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Suggestions

30 November, 2007 at 10:33 pm by belgianwaffle

So here are your suggestions for authors, I haven’t tried:

Martin Cruz Smith

Robertson Davies

Anita Desai

William Faulkner

Richard Ford

Tove Jansson

Thomas Kenneally

Clive King (“Stig of the Dump” – assume that is name of work rather than author’s pseudonym)

Robert Le Carre

Beryl Markham (keeping up with comments)

Alexandr Solzhenitsyn

Colm Toibin (actually I have read “The Blackwater Lightship and wouldn’t mind trying another, so I’m not sure he counts).

Alan Warner

Emile Zola – My husband says I would like “Au Bonheur des Dames” it’s all about shopping and women.

Anyone else you want to suggest adding? I’ll give all of the above a go. I will add them to the list of well-reviewed, interesting sounding books which I have typed on a piece of paper and folded up in the back of my diary. You don’t believe me? Do.
So that’s it for another NaBloPoMo. Hats off to the fair Mrs. Kennedy for co-ordinating. I am not only saying that in the hope of getting a random prize.
Thank you also to my regular commenters during the month. I am hopeless at replying to comments but I love and treasure every one; without you I would have given it all up as a bad job.

The man going down to the basement to put out the laundry has just looked over my shoulder and said “NaBloPoGo”. Maybe I should stop now.

One final item of news; Daniel broke his glasses yesterday. Sigh.

Some omissions

29 November, 2007 at 11:00 pm by belgianwaffle

My husband points out to me that following this exercise, he has realised that I appear not to like three quarters of the books on our shelves. My sister-in-law says I am difficult to please. Looking at the list below, I think they may be right. Here are some of the books I have that I didn’t include in my favourite books list for NaBloPoMo. And also some that I should have and forgot. But mostly, they’re books I hate, yet won’t give away.

Albom, Mitch – I bought “The Five People you meet in Heaven” before boarding a plane because Waterstone’s had put one of those “our booksellers like” handwritten labels on it. It is the worst book I have ever read. Never trust Waterstone’s. I’d give it away to anyone.

Alcott, Louisa May – Fine but certainly not a favourite.

Ali, Monica – “Brick Lane” was not enjoyable. I just didn’t like it. I don’t care if my consciousness was raised.

Amis, Martin and Kingsley – Very readable, funny in places and, if their names began with Z, they would definitely have made the cut.

Auster, Paul – When “The New York Trilogy” came out, a number of my friends loved it. I did not. It is baffling.

Bainbridge, Beryl – I read “According to Queeney” and it was grand but I wouldn’t be rushing back for more.

Barker, Nicola – I read “Five Miles from Outer Hope” because it was set in the South West of England and I am very fond of that part of the world and in particular Burgh Island which is fabulous (though the food in the hotel is dear and bad, the hotel is absolutely wonderful). My sister used to work in Plymouth and I visited her there many times. It was a pity that she hated it and doesn’t like beaches. The book is literary and a bit tiring. Great setting though.

Barnes, Julian – A bit clever for his own good, isn’t he?

Bennett, Alan – I know everyone loves him. I don’t. He’s alright.

Bennett, Ronan – I actually really enjoyed “Havoc in its Third Year” but I’m reserving judgement until I’ve tried another book of his. He is has great potential to be gloomy, difficult and unrewarding.

Borroughs Augusten – “Running with Scissors” got such great reviews and it was so disappointing.

Byatt, A.S. – I did like “Possession” but it was so long I just couldn’t face rereading or trying anything else.

Burney, Fanny – I did like “Evelina” in a sort of “look, it’s famous, I’ve read it and it wasn’t too bad” kind of way. I’m not going to rush back for more.

Carey, Peter – I have read two books by Peter Carey. I am now sure that I do not like him.

Carter, Angela – Fine, I suppose. But not earth shattering.

Chevalier, Tracy – I got given one of her books “Falling Angels” by a friend. I felt it was one of those books that deliberately exploits the sentimental. I am sentimental. I don’t like that.

Cooper, Jilly – I finally read a Jilly Cooper. “Wicked” is rotten. I am devastated.

Coetzee, J.M. – Oh God, so hard and so depressing.

Cunningham Michael – I got a present of “Specimen Days” just before the boys were born and took it into hospital with me. It was too weird and science fictiony at the end (and I am a friend of science fiction). It was well written and something of a page turner so I suppose, not too bad when you are in labour. Not great either though.

De Bernieres, Louis – I don’t see it. Why does everyone love these dull, dull books with their twee characters? I bought Kathryn Flett’s “The heart-shaped Bullet” because I really enjoy her journalism but I didn’t like it all. The icing on the cake was when she described going on holidays with her ex-husband and reading bloody Captain Corelli. She felt that that the ex was dreadful because he couldn’t like that book. I really warmed to her ex at that point.

Eco, Umberto – Too hard. “The Name of the Rose” was OK but I am going to draw some sweeping conclusions on detective fiction later so wait for that.

Edwards, Kim – I am a sucker for things that look like they might be readable. I was bitterly disappointed with the best-selling “The Memory Keeper’s Daughter”. I won’t be trying her again.

Eliot, George – We did “Silas Marner” in school. Arguably, it’s not that great a book to do with teenage girls in a convent school. Anyhow, I knew where I stood with George Eliot until, some years later, I got chatting to a handsome man at a party who said “so many people are put off George Eliot because of ‘Silas Marner’ [it's a standard text in Ireland], you have to read ‘Middlemarch’ it’s wonderful”. It’s not. Or, at least, not for me. And worse, I read it twice because I felt I might not have given it a fair hearing when I read it first. My sister-in-law sent me “The Mill on the Floss” on tape. Now I appreciate that that may not be entirely fair to the novel but it was quite enough to finally convince me that there will be no more George Eliot in my life, I’ve suffered enough.

Faulks, Sebastian – Am I the only person who found “Birdsong” tedious?

Franzen, Jonathan – Not for me thanks. You know, dysfunctional families, they’re fine but how many do you need?

Frazier, Charles – When the Princess was born, I took two books into hospital. One was the wonderful “What I loved” possibly my favourite grown-up book. The other was “Cold Mountain”. God, I hated that book. I don’t care about his trip home, I just wished he would bloody get there and it could all be over.

Fowles, John – I have only one comment on “The French Lieutentant’s Woman”. Why?

Garcia Marquez, Gabriel – I tried three of his books before washing my hands of magical realism for good.

Gaiman, Neil – Oh, so dreadfully disappointing. I had great hopes.

Golding, William – We did “The Lord of the Flies” in school. I can see that it is good. But I still don’t like it.

Gordimer, Nadine – Good. I suppose. But hard work and depressing.

Graves, Robert – Misfiled. I liked “Goodbye to all that” and the Claudius books.

Grisham, John – Dreadful.

Haddon, Mark – Misfiled. Only read “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time” but enjoyed it.

Hardy, Thomas – I loved Hardy’s poems in school but I have never read any of his books. I was given “Jude the Obscure” on tape by my sister-in-law and it convinced me not to try the novels. I could be unconvinced, possibly.

Hollinghurst, Alan – God, wasn’t “The Line of Beauty” tedious?

Heller, Zoe – “Notes on a Scandal” was good but in a way that wouldn’t remotely tempt me to try any of her other work.

Kadare, Ismail – I’ve read a couple of his books because they sound so interesting and I like the Balkans. I think I’ll stop now though.

Kerouac, Jack – “On the Road” is tedious like a long, long trip in the back of the car.

Kundera, Milan – Unbearable. At length. Lots of sex

Kureshi, Hanif – Really unbearable. Lots of sex

LeCarre, John etc. – I have never tried one of Mr. Le Carre’s books. For some reason, I don’t like thrillers. I should because I love plot driven books but somehow thrillers don’t engage me. I have tried authors as various as Patricia Cornwall, Ruth Rendell, Michael Dibden, Rex Stout, Raymond Chandler and Kathy Reichs and I don’t like them. Mind you, I didn’t mind that Robert Harris thing “The Ghost” but I think that was mostly because I was thinking about Tony and Cherie.

Lee, Harper – Misfiled. Everyone loves “To Kill a Mockingbird”, including me.

Lee, Laurie – Don’t like him. Tried “Cider with Rosie” and “As I walked out one Midsummer morning” and I didn’t like him. I also usually blame him for “Fair Stood the Wind for France” but, in fact, that’s H.E. Bates.

Lessing, Doris – I have only read “Ben in the World” and it was brutal, to be honest. Perhaps not one of her happier works. Prepared to give a volume of her autobiography a go. Particularly since I bought it a couple of years ago and it is still in the pile beside my bed.

Lodge, David – Alright, I suppose, can be funny. But, if I’m looking for funny, I’d look elsewhere first.

Lurie, Alison – I feel that I should like Alison Lurie. I have only read “The War between the Tates” and it didn’t exactly encourage me to try anything else.

McCabe, Patrick – Just too weird and disturbing for me. Brilliant and all that but not nice.

McCourt, Frank – Twee.

Mantel, Hilary – I read “The Giant, O’Brien” and I could see that it was very good but I found it depressing and disturbing. Enough thanks.

Mitchell, David – Actually, “Black Swan Green” was very good but “Cloud Atlas”? I dunno.

Morrison, Toni – Now, there’s depressing.

Munro, Alice – I know I should like Alice Munro: short stories, domestic, beautifully written, but I just don’t.

Nabokov, Vladimir – “Lolita” is good but “Bend Sinister” has been waiting for my attention for a long time.

Nazeer, Kamran – Misfiled. A brilliant factual book about autism by an autistic author.

Niffinger, Audrey – I didn’t like “The Time Traveller’s Wife”, it was unconvincing and not for the reasons you might be entitled to expect.

Norton, Graham – I got a present of his autobiography. He’s from Cork, you know. He wrote the book himself (I mean it wasn’t ghosted, don’t be sarky) and it’s very, very good until he becomes famous. Then it’s dull.

