Monday, 7 December 2009

The Lost Art of Walking. . .

The Lost Art of Walking by Geoff Nicholson is a fun and informative read - the kind of non-fiction that I most like; an equal blend of personal musing amidst some interesting and fascinating research.
There are chapters on obsessive and competitive walkers, walking terms, songs about walking, street photographers, walking in literature and in the movies, and discourses on two of the world's great walking cities - London and New York. There's a funny bit about trying to join in and understand a psychogeography festival (he fails on both accounts), and the undertaking of a personal challenge - walking the length back and forth of London's Oxford Street six times in one day starting at 6am and ending just before midnight. In this chapter he evokes Woolf's essay "Oxford Street Tide" and so I dug out my little copy of The London Scene: Six Essays on London Life and read the piece in question, marvelling as Nicholson does, that tortoises were once for sale on the sidewalks. It's interesting that both Woolf in 1931, and Nicholson in the 21st century, make reference to how commercial and crass the street is and point out that real Londoners avoid it. Not "refined" writes Woolf; "too popular" adds Nicholson, especially with the tourists. Well, yes - I always head there at least once when I'm in London. I like going to Selfridges and I rather enjoy the energy and bustle.
I do love this passage where Woolf also sees the hectic street as a type of 3-D orchestral jigsaw:
Parcels slap and hit; motor omnibuses graze the kerb; the blare of a whole brass band in full tongue dwindles to a thin reed of sound. Buses, vans, cars, barrows stream past like the fragments of a picture puzzle; a white arm rises; the puzzle runs thick, coagulates, stops; the white arm sinks, and away it streams again, streaked, twisted, higgledy-piggledy, in perpetual race and disorder. The puzzle never fits itself together, however long we look.
My favourite walking essay by Woolf is "Street Haunting" and I wonder if Nicholson has read it. It's absent from the useful Walking Bibliography he has included at the back of his book.

Wednesday, 25 November 2009

A Woolf mystery. . .

The White Garden: A Novel of Virginia Woolf by Stephanie Barron has been my bus reading for the last few days. I haven't read any of her Jane Austen mysteries, but was willing to give this a go, especially since I've been to Sissinghurst and seen the famous White Garden - and would love to return.

It was a pleasant enough read. Jo Bellamy is a garden designer who is commissoned to replicate the White Garden for a wealthy client - who also has romantic designs on her. She is intrigued by the history of Sissinghurst when she discovers that her grandfather Jock - who recently committed suicide - worked briefly as a gardener for the Nicholsons during the Second World War. When she visits the estate, Jo discovers - and borrows - half a notebook with Jock's name on it, but not his handwriting, found amongst the garden archives in a toolshed. The notebook is in the form of a diary, and she suspects it could be written by Virginia Woolf. Thus begins a madcap quest through Sotheby's, Oxford, Cambridge and Rodmell, to discover how and why, especially since the first entry takes place the day after Woolf walked into the River Ouse. Barron uses the three weeks between when Virginia left her farewell notes for Leonard and Vanessa, and when her body was found, to posit an entirely different set of events. Could Virginia, for example, have been murdered instead?

The mystery - which involves espionage, the Apostles and the Cambridge spies - is what kept me reading, despite some rather silly characters and romantic subplots, and too many British versus American cliches. I think any librarian, archivist or academic will also be groaning to see how easily Barron's characters can bring coffee into famous libraries, talk their way into historic homes out of hours, or be left alone long enough with important documents to easily steal them. Still, as far as commercial fiction goes, this was entertaining enough.

Monday, 23 November 2009

(The Boeuf en Daube was a perfect triumph). . .

My new fall toy is a slow cooker that I bought this weekend and the first recipe I had to try was Boeuf en Daube. Now, this isn't exactly Mrs. Ramsay's version (or her cook's, I should say) which took three days to prepare. My recipe only needed the beef to marinate in wine and herbs overnight. I decided to omit the optional pig's trotter. The next day it was just a matter of cutting up the vegetables and popping it all into the crockpot.

Six hours later, I had this:

And she peered into the dish, with its shiny walls and its confusion of savoury brown and yellow meats, and its bay leaves and its wine, and thought, This will celebrate the occasion . . .
'It is a triumph,' said Mr Bankes, laying his knife down for a moment. He had eaten attentively. It was rich; it was tender. It was perfectly cooked. How did she manage these things in the depth of the country? he asked her. She was a wonderful woman.

Shiny walls, check. Savoury brown meats, check. Yellow meats - no (maybe the pig's trotter?), but I did add some potatoes even though the recipe didn't call for them. So there is some yellow. Hmmm, no bay leaf in the recipe but there is parsley. And white wine. It was rich, the vegetables were very tender; the meat, just a tad overcooked, but still delicious. I managed in the heart of the city and I feel quite full and wonderful. I certainly have lots of leftovers and I'd definitely make this again for a dinner party. One tip - have some crusty bread on hand; there are lots of tasty juices to mop up.

