Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy New Year

May your mailboxes (and e-readers) 
be filled with lovely, lovely books in 2013!




Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas!


Best wishes for 
a wonderful Christmas 

 (and lots and lots of books under the tree!).

Monday, December 17, 2012

{misc.} wrapping up 2012


This is pretty much the end of my blogging year, as I am off to China in a few days. I have never been there (although my sister has lived in Beijing for ten years), so that should be an exciting and different (and freezing) Christmas holiday. 

I will likely read a bit on the journey, so I expect that I'll end the year with somewhere around 110 books finished. This is a big drop in numbers from 2011 (171 books), but in 2012 I had an almost bookless month travelling in the UK and France, and also a conference paper to prepare, with lots of not-counted-and-not-much-fun books being read early in the year. 

Fiction came in at 93 books; non-fiction a paltry 11. E-books (71) whipped tree-books (33). Re-reads accounted for 9 titles. If I break down fiction, I have 26 books of the literary sort, and 56 all somewhat lighter (crime, mystery, action, espionage, historical fiction, etc.). 11 were really meant for children or young adults. Only 5 books were translated from other languages (very poor). 


And my top reads? I have ruthlessly omitted re-reads (sorry, Georgette Heyer) and books I haven't yet reviewed (in this category, I loved Mary Norton's The Complete Borrowers and Cassandra Parkin's outrageously funny Lighter Shades of Grey: a (very) critical reader's guide to Fifty Shades of Grey) [and, no, I haven't read the original]

So… in the end, I have 11 FAVOURITE READS OF 2012 (yes, 11), in no particular order:

Joanna and Ulysses - May Sarton {REVIEW

Memento Mori - Muriel Spark {REVIEW

Seducers in Ecuador & The Heir - Vita Sackville-West {REVIEW

Miss Buncle's Book - D. E. Stevenson {REVIEW

The Blood of the Vampire - Florence Marryat {REVIEW

Lamberto Lamberto Lamberto - Gianni Rodari {REVIEW

A Kiss Before Dying - Ira Levin {REVIEW

The Best of Everything - Rona Jaffe {REVIEW

Diary of a Nobody - George & Weedon Grossmith {REVIEW

Lightning Rods - Helen DeWitt {REVIEW}

    
    
    
   

Wishing you all 
a Merry Christmas and 
a very Happy New Year!

Monday, December 10, 2012

{review} lightning rods

Helen DeWitt Lightning Rods (2012)

Everyone gets crazy thoughts from time to time, it’s what you do about them that counts.
This is a book about a man who installs women as sex-workers in corporate offices. It is also a brilliant and funny satire on sex, salesmanship and corporate culture. 

Joe is a down-at-heel and not very successful vacuum-cleaner door-to-door salesman when he is struck by a brilliant idea to counter sexual harassment in the workplace by providing a practical and anonymous outlet for all that pent-up corporate machismo. That the idea is born of his own particular personal masturbatory fantasy only makes him more convinced he is the man to sell it. And so the 'lightning rod' is born, along with a host of other masterful ideas that were not necessary but become a necessity - "a multi-million dollar industry that would improve the lives of millions of Americans." 

This book is wonderfully grubby read: what if your crazy 'What if…?' porn brainstorm became embedded in corporate culture - and even law - all the way up to the very top of government? 

So, what does a lightning rod, earning money to put herself through Harvard Law, do during the time she is required to "stick her fanny through a hole in a wall and let someone give her the old Roto-Rooter from the rear"?
She spent quite a lot of time thinking about which particular project would give her a real sense of achievement. What she finally decided was that this was the ideal opportunity to read Proust’s masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, in French. The amount of time lightning rods were typically expected to be on duty would be just right for working through a French text. On the one hand she wouldn't be reading a lot at any one time, so she wouldn't get discouraged. On the other hand, it was quite a long book, so by the time she finished she’d probably have enough money for Harvard Law School. She could look at the volumes on her shelf and see how far she had to go. So she went to the university bookstore and bought the complete set, and she started at page one, paragraph one on her first day on the job. Sure enough, the idea worked perfectly. The fact that she had to struggle with the French meant she didn't have a lot of attention to spare for anything else that might be going on. She’d go through as much text as she could, underlining words she didn't know with a pencil. At night she’d look up the words and read through the passage again. The next day she’d read on. Within a month she was having to look up fewer words. Within six months she was reading the French almost as well as she read English—and that was entirely the result of doing it on a daily basis.
In sum: dementedly funny and rather shocking; perfect characterization; spot on narrative tone. Not for the faint of heart. I wonder how I would feel about this book if it hadn't been written by a woman? Do I become complicit in my own objectification when I think that it must be OK because it was written by a woman? Hmmm.