O’Connor, Joe – I quite liked his early stuff, the funny books. I most emphatically did not like “Star of the Sea” and I have no intention of subjecting myself to “Redemption Falls” which in a way is a pity because he seems like such a nice man. In fairness, he never ever made anything of the fact that his sister is Sinead O’Connor even when she was famous and he was not. Is he more famous than she is now? I looked up one of his old books and, as far as I know, this is the only mention he ever made of her. It was his world cup diary:

“I am overjoyed to discover that there is a karaoke lounge directly beneath my bedroom. the fans are loudly singing hit songs and inserting the world ‘Ireland’ into them at every opportunity… the high point of the evening, for me, is when my dear sister Sinead’s poignant lament “Nothing Compares 2 U” is sublimely reinterpreted as “Nothing Compares 2 Phil Babb”.

Okri, Ben – I have been reading “The Famished Road” for well over a year. Maybe Ben and I should call it quits.

Orwell, George – Yeah “1984″ and all that. Hmm.

Oz, Amos – Have only read his immensely depressing autobiography. I suppose I learnt a lot about Israel and Eastern Europe.

Pearson, Harry – Misfiled. “Tall Man in a Low Land” is the funniest book I have read about Belgium.

Picoult, Jodi – “My Sister’s Keeper” is very readable in an exploit the sentimental reader kind of way. “Vanishing Acts” didn’t even have the page turning thing for me. I’m full thanks.

Plath, Sylvia – I read “The Bell Jar” when I was in college. It’s that kind of book. Gloomy. I know, what do I expect?

Proulx Annie – “The Fishing News” had its moments but I didn’t think much of “Brokeback Mountain” and “Accordian Crimes” is very much at the bottom of my pile to read.

Pynchon, Thomas – “Vineland”, oh God, even the memory is painful.

Rushdie, Salman – Quite liked “Midnight’s Children” actually but not enough to want to try anything else.

Salinger, J.D. – I don’t like “The Catcher in the Rye”. Anyone else out there? Anyone at all?

Sebold Alice – I thought that “The Lovely Bones” was grim and not really very good either.

Sebold, W.G. – Too vague in Austerlitz, too detailed in “The Rings of Saturn. At least I can see why other people like him, even if I don’t go for him myself?

Sittenfield, Curtis – Wasn’t “Prep” a very smug novel?

Smiley, Jane – I did like “A Thousand Acres” though my knowledge of King Lear is not extensive [Why do you think my father calls me Goneril?]. I did not, however, enjoy “The All-True Travels and Adventures of Lidie Newton” and I’ve given up on her.

Smith, Zadie – “White Teeth”, very clever and insightful for a 22 year old or whatever but I did not love it.  I am heartless.  Didn’t even like it much.

Steinbeck, John – Is it bad to say that I think he’s a bit sentimental?

Strachey, Lytton (or do you think that’s actually a double- barrelled surname?) – Misfiled. “Eminent Victorians” is a fantastically entertaining read. In fact, I think I’m going to haul it out again and contemplate his destruction of Florence Nightingale over the weekend.

Tan, Amy – I read one of her earlier books and quite liked it in a mild way but I thought that “Saving Fish from Drowning” was disappointing.

Tartt, Donna – I came to “The Secret History” under the inexplicable misapprehension that it was going to be about the hidden histories of women over the centuries. After that, it took me a while to get into it and I never really stopped wondering when they were going to talk in more detail about the serving women at the Bacchanal and what their back stories were.

Tremain, Rose – I found “Music and Silence” a bit slow though I now know a lot more about Denmark. Since I’m touching on Denmark, I didn’t like “Miss Smilla’s Feeling for Snow” much either. Well, not after she went off on that boat about half way through, anyway.

Trevor, William – A brilliant writer who writes dreadfully depressing stories.  I’m sure he’s a very nice man.  Somebody should gather up the courage to tell him that the young people don’t smoke Sweet Afton any more, see “Felicia’s Journey” for details.

Tolstoy, Leo – “War and Peace” had much too much war and not enough peace. I found the descriptions of endless battles dreadfully tedious though, as my then boyfriend unkindly pointed out, I had an added element of excitement as I was unsure whether Napoleon would or would not take Moscow, something most readers might be expected to know.

White, Edmund – The beautiful room is completely empty.

Wolfe, Tom – “The Bonfire of the Vanities”? Please, no. Good title though.

My God, are you still here? Well done. As I went through this list, I kept thinking of other books that displeased me, but you will be delighted to hear that I decided that, surely, this is enough.

You may also have noticed that I haven’t included any poets. I don’t dislike all poets; I am saving them for next November.

Tomorrow, I will gather together your suggestions and maybe I’ll have read at least a selection by next year.

Family Planning Suggestions

28 November, 2007 at 10:10 pm by belgianwaffle

Her:  You don’t like me as much as you like the boys.

Me: Of course I do, sweetheart, my only little girl.

Her: I wouldn’t be your only little girl, if you had another baby.

Me: Would you like that, sweetheart?

Her: Hello?  Me, small baby?  Would I like that?  Do I like small babies Mummy?  I don’t think so.

NaBloPoMo – Z is for is for Zero and Zilch.  Tomorrow, I plan to tell you about some of the authors I’ve left out and why.  Something for you to look forward to.

Probably bad

27 November, 2007 at 9:16 pm by belgianwaffle

I can remember the Dutch Mama saying to me proudly that all her children had finished with bottles before they could ask for them. This came back to me vividly yesterday when Daniel wandered into the kitchen with his bottle in his hand and said “cold” and pointed at the microwave hopefully. I appear not to be meeting my target of having them weaned off bottles before they can ask for them to be heated up.

In completely unrelated news, I quite liked this.

NaBloPoMo – Y is not a good letter. But, Ms. Kennedy, if you’re watching, I’m still posting.

Please, pass the guilt

26 November, 2007 at 9:41 pm by belgianwaffle

This morning, the Princess asked me why I had to go to work.

Her: Why can’t you stay here with me?

Me: Why don’t you ask your father that?

Him: I have to earn money.

Her: So, why do you have to go to work?

Me (feebly): Because I like it.

And that’s the truth. Of course, I hate it sometimes, but generally I do like going to work. I am fond of my colleagues and my work is interesting. We could easily survive on my husband’s salary, especially, if we removed childcare expenses.

Of course, I’d prefer to spend all my time having fun, but in the absence of that option, I quite like the challenge of going to work, getting things done, learning new things and talking to other grown-ups. That doesn’t mean I don’t love my children, it just means that I don’t want to spend all my time with them. My husband feels exactly the same. Except he doesn’t feel guilty about it.
NaBloPoMo – X is for Xenophon. Well, it is. No, I have not read any Xenophon.

Fame

25 November, 2007 at 11:47 pm by belgianwaffle

At M and R’s 50th birthday party in Spain, I met one of their friends who stood a good chance of becoming an Australian MP.  If it hadn’t been for her, I probably wouldn’t know there were Australian elections on.  But, I see from the internet, that she has got in.  The excitement.  Well, all I can say is those people in Freemantle have got themselves a great bargain.  There has been some quibbling but clearly the electorate didn’t buy it; good for them.  She’s lovely.  And clever and competent too.  Bet she gets made a minister sooner or later.  Oooh thrill.

NaBloPoMo – The moment you’ve all been waiting for – W is for Wyndham, Wells, Wodehouse,Weldon, Welsh, Waugh, and Wolff.

John Wyndham is probably my favourite science fiction author.  His books seem very old fashioned when I read them now (he is not a big believer in non-traditional roles for the sexes, our John) but I still really enjoy his clever, clever plots.  “The Trouble with Lichen” and “Chocky” are my favourites but, of course, “The Midwich Cuckoos”  and “The Day of the Triffids” are very good too.

I don’t fancy H.G. Wells’s science fiction much but his “A Short History of the World” is responsible for everything I know about history.

P.G. Wodehouse is great.  Of course he is.  For some reason, I like the golfing stories best.  I am not an enthusiastic golfer, but I love it when the oldest member clears his throat to attract general attention.  Somebody once borrowed one of my P.G. Wodehouses once and didn’t give it back.  I am still scarred.

I used to love Fay Weldon and I thought all her books were exciting and novel and interesting but my passion has waned.  I’ve put her in for old time’s sake.  “Go to work on an egg”.

Irvine Welsh is very brilliant and quite disgusting.  After reading “Filth”, a story wherein you realise that the most appealing character is a tapeworm, I gave up on him.  But I still do think he is an extraordinary writer.

I heard on the radio that when “Brideshead Revisited” was first published, it was a huge critical failure.  The critics were hoping for something as entertaining as his previous work.  I know what they mean.  It’s probably my least favourite of his  books (though I haven’t read “Helena”, I just couldn’t face it).  Most of the rest of his books are funny and poignant.  “Brideshead Revisited” is too serious for me and it has all the signs of zeal of the convert as well.  This criticism can I know be applied to the “Sword of Honour” trilogy but, I feel, that at least there, you know what you’re letting yourself in for and there’s more of a point to the exercise.  I have a special fondness for “Decline and Fall”.  Many years ago I had a very exciting 6 months as a trainee in Brussels (there is a reason I came back, you know).  It was a time of constant socialising and all very exciting. I was in my early 20s.  A bit like starting at university but with more money, more nationalities and more organised parties.  It was great fun but sometimes it felt like being on an out of control merry go round, clinging on for dear life going from party to party (I imagine this must be what Paris Hilton’s life is like, yes, me and Paris we are like that – crosses fingers).  I read “Decline and Fall” for the first time then and it seemed very apposite.  Whenever I reread it, I remember that very exhausting, great fun and slightly insane time of my life.

I like Tobias Wolff.  I particularly enjoyed his two volumes of memoirs “This Boy’s Life” and “In Pharoah’s Army”. Magic.

