Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Comfort reading...

Hi! I'm still alive - I've had a few emails and Facebook queries...

I'm completely snowed under with work - combination of the salaried job and the freelance stuff. Plus, until this week, I've also been chief cook and bottle washer because DB's been doing some work for a mate and has been doing crazy hours.

Reading-wise, I've been working my way through Antonia Forest's Marlow books - and it's the longest time - EVER - that it's taken me to read the complete series...which is testament to just how busy it's been.

I found this wonderful pic on Facebook:
This is what comfort reading is all about - those books we come back to again and again - and phooey to those of you out there who say they don't re-read...! For me, comfort reading is almost always children's literature - my vintage collection. Very occasionally, it might be someone like Georgette Heyer, Joanna Trollope or Rumer Godden (kids and/or her books for grown ups).

Who do you go to for your comfort reading?

Thursday, 26 July 2012

Book junkie accessories

My librarian friend posted this photo on Facebook last night. It's just after 6am - roll on the end of the 5am every morning alarm clock... - and I'm thinking one of these would be a mighty fine thing for tucking in with my book and morning bucket of tea:
Following Librarian's FB post back through the links, I found the source here, because my instant thought was 'I WANT ONE!'

However, having an early morning moment of sensible reflection - the caffeine must be just starting to hit the brain cells - it occurs to me that instead of spending the nearly $40 it would cost to buy and have have it shipped from America, I could tuck that $40 away in the 'secret' place in my wallet and save it for the next time I wander past a bookstore... Just a thought! However, the link is there for those of you who can't resist, or have money for books and other cool book related things.

A moment in history - The Book of Common Prayer

Yes, I'm Jewish. Yes, the Book of Common Prayer (BCP) is an Anglican - or, actually, originally Church of England - book. But, it's still a book, and I got to play with a really old edition at work last week at St James' Anglican Church, which was very cool, and gave me an opportunity to feel a bit like a curator again (white gloves and all) which is what I trained to be...

This year is the 350th anniversary of the BCP, which was published in 1662. The actual history of the book isn't something I know a huge amount about, but there is a marvelous article coming out in Parish Connections - the monthly magazine at St James' - so I'll try and remember to post a link to the parish website when that's been uploaded, because it's well and truly worth a read.

Getting to have a look at this rather choice edition of the BCP came about because of said article - because the Rector told me we had a 'rather important' edition of the book in the parish archive, and we should get it out and photograph it - a. for documentation purposes, and b. to have images to accompany the article. So, it was brought up from the archives - and I'd been expecting something small - think of your granny heading off to a church service with her prayer book tucked under her arm.... But no - HUGE archive box landed on the spare desk in the office. So, I though to myself, "That's a lot of packing." But, no!!! I opened the box and there was this enormous, ancient, leather bound, gorgeous thing!

It was published in 1814. It's an altar copy for the priest to read from and lead the services. It's, as I said, leather bound. The end papers - which you can just see a glimpse of at the end of one of the images, are lovely marbled paper. Most of it is in excellent condition. There are some pages that have had some attempts made at restoration, and others - there's one pic showing this - that has had hand written inserts added to change the text after Queen Victoria came to the throne.

The photographs were all taken by Chris Shain. He's a professional photographer, who also happens to be a parishioner, who is just so very, very good. You can find a link to his business site here. So, here are some of Chris's lovely images - with many thanks to him for permission to include here:

Wednesday, 25 July 2012

Current reading: Marc Chagall and crucifixions

DB says I'm a frustrated academic. He's probably right, although, there are a great many things about academia that I really don't miss. That being said, there is something about research...the thrill of the chase...yes, really!

My undergraduate experiences were mostly of a practical nature. I spent some years - in two bouts - at a conservatorium; first as a french horn player, and later as a singer. Lots and lots of lessons, rehearsals and masterclasses, and little bits of academic subjects. Years later, I did what I'd dreamed of doing while I was in high school, and went to art school. It was a studio-based course at a technical college, so again, lots of time messing around with 'stuff', being perpetually dirty - picture the scruffy clothes, face smudged with charcoal, clay, paint, etc... Twentyseven was in a constantly agonised, embarrassed state when I collected him from school like that - his friends thought I was cool though! But similarly, the academic component of the course, while it was there and we had some amazing academic staff, was a smaller percentage of the curriculum.

I was hassled into an academic master's post-grad degree by a good friend who, quite reasonably, suggested that visual arts and music by themselves were, perhaps, not going to fast track me to a job with a viable income... So, with the added incentive of the curiosity factor about what would happen if I had to write something bigger than a 2,500 word essay, I did it.

I love research. I really do. I'm only sorry that it was a coursework program, in that I couldn't upgrade my thesis to something bigger. As it was, I had to get formal permission to take it to 25,000 words - which was a few thousand above the required amount.

Anyway, there is a point to this rambling. As my regular followers - HI! - will be aware, it's a little while since you heard from me about an actual book - apologies. I'm completely swamped with work - both salaried and freelance. I'm comfort reading - the rest of the Marlow books - noting odd quotes, and you will, when I get some time and headspace, hear about those. However, I'm also up to my eyes in research and writing for a presentation I'm giving on Saturday for the St James' Institute as part of the Patronal Festival activities.

The St James' Talks are a half day of short presentations by people who are part of the St James' community in some way. I'm kicking off the sessions, and will be followed by three other presenters on a range of different topics. I'm playing with an interfaith, multi-discipline topic - because I'm that kind of unorthodox academic with too many interests to be tidy. It's something I did as an impromptu presentation for the South Australian branch of the Council for Christians and Jews a long time ago, and St James' have offered me an opportunity to revisit it a bit more comprehensively.

I'm looking at Marc Chagall's painting, White Crucifixion, painted in 1938. Here it is:
My topic is The crucifix as a universal symbol of suffering in the Western art canon.  Without wanting to include too many spoilers - you have to actually come along if you want to hear how it ends... - I want to unpack the use of crucifixion imagery, and I'm using this painting by a Jewish artist to do so in a Christian environment. 

As you might imagine, my reading list has been fairly widespread. I've been loaned a wonderful book - one I've wanted to own for some time, so I really must try and track a copy down - Images of Religion in Australian Art by Rosemary Crumlin. It is a wonderful survey of works, and also looks at the Blake Prize - an annual competition of religious art that reached its 60th anniversary last year.  Crumlin has written a book about the Blake as part of general commemorations of last year's anniversary, and I'd rather like a copy of that too! I've been digging into the Torah, looking for commentaries on the Second Commandment - the one that tells us to make no graven images. I also remembered that, in my library of Jewish books, I have a little gem by David S. Ariel, What do Jews Believe, which unpacks, in refreshingly ordinary language, lots of the esoterica behind Jewish doctrine.

However, the absolute creme de la creme of my material for this seminar is a paper that came to me from Israel, from Dr Ziva Amishai-Maisels from the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. I found an abstract for it online ages ago when I did some surfing to see what was around on the topic, but couldn't find any way of obtaining a copy, as it was originally published some time ago. So, thinking laterally, I went hunting for Dr Amishai-Maisels instead. I wrote to her and told her what I was doing, and asked if she would be happy to send me a copy of her paper. I got an email back overnight telling me that she didn't have a soft copy and would have to look for her archived copy of the journal and photocopy it, and send it by snail mail, and was that OK? Was that OK...??? I was stunned that someone would be happy to do that much work for me. In due course, a package arrived in the office for me from Israel, and I now have a copy of 'The Jewish Jesus', originally published in the Journal of Jewish Art in 1982. Dr Amishai-Masiels has qualifications in art, art history and theology, and it is the most wonderful piece on Holocaust art, and the use of the crucifix by Jewish artists, that I've come across. Poor DB was watching TV when I came roaring out to the living room needing to share the reading experience with someone. I don't remember what he was watching, I just remember that it was something light and commercial and I hit him with the Holocaust and crucifixions at the end of the day in an avalanche of mad excitement... 

