When did book groups start having waiting lists?! I’m rather hoping the one I emailed has a space open, because they’re reading Patrick Gale’s Notes From an Exhibition and meeting in Alexandra Palace.

*crosses fingers*

Has anyone else had any experiences – good, bad or otherwise – of book groups? Other than the rather fabulous sitcom that I rather fancy re-watching now…

There’s a debate going on in the Guardian book blog at the moment that I’ve been weighing in on – the author of the post, Sam Jordison (who confusingly looks just like my friend Paul), references Nicholas Carr’s article ‘Is Google Making Us Stupid?’, describing it’s premise as touching on “two perennial favourites for books bloggers: The Death Of The Novel and How The Internet Changes Everything.”

Although Jordison doesn’t define ‘deep reading’ in his article, we came to an agreement in the comments that “we’re talking about a reading that produces a detailed analysis of the language, themes, etc of the text” (my words). He concludes that his novel reading has yet to be affected by the way he reads online – I’d be interested in research about the way people read e-books, if anyone’s bored – and I’d agree. In fact, most book bloggers I read are still really invested in ‘deep reading’. I’ll maybe skim the odd paragraph if it’s a re-read or a bad book, but I don’t understand the concept of reading a novel and not taking it all in. I think the way we read articles can be different to the way we read literature, and that’s OK. They’re constructed differently, so why should we automatically read them in the same way? I don’t read Calvino’s On a Winter’s Night a Traveller in the same way I read Jane Eyre, after all.

Don’t forget, it’s perfectly possible to read ‘deeply’ using the definition we came up with, and still get distracted. Just because I made two cups of tea, ate some toast and fed my cat in between finishing The Lake of Dead Languages this morning doesn’t mean that my reading experience was adversely affected. Apart from the bit where the cat, in protest about not having had any breakfast, jumped on my lap and spilled my scalding hot cup of tea all over me. Then again, that wasn’t an adverse reading experience as much as it was third degree burns.

…You know, maybe it’s nice to have something to blame my total lack of attention span on, even though I’m pretty sure that the internet has merely encouraged rather than created it. And anyway, isn’t multitasking considered to be an advantage these days?

Jordison sums this up pretty accurately in his blog post:

Speaking personally, I can half take the author’s point. Indeed, I only initially skimmed his article (even though I thought it was quite smart). It was only when contemplating linking to the piece in this blog that I forced myself to read it in its entirety. Meanwhile, since I started writing this short article I’ve also checked my email, had a brief skim of facebook and navigated to the Guardian sport pages and my favourite time-wasting resource, the over-by-over cricket coverage.

Even so, I do wonder if Carr is slightly (and perhaps deliberately) blurring a few boundaries. My own approach to novels – I think – remains much as it ever has. I have few problems sustaining concentration on single works for long periods of time. Indeed, part of the pleasure of a paper book comes in the contrast engaging with them presents to the frenetic internet flitting that takes up so much of my working day. It’s a relief to come to something that (generally) must be absorbed in a linear, gradual and sustained fashion.

There’s an interesting parallel to this in an article by Michael Agger in last month’s Slate magazine – this time focusing on the way that we write differently now that we’re all inseparable from our wi-fi connections. Inevitably, the way I think – and therefore the way I read and write – is influenced by the media I consume. If someone takes a photograph, I know it’s going to end up on Facebook. I write blog posts and Twitter updates in my head whenever random thoughts occur to me. But I’ve always done that, turned my life into a narrative – the only difference is that now I type them onto a computer screen instead of in my notebook, and everyone gets to see them instead of just me. I don’t think the internet has changed my behaviour as much as it has enabled it.

After all, surely as writers the thing we aim for is for someone to read our text deeply – no matter where and in what medium we publish it.

(I’m blogging about a blog post that was partially about blogging. It’s so meta, it hurts.)

This, as I mentioned in my post the other day, was a re-read. The back cover describes it as “Miss Jean Brodie meets Donna Tartt”, which sums the plot up but doesn’t even come close to describing the delicious prose that Goodman uses to describe Heart Lake and its environs.

Following her divorce, Jane Hudson returns with her young daughter Olivia to the boarding school she attended as a child on scholarship, this time as a Latin teacher. She is following in the footsteps of Domina Helen Chambers, the charismatic Classicist who fascinated Jane and her friends Lucy and Deirdre, both of whom drowned in the lake during Jane’s final year there.