Christmas belongs to the Germans

24 November, 2007 at 9:51 pm by belgianwaffle

Everything that we associate with Christmas was, essentially, imported by Queen Victoria from her German relatives and exported from there to a waiting world. I was forcibly reminded of this today when I went to the Saxony-Anhalt Christmas market in Brussels. It was absolutely beautiful. They had lovely things for the children, singers in odd costumes who sang to them, not a single tacky stall and the most wonderful wooden toys and decorations. It was without doubt the most perfect Christmas market I have ever been to. It helped that the whole thing seemed to be fairly uncommercial. They were selling things but in a very relaxed way. We were all enchanted. There is absolutely no way I am taking my children to meet Santa after they have seen his workshop at head height in the Saxony Anhalt Christmas market.

I think we can take it that the festivities have begun.

NaBloPoMo – OK, W tomorrow, no really.

In praise of gender stereotyping

23 November, 2007 at 10:56 pm by belgianwaffle

Him: We should get the car serviced and check the tyre pressure.

Me:Mmm.
Him: You’re only agreeing because you know that I’m the one who’s going to do it.

Me: Yes.

NaBloPoMo – I’m going to save W for tomorrow.  Because I can.  There are 30 days in November but only 26 letters of the alphabet.  Ha.

However, forgot to mention David Sedaris under S.  He is excruciatingly funny.  Since it is the season for it, here is a link for a funny Christmas story by Mr. Sedaris.  I cannot say how he feels about it being on the interweb but doubtless he will be much happier if it makes you go out and buy his books.

Wrong place, wrong time

22 November, 2007 at 11:17 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: Why has your colleague gone on holidays to Israel?

Mr. Waffle: I suppose he has family there.

Me: He’s English; are there a lot of English people living in Isreal?

Him: Yes, he is English but his parents weren’t. They moved to England before he was born; they were Czech, German speaking Jews from the Sudatenland.

That is unlucky.  I suppose at least they got out.

NaBloPoMo – V is for Vidal, Vonnegut and Voltaire.   I was shocked by Myra Breckinridge. I  was young. “Slaughterhouse Five” left me baffled.  I just couldn’t see what everyone else saw in it.  Of this trio, who would have thought Voltaire would come out best?  I’ve only read “Candide” but it’s an easy and quite entertaining and, best of all, short read. I must say that none of these would have featured under a better letter like M or T but needs must.

A happy Thanksgiving to the Americans out there.  We had mushrooms on toast for dinner.  I thought you would like to know as you struggle with mountains of leftover turkey.

Interesting

21 November, 2007 at 1:41 pm by belgianwaffle

My sister-in-law drew my attention to this sentence from a review in the Irish Times by Mary Russell:

“When I removed my IUD – a state-of-the-art contraceptive device which served me faithfully – I sprayed it gold and wore it as an earring: an icon in its own right.”

She tells me that she and Ms. Russell did a bit of the camino together. I just thought you should know.
NaBloPoMo – U is for Updike. Which is a pity because I don’t like Updike. I cannot empathise with Rabbit. So there.

However, I now realise that I skipped John McGahern, so I will slot him in here. In my early 20s I read a lot of John McGahern and really enjoyed books like “The Dark” and “The Barracks”. Let’s remember that I was in my early 20s, shall we? I found “Amongst Women” very depressing but rather brilliant. His last novel “That They May Face the Rising Sun” is just weird. It’s a year in Leitrim (distant part of Ireland where almost no one lives). It is immensely evocative and at the end of it, you do really feel as though you’ve spent a year in Leitrim- particularly, if you take as long as I did to read it. My problem with this is I didn’t particularly want to spend a year in Leitrim. There is no plot to speak of. It was published about ten years after his previous novel. My friend C says that it was not that it took him a long time to write it but that he was holding off publishing until all the locals described in the book had died and would therefore be unable to sue him for publishing their stories (or local gossip, if you prefer). For me that rings true. The people in this book (other than the English blow-ins) seem like real people and the I bet all the stories are real.

And, imagine, I forgot Tolkien as well. I read my mother’s version of “The Lord of the Rings” in three volumes when I was 12 or 13. I had read “The Hobbit” earlier and I think it’s possible that my mother had even read it aloud to us when we were smaller. I was absolutely entranced by “The Lord of the Rings”. The year I read “The Lord of the Rings”, my family drove to the North of Italy on holidays and my mother bitterly regretted introducing me to the tome. “Look up, Anne” she would say “it’s the Place de la Concorde; fountains to wash away the blood”. My mother has a taste for the dramatic. I would briefly glance up from Frodo’s trek and then get back to reading. “Anne, please look up, it’s the Alps”. Another brief glance before getting back to business. I reread them all when the films came out and book 2 is a complete dud. Otherwise still a good read, particularly, if you are fond of elves. You may already be familiar with this anecdote in relation to same, but I have included a link, just in case because I am a good and kind person.

Prepare to waste a great deal of time

20 November, 2007 at 9:56 pm by belgianwaffle

A while back Heather mentioned a word game on the internet. You guess what a word means and you donate a grain of rice. Do good while wasting time. I meant to look at it. Then I saw Yogamum said that she got a score of 48 and I went to check it out determined to beat 48 (competitive, moi?). Though I donated over a 1000 grains of rice I always hovered round the 46 mark. I could not beat Yogamum. I was very bitter. I got my husband to have a go. He was annoyingly brilliant at it but he couldn’t get beyond 50. We had a look round the site and discovered that the maximum possible was 50. You think that I was bitter earlier? All I can say is that it’s good to see that his parents are finally getting some value from the money they forked out to send him to that private fee paying school where ancient Greek was on the curriculum.

Do you want to give it a go? Try here. Please don’t tell me if you get more than 46.

NaBloPoMo – T is for Townsend, Tomalin, Tillyard, Trollope, Tyler and Trapido.

I have a fondness for Sue Townsend. I loved “The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole” when I read it first. I have followed his life over the years and he has always kept me gently amused. The fact that Adrian and I are almost exactly the same age has, perhaps, whetted my interest. I think I have read most of Sue Townsend’s stuff, even the dreadful collected articles she shamelessly published as “Public Confessions of a Middle-Aged Woman aged 55 3/4“. This was essentially a series of columns she’d done for Sainsbury’s magazine or something like that. And if you ask me, she wasn’t concentrating very hard when she produced them either. Almost all of her stuff is gentle satire. A notable exception is “Ghost Children” which is about abortion and unwanted children and really quite a distressing book. I feel it is her best book after the first couple of Adrian Moles but I bet it didn’t sell particularly well.

I like Claire Tomalin’s biographies and I’ve read quite a few of them. I think she is much, much better than Antonia Fraser (I thought “Marie Antoinette” was very tedious though, I suppose, I did enjoy “Mary, Queen of Scots”). I found “Mrs. Jordan’s Profession” really interesting and it provided an excellent explanation of why Queen Victoria was so buttoned up. Her Jane Austen biography was great and I found her biography on Mary Wollstonecraft so fascinating that I, very briefly, actually contemplated reading “A Vindication of the Rights of Woman”.

Stella Tillyard wrote a great book called “Aristocrats” which tells the story of four 18th century sisters who were extraordinarily well connected. It’s a great read and it uses the texts of the sisters’ letters to each other extensively. Everyone loves it. I do too.

My parents are great fans of the Barsetshire novels and they have a great devotion to Mrs. Proudie. I tried “The Warden” on the strength of this and didn’t like it much and there the matter rested until a good friend gave me “The Eustace Diamonds” for Christmas years ago. I loved it and started in on the Palliser novels. I stopped at “Phineas Redux” but I think I’ll finish them off eventually. I was distracted by his Irish novels which I thought were great though it was a little odd to have the Famine feature as a mere background detail given its weighty place in Irish history.

I got given an Anne Tyler book for my 35th birthday and I didn’t like it much. It was “The Amateur Marriage”. It was good but so dreadfully depressing. “Saint Maybe” was on sale for a euro so I bought it because I cannot resist a bargain. I liked it very much. It has its depressing side, worry not, but I think it’s better because less happens. Anne Tyler is good at small things. I bought “Digging to America” on the strength of the rave reviews all of which were entirely merited. I am thinking of trying some of her back catalogue but I’m a bit nervous. Any suggestions?

Barbara Trapido is great. Very funny, very readable, very interesting novels. I thought that she was English but she’s not she’s South African. Her latest offering “Frankie and Stankie” is semi-autobiographical and gives an alarming insight into apartheid South Africa but also, incidentally the way the world used to be. The narrator flees the regime to England. When she goes to sign up at the local police station (South Africa having been expelled from the Commonwealth) in London in 1964 the police are extremely sympathetic. Consider the extract below:

‘It’s a crying shame, nice white people like you having to register as aliens,’ says the police constable. ‘When these nig-nogs and all sorts, with names we can’t pronounce, can come swanning in here just as they please.’

It’s at time like this that Dinah feels impelled to get on her personal soapbox. She feels the same at the greengrocer’s when she refuses to buy South African fruit.

‘Quite right. I agree with you,’ the greengrocer says. ‘When you think of all those dirty black hands that go crawling all over the fruit -’

Odd

19 November, 2007 at 11:21 pm by belgianwaffle

The Princess has two sources, broadly speaking, for her spoken English, me and the stories I read to her. This makes for a slightly odd speaking style which my mother calls quaint.

She is never scared of the dark, always the darkness (she wasn’t scared of the darkness either until recently and it’s probably just a ploy to delay bedtime).

The other day, when I was on the phone, she said to me: To whom are you speaking? Yet irregular verb endings can still sometimes stump her: “I felled down”.

Today she asked that for her school trip we give her wet raisins (that’s grapes to you) in her lunch box.

In unrelated Princess news, I find myself a victim of my own success in trying to instill a love of art in my daughter. We went to the current Rubens exhibition during the week and I was quite disappointed as it doesn’t really have much beyond the very extensive collection the gallery already had on display. I moved along smartly. The Princess, however, wanted to look at everything in great detail and I only finally managed to lure her away by promising to buy her a postcard.

