Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Libraries I Have Known

According to Google this is my hundredth post, and I've decided it's going to be about libraries.

I’m a great fan of libraries, and often surprised by other people's low expectations. My youngest aunt, for example, was surprised that I managed to borrow a great fat hardback copy of A Brief History of Seven Killings from Wimbledon Library while it was still shortlisted for the Booker.

They're also a great way to feed current obsessions, the latest being the Penguin Line books, borrowed one by one from Kensington and Wimbledon and shelved under 820 and 828 respectively.

Kensington, thankfully, labels all it's books. Merton, including Wimbledon, only bothers labelling non fiction, and if an author is better known for crime than sci-fi then their sci-fi will be mis-shelved; but this is a minor annoyance, and mostly due to the Dewey decimal lumping all English fiction in one classification (823).

Fiction, of course, is organised alphabetically by author's surname, but as in book shops, science fiction and crime tend to be separated out. Lately, with the Agatha Christie re-read, I've mostly been raiding the Crime section. I estimate it would have cost somewhere in the region of £400 already if it weren’t for libraries.

At the moment I don't have any Christies though. What I do have are these:

The large duck egg coloured book at the bottom is Thomas North's translation of Plutarch's Lives. I actually borrowed this for an essay on Coriolanus, as it's generally agreed to be the main source Shakespeare used to write his play.

North translated from the French translation, not the original Greek, and given he was writing in the mid 1500s, he wasn't as difficult to follow as I expected. Largely because although the sentence construction is sometimes odd, the spelling is more or less as we would spell the same words now.

I haven't returned it yet because I want to read the whole thing. It's a Kensington Central Library book, part of their extensive collection of biographies, which sit like an iceberg 9/10ths beneath the surface in the stacks.

Kensington Central Library has a number of other features I like as well - the large octagonal clock in the middle of the rows of shelves, the wooden alcoves in the windows with built in benches, the reference library upstairs with it's divided desks, and the regularly refreshed 'interest' shelves near the entrance. I also like The Library Time Machine, their blog on local history. Best of all it's very near where I'm working. In fact I haven't worked this close to a library for 15 years.

That was a much smaller library, run by Camden almost under the Archway tower. I remember it as windowless, and involving a walk past a similarly low, dark pub with cardboard in the windows, which I never had the courage to go into but fondly imagined was frequented by vampires. (The discovery of Neil Gaiman and Anne Rice around that time may have fuelled my imaginings.  It was more likely frequented by carers and cleaners coming off shift at the Whittington hospital, or possibly a brothel.) 

Archway is on the Northern line, which had an asylum near the other end at Tooting (now flats) and the public receivership office, child and family court and for a while the benefits office at Archway. it's grimly unsurprising that it’s the line with the heaviest rate of suicide - and probably no coincidence that the Penguin Tube Line book for the Northern line is the bleakest I've read so far.

For myself, I had grandparents living on that line, and as Camden is on it, and Waterloo, and it was my route home for ages, and is still in easy distance, I think of it as familiar and reliable. Unlike the Jubilee line, for example, about which I think nothing at all.

The second book up in the pile is Margery Allingham's The Crime at Black Dudley. I've read a number of Allinghams, all of them with Albert Campion, but this is the first she wrote, and she writes him from the outside all through. The 'hero' of the story, the man with the love interest and through who's eyes we mostly experience the story, is Dr Abbershaw. The story is silly, and has perhaps some rather daft stereotypes, but it's also very well done and I lapped it up.

The third, slim book is A Good Parcel of English Soil by Richard Mabey, It's the Metropolitan Line in the aforementioned Penguin Tube Line series. Mabey talks about Metroland and his own childhood, throws in some history. These books are exactly the right length for people to be slightly self indulgent without becoming irritating, and Mabey manages it here.

Next is Music by Andrew Gant, which I've commented on elsewhere but can summarise as: not quite an introduction to the subject as there is some terminology and some written music, but great if you're an amateur like me.

