Review: 'Charles Dickens: A Life' by Claire Tomalin

The world is a veritable Dickens-fest at the moment, and there is zero point in fighting it.

Actually, I wouldn't, because I'm quite enjoying it, not least (smug) for the number of people around me who are happy to rhapsodise on the importance of Dickens whilst having never read a word of it: I know for a fact that there is a certain Head of Something Bookish in my city who only opened a free download of 'Great Expectations' just before Christmas, despite the fact that he'd already been planning all the bicentennial celebrations and related work in schools for the best part of a year, singing Dickens' praises all the way. Oh the shame.

Anyway, I bought Claire Tomalin's 'Charles Dickens: A Life', just before Christmas, out of sheer curiosity, desperate to read it and see what it was about. The thing is, there are a few people in my sphere who dislike this book immensely, regarding it as a libellous travesty, whilst there are those who think it is wonderful, and a deservedly honest account of a very complex man. All this, naturally, made me keen to read it myself and wade into the fray.


Lyndsay, Put the Pen Down...

It's been a funny couple of weeks, laced with New Year's revelations and a generous amount of carpet-whipping from under feet, disillusionment, and the such like. Look for further details in a novel of mine in twenty years' time.

Naturally, this is made me want to work, as writing is therapy to me, as I'm sure it is to you, so I buried my head in my computer this past week, only receiving the odd electric shock. Whilst on my internet travels, I saw that the submission deadline for a lit mag I like was the coming weekend, and I had a piece hanging around my computer that could be welded to fit the theme. The particular piece that was hanging around was a bit of a sore nerve, or, more literally, a representative of one, as I spent FOREVER on it, submitted it to Elle UK Writing Competition a few months ago, and sat around hoping that maybe it would go somewhere. Unfortunately, I didn't place *sob* (you can read a finalist's entry here), so gutted as I was, and as dramatic as I am, I decided that piece was dead, never to be looked at again.


Review: 'The Artist'

Last night, I saw 'The Artist', and came away with the following conclusions:


Guestpost: 'What I Did To Promote My Book'

 Today I'm hosting a guest post from Sheila Dalton, author of 'The Girl in the Box', a psychological thriller published in 2011 and described as follows:

Caitlin Shaughnessy, a Canadian journalist, discovers that Inez, a traumatized young Mayan woman originally from Guatemala, has killed Caitlin's psychoanalyst partner, Dr. Jerry Simpson. Simpson brought the girl, who may be autistic, back to Canada as an act of mercy and to attempt to treat her obvious trauma. Cailin desperately needs to find out why this terrible incident occurred so she can find the strength to forgive and move on with her life.

Inez, whose sense of wonder and innocence touches all who meet her, becomes a focal point for many of the Canadians who encounter her. As Caitlin struggles to uncover the truth about Inez's relationship with Jerry, Inez struggles to break free of the projections of others. Each must confront her own anger and despair. The doctors in the north have an iciness that matches their surroundings, a kind of clinical armour that Caitlin must penetrate if she is to reach Inez.

The Girl in the Box is a psychological drama of the highest order and a gripping tale of intrigue and passion.

I'm thrilled to present this to you all, as I think it gives an interesting description of the roles of the author, publisher, blogger and the internet in promoting and publicising a new book. Take it away, Sheila!


'Date a Girl Who Reads' - A Critical Reading

So, I was Stumbling the other day for stuff in my interests and I came across this: 'Date a Girl  who Reads', via The Monica Bird, and, as lovely and popular as it is, I have some issues with it. So let's work through it critically... 

"Date a girl who reads. Date a girl who spends her money on books instead of clothes. She has problems with closet space because she has too many books. Date a girl who has a list of books she wants to read, who has had a library card since she was twelve."

This is all fine, and quite sweet. 

"Find a girl who reads. You’ll know that she does because she will always have an unread book in her bag. She’s the one lovingly looking over the shelves in the bookstore, the one who quietly cries out when she finds the book she wants. You see the weird chick sniffing the pages of an old book in a second hand book shop? That’s the reader. They can never resist smelling the pages, especially when they are yellow."

Ok. Readers read, so if she's a real reader, that book in her bag has at least been opened, but more likely she's half way through it and that's why she couldn't bear to leave it at home. Also, this passage is encouraging someone to date a girl who it itself describes as 'a weird chick'? Isn't that a bit off? 

'She’s the girl reading while waiting in that coffee shop down the street. If you take a peek at her mug, the non-dairy creamer is floating on top because she’s kind of engrossed already. Lost in a world of the author’s making. Sit down. She might give you a glare, as most girls who read do not like to be interrupted. Ask her if she likes the book.'

I'd be really ticked off if someone who'd just peered weirdly at my coffee sat down uninvited at my table, even if I was waiting for someone to rescue me from me supposed girl-who-reads-loneliness-hell. Which a girl who reads probably wouldn't be in, immersed as she usually is in a world where girls are more often than not their own heroes. And what if she's waiting for someone? How awkward would that be?

'Buy her another cup of coffee.

Let her know what you really think of Murakami. See if she got through the first chapter of Fellowship. Understand that if she says she understood James Joyce’s Ulysses she’s just saying that to sound intelligent. Ask her if she loves Alice or she would like to be Alice.'

Sure, buy me coffee, although I would like to ask the questions please. And if I am a reader, I am intelligent - how patronising to presume that I'd say I understood James Joyce just to impress. Suddenly I don't want your coffee. 