NaBloPoMo – S is for Saki, Seth, Shields, Saramago, Shriver, Sassoon and possibly Scott Fitzgerald.

Saki is my favourite short story writer. I first came across him in school. “The Lumber Room” and “Sredni Vashtar” were in our book of short stories, I think when I was about 12 or 13.  Despite our English teacher’s rather dauntingly detailed analysis of the text, I was taken enough with them to have a look at my parents’ copy of his collected short stories at home.  I am very glad I did.  I have read them many, many, many times since and they have never failed to entertain me.  Due to the fact that Saki is out of copyright, his works abound on the internet.  Try this one.  It is, somehow, deeply appropriate that Saki’s last words before he was shot by a sniper in the First World War were “Put out that damned cigarette”.
I loved Vikram Seth’s “A Suitable Boy”.  I read it over one summer holiday (clearly, before I had children).  There is nothing as delightful as a long book that you love.  It’s a long book.  I enjoyed “The Golden Gate” very much also.  I was deeply disappointed by “An Equal Music” but I can’t help feeling that I will rather like his story about his uncle the one handed dentist.

I read a lot of Carol Shields at one point.  When she did a brief Jane Austen biography, I nearly swooned with happiness.  I’ve gone off her though.  I bought a new one recently and plan to give it a go, if you’re curious, I’ll get back to you.

“The Year of the Death of Ricardo Reis” by Jose Saramago may be the most difficult book I have ever read.  Requiring a full appreciation of Portuguese history and literature, it is not for the faint hearted.  I would never have read anything of his again had the heart surgeon not insisted that “Blindness” was brilliant.  With deep reluctance, I took it up.  It was fantastic, a creepy, realistic fable about a world where everyone goes blind. I can’t believe it hasn’t been made into a Hollywood film.  It says a lot of very clever things about the human condition in a sickening yet page turning way.

I’ve only read Lionel Shriver’s “We need to talk about Kevin”.  It is very good in a slightly daft way.  I was completely fooled by the twist in the tale.  Entertaining in a miserable way but, I feel, unconvincing.

I came across Siegfried Sassoon as a war poet and, being at an impressionable age was very taken with him, so much so that I read “Memoirs of a Fox Hunting Man”.  I don’t know quite what I was expecting, but it does what it says on the tin.  There is something curiously comforting and appealing in reading about a year where nothing much happens.  Except, I suppose for the brutal demise of a lot of foxes, if that upsets you.  If it’s any comfort, they’ve all been dead for a long time now.

I’m not sure if Scott Fitzgerald should be under S or F – somebody please put me right, it would be a great comfort to me.  I read “The Great Gatsby” in school and though I didn’t like it (I don’t like any Scott Fitzgerald I’ve tried) it has stayed with me in a disturbing way.  I think it is an exceptionally well written book and quite scary.  Maybe I read it an impressionable age but  I do find that it haunts me.  I tend to remember it in shades of white and paler white (I’m afraid that makes no sense, but there it is, it’s my blog, I can write what I want).

Refugees

18 November, 2007 at 10:53 pm by belgianwaffle

In my head, I have two very distinct ideas about Iran. There is the Shah and his regime; all sophistication, both insofar as the supporters of the regime and its opponents are concerned. Then there is the current regime which seems very repressive and does not involve any shiny jewellery. I am confused. We have a handyman who comes to our house who is Iranian. He is very distinguished looking with half moon glasses, a white moustache and perfect tan. I am desperate to ask him about his position on the Shah and the axis of evil but I have, with great difficulty, restrained myself. It’s bad enough that this man whom I suspect has a number of third level degrees and whom I know speaks excellent English is reattaching my curtain rail without me torturing him for details of his homeland.

NaBloPoMo – R is for Roth and Rowling

But first, I forgot Philip Pullman under P. The “His Dark Materials” trilogy is very good. Book 2 “The Subtle Knife” is the best but Book 3 “The Amber Spyglass” is unsatisfactory in a number of ways. Anyway, I’ll probably go to the blockbuster movie at Christmas, if I can persuade my sister to come with me.

I started reading Philip Roth when I was in college. I really enjoyed “Portnoy’s Complaint” which was hopelessly, helplessly funny and the early Zuckerman novels which had something of the same spirit though I suspect he never wrote anything as good again. I found “Deception” appealing in a sort of heavy going literary kind of way. I took up “American Pastoral” recently and it nearly killed me. I am Rothed out but I still retain fond memories of earlier novels.

Who would have thought “Harry Potter” would be such a phenomenon? The publishing executive tells me that they are regretfully laying off people at Bloomsbury in the wake of book 7. I thought books 1-4 were great, 5 was tedious, 6 was fine and 7 was good once the extended and pointless camping trip ended. She should have sent them back to school, they were a set of books about boarding school.

In a related photo, would you care to inspect dinner at the Hogwarts creche?

Hostess with the leastest

17 November, 2007 at 9:11 pm by belgianwaffle

Mr. Waffle’s sister is here for a couple of days. She arrived on Thursday night and, once she got in, I set her cleaning and getting things ready for my bookclub. Then I sent her out to dinner with her brother and welcomed my friends but not before I discovered that my confident assertion that we “have loads of wine” was completely incorrect. G, says that she thought the half bottles of red for cooking were delightful. Also, this is the first time this has ever happened to us but we had exactly one half roll of toilet paper to see us to the weekly shop on Saturday. We have lots of wipes and tissues but it wasn’t really the same, I’m sure you’ll agree.

As I type she is watching dominoes being tipped on telly. And I see from the all knowing wikipedia that it’s a particularly disappointing domino day. Still, the tragedy makes strangely compelling watching and it must make a pleasant change from all that party going in London on a Saturday night.

Oh yeah, I forgot, she got us all tickets to go to Rufus Wainwright last night.  Make that leastest and ungrateful too.  I haven’t been to a (non-classical) concert since I saw Ben Folds in Dublin in 2002 when I was pregnant with the Princess.  All I can say is that things have changed a lot since then. He started on time, there was no support act, we sat in numbered rows and everyone else there was older than me.  Rufus is perfectly pleasant but it was fortunate that we met some friends of ours who are real fans; otherwise my sister-in-law would have been unable to analyse the set and Rufus’s performance in quite the detail she would have liked.  Rufus seems like a pleasant young man and very early in the evening he spoke extensively about playing Cork to the great delight of the (surprisingly) many Cork people in the audience.  What’s not to like?
Want to come and visit?

NaBloPoMo – Q is only for Joe Queenan who’s alright but I wouldn’t get carried away.

Freedom of Speech

16 November, 2007 at 1:47 pm by belgianwaffle

The local nasty extreme right wingers stuck a brochure through the door. I see that they are concerned that freedom of speech has disappeared. Under the liberal consensus no one can criticise Islam any more. Don’t worry they have a solution; send all those nasty people back where they came from. In the case of the very nice Muslim women who work in the boys’ creche, I think that would probably be Etterbeek.

NaBloPoMo – Are we there yet? P is for Parker, Parks and Pratchett

Parker, that’s Dorothy Parker, obviously. Do I need to say more? If all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn’t be a bit surprised

I have always liked the idea of Tim Parks rather more than the result. He is an English man who married an Italian woman and lives in Verona. I find his books about growing up in the midst of what is, essentially, an Italian family with a funny English father, insightful and sometimes amusing. His writing can be a bit convoluted for me. The best of his books is “A Season with Verona”. Although Verona is famous in the English speaking world for Romeo and Juliet, it is famous in Italy for being the most racist town in the country and having the roughest football fans.  He spent a season bonding with the roughest of them.  It is enlightening and surprisingly touching from time to time.

Terry Pratchett is great.  He can be a little hit and miss but as my favourite aunt who reads everything says, why get something new from the library when you know you can rely on Terry Pratchett to deliver the goods.  Mildly humourous fantasy set on a fictional planet called Discworld which resembles our own in many ways.  I have them all.

Perspective

15 November, 2007 at 9:25 pm by belgianwaffle

I am fascinated by the way the British are so cautious about some things (careful, peanut packet contains nuts!) and so utterly reckless about others (more debt, help yourself sir, no, no, don’t bother with any independent advice).

A friend of mine who is half English, half Belgian pointed out what should have been obvious to me, namely, that the issue is not one of concern but of liability. The “careful contains nuts” brigade do not have any views about the well-being or intelligence level of their customers, they are merely anxious to avoid being sued. The financial institutions are much less concerned about this as the market is famously lightly regulated and they can get away with blue murder.

My Anglo-Belgian friend points out that the Belgian banks are far more paternalistic and there are no credit cards in Belgium merely deferred debit cards; everyone must pay off in full at the end of the month. An English friend tells me that her bank in Belgium was horrified when she and her husband decided not to take a fixed rate mortgage. “But” they said, “it’s twenty years, anything could happen.” They decided to chance it on the basis that it was only variable up to a ceiling of 2% more than the fixed rate.

The Belgians are also delightfully relaxed and normal about children’s safety, something I feel is not the case in Britain and increasingly not the case in Ireland. I was reading about the Madeleine McCann case in Le Soir a couple of weeks ago. The editorial was very disapproving about England and referred to its dreadful history touching on various tragic cases of abducted children. I did have a slight feeling of ‘hang on a minute, watch out for the mote in your own eye’. But it seems to me that the real difference is that though at some level, in Britain, people know that their children are statistically very unlikely to be abducted, they don’t act that way. In Belgium, despite everything, they still do.

NaBloPoMo – O is for pretty much everything

Flann O’Brien is a genius, he also wrote as Brian O’Nolan and Myles na Gopaleen. If you have never seen a ‘Keats and Chapman’ story and you like poor puns, I can recommend an excellent Christmas present for you. If you have never heard of ‘the brother’ your life is about to get a lot happier. The catechism of cliche is a thing of wonder. There is a little background information on the great man here. When I was growing up a hard backed brown volume called “The Best of Myles” was my father’s constant companion. I would occasionally sneak off with it only to be forced to replace it promptly following a bellow from my indignant father. I was going to give you a Keats and Chapman story but they are all rather long and the goodness of the internet does not appear to extend to providing a copy of a text. I am, however, selflessly going to retype something from the catechism of cliche. If you don’t love this, you have no soul. If it reminds you of my style, you have no tact.

