This is the latest bookish meme to be doing the rounds and never one to let a bandwagon pass by, I’ve decided to join in. The idea is that you raid your TBR and find titles whose first letters spell out your blog’s name. It is considerably more fun than what I’m supposed to be doing this morning (finalising the organising of our school’s trip to Canterbury). Karen and Faye have both done it, which is where I read about it, although it apparently originated on Fictionophile.
So I have just frittered away quite a bit of time scouring my bookshelves for unread books, since I don’t keep TBR separate from my other books (this has disadvantages as well as advantages). I abided by the Literasaurus Variation which forbids the inclusion of titles beginning ‘The’ unless under ‘T’ (thus The King of Ireland’s Son is a T not a K under this rule). I actually thought I’d have to cheat on this one when it came to the letter Y, but then I rediscovered Geoff Dyer! And to my surprise, I had several candidates for I and even U; R proved more of a challenge. A was also a little difficult as I had to find three books beginning with A and I seem to have made a concerted effort to read any possible contenders. But hurrah, I succeeded, here is A GALLIMAUFRY spelt out in unread books and featuring poorly lit photographs. Bet you can’t wait.
A Thatched Roof, by Beverley Nichols – I’ve never read this because it’s a sequel and I don’t have its predecessor, Down the Garden Path. But I know that one day I shall. It seems to be an alluring combination of autobiography, house restoration and pottering about, and it’s illustrated by Rex Whistler (which is why I originally blew £3.99 on it).
Graffiti and the Writing Arts of Early Modern England, by Juliet Fleming – back in the day, I studied for an MA at the University of Kent and intended to continue and study for a PhD, in preparation for which I bought this book. But then I moved to Belgium and had a baby instead. Dusting this down I see just what a fascinating topic it discusses: graffiti, tattooing and inscriptions on jewellery, clothing and other objects in the early sixteenth century. ‘These are writing practices that invite us to imagine a world in which writing and drawing were not fully distinguishable, the page was not an important boundary, and modern assumptions as to what constitutes literacy, either in writing or in reading, were irrelevant.’ Must read it.
A Lost Lady, by Willa Cather – I couldn’t resist the title when I bought this, in Charing Cross Road I think, for a pound a very long time ago. I had also recently read The Song of the Lark and wanted to read more Cather. As yet, I haven’t read this. This description on the Penguin web page is enticing.
Longitude: The True Story of a Lone Genius who Solved the Greatest Scientific Problem of his Age , by Dava Sobel – this was one of several little books (there was a history of cod, there was one called Nathaniel’s Nutmeg) about scientific history that were bestsellers in the 1990s. It includes ‘basic astronomy, navigation and the science of clocks’. As ever, I am amazed that I haven’t read this yet.
Love in a Bottle: Selected Short Stories and Novellas, by Antal Szerb – I love Antal Szerb but this little book and The Queen’s Necklace are the only published works of his that I haven’t read yet, and for some reason I don’t want to have read everything and have no more new Szerb to look forward to. A bit silly of me, perhaps? But since I don’t actually own a copy of The Queen’s Necklace, I could probably safely read this and still know there’s more Szerb out there.
Inferno, by Auguste Strindberg – this copy is intriguingly stamped ‘Denmark House, Long Melford, Suffolk, England’ and came from a second-hand bookshop somewhere in Suffolk, I no longer remember which one. It’s one of four autobiographical works Strindberg wrote. In this one, ‘Strindberg passed through a series of spiritual crises which took him to the verge of madness’. He started carrying out research in what he called chemistry but the jacket flap of this edition refers to as alchemy, through which he hoped to alleviate his poverty. He also believed himself to possess supernatural powers and was involved in the occult. This looks bonkers and also sad.
Make-Believe, by Elizabeth Goudge – this contains eight stories about the du Frocq family from Goudge’s novel Island Magic; I have the impression that it is not one of her greatest works but I am always happy to read her stories about or for children and there are pictures by Walter Hodges in it, what more could one ask?
Artemisia, by Anna Banti – unlike some of the other books here, I haven’t owned this one for long. ‘Written in 1947, Artemisia immediately established itself as a classic. At the centre of the book is Artemisia Gentileschi, a painter influenced by Michelangelo and Caravaggio. [...] The closer Anna Banti gets to her subject the more she is forced to reflect on the condition of women today and on her own life in German-occupied Italy. In doing so she elucidates the nature of art, femininity and the creative experience.’ I bought this on the internet; the cover is certainly not doing it any favours.
Up the Country: Letters from India, by Emily Eden – Eden’s brother George was Governor-General of India and in 1836 she went out to join him. She spent six years there, two of which were devoted to touring the country, during which time she wrote many ‘delightful’ letters to her sister. According to the back-cover blurb, she has ‘an unfailing eye for the eccentric and picturesque’.
Farmer’s Glory, by A.G. Street – all right, I bought this aeons ago principally for the illustrations, which are woodcuts by Gwen Raverat. It is dedicated to Edith Olivier, who apparently encouraged Street to write his book. Street was the son of a tenant farmer and turned to writing to supplement his income during the agricultural depression of the 1920s and 1930s. He writes in his author’s note: ‘This book is simply an attempt to give a pen picture of farming life in Southern England and Western Canada’ and it seems that it is lightly fictionalised autobiography.
Romola, by George Eliot – has any living person read this novel and actually enjoyed it? I bought it during the height of my Eliot love in the 1990s before the internets existed and were filled with people deriding it. I can’t believe she wrote a bad book. Or did she?
Yoga for People who Can’t be Bothered to Do It, by Geoff Dyer – I could not walk past a book with a title like that, though as yet I am a person who can’t be bothered to read it. From the back cover: ‘Part string of stoner anecdotes, part memoir, part travelogue, part philosophical treatise, part comic tour-de-force [...]’ ‘Reading Dyer [... is] akin to the sudden elation and optimism you feel when you make a new friend, someone as silly as you but cleverer too, in whose company you know you will travel through life more vagrantly, intensely, joyfully.’
Have you read any of these? Any recommendations? Should I finally consign Romola to the charity shop?