Two Memes

Many apologies for the continued neglect of the blog; I should be back in the neighbourhood at the end of the month. I’m intending to catch up with another chunk of reviews on the weekend, and today here’s a couple of memes I’ve been kindly invited to do. The first comes from the delightfully talented Box of Books, the second from the entirely charming Couchtrip.

What kind of book are you most comfortable reading?

Contemporary fiction, but I’m getting ever more into the recent non-fiction that has a bit of a twist to it.

What kind of book do you love to hate?

Joke books published solely for the Christmas market. Books like Neil Strauss’s The Game, in which a man decides he has figured out the fool-proof way to pick up women, which only works if you are irrevocably and hopelessly foolish and determined not to relate to other people. The kind of soul-leechingly awful literary criticism that took theory and turned it into a war zone of pretention and obscurity.

What was the last book you surprised yourself by liking?

I tried really hard to think of an answer for this, honest. But I think I expect to like everything I read. Okay, let’s say Hemingway’s A Movable Feast, as I wasn’t sure whether it would suit me or not (although being a writer in Paris sounded a pretty wonderful premise.)

What was the last book you surprised yourself by disliking?

I have to read books by the relatively canonical modern French writers, Georges Perec and Helene Cixous, in which both authors detail a series of dreams they’ve had. Perec notes 124 dreams, Cixous only about 50. I’ve started these books several times each and cannot get into them. Other people’s dreams, described straight up without explanation, are hopelessly unengaging no matter how good the writers are.

What would be the worst book to be marooned with on a desert island?

Lettres persanes by Montesquieu. Eighteenth-century French text in which two jolly Frenchman travel to Persia, witness life in seraglio, make lots of ironic/naïve comparisons to so-called civilized life back home and I don’t know what happens at the end. I lost the will to live about 60 pages in.

What book would you take with you if you suspected you’d be marooned in the near future?

I have a huge reading list I need to get through at the moment. It would be very kind of someone to airlift me to a nice desert island with the majority of it, so I could get on. But in a parallel world, I’d probably take Robert Musil’s The Man Without Qualities, as I’d like to read it and cannot imagine at the moment when I’d have the time to get through its 1000 or so pages.

What forces you to read outside your comfort zone?

Work. My research is always taking me to places I would never have thought to go of my own accord. It’s probably one of the very best features of the kind of work I do, and a source of great pleasure and enlightenment.


What were you doing 10 years ago?

Not a good time in my life. Ten years ago, summer 1998, I was still trying to recover from the viral pneumonia I’d caught the previous Christmas. I was far from well and sinking into chronic fatigue, although I didn’t know it at the time. Nominally, I was a research fellow at Magdalene College in Cambridge, but I hadn’t been well enough to do much teaching, or indeed, research. I’m very glad I didn’t know then what a long, long haul, healthwise, workwise, lifewise, lay ahead of me.

Five snacks I enjoy in a perfect non-weight gaining world? (I very much need to put on weight, thanks to the no-sugar, no-yeast exclusion diet that, alas, seems to help a lot with chronic fatigue. Life is swings and roundabouts.)

Ginger nut biscuits
Little cheesie biscuits
Hot, buttered toast

Five snacks I enjoy in the real world.

Oat cakes
Ready salted crisps
Ryvita with tuna pâté
Bowl of muesli

Five things I would do if I were a billionaire

I’d run a philanthropic venture in the arts, probably a writing retreat where people could do courses and also just work in peace and quiet on their projects.

I’d also love to run a finishing school, one that focused on teaching culture, financial management and foreign languages to young adults. There’d be lots of sport and councelling available too.

I’d also be very tempted to buy and run a little bookshop.

I think I’d better invest some of this money in cloning, as I clearly need several of me if I’m ever rich.

I’d also want to work with a number of charities, involved with children, I think, and their educational and medical needs.

Five jobs I’ve had

General clerical dogsbody for my dad in his office
Conference hostess, Nice, France
Bookseller, Waterstones
Marketing officer, BPCC Books Ltd
Lecturer in French, St John’s College

Five habits

Chewing my lip when I’m thinking
Lengthy, catastrophic/idealistic fantasizing
Pointlessly telling the men around here to tidy up after themselves/be careful/not put empty cartons back in the fridge, etc.