Monday, December 3, 2012

{review} how to run your home without help

Kay Smallshaw How to Run Your Home Without Help (1949 [Persephone 2005])

All work is coloured by the spectacles worn. Look on it as fearful drudgery and it will never be anything else. See it as a job supremely worth doing, some of it creative, some more humdrum, but all demanding one's best, then running the home without help becomes a challenge and rewarding in itself.
People who think it is romantic to adopt a retro lifestyle (all those lovely clothes, pin-curls, proper stockings, etc.) should perhaps read this household manual to remind themselves that a large number of other less attractive things went along with the rose-bespectacled prettiness: limited rights for women, marriage as a career-ender, rationing, entire days spent doing the family laundry by hand, and the truly insanely Stepfordy Wifey idea that one should 'turn out' every room (EVERY ROOM) once a week. 




Housekeeping may well (as Smallshaw suggests) be a form of "creative work to rank with the best", but there is a hell of a lot of post-war societal brainwashing going on to rebrand (unpaid) "ceaseless toil" in that way. Smallshaw's ideal housewife "has a big job, and one that can seldom be compressed into an eight-hour working day." She is a stay-at-home wife and mother or mother-soon-to-be (working [single] "career" women get a mention, but are not her target audience, despite working herself!). 


The routine, as Christina Hardyment notes in her introduction to the Persephone edition, is "uncompromising". I felt exhausted (as well as uneasy) just reading this book.





Smallshaw sets out ideas for organising the day, what one must do in each room, how much time to allocate to meal shopping and preparation (two to three hours a day - but, given that rationing is still in force at this time, some of this time is spent in the dreaded queuing). Smallshaw is interested in making her housewife more efficient, whether by introducing a smarter layout to the kitchen, better "method", or offering a review of labour-saving devices (the Bendix automatic washing machine, a crippling 65 pounds). 





Fundamentally, however, this is a book about unremitting drudgery from dawn to dusk and well beyond: Chapter 6 "The Daily Round"; Chapter 7 "The Weekly Clean", Chapter 8 "More Weekly Cleaning", Chapter 9 "Spring-Cleaning". Round about this point I think I would have drunk a neat cocktail of Smallshaw's favourite household chemicals: soda, precipitated whitening, DDT (!), paradichlorobenzene and oxalic acid ("useful, though poisonous"; coincidentally, I have recently read Death in High Heels). This however, would likely be classed as letting oneself go, as "[s]ome women will always". Housework makes you slim, ladies! 
Before you call it a day, replace furniture and ornaments, re-hang pictures and mirrors, make up the bed and put up fresh curtains. You can sleep well tonight, knowing that even the Victorian housewife wouldn't have done a more thorough job.
In sum... I thoroughly enjoyed this book. It is horrifying, and such a tonic against romanticising the past. I think my mouth started to hang open in shocked awe about midway through chapter 1 and never fully closed again. I do not own a teapot spout-cleaner or an upholstery whisk. I remain wholly puzzled by the concept of stringing currants as a leisure activity at the end of the day. (Do currants have strings?) I cannot think about the delights of "Offal Week" without feeling nauseated. I feel slightly guilty that labour-saving devices have freed up so much time that I happily waste on Pinterest rather than producing something truly and unforgettably creative, but books that are meant to make women feel bad are not going to make me change a single thing about my life of squalor independence... 





If you liked this... the wonderful diaries of Nella Last (for a taste of their wonderfulness, see the review at Stuck In A Book) give a first-hand view of what it is like to try to live up to these expectations.



