31 July, 2006


So I finally paid my library fines.


28 July, 2006

Work in progress

It's too hot to read. And I've started cycling to work a couple of days a week which eats into my reading time, and now we have Film Four on freeview that will only distract me more.

But I'm currently battling my way through Edward Said's Peace and its discontents, a collection of articles about the Oslo agreement made between the PLO and Israel in the early 1990s. The articles are very critical of Arafat and his entourage and are interesting now, fifteen years later, after 9/11, the second intifada and now the current invasion of Lebanon by the Israelis.

I'm also having difficulties with Martin Walker's The Cold War, which is somehow failing to grip. I can read about a chapter at a time but then I feel too weary to press on with the next chapter, which is a shame, as it's well researched and written and I really need to know a little more about the Cold War.

Note to self: keep an eye out for Alan Furst, a spy novel writer recommended to me by my friend S.

So pretty much the only thing I've read recently is Michelle Magorian's A little love song, which is not only a reread but also a children's book. Oh well. It's stil very good. [35]

22 July, 2006

The politics of children's books

I've been rereading You're a brick, Angela! which is a lovely second wave feminist critique of fiction written for girls from the mid-nineteenth century onwards. It's a very funny and political critique of books which are often very superficial and patronising but which surprisingly often have remained classics and children's favourites. A lot of the books it criticises, I haven't read, but some I'm very familiar with - the Chalet School books, Anne of Green Gables, Little Woman, Frances Hodgson Burnett's novels.

Having reread it, I think I might start collecting the children's novels of Edith Nesbit, because I'd like to write something about the occasional politics of her children's stories and how she reconciles adventure stories about rather bourgeois children in late Victorian/early Edwardian London with her radical, reforming socialist politics as a prominent member of the Fabian Society. So as a note to myself: a list of her novels.


1. Five Children and It (1902)
2. The Phoenix and the Carpet (1904)
3. The Story of the Amulet (1906)
House of Arden
1. The House of Arden (1908)
2. Harding's Luck (1909)


The Pilot (1893)
The Story of the Treasure-Seekers (1899)
The Would-be-goods (1901)
New Treasure Seekers (1904)
The Railway Children (1906)
The Enchanted Castle (1907)
The Three Mothers (1908)
These Little Ones (1909)
The House With No Address (1909)
The Magic City (1910)
Dormant (1911)
Wet Magic (1913)
The Deliverers of Their Country (1985)
The Book of Dragons (1986)
Cockatoucan (1988)
The Book of Beasts (1988)
The Town in the Library (1988)
The Children's Shakespeare (2000)

18 July, 2006

6 (quite) easy pieces

Just finished Richard Feynman's 6 easy pieces, which was an excellent introduction to some of the basic concepts of physics. Feynman has a lovely clarity of style and some of the analogies he draws to explain the concepts are very pleasing: I particularly liked the example he gave for the conservation of energy of a mother counting her baby son's building blocks: whether he drops them in the bath, hides them in the toy box, or whatever, you can make a formula to count the precise number and it will always equal the same total. [33]

Also just finished The secret life of Saeed the pessoptimist by Emile Habiby. Witty, satirical and surreal, and heavily inspired by Candide, it's a short novel about the Palestinian experience between 1948 and 1970. Saeed is an Arab, a Zionist collaborator and a spy, but the creation of the state of Israel fractures his life - he becomes a pessoptimist, uncertain whether to bemoan his lot as a dispossessed Palestinian (his father and brother are dead, his vilage is occupied by Jewish settlers and the Arab population dispersed) or to be thankful he is still alive and unharmed. The book unfolds in a series of bizarre episodes and encounters, capturing the chaotic nature of life in occupied territories and as a refugee. I recommend. [34]

08 July, 2006

Rock 'n' roll

I really want to see the new Tom Stoppard play, but it seems to be sold out forever and the only tickets available cost £30. Bah.

05 July, 2006

Vikings and holidays

Very annoyed with the idiot who wrote in to the Guardian complaining about the 'Summer reading' recommendations, and taking issue with the idea that people might want to read more serious books than the latest Jilly Cooper on their holidays. Sorry, but I can read Jilly Cooper on the bus while being elbowed by some gangsta teen - aren't holidays a good time to get some decent reading done, of things that one normally doesn't have the time to concentrate on?

Conversely, I read trash when I'm stressed and busy although I'm trying to break the habit - two good trashy historical books I have read recently are The last kingdom and The pale horseman by Bernard Cornwell, which are set in the time of Alfred the Great and are about the struggle of the English/Anglo-Saxons against the Danes. These are the first two of a trilogy about Uhtred, a Saxon who due to a twist of fate is brought up by Danes. Cornwell also wrote a brilliant trilogy about a Dark Ages King Arthur, and it's interesting to see what he makes of England four hundred odd years later. His trick of giving historical characters a twist - in the Arthur books Lancelot is an out and out villain; in these Alfred doesn't seem quite so great - is very endearing, and his good research shows. I didn't enjoy the Viking books as much as the Arthur ones - I thought he did a brilliant job of depicting a world in which people still believed unreservedly in gods and magic, and his Dark Ages were splendidly muddy and bloody - but they were a jolly good read nonetheless. [31] [32]

03 July, 2006

Gothic romance

The only thing which I actively enjoyed about last weekend, (apart from the weather. And seeing my grandma. And the food. And having a nice chat with my ma. Oh, all right, it wasn't that bad a weekend) was reading Charlotte Bronte's Villette, which was as marvellous as my authority on the Victorian novel (otherwise known as my sister) promised me it would be. The narrative voice was so sharp and witty and acerbic, with none of poor Jane Eyre's martyred wishy-washyness, I loved the rather overblown gothic bits, and the whole thing kept me gripped right to the end. I also very much liked the deliberately highly ambiguous ending - in fact, Charlotte Bronte basically offers her reader a choice of whether they'd like a happy or a sad ending (although one suspects she liked the sad one.) [30 - haven't been counting recently]