Five places I’ve lived

Colchester, Essex (home town)
Aylesbury, Buckinghamshire (armpit of the UK)
Villeneuve-sur-Lot, France (delightful small French town)
Hemingford Grey, nr St. Ives, Huntingdonshire (Agath-Christie style English village)
Cambridge (dreaming spires)

ps I have found out that this particular computer seems to disable the wordprocessing parts of the blog that permit links, bold type, etc. But my son is playing on the other one at the moment, so apologies for total lack of formatting, once again.

21 thoughts on “Two Memes

  1. re: Musil

    Recently finished Vol. 1 (729 pp)A surprisingly… well, I can’t say, a “quick” read–much too good to skim, you’ll want to savor it, save large blocks of quoted text… but it flows with almost effortless ease for a book with almost no discernible plot. I had an uncanny sensation that the 1914 Vienna he describes is but a lightly colored transparancy laid over our own early 21st Century world, so what you perceive is not Musil’s world, but ours. It feels so contemporary–not because of high falutin “universals” but the details, the particulars–whatever was going on then, the changes he attends to–we’re still there, still stuck in the same historical junkyard.

    Very short chapters, so you don’t need huge chunks of time in any single sitting. I thought I’d take advantage of that–read another book at the same time but was quickly far too engaged with Ulrich, Mussbrugger, Diotima … and the Great Parallel Campaign going nowhere.

  2. Emily – thank you so much for those excellent suggestions – I feel sure you could have a complete meal if you thought out how to combine them! I do eat bananas, but not once they’ve got very ripe. I do tend to forget about cheese as a fine snack food. Jacob – I had forgotten that you were reading the Musil! Thank you for the wonderful introduction to it. You are making it very tempting indeed.

  3. Rather than cloning, how about, when we both become billionaires, we just each take turns with a few other people running all those ventures? They all sound perfect to me. And hot, buttered toast? Yum! Yum, too, to ginger nut biscuits. I’ve avoided Hemingway all my life, because I am so sure I won’t like him. Perhaps it’s time I read A Movable Feast?

  4. I think my most perfect snack is hot buttered toast. I know it’s my favorite comfort food.

    And I totally endorse all your philanthropic ideas. Bring on the billions!

  5. I share your habit of worrying–it can be a little bit exhausting sometimes and I wish I could stop it and be a free spirit…but that would worry me too much! 🙂 I’ve read the answers to Ella’s meme on several blogs and I keep misreading the question about what book Not to take to a desert island…and I always think, wow, they’re awfully daring until it dawns on me the question is reversed! My recent favorite snack is ice cream–I suspect it might be one of your foods to be avoided, though.

  6. Fun answers! Books that retell people’s dreams? Even if they are famous people, I don’t care — it sounds awful! And nonfiction with a bit of a twist — I love that genre too!

  7. I like your plans for your billions. If I had the money, I’d do some of those same things. I enjoyed your meme answers very much! I also spend a lot of pointless time telling the men around here to tidy up after themselves 🙂

  8. I am currently lost in a good book and so am very concerned about coincidences. I notice you, dear Litlove, lecturer in French and noted for your messing around in books, come from Colchester in Essex. Now the fact that I have an ancestor who came from Messing in Essex and was convicted of stealing in the court at Colchester. This, in istelf is only three coincidences. The truly worrying part is the fourth coincidence. His name was French! It doesn’t look like the world is going to end in twenty six minutes, but then I don’t suppose it ever does – – –

  9. Just passing through and to let you know I should be in touch over the weekend. Getting mail and blogs out has been a nightmare while Apple have been updating but, with one or two exceptions it seems to be fixed now.

  10. Colchester! My home town too. Or nearly. I was born in Dedham, but we moved to Colchester when I was 11. A great place – though I know that’s probably not the right thing to say. I live in Surrey now (but say nothing as if people here find out I’m an Essex Girl, then I suspect I’ll be driven out beyond the county boundary or something!).


    It’s also great to be surprised by books – whichever way the surprise goes.