{READ IN 2017}

  • JULY
  • 65.
  • 64.
  • 63.
  • 62.
  • 61. No Middle Name: The Complete Collected Jack Reacher Stories - Lee Child
  • JUNE
  • 60. The Queen's Accomplice - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 59. Mrs Roosevelt's Confidante - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 58. The PM's Secret Agent - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 57. His Majesty's Hope - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 56. Princess Elizabeth's Spy - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 55. Mr Churchill's Secretary - Susan Elia MacNeal
  • 54. A Lesson in Secrets - Jacqueline Winspear
  • 53. Hit & Run - Lawrence Block
  • 52. Hit Parade - Lawrence Block
  • 51. Hit List - Lawrence Block
  • 50. Six Were Present - E. R. Punshon
  • 49. Triple Quest - E. R. Punshon
  • MAY
  • 48. Dark is the Clue - E. R. Punshon
  • 47. Brought to Light - E. R. Punshon
  • 46. Strange Ending - E. R. Punshon
  • 45. The Attending Truth - E. R. Punshon
  • 44. The Golden Dagger - E. R. Punshon
  • 43. The Secret Search - E. R. Punshon
  • 42. Spook Street - Mick Herron
  • 41. Real Tigers - Mick Herron
  • 40. Dead Lions - Mick Herron
  • 39. Slow Horses - Mick Herron
  • APRIL
  • 38. Everybody Always Tells - E. R. Punshon
  • 37. So Many Doors - E. R. Punshon
  • 36. The Girl with All the Gifts - M. R. Carey
  • 35. A Scream in Soho - John G. Brandon
  • 34. A Murder is Arranged - Basil Thomson
  • 33. The Milliner's Hat Mystery - Basil Thomson
  • 32. Who Killed Stella Pomeroy? - Basil Thomson
  • 31. The Dartmoor Enigma - Basil Thomson
  • 30. The Case of the Dead Diplomat - Basil Thomson
  • 29. The Case of Naomi Clynes - Basil Thomson
  • 28. Richardson Scores Again - Basil Thomson
  • 27. A Deadly Thaw - Sarah Ward
  • MARCH
  • 26. The Spy Paramount - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 25. The Great Impersonation - E. Phillips Oppenheim
  • 24. Ragdoll - Daniel Cole
  • 23. The Case of Sir Adam Braid - Molly Thynne
  • 22. The Ministry of Fear - Graham Greene
  • 21. The Draycott Murder Mystery - Molly Thynne
  • 20. The Murder on the Enriqueta - Molly Thynne
  • 19. The Nowhere Man - Gregg Hurwitz
  • 18. He Dies and Makes No Sign - Molly Thynne
  • FEBRUARY
  • 17. Death in the Dentist's Chair - Molly Thynne
  • 16. The Crime at the 'Noah's Ark' - Molly Thynne
  • 15. Harriet the Spy - Louise Fitzhugh
  • 14. Night School - Lee Child
  • 13. The Dancing Bear - Frances Faviell
  • 12. The Reluctant Cannibals - Ian Flitcroft
  • 11. Fear Stalks the Village - Ethel Lina White
  • 10. The Plot - Irving Wallace
  • JANUARY
  • 9. Understood Betsy - Dorothy Canfield Fisher
  • 8. Give the Devil his Due - Sulari Gentill
  • 7. A Murder Unmentioned - Sulari Gentill
  • 6. Dead Until Dark - Charlaine Harris
  • 5. Gentlemen Formerly Dressed - Sulari Gentill
  • 4. While She Sleeps - Ethel Lina White
  • 3. A Chelsea Concerto - Frances Faviell
  • 2. Kipps: The Story of a Simple Soul - H. G. Wells
  • 1. Heft - Liz Moore