The recipe was taken from this book.

Friday, 20 November 2009

The Unspoken Truth. . .

Bloomsbury fans will be interested in an upcoming work of fiction by Virginia Woolf's niece, Angelica Garnett who is still alive and in her nineties. I've had a chance to read an advance galley of The Unspoken Truth (out in the U.K. in January and in Canada in February) and while I don't want to write too much about it until it's published, I can say that it seems very autobiographical and is painfully moving to read - rather beautifully so. It's a collection of four stories all revolving around artists - one in particular told from a child's point of view. I read her memoir Deceived With Kindness a number of years ago (which I also recommend) and there are very similar themes between the two books. It also reminded me very much of A.S. Byatt's recent novel A Children's Book, in its depiction of the unhappiness and sometimes damage inflicted on children by a boheminan and artistic lifestyle. I shall be very interested to see the press coverage on this in the new year, and also the reaction of Woolf scholars. I'm also looking forward to seeing the physical book itself - it certainly has a very beautiful cover.

Monday, 16 November 2009

A passionate weekend: Lorca and Flamenco. . .

I love weekends that aren't necessarily planned around a theme but just end up that way.

I'm a season subscriber to the Tarragon Theatre and often go with my friend K. We'd booked a Saturday matinee of their latest production - Rocking the Cradle - a few weeks ago, but being busy, I didn't really read up on the play ahead of time and didn't realize it was an adapation of Federico Garcia Lorca's Yerma. And then I happened to buy a ticket for Toronto's Esmeralda Enrique Spanish Dance Company which coincidentally just happened to be offering a program of flamenco dancing inspired by Lorca's life - on the evening of my matinee. It was perfect serendipity. Then Tarragon called to let me know there would be a pre-play talk by a York University professor who had directed a student production of Yerma. I went to that too - he gave some good background on the playwright and stressed the importance of the poetry, primitivism and social commentary in Lorca's plays.

I hadn't previously read or seen any productions of Lorca, so in preparation, I spent the morning reading three of his most famous plays, all written during the 1930s - Blood Wedding, Yerma and The House of Bernarda Alba. I loved them - the poetic language, the intensity of the emotions, and all these powerfully strong, yet pained and desperate women characters. In the introduction to my collection, Lorca's brother Francisco writes about how Lorca drew on classical Spanish theatre traditions for his own plays: "Our ancient theatre is a holiday - a great holiday for the spirit, for the eyes and for the ears," writes Francisco. "No modern playwright has made the musical and the plastic share in the theatre to the extent that Federico did."

Unfortunately, all these poetic and passionate elements seemed to be missing in Rocking the Cradle, an adaptation that creatively tried to re-imagine the story in Newfoundland, but suffered from a rather weak cast, and a distracting and unnecessary stage scrim. So disappointing because I really was in the mood to see a powerful production.

The Flamenco dancing was terrific though and had my toes tapping throughout. Great musicians, and fiery feet combined with beautiful control from the dancers. Coincidentally, I had recently purchased Carlos Saura's Flamenco Trilogy DVD set as I loved his movie Tango. I watched all three movies this weekend as well - Blood Wedding ( a filmed rehearsal of a ballet based on Lorca's play), Carmen (in which life intersects with art as the choreographer of a flamenco version of Bizet's opera falls in love with his leading lady) and El Amor Brujo, about a man in love with a woman who can't stop mourning her dead but unfaithful husband. All three were wonderful - heart-pounding and seductive. They made me want to wear a red dress with flounces and rapidly stamp my feet. I also have his later film titled simply Flamenco and will watch it soon. I can't wait - no one films dance better than Saura. The office is going to seem completely colourless and dull by comparison tomorrow morning.

Sunday, 15 November 2009

On not blogging. . .

Oh dear, it's been so long since I last blogged.

I wish I had a more interesting or original excuse than work and a personal life taking up my time, (the latter more than ever lately, but in a good way), but it's just a fact that blogging is time-consuming and I have another blog that I contribute to that's a bit more work related (though not exclusively) and I have been focusing more on that lately, especially since I'm in the midst of a big reading challenge. And since there's a lot of crossover in terms of my interests, it doesn't make sense to blog twice about the same subject. But I'm going to try and keep this one more focused on the original idea behind it - to explore this amazing literary, artistic and historical time period of Woolf's lifetime and highlight not only new books in this category, but those new to me at any rate, as I continue to read my way through the vast literature - my ongoing lifetime project. I'll continue to comment on new and relevant art exhibits, movies and theatre productions that come my way too.