So, for anyone in Sydney, or who might be in Sydney this weekend...if I've whetted your appetites for something a little out of the ordinary way for an activity hosted by an Anglican church, check out the St James' Parish website for details on booking for the St James' Talks. You can, if you're not being organised enough to book ahead, come on the day and pay at the door.

If I don't know you and you come because of this post, please introduce yourself on Saturday - I'd love to meet you!

The link between Dr Who and book junkies

And how do I make this link?

Well, just have a look at this brilliant bookcase:
Now, as every Dr Who fan knows, the tardis occupies a relatively small amount of floor space. In bookcase terms, this is pure gold - how many of us have had to defend purchasing another bookcase and finding a space for it to various family members at various times...?

And then, the inside space of the tardis is much bigger than the can be limitless... Now how would that be for our bookcases??? Unlimited book storage...

If only it were possible!

Saturday, 21 July 2012

Oooooh - journals!!!

Remember when I wrote that post about my mother's books, and I wrote about her huge collection of notebooks? I have them all stashed in a box in the top of the wardrobe, apart from the tiny wee one I carry in my handbag. I'm a bit of a sucker for small blank notebooks myself - and I'm blaming it on heredity.

Well, this afternoon, my Knitting Buddy and I were at the Bondi Markets to collect a prior purchase (that's quite another story!) so we had a lovely wander around the stalls. I was distracted by one that had a big box of leather bound notebooks with a sale sign on it...are we surprised? Of course not! KB was fairly vocal in her efforts to remind me that I'd already done enough spending for one afternoon, and that she's been briefed to remind me frequently when we're out to think before indulging in a shopping free for I reined myself in - comforting myself with the fact that I do actually have a baby leather notebook that I believe may have come from these same people - it lives in the miniature leather satchel I carry as a handbag, which was a gift from Sixteen a while back.

Anyway, have a look at the lovely display - there are big books and little books, photo albums and sketch books - all bound in lovely soft leather that fastens with elastic straps or long leather thonging that you tie. They're beautifully tactile, and - seriously - when you pick one up, it's very hard to put it down again!
The company is called Boheme and you can check out their website here, and they're a regular presence at many of the markets around Sydney, and the girls today said they're always at Bondi. You can buy online, but then you miss the fun of picking them up and having to make a decision about which one! Of course, if you do decide to buy one or three, you could also purchase one of the range of lovely leather bags available to carry them away in...

Here's a close up pic so you can see some more of the detail on a few of the medium sized books - carry around with you in your backpack or large handbag size:

Pride and Prejudice via social media

I just found the funniest thing.... Have been out at a concert, followed by dinner with DB (we need to get out more, this is the first time in ages) and he's now out ferrying Sixteen's girlfriend home, and I'm home alone for a little bit, blog-surfing ... and have a look at this:

Pride and Twitterverse

It is a truth universally acknowledged that a single man in possession of good fortune must be in want of a wife.

A Mr Bingley--worth 50,000 followers a year--has joined Twitter! He's brought a friend, Mr Darcy--worth 100,000 followers a year! Pls RT

@JaneB @LizzyB @MaryBsaphorisms @KittyB @LydiaB I will have one of you girls married into internet fame yet. Just you wait.

LizzyB:@MrsB But mother, I think we can pull ourselves up by our dooce-straps just fine.

Blogcasting: How to find husbands for your daughters: http://tinyurl/momblog Now with free giveaway from our Etsy embroidery shop. Pls RT

@JaneB If I could love a man who would love me enough to take me for a mere 50 followers, I should be well pleased...

@JaneB ...but such a man wouldn’t be sensible & I could never love a man who was out of his twits. LOL

Oh @LizzyB, it is my ardent wish to marry 4 love. Love, respect AND dual laptops would be most agreeable. #iamdullbutpretty

CubicleSurfer:Does anyone know what #Bingley is and why it’s suddenly the no. 1 trending topic?

@CubicleSurfer I think #Bingley’s a he and I’m pretty sure he just died.

@CubicleSurfer @BoredInTheBurbs No, I’m pretty sure #Bingley’s the new Idol. That doesn’t explain why he’s the no. 1 trending topic, tho.

It behooves us all to resist the temptation of #Idol chatter

I can’t believe I lost 5 followers with that last Tweet. What’s WRONG with you people?

LydiaB:@JaneB @LizzyB @MaryBsaphorisms @KittyB There's going to be a dance!!! Squeeee!!! I won't sit down all night.

@LizzyB @MaryBsaphorisms @KittyB @LydiaB Do any of you know what you're wearing to the dance? I was thinking virginal white.

@JaneB @LizzyB @MaryBsaphorisms @KittyB What I wouldn't give for this: & a pair of Jimmy Choos. It’s positively #Bella.

KittyB:@LydiaB No fair! You stole that URL from MY #sisterfail

@KittyB Are you kidding me? How positively 2007. #epicsisterfail

MaryBsAphorisms:@JaneB @LizzyB @KittyB @LydiaB I confess a dance has few charms for me—I should infinitely prefer a modest Christian blog.

[Email from Twitter to LydiaB: VampireShoeShop is now following you on Twitter. You may follow VampireShoeShop by clicking the Follow button on their profile.]
@Darcy I can hardly wait to dance with @JaneB. She is the most capital girl I have ever met. #loveat1stsight

@Bingley Any savage can dance. #proofofmysuperiority

@Darcy JaneB's sister, Lizzy is pretty. You could dance with her. It would be capital fun.

@Bingley She's tolerable, but she is not handsome enough to tempt me. Also: could you stop saying "capital" so much? #abovemypeers

@CharlotteL RT @D*rcy "She is tolerable. But she is not handsome enough to tempt me." #twitteratiRtwats #takeyrtweetsprivatefool

@JaneB @MrsB I may safely promise you never to dance with Mr. D*rcy.
Austen, and particularly Pride and Prejudice, aficionados who wish to read the rest - yes, there's more... - should click HERE. For the record, the only social media with which I engage is Facebook, and I mostly play Scrabble and post links to my blog there, but I am familiar with other forms. I don't think you have to know them intimately to find this absolutely hilarious!

Friday, 20 July 2012

Book junkie perfume

Look at this! Apparently, Karl Lagerfield has released a new perfume, Paper Passion, that has the scent of 'freshly printed books'...
The mind boggles! I guess he wasn't taking a trip to the South of France to the lavender fields of Provence to source essentials for this one!! I must remember to share this with DB - who mentioned a thing about the scent of books in his guest post...

Ultimate book junkie Sci-fi moment....

This is especially for a couple of people who follow this blog - you will know who you will anyone else who reads the comments that people post - especially the mighty tomes on the post, Life changing books!
"Take me to your reader"

Thursday, 19 July 2012

Out of the mouths of babes...

I just found this post - it's brilliant. To all my fellow book bloggers out there, and anyone else who's ever had to 'unpack' a text - we have competition! This is from parenting site, - and a post from a blog on the site where the writer had her six year old daughter sum up a number of classic books purely based on their cover designs.

Read and enjoy HERE

I hate to think how she's going to process the actual books one day when she's old enough to read them...

When is a book not a book?

When it becomes a piece of artwork... Have a look at this:
It was posted on Facebook from a site I have I get updates. It reminded me of a number of occasions at art school when fellow students created artworks out of old books. I could never quite get my head around the concept of destroying a book - even an old, unloved one - to make something out of it - and I must clarify, these people did source their used books from thrift shops, so in theory, they'd eventually have been recycled or just binned anyway, I guess. They let me check over the piles first in case there was a treasure there, and I don't remember ever finding anything madly special. However, watching one of them hacking into the pages of an old hardcover with a stanley knife one day felt like watching something I shouldn't. It was very strange.