{READ IN 2016}

  • (K = Kindle; rr = re-read)
  • DECEMBER
  • 92. Richardson's First Case - Basil Thomson [K]
  • 91. The Alington Inheritance - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 90. Orphan X - Gregg Hurwitz [K]
  • 89. The House of Godwinsson [Bobby Owen 24] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 88. Music Tells All [Bobby Owen 24] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 87. Helen Passes By [Bobby Owen 23] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • NOVEMBER
  • 86. It Might Lead Anywhere [Bobby Owen 22] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 85. There's a Reason for Everything [Bobby Owen 21] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 84. Secrets Can't Be Kept [Bobby Owen 20] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • OCTOBER
  • 83. Night's Cloak [Bobby Owen 19] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 82. The Conqueror Inn [Bobby Owen 18] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 81. The Diabolic Candelabra [Bobby Owen 17] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • 80. The Dark Garden [Bobby Owen 16] - E. R. Punshon [K]
  • SEPTEMBER
  • 79. Picture Miss Seeton - Heron Carvic [K]
  • 78. Down Under (Benbow Smith 4) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 77. Walk with Care (Benbow Smith 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 76. Danger Calling (Benbow Smith 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 75. Fool Errant (Benbow Smith 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 74. The Annam Jewel - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 73. Mr Zero - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 72. Will o' the Wisp - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 71. Red Shadow - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 70. Pursuit of a Parcel (Lamb 3) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 69. Who Pays the Piper (Lamb 2) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 68. The Blind Side (Lamb 1) - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 67. Outrageous Fortune - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 66. The Amazing Chance - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 65. Red Stefan - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • AUGUST
  • 64. The Coldstone - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 63. Anne Belinda - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 62. The Black Cabinet - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 61. Hue & Cry - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 60. The Skin Collector - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 59. The Kill Room - Jeffery Deaver [K]
  • 58. Nothing Venture - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 57. Kingdom Lost - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 56. Beggar's Choice - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 55. Hole and Corner - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 54. Touch and Go - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 53. The Red Lacquer Case - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 52. Run! - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 51. Fear by Night - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • JULY
  • 50. The Dower House Mystery - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 49. The Astonishing Adventure of Jane Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 48. Weekend with Death - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 47. Blindfold - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 46. Silence in Court - Patricia Wentworth [K]
  • 45. Acts of the Assassins - Richard Beard [K]
  • JUNE
  • 44. Hack - Kieran Crowley [K]
  • 43. The Portable Veblen - Elizabeth McKenzie [K]
  • 42. The Spirit Murder Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • MAY
  • 41. The Ginger Cat Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 40. The Pleasure Cruise Mystery - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 39. The Polo Ground Murder - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • APRIL
  • 38. The Outsider - Jason Dean [K]
  • 37. The Hunter's Oath - Jason Dean [K]
  • 36. Missing or Murdered - Robin Forsythe [K]
  • 35. The Beetle - Richard Marsh [K]
  • MARCH
  • 34. A Curious Beginning (Veronica Speedwell 1) - Deanna Raybourn [K]
  • 33. The Chimera Vector - Nathan M. Farrugia [K]
  • 32. An Infamous Army - Georgette Heyer [K]
  • 31. Mr Bazalgette's Agent - Leonard Merrick
  • 30. Don't Tell - Karen Rose [K]
  • 29. Say Goodbye - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 28. Gone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 27. The Killing Hour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 26. The Next Accident - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 25. The Third Victim - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • FEBRUARY
  • 24. The Perfect Husband - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 23. Find Her - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 22. Fear Nothing - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 21. Catch Me - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 20. Love You More - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 19. Live to Tell - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 18. The Neighbour - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 17. Hide - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 16. Alone - Lisa Gardner [K]
  • 15. The Humans - Matt Haig [K]
  • 14. Utopian Man - Lisa Lang
  • 13. Love Insurance - Earl Derr Biggers [K]
  • JANUARY
  • 12. The Ignition Effect - Viv Ronnebeck [K]
  • 11. My Brilliant Career - Miles Franklin [K]
  • 10. Dangerous & Unseemly - K. B. Owen [K]
  • 9. In Bitter Chill - Sarah Ward [K[
  • 8. Half a Crown - Jo Walton [K]
  • 7. Ha'penny - Jo Walton [K]
  • 6. Hilda Wade: A Woman with Tenacity of Purpose - Grant Allen [K]
  • 5. The Case of William Smith - Patricia Wentworth [K; rr]
  • 4. Blue Murder - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 3. Bleeding Hooks - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 2. Knock, Murderer, Knock! - Harriet Rutland [K]
  • 1. Ten Star Clues [Bobby Owen 15] - E. R. Punshon [K]