Sunday, December 30, 2007

What cool presents did you get?

I got some cool things this year, such as the Solio, which is attached to the kitchen window as we speak, soaking up any piece of direct sunlight that happens to pass by. I also got this Cary Grant DVD box set, which is a thing of wonder, and this Radley handbag, which I have wanted very much ever since I first saw it some months ago.

Funny thing, I never cared about handbags before in my life. I mean, I like a nice handbag, but I never cared about brand names before Radley came into my life. I love the shape of them, and yes, they have a little dog.

I got two books only, but man, there's no Cecilia Ahern books here. Columbo gave me a book about Pinter, and Queenie gave me a book that I can only imagine must have screamed my name when she saw it. Fair play to her for listening, I am looking forward to it immensely.

Edited to add: I also got some cool jewellery from ComedyB (please don't rob my house, thks). If you are a chap, and you're thinking about buying jewellery for a lady, you could do worse than take ComedyB with you. He has good taste in the bauble area (see what I did there?).

Happy new year, everyone

I know that January 1, 2008, is a couple of days away still, but the new year always seems to me to kick in properly after Stephen's Day, because that's when I want to tidy the house and take the tree down and examine the presents I got and make resolutions to Be Better Next Year and so on.

Looking back at this year's blog entries, I see that I read only something like 20 books this year, and some of them I didn't even blog! (How ever will my four readers negotiate their local book emporia without my recommendations?) In 2008, I resolve to do better. Here are my firm resolutions for next year:

1. Get my week's work done in five days.
The success of all my other resolutions depends on this one. For too long I have spent hours in the middle of the day dossing about and accomplishing nothing at all beyond watching television, and not even good television. This is all fine and good for a couple of months, but it's nothing to base a long-term lifestyle on, so it must stop.

2. Read 50 books.
Last year's book-related resolution was based around purchasing. "Buy no more new books until you've read all the ones in the house," I believe it said. Many people, quite rightly, predicted the abject failure of this resolution, because obviously everybody with even a passing interest in the written word bloody well loves buying books, and I am no exception. Strangely, refusing to allow myself the relief of buying more books seemed to act as a barrier between me and my existing books, so that I came to resent them and chose to ignore them, instead of reading them, which is what I should have been doing. Now I will go back to the easier resolution of reading 50 books in the year. Also, I am introducing a sub-resolution, which is this:

2a. Donate three books a month to Oxfam.
Read or unread, three books a month are going into the shop. Which, of course, allows me to buy more books. Neat, I think.

3. Volunteer regularly at something again.
I spent a few Sundays in the fair trade shop coming up to Christmas, and it was pretty good. I'd like to do some regular volunteering again, if only to get me out of the house once a week. I notice that I also made this resolution last year, and spectacularly failed to keep it. I blame this on the fact that I had not been out of the voluntary sector long enough to miss it at that stage, whereas now I believe I can legitimately have a stab at it.

4. Write a new novel.
For the first time in about seven years, I was without a novel to work on in 2007. I must get a new one. Admittedly, novels for me are a bit like those endless knitting projects that some people engage in, which involve a massive tangle of wool and needles in the corner of a room, to be poked at only on occasion and never, ever finished, but they are satsifying to work on and fun to think about on long walks with the dogs. God, I hope they hurry up and finish the foot bridge so I can get away from the beach with its tedious other walkers and back into the fields where few other people go.

Um, that's it. There are, as usual, no self-improvement promises in here, no getting fit or learning a new language or being nicer to my fellow humans or anything. It's pointless to pretend that I would ever do any of those things. At least some of the resolutions I've outlined above have a vague chance of succeeding.

Queuing for Beginners

Joe Moran's book is a series of short essays on various aspects of the daily routine of the office worker, laid out in roughly chronological order. He gives you a breezy history of commuting to work, having meetings, taking a smoke break, going for lunch, having an after work pint, eating dinner, watching telly, and going to bed, and gives you a taster of some of the theories that have been advanced concerning the sociological and psychological significance of each of these routines and rituals. What's not to like?

Frankly, there's nothing not to like (my employers would love that double negative). It's a highly enjoyable book, a quick but immensely satisfying read, and it's got my favourite thing in it: a nice bibliography compiled BY THE AUTHOR in case you want to read some more about any of these theories or specific histories. It's got bits of architectural, industrial design, and communications theories in it, as well as broader theories about communal living and post-war economic history. Fun stuff.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Blue light special

It may surprise keen readers to know that, when it comes to Christmas festoonery, I prefer things to remain on the tasteful side. However, I can still understand many of the more outrageous choices of my fellow estate residents. I can see that there is a place for giant inflatable Santys that ho ho ho all night long and take up the entire front lawn. I can even see the point (kind of) of the ripples of petit mal-inducing flashing white lights.

But even I don't understand what makes anyone say, "honey, this Christmas, let's have our house look like the BMI check-in desk at Heathrow".

Friday, December 07, 2007

It's beginning to look a lot like...

