Monday, 12 May 2014

Monday Musing

Hi pals!

I am in the throes of a summer cold. Quite where I've picked it up from, I don't know. But it's wielded a destructive influence on my weekend plans. All I can say is thank goodness for (1) my fiancé, who has been taking gold standard care of me, (2) books, for providing me with one of the two activities that I can be bothered pursuing in my ill state, and (3) Game of Thrones, for providing the other.

Come illness or health, rain or shine, The Book Habit keeps on going. And here is another Monday Musing for your weekly literary inspiration!


Friday, 9 May 2014

The Weekly Reader

Hello, my literary lovelies!

I hope that you have all had a fabulous week and are looking forward to an action-packed weekend! I, for one, have scheduled a wonderful series of literary excursions. Tomorrow, I shall be carting my fiancé into London for a trip to the British Library and a visit to some of my favourite bookshops. Sunday will see us at a National Theatre Live broadcast of the recent stage production of King Lear, featuring the magnificent Simon Russell Beale. Whether you are planning similar jaunts, or are simply looking forward to absorbing yourself in a book, I wish you a totally contented weekend! And here, to get you on your way, is another edition of The Weekly Reader.

TOP STORIES


'Eoin Colfer Named Ireland's Children's Laureate' - BBC


Creator of the Artemis Fowl series, Eoin Colfer, has been chosen as Ireland's newest Children's Laureate. This is exciting news for fans of his books, but also for bibliophiles worldwide. Colfer's selection comes at a time when the debate about child literacy is a particularly hot issue, with library closures and alterations to national curriculums presenting significant and continuing challenges. Colfer's promise to spend his time "spreading stories to every nook and cranny in the country" must surely serve as some reassurance that the push against worrying literacy trends has its champions.

'Your Beach Book Doesn't Have To Be A Light Read' - Kit Steinkellner, at Book Riot

It's approaching that time of year again, my friends. The beach umbrellas and picnic baskets are standing to attention, ready to jump into use as the summer draws in. While not a beach lover myself (sand or stones, it's all unpleasant to me), I fully understand that desire to bask in the sun, with book in hand. This article touches on a topic with which I think we are all somewhat familiar - the endless drone of 'summer reads' that flood our bookshops, supermarkets, and social media feeds, recommending themselves for some 'easy' escapism. The concept of the 'light' book as a summer requisite is taken as written. But the assumption that all holidaymakers must indulge in light reading is totally misleading and unhelpful. There is absolutely nothing wrong with engrossing yourself in a book deemed 'light' or labelled as 'popular fiction'. Nothing at all. But I wonder why marketing for summer reads seems to rest on a specific subset of fiction. Where is the diversity? Why don't we see booksellers pushing traditional classics such as Thomas Hardy's Tess of the d'Urbervilles, or modern classics such as Isabel Allende's House of the Spirits? Reading should be seen as an activity that transcends the seasons, but it is of course logical to target readers when they have more time to indulge themselves. However, I would argue that there needs to be a shift away from focusing solely on light reads as the recipe for the perfect summer break. All readers are different, and this must be reflected in the industry's marketing practices.


'Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society Takes Off' - Alison Flood, at The Guardian

And finally, a little lighthearted literary news. You may very well have seen reports of the Topless Pulp Fiction Appreciation Society that is currently gracing New York. Conceived in part to raise awareness of the New York law that women are permitted to go topless in any places where men enjoy that right, the Society has gained significant popularity. With events and meetups abounding, it is fair to wonder (as the author of this article does) whether the model will be replicated elsewhere.

TOP EVENTS

'London International Antiquarian Book Fair' 22nd to 24th May - National Hall Olympia, London

London's Antiquarian Book Fair is back again. Promising bliss for bibliophiles, this 3 day event offers the opportunity to browse and buy antiquarian books. A number of interesting demonstrations are also scheduled, including lessons in calligraphy and bookbinding. This promises to be another excellent event for any bibliophiles in London this May. Plus, tickets are FREE!


