Thursday, 17 December 2009

Some books I didn't read in 2009 and some sunshine reading for 2010

Am up to my eyes in work hence the small number of posts recently. And just don't mention Christmas.

Anyway, just a reminder about the joint read of The Greengage Summer with Mrs B at The Literary Stew. We hope to post about it in the first week of January. Some of you might be thinking about summer holidays then and this book is suffused with heat and sunshine, so is a real anti-SAD remedy for dark mid-winter days.

Looking back at my reading during 2009, I am ashamed once again at how few books I have actually read. Probably fewer than the books I've actually acquired, though some have been weeded out and sent to other readers (or to moulder overwinter in PTA store cupboards where they will probably die an ignominious death).
Even worse is the number of books I have abandoned (What I loved by Siri Hustvedt [disappointed she didn't write like her husband Paul Auster though why I thought she should I don't know], Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler [too depressing], The Stuff of Thought by Steven Pinker [too verbose], At-Swim Two Birds by Flann O'Brien [too rich] and The Diary of Anne Frank [well, this was a reread and I did read most of it, I just couldn't face rereading the last 50 or so pages for obvious reasons])

Oh dear, this is turning into a blog about books I haven't read (now there's a promising title). So I will quickly turn to my favourite read of this year (excepting The Greengage Summer) which is also France-related: The Discovery of France by Graham Robb. Forget the uninspiring title and the odd-looking cover, this is packed with fascinating stuff. Unfortunately, I can't quote directly from it because I have lent my copy to Clare (who was on holiday with me in France when I started it and got bored with me constantly reading out fascinating bits so probably doesn't need to actually read it herself).

It's a wonderful unofficial history of mainly rural France. Its main premise is the vastness of France and how little contact with the main centres most people had. How until relatively recently most people in France didn't actually speak French and didn't think of themselves as French. It is full of anecdotes about warring villages, odd customs and habits, superstitions and beliefs. One area used to make so much money from one annual two-week fair, that they would take the rest of the year off. Villagers at one hamlet high in the Pyrenees just used to sleep all winter, hardly eating at all, like hibernating bears. One village took up their pitchforks against another village because they'd put up a statue of the Virgin with her back(side) facing in their direction. But my favourites have to be the smuggler dogs who used to carry packages of salt between different administrative areas (only one of which had a salt tax). They were trained to hide in ditches whenever they saw a stranger.
So if you're not afraid of getting on your family and friends' nerves , I really recommend this.

Tuesday, 8 December 2009

On Saturday it was the school Christmas Fair. Had done my bit making lop-sided biscuits and cakes with wonky chocolate icing slapped on at top speed when my son mentioned (rather belatedly) that he had to be at school at 12 o'clock in order to perform carols with the rest of the choir. Chocolate cake looked seriously deformed but may just have tasted okay.

Anyway, there was a very large bookstall where I spent a happy 45 minutes before my own volunteering stint clearing tables and washing up. First find was a Virago edition of Angel by Elizabeth Taylor which I clutched (appropriately enough) while listening to the choirboys singing The First Nowell. Also found: Back When We Were Grownups by Anne Tyler (which I think I have read before), Shadow of the Silk Road by Colin Thurbron and a lovely emerald-green hardback of After Julius by Elizabeth Jane Howard, a much under-rated writer. Also, SS-GB by Len Deighton, simply because I love his spy fiction. Well, I love any spy fiction really .

The Good Companion picked up a Charles Handy book, The Empty Raincoat, and said, 'Oh, I remember this, it's good, I wouldn't mind reading this again. Haven't we got a copy?'

'That is our copy,' I muttered, out of the side of my mouth, and smiled ingratiatingly.


'Shall I buy it back for you? It's only 20p, I think I can manage it.'

'No, no, it's okay.'

After that, the afternoon became a case of spot the give-away.

'And is this ours? And was this ours? ... And this?'

Well, I have to clear the shelves and donate in order to make room for new stuff, don't I?