Winter Blues

Writer and editor Helen Tookey is already predicting the start of autumn and the approach of winter and to make matters worse she’s been reading Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet almost guaranteed to bring on an attack of the winter blues. Over on her blog she’s written a short appreciation of the poem ‘Spring and Fall’ that addresses his remarkable ability to ‘feel’ his mortality and accept it:

There must have been hundreds of poems prompted by the melancholy scent of autumn in the air (as it is at the minute, towards the end of August), but one of the best must be ‘Spring and Fall’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89), subtitled ‘To a young child’:

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, nor no mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

There are so many things so perfectly expressed here: what seems the simple sorrow of a child at the dying, falling leaves; the painful adult knowledge of the world’s ways, and of death, and the painful knowledge too that your child will come to know this in his or her turn; and the feeling that the child is actually suffering from a sadness she can’t yet understand or articulate; and the awful thought of the child’s own mortality as well as of your own.

Here’s the link to the whole post.

Rebel Girls

Rebel Girls: their fight for the vote is a new book by Jill Liddington, about the forgotten suffragettes across the north of England. Published by Virago it tracks the story of those who took their message out to the remotest Yorkshire dales to win Edwardian hearts and minds.

Jill Liddington will be speaking about the book at a host of events across the country this autumn, and is visiting Liverpool on Saturday 6th October. For full details of these events click here

Links we liked for August 23

I’ve been away on a Scottish island odyssey for the last couple of weeks, but The Reader’s flock of Internet starlings has been hard at work. Here are some of the juiciest worms they found:

Recommendation. Vintage’s much-publicised series of literary pairings received a stylish boost with A.S. Byatt’s recommendation of Middlemarch in The Guardian newspaper. Eliot’s novel is paired with Byatt’s Possession in the Vintage Classic Twins series. Both novels are of course “books for grown-up people”.

Books for children seem to have been in the news a lot this summer. But however successful the Children’s Book That Cannot Be Named may be, helping children to read is an ongoing challenge for many parents. One innovative service that might help is Tumblebooks, described as “an online collection of read-along titles for elementary, middle school, and high school students which features adjustable online text and complete audio narration. Sentences are highlited as they are being read and the pages turn automatically … ” The Reader Online has no connection with Tumblebooks, but it sounds like an interesting idea for a digital native generation.

On Literary Festivals. The Times carried an interesting piece about the growth of book festivals and quotes Armando Iannucci pitching for an intern job at The Reader: “People are hungry for substance and unafraid of ideas and big themes.” We concur.

How To Write a Book. And for those budding (and otherwise) writers among you, here’s a bombastic blog article by technology writer and consultant Scott Berkun in which he argues that anyone can write a book. It may suck, but …

Walk of Shame Award. And talking of Scottish islands, Scotland on Sunday reported on the first day of the Edinburgh Festival on a conversation between Will Self and Philip Gourevitch, who recently held a month-long residency on the island of Jura, where George Orwell wrote 1984. His shocking admission when faced with the prospect of walking: “I haven’t been to Barnhill. I drove up to the end of the road in a downpour and the guy who controls the gate wasn’t around. I couldn’t find anybody to open it so I could drive up there.”

Posted by Chris

Free Thinking

BBC Radio 3 & Radio Merseyside’s Free Thinking Festival returns to Liverpool

Free Thinking BBC Radio 3 and BBC Radio Merseyside’s festival of ideas returns to Liverpool for a weekend of debates, talks, performance and conversation from Friday 9th to Sunday 11th November. At the heart of this year’s festival is one of the 21st century’s most contested ideals: freedom. Look out for The Reader‘s Books at Breakfast event, being held on the Saturday and Sunday, more details to follow.

Romanian Summer Diary 6

Saturday 4th August ­ ­– Things I have seen in Romania ­

A cow grazing by a brand new glass-plate office suite
A drunk old man falling into the gate to his house while trying to open it
A 1970s Romanian-built Renault with BMW badges
A funeral parlour blaring out rap music
A taxi firm called Trans Prod
A 17th century church glazed with UPVC windows
A crazily leaning shack proclaiming itself the Hotel Lido
A pig on a balcony on the block of flats opposite
A gyspy woman walking along a smart shopping street while breast-feeding
In time-forgotten villages, gleaming cars with Italian plates outside the houses
A hearse with “FUN” on its number plate
A tree in a beauty spot with beer cans stuck up its branches – Christmas come early?
A company called Semi-Daniel – a case of split personality?
A herd of sheep on a train
A horse and cart in a supermarket car park
A beggar with an Armani T-shirt
A seller of Dolce & Banana watches
In the market Crowds of old women weeping at the death of the Romanian Orthodox Patriarch

All of these would be ample opportunity for any photographer or journalist. They would send back a report peppered with “local colour”, confident that they have got to the heart of the place. Some, more enlightened, might skirt away from the really obvious ones – the cow, for example, reflected in the plate-glass window – dismissing them as clichés. And certainly the list is full of such clichés, almost all of them boiling down to contrast: between old and new, communist and capitalist, Orient and Occident.