Wednesday, 19 August 2009

Added to the reading pile: More fascinating women's lives. . .

So my biography/memoir pile is growing. I have new biographies of Storm Jameson, Elizabeth Taylor (the author), Frances Partridge and Jean Rhys beckoning me. And now I've added Evelyn Sharp: Rebel Woman 1869-1955 by Angela V. John to the list. Her life touches on areas of this historical and literary period that fascinate me; she was a fairytale writer, a suffagette who was imprisoned twice in Holloway, and a pacifist during WWI, plus she had a long affair with the war journalist Henry Nevinson only able to marry him after the death of his wife, when she was sixty-three. There's a review of the book at the Times Higher Education site here. I also ordered Sharp's own autobiography, Unfinished Adventure, which Faber & Faber has reprinted through their Faber Finds series. Not sure which to read first - I may go with the biography first to get an overview and then get lost in Sharp's own voice. Or should I approach the writer first without any autobiographical preconceptions and then read the analysis? It's a tough call.

I can also hardly wait to read The Practice of Her Profession: Florence Carlyle, Canadian Painter in the Age of Impressionism by Susan Butlin. My favourite painting in the Art Gallery of Ontario is Carlyle's The Tiff and I've long been wanting to see other examples of her work (turns out a good number of her paintings are in the Woodstock Art Gallery, so a road trip is imminent). Lots has been written about the Paris art scene at the turn of the century - it will be wonderful to read about the experiences of a spirited Canadian woman among them. I've already spent a rapt hour just gazing at the colour plates of some of her other paintings and my admiration for her work has only grown.

Friday, 31 July 2009

Brown paper packages. . .

Not tied with string . . .

These are a few of my favourite things. . .

Just in time for the holiday weekend - my box of Dalkey Archive books arrived (and in less than a week - very impressive). They are having an awesome summer sale and I just couldn't resist stocking up on their backlist. They publish some fabulous books, including a lot of literature in translation. Their website page listing the details of their sale seems to be down at the moment, but keep checking back. Or start making a list in the meantime. The more books bought, the greater the discount, so I ended up buying twenty (and even then it was hard to cull the titles from the over 50 I initially wrote down as potentials). It makes a nice, meaty pile that I can't wait to dive into.

Not sure if you can read all the titles so here they are with links to each book's enticing description:
The Great Fire of London by Jacques Roubard, The Walk: Notes on a Romantic Image by Jeffrey Robinson, Langrishe, Go Down by Aidan Higgins, Castle to Castle by Céline, Melancholy by Jon Fosse, The King by Donald Barthelme, Odile by Raymond Queneau, The Journalist by Harry Matthews, Time Must Have a Stop by Aldous Huxley, Everyday Life by Lydie Salvayre, Brecht at Night by Mati Unt, Pack of Lies by Gilbert Sorrentino, In Transit by Brigid Brophy, Log of the S.S. The Mrs. Unguentine by Stanley Crawford, OULIPO: A Primer of Potential Literature edited by Warren F. Motte, Bornholm Night-Ferry by Aidan Higgins, Foreign Parts by Janice Galloway, Spleen by Olive Moore and I'm Not Stiller by Max Frisch. I also ordered Portrait of the Writer as a Domesticated Animal by Lydie Salvayre, but it's not yet published. More than enough to start with though - I think my first read will be this:

Wednesday, 29 July 2009

On the Booker longlist. . .

There's a lot of cynicism about literary awards but the thing I like most about them are their longlists - I inevitably get introduced to books and authors that I haven't heard about. Plus I can root for favourites such as A.S. Byatt's The Children's Book which thankfully made the Booker longlist and is my pick to win. I loved its complexity, its beautiful writing, especially about the delicate nature of childhood, and its treatment of the First World War. I think it's one of her best novels, along with Possession. I've read a few others on the longlist, but the one that intrigues me the most is Simon Mawer's The Glass Room. Stunning cover, for one thing. And I think its premise - following the fate of a house through the Second World War is intriguing. I'm also keen to read Hilary Mantel's Wolf Hall and Sarah Hall's How to Paint a Dead Man. Interesting that the British papers report that the odds on favourite is J.M. Coetzee's Summertime. Hmmm. Would they really give it to the same author three times? I'll certainly read it too, as I liked Youth and Disgrace is still stands as my favourite of all Booker winners. Haven't been that keen on his most recent work though - Elizabeth Costello was an interesting idea that he didn't quite pull off, and it really was an unrewarding slog to get through Diary of a Bad Year.

Sunday, 26 July 2009

Reading Challenges - 2009 so far. . .