Then we have Resorting to Murder, one of the British Library's crime reprints. I'm actually a member of the British Library now, but so far I've mostly been there for exhibitions, in the evenings.

To be honest I got a little fed up with Resorting to Murder. The anthology has never been my favourite format. I feel like I'm just getting into each story when I'm hustled on to the next. I enjoyed Silent Nights though, maybe because the Christmas theme held together better, maybe because I knew some of the authors and detectives from the first book. As you can see I've also recently taken out Capital Crimes and Crimson Snow too, but I've only read the first so far. At least one of the stories made me wince. Conan Doyle at his coldest. Another, with a lethal box of chocolates, two deadly snakes and five major coincidences all in about 20 pages, I had to grit my teeth to get through.

Of course that's part of the appeal of libraries - I don’t have to own the books. I don't even have to read the books. Whereas once a book has been bought there's a vague sense of obligation to read it (especially if you like it). Library books are much more easy going. 

There may be a class element in that. I wasn’t raised with the idea of a 'canon' set of books everyone should read, or that books are inherently improving as and of themselves – actually a relatively modern attitude anyway - witness the antipathy towards novel reading in Northanger Abbey, which parallels modern concerns about computer games (Wimbledon Library have, or had, a book with a good defence of this, exploring what the attitude might be towards books had computers and games machines been invented first, but annoyingly I can't remember the author), or the moral panic about Jazz in that era (Humphrey Lyttelton's bio is good for information on this, and of course you’ll find that in Kensington Central Library stacks).

Next up in the pile is George Orwell, A Life in Letters, which I can heartily recommend, and then another translation of Plutarch, less interesting and memorable than North, but perhaps more comprehensible to a modern reader, and lastly we have Kinsey and Me by Sue Grafton, which is from Victoria Library, where I used to go a lot when I worked at the Passport Office. Victoria Library has a very good sheet music section upstairs, but feels a bit squashed for space downstairs. There's rather a nice balcony running around though, where they keep the foreign language books.

I think I've mentioned before how I used to sit in Chertsey library and read Grafton in my teens. Chertsey was a pre-fab, a supposedly temporary structure that's still there, like a lot of our old classrooms. We had a canteen made out of corrugated iron too. It must have been there years, but it seemed solid enough to us.

The school libraries (we had two ends to the school, so two libraries) had some good books (H V Morton and Gerald Durrell, almost everything Judy Blume had written to that point), but opened completely randomly, which made borrowing books difficult and returning them worse.

Middle school was quite different. I seem to remember it as wood panelled, although in retrospect that's incredibly unlikely, and I used to go in sometimes at lunch time and read Baba Yaga and other disturbing fairy stories.

There are others, too many to do justice to really: The library in the Cobham old school building which never seemed to get any new books in and opened late one night a week when I was coming back from work. At that time the staff outnumbered the customer 2 to 1, but I expect it was livelier during the day when children were about. The mobile library we had before that, which used to park in the same place as the fish van.

Streatham Vale library, strangely well stocked with socio-political books for such a small branch.

Church Street, where I discovered Dorothy L Sayers, was another prefab, larger and more battered, hidden under an arch and a small passage from Church Street Market – another discovery that may have been cleaned up and gentrified now.

Colliers Wood, which had flooded last time I saw it, sandbags piled up outside the doors. Brixton, which was founded, or at least funded, by Henry Tate. Charing Cross, squeezed in near the statue of Edith Cavell. Marylebone, which was under Council House, where confetti and occasionally champagne flutes would be left on the steps outside. 

British Library building 
(St Pancras behind)

I’m sure there are more I could think of (I see I've left University libraries out completely)  .. and of course I don’t rely entirely on libraries. I also have a number of fairly full bookcases. But that’s another story. 

Thursday, 13 April 2017

A Woman Surgeon – L Martindale (for the 1951 club).

I didn’t immediately warm to A Woman Surgeon, perhaps because (as Dr Martindale explains in her Apologia at the beginning of the book) she really isn’t a writer.

Her descriptions are separate sentences, series of facts and potted histories of someone or somewhere. You never forget they are just descriptions. Her writing is clear and concise, but there is no real ability to transport the reader to the places and times she describes. 