And then, there are the artists who make books - the 'artist book' is a genre all of its own. They can be made by artists who traditionally work on paper, or not. I've seen artist books made by ceramic artists - in clay (you can actually make a clay body incorporating paper pulp - it's light and strong, and offers a flexibility for sculptural pieces that can be very useful) - and all sorts of other mediums. The basic criteria is that the work needs to be in, or derived from, book form. While I was looking for examples I found this beautiful work by Gabriella Solti. You can see more of her work by going to her site.
Years ago, I was involved with a women's art group, and there was a member who worked in many different media. I have a wonderful felted scarf she made from the year she made each of us one for our birthdays. She also made paper - something I've never done, but always wanted to... Some of her paper could be written on and used in other artworks. But I do remember her bringing in books she'd made of her really experimental papers. The pages were thickly crusted with all sorts of things embedded in the pulp - feathers, threads, bits of fabric, anything she could get to stay put in the process. There were odd, isolated bit of text on random pages, but the books were all about the paper itself. They were beautiful, tactile objects and we sat pouring over them for a very long time that day.

But, artist though I am, mixed media artist at that, I can tear up all sorts of things to incorporate into artworks, but I can't tear up a book. Where I've used pages of text in odd pieces, I've made copies and used those pages instead of the originals... There's something, for me at least, something almost - and I use this word with some degree of caution - sacred about a book. This does, of course, fly in the face of any number of conventions, not least my own - not worshipping idols...! Maybe it's something to do with the notion of destroying ideas. Think back to when the Nazis burned 'un-German' books, and the quote that was used at the time, "They that start by burning books will end by burning men." Heinrich Heine (1797-1856), from his play Almansor (1821).

As I said in an earlier post when I was playing with ideas around what books actually are, books can be many different things to different people. For the artist, they can be truly many things - from a resource to becoming, literally, material for further creative endeavours. We artists are scavengers - anything is fair game. I still don't think I could destroy a book to make something else out of it...!

Tuesday, 17 July 2012

...continuing 'The Great T-Shirt Hunt'

You know how lots of websites have one of those generic 'Contact Us' forms where you fill in a bunch of required fields and then write your message into the little box required? I've, in the absence of any other means of contact, used them on odd occasions and, once in a blue moon, I've actually received a reply. However, I don't think I've ever had such a nice reply as the one that came from Andrew, a one of the customer support staff at Abe Books, where I enquired about the Penguin t-shirt; which is, apparently a sweatshirt - even I really, really want one!
Thank you for contacting AbeBooks. I asked Beth from our Marketing Team, and here was her response:
“You’re not the first to ask after that particular item. The coveted 'damaged Penguins' sweatshirt belongs to a proud member of our Quality Assurance department, who procured it from a site called campus bookstore. Unfortunately for you, that was many years ago now, and as best we can tell, that particular design is, ironically, out of print. If we happen to find a source for them, we’ll be sure to post it on our Facebook wall.”
Apart from being ironically amused by being told that the sweatshirt was 'out of print', my reaction was...well, probably I shouldn't print it! 

Anyway, I did a bit more research about Campus Bookstore. It's at Queen's University, in the Kingston, Ontario*. So, to my North American followers: do any of you know this place? Maybe they can provide some more information. Can we hunt down a sweatshirt or two...given that we know I want one, and Peter (see comment on previous post) wants one too, and I guess, eventually, we're all going to have to have them...!

To refresh your memories - and whet the appetites and little more...nothing like a little encouragement - here it is again:
*Edited after further helpful communication from Andrew at Abe Books - thanks Andrew!

Monday, 16 July 2012

The great t-shirt hunt...

I am not a great wearer of the t-shirt, on the whole. However, now and again, I see one I MUST have...and, thanks to my librarian friend again, I now have to track down this beauty:
How can I not have this??? If anyone's seen it anywhere easily get-able, please let me know - and if I find it in the meantime, I'll post the information. I can think of the odd person in my circle who might also enjoy it...

Saturday, 14 July 2012


Well, this blog has passed another milestone - at seventy-five posts, the page views for all time passed the 3,000 mark. Thank you so much to all my readers - the regulars, the occasionals, the lurkers, and those who engage via comments. This has been, and continues to be, a marvelously rich and sometimes surprising venture.

The guest posts, which are a new feature, weren't planned. They just kind of happened out of casual conversations with the two people who have contributed thus far. However, I like the variation they offer, having different voices contributing to my world of books is interesting for me - and I hope for my readers. Keep an eye out - there may be further guests appearing at odd moments.

With many thanks, once again, to my librarian friend, source of many great images, the only image that seemed to be appropriate for this post:

Guest post: Book junkie 'L' plates

A second guest post! The writer has requested that his name not be used. However, my regular readers will know him as DB, or Dearly Beloved, amazing mover of books and builder of bookcases. Read on, and enjoy:

Hello Bookworms! As an ageing sports jock I felt compelled to open with such a line. I write this guest blog with a heavy heart. I was invited to be my partner’s first ever guest blogger a few weeks ago. You can imagine my shock and disappointment to find that without prior notice, my guest spot had been given to another, and to compound my ever enlarging sense of loss, I was passed over for one of her bookworm friends. The politics! The injustice! Ohhhhhh… how the heart aches!

I love books, always have. I have particular affection for old books. The covers fascinate me. I love the colours, the textures, and the sense of history that overwhelms you when you hold one in your hands. But most of all, I love the way they smell. Yes, I am that strange man you will find at the back of the second hand book store sniffing the books. Forget it, your disapproving glares will never stop me!

My problem has never been a lack of passion for books, it has been more the fact that I like to look at them, touch them (smell them) but not read them.  How strange it is to find myself waking every morning next to a pure academic and one of the most disciplined book readers I have ever met. Who the hell gets out of bed at 5.30am every day to read a book? Normal people go for a run, ride a bike, drink coffee, or read the paper to start their day.

Over the last three years, my partner has made numerous attempts to have me read a book, with little or no success. Three weeks ago, after much prodding, I finally relented and agreed to read a book that she assured me I would love. She handed me a copy of The Black Stallion, by Walter Farley. I looked at her confused. This was a children’s book. I am very much at home in the boardrooms of multi-national companies, and she hands me a children’s book?  Should I be offended? She ever so lovingly explained that I was on my bookworm ‘L’ plates. This wasn’t ‘L’ plates…this was training wheels!

Sitting in my office, about to open my first email for the day I decided to read the first page. This quickly led to the second, third, fourth and many more. I was hooked. It was like a drug. I couldn’t stop. Oh, I tried to give it up. I tried to answer emails. I tried to return phone calls. I tried to be the responsible businessman the world believes I am. I couldn’t do it, I simply couldn’t. I realised I truly had a serious book problem when I cancelled an afternoon meeting just so I could continue with the book. I had to know what happened next. I just had to! Is there an outreach programme for book junkies?

Later that afternoon, I was finished. I sat quietly at my desk reflecting over the magical journey I had been on. You could tell this book had been written some time ago, in an era where society was far more refined and elegant than it is today. At face value, a book about a boy and his horse appears to be such a simple story. What Walter Farley offers is an invaluable piece of social commentary. My only regret was that it had to end. What now?

There must be a God! Apparently there was a sequel with the completely original and unexpected title of…The Black Stallion Returns. This book is just as captivating and exciting as the first, although, it did take me three days to finish. Unfortunately I had to do some work. Pesky clients. All I can say is, embrace your inner child (for me that’s not too hard), throw away your inhibitions and run naked through a field, climb a tree, build a sand castle or perhaps…simply sit down and read these two gorgeous books with a lovely glass of red wine.

I can’t express in words what a wonderful experience I have had. I would like to thank my beautiful bookworm blogger for the brief interlude into her unique world. I will continue to read, strictly from the children’s section of her bookcases of course. Above all, I will continue trying to come to terms with the fact that I will forever be her second choice guest blogger. This will be a struggle, although a very large home made apple pie with my favourite vanilla bean ice cream may help ease the pain…just a little.