“Is treatment, particularly bad treatment, ever given to a person?

No. It is always meted out.

Is anything else ever meted out?

No. The only thing that is ever meted out is treatment.

And what does the meting out of treatment evoke?

The strongest protest against the treatment meted out.

Correct. Mention another particularly revolting locution.

‘The matter will fall to be dealt with by so-and-so.’

Good. Are you sufficiently astute to invent a sentence where this absurd jargon will be admissible?

Yes. ‘The incendiary bombs will fall to be dealt with by fire fighting squads.’

Very good indeed. Is that enough for wan day?

It is, be the japers.”

John O’Farrell wrote what I think is the funniest book I have ever read. It’s called “Things Can Only Get Better: Eighteen Miserable Years in the Life of a Labour Supporter” and it incapacitated me with laughter in private and, regrettably, in public. Yes, I was the hysterical woman on the tram. I read two of his other books but though perfectly acceptable, they did not live up to this brilliant, brilliant book.

I got a present of an Ardal O’Hanlon book from the, now former, publishing exec. Ardal O’Hanlon is an Irish comedian most famous for playing the gormless Fr. Dougal on the “Father Ted” series. I thought his book would be funny, it was not. I thought it would be poorly written. It wasn’t. I don’t think it sold very well either though. I’m not sure anyone expected Father Dougal to write a dark brilliant story of Irish small town life (sort of like Pat McCabe, but to my mind much better – is it coincidence that he and McCabe come from the same small town? I think not – stay safe, stay away from Monaghan). I would never have bought it in a million years but it was brilliant. I don’t think he ever wrote another and this seems to have sunk without trace which was a shame.
My husband brought a complete set of P.J. O’Rourke books to our marriage. I like him. I can’t help myself.

Do you realise that if it weren’t for Ireland and the diaspora, I would have no entries under O?

Random Films

14 November, 2007 at 9:49 pm by belgianwaffle

I gather from peering into someone else’s copy of Le Soir on the tram, that in Michael Moore’s new flick “Sicko” he gives the nod to the Belgian health system. Which is, indeed, excellent. Mind you, it is sustained by whopping taxes. It’s all about choices. I’m probably with the Belgians here.

I saw a fantastic film about the influence of the orient on Venice. Do you know the French word espèces meaning cash? Well that’s what it means, now you know. But did you know that it comes from épices, meaning spices; I didn’t think so. And further that in the middle ages when you went to pay your bill, people asked whether you would be paying in cash or spices? Venice had a monopoly on pepper; boy were they rolling in it. There’s a pun there somewhere.

NaBloPoMo N is for Nothomb 

Amelie Nothomb is a Belgian author who apparently lives in the Galerie de la Reine (very swish) and is mad as a hatter.  I have read two of her books and they are excellent and the langugage is easy (perhaps not a hurdle that my favourite English books have to jump).

“Stupeurs et Tremblements” is a semi-fictional account about a young girl going to work in a Japanese company.  It is hilarious and also sad.  “Metaphysique des Tubes” is about the first three years of her life (spent in Japan where her father was a diplomat).  Much of this time was spent lying and not moving but she was eventually brought to her senses by her grandmother feeding her chocolate.  This is even funnier than “Stupeurs et Tremblements” and quite a lot weirder.  Apparently her stuff is a bit hit and miss but I have had two great hits.

Oh, the indignity

13 November, 2007 at 9:58 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: Have you done a poo, Michael?

Michael: No.

Daniel then grabs his brother by the top of the nappy peers inside and sniffs Michael’s bottom: Yes, poo, Mama.

NaBloPoMo – M is an excellent letter

But first, I forgot Philip Gourevitch under G. “We wish to inform you that tomorrow you will be killed with your families” is a brilliant and appalling book about the genocide in Rwanda. “A Cold Case” which I rushed out and bought on the strength of the Rwanda book was a bit dull. I am unsure.

I also forgot Ursula Le Guin under L yesterday. I like the Earthsea quartet though they do have notions. It’s a fantasy offering about a place called Earthsea aimed at teenagers but I came to her as an adult and found her well worth my time and minimal effort.

Where was I? Oh yes, M.

I once shared a miserable flat in Dublin with a friend and, to abate the misery, she gave me Betty MacDonald’s “Anybody Can do Anything”. It worked. It is very funny as is “The Egg and I”. I must buy more. Do you think that she is still in print?

Nancy Mitford – anything she ever wrote is worth reading. I am not quite so convinced by Jessica. “Hons and Rebels” is fine and interesting by way of mad Mitford background but “The American Way of Death” certainly wasn’t for me. I haven’t tried anything else, what do you think I am, a glutton for punishment?

I am a little ambivalent about Ian McEwan. I loved “Atonement” but I wasn’t so keen on “Amsterdam”. I am holding out on buying “On Chesil Beach” until it comes out in paperback.

I think Blake Morrison has written some of the best books I have ever read. “As if”, his account of the Jamie Bolger murder, an unpromising subject (at least for me) was an astonishing and moving account of the trial of the two boys convicted of the murder, their motivations and their backgrounds. His book about his father “And when did you last see your father?” was also a wonderful book but, obviously, in a very different way. I thought that the book he wrote about his mother was less successful though still very, very good. I would buy anything written by him.

You won’t understand this

12 November, 2007 at 10:41 pm by belgianwaffle

At least, not unless you have lived in Belgium for a long time, ideally all your life.  But this is funny.  Also, I see that the long disputed Brussels Halle Vilvoorde (BHV to its friends) constituency rated a mention in the FT the other day.  And I have kept a supplement that came with Le Soir on the linguistic regime in Belgium.  I may put it up on my wall.  All this on the day that the French say they wouldn’t mind Wallonia being tacked on to France.  Sigh.  This is all beginning to take its toll.  As is NaBloPoMo.

Onwards.  L is for Lewis.

C.S. Lewis, of course, another convert.  I read “The Magician’s Nephew” when I was in second class (7/8).  I can still remember how hard it was to read and stumbling over the unfamiliar words.  I got it from the library at the back of the classroom and I sat at a sunny window and read and read.  I think it must have been by far the hardest thing I had ever read and I took long breaks to look at the picture on the cover and wish that there were perhaps a couple of more pictures accompanying the text.  I can also remember having real difficulty in imagining how “Digory” might be pronounced.  It is probably still my favourite Narnia book.  They are all wonderful although I find “The Last Battle” a bit depressing now.  I remember having a lengthy argument with my (11 months) older friend (now an Ambassador to Vietnam) about how “The Magician’s Nephew” was the first of the Narnia books, which it was.  Very annoyingly, using her 11 months of knowledge to the full, she was able to inform me, quite rightly, that “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe” was written first and “The Magician’s Nephew” was thought up to explain it.   I still have, here on the bookshelf, the full set of the Narnia books that my father brought me home from London as a present in the 1970s and I still read them very regularly.  I hope that my children will love them too.

Reformed Character

11 November, 2007 at 9:56 pm by belgianwaffle

A quiet Sunday, here on the ranch. We went to the revamped Dinosaur Hall in the natural history museum this morning and the children were fascinated by a 3D dinosaur in a cage effect. They were also terrified, particularly when it banged its head on the glass and cracked it (immediately restored by the wonders of technology). Jurassic Park, how are you?

This afternoon we walked, very, very slowly to the park and when we got there it started to pour down; a particularly icy shower too.

This is what happens to your blog when you write every day.

In other news, we recorded, for posterity, the Princess singing a song my brother taught her.

Finally, thank you all very much for the glasses advice. Most helpful.

NaBloPoMo – K is for Keyes, Keillor, Kellaway, Kingsolver and Klein

I like Marian Keyes. Irish romantic fiction (no sniggering at the back, please). I have bought all of her books. They are readable and funny. Unfortunately, she suffers from the same problem as Maeve Binchy, her 20 year olds are not 20 they are the same age as she is. That was less of a problem when she was in her 30s but she’s well into her 40s now and her younger characters aren’t cutting the mustard for me (am I or am I not the queen of cliche?). I think she should bite the bullet and have her main characters all be in their 40s. To hell with the 20 somethings. If you want to give her a go, I recommend “Watermelon” as your best bet. It may interest you to know that my husband’s family lived second next door to the Keyeses when he was growing up (fame!) and he says that the kitchen described in “Watermelon” as “the kitchen that time forgot” is very familiar to him.

It was Garrison Keillor who first alerted me to the fact that a whole swathe of North America is actually Scandinavian. I love the gentle humour of his books and their timeless quality. I suppose they might be a bit annoying, if you are actually from the prairie.

Lucy Kellaway writes the “Martin Lukes” column in the Financial Times and for, at least, the last seven years, my loving husband and I have dutifully shared his highs and lows. Of course we bought the book when it came out. It’s hard for “Who Moved my BlackBerry?” to have the hilarious immediacy of the column, but it’s not bad. If you care, Martin has just been made chief exec of A-B Global and his new wife is expecting triplets. For a taste of marvellous Martin, try this.

I enjoyed “The Poisonwood Bible” very much as did Oprah’s book club. I also liked “The Bean Trees” but I am slightly reluctant to attempt Ms. Kingsolver’s latest offering which has been so positively reviewed. I mean, really, is it likely to endorse my choice of fishfingers as a foodstuff suitable for my children?

I wouldn’t say that I am a Naomi Klein fan but I did enjoy “No Logo” and it briefly made me stop in my consumerist tracks.

Glasses

10 November, 2007 at 10:07 pm by belgianwaffle

Daniel got his glasses today. The poor little mite is +5 and he must have been blind as a bat. I’ve looked through the lenses and it’s pretty blurry. He finds patterns alarming with his glasses and, if there is a change of pattern underfoot, he is reluctant to walk on it. This is unfortunate given that Brussels is heavy on cobblestones.