Within quite a short time though I started to see the advantages of this - there is nothing here to cloud our vision of what things were actually like in the early 1900s when she began working as a doctor (as I write this I’m thinking particularly of Laurie Lee, who faithfully describes hungry children, unfeeling authority, and successful murder, but writes them so beautifully and so strongly tinted with his own pleasure in his 1910s childhood that the preface to my edition of Cider with Rosie talks about ‘the world we have lost’.)

In contrast, by the second chapter of A Woman Surgeon we have a clear eyed recollection of the progress that has been made in medicine and women’s education in the 50 years Martindale has been working, of the good and bad in the missionaries who accommodated the family in India, and how variable or useful the education they provided to children was.

By the time she is on to writing about her work I was completely hooked.

Martindale wasn’t one of the very first women doctors, but she was early enough to be able to write about it; as well as about women’s suffrage, the early days of x-ray therapy, the hospital she helped out in at Royaumont Abbey in WW1, the book she published about venereal disease and how to prevent it (and the ridiculous, and she believed manufactured, outrage it caused).

Also really striking is how differently skilled a practice doctor had to be, with ‘minor’ operations, tooth extractions, x-ray work, home visits (riding around on a bicycle at night for these), always leaving the details of where you were in case of emergency. This is still very much the sort of doctor Conan Doyle was writing about when he invented Watson.

She visits the Mayo clinic, India, Australia, Germany where some interesting x-ray therapy work is being done. She is able to work in Hull for fairly low wages and gain the valuable experience that qualified her to practice. She encounters prejudice but also a lot of encouragement, particularly from other doctors (men as well as women). 

She was also fortunate in being well off and having a mother who encouraged her. In fact, there were moments I wondered whether her mother was being just a bit pushy and controlling, but given that this is the same period Vera Brittain was being chaperoned, I think she would probably be thought remarkably hands-off for the time! 

Martindale ends up specialising in gynaecology. It’s not clear if it’s a particular interest or if her patients are coming to her because they would prefer a woman doctor for this, but to be honest, and I think this is the key to her character throughout the book, it’s really not relevant. She just gets on with it. When they need hospital beds, she petitions, when no-one will sell her a practice she builds one up from scratch. She doesn’t dramatise or go on about it. She states the fact and moves on.

In fact, much of the book is not about her at all. It’s about her experiences, comparisons of different treatments and methods, her patients, her mentors, her family and friends, and the period she lived through.  Fascinating, and really worth a read.  

So thanks to Simon and Karen, who are hosting the 1951 club, without which I would probably never have discovered this book. 

Tuesday, 11 April 2017

Lost Children - Edith Pargeter (read for the 1951 club)

As you can see from the book cover above Edith Pargeter also wrote as Ellis Peters, creator of Cadfael and one of my favourite families in crime, the Felses. 

Which is probably one reason I read the first few chapters of Lost Children thinking that a nice murder would liven things up enormously.

The other reason was the flowery descriptions. Pargeter builds the atmosphere of the folly, the dead and gone Rose family, the weight of history and stagnation, far beyond what can be needed. Rosalba, the orphaned, isolated and half-frozen niece, whose aunt will never forgive her for having a more common mother, is clearly Rapunzel or some other captive princess. Her aunt, despite the many paragraphs showing why she is like she is, is still clearly a wicked witch.

Unfortunately, while the wicked witch becomes more real as a person when we can see why she is as she is, Rosalba’s youth and beauty – which we hear about again and again – make it harder and harder to empathise. Not precisely because she is beautiful, but because the reader is constantly reminded of it, like it’s an alien quality, like Mr Spock’s brain. Although she acts, thinks, feels, she can never quite be a living human being while she’s being endlessly compared to a flower. 

Luckily the reader isn't dependent on Rosalba and her delicate and innocent romance with a soldier of her own age to enjoy the book. Just as the fairy tale gets too much we switch tracks to something a bit more earthy in the downright Flo, who lives crowded in with her sister and brother and Dad, waiting for the council to replace the homes the German bombers knocked down, and then again to an American soldier who apparently thinks in clich├ęs.

