Wednesday, 25 June 2008

Don't judge a book by its cover, judge the publisher...

This REALLY annoys me.

What is the plot of this book? It follows ten years in the life of a girl called Judith, from her first emotional arrival at boarding school in England from Singapore, through her friendship with the glamorous Carey-Lewis family, to her time in London and in the Far East during the Second World War. She spends a lot of this time down in Cornwall, at the Carey-Lewis estate of Nancherrow.

What does the cover show? A boy, playing in a rock-pool. I don't know who this boy is supposed to be. Judith has a sibling, but it's a sister. Edward Carey-Lewis is nearly eighteen when they first meet. There are no little boys in the book. There are rock-pools, however, so they can get points for that, but no little boys.


This is just laziness, as far as I can see. Bung any stock picture on it, it'll be fine! A book has to go through many stages to get published; I think Pilcher may be dead (or at least quite old), but someone along the way must have read it, mustn't they? Someone? Anyone? At the very least, can't they have read the blurb, or a precis? Or perhaps it's all a patriarchal belief that people won't read a book with a girl on the cover.

I've quite frequently experienced Book-Cover Rage recently. These bubblegum Austens were the most recent focus of my ire, because of their cynical attempt to tap into the chicklit market - part of a general misinterpretation of Austen as fluffy and girly (which they certainly aren't, as anyone who's actually read them knows). It took me months to find a second-hand Penguin Sense and Sensibility that I could bear to put on my bookshelf.

Books for me are furniture - or ornaments, I suppose. And so I'm very picky about the covers of books. If the cover is ugly, I won't buy it, I'll look for another edition. If there isn't another edition, I'll wait until an old one turns up at Oxfam. I won't choose to read a book because of the cover (it's usually a combination of title and blurb and first page skim), but the cover will determine whether I buy the book. And it's because of Penguin's brilliant Classics and Modern Classics series that I love them so much - I nearly went for work experience there, while I still wanted to be a publisher.

My dears, this has turned into a rant. Again. (But I'm waiting for my results, and so I'm trying desperately not to think about them...)

Saturday, 21 June 2008

Filler - Space-Filler

Hello all, apologies for the absence, and apologies that this is not going to be a real post either, just a meme, since I'm all out of blogging inspiration right now.

Hardback, trade paperback or mass market paperback?
Ooh, what? Two types of paperback? Quelle bizarrity. Leaving aside my ignorance, I’m going to turn this question into Hardback v paperback, which is of course won by paperback. Hardbacks maybe look better in 18th century libraries, but for actual reading paperbacks are better. My wrists hurt otherwise, especially if I’m in the bath.

Barnes & Noble or Borders?
(Hmm, does this mean this quiz originated in the States? Perheps.) Out of those two I’d say Borders, because they’re actually vg and I got my Swallows and Amazons mug from there. And they have armchairs dotted around the bookshop which is the way to my heart, and they didn’t kick me out when I sat there for five hours in Adelaide reading City of Flowers (it was raining outside and the museum was very small). But if we’re talking high-street bookshops, I used to like Waterstone’s the best but now they’ve put down that horrid cream carpet and it doesn’t feel as nice. Now my fave is the Heffer’s on Trinity Street in Cambridge. That’s just lovely.

Bookmark or dog-ear?
Bookmark or nothing. But when I say “bookmark” it’s usually the nearest thing to hand – film stub, train ticket, bus ticket (although only in Cambridge because of Oyster), boarding pass, etc etc

Amazon or brick and mortar?
Brick and mortar, usually, although Amazon is best for presents and for elusive stuff. It’s also excellent for cheapo second-hand stuff. But I much prefer actual real-life bookshops, because you can touch the books and have a flick through. You can’t browse in the same way on Amazon.

Alphabetize by author or alphabetize by title or random?
Alphabetise by author, obviously. But all my books are divided into fiction, non-fiction, poetry, plays, English Literature (i.e. my annotated texts from school), travel, photography, history, biography, and reference. What? I used to be a librarian, sue me.

Keep, throw away, or sell?
Keep, unless it was really rubbish, then it’s off to Oxfam. Never ever ever throw away, ever – it’d feel like throwing away a living thing. Ugh.

Keep dust jacket or toss it?
I never mean to lose dust jackets but I do. I take them off and then put them down and then they get absorbed by the piles of rubbish in my house. But keep, if we’re talking about intentions here.

Read with dust jacket or remove it?
Remove. They’re annoying and they keep sliding up the book.

Short story or novel?
Novel, but only because I’ve never really read any short stories. *gasp*

Harry Potter or Lemony Snicket?
Harry Potter times a million.

Stop reading when tired or at chapter breaks?
I always try and get to a chapter break, but sometimes I simply can’t keep my eyes open.

