Thursday, 28 February 2013

Apple Bough - Noel Streatfield

A little spot of comfort reading to get me through this difficult week. This was my bedtime book, the days being given over to monumental amounts of work that left my brain in no condition for any kind of reading that required effort. It comes from one of a couple of tried and tested go to comfort zones on my bookcases, all of which are on the two bookcases holding my children's literature collection!

Noel Streatfield also wrote for adults, but I've never managed to come across any of those, and certainly her fame was as a children's author. She was a precocious, talented and opinionated child in a family of vicarage children and all her children's books relate to families of children facing various challenges, artistic, financial and/or relational. She has particular insights into children's behaviour and one of the things I've always enjoyed about her child characters is that they're not perfect.
There are four children in Apple Bough. Myra, Sebastian, Wolfgang and Ethel, or Ettie, as she is known - all named for famous people admired by their parents. Their parents, David and Polly, are a pianist and artist respectively, both of them passionate about music, art, their children, their children's talents, and their family unit. They are also incredibly vague and unworldly. Until Miss Popple, who becomes known as Popps, joins the family as their governess, the household is chaotic and disorganised, the children's clothes are outgrown and threadbare, and they are the talk of the village. From the beginning, Popps sees two things: one, that the family need her to be more than just a governess, they need a housekeeper and with the children's help, she takes over the household management in addition to their lessons, and two, there needs to be one sensible person to manage things when she's not there, and that has to be Myra, who is the eldest, the one with no particular artistic talent, and the most inherently domestically minded. Sebastian is learning violin and has the early marks of being a prodigy. Wolfy is also musical, with secret dreams of writing award winning pop songs, but is officially learning piano, and has a prodigious memory for reciting and a general air of self importance. Ettie is the dancer of the family, and at an early age is already showing great promise.

Then comes an opportunity for Sebastian to play in a small concert with his father accompanying. He is heard by critics and impresarios, and suddenly a career is being mapped out for him that means the family must leave England, as children under twelve can't be granted a license to perform professionally. Their house, beloved Apple Bough, is sold, and the furniture put into storage. Popps is prevailed upon to leave the cottage she shares with her bother, the village vet, and accompany them as they commence global tours, and being 'citizens of the world', as Polly declares - which is, to her way of thinking, the best way to live, rather than split up the family.

Four years later, Sebastian's fame has grown and the other three children have become decidedly jaded. Once city is the same as any other. One hotel is the same as the next. Even the places they spend Sebastian's 'rest periods' have ceased to be interesting. They are all very aware that Sebastian finds balance in their being there to extricate him from fans after concerts, and play all the usual family games to help bring him down from performance highs. But, they feel as if they've just become appendages. They also feel that there's nothing to be said about it, as Polly will never consider splitting up the family. Consequently, they feel very stuck. Both Wolfy and Ettie want settled places where they can get the training they both want and need, and Myra wants, more than anything else, a settled home - and in her dreams, that means going back to Apple Bough. Popps is aware of their unhappiness, but like them, can't see a solution.

Finally, Sebastian turns twelve, and they return to England for his debut there. He is already very famous and his success is assured. Before his first concert, the family go to spend a holiday with David's parents in Devonshire, a clergyman and his wife. It's four years since they've seen each other and the grandparents aren't completely pleased with what they see, especially after Grandfather has taken each of them aside for a one on one conversation, particularly the one with Myra where she confides in her yearning for a settled home. Agreeing with her that it's time, he tells her that if she wants something badly enough, she will find a way to make it happen. On the train back to London to join their parents who have gone ahead to prepare the house they've rented for their London stay (until Christmas time, when Sebastian is then due back in America), they meet a young man in their compartment with whom they share their lunch. Joining them in their general fun, which includes Wolfy reciting, he reveals that he is a film producer and would like to audition Wolfy for a part in a film he's currently casting. Despite being enchanted by the prospect, Wolfy says it won't be possible because they'll all be leaving the country before filming would be finished. Myra realises that this is a possible opportunity to begin 'Operation House.' She says if Wolfy wants to try for the film, he should and something can be worked out. Next is the letter from Ettie's Paris-based ballet teacher with an introduction to the legendary Madame Fidolia in London (readers of Ballet Shoes will recognise this name). Myra insists that Popps takes Ettie to audition, and Ettie gains a place in Madame's school where she can receive training to prepare her for an audition at the Royal Ballet School when she's a little older.