‘Gee, the breaks I get..’ He says, when a frightened 14 year old camp follower (Flo’s younger sister) trips over him in the dark, fleeing because she got out of her depth with one of his compatriots. And so he tells her to be a good girl and sends her home on the bus, and meets Rosalba and her young man in the process.

This is where the book starts to breathe and we have Pargeter doing what she does best, taking these different worlds and plausibly weaving them together. We have the locals, simultaneously resentful and patriotically welcoming of the American army, worried about their daughters hanging about outside the camp, we have Flo trying to run her father’s home and watching out for Rosalba because she can see her aunt won’t do anything more useful than condemn, and then we have the throwing of everyone into even closer proximity as.. well, I won’t spoil it. Suffice to say that a lot of the conversation, and internal dialogue, is about the madness of splitting men from their families and training them to kill when everyone wants peace, and the stupidity of authority that insists on asserting itself even if that means acting in a way that makes no sense. 

Sometimes this feels – even if you agree with it – like every important character is saying exactly the same thing in different ways, but perhaps that’s not fair. Perhaps it’s a true indication of how many people were feeling by 1951. Not proud and patriotic but simply weary, with no appetite left for another fight, and no feeling of unity with the people in charge who were still hedging their bets it might happen. 

Saturday, 25 March 2017

Crime novels... part 1

This is terribly late. It seemed like such a nice project and then.. well it was harder than I thought.

Some time ago I planned (and said) I would write some genre related posts – genre is a thing I’m not too keen on as a concept, largely because while it’s useful for those people looking for something specific, and for bookshops who need to shelve items in a way that lets them find them again, I feel it influences not only the way books are read, but sometimes even how they’re written (I’ve read a few ‘how to write a novel’ type books now and they’re pretty clear that you pick your genre and deliberately shape your writing to it. This may be good marketing, but I’m not sure it makes for great books.) 

But I’m in danger of repeating myself, and anyway crime fiction more than any other is I think written deliberately within genre. No-one puts a dead body in a book by accident. 

Commonly crime books are subdivided even further; into murder mysteries, cosies, golden age, hardboiled, puzzlers, the Ian Rankin sort with unrealistically mad and sadistic serial killers.. and so on. Again I think this is so readers can find the kind of murder they want (I'll admit to avoiding Rankin's after giving one - Knots and Crosses - a go. It was unremittingly grim).  

I also realised, after beginning this post back in the mists of time, that although I’d read a lot of crime fiction it was incredibly heavily weighted towards still published authors such as Agatha Christie, Dorothy L Sayers and Conan Doyle, and was already trying to do something about this, and had begun a reread (and gap-filling exercise) for Agatha Christie too, when I acquired a copy of Martin Edwards’ book about the Detection Club and realised I hadn’t even remotely begun to make a whisper of a scratch on the surface of crime writing in the era. 

This (with apologies for the cut and paste) is what I wrote on the Guardian TLS blog in September last year:  

The Golden Age of Murder – Martin Edwards. Which is all about what you’d expect but more specifically the Detection Club which banded together with Chesterton as president, with Sayers advocating, and with dinners and collaborations. The forerunner of the current club of which Edwards is now President. 

The book is fascinating, just small portraits of the individuals, then references to their work. Sayers comes through particularly clearly, a publicist and advocate for the whole gang, secretary of the club, a bit daunting on occasion. Christie is more elusive, not just here but in the BBC archives and even her own autobiography. All accounts suggest she was shy throughout her life, and spent much of her time daydreaming and travelling. 

 And then, more interesting still, there are the people I’d barely heard of, with their own take on the genre, their own politics, their own private lives.. 

Edwards is upfront that the book doesn’t cover the whole of the genre. There are about 35 author photographs in the front pages of this book, and these are only the members of the Detection Club elected from 1930-49. There were far more actual writers, and a wider culture of radio puzzles, magazine competitions and murder games. We get a flavour of all that, and the wider historical context, and the (to me slightly ghoulish) interest so many members had in real life murder cases. 