With the year more than half over, it seems a good time to reassess my lofty reading goals set out here in January. I've made some progress but still have a way to go. I've read 58 books so far this year - my eventual goal of 125 still seems possible. I wanted to re-read all of Virginia Woolf's novels - only been able to tackle one so far, so I may not accomplish this one.

Regarding my Lost in Translation challenge, I wanted to read at least three books in translation in six different categories. Hmm, mixed success here. Looking over my reading diary, here's what I've read so far.
Books by contemporary authors: No problems here; I've already finished more than ten books in this category, so I can cross that one off. My three favourites so far are The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery, translated by Alison Anderson, Censoring An Iranian Love Story by Shahriar Mandanipour, translated by Sara Khalili, and The Unit by Ninni Holmqvist, translated by Marlaine Delargy.

Mysteries: Yep, read at least three which I blogged about here.

Classics: Just managed to finish one so far - Gunter Grass's The Tin Drum, translated by Ralph Manheim. Dante keeps staring at me.

Books written during Woolf's lifetime - two read: Irmgard Keun's The Artificial Silk Girl translated by Kathie von Ankum, and I just finished a galley of Memories of the Future by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, translated by Joanne Turnbull. Though these short stories weren't published until the 1970s, many years after the author's death, they were written in the 1920s so I think it counts.

Children's books - just one, The Pull of the Ocean by Jean-Claude Mourlevat, translated by Y. Maudet. This was an interesting retelling of the Tom Thumb story.

Books by Quebec authors: None. I'm embarassed about this one, and obviously have to remedy this.
And an update on my latest reading challenge - trying to finish the mammoth Verse Revolutionaries by Labour Day - I'm on page 66!

Friday, 24 July 2009

A tie-in cover that works for me. . .

I'll be seeing all ten of Noel Coward's Tonight at 8:30 plays later in September on one of the Shaw Festival's scheduled Mad Dogs and Englishman marathon - all ten on one day. Can't wait. In the meantime, I'm thrilled that Methuen has reissued all the plays in one volume and the cover shows a still from the Shaw's program. There's my favourite leading actor, Patrick Galligan, as Alec in the romantic Still Life.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Reading challenges. . .

Long novels don't scare me; I usually relish them.
I've read Proust and War and Peace. One of my favourite books is A Dance to the Music of Time. Recently, I've tackled Jonathan Littell's The Kindly Ones and Roberto Bolano's 2666.
But long non-fiction? That's a whole other matter, and I don't know why this is so. It's not the genre of non-fiction itself, just any book that is over 500 pages. I painstakingly crawl through it, even when I'm enjoying the read (I took over a year to read Hermione Lee's terrific biography of Virginia Woolf and then spent another year with her equally impressive bio of Edith Wharton). Maybe I spend too much time reading the footnotes. Maybe biographies (in particular literary ones) send me off on other reading tangents. Maybe the books are too heavy to cart around and so they get relegated to the groaning shelves of my bedside tables to lie on top of more biographies, histories and litcrit tomes all with bookmarks sticking out at various spots. It's a crazy way to read - by the time I get back into the books, I've forgotten parts of what I've already read.

A friend from England just sent me The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound, H.D. and The Imagists by Helen Carr. This recently published book looks fabulous and right up my reading alley. But . . . it's 982 pages!

I've read the Prologue which is only four pages. It promises "rich drama, involving passion, betrayal, sexual jealousy, literary envy, bereavement, shell-shock, class antagonisms, friendship, adultery, cruelty, bullying and pique". I've looked at the photos. I'm really going to try to break my habits with this one and actually finish it in a reasonable time - maybe by Labour Day? HA!

Monday, 20 July 2009

A Walk Along "The Beach". . .

Had a lovely, lazy summer weekend. There's been a lot of media attention on Toronto recently because we're in the middle of a garbage strike that is nearly a month old, but honestly, this shouldn't stop anyone planning to visit. The garbage is being contained in parks, and the city does not stink. Yes, some of the public containers are overflowing, but this happens even without a strike. It definitely hasn't stopped people from going about their business and enjoying the city.

I felt like gazing at a bit of sand, water and blue sky, so went out to "The Beach" area of Toronto, along Queen St. East. I haven't been in this part of town for well over five years. Some lovely shops and restaurants have sprung up, including this yummy wonder:

Isn't that a great sign? The Pie Shack serves both savory and sweet pies - I had the organic chicken pot pie, followed by a slice of blueberry. The pastry is flaky and buttery and very delicious. Across the street was this:

I bought two skeins of deep red tweed that has flecks of grey and black in it, and have spent most of this afternoon knitting a winter scarf. Yes, I know that sounds like a ridiculous thing to do in the middle of July, but I just couldn't help myself; the wool was calling to me. I'm about half-way done. The Naked Sheep has a lovely blog that shows some of the many projects made during their classes.