Friday, 13 July 2012

The Players and the Rebels - Antonia Forest

This, the second of the two historical novels from Antonia Forest's Marlow books, is a somewhat darker beast than its companion The Player's Boy. 'The times they are a-changing', as the song once said. Elizabeth I is aging, the political intrigue as would-be successors jostle for position around her creates a tense and volatile climate - both at court and in London itself.

The Chamberlain's Men teeter, with all the other companies, on the brink of a constant threat of closure - plays that once seemed innocuous, are now being read as portrayals of actual events; fictional characters, portraits of those around the Queen; intricate created plots as possible treason. Nicholas' friendship with Humphrey Danvers, page to Harry, Earl of Southampton continues, and they still meet at St Paul's Yard on Sunday mornings if they're both free to do so. Will Shakespeare, unobtrusive, but aware of the friendship, cautions Nick, suggesting it might be less than wise to continue the association, times being what they are, particularly when Nick, stumbling, says more than he should, alerting Will to information Nick has that could be compromising. Nick refuses to divulge the conversation he's previously had with Humphrey about a letter Humphrey saw - which he should not have seen - from the Queen to Lord Essex, and the betrayal to come of Harry Southampton, with which Humphrey is struggling. To distract Will, Nick brings up the idea he and Humphrey had hatched at the time, while Humphrey was casting around wondering what he would do if he were no longer Harry's page.

Humphrey is, a talented musician so Nick, discovering for the first time that the tunes he constantly strums on his lute as they speak are his own compositions, says he could come to the Players and be a musician. He asks Will, who says if he can offer useful tunes, they'll try them. Typically, caught between the chaos of the Southampton household and his own lack of confidence, Humphrey fails to produce - which leads to a conversation between Nick and Will about friendship, loyalties and the possibility, through misguided loyalties, of being caught up in dangerous situations not of one's own making - a cautionary tale...

Shortly afterwards, Will is commanded to attend Lord Hunsdon, the Royal Chamberlain, at Whitehall. He returns just before the the afternoon performance,
his face wearing the composed expression Nicholas had learned to distrust, to say briefly, as he changed, that a different play was required for St Stephen's Night: and it wasn't until the spectators had gone that the Company learned that they were to perform Troylus and Cressida ... for the Court's edification as a lively Homily against the courses pursued by the Earl of Essex.
Will faces down the consternation of the company, many of them sympathetic to Essex's aspirations to the throne (against the alternative of Scottish King James), well aware that while the play was written based on the old story of Troy, and had never been intended as a parallel to current events, it is all too clear that that parallel is being drawn by Hunsdon. It's a perilous undertaking for the Company, as Nick pertly reminds Will - recalling their conversation about misplaced loyalties, which Will ruefully acknowledges - confessing that during his protestations against doing the play, he'd gone so far as to mention having once had Southampton as his patron... The rest of the Company are horrified, despite their own sympathies, seeing only to clearly how clearly Will has exposed himself. However, a royal command is a royal command, and a copy of the play - long not performed - has to be found and rehearsed for the Court. Will is caught between old loyalties and the survival of the company, saying that to refuse didn't just mean losing the Court performance for St Stephen's, it could put each and every one of them at risk. As he says, his obligation to Southampton is his concern only, and not the Company's.
"But mightn't you," said Nicholas, inspired, "tell Lord Southampton you never meant Patroclus to stand for him?"
"Then instruct me how I word my assurance - Right Honourable - In one of my poor plays I have written an effeminate coward whom I fear many take to be yourself? I doubt that would help."
Nicholas coloured. Edmund said kindly, "Silly boy."
They survive the performance, although conscious of the undercurrents at the palace, it is far from their best effort. Later, aafter almost everyone has left, Will is summoned. Asking Nick to instruct the boatman to wait for him, he goes to meet with the Lord Chamberlain. Befuddled by too much revel ale after the play, Nick confuses the message, tells the boatmen to go and settles down to wait himself. And waits. And waits...eventually fearing that the worst has happend...and then Will reappears, much surprised to find Nick - it's two in the morning by now, no boats back to London to be had and they settle to walking. The delay was caused but a new commission, a play for Twelfth Night when the Queen will be entertaining a young foreign guest, and there is to be a huge fete,
Nicholas took this in: he realised suddenly what it implied. "Will - that must be a great compliment! Aren't you -?"
"Naturally," said Will sedately, "I am pleased to be asked."
Nicholas looked at him. After a moment he saw he was more than pleased: he was triumphant as a soaring falcon: whatever it was he'd hoped, and worked, for these past years, he had it now.
Continuing the conversation, Will briefs Nick on the Queen's guest, the Florentine duke - Don Virginio Orsino, musing about what the young Italian might think of Nick, Sam and Robin,
"That we're sublime! Why? What should he think?"
"Only that in Italy women play the women's parts."
"Women?" said Nicholas, scandalised. "Are they any good?"
"They're said to be as good as you boys."
"Truly?" Nicholas found this to be most unlikely: not to say improper: fancy embracing a woman on stage at the Globe! He could imagine the groundling's reaction to that - "Would you have women players?"
"There'd be the one great advantage that their voices don't crack. But that aside, they'd surely make more stir than they'd be worth -"
I love this conversation - it conjures up all those great female Shakepearean women actors of our time - Judi Dench for one - and what we may not have if our theatres today were restricted as they were then, by religious and social codes long gone. Interestingly, in European opera cross-dressing often happened in reverse: boys and young men were played by women, mezzo sopranos often, for the lower pitched, but youthful sounding voice. Think of Mozart's Cherubino, Handel's Sextus and Annius, and then later, Richard Strauss's Octavius.

Will's comments in this conversation are, unknown to him, prophetic. Nicholas' voice has begun to break. Cast as Twelfth Night's Viola, 'the best of all Will's girls', he is in agony lest the Company discover and put him out of the play. With massive effort he is managing to hide it, well aware that at any time, his voice could betray him and destroy the performance. To add to his stress, Humphrey has finally agreed to write some airs for the new play and Nick is in an agony of worry lest Humphrey fail, again, to come through. He doesn't. He arrives with his song; Armin, the musician, likes it, asks for another and Humphrey has stepped up, and made himself, potentially, of value to the Company.

It is during their preparations at court, on the verge of the performance, when responding to a comment from one of the other boys, his voice cracks and everyone hears. With great restraint, everyone holds themselves together,
...everyone was talking to him in a most unnaturally natural way so that he shouldn't be upset further by feeling that he was in disgrace: he understood that perfectly and he wished one of them would shout at him and get it over. He understood too that he must not say so...
 At the end, while while he and Richard Burbage gaze into each other's eyes as the love-struck Viola and Orsino,
...Burbage said, "You unspeakable little wretch! You hardly deserved to get through as you did!"
I know it," said Nicholas radiantly. "Your pardon, Dickon!"
"Pardon! What your doom would have been if you'd ruined it, I hardly care to think!"
"Nor do I and that's a fact!"
"And I mayn't even have the satisfaction of saying Don't you ever do that again... You were excellent Nick. If it hadn't been so plainly John's [Hemming, playing Malvolio] night, it would certainly have been yours."
The night is a success, and in a darkened lane on his way out with Will, Nicholas comes face to face with his greatest idol,
...a west country voice said, in amused recognition, "Why - it's the page - the lady disguised."
He stared into the dark eyes, quite speechless. And then, behind him, Will's voice said ruefully, "A lady whom time has surprised. From now on, he must play the man."
They stared at one another a moment longer: and perhaps Ralegh saw something in the boy's face to which, in London, he was unaccustomed: for he said, without mockery, "I'm sure he'll do so", smiled down at him, and went on towards the palace.
"It's time," said Will, amused, breaking in after a while on Nicholas' wordless rapture as they walked down to Whitehall Stairs, "you tried your hand at answering back on your own account. Suppose - which isn't likely, I'll admit - the Queen were to throw you a word. She'd want a quick answer: worshipful but mute wouldn't do for her."
Now, Nick's time in the Company is limited.  It is customary for the boys to take themselves off and do something else until their voices settle and then, if they've a mind to, return and become adult players. Not wanting to return to Trennels, despite his promise to Will, Nick casts around in his mind for alternatives. He has until the Company shuts down for Lent, prior to leaving for its summer of touring to decide and in the meantime, things are becoming very tense politically.