I’ve also, now I’m tuned into it, noticed the prevalence and popularity of crime elsewhere. In fact, everywhere. Orwell wrote an essay about the changes in crime fiction titled Raffles to Miss Blandish and when I was at Sissinghurst I noticed that Harold Nicolson’s study contained a copy of The Anatomy of Murder, the Detection Club’s book attempting to analyse and solve real life murders. (Nicolson had it in hardback, but the book is available in a paperback reprint, and more sympathetic that you’d imagine.) 

I actually own The Anatomy of Murder, but Kensington Central Library has furnished me with my recent rash of Gladys Mitchells and two of the other British library reprints. You can find a review of Death on the Cherwell here, and my comment in September 2015 on The Floating Admiral, by Christie, Sayers, Chesterton and other mystery writers now less well known was this (again cut and pasted from elsewhere, sorry): 

It's a book written in the fashion of those paper games you play as a child, where one person draws the head of a person or animal and then folds and passes it along and then the next person draws the shoulders. It gets very involved, which presumably is what would happen in a real case: The Inspector thinks, the Inspector thinks better of it. The Inspector crosses and recrosses the river and drives the long way round again and again and talks to the same people repeatedly. 

It's huge fun – not least when a new chapter starts and the new author proceeds to demolish all the clues in the last chapter – either because they don’t like them or (as Sayers freely admits) struggle to make sense of them. 

Christie doesn’t appear to have taken part in any more of these exercises, but in any case I’m going to leave Christie (as far as possible) to one side for now. As well as her crime novels I’ve been reading the five or six other fictions, some plays, the autobiography and so on, and in fact had to create a spreadsheet to keep track of what I had and hadn’t reread. Christie is a blogpost in herself. 

I will say though that in my own personal reading history Christie came before Sue Grafton, but after Conan Doyle. I was still in my teens when I read the former, but just 10 or 11 when I picked up the Sherlock Holmes stories and puzzled, as I think everyone does, about the way A Study in Scarlet has a story embedded within it in that odd, disjointed fashion that seems almost designed to break the narrative.  

Prior to the Holmes stories we can blame Blyton, whose mysteries aren’t usually considered a part of the crime genre, but do seem to me to be a part of what was happening in more grown up fiction. 
Being books for children however they tended to be about smugglers or secret plans, and the same held for other series such as the Three Investigators (purportedly written by Hitchcock but not really) and Nancy Drew (who I never thought much of). 

Sue Grafton was a find from the age of 13 or 14 when I started bunking off school and haunting the local library. Part of the appeal of the books was – and is - that her heroine so clearly does not have her life sorted out, which married up with my observation of most of the adults around me; however much they all felt the need to pretend they had everything under control and were qualified to give advice. 

Grafton’s heroine, Kinsey, is one of the most engaging characters in any book I’ve read. She has her own ideas about what she likes (small spaces) and her reasons for those things. She probably wouldn’t stand up independent of the narrative – there are precious few detectives who would – but she’s far from 2 dimensional. 

More strangely there are long periods of narration where Kinsey does her laundry or tells you what she ate. These annoyed me enormously when I began reading but they’ve grown on me over the years. There are worse ways of giving you a sense of time passing. 

Later I seem to remember I started reading Ann Granger simply because she was on the shelf next to Grafton. It made it very easy to pick it up and flick through, although that doesn’t marry up with the first book of Granger’s I read being secondhand. And I know it was secondhand because it was a copy that had come free with a magazine at some stage, with ‘not for resale’ on the back where the isbn should have been. 

However I first came across her my opinion of Granger then is my opinion now. Her books have a lot of charm and her detectives, both the amateur and the professional, are extraordinarily incompetent. Fortunately the murderers are even worse, leaving clues to be stumbled upon, giving themselves away by their behaviour and going to strangle the heroine two seconds before the police break in the door. 

