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Into the Woods by John Yorke

John YorkeI think it’s worth saying up front that I am not a writer. I use my blogs (here and at Screen God) to record my feelings about books and films so I can share them with others who might be interested, and that’s all. I know lots of bloggers who write fiction or poetry but that’s not me. But I am fascinated by the creative process; as well as loving to read about books, I like to read about how writers write, and Into the Woods (subtitled “How stories work and why we tell them”) definitely falls into that category, though its focus is on film and TV scriptwriting. It’s really fascinating, wonderfully write and full of insight. I now understand a little better three and five act structures and how they still apply even when the writer is consciously trying to subvert them. Lots and lots of practical examples (one of the appendices has the act structure for Raiders of the Lost Ark), I now spend my time looking for Inciting Incidents in everything I’m reading. Very worthwhile.

Darling Monster by Diana Cooper

IMG_0073I have mentioned elsewhere I’m sure the fascination I have with aristocratic and Royal ladies especially, and I couldn’t resist the letters of Lady Diana Cooper to her son John Julius Norwich, written between 1939 to 1952, so covering the momentous events of WW2 (when her husband Duff Cooper was in Churchill’s government) and their time spent in the British Embassy in Paris. Full of gossip and clothes and politics and culture and farming, this is a really touching collection and I was absorbed all the way through.


IMG_0106I think it was Anne Fadiman who talked in one of her books about the shelf where she kept books about her particular obsession which was (as far as I remember) polar exploration. I would have a similar shelf if I was more organised (and didn’t have quite so many books) but mine would be all about Royal and aristocratic women. I just can’t resist them, everything from Queen Marie of Romania to The Mitfords via our own royal family. Adore the glamour and clothes and jewellery and privilege as only someone brought up on a council estate in the West of Scotland can.

This is largely my late Mum’s influence and sits uncomfortably alongside my general centre left politics but, you know, can’t help it. Doesn’t mean I watch stuff like Downton Abbey though, I do draw the line (though I used to adore the Upstairs Downstairs, though I have no illusions that I would have been anything other than a scullery maid)

Counting One’s Blessings is a selection of the letters of Queen Elizabeth the Queen Mother from her childhood to her death. I’ve said before that I often find it difficult to review books like this because they are what they are, and this very much is what it is – demonstrating nothing more than that the QM was a woman of her class and generation, loving the country (and in particular horses), with some insights into her life with King George VI (some of which is picked up in The King’s Speech), her friendships with some interesting people (Osbert Sitwell. Ted Hughes) and her interest in British Art.

If you are looking for scandal, especially around Diana, Princess of Wales, then you will be disappointed. It appears that the QM was so concerned in her later life about things being leaked that she didn’t put her intimate thought on such matters in her letters. Enjoyable if you are interested in the Royal Family or ladies of a certain class and era, but not sure it is for everyone.

The first book to be finished in 2011 though it was very much the last read of 2010 and a chunky one too. But also absolutely fascinating and I found myself reading large sections of it in each sitting.

In common with a number of women, Vere Hodgson began to keep a diary when war started, partly to record her own impressions but also to share with members of her family abroad so that they would have news about what was happening on the Home Front. She describes it as:

a diary showing how unimportant people in London and Birmingham lived through the war years 1940-45 written in the Notting Hill area of London

Vere originally came from Birmingham but lived in London where she did welfare work for a private organisation which meant that she was exempt from the conscripted war work that caught up so many other women. Her descriptions of the impact of the Blitz are very vivid as you might expect, and her curiosity about the aftermath of some of the attacks took her on walks throughout London to see what had been damaged and what was still standing. It might seem a bit odd (if not slightly ghoulish) to go off and see where homes and business premises had been destroyed, but in one way I can understand that in a period where rumours about what was gone and what was still standing abounded, going to find out for yourself (if you could) was probably an effective coping mechanism.

Some of the descriptions of her walks are hugely interesting to me; I spend quite a lot of time on business in the area around London Wall, Cheapside and St Paul’s where so much was destroyed, and I work close to Holborn which was again badly hit, so (with a little bit of thinking) it is quite possible to imagine myself standing alongside her.

