The Fantasy Book Group

Eric over at Lonesome Reader started it, and then my friend and co-editor, Annabel, carried it on (and included George Clooney) and I found I just couldn’t resist putting together a fantasy book group myself. They were both looking for celebrities who weren’t authors but who had bookish interests. Well, my book group members probably aren’t celebrities by normal standards, but I did just about manage to avoid fiction writers (my first, immediate, mental list began Virginia Woolf, Ali Smith…). I also think it will be as much a séance as a book club…


alexandra pringleAlexandra Pringle – currently Editor-in-Chief at Bloomsbury, she began her career at Virago, went on to work for Hamish Hamilton and then became a literary agent for a while. Her list of authors include: Donna Tartt, Barbara Trapido, Michele Roberts, Richard Ford, Esther Freud, Jay McInerney, Margaret Atwood, William Boyd, Georgina Harding, Ann Patchett, Kate Summerscale and Elizabeth Gilbert. I bet she’d have a few pithy things to say about any book put in front of her.


eunice frostEunice Frost – initially secretary to the founder of Penguin Books, Allen Lane, she was at his side when he introduced the much-reviled paperback book. She became an editor in the late 30s and eventually a director of the company (the penguin mascot is named ‘Frostie’ after her). A worrier and a sufferer from bronchial complaints, she was known for her formidable hats. It was largely down to her that Penguin began producing original work, not just reprints. She would have a fine eye for a book, I feel sure.


roland barthesRoland Barthes – French cultural critic who was hugely influential though he never held an orthodox academic post. He wrote a great deal about his theories of reading, and it would be irresistible to have him in the group, asking: ‘So hands up who experienced jouissance when reading this text, then?’


f r leavisF. R. Leavis – I hesitated over including him in my line-up because he was such an opinionated old grump. However, you need a bit of grit in any book group to get traction in a discussion and I would put good money on this formidable literary critic stirring up some fine book talk.


miss marpleMiss Marple – Well there has to be someone there to keep any egos under control, and I felt Miss Marple, with her razor eye and her sweet old lady façade would be just the ticket. The combination of her knitting and her unassuming but devastating one-line put-downs was not to be missed. She’d have a thing or two to say about current crime fiction, I’ll bet.


So that’s my line-up. Who would be in your fantasy book group?

The Very Inspiring Blogger Award


I was immensely chuffed to find that two dear blogging friends – Susan and Annabel – had nominated me for this award (and I would nominate both of them right back if they hadn’t done this already!). It’s even more touching because I’ve been a rather intermittent blogger these past few weeks. Though that’s just been the force of circumstances, I hesitate to add. I love my blogging community and would be lost without you all and your brilliant posts and wonderful comments here.

So this award comes at the perfect time to celebrate blog friends. These are the rules:

  • Thank and link to the person who nominated you.
  • List the rules and display the award.
  • Share seven facts about yourself.
  • Nominate 15 other amazing blogs and comment on their posts to let them know they have been nominated (15 is a few too many for me, particularly as several of the ones I would have included have nominated me so I hope 10 will do)
  • Optional: display the award logo on your blog and follow the blogger who nominated you

I’ll give a special shout out to my other fellow editors at Shiny – Harriet and Simon – who are just wonderful, and then my nominees for this award (I’m supposed to have 15, but it just had to be 16 and there could have been more!), in alphabetical order:


Acid Free Pulp – just love these intelligent and thoughtful reviews.


A Gallimaufry – Helen makes me laugh every time; she is pure delight, and finds the best art, too.


A Work in Progress – should be on everyone’s Top Five Perfect Book Blogs list.


Beauty is a Sleeping Cat – great reviews and the best community readalongs.


Dolce Bellezza – one of the biggest, warmest hearted bloggers I know.


Kaggsy’s Bookish Ramblings – I am in awe of Karen’s seemingly effortless, wonderful reviews, and her secondhand finds!


Listenwatchreadshare – fantastic writing about books and life (and moving house!)


Mrs Carmichael – like having a drink with your funniest friend; the best family and travel adventure tales ever.


Necromancy Never Pays – brilliant reviews peppered with poems that I have a) never heard of and b) find hugely intriguing.


Novel Readings – such intelligent analyses of books; you feel smarter just being there.


Reading the End – no one reviews like Jenny; she is such an original and hilarious.