The Lake of Dead Languages is an eerie and accurate account of the hothousing that goes on in private girls’ schools, as well as a reminder that some things never change. Even the closest friendships have fissures that crack open when too much pressure is applied to them, and adolescent obsessions with sex and death are bewitching but ultimately dangerous. Recreational drug taking, witchcraft and Virgil proves to be a potent combination not only in Jane’s flashbacks to her own teenage years, but in the lives of Athena, Vesta and Aphrodite – three of Jane’s students who coincidentally share the same room that Jane, Lucy and Deirdre occupied.

As tragedy strikes Heart Lake and Jane is thrown back on painful memories of friendship, self-discovery and betrayal, it seems clear that the past is repeating itself – and that the story Jane told her teachers and loved ones all those years ago may not have been the whole truth. Pages from the journal she lost after Lucy’s death start reappearing, and it is clear that someone at Heart Lake knows more than she is letting on – but who?

Although Goodman’s plot twists are somewhat predictable (hint: if you have even a basic knowledge of Latin, the final revelation will come as less of a shock and more of a ‘you’re only just figuring that out?’), she manages to keep the tension spiralling until the final, climactic scene on the frozen lake.

Well worth a read.

Following the recent media furore over Gordon Brown’s identification with Heathcliff (the Wuthering Heights version, not the cartoon cat. I think. Did anyone double check?), I ask you:

Which fictional character would you vote for?

Answers, discussion and campaign slogans in the comments please.

(I would like Shirley Keldar as PM, I think. Or Marian Halcombe, but she’s my answer to everything).

I’m visiting my parents for the weekend, and I’ve finally – in between being informed I no longer have a bedroom, going off to the spa for pampering and figuring out a tricky plot point of the novel whilst swimming forty lengths – gotten round to going through the many boxes of books in the attic and deciding what I wanted to keep. I was going to photograph the entire process for posterity, but

a) the attic is very dusty

and

b) I couldn’t be bothered changing out of my pyjamas.

However, I have found:

Carol Goodman‘s first three novels (one of which is one of my favourite books of all time – although as in the post below, OMG mystery authors, stop making your plot twists so damned…untwisty).

Sara Ryan‘s Empress of the World, which my father swear blind he threw out years ago (out of a desire to tidy, not out of homophobia).

Madelaine L’Engle‘s A House Like a Lotus

Patrick Suskind – Perfume (which I first read when I was ten. I feel as though this explains a lot)

Michele RobertsImpossible Saints (I liked this a lot more until I realised she’d basically ripped the entire concept from her earlier book, The Wild Girl)

Peter Carey – Oscar & Lucinda

K.M Briggs – Kate Crackernuts, one of my all-time favourite fairy stories and one I’d quite like to re-write one day

Jean Racine – Phedre (tr. Ted Hughes)

One or two of these are coming back with me when I head down to London later today, but the rest will have to wait until we’ve bought more bookshelves….

I read Chelsea Cain’s Heartsick last year and thoroughly enjoyed it, even if I did figure out the murderer halfway through. *sigh* One of these days, crime novels will start surprising me again. The sequel, Sweetheart, focuses a lot more on the relationship between cop Archie Sheridan and prisoner Gretchen Lowell, the serial killer who infiltrated her own murder investigation (as in, the investigation into her murders, not…oh, you know what I mean).

I found Gretchen a lot less terrifying in this book, probably because the background we get on her and Archie humanises her a lot more – we see her more as a manipulative, messed-up woman than a serial killer, even though she still gets a decent body count. I wasn’t overly happy about the greater detail that Cain goes into about their shared past – it demystifies it for me, and there were certain aspects that I felt were a little cliched and I had been expecting her to avoid.

Susan, the plucky girl reporter and sometimes sidekick of Archie, is sidelined a lot more in this book – it’s his story, not hers (that was Heartsick), but we still get some fabulous scenes between her and her mother, Bliss Mountain, as well as an insight into the harsh realities of her journalism career.

Sweetheart is billed as being part of ‘The Gretchen Lowell Series’, which implies there are more books to come. Certainly Sweetheart gives the impression of paving the way for further adventures – it’s filling in the gaps, giving us a deeper impression of the characters – but at the end of the day, I want more from my crime novels than several hundred pages of exposition with a funky cover.

note: this review does not contain spoilers, but may be triggery for rape or abuse survivors.

I’ve had an insanely busy week at work, so the only book I’ve read this week has been Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, a novel about Melinda, a girl starting high school, drifting apart from her old friends and gradually refusing to talk. It was an impulse buy, after a fashion – I mistook it for another book, didn’t check the back cover, and it wasn’t until I was on the Tube that I realised my mistake. I’m also pretty much exhausted, so this is going to be a very brief review.