"It was a dark and stormy night" or "Once upon a time"?
Neither. Both are rubbish. Although “it was a dark and stormy night” makes me think of the running Peanuts gag about Snoopy and his novel, and so is preferable for that.

Buy or borrow?
Buy. If I’m not certain about a book, I may borrow it from the library or a friend and then buy myself a copy if I like it. But book-buying is my therapy, so it’s usually buy.

New or used?
Both, but I do love second-hand books, simply for the bookshops which house them. And occasionally you get notes in them, or inscriptions.

Buying choice: book reviews, recommendations, or browse?
Rarely reviews, because I don’t read the papers enough. But recommendations will point me to a book which I will then browse through.

Tidy ending or cliffhanger?
Either as long as it works. A good cliffhanger is a tidy ending, as far as I’m concerned – but it should fit in with the themes and style of the book. Modern books can get away with it more. Happily ever after doesn’t satisfy as much as it did. Having said that, though, with the best books even a tidy ending works like a cliffhanger for me - I just don't want to leave that world.

Morning reading, afternoon reading, or night-time reading?
Always. Any time. The only thing that varies is the subject matter. Heavier stuff in the morning when I’m a bit more awake, lighter stuff for the tube or for relaxing.

Stand-alone or series?
I won’t go looking for series over stand-alone, but a series is obvs longer and so a good series trumps a good book. There’s more of it!

Favorite series?
(See, I knew this was American!) Arg, too many to choose, but if you put a gun to my head I’d say Swallows and Amazons. And then I’d mutter Harry Potter and Terry Pratchett and Master and Commander and that’d be the end of me.

Favorite children's book?
How long have you got? Swallows and Amazons, probably, but also the Narnia books and Winnie the Pooh. If we’re talking younger than that: Asterix, Each Peach Pear Plum, The Jolly Postman, Brambley Hedge, Tim and Charlotte, Captain Pugwash…

Favorite YA book?
Tamora Pierce’s Tortall books.

Favorite book of which nobody else has heard?
Very few people have heard of Rosamund Pilcher, and those who have are probably eighty and called Doris. She has written three fantastic books and many many mediocre stories and always ends up with the Barbara Taylor Bradfords and Catherine Cooksons in the romance sections of charity shops, but she doesn’t deserve that. Coming Home is one of my all-time faves.

Favorite books read last year?
Oh bloody hell. Erm… I actually cannot remember one book that I read last year. I have a horrible feeling I only re-read things. Ooh, no, I read A Spot of Bother, the new Mark “Curious Incident” Haddon, and that was utterly brill. (phew) Before you sneer at me, I read at least a few pages of approximately 300 books, thanks to my history degree. But they don’t count. I did love On Royal and Papal Power by John of Paris, but that’s a bit wanky, isn’t it? Oh, and Deathly Hallows, I spose, which I did love a lot. And Going Postal, by Terry Pratchett, which is just lovely.

Favorite books of all time?
Fuck off. Random selection, excluding those I’ve already mentioned above:

The Forsyte Saga (John Galsworthy)
Middlemarch (George Eliot)
His Dark Materials (Phillip Pullman)
The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets (Eva Rice)
Georgia Nicholson Series (Louise Rennison)
I Capture the Castle (Dodie Smith)
We Need To Talk About Kevin (Lionel Shriver)
Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
Ex Libris (Anne Fadiman)
Writing Home, and Untold Stories (Alan Bennett)
anything by Terry Pratchett
The Female Eunuch (Germaine Greer)
Friday's Child (Georgette Heyer)
The Nanny (Melissa Nathan)
Persuasion (Jane Austen)
How To Talk To A Widower (Jonathan Tropper)
Brideshead Revisited (Evelyn Waugh)

Least favorite book you finished last year?
Ooh, easy peasy. I read Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Taylor Bradford, and it was AWFUL. Fantastically awful, in fact. It was unoriginal, boring, full of flat, unattractive, stereotyped characters, and had absolutely no tension whatsoever. Which, you know, in a mystery thriller is kind of problematic. I kept waiting for the big dramatic twist which would have made it worthwhile, but it never came.

What are you reading right now?
Savage Beauty, the biography of Edna St Vincent Millay
Sense and Sensibility

What are you reading next?
Depends on my mood, although I think I will read The Color Purple, the new Kate Morton, or a Bronte next.

Favorite book to recommend to an eleven-year-old?
Well, obviously it depends on the eleven-year old. I, for example, was unique in having a negative reading curve, racing through Jane Eyre and Rebecca by the time I turned twelve and then spending five years reading nothing of substance (but lots of fun). Swallows and Amazons if I think they aren’t too cool; A Traveller in Time and Cue for Treason are good for history buffs; Louise Rennison’s Georgia books are fantastic teenage reading because they are funny and surprisingly well-written. Tamora Pierce is brill – terribly written but wonderful characters.