Unwittingly, in seeking to save Humphrey, Nick becomes caught up in Essex's plot to overthrow the throne. He is trapped, with Humphrey, in Essex's house, where they've gone to retrieve Humphrey's lute, when it surrounded by the Queen's forces after the plot is discovered. Only the generosity of a young soldier who finds them hiding behind a stack of books allows them to escape into the grounds. Scaling the wall, they find themselves face to face with Robin Poley, the government spy with whom Nick arrived in London all those years ago. Nick has only a moment to act; he pulls his sword and faster than he could ever have believed it in real life - his only duels having been previously on stage - Poley lies dead in the lane. The boys flee. Nick takes Humphrey to Will and their story is told. Will adapts it for the Company, to protect everyone, and Humphrey is handed to Armin to become the musician's boy.

A quick look at a history of England will tell you what came next; Essex and his followers are tried and sentenced as traitors. There is a while between the sentence being pronounced and carried out - the long relationship between Elizabeth I and Essex is well known, and her agony of indecision must have been appalling. It plays out in the novel during the premiere of Hamlet at court, which, while it had been long commissioned and finished well before the uprising, turns out to be frighteningly apt, the players stumbling on well rehearsed lines as their 'double' meaning hits them as, randomly, they pop up. Depending on their experience, the players all handle it differently, some visibly shaken, others doggedly pushing through. August comments that,
...if the entire play had held the mirror up to poor Lord Essex, they could have borne it better: it was the way the rebel lines came by fits and starts that made it so unnerving. But the Court stayed silent behind a baffling wall; the Queen gave no sign of offence: the lines' ambiguities, seemingly, were audible only to themselves.
Then, right at the end, the actor playing Fortinbras stumbles,
..."Let four captains
Bear Hamlet like a soldier to the stage,
For he was likely, and had he been put on
to have proved most royally- "
and at last, without warning, the interruption came. The Queen's hands thumped down on the arms of her throne and she cried out, half-pain, half-anger: had she indeed been inattentive before, she was not so now.
"Speak on," breathed Will to the all-too-visibly shaken Fortinbras, "-and for his passage-". But Fortinbras was voiceless: he admitted later that even had his lines not been wiped clean from his mind, he'd have been too terrified to speak them. The silence lasted. "You" whispered Will to Nicholas.
To Nicholas' credit he did not turn his head to see if he'd heard aright. He spoke out boldly, hoping for the best-
" -and for all his passage,
The soldiers' music and the rites of war
Speak loudly for him.
Take up the bodies; such a sight as this
Becomes the field, but here shows much amiss.
Go" he commanded, and his voice just held, "bid the soldiers to shoot."
It is Edmund, off gallivanting with the ladies, who returns, very shaken, to tell the rest of the company, who have been holding a vigorous post-mortem about the play, that the Queen came to the performance straight from signing Lord Essex's death warrant.

Whether or not Elizabeth I did watch the first performance of Hamlet immediately after signing Essex's death warrant...well, I don't actually know. Within the context of actually history, it may not be accurate, but within the context of the novel, it is brilliant storytelling. This is such a long post already, the temptation to include the many pages of narrative interspersed with quotes from the play had to be resisted, but the tension Forest builds is incredible. I've read this book many, many times, and when I get to this bit I am, always, on the edge of my seat by the time I get to the quote above.

I've selected more quotes this time - it's very hard to know what to choose, because it's all so good! The dialogue, while correct for the period in style, snaps; the characters become familiar and real; Forest's ability to mix historical fact seamlessly with fiction is even more obvious for the lack of any sense of jarring; and at bottom, this is a rollicking good story! The books stand for themselves, almost anything I could say about them would be superfluous, because I've already raved about them, and will only continue to do so!! As I will continue to encourage you to try and track them down for yourselves! As is the case with all these books, these two and the modern series, getting to the end is tragic because there are no more... Nick, who has to go away for a time, ends up meeting up with his old Grammar friend, Sam, who has joined the navy. It's one of those entirely believable weird coincidences, that happen all too often in life. Sam's ship is to sail on the tide, and looking at his options, Nick makes the sudden decision to sail with him - after all, he has to do something with himself for a year or so. He writes to Will to say where he's going, gives the letter to the boatmen he knows who are drinking in the same pub to deliver, goes aboard with Sam, and that's the last we hear of him.

Except...some centuries later, in the ancient farm log from Trennels, his name is discovered...which is how we know he survived the navy, married - Bess Burbage, maybe - and produced a family...

Thursday, 12 July 2012

Guest post: Ulysses - James Joyce

I had one of those serendipitous conversations with a colleague of mine earlier this week. My desk is just next to the main door into our office, so it's easy for people to walk in and prop themselves there for a quick chat - which is nice! Anyway, she's a hat nut like me, a reader and - as you'll see here - no mean writer either. When she up and announced that she'd loved James Joyce's classic, Ulysses, I had to ask why. I've failed to get through this book many times, but have kept it, thinking that one day I'll grow into it. In telling me, she uttered a few rather choice descriptive phrases which prompted me to offer her a guest spot on my blog if she had time to commit them to paper. Which she did and it arrived in my work inbox this morning. 

So, without further ado, please meet Jessica Lim, sometime organ scholar at St James' King Street, Sydney, English and Music student at the University of Sydney and owner of a great many wonderful hats!
In popular culture, James Joyce’s Ulysses has, in my opinion, been somewhat unfairly branded the most unreadable book in English literature. My experience with Joyce’s epic novel is that it is eminently readable, and quite enjoyable - provided one doesn’t care that much for narrative clarity; for reading Ulysses is very akin to taking a plunge in the ocean. Like an ocean, it is dizzying and beautiful and oh-so-fluid, with waves that come crashing and swirling around you in an engulfing, evocative experience. Like an ocean, it is difficult to pinpoint currents, waves, specific places. Just as I might walk out from a day at the beach and say, "It was lovely, and I swam in the ocean," so I walked out of Ulysses thinking, "Well, that was beautiful; hey, I just finished Ulysses!"

That there are two main narrators for the course of the novel is relatively clear. The middle-aged and unhappily married Harold Bloom, and the nervous and artistic Stephen are identifiable by their individual speech patterns. (It is chiefly from Stephen's mildly pretentious voice that the reader is provided with mysteriously infused phrases such as "the ineluctable modality of the visible") The plot itself is more difficult to work out, and my recollection of it has boiled down to a rather simplistic outline that resembles something of a farcical comedy. There is the sexually frustrated, morose Bloom who is cheating on his wife, unaware that she is simultaneously cheating on him, and during the course of his day he encounters Stephen. The men part ways, Bloom returns to his wife (after his infamous masturbation-on-the-beach scene), recounts the day’s events, and she spends the final chapter reflecting on her husband’s tale and interpreting the day for herself.

How Joyce manages to stretch such a simple plot with such a short time frame over several hundred pages is highly impressive. If Flaubert wanted to 'write a book about nothing', Joyce has left him in the dust. The final chapter, narrated by Molly, is perhaps the most famous chapter in the book. Running at over seventy pages (the exact number depends upon your edition), it has virtually no punctuation and no clear line of logical thought. A philosophy tutor of mine once used the final phrases of this sentence to try to argue the inaccessibility of art and the impossibility of achieving the perfect paraphrase, and though his tone was scornful, his point is there. It is impossible to paraphrase or neatly summarise Molly's scattered thoughts, impossible to even follow the 'logic' of her wandering mind. For seventy pages (or thereabouts) we follow the disparate flow of her thoughts. Perhaps the most succinct way for me to explain this chapter is the word Molly uses to open and end her internal monologue; the almost ineffable, affirmative "yes."