The parents find this all organised and are horrified. With Wolfy needed at the studio with an approved governess, and Ettie due at school on the other side of London, how are they going to manage? And what about America? Enter Paul, the new tutor for Sebastian. An enterprising young man not long graduated from university who brings not only teaching skills to the family, but a much needed support for Popps and another confidant for all the children, who can be relied upon to inject some much needed fun and ingenuity into managing the comings and goings in the household, and, it turns out, Myra's Operation Home campaign. Also on side are Polly's parents, Mumsmum and Mumsdad, who don't think the family's peripatetic lifestyle can continue any longer without the other children suffering enormously.

Wolfy's film does go on past Christmas, and Ettie refuses to be removed from Madame Fidolia's care, so David and Polly are forced, with Mumsmum and Mumsdad backing Myra and the others, to head to America with Sebastian and Paul. Those left behind settle into their new routine, and Wolfy's film is followed by a television series. Ettie auditions and gains a place in the Royal Ballet School, while Myra begins to feel that somehow, there's nothing left for her, and while she's achieved stability, the London house doesn't feel like the home she craves, and that having a 'talent' for being a good sister, as Grandfather told her, is possibly not enough.

Catastrophe strikes when Sebastian is struck down by appendicitis and is rushed back to London, followed by his American agent. A long convalescence in Devonshire with the grandparents that means cancelling his next Russian tour is planned but instead of being pleased about the rest, Sebastian has a crisis and on the next day the newspapers carry the story that he is dangerously ill. Unbeknown to anyone except Myra, Mr Ruttenstein, Sebastian's manager, has long promised him his Amati violin if he performs at all the engagements that are arranged. Sebastian mistakenly believes that having to cancel the concert tour means he'll no longer get the violin, which triggers his fever. Myra, braving Mr Ruttenstein in his London hotel room with Paul's help, discovers this is not the case. Mr Ruttenstein has just been waiting for Sebastian, small for his age, to grow big enough for a full-sized fiddle, and he has the Amati with him to hand over. Paul delivers the violin to Sebastian, getting past all the medical staff on guard, and Sebastian starts to recover. Sebastian also finds out a few things from Mr Ruttenstein that Myra, in her rage about how she believes Sebastian has been treated, divulged about their lives and how the rest of them have felt for such a long time.

Suddenly, just like the time in Apple Bough when David and Polly held many secret discussions behind closed doors after the offers first came for Sebastian, the house is full of secrets. Sebastian is still in hospital and none of the other children know what is going on. They are just told that all will be revealed when Sebastian comes out of hospital and his convalescence in the country starts. To make things more manageable in the house, Myra suggests that Etti and Wolfy, both finished their terms and filming and rambunctious, be sent early with Paul, so they are packed off to Devonshire. Then Popps departs to visit her brother. Then, most unexpectedly, David and Polly head off leaving Myra behind. She endures a long day waiting for Sebastian to be released from hospital for the drive to the country, inexplicably late in the day and then, worn out by all the tension, falls asleep in the car. Arriving, Sebastian tells her to get out first, and she realises they're not in Devonshire at all - they're at Apple Bough! After Mr Ruttenstein heard her story, he went to Apple Bough and persuaded the new owners to sell it back to the family, and Sebastian has bought the house for her, because she is the one who most wants a home, while the rest of them will be more than happy to come home between things, but are destined to perform and travel the world.