It’s necessary to the narrative that they do this because there’s no trail of clues such as Christie or Ellery Queen might leave for detective and reader alike. It’s all reliant on coincidence. 

Perhaps this is why I fell out of love with Granger somewhere in the Fran Varady series. Even if (according to Martin Edwards) The Detection Club’s light-hearted motto about playing fair with the reader was only ever a guideline, I still prefer feeling that the clues are all there and the author is giving me a chance to solve the thing. In fact when I clearly can't I even feel a bit hard done by. 

Probably this is the reason why my favourite, still, is Agatha Christie. About who (and others) there will be more in my next post.

Thursday, 16 February 2017

It’s all gone a bit strawberry fields..

On Tuesday I went to Barnes for a philosophy lecture from which what I took away, mostly, was the impression that cogito ergo sum is assuming too much, and that we don’t know how we get mind from brain. So there’s the world of thought or ideas, and the material world; and some philosophers believe one exists and not the other, others think the first lot have it the wrong way round, some believe they both exist but don’t relate (which is the one I really don’t get. Unless the idea is that God was just bored and doodling matter in the margins. Most of the theories seem to have a God, possibly because they were first propounded such a long time ago. As an atheist with a lower case a I’m not against gods, even ones who are making it up as they go, but I’m not convinced that they’re a good first principle to work from)  and some think there are both worlds but aren’t clear how they relate.

On the whole, generally, I tend not to think too hard about this sort of thing. Partly because I think it’s more or less insoluble, except in the sense of making up your own mind or (as I did at one point) drawing some tempting but equally fuzzy parallel between the relationship of brain and mind and the relationship of hardware and software; and partly because last time I thought too hard about it I had a dream that I believed I was Joan of Arc.

(I’m sure I told someone this on Tuesday night. It’s the sort of conversation you end up having when philosophy lectures are held in pubs. Still, they can only think I’m barmy. Or drunk. Or both. As, gentle reader, can you.)

Also, and not completely tangentially, my second MA assignment is in. This time I’ve swung right from one extreme to the other. Since I read almost no secondary material and didn’t put full enough quotes in number one, I’ve read a lot and quoted extensively in number two. Maybe too much.

I think I’ve mentioned before (if not here then on the Guardian book pages) that studying in English lit sometimes makes me feel like I’ve fallen down a rabbit hole into an early David Lodge novel; so it was serendipitous or possibly Freudian or most likely both that I stumbled across this when looking for more tube line books and straight after my second assignment went in:

This one isn’t a novel. It’s a selection of essays. I think I’ve also said before that I have a casual relationship with books of essays. I enjoy them, but there are very, very few I want to own, so this is a library book.

What I like about Lodge is his sense of humour and his imagination. Someone undoubtedly should write a book entitled ‘Graham Greene, Frequent Flyer’, and ‘The Rise and Fall and Rise and Fall of Kingsley Amis’ is a great title.

My favourite essay in this book though is the one about Terry Eagleton and Theory. Specifically, the way in which Theory has fallen out of favour in English Lit, but the observation (or agreement with T.E.) that academia can’t return to an innocent pre-theoretical state either.

It’s like a spotters guide to the particular rabbit hole I have recently fallen down, written by the person who first made me aware of that world.

The fact it makes me laugh as well can only be a bonus.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

Culling Again

Almost invisible on the far left between the field microscope I have no real reason for owning except I like the box it comes in, and the big fat Martin Amis book, is The Case of the Caretaker's Cat by Erle Stanley Gardner, which I'm pretty sure I would have loved in my teens when I was reading Saint novels and Christie's 'Bright Young Things' spy books. It's all a bit too sassy and dramatic for me now. 

Next to that Martin Amis' The War Against Cliche, a collection of essays and reviews. Some of it's great - such as his comments on what used to be called Lit and Soc, and it's demise (or at least, it's painful earnestness and eventual becoming very poorly indeed), his review of Philip Roth, sympathy for Lydia Bennet, and dry appreciation of Martin Seymour-Smith. 
It feels like he's just skimming over the books he's writing about though, a stone across the surface of a pond. Fine for a magazine review intended to give the reader a flavour of such and such a thing to decide if they want it, but not a book I need to hang on to.