Melinda is a social outcast after calling the police at a party over the summer. Her former best friends are no longer speaking to her, and her parents’ marriage is falling apart. Her grades are slipping in everything but art, and she gets persistant flashbacks to an event she only refers to as ‘IT’. It becomes clear that she was assaulted at the party over the summer by an older, popular boy at her new school, but hasn’t told anyone. Her gradual acceptance of (and anger at) what happened is convincing, and that is what makes it at times an uncomfortable book to read. It also encapsulates the bitchy, cliquey nature of adolescence, and the sacrifices teenagers feel that they have to make in order to maintain their place in the social pecking order. It should probably be required reading for teenagers, given that it so accurately sums up the complicated sexual politics and even more complicated social hierarchy that develops as you grow up.

Although I found the ending somewhat anticlimactic – it looked like it was going to be promising and I enjoyed Melinda’s character development, but the final confrontation felt staged and the resolution seemed uncertain – overall I really enjoyed it.

In other news, this might be the most adorable reaction EVER to seeing copies of your own book.

…Entertaining book-related stuff on the web in lieu of a proper post.

A teenager called Alec Niedenthal claims in a letter to the NYT book review to be representative of Gen Y’s up-and-coming writers (the ones he claims the NYT “have so hastily jettisoned as literary jetsam”). According to Gawker, his cunning plan to score a book deal has failed (partly because he doesn’t actually have a book yet), but at least he got a tote-bag put of embarassing himself in public.

Emily Gould has signed a book deal for her memoir-ish collection of essays, And the Heart Says…Whatever. The proposal is kept tightly under wraps, but thanks to her former employer and current bete noir Gawker, this doesn’t last longFelicia Sullivan is unimpressed (not to mention catty and unprofessional). Maude Newton is equally unimpressed with Sullivan’s threat to “break out a shovel and a 12 gauge” (for her or Gould? she doesn’t say) at the prospect of Gould getting a cool one million. In the end it turned out to be an undisclosed six figure sum – but, like everything else in Gould’s life, it probably won’t stay undisclosed for long.

One of the books on my summer reading list has won the Samuel Johnson prize. Kate Summerscale’s The Suspicions of Mr Whicher, based on a real-life murder in 1860s England, has garnered the already lauded author even more critical acclaim (not to mention a cheque for £30,000). Suffice it to say, it’s now at the top of my ‘to read’ list. Or it would be if I was organised enough to keep such a list.

From the GalleyCat archives and topping the list of my favourite things: literary showtune parodies. I’ve got my new dinner party game…

Bookslut has an interview with one of the owners of Bluestockings Bookstore. I swear, when I visit the U.S, I’m going there and spending so much money that I can’t afford to fly home and have to wash dishes to raise my plane fare.

The Guardian book blog has a feature on the greatest books you’ve never read – a post similar to the game ‘Humiliation’ that David Lodge writes about – everyone gives the title of a famous book they’ve never read, or at least finished. Mine is Paradise Lost – despite getting a B for the 2nd year exam essay I wrote on it at university.

And lastly, I really wish I’d gone to this party.

K xoxo

Call me paranoid, but I swear I’m getting stupider by the day. In the past month, I’ve started two ‘serious’ novels (Winifred Holtby’s The Crowded Streets and Doris Lessing’s The Golden Notebook), only to enjoy them but find my attention wandering after the second chapter. In contrast, I can pick up something more lightweight – one of the historical mysteries that appears to be my literary crack right now, or a collection of fun, zany essays like Laurie Naturo’s The Idiot Girls’ Action-Adventure Club) and breeze through it. I know my problem – it’s that I don’t actually have a problem. Naturo is a fabulous essayist, and writers like Deanna Raybourn and Tasha Alexander hit the same literary kinks – plucky Victorian women solving mysteries and fighting the patriarchy, with a dash of UST – that my favourite writer Wilkie Collins does. But I can’t shake off the nagging voice of my inner elitist (hint: she sounds a lot like my mother).

Why do we do this? Is the guilt factor of reading something a little trashy when we have bookshelves overflowing with Auster and Austen and nearly every book Virago have ever put out somehow greater than if we exist on chick-lit with only the occasional foray into the classics? For someone with a self-confessed addiction to the printed word, I will read anything in front of me provided it isn’t porn or the sports section. Even then, if I’m on the tube and my iPod battery is dead, I’m prepared to compromise (hey, I went to a football game once. And I stopped calling half-time ‘the interval’ when someone corrected me).