'It’s easy to date a girl who reads. Give her books for her birthday, for Christmas and for anniversaries. Give her the gift of words, in poetry, in song. Give her Neruda, Pound, Sexton, Cummings. Let her know that you understand that words are love. Understand that she knows the difference between books and reality but by god, she’s going to try to make her life a little like her favorite book. It will never be your fault if she does.

She has to give it a shot somehow.'

This statement presumes that the only thing necessary for a good relationship is baeing able to buy her the things she likes and being able to make allowances for her little delusions. Hmm. 

'Lie to her. If she understands syntax, she will understand your need to lie. Behind words are other things: motivation, value, nuance, dialogue. It will not be the end of the world.'

No. Wrong. Fail. Sure, she might see all that stuff behind your lies, but how does that make it ok? Knowing what you're all about is just more likely to make her more decisive about leaving you by the wayside. 

'Fail her. Because a girl who reads knows that failure always leads up to the climax. Because girls who understand that all things will come to end. That you can always write a sequel. That you can begin again and again and still be the hero. That life is meant to have a villain or two.'

Umm, why not be yourself and just see how it goes?

'Why be frightened of everything that you are not? Girls who read understand that people, like characters, develop. Except in the Twilight series.'

Ah, so that's why you're lying and failing her - because you're frightened? This comment at least uses the fact that she reads as a positive, rather than just making her someone to be patronised because she can explain it away to herself. The Twilight comment is quite funny, so kudos for that.

'If you find a girl who reads, keep her close. When you find her up at 2 AM clutching a book to her chest and weeping, make her a cup of tea and hold her. You may lose her for a couple of hours but she will always come back to you. She’ll talk as if the characters in the book are real, because for a while, they always are.'

Yeah, that's fine. 

'You will propose on a hot air balloon. Or during a rock concert. Or very casually next time she’s sick. Over Skype.

You will smile so hard you will wonder why your heart hasn’t burst and bled out all over your chest yet. You will write the story of your lives, have kids with strange names and even stranger tastes. She will introduce your children to the Cat in the Hat and Aslan, maybe in the same day. You will walk the winters of your old age together and she will recite Keats under her breath while you shake the snow off your boots.'

This is all very presumptuous. Sounds nice, but I bet everytime someone proposes in a hot air balloon, the driver (?) doesn't lean in and say 'I bet you read, don't you?' 

'Date a girl who reads because you deserve it. You deserve a girl who can give you the most colorful life imaginable. If you can only give her monotony, and stale hours and half-baked proposals, then you’re better off alone. If you want the world and the worlds beyond it, date a girl who reads.'

This part is good, but I'm not sure he deserves it. It should come with the caveat that if you do lie and fail her as suggested, you might struggle to get to this point. But girls who read are the best (as if I'd argue with that?) 

Or better yet, date a girl who writes."

BOOM. Yes. Although we can be over-critical sticklers at times....


Tolstoy's Facebook Page

Well now, this is hilarious - Tolstoy's Facebook Page.

This is a small sample of the hilarity you'll find at the above link:

'Tolstoy commented on Turgenev's comment: Schopenhauer joined.

Turgenev sent Tolstoy a personal message: A confidential warning -- Facebook is a catastrophic time-suck for Slavophile and Westernizer alike. Continue and you will never write a really big one. By the way -- LOVED The Cossacks. Best thing in the Russian language, EVER!

Tolstoy is reading Turgenev's collected work.

Tolstoy thinks Turgenev's writing is putrid and indulgent.

Tolstoy has posted an event: Duel with Turgenev.

Turgenev is attending the event: Duel with Turgenev.

Tolstoy has canceled the event: Duel with Turgenev.

Tolstoy is bored and depressed and embarrassed about the whole duel thing.

Tolstoy is 34 years old!'



Review: 'The Death of the Adversary' by Hans Keilson

"His death is enough. Tell!"

"He will fall, Father, like a dead thing, a rotten branch, bare and desiccated, whihc a mountain stream sweeps down into the abyss. Or like a stone, cold and hardened against the perils of a fall through the blind night, leaving no luminous trail that could one day light torches in the memory, before it buries itself in the soil of the steppes which no human or animal foot will ever tread. Such will be his death: bare and unfruitful, like the avalanche of stones under which he lies anonymously buried, the refuse of extinct planets, and there is nothing more to tell."

Hans Keilson's 'The Death of the Adversary' is a very strange book. 

Throughout its 208 page, the narrator remains vague and nameless, cities are known only by initials, the country is never referred to and the adversary is never given an identity beyond that. It's a mysterious book strangely lacking in Proper Nouns or concrete ties, that might lock it down to a country, an era, a place.

If you didn't know better, you'd think it was some kind of dystophian coming-of-age story in which the young man pits himself against some kind of Big Brother, where the adversary is a known person and the narrator is one of a persecuted mass. Of course, though, we all do know better - we have all heard of WWII, after all - and then it becomes a bleak and horrifying look at the diabolical relationship between Hitler and the Jews of Germany, of which Hans Keilson was one.


In My Mailbox, No. 4

Happy 2012! I hope you all had a good Christmas and New Year? I'm trying to extricate myself from my holiday-induced lethargy in preparation for going back to work tomorrow, and I thought an In My Mailbox post, which is part of the Story Siren meme, might be the way to start doing that.

And what a bumper crop we have today :) Santa and my family were tres kind, as you're about to see:

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