He has been very, very good about wearing them all day long and not taking them off. I am not sure whether this is because he is a good child or because he likes being able to see. Tonight when we took them off, his ears were all pink. Does anyone know, is this normal? It didn’t seem to bother him. But again, he may feel that it is the price he pays to see.

NaBloPoMo – J is not a good letter.

J is for Henry James whom I am never going to read because I gather he is all about inner agonising and “The Line of Beauty” by Alan Hollinghurst is Jamesian. And, with all due respect to C (who recommends) and the Booker jury, I found it tortuous. Go on, convince me on Henry James.J is also for Joyce; “Dubliners” is fine but everything else is too hard. J is also for Erica Jong who, I would submit, has not aged gracefully. In fact, the only J which inspires even mild enthusiasm is Jerome K. Jerome and I wouldn’t exactly put “Three Men in a Boat” in my top ten. Slim pickings, people. Any suggestions?

Happy Birthday

9 November, 2007 at 10:52 pm by belgianwaffle

Today is my little sister’s birthday.

I am seven years older than her. Despite this, we are great friends. She is mature and wise for her years, I am not. When my parents used to go away and leave us to look after ourselves (sometimes for whole days at a time), they used to leave her the money to mind and dole out as appropriate.

She hasn’t lived in Ireland since she was 22 (10 years ago, since you ask) and for a lot of that time, I’ve lived abroad as well. She has lived in England, Germany, China, India and the US. I have lived in Ireland and Belgium. She’s a bit of an overachiever my sister. So we haven’t seen much of each other though she has made Trojan efforts to visit us, even travelling from India for long weekends (if the words carbon footprint escape your lips, may you spontaneously combust). And we are always on the phone.

On Monday, my sister moved home to Ireland. I am so glad that she is back that I am surprised. I had no idea that I was so sorry she was away.

I hope that she has the happiest of happy birthdays and wish to extend a fond welcome home to the returning yank.

NaBloPoMo – I is for Ishiguro and also for Irving

Yesterday, I forgot George Hagen. H is such a marvellous letter. I was a bit disappointed with “Tom Bedlam” but I really enjoyed “The Laments” which was a bit like John Irving only better. Which brings me on to John Irving. I read “The World According to Garp” in my early 20s and moved on speedily to everything else I could lay my hands on but by the time I got to “The Hotel New Hampshire” I was tired of it all and washed my hands of him. Not entirely sure that I am keen to go back in the bear filled waters, particularly when I see that his latest offering, “Until I find you” got dreadful reviews.

I have read “The Remains of the Day” a couple of times, it is cringe making and sad but very real in an odd kind of way. Ishiguro’s “Never Let Me Go” is completely unreal but in a spooky mysterious, science fiction kind of way and I absolutely loved it. I am willing to try others on the strength of it. I should say that I have a weakness for science fiction having spent my youth reading the box of it my mother had brought to her marriage and kept in the attic for her own obscure reasons. I think I read “Childhood’s End” by Arthur C. Clarke a dozen times, lots of Asimov, Poul Anderson and so on;I was bred to appreciate science fiction, it’s possible that you were not. Just a friendly warning on the Ishiguro offering.

Any suggestions?

Pumpkin terror

8 November, 2007 at 9:14 pm by belgianwaffle

For a child who is physically daring, Michael is a scaredy cat. He was terrified of our pumpkin for Halloween and it could only be deployed for about half an hour before we had to abandon the effort in the face of his terror*. He still points to the windowsill and says “Pumpkin, scared” even though it has now been taken away and incinerated by the bin men. It also extends to a fear of pumpkins on the street or the supermarket. He is scared of the wolf music for “Peter and the Wolf”. He is scared of me, if I pretend to tickle him. He quite likes being tickled, it’s when I wave my fingers about in the air that he gets nervous and has to bury his head in my shoulder and tremble.

NaBloPoMo – H is for Heyer, Hustvedt and Hornby.

H is a fruitful letter. Georgette Heyer is my favourite author. I am not exactly proud of this but I am proud to be at an age where I can admit it. I read my first Georgette Heyer on a camping holiday with my family when I was 12 or 13. My mother remembers me pumping up air mattresses with my nose deep in a book. I remember sneaking round to the back of the tent to be left in peace to finish off “The Reluctant Widow”. I can still remember my surprise and shock when the heroine married the hero. “But she hated him” I thought to myself. I had much to learn in the ways of romantic fiction.

I only like Georgette Heyer’s regency romances, not her historical novels or her detective fiction. I have read these books so many times that the plots are horribly familiar, alas. But still, I suspect I shall read them many, many more times, at least there are about 20 of them so I can alternate my pleasures. If you care, my favourite is “Cotillion”.

Siri Hustvedt is probably my next favourite author in an entirely different way. Whereas Georgette Heyer is a comfortable old pair of slippers, Siri Hustvedt is a slinky black dress. Her books are really, really interesting. I come away from them bubbling with excitement, full of new and interesting ways of thinking about things and desperate to talk about them. She writes beautifully. I took “What I Loved” to hospital with me when the Princess was born. I can’t imagine ever finding a Siri Hustvedt book disappointing.

Nick Hornby completes the H trio. I like Nick Hornby’s books. They’re entertaining and readable. I would always buy a new Nick Hornby but I probably wouldn’t be rushing to reread the old ones.

Any H suggestions? Tomorrow we will have, wait for it, i.

*On reading this post, my husband said that he thought only George Bush was allowed to use the word “terror” that often in one phrase.

Why, why, why?

7 November, 2007 at 11:24 pm by belgianwaffle

Yesterday, I went out to dinner at a friend’s house. My father often remarks that my mother has no appreciation that time is finite – I am like her.

17.30 Run out of my office to go to my husband’s office to drive together to the creche to pick up the boys (please add driving rain to get a full picture).

18.00 Arrive at the creche, pick up the boys who are cranky.

18.10 Install boys in the car. Put on “Il etait un petit navire” on the stereo at Daniel’s request.

18.15 Pick up the Princess from the childminder. At the childminder’s request, agree to drop home a little friend who has been there for the afternoon and lives near us.

18.30 Realise that I have promised to bring birthday cake tonight. Why did I do this? Any of the other attendees would have had more time. Why am I always trying to do the impossible? Brilliant husband spots an open patisserie and I zoom through the rain to snap up their two last cakes.

18.45 Drop off little friend. All three of our children begin to wail, calling her name and demanding her return.

18.50 Emerge from car in garage.

18.55 Get to lift with children and gear. Daniel becomes hysterical because he wants to push the button in the lift. Lift him up to do so. His sister becomes hysterical because she wants to do it. Put him down. He pushes her, she bites him.

19.00 Emerge from the lift into the flat. The severely reprimanded Princess retires to the “coin colere” in floods of tears but not before attempting to whack me. Daniel shows everyone his sore finger. Michael begins to demand orange juice. Mr. Waffle goes into the kitchen to cook dinner.

19.05 I comfort the hysterical Princess who is gasping between sobs “HE started it”, Daniel goes off to play peacefully on his own, grateful, doubtless, that the bite marks don’t appear to have broken the skin. Michael comes back with orange juice.

19.10 Michael is keen to avenge the wrong done to his brother and comes to lord it over his hysterical sister. “Mechante!” he says pointing an accusing finger. Then he pushes her. She pushes him back causing him to douse himself and Daniel in juice. Both begin crying hysterically. “HE started it” says the Princess, crying herself for good measure.

19.15 I wipe up the orange juice and change clothes. Daniel calms down and trots off to the kitchen to see how dinner is coming along, the other two continue to howl. I take them both on my lap and each makes spirited efforts to knock off the other while crying hysterically. Daniel comes back with some smoked salmon and solemnly hands each of them a piece. They both stop crying and start eating. I give Daniel a round of applause.

19.20 Dinner is served. It is largely tossed on the floor. I give both boys fruit puree which they let fall on their bibs on the way to their mouths. They angrily demand it be wiped up before they take any more. Daniel is particularly concerned that the large gobs he lets fall between each mouthful be speedily cleaned.

19.30 The bath! Michael comes in first saying “Pipi, pipi” and, when we have removed all his clothes, sits down on the potty which we have just installed in the bathroom in delight. He does not wee in it. After some time, Daniel arrives in and says “Pipi, pipi”. I remove Michael from the pot and put him in the bath where he stands, red in the face, bawling and gasping “Pipi, pipi”. Daniel lowers himself on to the pot with a contented smile. Michael tries to climb out of the bath and fails. The Princess is unwilling to undress and I have to pull off her clothes and put them into the laundry basket.

19.30 Michael finally sits down in the bath and wees in it. We put Daniel in with him (we have NO standards). The Princess gets into the shower. It is too hot and then too cold and we fiddle with the sensitive dial while she abuses us for our ineptitude.

19.35 Michael stands up in the bath and starts saying “Pipi, pipi”, I take him out and wash his teeth despite considerable opposition. I take him to his room while he moans “Pipi, pipi”. While putting on Michael’s pyjamas, I hear a crash from the bathroom and a wail. There was a time I might have run straight away but I am older and wiser now and I put Michael safely into his cot before running to investigate thereby denying him his chance to explore further the charms of the potty.

19.40 The Princess is howling, her father is grim faced and Daniel is gurgling happily and washing his teeth. She slipped in the shower. “Daddy was cross (waaah) with me, even though I slipped (waaaaah) and he said a bad word”. Her father points out, through clenched teeth that, if she would stop dancing in the shower this would never have happened.

19.45 The Princess is wrapped in a towel, Daniel is put to bed. Lights out for the boys.

19.50 The Princess is put into her pyjamas and comes to sit on the couch to discuss today’s smiley face. “I don’t want a smiley face”. Just as well.

19.55 Mr. Waffle puts the Princess to bed, I run to the computer to put up a post for NaBloPoMo. While it is cranking up, I clear the table and sweep the floor (yes, I have a PC, why do you ask?)