TOP IN BOOK FETISH

Not only has my book collection almost doubled within the space of a year, but this trend is one that only increases as time passes. This wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the severe lack of space I have, with stacks of books now taking over much of my floor. I remain on the hunt for new shelves - a shopping task which, I confess, I don't find the most enjoyable. With it, however, comes the excitement of looking at bookends. And there are some stellar ones out there.

'Morph and Chas Book Ends' - Morph Book Ends

Hands up those of you who remember Morph? The most exciting character made of plasticine to ever grace our television sets. Well now it's possible to have him in your living space. Morph's eternal fame has been secured.

'Antique Brown and Gold Leaning Books Book Ends' - Home Works

These are appropriate mostly because my habit tends to be using stacks of books as bookends. I feel that this purchase may be a slight progression on from that.

'Human Replica Skull Bookends' - FatJs

And for those more creepily-inclined. Also spectacular if acting out soliloquies from Hamlet is your occupation of choice.



Tuesday, 6 May 2014

Review: The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver

As I said in my last review, I have not been giving myself the easiest time with my reading choices. I seem to be moving quickly from one difficult read to another, without much pause. From William Styron's troubling masterpiece Sophie's Choice, to Sylvia Plath's The Bell Jar, my recent selections have hardly been uplifting. This perhaps explains my current return to Jane Austen as a recourse from tragedy and back into a world of 19th century courtship. The Poisonwood Bible lies somewhere in the middle of this spectrum - easy and light in its tone, but dark in its subject matter. Taking on Western colonialism from the perspective of four American girls, Barbara Kingsolver's excellent novel is a work in which traditional perceptions of difference are challenged through the eyes of the young.

"We aimed for no more than to have dominion over every creature that moved upon the earth. And so it came to pass that we stepped down there on a place we believed unformed, where only darkness moved on the face of the waters. Now you laugh, day and night, while you gnaw on my bones. But what else could we have thought? Only that it began and ended with us. What do we know, even now? Ask the children. Look at what they grew up to be. We can only speak of the things we carried with us, and the things we took away."

The Poisonwood Bible relates the story of the evangelical Baptist minister Nathan Price and his family, as they embark upon a religious mission to the Belgian Congo. Set in 1959, the novel takes the reader into the world of colonial domination, entering the Congo as the country works towards independence. The Poisonwood Bible becomes an epic recounting of the family's journey, told from the perspective of Nathan's wife, Orleanna, and their four young daughters. As the story unfolds, the girls face the challenge of gaining acceptance within their new community, and understanding the dynamics and demands of life in the rural Congo. While the country marches towards self-government and throws off its colonial rulers, the family undergoes a parallel transformation, reconstructed by the environment in which the fate of each is ultimately determined.

"Listen. To live is to be marked. To live is to change, to acquire the words of a story, and that is the only celebration we mortals really know. In perfect stillness, frankly, I've only found sorrow."

The Poisonwood Bible is truly epic in its scope and represents among the best of postcolonial literature. As someone who studies the ramifications of colonialism on an almost daily basis (hello PhD in Human Rights!), I was somewhat hesitant to believe that a novel such as this could deal with the nuances of colonial rule. When one considers that this book is narrated, almost entirely, by four young girls, it is particularly easy to suppose that the complexities of the colonial mindset and the realities of conquest will be lost. But in The Poisonwood Bible, Barbara Kingsolver achieves a remarkable feat. She utilises the minds and voices of the Price girls as a means of highlighting the total irrationality inherent in colonial reasoning. The fear, anguish, and transformation of these girls, as they adapt from life in the USA to existence in the rural Congo, reads ridicule into the stereotypes and assumptions that characterise the colonial era.

"Misunderstanding is my cornerstone. It's everyone's, come to think of it. Illusions mistaken for truth are the pavement under our feet."