Narrative clarity isn’t the main issue at stake in Ulysses. Instead, it is the linguistic experience, so rich it almost feels sensory, which Ulysses so uniquely offers; the linguistic experience, and an almost boundless freedom for interpretation. And for that, I must confess that I do count Joyce’s tome a modern masterpiece. For those who have the patience and inclination, read it. You will be richly rewarded.

Joanne Harris on the Chocolat books

Internet surfing is a weird activity - it can take forever sometimes to find the thing you're actually looking for, and then in the process, you find an absolute gem when you aren't looking specifically...which happened to me today. I stumbled across this marvelous article in the British Telegraph - Joanne Harris writing about writing Chocolat, Lollipop Shoes and Peaches for Monsieur le Cure - you can read it here. Too good!


Wednesday, 11 July 2012

Quotable quotes...

It's being one of those weeks - bits of reading, bits of knitting, occasional sleeping, and LOTS of work to do that's proving to be a bit more of a challenge than it really should be. Just back online at home after an unexpected Internet outage - and at work, the last two days have had more tech glitches than anyone should have to manage!

However, in consistent form, my librarian friend posted this pic on Facebook which made me laugh - the writer's variation on the instructions I remember about always wearing my best knickers when I went out in case I was in an accident...
Favourite quotes anyone? Throw them in a comment for us all to enjoy...lets see what kind of a collection we can amass.

Sunday, 8 July 2012

Life changing books

I just came across a short piece in the Sydney Morning Herald about chef, writer and general food guru, Stephanie Alexander, listing the books she says changed her life - which you can read here. We have a couple of books in comon - Ethel Turner's Seven Little Australians, and you can read my post about that book here - and Alexander's own book, The Cook's Companion, which is one of the most marvelous food encyclopedias to hit the bookshelves in modern times.

It got me thinking about books that have changed my life. It's not so easy, actually, to narrow it down to a manageable list. However, I'd have to start with Anne Frank's Diary of  Young Girl. I was eight when I read that for the first time - a bit young, really, but I was always a precocious reader.

Another is Rumer Godden's In This House of Brede. It is about a woman who, at 42, enters a Benedictine convent to become a nun. It's set in the 50s, and she is - unusually for the time - in a high up position in the British Government and due for promotion, so her decision is seen by many to be a shocking waste of talent and opportunity. Her struggles to adapt and live in a community of women, particularly the young girls who are her fellow postulants and novices, are narrated with particular sensitivity - this being one of Godden's great gifts as a writer. Godden spent many months as the guest of a Benedictine Abbey in the UK, absorbing what she could of the atmosphere and there is a wonderful authenticity about her descriptions of daily life for an enclosed order of comtemplative nuns. I think that the portrayals of human frailties in this book is what strikes me anew every time I re-read it - on average, at least once a year.

The Diary of Frida Kahlo: An Intimate Self-Portait. When I knew that Kahlo's diary was to be published - in facsimile form - I had the most awful internal struggle. I wanted it - I so wanted it. But I hesitated because part of me felt that to own someone's diary - particularly this one - would be a fearful intrusion on them. I had discovered her paintings not long before I went to art school, read a borrowed biography of her by Haydn Herrera (I now have a copy of my own), and I knew she'd kept a diary. At the same time, I was aware that it was, even more than her paintings, mostly drawings, of an intensely personal nature. In the end, I put an order in for it at a bookshop that had advertised it would be carrying it when it was realised in Australia. When the phone call came, I abandoned whatever it was I was doing that day, headed for the city, paid what felt like an enormous sum of money, and it was mine... 'Intimate' is a gross understatement. Kahlo's very soul is on show in this beautifully crafted facsimile edition. I love that inks and paints and holes from one side of the pages can be seen on the reverse side - as they are in the actual book. It gave me permission, in a way, to really embrace my own journal more fully, and there is a marked change in that from the time I acquired Kahlo's.

Poppy by Drusilla Modjeska. My mother gave me this book, and in my journal there are pages and pages of writing that I did while I read it, wrestling with issues it raised for me. It is Modjeska's fictionalised biography of her mother. Modjeska seamlessly blends fact and fiction to create a story that is simultaneously her mother's story and not her mother's story. She writes of her decision to work this way as a means of protecting her family, to soften the effect. However, she also writes that many members of her family were very angry with her when the bok came out and they read it. I found myself, as I read it, constantly questioning my mother's motives for giving me this particular book as much of the underpinning of the narrative is the mother-daughter relationship... Again, this one I re-read at least once a year.

Chaim Potok's My Name is Asher Lev, and its sequel, The Gift of Asher Lev. I love all of Chaim Potok's books, but these two are the ones I'd take to a desert island. They tell the story of a boy who grows to manhood within a strictly observant Chassidic sect in Brooklyn. He is an only child - unusual in that world - whose father is the Rebbe's right-hand man, and whose mother is a fragile creature, haunted by her family's losses during the Holocaust. And this boy has a gift, a gift that is both misunderstood and vilified by a people for whom the making of 'graven images' is a violation of the commandments. Asher can draw, and not just childish scribbles either. Eventually, when it is evident that it can't be stifled without damaging the boy, the Rebbe intervenes and send him to be taught by a great master - a now very secular Jewish painter and sculptor. This exposes him for the first time to the Western art canon. When he paints his parents crucified, he is sent from the community... It's my personal belief that Chagall was Potok's model for Asher, although there is no docummentation I've ever found to substantiate that. Asher's many struggles to understand the world around him, the complexities of people's emotions, and the many losses he also experience find a voice in his work. It is a wonderful portrait of a painter.

And, since Stephanie Alexander named her own book, I'm going to do something similar. It's not a book - yet. My thesis, Schulim Krimper: Master and Enigma. (the formatting is a bit of a mess - there were all sorts of tech issues that were not addressed before the link went live...)  I think, with the way I write, the most likely book to come out of this will be something along the lines of Poppy - a blending of fact and fiction. It's on the list of things to do - which is WAY bigger than the TBR pile!! I did my MA in art history at the urging of a good friend. In the end, one of the things that motivated me - beyond being hassled by her - was to see what would happen if I had to research and write something really big. I'd done very well at art school with history, with a distinction average for my papers. I'd broken all sorts of rules as I struggled to keep my own voice within the constraints of academic writing. That was an even bigger issue when I got to post-graduate level. In the end, I lived with Krimper - a refugee cabinet maker who escaped Hitler's Germany just in time, and ended up in Melbourne where he had a bespoke furniture making business from 1942 until his death in 1971 - haunting me, urging me on. I kept a printed copy of the photograph below pinned to the wall above my computer monitor. Krimper always wanted a book written about him. There are odd chapters about him in other books, and numerous magazine and newspaper articles from his lifetime, but the only book is a photographic monograph, with photographs by Melbourne photographer Mark Strizic, of which this portrait shot is one:
There are other books, of course, others that I could probably give equal weight as 'life-changing', but this morning, after reading the Herald article, these were the first to come to mind. Do you have a list of books that have changed your life?

...with apologies to The Bard...