Jean Rhys Letters. I gave up on this half way through. She is so thin skinned and I felt like I was nosing into something absolutely none of my business, a fellow human being like a wasp trying to get out of a window and only crashing into it again and again.

Willam Golding The Hot Gates - much of what I wrote about Martin Amis above probably applies here. Individually entertaining essays, but I don't need to read them again.

David Mitchell - Thinking About it Only Makes it Worse - ditto the above.

Matt Haig Reasons to Stay Alive - I'm pretty sure I was given this by an aunt, along with a book by Danny Baker I haven't read yet and Swallow This by Joanna Blythman, with the idea I would read them if I wanted and take them to the bookswap. Blythman was excellent and I'm hanging onto that, and the Danny Baker is on my bathroom bookshelves.
Reasons I took against on the very first page. I'm sure there are people out there this book will help, and I'm glad if it helped Mr Haig to write it, but I don't want to read it. Sorry.

Nicholas Bentley How Can You Bear to be Human - I simply don't find him funny, and since there isn't much to this book except humour and draftmanship there doesn't seem any point in keeping it.

James Thurber Alarms and Diversions - slightly more amusing but not really. I think part of the problem is that the odd cartoon makes me smile, but pages of them make me shrug.

Colin Watson's Coffin, Scarcely Used is a perfectly workmanlike murder mystery that I know the solution to now.

The Various Haunts of Men by Susan Hill is not perfectly workmanlike, it's too long, There are three perfectly good first chapters from different points of view, and for some reason she's included them all. I bailed out at 150 pages. Odd because I've read short stories by Susan Hill and she's good at building tension so surely realised she was letting it deflate over and over here?

The Memorial, Christopher Isherwood. I wrote a review of this here. I won't reread it.

And those last three books on the right are actually library books waiting to be returned. Ways of Seeing by John Berger followed as a logical step on from Breakfast at Sothebys by Philip Hook. Seeing was written in 1971 but is still relevant today. In fact the essay on publicity images is more relevant than ever, and the one on nudes highlights an attitude to women and which women had towards themselves that it's in no-ones interest we slip back into.

Speaking of which Gladys Mitchell's The Devil's Elbow is a nice little murder story badly spoilt by the constant negative 'she asked for it' refrain around the woman who has been killed. She appears to have been a nymphomaniac, or a good time girl. I'm not sure why that's a murdering offence.

On the far right is Heads and Straights by Lucy Wadham, which is one of the best of the 'tube line' books I've read so far. It's the Circle Line, but not really about the Circle Line. I won't say what it is about, because these books are so slim that they're easily spoilt.

Incidentally my least favourite was Waterloo-City, City-Waterloo by Leanne Shapton, which is basically the thoughts of people going to work, and then coming back again, and which was an insult to the human imagination. I don't believe the human being has been born that is as dull as this book makes us all out to be.

Incidentally - or not - one of the characters is reading Mrs Dalloway, in which Virginia Woolf does a much better and richer job of getting inside people’s heads and memories and internal dialogue. Maybe that’s meant to be the point, that people on the Drain going back and forth are duller, or that work anaesthetises us into dullness. I dunno. 

Don't care much. It's that sort of book. 

No idea what this is about but leaving it here.

Saturday, 14 January 2017

Yesterday Morning

The Sky Garden at the top of the building generally called the walkie talkie (20 Fenchurch Street) is open free to the public from about 10am (tickets have to be booked online in advance) without obligation to buy anything. 

However you can also go in a lot earlier for breakfast, and it's neither significantly dearer than any fancy coffee shop, or sold out three weeks in advance like the free tickets. I booked a table for Friday morning at 7.45, and had the place practically to myself to watch the sun rise over towards Kent. 

..and a little later, in the other direction..

and almost the same view from the 8th Jan, under a far more typical sky for this time of year. I rather like this one. It's old fashioned somehow. Almost black and white.