I have read a number of reviews of this book that deride it on account of the author's perceived 'agenda'. Leaving aside my personal view that no author writes without an underlying agenda (at the core, simply to convince the reader of the reality of the fictional world being painted), I have little time for such arguments. The Poisonwood Bible is called postcolonial literature for a reason - it was written in the era proceeding colonial occupation, reflecting upon the forces that drove empires and ravished nations. To read such a book without supposing that it might highlight the travesties of Western domination is naive. Yet, at no point did I perceive Kingsolver's agenda to be unacceptably overt. At no point does her condemnation of colonialism appear to overtake the fictional narrative. Rather, it is executed with a subtlety that must be inherent when telling a story of the way that individuals are transformed by circumstance.

Despite the heavy subject matter, the tone of the novel is consistently light. Kingsolver differentiates the voices of the five narrators with attention and expertise. Each character is given a distinct voice, and an alternative perspective on the events of the novel. While it undoubtedly becomes clear that the author has the desire to paint colonialism and associated missionary work in a particular light, the various perspectives of the narrators ensure that the novel never reads like a lecture or an opinion piece. Only in the concluding chapters of The Posionwood Bible do the narrators begin to reflect upon their experience in the Belgian Congo. And only then is it confirmed that a transformation in thought has truly taken place.

"But his kind will always lose in the end. I know this, and now I know why. Whether it's a wife or nation they occupy, their mistake is the same: they stand still, and their stake moves underneath them...Chains rattle, rivers roll, animals startle and bolt, forests inspire and expand, babies stretch open-mouthed from the womb, new seedlings arch their necks and creep forward into the light. Even a language won't stand still. A territory is only possessed for a moment in time. They stake everything on that moment, posing for photographs while planting the flag, casting themselves in bronze...Even before the flagpole begins to peel and splinter, the ground underneath arches and slides forward into its own new destiny. It may bear the marks of boots on its back, but those marks become the possessions of the land."

The Poisonwood Bible is a truly remarkable piece of fiction. The style and ease of the narrative ensure that it can be read purely for enjoyment of the author's skill. Beyond the superficial, however, the novel is an epic account of one family's transformation at the hands of the colonial encounter. This novel is not one of redemption, nor is it one that excuses acts of domination as 'history'. Instead, it casts an eye over the fallacious reasoning that drove the colonial urge and points to accountability where deserved.




Monday, 5 May 2014

Monday Musing

Welcome to another week at The Book Habit!

I hope that you all enjoyed last week's return to posting. Thank you to everyone who commented and messaged. I am so happy to get back to the blogging world, and throw myself into exchanging opinions and recommendations with you all. I've added a link to my Goodreads account, on the blog sidebar, so you can find me there, as well as on Facebook and Twitter (also linked to on the sidebar).

I hope that you are all looking forward to a fabulously literary week. I have returned to spring in full bloom here in the UK, and hope that you are finding the weather equally reading-conducive wherever you are. The perfect excuse to whip out a battered copy of your favourite book, find yourself a garden, and indulge in a little relaxation!


Friday, 2 May 2014

The Weekly Reader

Hello friends!

With the new look comes a slightly revised blogging schedule. As such, The Weekly Reader will now be delivered to you every Friday, with an update on the week's literary news, upcoming events, and the very best in book fetish. 

So settle in with a cup of tea (or two) and enjoy.

TOP STORIES

'The Novel Is Dead (This Time It's For Real)' - Will Self, at The Guardian

"There is now an almost ceaseless murmuring about the future of narrative prose. Most of it is at once Panglossian and melioristic: yes, experts assert, there's no disputing the impact of digitised text on the whole culture of the codex; fewer paper books are being sold, newspapers fold, bookshops continue to close, libraries as well. But...but, well, there's still no substitute for the experience of close reading as we've come to understand and appreciate it - the capacity to imagine entire worlds from parsing a few lines of text; the ability to achieve deep and meditative levels of absorption in others' psyches."

Although disheartening in many respects, Will Self's article on the impending death of the "serious" novel makes for truly interesting reading. Opinion pieces abound wherein critics and authors decry the decline of the printed word and predict a bookshop-less, digitised literary world. Seen in that context, Self's article represents just one more stream of pessimism at a time when literature is actually at its most globally accessible.