Ripple Effects – gorgeous photography and amazing film reviews; I get all my viewing recommendations here.


Shelf Love – Jenny and Teresa cover such an amazing range of books between them; and yet often they seem to be reviewing a book I’ve read or want to read.


Smithereens – what book blogging is all about, real passion for books and writing, squeezed into daily life.


So Many Books – one of the all-time great book blogs; classic and timeless.


The Curious Reader – mostly life, padded with books, and always wise and loving. I just wish blogger would let me comment more!


The Modern Idiot – social and political comment, a laugh, a rant and full-on passion all the time.


Thinking in Fragments – dangerously full of crime fiction I want to read! And deliciously readable reviews of all kinds.


And while I’m at it, I have to send love to Lilian and Pete, who do blog, but not often enough (because they are particularly busy!).

I’m supposed to add seven facts about me. But guys, I’ve been blogging for 8 years here – I don’t think there’s anything you don’t know by now! Though if there’s anything you want to know, you only have to ask.


The Liebster Award

The charming and hugely talented Andrew Blackman tagged me for this meme:

1. What’s your favourite memory?

It was early one morning and I was lying reading in bed, about five months pregnant. The phone rang and it was one of my mentors from the university. He’d rung to tell me the results were out and I’d come top of the Mphil group that year. I’d taken a big risk returning to college for graduate work, and I’d loved it: it had felt so easy and right and natural. Now here was an unexpected but wonderful reward. I didn’t leap about or scream or rush off to celebrate; I simply felt enveloped by this deep, peaceful serenity. I’ve never experienced anything like it since.

2. Why do you blog?

I began blogging when I was off long-term sick from college with chronic fatigue. I was used to talking about books from one end of the day to another and I really missed it. But then I began to enjoy writing in a more unconstrained style, and suddenly here was this wonderful community of people whom I was getting to know better each day. For all these reasons, I love it still and I couldn’t give it up.

3. What’s your most unrealistic ambition?

I’ve always found it hard to watch people suffer, which has led to a career of attempting to fix them and their problems. In the past few years it has dawned on me that people are essentially unfixable. Or at least, they have to do it all by themselves. No amount of help and support from me will ever change another human being by as much as an atom, unless they are absolutely determined to make a difference to their own lives. In fact, personal change is extremely hard to accomplish at all, even with good will and tenacity. I would have loved to make everybody I’ve come into contact with that little bit happier and wiser, but I rather think it was too much to hope for.

4. What makes you angry?

I really hate the way internet forums promote pathologically vicious and unkind attacks on people and ideas. It’s scary, the level of hatred and malice that people will bring forth under cover of anonymity, and defend as the right to ‘to have an opinion’. Derren Brown, who performs some very interesting psychological experiments on television set up a mock game show, in which a studio audience decided what would happen to some hapless individual whose evening out was being transmitted to them via webcam. Repeatedly, Brown offered the audience the choice of making a nice thing or an unpleasant thing happen to him. In fact it was the audience on trial, as every single time, they chose the unpleasant thing and took delight in the stooge’s suffering, right up to the point where he was run over by a car. Derren Brown was pointing out how easily the mob mentality takes hold of a crowd, how they egg each other on and ratchet up the suffering. It’s the sort of thing I think we ought to be horrified by, (and Derren Brown made the point brilliantly) not encourage as acceptable and ordinary behaviour.

5. What’s your biggest regret?

I will always be sorry not to have had another child. But it just was never an option, and I’ve been extremely lucky with the one I do have. It’s his 18th birthday today. *wipes away a happy tear*

6. Why do you like reading?

How long have you got?

7. Write a mini school report for the human race. What grade would you give us, and what suggestions for improvement?

In technology, continues to forge ahead, but has an unfortunate tendency to treat the humanities with disdain. Shows surprising strength and resilience in a crisis, but can be lacking sympathy and understanding when it comes to ordinary day-to-day woes. Still, alas, a tendency to lash out with violence when thwarted, rather than stop, think, and use words to resolve issues. Overly concerned with the superficial and the short-term, in a way that belies the genuine intelligence and wisdom that teachers know are readily available. Resistant to change when it comes to long-term flaws and failings. C+

Now I’m supposed to create 7 questions and tag 7 people.