As is the case with all of Streafield's books, this is just delightful, feel-good reading. It's not saccharine though...there are lost tempers, tantrums, unhappiness and difficulties to be dealt with, and adults being justifiably cross with children whose egos get the better of them. Thoroughly recommended, if you can track copies down. Some of Streatfield's books have never gone out of print - Ballet Shoes being one - but I'm not sure about this one. My copy is a vintage Puffin, published in 1981 with the cover and inside illustrations by the legendary Margery Gill, who I must - note to self - find out about and do a separate post about, because I have a quite sizable collection of books with her illustrations and they're marvelous!

So, go hunt down this book, and other Streatfields, particularly if you have children to read to, because this is the kind of quality kid's lit that is sadly scarce these days.

P.S. In response to a number of comments, and conversations outside this post:

Same edition as mine:

Newer edition:

Wednesday, 27 February 2013

Confucious say...

The Librarian posted this on Facebook. Admittedly, after a horror week (I know, it's only Wednesday night, and I'm not going into details - but, trust me, you CAN have had a horror week by a Wednesday) I am finding fairly simple things funny. This did amuse me:
But, there is another side to it. I remember, in our early days, DB often used to ask me how I knew 'so much.' Personally, I don't think I know so much - a great deal about a few specific things, and then lots of little bits about all sorts of miscellaneous stuff. I can surprise myself sometimes with the odd random fact that pops out in conversation that leaves me wondering how and why I actually know it... 

However, what I do know, absolutely, is that without the heritage of reading my mother passed on to me, and the fact that I'm completely addicted to owning and reading books in large quantities as a normal daily activity, I have acquired knowledge that I wouldn't have otherwise. A lot of it has been via fiction too. I've run the gauntlet, as I'm sure many of you other book junkies out there have, of people who dismiss fiction. "Stories...I never read fiction. I only ever read non-fiction." What a lot those poor non-fiction exclusives miss. Plus, I can honestly say that there have been novels I've read that lead me to pursue genuine academic research - lots and lots of non-fiction reading there. Conversely, I've used fiction as reference material in academic work - that can be a bit depends a little bit on how laterally one's markers think! The thing is, reading opens doors. Without wanting to sound condescending, I do feel sorry for people who don't read, because there are whole worlds to discover out there between the covers of books. And for those who are studying - go acquaint yourself with the library at your college, school, university. You actually can't find everything via Google...

Saturday, 23 February 2013

Seating Arrangements - Maggie Shipstead

And, the last of my stack from the La Hoopla lists....
Richard Russo, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Empire Falls, wrote a critique of this novel that included the enviable phrase, 'an outrageously gifted writer... her assured first novel is by turns hilarious and deeply moving.' I'm not a naturally envious type, and I don't have a first novel at this point, but I did have a fairy dust moment of looking into the future and...hmmmm!

Seating Arrangements is something of an exposé of New England society, with all its pretensions and frailties laid bare. Two extended families converge on the island of Waskeke for the wedding of Daphne Van Meter and Greyson Duff. Daphne is the eldest daughter of Winn and Biddy Van Meter, and Waskeke is the location of the Van Meter's family retreat, to which they have traveled every summer. Winn is a disgruntled, curmudgeon of a man, deeply regretful that he has had no sons, and emotionally distant from his wife and two daughters. He looks upon the family holiday home as a retreat away from the demands of his job and the need to put a brave face on what he considers to be the real disappointments of his life. The narrative opens with Winn's habitually restful, planned journey to the island to join the others who have gone ahead, while he pleaded work commitments in order to avoid the mass female invasion of his sanctuary by the addition of his sister-in-law, Celeste, and three bridesmaids, to the usual female millieu of wife and daughters. Biddy, his wife, has been consumed by the details of organising the wedding, while Winn, deeply affronted by the fact that Daphne is seven months pregnant, has held aloof, while simultaneously protesting as each bill has arrived - wedding planner, make-up artist, practice session with make-up artist, florist, caterer, etc...