Favorite book to reread?
Anything by Georgette Heyer or Terry Pratchett, and The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, by Eva Rice, is perfect too.

Do you ever smell books?
Yup. But it’s the touch I like best.

Do you ever read Primary source documents?
All. The. Sodding. Time. (actually they’re quite fun. You feel like an investigative journalist or a detective, and you get added superiority if you’re reading it in Latin).

Anyway, hopefully normal service will soon be resumed.

Friday, 6 June 2008

It was a dark and stormy night

It occurred to me this evening, while in the gym, that I never posted the answers to my First Line Quiz, which was remiss of me. Apologies, and this is now to be corrected!

Basically, if you can't remember, I selected fifteen first lines from famous books and asked you all to guess which book they were from. Here I reveal whether you were wrong or right...

1. There once was a boy named Eustace Clarence Scrubb and he almost deserved it.
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, by C.S. Lewis

2. It was a queer, sultry summer, the summer they electrocuted the Rosenbergs, and I didn't know what I was doing in New York.
The Bell Jar, by Sylvia Plath

3. Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley again.
Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier

4. It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen.
Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell

5. If you really want to hear about it, the first thing you'll probably want to know is where I was born, and what my lousy childhood was like, and how my parents were occupied and all before they had me, and all that David Copperfield kind of crap, but I don't feel like going into it, if you want to know the truth.
Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger

6. All children, except one, grow up.
Peter Pan, by J.M. Barrie

7. Roger, aged seven, and no longer the youngest of the family, ran in wide zigzags, to and fro, across the steep field that sloped up from the lake to Holly Howe, the farm where they were staying for part of the summer holidays.
Swallows and Amazons, by Arthur Ransome

8. Call me Ishmael.
Moby Dick, by Hermann Melville

9. μῆνιν ἄειδε θεὰ Πηληϊάδεω Ἀχιλῆος
οὐλομένην, ἣ μυρί' Ἀχαιοῖς ἄλγε' ἔθηκεν

Sing, goddess, the rage of Achilles the son of Peleus,
the destructive rage that sent countless pains on the Achaeans...

The Iliad, by Homer

10. It was a nice day. All the days had been nice. There had been rather more than seven of them so far, and rain hadn't been invented yet. But clouds massing east of Eden suggested that the first thunderstorm was on its way, and it was going to be a big one.
Good Omens, by Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett

11. "Yes," said Tom bluntly, on opening the front door. "What do you want?"
Goodnight, Mister Tom, by Michelle Magorian

12. To the red country and part of the gray country of Oklahoma, the last rains came gently, and they did not cut the scarred earth.
The Grapes of Wrath, by John Steinbeck

13. In my younger and more vulnerable years my father gave me some advice that I've been turning over in my mind ever since.
The Great Gatsby, by F. Scott Fitzgerald

14. The Nellie, a cruising yawl, swung to her anchor without a flutter of the sails, and was at rest. The flood had made, the wind was nearly calm, and being bound down the river, the only thing for it was to come to and wait for the turn of the tide.
Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad (a mean one, this 'un)

15. It was 7 minutes after midnight. The dog was lying on the grass in the middle of the lawn in front of Mrs. Shears's house. Its eyes were closed. It looked as if it was running on its side, the way dogs run when they think they are chasing a cat in a dream. But the dog was not running or asleep. The dog was dead.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, by Mark Haddon

Some of them were hard, some were pretty easy, all of them brilliant for one reason or another. So how many of you are kicking yourself now? I have to admit that I had to look up Gatsby and Heart of Darkness, but I would have got all the others.

I'm sure there's been a lot written on first lines - in fact, if any of you know of a good scholarly essay about the topic, please linky - but when has that stopped me writing my own spin on it?

First lines should do one thing: make you want to read on. And it should also (TWO! OUR TWO GREATEST WEAPONS!) do at least one of three things:

1. Introduce a character
2. Introduce the setting
3. Set the tone/narrative voice

The best lines do all three. And they make you ask questions. Like, Moby Dick. "Call me Ishmael". Why? What's this person's real name? Why don't they want to be called that anymore? Why Ishmael? Who are we supposed to be in this instance? Or Peter Pan, who is this child who doesn't grow up? And why? --> HOOKED. Or if they don't make you ask questions, like The Grapes of Wrath or Heart of Darkness, they draw you in with their prose, the beautiful choice of word and rhythm and sentence length, and you find yourself reading on almost without noticing, because the words are carrying you along.

What are all your favourite first lines? Mine is the first line of Swallows and Amazons simply because it's one of my favourite books, but I think the best one in that list is 1984, because in a line it sums up the book - normality skewed and perverted. Always more chilling than pure horror, don't you think?