It seems, whether I'm writing about Shakespeare's actual work or not - and so far I haven't - I'm channeling something... I think he might have liked this:

Saturday, 7 July 2012

The 'stuff' of book addiction

Another totally priceless image from my librarian friend - whoever dreamed this one up has got it SO right! Years ago I played in a community concert band, and there was an informal social group who called themselves the 'Beer and Chip Group' - for the most common beverages and nibbles to be consumed post rehearsals. I also live with someone who, because he's pretty good about not having junk food in the house, doesn't often have to battle with rationing chips - but...the whole concept of stopping before you get to the end of the packet is pretty foreign anyway.
It's a bit like starting a series of books. Or going on a reading jag of a single author. I remember when I first discovered Jodi Picoult. Our local bookshop had nearly all of her books in stock and I kept finishing one, then trundling around the corner and buying another one. Just as well they weren't expensive... A good writer can be addictive. If you think back to my posts on Chocolate and its two sequels, you may remember me mentioning my friend who has most of Joanne Harris' books - on the basis of having read Chocolat and finding it such a wonderful piece of work, she's gone out and bought as many Harrises as she can find, without checking the blurbs. Consequently, we had a hilarious conversation about Lollipop Shoes being part of the Chocolat series, which she wasn't aware of, although she had it already - while I was going spare trying to locate the second book, which I thought was called something different - see here. I wasn't actually wrong, it turned out, but read the following post as well for the rest of the story.  I've done similar things with other authors myself, and at this point, I keep finding myself eyeing the H's in my bookshelves, and thinking that I only have four of Harris' books, so I must go get the rest. This friend also has a thing for Emily Bronte and has the largest collection of different editions of Wuthering Heights than anyone I know!

It was the same with Antonia Forest's Marlow series - see my previous post for a review of one of those... My first encounter with them was courtesy of a friend's bookcase years ago when Twenty Seven was a toddler. We were living in Canberra, had very little money so I wasn't buying books, and this friend had a great library of all sorts of things, including this series. I read them all and loved them. Imagine my joy when, at a library sale, I found four of them for 50c each - hardcovers with dust jackets. The friend was flabbergasted - she had the entire series in reissued paperbacks, bar the last of them which she'd bought new in hardcover, and neither of us had picked up on the two historical books at that stage. It was at that point, also, that I discovered what treasures I'd picked up. While the modern series covers just two an a half years in real time in the lives of the characters, they were written and published between 1948 and 1982. By the time I stumbled across these ex-library first editions (!) they were mostly out of print. They were originally published by Faber. Some of them were subsequently re-issued by Faber's paperback arm, Faber Fanfares, during the 1970s. These are lovely editions, actually - very solidly made with great cover designs. In the 1980s, Puffin bought the rights from Faber to re-issue just the books set in the school. Not being a Chalet School fan, I may be wrong on this one - but wasn't that the peak of those? And didn't Puffin publish those? If so, Forest's very modern-toned school stories were judged by Penguin - the parent publishing house - to be potentially very profitable. Perhaps on the back of that Forest re-emerged, and wrote Run Away Home, the last of the moderns, which was, again, published by Faber. Somewhere late 90s, Faber up and published a new edition of the first book, Autumn Term, but never went on with the rest of the series. More recently, as I mentioned in my previous post, Girls Gone By Publishers have issued reprints of a number of the titles, focusing on those more difficult to come by, but even those are now mostly out of print as well.

My collection - which you can see in full in the photograph in the post on The Player's Boy - is a mix of editions. Over the years, I've managed to acquire hard covers of most of the books. I have one Fanfare paperback, two of the Puffins and the new Faber paperback. It's taken a long time to accumulate the whole series, and much more than a few piggybanks in dollar terms. I'd still like to get my hands on Autumn Term, Peter's Room and Cricket Term in hardcover, and at some point, I'll hunt them down. I have two copies of Autumn Term - the new Faber and a Puffin. My copy of Peter's Room is the Fanfare paperback. The latter two, in good condition - which they are - still command quite high prices, so they can contribute to the costs of the hardcovers. For that purpose, I'll sell them - but for no other! I had a brief period in the early 2000s of finding Fanfare editions in junk shops for $1 or less and through a friend, selling them for massive profits. I note that on Amazon that they still command high prices.

Herein lies the stuff of addiction.

Who cares to share their stories of their particular book addictions? We're all friends...I won't tell too many people...!

Friday, 6 July 2012

The Player's Boy - Antonia Forest

Having introduced Antonia Forest's The Player's Boy and its sequel, The Players and the Rebels, a few posts ago, I found myself at a bit of a loss as to where to start when writing about them. As my regular readers know, I'm not a disciplined reviewer - I don't tend to do a straightforward synopsis, followed by my thoughts. My writing about books is rather more tangled than that!

I did a bit of trawling online to check out the availability of these books currently, as, at the time I acquired them, they were few and far between, and very pricey when they did appear. Both of mine are the original hard copy editions, with dust jackets, ex-library, and in excellent condition. One I managed to source from a seller here in Australia, the other was bought via an international auction from a UK seller. I am not going to disclose what I paid for them because I've never told anyone. Suffice to say, they never leave my home. I'm more than happy for people to read them, but they'll have to either take up residence for the duration or read them in installments during visits!
The Player's Boy begins at the end of May, 1593, when Nicholas Marlow, aged eleven, sees London Bridge for the first time, from the back of a horse in the company of a man he neither knows or trusts,
...still shocked by the terrors of the past night, rightly fearful of the man mounted behind him - even so he was enchanted to see it was true that in London, unlike his own distant Westbridge, houses spanned the river: and his much-tried courage rallied: even if, as might well be, this day should prove his last, he'd at least set eyes on one of the wonders of the world.
The narrative then moves back three weeks to a Friday afternoon as Nicholas and his good friend, Sam, barrel out of the confines of the Grammar, running for the market place and the local carrier with whom they will get a ride home for the weekend. Nicholas lives with his brother Geoffrey, a yeoman farmer and his wife Kate at the family farmhouse, Trennels. Their father, a recusant Catholic in Protestant England, is dead, as is their older brother, Lawrence. Their mother died at Nicholas' birth. Initially, their weekend begins as usual until, on Sunday afternoon, chasing Sam's hawk into the gardens of the neighbouring Merrick grounds, they overhear Anthony Merrick (of an openly practicing Catholic family) discussing what could be seen as possible treachery. Shaken, they emerge when it safe to do so and make their way to their respective homes.

Nicholas discovers they have an unexpected guest, one Christopher Marlowe, poet and self-confessed government spy. He is stranded at Trennels when his horse casts a shoe, and despite Kate's lack of enthusiasm to entertain a guest when she is very pregnant and not wishing to be seen, Geoffrey offers hospitality. In the course of the evening, the discussion becomes contentious, tempers are lost and following brief fisticuffs between Geoffrey and Marlowe, Geoffrey bets Trennels against Nicholas' ability to recite a whole page of text after a single sighting. Possessing a photographic memory, Nicholas succeeds and humour is restored. However, it sets the tone for the events to come.

Nicholas oversleeps the next morning, missing the carrier's cart back to the Grammar, but Marlowe offers to take him. Apprehensive about the consequences he will face arriving back so late for classes. Marlowe offers him, almost as a dare, an out, suggesting they meet at midnight and he, Marlowe, will take Nicholas with him so he can, effectively, take some time out... Nicholas thinks little of it at the time, horrified at the thought of doing a runner. However, things go from bad to worse at the Grammar. First, he's in trouble for being late. Then, because he's not thinking, he exposes what's been going on for years; that he's been doing Sam's work for him - Sam being no scholar. Sam is expelled, and Nicholas is soundly whipped. But it gets worse - in the yard during lunch, he is caught by the head master asking a question of a junior master that is judged to be heretical. The junior master is sacked, Nicholas is sent home - to the head master's home where he boards, where he later hears of the potential consequences that now await him. Mulling things over, he decides to take up Marlowe's offer.

Marlowe, it turns out, is to appear before the Privy Council, on charges of heresy - which are dismissed, but during the celebrations afterwards with his associates, he is killed in a brawl. Nicholas, who has been introduced as his cousin, is left to the mercies of Robin Poley, government spy, who agrees to take him to London to Marlowe's patron, Harry, the Earl of Southampton - an associate of the Earl of Essex. He charges Nicholas, on pain of death and sworn on a crucifix, to spy on the Earl and bring any information he can to him. When, later, the Southampton is looking for a way to employ Nicholas in his household, Nick's singing voice becomes known and he's offered the post of singing boy - at which point, he tells of Poley's charge, and begs not to be part of the household. He's handed over to the Earl's hawk keeper for the time being, and then eventually, Harry Southampton hands him over to his other poet, William Shakespeare, to become his 'lad' - an apprentice player. Thus begins Nick's new life as a player.