Then the Duffs arrive,
Greyson had three brothers and no sisters. Four boys born at regular two-year intervals, four Duffs in a row. Greyson was the pick of the litter, certainly. The eldest, Sterling, spent all his time in Asia and had a slimy reputation. The next one, Dicky Jr., was congenitally stiff - and why Dicky and Maude had decided to pin the Jr. on their second son, Winn could not guess. Then came Greyson and then this youngest, Francis, the family queer fish, who gave off an appearance of ordinary preppiness, standing on the doorstep in his horn-rimmed glasses and whale pants, but who was always on some spiritual quest or other, embracing a series of Eastern religions, professional ambitions, and other artistic passions.
This is where the quality of the writing comes through. Although the paragraph quoted is part of the general narrative, Winn's voice comes through loud and clear. This is the case every time the action shifts focus. At different points in the story, as the dynamic between the two households and their various extras - Duff grandmothers and friends, the bridesmaids, Celeste, local friends and acquaintances - shifts and swirls, while there isn't a distinct shift in voice per se, there is enough change in the flavour of the text to enable the reader to get caught up in the increasing chaos from a quite personal perspective. It's very clever writing.

And chaos there is. Bridesmaid Agatha has always had a thing for Winn, and takes advantage of him being thrown out of his usual relaxed mode to prey on him. Winn, lusting after her while not really wanting any complications, gets entangled. This is seen by Celeste who, fortified heavily with strong G&Ts, carting masses of baggage from a string of turbulent marriages and breakups, becomes moralising. Winn's younger daughter, Livia, bone-thin and still emotionally traumatised by her break up with a local boy and termination of an unexpected pregnancy, swings wildly between obsessing about getting back with the boy and hitting on one of Greyson's brothers for a re-bound flung to convince herself she's over the boy. Sterling Duff, ever the predator, picks up on Livia's need and a one night stand ensues. Rebuffed by Winn, Agatha also pursues Sterling who, basically, will bed anyone available... Discovered in flagrante by Winn and Livia, there is mayhem. In the background is Winn's deeply frustrating quest to be accepted by the local golf club - from which he believes he is being blocked by the father of Livia's estwhile boyfriend. Turns out, it's actually his wife, way back when, Winn dated briefly before dumping her unceremoniously for Biddy, who is blocking his membership application.

This is just a smattering of the twisting and turning of the plots, sub-plots and sub-sub-plots that drive this story. To write any more of them would necessitate virtually typing out half of the book. I have to say, I did read it through to the end - as much because I became utterly fascinated by Shipstead's ability to keep all the entanglements untangled enough to keep making sense. Having said that, I found the characters deeply unlikeable - with the exception of Dominique, who isn't one of these blue-bloods, but is connected via the girls' college - although she was there on scholarships as opposed to 'because our families have always gone there...' Her understanding of their milieu - to a point - while not being part of it provides the voice of reason in amongst the posturing, jockeying for position, one-upping, and general bad behaviour. The social structures, need to keep up appearances, demonstrate appropriate codes of behaviour - even when it's bad - dominate the narrative.

The climax is the rehearsal dinner, where a hugely drugged Winn - his leg has been stitched having been sliced open in a bicycle accident - blurts out a long and turgid speech about death... Still under the influence, he volunteers to take Agatha to hospital to have her broken finger set - Livia's work when Agatha and Sterling are sprung. Instead of going to the hospital, they end up at the site of the the house being built by the father of Livia's ex and, after yet another unsuccessful attempt by Agatha to seduce him, he climbs the roof to steal the weather vane  and is nearly killed falling off. (See? It's all quite mad!) The last chapter is a review, almost, of the wedding day itself, which has a flavour of being viewed from a great distance, as if muffled by all the repercussions of the events packed into the preceding days. Life will go back to normal, because that's how these people live, but there will be scars.

I don't think I liked this book. I admired the writing, but the characters aren't people I'd go back to read about more. As an example of a particular section of society, I gather from various snippets of reviews I read that Shipstead is bang on the knocker. Scary thought! This is another one for my exchange pile I think!

