterstone's, work | Leave a comment
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I want to be doing this:

but I also yearn to feel inspired (that sentence makes me sound as if I need to read Women Who Think Too Much, or an equally cringeworthy read, but hey).

The fact is, my friends, that after work, which I love very much and don’t want to do less of (bad Amy – you ended a clause in a preposition!), Dooby feeding, bathing, dressing and entertaining, and sleep (mmmm, sleep, come to me), there really isn’t much time for anything else.  Yes, I know that their not being enough hours in the days is not exactly a new idea, but that’s not quite what I mean.  What I want is to feel interested again.  It’s been too long since I finished a book; I managed about six in Florida this March, where the hell is the next novel which makes me let my coffee sink to arctic temperatures?

I’m not depressed; I don’t think so, anyway.  It’s true that boredom is often just a mask for the black dog, but I don’t think that’s my problem.  I just want something to stun me.  Is that too much to ask?

P.S.  Yes, I know I sell books and should be able to find one which takes my fancy quite easily, but I can’t.  So there.

Do I look like a girly girl to you?

May 13, 2010 at 8:40 pm | Posted in books, debate, men, Uncategorized, women | 6 Comments
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I didn't have an umbrella, alright?

I’ll start with a couple of disclaimers:  I never wear jeans, am incredibly vain and am obviously pregnant in the photo above.  So, we can conclude that not only am I a woman (sorry for being ridiculously obvious, but you know), I could also never be described as a tomboy.

Then again, I am convinced I am the man in my relationship (in no way do I mean this in a physical sense).  Asher bows down at the throne of Richard Curtis (he also loves war films and Bond, to give him credit), I crack up every single time Jenna and I watch ‘our’ film , ‘Misery’.  (Anyone who doesn’t laugh when Annie Wilkes says she’s going to put on her Liberace records needs a personality bypass.)  Asher bought me this card for Valentine’s Day:

whilst I bought him this:

You get my point?

So it really rather pissed me off when some foul man asked me recently whether or not I liked Stieg Larsson’s Millenium Trilogy, and, after I said yes, implied that he wouldn’t like them, because I’m a ‘girly’ (yes, he really said that).  Oh, I’m sorry: I didn’t realise that literature had become gender specific now.  Heaven forbid that both the female of the species and the greater sex enjoy the same book.  Christ, is that the time?  I better get back to my manicure and Mills and Boon bonkbuster.  (Exit in my pink Nissan Micra complete with pink furry dice, pink  headrest covers and pink steering wheel cover. )

The author is dead. And so are her characters, it would seem.

May 2, 2010 at 8:34 pm | Posted in books, debate | Leave a comment
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You’d have to be a philistine, agoraphobic or illiterate not to have noticed the rise in vampire fiction these past few years.  Those of you who do read (and I’m not counting Heat magazine, though I know you love it, Greg and Janie) or have the pleasure to work in a bookshop will know that the lady who started the trend goes by the name of Stephanie Meyer.

Now, for those of you who don’t know, I’m an English graduate, and am therefore used to sucking the life out of literature until it ceases to mean anything ( I can’t believe people actually get paid to teach people to do this).  Yes, I enjoy this, and I also believes that sometimes dissecting a text brings you more pleasure from it.  But I also think that there is nothing better than reading a book purely to enjoy it.

That’s why those journalists and any other people (usually those who have to read a newspaper to find an opinion) who write that Stephanie Meyer’s Twilight tetralogy is merely a vessel for her Mormon beliefs are missing the point.  Alright, perhaps I am, too: if journalists only ever wrote about how much they’d enjoyed a book, there wouldn’t be much point in reading their work.  What I’m saying is, think like Barthes.  Think the author is dead.  Suspend your belief when reading about Bella and Edward, and submerge yourself in the mythology that there really are vampires in smalltown America (vegetarian ones at that).  Stop seeing the fact that the young lovers take so long to sleep together as a metaphor for the preservation of virginity, or the large Cullen clan as representative of the typical Mormon family.  Does it really matter who wrote it?  Like it or don’t like it: don’t ruin what is supposed to be a leisure activity with analysis.  Because I hate to break it to all you other English graduates, but not everything has to mean something.

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