Yet the article raises a number of interesting and troubling points. Self's central argument is that the turn to digitisation of the novel, and the inter-reader connectivity that comes as a result of this, means that the literary world is turning its back on the serious novel. For Self, reading serious works (think James Joyce, Virginia Woolf, and F. Scott Fitzegerald) requires an element of private thought and independence that readers now lack. Instead, we live in a world where our Amazon purchases dictate market survival, and our social networks ensure that serious works receive proportionally less public acknowledgement.

So, what does this mean? According to Self, the serious novel will continue to exist. But it's audience will become increasingly minimised, leaving it as "an art form on a par with easel painting or classical music: confined to a defined social and demographic group, requiring a degree of subsidy, a subject for historical discourse rather than public scholarship." Self, as a novelist, claims that this vision does not depress him. For those readers among us who value a diversity of literary work, and the ability to engage in public discussion on all types of literature, the picture is perhaps a little more troubling.

'Jump Into The #WeNeedDiverseBooks Campaign, Help Change The World' - Jill Guccini, at BookRiot

On a more positive note, readers around the world are marshalling a campaign to promote the importance of literary diversity. While hashtags may not be the most effective way of communicating the details and complexities that characterise issues of injustice, they certainly do the job of raising awareness where popular knowledge is lacking. The Diverse Books Campaign points to the lack of diversity in literature - an underrepresentation of those who do not conform to the standard line of 'normality'. Race and sexuality are only two areas in which the literary world appears to lack the ambition to represent diversity. 

The campaign runs over the course of three days - May 1st through May 3rd. Tomorrow's action focuses on recommendations and suggestions for diversifying your bookshelves. So click the link and get involved!

'Author Sue Townsend's Funeral Is Held In Leicester' - BBC

As many of you will be aware, the author of the Adrian Mole series, Sue Townsend, passed away on April 10th. The bestselling novelist of the 1980s, Townsend enjoyed enormous success through the series' comic value and the global adoration that Adrian Mole inspired. 

Townsend's death was met with true sadness on the part of the literary world, with tributes pouring in from both authors and readers. My own experience with Adrian Mole came at an early age. Too early - as I discovered when, many years after reading The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13 and 3/4, I finally learned that Adrian Mole is not, in fact, a mole. This reason alone is enough for me to feel true sadness at Sue Townsend's passing.


TOP EVENTS

'Foyles Grand Opening Festival', 11 June to 5 July - Foyles Bookshop, 107 Charing Cross Road

My devotion to Foyles Bookshop is reaching new heights. To celebrate the opening of their new flagship store on London's Charing Cross Road, the bookshop is playing host to a series of fantastic literary events. Featuring talks from the likes of Hilary Mantel and Sebastian Faulks(!), the festival promises to one of the year's most important set of dates on the bibliophilic calendar. I already have my tickets for a conversation between Michael Palin and Marcel Theroux on June 11th, and a talk by Sebastian Faulks about his novel Birdsong on June 14th. If you are interested, I would suggest booking as soon as possible. I have little doubt that many of these events will be sold out before long!


TOP IN BOOK FETISH

I'm currently in the process of considering a little domestic redecoration. As such, this week's Book Fetish feature is a little self-motivated. Enjoy the best in literary home decor!

'Classic Book Cover Coasters' - The British Library

A set of 8 book cover coasters. Perfect for that afternoon cup-of-tea-and-reading break. 

'Matilda Pocket Cushion Cover' - PocketCushions

I love Roald Dahl. And I love anything multifunctional. So this Matilda-themed cushion, that also provides a little book storage, is top notch. 

'Grand Wind Back Chair' - Kelly Swallow

No house is complete without a truly magnificent reading chair. I am still on the hunt for mine. And this beautiful patchwork chair certainly fits the bill. A little Mad Hatter-esque in its look, the chair comes in at a mere £2,100. I can dream, right?