Friday, 22 February 2013

Kids and books in the future

I had to laugh when I saw this cartoon that The History Teacher posted on Facebook this morning. At the same time, I was aware of a twinge of feeling quite disturbed. There has been a plethora of articles in the local press just this last week about 'switching off' - including one by a travel writer who did a piece on a tech-free, silent retreat and a story in today's paper about a family who went on holiday to an island where there was no internet, no mobile reception, and, actually, no electricity at all...and they did it on purpose. There was a comment from one of the kids to the effect that, apart from a certain period in the tides each day, he didn't really miss it - that non-swimming period was when he wanted his iPod... He went on to say that he'd had a great time, read, played a lot of board games, and commented that he and the other kids - siblings and others at the resort - had deeper conversations than they usually do. A bit telling from an adolescent.
A common theme in the articles I've been reading is that we no longer understand - well, some of us dinosaurs do, but it was referring mostly to the generations after me (!) - the value of silence and unscheduled time. DB has been very excited these last few weeks to discover that Seventeen can speed-read...all very useful when cramming for an exam on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein, but not a way to truly appreciate a story. I read fast - my kids used to say that I eat books, but it's not for the sake of getting through the book, ever. It's just that I can. And then sometimes I find one of those precious books that make you slow down and read every word, even go back a few pages and read them again, because the writing is just so exquisite. It all takes much more time of course, but I find myself treasuring the stillness, in an increasingly stressful and busy period of my life, that is imposed upon me by the writer of that book.

I will be back soon with some actual book posts. I'm about to gut my desk - I can't see the top of it at the moment, which is testament to how busy I've been. There are two big piles of books to sort. As every seasoned book junkie knows, there is always a TBR - to be read - pile. But...I realised the other day that if you're a book junkie who blogs, there is a second TBR pile - the to be reviewed pile... It's the second pile that's growing!

Monday, 11 February 2013

More porn - window seats...

So, I'm blaming this post on Twenty-One. He sent me a photo today that had me in a lustful tail-spin, which prompted an extensive session of Google Image surfing...

It is no secret to anyone who knows me well that one of the things that makes a home for me is a number of choices when it comes to reading spaces. One of my frustrations in our current abode is that it is a fairly standard three bed layout with a single open living area. Ergo, if I wish to read in peace, that usually means sequestering myself in the bedroom because the TV is on in the living room... Very occasionally I will take myself out to our - admittedly - large terrace. IF the weather is being friendly - and we've had a rather uncertain summer season in Sydney this year, and IF my body is feeling up to extended time in an upright, plastic chair.

DB and I periodically go to open home inspections, more to remind ourselves that all this hard work we're doing will, eventually, mean that we can buy a house. Recently we found a house that we both fell in love with - it may have sold, I don't know. Neither of us want to find out really, because we found it way too early. Then there's the house DB fell in love with that I quite like, but I don't love it like the other one. Both of them have that ultimate feature - for me at least - which DB has looked at in both cases and remarked that he knows where he'd find me - the window seat. I have always loved window seats. It's the Anne of Green Gables in me. There are countless references in that book to her dropping onto the window seat of her gabled room, resting her arm on the window sill, and her chin on her arm, and gazing out to dream... DB's house has a fairly traditional, bench-like seat with bolsters at each end built into a big picture window flanked by built-in cupboards in the large, open informal living area. In the other house, it's the size of a small double bed, housed in a protrusion from the living space off the kitchen, with tall multi-paned casement windows on three sides with extra wide sills - once you're in there, you're really in there...

When I discovered straw-bale houses, one of the things that particularly charmed me about them - more, to be honest, than all the eco-benefits part of them - was that, by default almost, you can have window seats without even trying, in every window in the house if you like, because of the thickness of the walls, which is governed by the size of the bales of straw. Like this little corner nook:
I love the earthy friendliness of it, and the informality that comes with the gently curved edges. However, to be truly book junkie friendly, a window seat needs books, which means I gathered a collection of images that really spoke to me so I could share them around. After all, why should I be coveting alone??

I like the little, tucked away feel of these. I think that's one of the things that appeals to me about window seats - they can be so very unexpected. In the second one, of course I can see a MUCH better use for those shelves...but that's really just a matter of re-stacking!

These two are very impressive. I particularly like the first of them, that's a landing and then some!! But I like the big, simple window in the second one, and that lovely tree.