Halfway between "The Beach" and downtown Toronto, also on Queen St. East, is an area known as Leslieville which boasts The Tango Palace Coffee Company - a great place to get a cup of java before browsing the many antique and home decorating shops along the street. That' s where I snapped this great store window. I'm strangely drawn to the dressmaker's dummy, but my apartment is just too small for a roommate.

Thursday, 2 July 2009

A new pair of laces. . .

Just a photo that I like, taken from my recent holiday. I had spent the morning hiking up in the wooded hills behind Lucerne, Switzerland which you can see in the photo below. A lovely place to spend a few days, especially if you just want to gaze at mountains and water. The trails lead out to this lookout point where I was relaxing in the sunshine. I was also wearing my new pair of Campers shoes (the Spanish brand that is one of my favourites) purchased in the town and oh, so comfy, not only for light hiking, but for major city walking. The model is called IMAR and they are black leather with charcoal grey laces and a very solid rubber sole. I love them and have been wearing them everywhere this summer.

Wednesday, 1 July 2009

Happy Canada Day . . .

. . . and Canada Post now has Bryan Adams on a postage stamp. Love it!

Monday, 22 June 2009

Bike fantasies. . .

This recent post on Nonsuch Book's blog made me giggle, because it's so true! It's all about the fantasy that she, and I, and many of us have, about riding the perfect bike through a European town to buy our baguettes and cheese, our skirts blowing in the wind. This is the bike she is in love with:

I find it very attractive as well and would be tempted by it, if I didn't live in a tiny apartment with no storage locker. But when I was craving a bike again this spring (I haven't had one for about six years due to said apartment), I started investigating folding bikes and ended up buying this nifty little Dahon 7 speed number two months ago. I LOVE IT! It is super fast to fold up, rides very smooth, and goes much faster than I thought, given its small wheels. I have a 22km commute to work with a stretch that has some big hills and no dedicated bike lanes (the Europeans are so far ahead of us on bike-friendly city planning), but I fold up the bike and hop on the bus for that portion. The rest (about 14km) I can do via bike paths. I've christened him Charles Ryder after the character from Brideshead Revisited (another fantasy - bumping into Jeremy Irons riding a bicycle around Oxford). And best of all, this is what it looks like folded up:

The only drawback is its weight - about 26 pounds. Not a huge problem, but if I'm loaded down with a backpack with my laptop and - ahem - books, it feels very heavy. Still, I'm so delighted with it. If I'd had a bigger budget, I would totally have gone for their oh-so-European-looking Ciao model though! Isn't this a beauty?

And I just need to rant for a moment about the idiotic policies of VIA Rail. Last month, I had to work 12 days in Ottawa, which has such wonderful bike paths all along its canal. It's an extemely bike-friendly city. So I was looking forward to bringing my bike along - but wouldn't you know it, VIA doesn't put a baggage car on its Toronto-Ottawa route and so you can't take bikes on the train. Never mind that it's our bloody nation's capital, has several universities, and its bike paths are a major tourist attraction! I can't tell you how frustrated I was with them, and how sad I was to have to leave the bike at home.

Wednesday, 17 June 2009

On visiting James Joyce, sort of. . .

Back to blogging after a period of intense busyness - work, work, work - but then thankfully followed by a lovely and restful vacation. This photo (one day late for Bloomsday, I know) of James Joyce's grave will give you some idea of where I've been. Yes, I spent nearly two weeks in Switzerland including a few days in the lovely city of Zurich, where one of my first excursions was to hike up a very steep hill (is nothing about Joyce easy??) to visit the cemetary where he, his wife and children are buried. He lies next to another writer - Nobel prize winner Elias Canetti. Is it strange or disrespectful to take photos of graves? Does anyone else do this? I've made several pilgrimages to many authors' final resting places - the Brontes, George Eliot, Oscar Wilde, to name a few - and I usually snap away but always with a teensy bit of guilt and a little sense of the ghoulish.

Sunday, 10 May 2009

The Little Tramp Goes to War. . .

I've been reading and enjoying Glen David Gold's new novel Sunnyside, which follows three Americans - one of them Charlie Chaplin - during the last years of the First World War. The novel begins with a surreal event - hundreds of apparent Chaplin sightings are reported all over the U.S. including one by a lighthouse keeper, named Lee who tries to rescue him in a storm.