20.05 I write my post interrupted only by a trip to the boys’ room to hand a bottle to Daniel.

20.15 Mr. Waffle emerges from the Princess’s room, I go to make myself beautiful. I ruefully contemplate my filthy top and decide (after dabbing at it with a facecloth) that I will have to change it before I go out. Spend some time considering options.

20.25 I emerge and kiss goodbye to my poor husband who is doing dishes. “I’ll put out the bins later” he says sadly while I rummage in the cupboard looking for birthday candles.

20.30 I scoot along to my friend’s house which is mercifully close rehearsing my excuses for my late arrival.

20.35 I arrive. I am first.

NaBloPoMo – Welcome to G

But first, I forgot Joshua Ferris under F. “Then we came to the end” was a great first novel. It was funny and (I would love to say zeitgeisty here but I am worried that my father would hear of it and disinherit me) very contemporary evoking the rhythms of modern office life in a hyper real way (goodness, that could go straight into the LRB, I am so proud).

I also forgot John Connolly. I bought “The Book of Lost Things” as a present for my husband thinking that it was about a boy’s youthful reading experience. He didn’t like it. I picked it up and discovered it was a fantasy story – not Mr. Waffle’s cup of tea – about the interpretation of fairy tales (it reminded me a bit of Angela Carter and also “Pan’s Labyrinth”). I really loved it and I will be getting to the rest of Mr. Connolly’s work on the strength of it.

Sorry, let me reiterate – welcome to G.

G is for Gaskell. Mrs. Gaskell, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways – for you are Victorian and believe in long books, for your plots are interesting and your characters engaging, for “Cranford”, in particular. I think I almost forgive you for not finishing “North and South”.

G is for Graham Greene. There are a lot of converts to catholicism among the authors I favour. I read Graham Greene in my late teens and early 20s because my parents had a lot of them about the house. “Brighton Rock” is genuinely creepy and though I know that Graham Greene is regarded as a bit passé, I think that one really stands the test of time. I also have a weakness for “Travels with my Aunt”, so sue me.

G is also for Greer. I have never read “The Female Eunuch” but I will, really. In the interim, I enjoyed “Daddy, we hardly knew you” but no one else did, as far as I can see.

Stephen Jay Gould is an entertaining and accessible science writer and is responsible for almost everything I know about science. I rate his efforts as superior to the not inconsiderable labours of my teachers, parents and siblings. “Eight Little Piggies” is probably my favourite – it’s clever.

Last but not least is Stella Gibbons. I have only read “Cold Comfort Farm” but how I have read it. This book is anything but cold comfort, I have read it when I was sick, when I was sad, when I was desperate, when I was bored, when I was restless. I love it and it still makes me laugh. In fact, I think I might just pick it up now and head off to bed with it.

Can I say how much I appreciate your suggestions? I’m hoping to have a reading list at the end of this, you know.

Hello?

6 November, 2007 at 9:18 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: I know that you don’t like salad now, but maybe you’ll like salad when you grow-up.

Her: Maybe.

Me: I didn’t like lettuce when I was little but I’m very fond of it now. Do you think you will be?

Her: Hello? Mummy, I am only four and a half, you know.

Nablopomo

F is for Fforde, Fielding and Fonseca. It turns out that A is for Adams also – thank you C, for pointing that out.

C suspects that my bookshelves are in alphabetical order. Well, sort of, unfortunately, my otherwise brilliant cleaner has a reprehensible habit of reorganising books by size. Onwards.

Jaspar Fforde author of the Thursday Next books. I started off on book 1 with wild enthusiasm but I got less and less enthused and my interest in literature’s oddest police force eventually disappeared by volume 4.

Helen Fielding, author of the Bridget Jones books. You may sneer but they’re clever and funny.

Isabel Fonseca wrote “Bury me standing” and it is one of the best books I have ever read. I’m not a great fan of non-fiction (it’s too much like work) but this book is superb. It exposed to me my own prejudices against travellers and gypsies (I had been secure in my own prejudices and never noticed them) and introduced me to a whole other world.

Douglas Adams, you know “Hitch Hiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” and so on; great fun, well thumbed.

Put out more flags

5 November, 2007 at 10:11 pm by belgianwaffle

The Belgian crisis continues, you know. Many of the neighbours have Belgian flags hanging from their windows. I overheard a tram driver saying darkly that some areas have more flags than others. Our commune is staunchly in favour of the continuation of Belgium, if the matter can be judged by the number of flags. A website has been set up to encourage people to stick with the Belgian project but I can’t remember the address and nor can I find it by googling the obvious words (there is some irony there I feel).

The King continues to be rushed off his feet. No, really. He had surgery on his hip recently and when he woke up from the operation, he told his consultant that all the time he was under, he had dreams about the negotiations on the future of Belgium. He is a busy man, the King of the Belgians, perhaps he should relax and enjoy the position while it lasts.

I see that there is concern in the circles that are paid to be concerned by such things that the lack of any government in Belgium means that the Lisbon Treaty may not be ratified in December and all hell will break loose. If you care, the Lisbon Treaty is the redraft of the ill-fated constitutional Treaty which, depending on whom you listen to is either completely different from or identical to its predecessor. OK, you didn’t care, did you?

I recently got an email from an English language bookshop here entitled “Does Belgium Matter? In case you care, or want to trot along, here are the details:

Book presentation: “How can one not be interested in Belgian History: War, Language and Consensus in Belgium since 1830”

142 days since the last general elections and still no new government in Belgium. While analysts discuss the possibility of the end of Belgium, Belgian flags are appearing at the windows of houses around Brussels. So does Belgium matter?

Two years ago, during the 175th anniversary of Belgium, Martine Van Berlo, lecturer of Dutch languages in the Department of Germanic studies at Trinity College Dublin, organised a symposium, ‘Belgium revealed’. The speakers (Benno Barnard, Geert van Istendael, Marc Reynebeau and Sophie de Schaepdrijver) each highlighted a specific vision of the origins of Belgium independence and of what that complex notion of ‘belgitude’ is ultimately all about. An unexpected image of Belgium was projected to the Irish audience of a post-nationalist, federal country, combining cultural pragmatism with a rather solid social consensus … A country quite capable of playing its own role on the European and international scene.

Following the symposium, a small volume of the presentations was published, in which was also included an essay by Tony Judt, “Is There a Belgium?”. Belgium does matter. This book tells you why.

On Thursday 15th November from 7:30pm onwards, Nicola’s Bookshop (you need to email to get in, such is the popularity of Belgium as a topic but entrance is free) will host a Presentation by Martine Van Berlo of the mentioned book. There will be a question & answer session after the presentation where you will be able to voice your opinion on the state of Belgium!

This will be followed by a taste of some of Belgium’s best products (beer, cheese, waffles, pralines)!

* * * * * * * * *
Synopsis:

Belgium rarely attracts foreign notice. Yet the country is more than fine chocolates, delicious beers or Tintin. This volume celebrates Belgium as a federal, post-nationalist country, which combines cultural pragmatism with a rather solid social
consensus. It presents a critical vision on the origins of Belgian independence and on that complex notion named ‘belgitude’. It illustrates how a deep-seated tradition of local autonomy and suspicion towards state authority go hand in hand with a strong sense of individual tolerance and solidarity, with a refusal of violent confrontation and a continuous search for consensus. Prominent commentators on things Belgian combine critical and irreverent observations with a strong attachment to the existence of the country and its role on the international stage. They emphasise the potential of linguistic diversity and cultural plurality. They also point out the ambivalent relation between history, national myths, and the ‘lasagne’ identity of most Belgians. Belgium may be a model or a warning. Its history addresses questions of identity and security, of a sense of cohesion and common purpose – or the lack thereof.

Belgium does matter. This volume tells you why.

Nablopomo

E is for Eugenides which is just as well. Also, it turns out D is for Didion and Darrieussecq and C is for Clarke; this alphabetical index is harder than I thought.

Anne Enright won the Booker prize and I have read two of her books. She does not appeal, we will move on. Dave Eggers – the man who gave us “A heartbreaking work of staggering genius” is overblown. Mr. Eugenides is, however, interesting. I find that his style makes him a bit heavy going. I bought “The Virgin Suicides” many years ago because I was intrigued by the title. It is intriguing and funny in places. “Middlesex” was more entertaining and a very interesting premise. As a fringe benefit it provides a tutorial on the Turkish invasion of Cyprus. A little long but recommended, particularly if you are thinking of marrying a sibling.

Joan Didion’s book “The Year of Magical Thinking” is one of the best books I have read in the past year but terribly, terribly sad. I haven’t read any of her other books but I will.
I have read two of Marie Darrieussecq’s books; that’s a lot when you consider I read them in French. “Truismes” is translated into English as “Pig Tales” which tells you a lot more about the book. It is, essentially, the story of a woman who turns into a pig. It was an enormous success in France and my French flat mate gave it to me to read. It was alright; perhaps some of the humour escaped me as I was reading in a foreign language. For whatever reason, despite this uninspiring beginning, I bought her book “Le Bebe” and it was, undoubtedly, the best book about having a new baby that I have read. In it she says that she is superstitious about writing another of her works of fiction (featuring as they do the weird and the grotesque); that makes it so odd that she has now written a book about a mother who loses her baby – “Tom est mort”. It caused a bit of excitement in France. I’m planning to read it when I’m feeling strong.

Finally, I so enjoyed Susanna Clarke’s “Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell” in a sort of this is very long and very odd and you need to do some work on your understanding of presently kind of way that I think it only fair to include it.

And tomorrow it will be F – I am unstoppable. Your E recommendations accepted with pleasure.

Culture

4 November, 2007 at 10:48 pm by belgianwaffle

Today the Princess and I went to the ghoulish museum doing scary things for Halloween. I had my reservations both before and afterwards but it was probably worth it for the following three things:

1. The perfectly normal man at the entrance who explained solemnly to each group what they needed to win the prize at the end of the tour. This included a spot the difference competiton and marking your card with the seal of Satan (available down stairs).