However, here's the magnificent folly Twenty-One sent me. It is a folly, if you consider that a folly sums up creating something that is a complete indulgence. I do think I'll have to give serious consideration to creating something like this if DB and I ever build - although, I can see I'll have to be mighty persuasive, because there'd be a significant amount of space required.
It's kind of the ultimate combination of cubby-house, window seat and private library. Irresistible, don't you think? Favourites, anyone?

Thursday, 7 February 2013

The Red Book - Deborah Copaken Kogan

Among other things, this novel has been billed using the tagline, 'Before there was Facebook, there was The Red Book', alluding to the famed Harvard Red Book. Each graduating year has one of these, and for the rest of their lives, at five yearly intervals, a tome is published, chronicling their movements, achievements, triumphs and losses. It is, effectively, a literary precursor to Facebook - the latter, of course, invented Harvard student, Mark Zukerberg... - in that the entries are written by the graduates themselves, so it's very much about what they want people to know about their highs and lows during each five year period that lead up to the anniversary weekend get-togethers on campus.
So, the book itself - because with a tagline like that, I already had something of a preconceived idea of what I was going to find when I read it... Was I right? Well, yes and no.The rest of the blurb, encompassing the basic information that the story revolves around a group of women who'd been roommates at Harvard, suggests that it's going to be an academically themed piece of chick-lit, and to some extent, that wouldn't be an inaccurate assessment. However, it has a certain pithy, no-nonsense style of observation in the writing that lifts it above the usual easy-going nature of average chick-lit. I remember when The Break-up (Jennifer Aniston/Vince Vaughn) came out in cinemas and was billed as another 'rom-com'. My cousin saw it before me, and she rang me to ask if I'd seen it, advising caution - all the marketing had emphasised the 'funny' cringe-worthy moments to emphasise 'comedy' element of the whole 'romantic comedy/drama billing was apparently a bit misleading. Curiosity piqued - it hadn't been high on my list of go to see films... - I went, and saw exactly what she'd seen... It was one of a batch of films that came out around the same time that were billed similarly - all light comedic romances or dramas that were, in fact, rather more edgy and observant of real life than their precursors in the genres, and had a quite significant amount of dark and difficult stuff in addition to the lighter hearted moments..

This book is a little bit like that. There IS the whole ensemble cast of characters and the inevitable comedic elements that make up real life, relationships, families, career paths, and the collisions of dream vs reality - all the messiness of life from which it is eminently possible to extract legitimate comedic moments. And that's fine, because often, in real life, we all have those moments where, if we don't laugh we WILL cry...

However, the protagonists - Clover, Addison, Mia and Jane - come with complex back stories and particular neuroses which have informed many of their life choices, and at the time the book is set, they're all approaching middle age and that point where - for those who have reached it - there is a natural imperative to really sit up and take note of just where we are in life, both for ourselves and in comparison to our peers. This is where The Red Book itself becomes another 'character' as the narrative is interrupted by odd chapters that are the Red book entries of the women's classmates. The narrative itself swings back and forth between present and past, and from character to character, so reading it is an experience that feels a bit like peeping into bits of their lives before being whisked away to another window... The women, alone, with their partners, and with each other, chew through what they have and haven't achieved. They open up about previously hidden failures. They bemoan the loss of innocence and youthful optimism, and voice regrets about decisions made and choices that could have been better. There is a ring of authenticity in much of this grist for the mill, because all of us can do this, so the mirror factor is working very well in the reading experience!

One thing I did find increasingly impressing itself upon me as I read was the similarity to Eric Segal's The Class - one of his Harvard-based sagas, which centres around the lives of five male Harvard students from their first year and up to the twenty-fifth anniversary reunion weekend. It was a bit spooky. I've read the Segal book so often, and I know it very well. There was a distinct sense of familiarity between that and this novel. I don't know if Copaken Kogan has read The Class - it was published some time ago - and her book isn't plagiarising Segal's at all, but the echoes are there. So I had a lurking sense that I was reading the other half of a his and hers pair or books, which was a bit odd.