Chaplin spent part of the war touring America to help raise money for liberty bonds, but he also made the silent movie Shoulder Arms in 1918. Having enjoyed Blackadder's take on the trenches, I was curious to see what an early comedy would make of the war. The movie is packaged with other shorts from those early days - including Sunnyside - on a DVD entitled The Chaplin Revue. While studio execs worried that the movie would be negatively perceived as making fun of the soldiers and the carnage, Chaplin was such a star that he could pretty well do whatever he wanted. And I quite enjoyed the movie's portrayal of the absurdity of war. There are scenes of Chaplin trying to keep pace with the marching soldiers while in tramp shuffling mode, scenes dealing with all the rain and mud in the trenches and a hilariously silly episode where he is sent to infiltrate enemy lines disguised ridiculously as a tree. In his dreams he captures the Kaiser and saves a beautiful woman.

There's another connection between Hollywood and the First World War that is revealed in this entertaining novel: the original Rin Tin Tin was rescued from a bombed building in France during the war by Lee Duncan, an American serviceman (and character in Sunnyside) and brought to America where the dog also became a huge Hollywood star. I'm always interested in contemporary fictional takes on the war and Gold's novel was original, well-written and fascinating in terms of its look at American war propaganda and the part that the rising film industry played.

Monday, 4 May 2009

An Exhibit of Woolf's Own. . .

On a recent buisness trip to Edmonton, I was able to pop into the Bruce Peel Special Collections Library at the University of Alberta and see their exhibit of Hogarth Press Books. Titled"Woolf's Head Publishing: The highlights and New Lights of the Hogarth Press", the exhibit has now been extended to May 28th.
Apart from the thrill of seeing so many original editions (I was salivating in front of a first edition of Mrs. Dalloway) and the range of books that the Hogarth Press published, I was pleasantly surprised by how beautiful the accompanying catalogue was - a lovely addition to my Woolf book collection (alas, no first editions there). Written by Dr. Elizabeth Willson Gordon, it uses fonts, paper, and production elements selected, "with the hope of evoking something of the aesthetic feel of the Press books: colourful, exuberant, pleasurably tactile, pleasing to the eye without being precious". The catalogues costs $25.00 and while I don't know if the library will ship abroad, it's worth contacting them to inquire, as I can't imagine a Woolf fan who would not want to own this.

While it does not include a photograph of every book in the exhibit, there is an entry for each one giving some information about the author, the content of the book, the initial print runs, and sometimes a bit on the cover designer. There is also a brief introductory essay. I read the whole thing in one sitting after I returned home and gleaned many interesting tidbits such as:

* The Hogarth Press published 29 books in translation between the two world wars, from Russian, German and Italian.

* The first Hogarth Press book to have a dust jacket was Jacob's Room. The design was by Vanessa Bell and it was not well received. Leonard Woolf is quoted as saying the design, "did not represent a desirable female or even Jacob or his room, and it was what in 1923 many people would have called reproachfully post-impressionist. It was almost universally condemned by the booksellers."

* One of the more unusual books published by the Hogarth Press in 1937 was Diet and High Blood Pressure by Dr. I. Harris. This was part of the exhibit. The catalogue goes on to note however, that a second title by Harris was published in 1942 called The Calcium Bread Scandal. Now, that's the one I'd like to read!

* The Hogarth Press published many writers besides Woolf herself. Reading this catalogue got me interested in looking up the poetry of Joan Easdale, Nancy Cunard's long poem Parallax (I've always meant to read more about her and her own small press, The Hours Press), The Autobiography of Countess Sophie Tolstoi , Libby Benedict's 1938 novel, The Refugees (isn't that a powerful jacket?) and Different Days by Frances Cornford whose poems purport to "focus on the female view of academic life at Cambridge and the English landscape".
* And finally, is there anything more lovely than this page from the 1927 reprint of Woolf's Kew Gardens with its extra attention on melding art with literature? So, so beautiful.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Cool German reading campaign. . .

Reading and walking (but not at the same time) are two of my favourite activities so I love this German campaign that combines the two, and uses the legs of famous authors to publicize it. Read more about it here in English at the blog love german books, or if your German is a lot better than mine, lesen gehen here.

Monday, 13 April 2009

Dizzy For This Disc. . .

Call me old-fashioned, but I hope what I still call record stores don't ever disappear in my lifetime. It's great to be able to download music and I love my iPOD, but as with books - online purchasing only really works if you know exactly what you want. And I still like the serendipity of coming across something completely unexpected while browsing through CDs, hearing something really interesting playing in the store, and accessing the brains and passion of the staff for recommendations. It's my favourite way to shop. And I'm one of those geeks that actually reads all the notes in the accompanying booklets. I also like having the lyrics handy, although I do wish music labels would stop producing CDs in those non-recyclable plastic cases and go to the cardboard ones instead.
Case in point: I recently went to one of my favourite classical CD shops - L'Atelier Gregorian - looking for a compliation of Maurice Jarre's film scores, as I'd recently been reading his obituaries (he died last month). Well, I didn't find the collection I was looking for, but while flipping through the jazz section, I came across Dizzy Goes to Hollywood, which lo and behold contained his take on Lawrence of Arabia. Now, this is a very upbeat and almost unrecognizable version, but I loved it all the same. The whole disc is great - there's a bouncy, jazzy "Moon River", a sensually moody "Walk on the Wild Side" and it ends with a terrific toe-tapping "Carioca" which got me into the mood for popping Flying Down to Rio into my DVD player. Great music to perk you up on a Monday morning, but don't listen to it just before going to sleep - because you won't!