2. The mother of a number of young children on her mobile to a friend gushing about the exhibition (showing monstrous beasts made of plastic and spittle) “it’s so sweet”.

3. Seeing that it was supported by the local commune under the heading of culture and small and medium enterprises.

We also went to this exhibition on the history of Europe. There are a lot of dead people in the history of Europe and many of them died in particularly unpleasant ways – particularly when you throw in colonial history for good measure. Even four year olds notice piles of skulls and shoes and want to know all about it. Challenging.

Nablpomo – D is for Doyle and Dickens and I forgot Rachel Cusk yesterday and thanks to a prod from C in the comments have remembered Pat Barker for B. This is going to be a lot more difficult than I thought.

Roddy Doyle is very funny and easy to read and thoughtful and clever as well. He does Dublin dialogue like nobody else. As far as I am concerned he didn’t put a foot wrong until he wrote “A Star called Henry”. Then he put both feet wrong; it is a quite dreadful book – dull and (oh the bitterness) humourless. I didn’t bother with the rest of the trilogy but he’s back on track with the latest “Paula Spencer” novel which is the latest update on the former alcoholic, former battered wife whom we’ve been following for years. Oh so much better than that makes it sound.

Charles Dickens – very readable, I am sure that he is delighted by my endorsement.

Rachel Cusk writes very well but she is odd and neurotic. I am a little ambivalent about her but I plan to keep buying her books.

I think I have read all Pat Barker’s books. The Regeneration Trilogy is, like everything she writes, very good and very readable but she owes a huge debt to Robert Graves’s “Goodbye to all That” which is, I think, a better read. I find her other books interesting – they are all about the less obvious consequences of war on civilian life.

Bereft

3 November, 2007 at 10:37 pm by belgianwaffle

The grandparents put in a week of hard graft in Brussels and went home this morning. There were tears (on the Brussels side, the Dublin side remained strangely stoic) as they hopped out of boot camp. It was mid-term and my noble parents-in-law put in a lot of hours with the children while we trooped off to our offices. They also seem to have done all of the cooking.

The grandparents pointed out that Michael and Daniel spent much of their time hitting each other, something we hadn’t noticed so much ourselves. They often do so more in a spirit of enquiry than anger (will this dinky hurt, if I bang my brother’s head with it?) and kiss and make up quite readily before setting off again entirely unabashed. I am not entirely sure to what extent they realise that they are two different people. Michael invariably identifies himself as Daniel in the mirror. The other night when we asked them to say goodnight to each other, they thought it was the most hilarious suggestion they had ever heard.

Back to the grandparents: the Princess’s grandmother spent much of her time here teaching her granddaughter the words to an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical number (not all of the words but she told the Princess the remaining verses could be found on the internet). The wisdom of this I leave for her to decide, but you may inspect the results for yourself here and here. I am the backing singer (I am a less apt pupil than my daughter, you will note).
NaBloPoMo – It turns out that most authors’ surnames begin with C. Below is a selection of my favourites.

C is for Chesterton, Cheek, Christie, Colfer, Coupland and Coe

Chesterton, Gilbert Keith to his friends. Author of the Father Brown short stories, all of which are bound in a large, faded, red volume in my parents’ house and which I have read more times than I can remember. I love Father Brown and even though I know the twist in every single story, I don’t care. Chesterton does suffer a little from the zeal of the convert but as a poor catholic I like that, I always feel a little holier after reading Father Brown. The stories remind me of home and I love them for that too. Funnily enough, I haven’t been tempted to branch out and try further Chesterton. I once read a book of essays called “Tremendous Trifles” and I didn’t enjoy it much even though there was an excellent essay on the joys of lying in bed in the morning. Perhaps I will reconsider when I am feeling strong.

Mavis Cheek writes good feminist fiction. A bit like Fay Weldon only funnier and, I would say, better written. I think I have them all.

Agatha Christie was one of the first “grown-up” authors I read and I have a great affection for her. Sometimes it wavers when I reread. When I had a cold recently, I went to bed early with “The Labours of Hercules” and it was quite shocking. Mind you, it did yield this description of herself by Mrs. Christie on the back cover: “As for my tastes, I enjoy my food, hate the taste of any kind of alcohol, have tried and tried to like smoking, but can’t manage it. I adore flowers, am crazy about the sea, love the theatre but am bored to death by the talkies (and am very stupid at following them), loathe wireless and all loud noises, dislike living in cities. I do a lot of travelling, mostly in the Near East, and have a great love of the desert.” So there.

I have been reading children’s fiction for a long time. I read the first Harry Potter at a time when it was neither profitable nor popular. Eoin Colfer is a hugely successful Irish children’s author. His hero is Artemis Fowl an adolescent genius who discovers that there is a fairyland. It sounds dreadful but it’s hilarious action packed stuff and, if you can’t quite face it yourself, I highly recommend it for your children.

Douglas Coupland has been writing about my generation for a long time. I bought my copy of “Generation X” in 1992 and I have bought almost everything he has written since. He is a bit hit and miss. “Shampoo planet” was awful; “Microserfs” left me cold; “Girlfriend in a Coma” and “Eleanor Rigby” were interesting; “All Families are Psychotic” was probably my favourite but it was very odd indeed. “J-pod” awaits my attention.

Jonathan Coe is the author of the truly excellent “House of Sleep”, “What a Carve-up” and “The Rotters’ Club”. Less successful, if you ask me, is “The Closed Circle”. I have just finished “The Rain Before it Falls” and I am not entirely convinced. Hmm.

Any suggestions?

Know thyself

2 November, 2007 at 9:11 pm by belgianwaffle

Me: Can you get the thingy.

Her: It’s all the way over there.

Me: But you’re standing up.

Her: Yes, but I’m too lazy to get it.

NaBlPoMo Books

B is for Bryson, Benson, Boyd, Binchy and Blyton
Bill Bryson: well-written, funny, informative, what’s not to like as our American cousins say. I promptly buy each new volume on publication.

B is also for Benson, E.F. Benson to be precise. The son of an Archbishop whose wife ran off with a woman, Benson and all of his siblings were allegedly gay or lesbian. Says something, for nature over nurture, doesn’t it? All the same, you have to admire the panache of those Anglicans. He wrote the Mapp and Lucia books and they are superb social comedies that bear repeated rereadings. I love them; they are comfort reading for when I am fed up and the world seems a miserable place. Unfortunately, I am not half so well able to convey my affection and the novels’ brilliance as this article to which I selflessly refer you. Mr. Benson was mayor of Rye on which Tilling is based and I am desperate to get there on my holidays, even if it is in Sussex.

William Boyd is excellent. I have only tried two of his offerings “Any Human Heart” which was absolutely superb (recommended to me by the Glam Potter to whom I am extremely grateful) and “Restless” which is less good but still very good. He has a huge back catalogue too – oh happiness – and I am going to read them all. Jeremy Paxman is quoted on the back of my copy of “Restless” as saying that he would read anything by William Boyd, let’s not hold that against Mr. Boyd.
I like Maeve Binchy. She does not write particularly well (though I think the critics’ favourite term ‘workmanlike’ could fairly be applied to her prose), her plots are predictable and her characters, no matter what age they purport to be all act like men and women in their 60s. Let me put it this way, I don’t think anyone has ever sent a text in a Maeve Binchy novel. Yet, her endings are always happy and her characters are always nice and never, ever have graphic sex. This is endearing. And she tells a good story. Apparently, when she used to get the last bus home from UCD in the 1960s, everyone wanted to travel with her because she was so entertaining. I imagine also that she is a lovely person and this comes across in her novels. Everything is for the best in the best possible world. I see that on her website, she puts up the odd short story, so you can try her out for yourself.

Enid Blyton was my first love and though I have moved on, I can never forget her. Especially the Famous Five, despite Anne’s role as scared drudge and the St. Clare’s books (in new covers for a new millenium, I note), far better than the Chalet school.

All month

1 November, 2007 at 6:10 pm by belgianwaffle

I have decided on a theme for NaBloPoMo (you know, where I and 1,353 other people and counting blog every day for a whole month, stay tuned for daily witterings). Every day I will write about books by authors I particularly like. I may write about other things too. I will be unstoppable.

I will do it alphabetically. That is the kind of person I am. We will begin with A.

A is for Atkinson and also for Atwood and Austen
I am very fond of Kate Atkinson’s books and will always go out and buy a new one when they come out. I even enjoyed her book of short stories which was clearly gibberish (“Not the end of the World”). She suffers from the unfortunate problem that she wrote her best book first: “Behind the Scenes at the Museum”.

I am a bit more ambivalent about Margaret Atwood. I have enjoyed many of her books: “The Handmaid’s Tale”, “Oryx and Crake”, “The Robber Bride”. I disliked “The Edible Woman” and I had my doubts about “Alias Grace”. I found “Cat’s Eye” brilliant but disturbing. I was unhappy as a teenager and it brought back to me in a very vivid way the misery of those years (though I was not bullied like the protagonist, I found my own ways to be miserable and lonely).

Moving on to Jane Austen: I love “Pride and Prejudice”. I have read it innumerable times since I first read it as a school text when I was 14. I still have my battered penguin school edition and even opening it makes me sigh with happiness. I am distinctly less keen on the rest of Ms. Austen’s work. Fanny Price in “Mansfield Park” is dull. The plot requires you to really believe that acting in amateur drama is morally wrong (you may wish to insert your own little quip here) and even Jane Austen can’t make a modern reader suspend disbelief to this extent. Particularly not, if she’s relying on insipid Fanny Price to do it for you. “Emma”, “Sense and Sensibility” and “Persuasion” are pleasant. If you ask me, nothing lives up to “Pride and Prejudice” a book written when she was only 20. Phenomenal.

What are your favourite marvellous, unforgettable, fantastic As?

Stay tuned tomorrow when we move on to B.  Be still my beating heart.


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