1. What do you think of literary prizes? Good idea or bad?

2. If you could write any sort of book, what would you write?

3. Describe your ideal home library/study.

4. Name two new authors whose work you think will last the test of time, and explain your choices.

5. Which books do you hope to get for Christmas?

6.  What’s the last book you did not finish and why?

7. Would you accept 20 books that were absolutely perfect for you and dependably brilliant reads, if they were also the last 20 books you could ever acquire?

And tagging, hmmm, let’s try to find people who are newish about here: Desperate Reader, Bellezza, Helen, Nooks & Crannies, Miss Darcy, Mrs Carmichael and Karen. And anyone else who feels like it!

Simon’s Book Meme

Quite possibly one of the most useful book memes, ever, from the magnificent Simon T of Stuck in a Book.


1. The book I’m reading

Is Greenbanks by the incomparable Dorothy Whipple. This is the author whose books need to be forcibly shoved into the hands of readers who believe that novels about domesticity can’t ever amount to much. Greenbanks is indeed simple in conception; it’s the story of a family, starting very early in the nineteenth century and recounting events from the next twenty years or so. Holding the story together are Louisa, the family matriarch, and her young granddaughter, Rachel, who enjoy an unusually close relationship. No one constructs a scene with more skill than Whipple, and she knows how to wring tension and drama out of the smallest, most everday occurrence. I’d like to review this properly, so I won’t say more about it for now.


2. The last book I read

Was Palladio by Jonathan Dee. This novel wove two strands together, on the one hand a story of ideas about art, on the other, a love story. Eccentric advertising executive, Mal Osbourne, opens a cutting edge company with the challenging intention of marketing art, not products. A man with a genuine passion for championing modern art, he is distressed by how beleaguered and marginalied art has become. He’s equally horrified by the derivative, ironic pointlessness of much advertising and so a brave new idea is born: since there is nothing much to distinguish one product from another, apart from its branding, he decides to put attention-grabbing works of art in their place with no logo, no slogan, no means of identifying the company behind the image. The uniqueness of this approach creates enormous buzz, as people scramble to find out who is behind the art in question. And thus the most unusual new art is presented to the biggest possible audience with maximum impact. I loved the ideas in this novel and found them fascinating both in conception and the way they play out. The love story, on the other hand, is rather blah, and after a brilliant opening chapter of 290 pages (no kidding), the narrative shifts point of view into one of the characters and loses much of its interest and momentum. But I was so glad to have read it, as the parts about art are just excellent.


3. The book I’ll read next

Is still to be decided. Well, I should qualify that. I will definitely be reading The Life and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre as I’m writing a biographical essay on Beauvoir this month for an online magazine, Cerise Press. It was lovely – the editors asked me if I’d be interested in offering them another essay, I came up with three possible ideas, and they said they’d have them all. So I have this sort of mini-series on French authors and their love lives coming up. As for fiction, though, I am in very fickle mood at the moment. I read the first few pages of Lolly Willowes and it struck me as the sort of book I’d adore in the right frame of mind, but I might not quite inhabit it at the moment. I’m also tempted by Wolf Hall, or Tom Rachman’s The Imperfectionists, or maybe The Go-Between, by J. L. Carr.


4. The last book I bought

Was a long time ago. I’ve gone almost completely cold turkey since I’ve stopped working and all I can say is that for the first time in years and years, I haven’t been consumed by a need for more books. Don’t worry; I’m sure it’s just a phase! So the last book I bought was in fact a pre-order on amazon, which has yet to arrive: Kafka in Love by Jacqueline Raoul-Duval. Kafka had four major love affairs, each of which resulted in an engagement, a cancelled wedding and an important novel. This looks like a creative non-fiction sort of book, drawing heavily on Kafka’s journals to explore his relationships. Kafka is one of the authors in my great pantheon (Kafka, Colette, Rilke, Cather) whose life and work resonates with me particularly deeply. That’s a blog post for another day.


5. The last book I was given

Arrived this morning – a complete surprise. It came from Tom LoCicero and was the second part of his Truth Beauty Trilogy, The Disappearance. You may remember that I read the first part, The Obsession, and enjoyed it very much. My dear blog friend, Stefanie, also sent a book recently, Heidi Julavits’  The Vanishers, which you can see in the side bar. I was delighted to receive that, too. I hadn’t noticed until I typed it how curiously related those titles are. A little bit of spooky Halloween magic happening there, I think!