Wednesday, 8 April 2009

Of Liza and Huxley and a Real New World. . .

I was browsing the newspapers a couple of weeks ago, rolling my eyeballs at the mediocre reviews of Britney Spears' concert and wondering why anyone would shell out so much money to basically watch someone lipsynch on a jumbotron. And then I turned the page and there was an ad for Liza Minnelli's concert and I thought well, now there's someone real - she'll be belting out every word herself, backed by a great band and in a venue where you can actually see the star without having to squint at a huge video screen.

I immediately went and ordered a ticket. And how glad I am that I did. The concert was last night and it was terrific. What incredible energy! I was exhausted by intermission, just from watching her. She was funny, gracious and the power in her voice was incredible. I feel very privileged to be able to say I've now heard her sing "Cabaret" live. And I teared up, both when she sang about watching her mother perform, and during the encores where in complete contrast to all the flamboyant, powerful numbers, she beautifully sang "Everytime We Say Good-bye" with just a piano accompaniment. During her last encore, she was completely alone on the stage, sequins replaced by a t-shirt, high heels shoes kicked off, lit by a lone spotlight and then, "I'll be seeing you in all the old, familiar places. . . "

Of course another great reason to go to Roy Thomson Hall, is to check out their music store in the lobby where I always find the most unusual stuff. Last night's find was a 1956 radio dramatization of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, where Huxley himself plays the narrator, and with an original score by Bernard Herrman (which is really why I bought the CD - Herrman is an incredible composer doing the scores for lots of Hitchcock movies such as Vertigo and North by Northwest, but also Citizen Kane, Fahrenheit 451 and so on). I've only listened to a bit of it, but I'm enjoying it so far. Huxley's voice has an old-fashioned, but elegant school teacher tone to it and the score is like a mysteriously sinister lullaby. In the accompanying booklet, they quote from a Time article describing the challenges of getting the sound effects just right:

"It took three radio sound men, a control-room engineer and five hours of hard work to create the sound that was heard for less than 30 seconds on the air. The sound consisted of a ticking metronome, tom-tom beats, bubbling water, air hose, cow moo, boing! (two types) oscillator, dripping water (two types) and three kinds of wine glasses clicking against each other. Judiciously blended and recorded on tape, the effect was still not quite right. Then the tape was played backward with a little echo added. That did it. The sound depicted the manufacturing of babies in the radio version of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World."
The notes also talk about how this production was an attempt to revive CBS's Columbia Workshop which had produced a lot of experimental radio drama in the late 1930s before television arrived to lure the audience away. I however, am going backwards and rediscovering the joys of radio. I've just recently cancelled my cable tv, deciding that there was nothing worth watching that was worth the $500 annual fee and I was wasting far too much time on my couch, lazily sucked into persuing inane programming. So my television set now exists solely to allow me to watch DVDs. I don't think I'll miss it. The older I get, the more I crave real experiences - theatre, live music, travelling, walking - and if I'm lazing on my couch, I want to be accompanied by a good book, or be listening to great music. Or perhaps now, a radio drama.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

Nothing artificial about this reality. . .