In order not to arouse unnecessary suspicion, Shakespeare decides - still believing Nick to be Kit Marlowe's cousin - that he should be introduced to the company as Nicholas Arden, his own cousin. This is also in order not to violate the apprentice laws of the time which required apprentices to be related to their masters. Nick learns on the job while the company are touring the countryside - the theatres in London being closed due to plague - starting with non-speaking roles.

Returning to London when plague is declared gone, Shakespeare is accosted by Richard Burbadge of The Chamberlain's Men, a company formed by his father. Burbadge invites them both to join the company - Will, primarily as a playwright, although he will, as all the company members do, take roles as needs must. Nick finds he has much to learn - the standards of the company being much higher than that required on the road. He is given the most basic roles - bringing props on and off the stage while in costume, but learning to efface himself while doing so; non-speaking roles when he has to appear to be 'listening intelligently'; then to his first speaking role as Clarence's son in Richard the Third. Then one day, when one boy comes in rather the worst for wear after a big night, and clearly can't go on, in the sequence of roles being passed down through the understudies, it comes to Nick to play Edward, Prince of Wales. It turns out that he does well enough for better parts sooner than expected when the same boy who messed up is dropped from bigger parts altogether.

Meanwhile, Nick's friendship with Humphrey Danvers, Harry Southampton's page, continues and the boys, without telling either of their masters, meet on Sunday mornings when they can. Humphrey is a bumbling, untidy boy, a gifted musician, but not at all suited to being a page. As Will is now part of the Chamberlain's men, he has no need of a patron, and is well suited to not being caught up in a faction that includes the Earl of Essex, whose designs on the throne are well known.

Nick's big break comes with a court performance of Romeo and Juliet. Robin, the company's star boy, who was cast as Juliet, comes to a performance sporting a glorious black eye after a brawl. Nick is his understudy, and to his petrified horror, finds that he will be going on - at court, for the Queen. For the first time, he truly understands stage fright and can't eat his dinner,
Usually he enjoyed dining at the Burbadges, partly because Mistress Burbadge was a good cook, partly because he like the cheerful tumult and babble of little Burbadges on either side of the table. But today when his plate was handed to him, he sat and looked at it, not even pretending to eat; and Burbadge said, "Hanging's worse."
"I'd liefer hang."
"Then you'd better find another craft," said Will.
"I probably shall."
At the court, struggling to finish getting his costume done and himself ready, he's left by the others, adjuring him to make haste and not arrive upstairs after the Queen...
... He knotted the lace and stood up. Most of the candles had been blown out, but there were enough to see by as he hurried down the room; and then, as he neared the door, a girl came towards him from a room beyond - a slight, graceful creature in a silvery gown, fair hair under a jewelled caul, grave steady eyes, an air both proud and shy - a haunting face; O, she doth teach the torches to burn bright.  He stood aside to let her pass, as she did the same for him: forgetting his dress, he bowed politely, and gestured her to come on; as did she. It took him an instant longer to realize he was looking into the Venetian looking-glass at the end of the room.
So that was how they'd see him.
A phoenix-fire sprang in his heart, making a bonfire of his fears. He gave himself a last admiring look, swept himself his best curtsey, and went up the stairs to discover the Great Chamber ... and the rest of the company just where he'd been told he would.
This last quote is one of my very favourites from the book. Nick goes on to give an entirely creditable performance and life goes on. Eventually, there comes a time when, due to a sequence of events, it becomes clear that he must tell Will the whole story of who he is. Will is, understandably horrified, saying that he'd never have taken him had he known - he'd have delivered him back to Trennels, as would have Harry Southampton, had he been told the full story. In the first indication Nick gets of how things must play out for him as a player's boy, Will makes him promise to go home when his voice breaks - as he will not be able to continue as a player until his voice 'mends.' Unwillingly, he makes the promise, being entirely unwilling to contemplate either the reception he might get or the idea that he will have to leave the company, even if it is only for a while.

Nicholas is, of course, an entirely fictional character while many of the others are not. Forest is able to give full license to the development of his character, where with the historical figures, she must have had to exercise some degree of caution. However, the book itself doesn't read as if she struggled with this aspect of bringing actual people back to life many centuries later. All the characters, whether real or invented, interact with each other seamlessly, and the ins and outs of the daily lives of a theatre company during this tumultuous period of history are beautifully realised.

I strongly recommend that, if you have a love of good historical fiction - and I wouldn't hesitate on the basis of this particular book having been written for children - try and lay your hands of a copy of this novel. At the time of writing, there are some copies available on Amazon. As the originals were only published once, any hardcover you can buy will be a first edition. The paperback versions are reprints by specialist publishing company Girls Gone By, who, with permission from author's estates and original publishers, are putting out new paperback editions of a whole range of out of print children's books. Don't be fooled by the cover illustrations - they have sought and been given permission to use the originals in their editions. They are good quality books - I have some from another series. It's really more about what you like to have in your bookcases. Your biggest problem, if you can get a copy, will be that by the time you read it, you will want the second one - but that will be for another post!

Thursday, 5 July 2012

A modern fairytale about books...

A friend of mine is writing the most exquisitely funny contemporary fairy tales which are, due to the pressure of her friends, now available for your enjoyment on her blog, Introvert Fairy Tales. I bring it to your attention at this point, because she has now written the ultimate book junkie fairy tale... Go look!!

Finding time to read...

This is my current TBR pile:
It's growing rather faster than I can keep up with, and consequently, I'm not really keeping up with writing about the books either! However, bear with me - I just finished the two historical novels from the Marlow series that I mentioned in my Shakespeare post a little while back and I'm working on writing about them.

I thought the pile was worthy of a pic though, because, as will be very obvious from the titles, it is an excellent indication of my very eclectic reading style. The only thing that's missing to round it out is some children's literature - but that's because I just finished those two books!!

I have to make a start on the big book at the bottom - the plastic sleeves on top of it contain photocopies and print outs of articles about Chagall and his crucifixion paintings. This is research for a paper I'm delivering at the end of this month. I put the Dickens on the pile this morning because they glare at me from the bookcase. I promised myself that this year I would read them. They may be on the pile a while...! Anna Karenina is there because a British girl who writes the most wonderful blog, Book Snob, is reading it for the summer and invited me, along with anyone else who cared to, to join in and read it together. Since I haven't read it since I was about 16, I thought..why not? And then had to (had to...) go buy me a copy, because I haven't the faintest idea where mine has gone. In a different conversation with her, I complimented her on her reviews of Jane Austen's books - go have a look at her site, where you'll find her reviews listed in alphabetical order by author - and mentioned I'd not read mine for a while. Went to the bookcase to pick up Pride and Prejudice and, again, missing book... Too many house moves, I say. So, I had to get me a new copy of that as well. Sundry other titles in the pile kind of fell off the shelves and I had to catch them, rather than see them crash to the floor...and so the pile grew!

Trouble is, time being what it is, dealing with the TBR pile competes with the need to deal with the UFOs - those of you have other addictions than books may recognise this abbreviation, and no, it's not the expected one... It refers to 'unfinished objects' and the close relative of the TBR pile - 'the stash.' I have two large plastic crates that have been retrieved from storage, where they should never have been and they're actually two stashes. One of wool and the other of fabric. So, now there is knitting and sewing to fit in and around the reading - oh, and the little matter of working!

You all feel my pain, yes?!

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

Bookkeeper...AKA book junkie!

It's been hectic - I have two books read awaiting some writing, but so far haven't had a chance to manage a long enough non-work computer session. However, in the meantime, for your amusement, this lovely little cartoon from a friend's Facebook page - where would we be without Facebook...scary thought...!
Is this you?