As the preface says, she can be a tiny bit pompous on occasion and her uncritical admiration of Churchill and De Gaulle jars a little, bit but her descriptions of rationing and fire-watching, trying to travel to visit her family in Birmingham, the sheltering from the bombs, the lack of sleep but also the camaraderie with her friends and colleagues gives a really rounded picture of what it was like during those five years, and is well-worth reading.

Part of the TBR challenge – this book has been on my shelves since I received it as a Christmas present in 2004.

Despite a TBR list that is in danger of constituting a library in its own right I haven’t stopped buying books, although I’m about to enter the pre-Christmas moratorium where the Book God and I swap our wish lists and sit on our hands until Santa has been.

And in advance of that looming date I really have been unbelievably bad on the purchasing front:

  • The Winter Ghosts by Kate Mosse – “It’s 1928. Freddie Watson is still giving for his brother, lost in the Great War. Driving through the foothills of the French Pyrenees, his car spins off the road in a snowstorm. Freddie takes refuge in an isolated village and there…..” I have her two previous books but haven’t read them yet, and this looks like it might be fun (and is far less chunky than the others)
  • Nancy Mitford: The Biography by Harold Acton – “This intimate biography draws a witty, real-life portrait of Nancy, based on the letters she intended to use for her autobiography…….” Sparkling and irresistible, apparently, and totally part of my current obsession with all things Mitford.
  • Changeless and Blameless by Gail Carriger – novels of vampires, werewolves, dirigibles and afternoon tea…… Again I have the first one in this series about Alexia Tarabotti but haven’t read it, so this is a bit of a chance, I suppose (what if I hate it??).
  • Blue Eyed Boy by Joanne Harris – “Once there was a widow with three sons, and their names were Black, Brown and Blue. Black was the eldest; moody and aggressive. Brown was the middle child; timid and dull. But Blue was his mother’s favourite. And he was a murderer.” Couldn’t resist it.
  • Sourland by Joyce Carol Oates – it’s a new book of short stories by the great JCO so of course I was going to get it.
  • Dreadnought by Cherie Priest – the sequel to Boneshaker which I got for Christmas (I think, may have been my birthday, too close to call) and still haven’t read. But I feel that I’m going to enjoy it when I get there.
  • Plain Kate by Erin Bow – I saw this on another blog but can’t remember whose (sorry); loved the cover and bought on impulse when in Forbidden Planet with Silvery Dude just after Hallowe’en (I bought The Unwritten 2 at the same time)
  • Decca edited by Peter Y Sussman – see Nancy above. I’m sure I’ll grow out of this at some point….
  • Coco Chanel by Justine Picardie – there was absolutely no way that once I’d got my hands on a copy I would be able to walk out of the bookshop without it. It’s important to recognise one’s limitations….
  • Tamara de Lempicka by Laura Claridge – “Born in 1899 to Russian aristocrats, Tamara de Lempicka escaped the Bolsheviks by exchanging her body for freedom, dramatically beginning a sexual career that included most of the influential men and women she painted.” Irresistible.

I seem to have an awful lot of reading going on at the moment; some of these books have been sitting on my table for months (if not longer) and I will at some point have to decide whether I am going to persevere or give up, but not just yet, I think:

  • The Mitford Girls by Mary S Lovell – “‘I am normal, my wife is normal, but my daughters are each more foolish than the other‘ bewailed Lord Redesdale, father of the Mitford girls. Part of my Mitford obsession as mentioned briefly here.
  • The Sicilian Vespers by Steven Runciman – “On 30 March 1282, as the bells of Palermo were ringing for Vespers, the Sicilian townsfolk, crying ‘Death to the French’, slaughtered the garrison and administration of their Angevin King.”
  • Bone Song by John Meaney – “Tristopolis. Death’s City. Countless dead lie in the miles of catacombs beneath its streets.” Zombies and stuff in noir crime story.
  • The Women of Muriel Spark and Muriel Spark – reading these as background to the great abandoned but about to be resurrected Reading Muriel Project
  • Growing by Leonard Woolf – an autobiography of the years 1904 to 1911, set aside for some reason I can’t quite fathom
  • The Nightmare Factory by Thomas Ligotti – to be dipped into, prose is very, very lush.
  • Jigs and Reels by Joanne Harris – forgot all about this one, must finish it as I’ve enjoyed the stories I’ve read so far
  • Small Avalanches by Joyce Carol Oates – another dipper
  • O, Beloved Kids by Rudyard Kipling – Kipling’s letters to his children, which was intended to kick-start a Kipling fest after I visited his house in the summer; still something I want to do…..

And sad to say I’m still reading some of the books on this list, namely:

I have always had a mild obsession with the Mitfords; I’m not exactly sure when it started, but it has been kicking around for a long time. My first exposure to them was probably picking up David Pryce-Jones’s biography of Unity Mitford at a point when I was interested in what made an upper-class young woman fall in withe the Nazis. This led me not so much to Diana Mitford but to Nancy, and I read a couple of her novels and her book about Madame de Pompadour, and thus was I hooked.

I have piles of books by and about the Mitfords all over the house and at some point I will pull together a post about the ones I’ve read and the ones I’m going to read, and probably astonish myself with how many there actually are.

But for now it’s all about Letters Between Six Sisters, edited by Charlotte Mosley; and what a task that must have been, deciding what to include and what to leave out from a mountain of correspondence over not quite eighty years (the first letter is from 1925, the last from 2003). I’ve had this for a while but decided to pick it up after seeing the Duchess of Devonshire at 90 exhibition when I visited Chatsworth last month. And I have romped through what is understandably a pretty chunky book, over 800 pages including the index, but I just couldn’t put it down. The complex relationships between six women with strong personalities and equally strong views is totally absorbing, the feuds and alliances and misunderstandings and misrememberings all entirely fascinating, often funny but moving and sad as well. One of the things I loved most was the sisters’ use of nicknames, which seemed so specific to their world until I looked at some of my e-mails to friends and realised that I do exactly the same thing.

If like me you are drawn to reading letters and diaries then you will find this really enjoyable, even if you don’t know much about the family itself. Loved it and am heading off to find the joint Mitford biography which is skulking on a shelf somewhere…..

TheJournalofJoyceCarolOat48874_fI’ve been reading a little of the Journal of Joyce Carol Oates each morning over breakfast before heading out to work (which is probably why it’s taken me so long to finish it….) but it has been a very rewarding experience getting inside the mind of one of my absolutely favourite authors. Reading journals and letters certainly satisfies something deeply inquisitive in my nature, and although I know published works like this do leave a lot of stuff out, I am still learning more than I would otherwise about someone I admire hugely. I still don’t know how she finds the time to teach, write so prolifically and have what seems to be a contented life, but I’m very, very glad that she does.

I’ve also started book buying again despite my resolution in January to cut back. I suppose I’m not buying quite as many as I used to, but given how many books there are in this house that I haven’t got round to reading then any new purchases are probably a bad idea. Anyway, the newest additions are:

Music for Torchingby AM Homes – an incendiary novel, apparently; read some of her other stuff an found it challenging and interesting so thought I would give this one a go;

Human Smoke by Nicholson Baker – the beginnings of WWII, the end of civilization, unusual structure for a non-fiction work about the war;

Dear Husband by Joyce Carol Oates – a new collection of short stories.

I’ve also been inspired by reading the Journal to buy a couple more Joyce Carol Oates to add to the ever-growing pile….

Bride of the Book God

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Scottish, in my fifties, love books but not always able to find the time to read them as much as I would like. I’m based in London and happily married to the Book God.

I also blog at Bride of the Screen God (all about movies and TV) and The Dowager Bride, if you are interested in ramblings about stuff of little consequence

If you would like to get in touch you can contact me at brideofthebookgod (at) btinternet (dot) com.

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June 2023