Romania as a country is not afraid of clichés. We get on with it, the typical shrug of the shoulders and benevolent nod of the head accompanying us. Perhaps in this crazed sunshine, there are some Western niceties which just don’t apply.

The budding teachers at the English school are learning…

Tuesday 15th August The Brits have left and another year will run its course of change before the next summer school. Each year we take the volunteers to the Black sea coast for a few days, and then to Bucharest, before the tearful journey to the airport. We ask ourselves, and so do they, whether what they have seen is the true face of Romania. Among this year’s highlights there have been desperate phonecalls for a comfort stop on the way to Constantza, trunks lost whilst skinny dipping and midnight rowing on Herastrau lake in Bucharest. Occasionally we get returning volunteers: I remember this, is so and so still there, is that still going, the kid I taught then has gone to university. I, too, am like that now – in my native country a visitor, with a bagful of memories and apprehensive of new experiences every year, relieved to go back home and eager to return the next summer. Invariably.

I am yet to find how much of the attraction in all this lies in the security of the past and how much in the challenge of the new. All in a summer’s teaching job.

William Faulkner and the End of Man

Like James Joyce, William Faulkner has an unjust reputation as a ‘difficult’ writer. Perhaps for this reason he is relatively underrepresented online. William Faulkner On The Web is by far the most comprehensive online resource on the writer and his works. It includes summaries of his works, bibliographies, character analyses and a great deal of other material. Faulkner. In fact Faulkner was a man of high ideals and surprising optimism; his stories are often very funny in a bleak sort of way. While novels such as As I Lay Dying take a humorous look at the grim lives of their characters, Faulkner is also sympathetic and perhaps just a little bit admiring of their resilience.

But what about his idealism and optimism? On December 10, 1950 William Faulkner addressed an audience in Stockholm to accept his Nobel Prize. In his speech he argued that the fear of global destruction had distracted writers from the real purpose of literature, which is to understand the problems of the human heart. He went on:

Until he learns these things, he will write as though he stood among and watched the end of man. I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things.

Here’s a link to the whole speech.

Upcoming TV Adaptations

Angela Macmillan made contact to point out that the BBC is working on several interesting-looking TV adaptations of eighteenth and nineteenth-century novels. Cranford Chronicles combines several novels by Elizabeth Gaskell and sports an all-star cast:

Francesca Annis, Eileen Atkins, Michael Gambon, Philip Glenister, Lesley Manville, Julia McKenzie, Imelda Staunton and Greg Wise are set to star alongside Judi Dench in Cranford Chronicles, a new five-part period drama created by Sue Birtwistle and Susie Conklin for BBC One and written by Heidi Thomas (I Capture The Castle, Madam Bovary, Lilies).

Based on three Elizabeth Gaskell novels – Cranford, My Lady Ludlow and Mr Harrison’s Confessions – this witty and poignant story follows the small absurdities and major tragedies in the lives of the people of Cranford during one extraordinary year.

Writer Andrew Davies is involved in an adaptation of Sense and Sensibility. Jane Tranter, Controller, BBC Fiction, had this to say:

This adaptation of Sense And Sensibility is classic Andrew Davies: his writing goes straight to the heart of Jane Austen’s novel and together they create a piece of work that is bold, original, authentic and powerful.

And as if that wasn’t enough it sounds like Davies’ new adaptation of Fanny Hill will steam up the nation’s TV screens this winter:

Alison Steadman, Hugo Speer and Samantha Bond lead the cast in a raunchy new version of John Cleland’s saucy 18th century novel Fanny Hill.

Adapted by Andrew Davies for BBC Four, Fanny Hill is the story of a young country girl who falls into prostitution in bawdy 18th century London. Forced to take a succession of lovers to survive, she slowly rises to respectability but only after enjoying wholeheartedly the fruits of her labour.

Considered the original erotic novel, Cleland wrote Fanny Hill whilst in debtors prison in 1748 and it has remained a firm literary favourite ever since.

Posted by Chris

Booker Prize longlist announced

Judges have announced the titles longlisted for this year’s Booker Prize for fiction. The prize is one of the world’s most prestigious literary awards. The longlist of 13 will be cut down to a shortlist in September.

The long list:

Nicola BarkerDarkmans (Britain)

Edward DocxSelf Help (Britain)

Tan Twan EngThe Gift Of Rain (Malaysia)

Anne EnrightThe Gathering (Ireland)

Mohsin HamidThe Reluctant Fundamentalist (Pakistan)

Peter Ho DaviesThe Welsh Girl (Wales)

Lloyd JonesMister Pip (New Zealand)

Nikita LalwaniGifted (India)

Ian McEwanOn Chesil Beach (Britain)

Catherine O’FlynnWhat Was Lost (Britain)

Michael RedhillConsolation (Canada)

Indra SinhaAnimal’s People (India)

AN WilsonWinnie & Wolf (Britain)