As a weekend read, this is good stuff. The writing is solid, and the character development is excellent. There is enough genuine complexity in the characters to keep them interesting and believeable. Structurally, Copaken Kogan holds her cards close to her chest so that when the twists happen, there is a frisson of real surprise.

This was one of the small stack I bought from those lists I found on The Hoopla site. I'm glad I got it. I enjoyed it. I'll probably read it again, just 'cause... But, I don't think it will find a home with the desert island collection. It'll probably become fodder for the exchange option down at Gertrude and Alice (read my post about this lovely book shop HERE), where I can take my books and sell them back for credits to purchase second hand treasures there!

Monday, 4 February 2013

Penguin Desk

Oh, but I am loving this - and I'm betting that over at Kyusireader, Peter will be drooling when he sees it...
You could keep the books in one piece by making sure they're all the same thickness and then topping it with a heavy sheet of purpose cut glass if you didn't want to dismember them. Alternatively, a thrift shop trawl for as big as possible a variety of old penguins that you weren't fussed about pulling apart, then gluing down the covers...then a resin seal. Mmmmm... Might have to pop this onto my bucket list of projects for 'one day'!

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Book junkie mantra

Languishing with a totally jammed neck, so any ideas for any real screen time today in any capacity have been completely scuttled. I can - with so little focus, admittedly - read if I prop my book up on a pile of pillows. So, I figured this cartoon I found on Facebook was pretty apt. After all, there's almost nothing that can get in the way of reading...

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Ditch the TV, install a bookcase!

The History Teacher posted this great pic on Facebook today:
As I write, the TV here is actually on - an afternoon screening of The Jazz Singer was too hard to resist. However, I can live without TV on the whole. There are odd things I particularly enjoy, and I can be disappointed if I miss them. But, the combo of an aging TV and temperamental T-box, plus being in a black hole for TV reception, means that we're down to the ABC, SBS and Nine networks - no Seven or Ten - which knocks out a third of the commercial free-to-air channels available in Sydney. Does this worry me? Well, no, not really. DB and Seventeen get peeved about it, being great watchers of commercial TV over the alternatives. DB, to his credit, does enjoy the documentaries and series that he's watching with me on the ABC and SBS now that there are fewer alternatives, but more often, Seventeen just heads of to his room and watches movies on his laptop instead.

I look back to my childhood and remember very little TV viewing time. My mother was a real dragon in that respect. I grew up largely ignorant of commercial TV, and it's only now, with re-runs of old shows that I'm seeing most of them for the first time -  which amazes DB! Having said that, Mum would sit us down in front of all sorts of carefully chosen programs, and I remember rolling around the floor laughing at the antics of people like Buster Keaton, and Laurel and Hardy, in old silent movies in black and white, nature programs, and documentaries about all sorts of things. The only American TV I saw as a child was Sesame Street, which had just come to Australia. However, we weren't bored. The TV just wasn't a big part of our lives. Books were - there were always books. We had our own books, which were continually added to at birthdays and other gift giving times. There was the weekly visit to the public library. And there were school libraries. To this day, I find it hard to understand how people can just sit passively in front of the box watching things they aren't particularly interested in... For myself, if what's on doesn't interest me, I'll go pick up a book. Often, if I'm trawling my own bookcases, I'll have to answer, yet again, how it is that I can read the same book over again - the question often posed by one of my menfolk who are watching an episode of Two and a Half Men, Seinfeld, or some other inane sitcom for the umpteen millionth time! A book, no matter how many times I read it, always offers up something new each time I read it. A new book, of course, is a whole new adventure.

So, my challenge to all my book junkie friends is to book bomb any TV watching zombies in your families! There are all sorts of subversive ways to get people reading - Seventeen read I, Iago in the week he was away in January - spurred on by his affinity with the character from studying Othello last year, and his curiosity about what another writer had done with him. DB is currently reading The Life of Pi. I gave them those if I've guilted them into it because they feel they should read be it! Our house now has books all over the place, and they're not all mine any more. It feels great!