Many thanks to Dovegreyreader for this post, in which I first read about the German writer Irmgard Keun. I just finished her novel The Artificial Silk Girl, which first appeared in English translation in 1933 and was reissued (and is still in print) by Other Press in 2002 with a new translation by Kathie von Ankum.
Doris - a pretty, young, ambitious girl who wants to be a movie star and famous - scribbles her adventures in a notebook covered with white doves: "I think it will be a good thing if I write everything down, because I'm an unusual person. I don't mean a diary - that's ridiculous for a trendy girl like me. But I want to write like a movie, because my life is like that and it's going to become even more so." She lies her way into working as an extra in the theatre, schemes to get a line in the play, steals a fur coat from the cloakroom and then confidently escapes with it to Berlin to seek her fortune. The introduction calls Doris a precursor to a Bridget Jones or Carrie Bradshaw, but while she has some of the same cheerful optimism as her fictional heirs and is also constantly searching for love, her experiences on the street, basically working as a prostitute to support herself, are far more serious than anything you'll find in the chicklit of today. I'd compare this more to Alfred Doblin's 1929 novel Berlin Alexanderplatz - Keun is articulating the female voice and reality behind the many prostitutes that pop in and out of that novel. Or even to Stefan Zweig's The Post-Office Girl, in which a bored and frustrated woman also engages in an unhealthy fantasy life. All these novels do illustrate the real and desperate economic options placed on unmarried women in the post WWI era. Doris has a great and admirable talent for making the best of situations, and this comes through her gutsy narrative voice, so that the reader keeps rooting for her. But though she attempts to conquer her fear and loneliness behind her writing, it becomes another facade, another "pose" to help her get through the daily grind. Mind you, it's her best talent; her observations are frequently quite funny and yearningly childlike as in the following. She's describing the party goers in a Berlin restaurant to a blind WWI veteran:
" a handsome man just kissed a woman fat as a tadpole - old men are kissing each other - the music goes one-two, one-two - there are lamps hanging from the ceiling that look like Paul's starfish collection stuck together - the music is covered with flowers like a chiffon dress which tears very easily - let me tell you, Herr Brenner, a woman should never wear artificial silk when she's with a man. It wrinkles too quickly, and what are you going to look like after seven real kisses? Only pure silk, I say - and music - "
That phrase - "seven real kisses" - oh, the longing in that. I found this novel fascinating to read and I certainly want to explore more of Keun's work. There's a brief biography at the back and her life also reads like a novel. While The Artificial Silk Girl became a bestseller, her books were later banned by the Nazis. She left Germany during the beginning of the war, met authors Stefan Zweig and Ernst Toller, had an affair with Joseph Roth, and then returned to Germany hiding under an assumed name. Like many Virago authors, her work was rediscovered and republished in the 1970s during the feminist movement. She died in 1982.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Women Writers, Women's Lives. . .

Coming soon are three new biographies that I'm extremely interested in reading.
Once upon a time, I had grandiose notions of writing a PhD thesis on Storm Jameson (abandoned alas, because a gal has to pay the rent). I'm always fascinated by writers - particularly women - who lived through, and wrote about both world wars and Jameson's additional work in publishing and for PEN made her all the more fascinating to me. So I'm very excited about Margaret Storm Jameson: A Life by Jennifer Birkett. I've read Jameson's own memoir, Journey From the North, but while beautifully written, it's a bit coy about her personal life and doesn't focus as much on her books as this biography promises to.

I've dipped into Frances Partridge's diaries from time to time and have come across bits of her story as a minor figure in the biographies of Carrington, Lytton Strachey and various other members of the Bloomsbury Group. But I'm delighted she'll take center stage in Anne Chisholm's upcoming book, Frances Partridge: The Biography. I first heard about it listening to this delightful podcast from the Guardian, interviewing the indomitable Diana Athill, whose latest book, Somewhere Towards the End, is also on my to-be-read pile. At one point Athill talks about her love affairs with married men and mentions she is reading a proof of Chisholm's book. She admires Partridge's tolerant attitude to her husband's affairs and her disdain of the "geometrical approach to emotional relationships". This, Athill contends, closes one to the "tender curvaceousness" of life and love that is everywhere in the world. I love that phrase and as Athill acknowledges, "there was plenty of tender curvaceousness going on in that set!".

And finally, I can't wait for Nicola Beauman's biography of writer Elizabeth Taylor, being published by her own Persephone Books. There's no information yet on the Persephone site, but The Other Elizabeth Taylor is coming out in April, so I imagine one will be able to order it soon. I've read a few of Taylor's novels - Blaming, Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont, and At Mrs. Lippincote's - and have several more on my shelves. In particular, I want to read Angel, as I just saw the movie version, directed by François Ozon and starring a rather stunning Romola Garai. The story follows the rise of Angel Deverell, a poor girl with a vivid imagination who finds fame and fortune writing bestselling romances, but who lives in her own fantasy world, constructed like one of her plots, and face up to the reality that surrounds her, particularly turning a blind eye to her philandering husband who has only married her for her money. Ozon filmed it completely over the top - Anne Shirley meets Scarlett O'Hara - but I thought it worked wonderfully as a visual metaphor for the type of books Angel inhabited. And the costumes and make-up were incredible. If you liked Ozon's 8 Women, you'll enjoy this; it has some of the same - almost camp - humour. I find Ozon to be a very interesting director who clearly is fascinated with the ongoing relationships and resonances of the written word. I love his movie Under the Sand (the wonderful Charlotte Rampling plays a professor who teaches Woolf, trying to cope with the grief of her husband's disappearance) and The Swimming Pool (Rampling again, playing a thriller writer who escapes to a French house to try and write her next novel, but encounters more than she'd bargained for). Rampling also has a role in Angel.