Today our first Christmas card arrived, from Adrian and Noelle and Lyra.

Now Ghostbusters is on the telly.

Truly the festive season has arrived.

(Note, while looking for a photo with which to decorate this post, I came across this site, which has a story about Christmas cards as war time propaganda in World War II. V. interesting.)

Monday, December 03, 2007

Breaking Master and Commander news

In a recent comment to me, Ian asks if I've seen the new covers for the books. I offer you an example of one here.

Ian reckons these are aimed at the kind of people who read Sharpe books. I reckon they're aimed at GURLZ, because they've removed the ships from the covers and replaced them with people in historical dress, which is what GURLZ like.*

What do you reckon?

Edited later to add:

I am repulsed by these covers, and I think I understand why. Because they remind me (deliberately, I'm sure, as I've said) of the covers for the Philippa Gregory books I read. So I feel like they're being marketed in a reductive fashion that fails to take their true greatness into account.

I realise that this is completely idiotic, given that I am exactly, not just the type of, but the actual woman who reads historical fiction. But Patrick O'Brian books don't have romps and racy sex scenes in them. And, well, you wouldn't understand.

*Oh my god, I'm GURLZ. Jesus, I hate it when I fit a demographic. I hate it even more when marketing people try to sell me things after I've already discovered them for myself.


The lady who owns the apartment where we stayed in Rome suggested I read this book before going there so as to give myself a bit of a background into the operation of the city during the late Republican period. Having read Pompeii and quite enjoyed it, I gave it a go.

It's the story of Cicero's rise to the position of consul (hate to give it away, but then, unless you're even more ignorant about classical civilization than I am, which would take some doing, then you already know that) and features much chat about, well, legal affairs in Rome in the late Republican period. Overall, I found the central narrative a little forced, which could be partly down to the character of Cicero. True, he was a great orator, many of whose speeches and ideas about manners have stood the test of time, but as a main character in a novel, he's a little flawed. Or, to be more exact, as a main character in the hands of a professional journalist turned novelist, he's a little flawed. A really good novelist could make you root for him, but Harris never quite manages to get across much about him other than his ambition and the fact that he's not quite as bad as some, but that's really only because he doesn't directly kill anyone. Even in the excellent telly series Rome, he comes over as a bit of an effete eejit most of the time, who can't quite figure out which side is going to come out on top at any time because nobody tells him anything.

However, you can't fault the detail here, or the feeling of being immersed in the city of the time. When we actually went to Rome, it all felt far more familiar, and I had a much clearer picture of how the society of the place worked. And so, let me recommend this book to you as a crash course in Roman history if you're going there on holidays. Then you too can stand in front of the temple of Vesta and think of Cicero having an argument with his wife where he accuses her sister of being "more vestal than virgin" (this argument probably did not actually happen).

Post Captain and HMS Surprise

I can't believe the last book I blogged about was way back in September. I really haven't been doing much reading of late, which I suppose is pretty rubbish of me, and what little time I have spent reading has been partly taken up with re-reading Patrick O'Brian books.

Amusingly, I had my copy of Post Captain with me when on holidays and was able to pull it out of my bag when a conversation about Patrick O'Brian came up, leading my pal Dave to wonder if I maybe carry the entire series with me everywhere I go. Of course I don't, that would be a bit mental. But if you had to carry two, I think these would be the two I'd take. First of all, there's plenty of fun adventures by sea in them, with some beautifully written and quite tense battles even if, like me, you have some difficulty with nautical jargon.

Second of all, these are the books that kind of made me fall in love with Stephen rather than Jack. Yes, I know he's not a great catch. He's kind of funny looking and wears a weird wool suit. He is a laudanum addict and a man who loves nothing more than prescribing a slime draught or a yummy purgative, just to teach you a lesson about drinking. He's also not exactly steady on his feet a lot of the time and will, if left to his own devices, eat nothing but bread rubbed with garlic for days on end. He would probably also dissect your granny if you left her alone with him.

On the other hand, he plays Boccerini on the cello and speaks Portuguese, Irish, Latin, Catalan, Spanish, French, Arabic, and a smattering of Urdu. He's funny and smart and ferociously loyal. He's a really good intelligence agent, and an amazing naval surgeon (wouldn't look at you for under ten guineas on land, though). He is a keen naturalist who can sit and stare at birds or beetles for hours on end, and he will walk all day and night to get somewhere he wants to go, or just to have a think.

He is also, somewhat scarily and surprisingly, handy with a pistol. In fact, he's more than handy: he's deadly. He is the kind of man who can fight a duel with someone and then, when they shoot him, he can take the bullet out himself.

Jack, on the other hand, is merely the kind of man who can whip a convoy of East India Company ships into fighting shape, rescue his best friend from torture, get his own ship's company firing two broadsides in under two minutes, and get a beautiful woman to fall in love with him despite him having no money at all from one minute to the next.

Really, who needs new books when you can re-read ones you already love?