09 May, 2009

Now we are thirty

In celebration of my thirtieth birthday, I've decided to move my blog to WordPress, as blogger is becoming increasingly annoying to use. You'll find my new blog blue stockings here at http://woodscolt.wordpress.com/

22 April, 2009

I've added the list of books read so far this year to the sidebar on the right. Annoyingly, blogger won't let me do a list of some hyperlinks and some text, so I can't do a list which links to my posts about books as I write them up. Or, I could, but I would have to do all the HTML myself, which i can't be bothered with.


Reading: having finished L'argent, I've moved swiftly on to Au bonheur des dames.

Listening: it's been a poor week for music.

Watching: for the first time, Rear window, which I really enjoyed. I might try and start to say slightly more meaningful things about the films I watch, actually.

13 April, 2009


Reading: still reading Zola's L'argent and Kotz's Russia's path from Gorbachev to Putin. And a collection of surprisingly interesting articles about indexing for school.

Listening: have spent the Easter weekend listening to the Classic FM yearly top 300 classical pieces poll. It's very amusing how they breathlessly give you the stats - who's up, who's down - for a collection of pieces that actually shows very little change from one year to the next.

Watching: Letters from Iwo Jima, which I thought was brilliant: better than Flags of our Fathers, the companion piece showing the battle for Iwo Jima from the American side.

07 April, 2009

The trouble with libraries

I'm reading a copy of A.S. Byatt's Still life from the library which has been liberally annotated in blue biro with grammatical 'corrections'. Every incidence of the word 'whilst' has been changed to 'while', which is sort of fair enough. Every Oxford comma has been carefully scribbled out. But this reader isn't familiar with the subjunctive, so 'Tony insisted that Frederica come to hear Amis speak' gets modified to 'Tony insisted that Frederica should come'. 'As though this were possible' has been changed to 'as though this was possible'.

Further into the book the self-appointed sub-editor has been carried away with his or her own rightness. 'Last but two' becomes 'antepenultimate'. 'Nature ramble' becomes 'nature walk'. 'I think he might give up on me too' is weirdly changed to 'I think he might give me up too' which is quite a considerable change in meaning, I think. It's very disconcerting reading a book in which the author's language has been so assertively changed by a completely random person.

06 April, 2009


Reading: I've started the second of A.S. Byatt's Frederica quartet, Still Life. I'm also really enjoying David Kotz's Russia from Gorbachev to Putin, although I'm going quite slowly with it.

Listening: a lovely concert on Saturday, Brahms and Mendelssohn at the Royal Festival Hall.

Watching: I've been re-watching Series 3 of The Wire and I'd forgotten how many good bits there are in it. Adjourn your asses! Cutty! Bodie! Omar! So great.

02 April, 2009

We are now beginning our descent - James Meek

This is James Meek's fourth novel, which I thought I'd read as I enjoyed his previous one so much, The people's act of love

I actually found this book so depressing that I had to stop reading it temporarily. It starts in Afghanistan, where the central character, Adam Kellas, is reporting on the war, and meets a fellow journalist from the US, Astrid. The novel then follows him back to London, where he has a sort of crise and smashes up the kitchen at a dinner party gathering of wanky London intellectuals. It was this bit that I found so depressing: Kellas's (Meek's?) anger at the self-satisfaction of the liberal journalists reflects some of my own feelings about the smugness of what passes for the liberal press in this country. The contrast between the war going on in Afghanistan and the abstractions of the newspaper editors and writers back in England is jarring and bitter and miserable.

After trashing his hosts' kitchen, Kellas flies to America to find Astrid, and en route loses everything he has - including his enormous book deal advance. But Astrid is as lost and incapable with dealing with the return to the West as he is. I thought this book said a lot about the way that war, even war in a land far away about which we know little, has an impact on the way we operate. The fact that we split these things off from our own lives - we need to, because you can't do anything else - has effects that reach further that we imagine, and the faultlines are particularly clear for anyone who has to move between these two worlds.

31 March, 2009

Antonia Forest

Laura very kindly lent me a couple of Antonia Forest books I hadn't read: The thuggery affair (one of the stories about the Marlows) and The Thursday kidnapping. These were both reasonably good fun, as Antonia Forest usually is, but not as enjoyable as some of the others because of the appalling snobbery that pervades both stories. This comes up in other Forest novels - the depiction of Marie Dobson in the school novels, for example - but was specially noticeable and unpleasant here.

The Thursday kidnapping is about the relationship between the Ramsays, a family of nice, middle class children in Hampstead, and Kathy, the vulgar, lower-middle class girl who lives next door. Kathy is quite similar to Marie Dobson, in fact - she has all her unpleasant habits, sneaking, stealing, lying and sucking up - and is depicted with a level of snobbery which really gives one pause. Her family are sneered at for being an 'advertisement' family - of course the outward perfection shown by their shiny mod cons home is a sham and they all despise each other. They are even too lazy to walk their dog properly. Kathy is a fantasist and a liar, but is instantly reduced to whining and sycophancy when threatened with punishment. And where the depiction of Marie Dobson in the school stories has the redeeming quality of examining the way we feel guilty for disliking other people, even when we have no reason to like them, the Ramsay children are here given no reason to tolerate Kathy: in fact, the events of the day described essentially vindicate their dislike of her.

The thuggery affair is back in the world of the Marlow family, and describes Peter and Lawrie Marlow and Patrick Merrick's efforts to thwart a gang of drug smugglers. Bits of the plot really defy belief: the gang are despatching their dope via carrier pigeon, for example, and they talk in an embarassing made-up slang. Here Antonia Forest does try to moderate the snobbery that runs through the whole book: she gives the chief thug a long passage in which he explains why he went to the bad. But even this passage is compared very unfavourably with Patrick Merrick's stern (priggish?) morals, and the message is clearly that anyone can afford morals; only the weak succumb to criminality. I'm more in agreement with Bertold Brecht: erst kommt das Fressen, dann kommt die Moral.


Reading: I'm finally emerging from a bit of a reading block, which is good. I've been reading quite a bit of poetry recently and finally finished James Meek's We are now beginning our descent.

Listening: a great concert at the RFH on Sunday, Beethoven's Eroica, Strauss's Four last songs, and some Ravel.

Watching: as part of my project to expand my film knowledge, a recommendation from Niall, Dog day afternoon, which I thought was fantastic.

25 March, 2009

Betsy Blair

I'm very sad to hear about the death of Betsy Blair (Guardian obituary here), whose autobiography was one of the first books I wrote about on this blog. I first heard of her when she was on Desert Island Discs where she came across as such a warm, intelligent person (and picked such nice music) that I bought her autobiography. (Also because I love Gene Kelly, of course.)