So do I indulge my guilty pleasures?  I cant just go cold turkey, not when there are at least ten more Amelia Peabody novels that I havent read. But then, there are hundreds of books in the world that Im dying to read, and I only have a limited amount of time and funds. Ive been saying Ill read Wide Sargasso Sea since I was nine, and that was fifteen years ago. What have I read in those fifteen years? Collins, the Brontes, Gaskell, Woolf, Sweet Valley High, the Gossip Girl books because they were in the second-hand bookshop and very cheap and I was bored. If I hadnt picked up those last two, I could have read every word Jean Rhys has ever written. I could have done – but that doesn’t mean I would have.  Think of all the junk I might have read instead. Maybe indulging my literary sweet tooth once in a while isn’t so bad.

So I’m opening this one up to the floor: light reading – guilty pleasure, or just a pleasure? Answers on a postcard (or in my comments) please.

 

What would you do if, all of a sudden, your favorite source of books was unavailable? Whether it’s a local book shop, your town library, or an internet shop … what would you do if, suddenly, they were out of business? Devastatingly, and with no warning? Where would you go for books instead? What would you do? If it was a local business you would try to help out the owners? Would you just calmly start buying from some other store? Visit the library in the next town instead? Would it be devastating? Or just a blip in your reading habit?

Well, obviously my first response would be “cry.” Then again, I don’t have a favourite bookshop, per se. I’m not sure what I’d do without Amazon, to my shame, since their ‘new & used’ section feeds my habit like a crack dealer feeds….well, someone who takes crack, I suppose. Plus, it combines my favourite thing – books! – with my second favourite thing – mail! – and until someone finds a way to combine all the things that make me happy in one quick, cheap online purchase, I can’t see my allegiance changing. And I haven’t decided whether or not I want kids – my carbon footprint may be the only thing I leave behind.

My local second-hand bookshop is a thing of wonder and joy. I’ve picked up books there that I’ve been meaning to read for ages, and their stock of Virago novels was unparalleled. Note the term ‘was’, and then go and look at my bookshelves. Oops. It’s a five minute walk from my flat, and a ten minute walk from the park (fifteen if you stop at Starbucks en route). What more can you want? If it closed down, though, I would probably go either into central London and pay full-price for my books, or get the bus and go into the town where I used to live and raid that second-hand bookshop or go to Charing Cross Road  – what the second-hand bookshops there lack in variety, they more than make up for in atmosphere.

I would be hugely, deeply saddened if I went to Murder One only to find out it had closed down overnight. It’s packed to the rafters with pretty much every crime and mystery novel ever published, and is a bloody sobering experience for any author with designs on that genre. However, it is also pretty claustrophobic (and lacks disabled access from what I can tell), so most of my woe would derive from the fact that I would then have to walk to Piccaddilly Circus to find what I was looking for. But more on that one later.

I do try to shop at independent bookshops whenever I can – I maintain that sheltering from the rain in Word Power played a pretty big part in my choosing Edinburgh as my chosen ivory tower of academia – but there’s something to be said for a big anonymous chain that happens to carry some of your favourite hard-to-find magazines. Borders on Oxford Street carries Nylon, Bust, Ms, Bitch and Curve. Sometimes (normally when I’ve just been paid) I’ll go and pick up a stack of glossies and elbow my way into the Starbucks upstairs to drool over the life I could be living if I hadn’t just spent so much money on magazines. If it closed down, I’d just go to Foyles for my subculture magazine fix, which I should go to anyway but I’m lazy and Borders is easier to get to.

If it was my hometown’s local bookshop, I’d just laugh and go “serves you right for firing me when I was 17.” I’d miss the white chocolate chip and macadamia nut cookies, though, not to mention the killer smoked salmon ciabattas and Snickers milkshakes. It’s a much nicer coffee shop than it is a bookstore, and that’s not just sour grapes. They organise their biography section by author. *shudders*

The one that would really cut me to the core would be the loss of Waterstones. I’ve yet to find a branch I don’t like – whether it’s the one in Deansgate in Manchester that was the highlight of any family outing as a child, the one in Covent Garden that I take a massive detour for on my way home in nice weather or the piece de la resistance – Waterstones Piccadilly. It has five floors with a coffee shop in the basement and a cocktail bar at the top. It has a stationery section, sells the New Yorker and Private Eye, and their crime section is, well, to die for. Their gender studies section is disappointing, but their YA section is varied and contains a giant dalek. They have some fabulous poetry, and their literary-themed cocktails in The 5th View make up for any other faults (although personally my erstwhile partner-in-crime Sapph and I prefer the Dusty Springfield).

If I’ve missed any London-based literary treasure troves, please comment!