  11. Add Emily’s suggested bananas to a sandwich with lots of natural unsalted peanut butter. Yum!

    I’m with you on hating those Christmas joke books. The smarmy ones make me nuts too. When you are rich and have your little bookshop, can I come work for you? 🙂

  12. Emily – I can think of nothing nicer than running those projects with you – how delightful! I recently read A Movable Feast and found it very accessible, a fun read. I’m gaining momentum to move onto The Sun Also Rises – just like you, I have always hesitated when it came to Hemingway. But writers in Paris stories just can’t be wrong. Becca – you’ll have to come in with Emily and me on the ventures – we are clearly putting a dream team together 🙂 And we’ll have the snacks sorted before we begin! Danielle – your comments always make me laugh, and I couldn’t agree more – it’s the worrying about what would happen if I didn’t worry that really worries me! And I laughed about misreading that question. But as for ice cream, oh I love it and I do miss it. If anyone knows of a sugar-free ice-cream recipe I’d love to have it. Dorothy – I cannot lie, the dream books are awful. But I’m really looking forward to Richard Holmes’s Footsteps which I got on your recommendation and which looks just a delight. Qugrainne – it would be easier to show you the inside of my head, but you wouldn’t want to see that 🙂 It means indulging in the kind of daydream that ends either in complete triumph or total disaster, without much in between. Not so good if, like me, you sometimes find the contents of your imagination plausible… Gentle Reader – why do we do it? It must be habit, because it’s never had the least effect! 🙂 So glad you like my plans – it was fun coming up with them! Archie – my friend, we must face the truth: clearly there can be no confusion any more, we are twins separated at birth. Now, where did I put my beard..? Ann – so glad to hear your Apple troubles might be over! Aren’t computers just the pits when they go wrong? Always glad to hear from you, but I understand the technology obstacles you face. Anne – how about that! My mother grew up in Dedham and it is such a beautiful village! Colchester has changed out of all recognition from the town I grew up in, it’s so large these days. Very glad to find another Essex girl out there, and don’t worry, I won’t tell a soul. Many congratulations on your publications, by the way! Stefanie – consider yourself hired, my friend. Wouldn’t that just be wonderful? And we’re agreed, no joke books, and peanut butter at snack times!

  13. No, really!!!!!!!!!!!! I can’t believe it – I’ve never met (virtually or otherwise) anyone who knows Dedham – let alone lived in it. Oooh! Ask your mother if she remembers Monks Farm, in Coles Oak Lane – we were the apple farmers of the area, next door to the pig farm. People either loved my father (Charles Brooke) or hated him – mainly due to the size of the lorries which had to trundle through narrow country lanes to get to us, or to his hatred of walkers (all farmers hate walkers – they steal the crops!! Or is that just rumour??)

    Gosh though – how weird!


  14. Lengthy, catastrophic/idealistic fantasizing…oh, litlove, this made me laugh and then heave a guilty little sigh. I can’t think of anything else that sounds quite so familiar. Where would my day be without one session of lengthy, catastrophic/idealistic musing. 🙂

  15. Hi Litlove,
    I live in Bures near Colchester, so I know Dedham pretty well, and the Stour Valley is very close to my heart. My garden almost overlooks it, if I squint through the trees! Isn’t life full of coincidences? Can I be the first one to book into your writers retreat? I might then have time to edit The Thought Shapers, and work on the second book too. Bliss…
    Tricia Gilbey

  16. Verbivore – now I had you down as an immensely serene person, and I am in some ways rather reassured to think you are someone whose mind wanders off with reckless determination! Do you think it’s part and parcel of having to work with language for a living?

    Tricia – well now, how about that!!! That’s amazing to think you live so close – it really is a small world! And I would be so delighted to have you on my writer’s retreat. I’m wholeheartedly behind you getting your books finished and published, as you know!

  17. Litlove, thanks for your comments! That’s settled then. When you have your billions I’ll come on the retreat.
    On a different subject I too have too many ‘men’ in the house – three of them. And they’re a pain – at least my oldest son (almost 15) is at trying to get on the computer when I want to use it. We have so much in common! Your comments on Hemingway were interesting. He’s always held up as such an example of good clean prose for writers, his prose is quite unlike his life then! Is it better to have good clean prose and a bad lifestyle, or vice versa? There’s a thought for the day! I have two of his books under my bed:’To Have and Have Not’, and ‘For Whom the Bell Tolls.’ Might get round to actually reading them one day…

  18. Tricia – the fight for a computer can get pretty ugly around here! I wasn’t sure what to expect when I read Hemingway, and in many ways the jury’s still out as to whether I admired his style or not, but it was very interesting from a writerly point of view. I like your question! But I hope there’s a third way 🙂

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