Wednesday, June 15, 2005

How many book memes in the world?

Another day, another meme: and unlike some, I have to say I love them (partly because they save me having to think of topics to blog about).

Thanks to Cloud and the Communist boys for this one that I have been enjoying reading here, here, here and no doubt will enjoy reading elsewhere (like here). As Cloud illustrated though, we're running out of blog friends to tag. We need to get out more (or stay in to blog more... somehow that doesn't seem right...)

Total books owned

About 2,500 and possibly up to 3,000. I have shed a lot over the years, especially from when I was so much older (I'm younger than that now).

Last book I brought

Well we had a splurge at the weekend and I picked up Kelley Armstrong's recently published fantasy novel, Haunted. The latest in her series on witches and werewolves, they have so far been ripping/gripping page-turners. I'm saving that to accompany my journey to Keele next month when the Intellectual History Reading Group meets to discuss Susan Sontag.

Last book I read

I wizzed through Conversations with Neil Gaiman and his Collaborators: Hanging out with the Dream King by Joseph McCabe (Seattle: Fantagraphics Books, 2004). At the moment I am reading a novel first published in hardback last year about Mary Shelley, Lady Caroline Lamb, Fanny Brawne and Augusta Leigh: Passion by Jude Morgan (London: Review, 2005). This latter one is the 'notorious' third book mentioned by Cloud.

Five books that mean a lot to me

This is sooo difficult since, like music, different books (even extracts from books) can bring to mind people, places, events and ideas. Some books are pleasureable for eclectic reasons.

Anyhow, here are some suggestions from my mind today (written 14 June 2005).

The Collected Dorothy Parker
a.k.a the Penguin, Portable or Viking Press DP

Yes, I was (and remain) the gauche, introvert, barbed observer of life. A "heartbreak and a wisecrack" indeed... She's probably terribly unfashionable now, and not a little problematic, but I found her entrancing when I was a frustrated and largely friendless teenager. And the one-woman performance about her life that Cloud and I saw at the Arena Theatre in Wolverhampton MANY moons ago continues to haunt me. I still really like "Symptom Recital".

Ways of Seeing by John Berger (Penguin, 1972)
NB the copy we now have is Cloud's: mine was well-battered by the years.

When I did A-level art history in the 1980s, it was still considered a bit radical to teach us about art via this text (although it has now become both respected and thoroughly critiqued). But this combination of photo-essays and philosophical/Marxist writing was a thrill that made me think and look at the world of images in a different way.

Yes, Walter Benjamin became familiar to me through this.
Yes, Rozsika Parker and Griselda Pollock's Old Mistresses (London: Pandora, 1981) made a different kind of impact regarding women artists (not just to be looked at, but active in the production of art).
Yes, there have been updates and copyists of Berger's approach. I especially like Mary Anne Staniszewski's Believing is Seeing: Creating the Culture of Art (New York: Penguin, 1995).

But I still take pleasure in how Berger stimulated and brought together thoughts about 'how we see.'

A Choice of Emily Dickinson's Verse selected with an introduction by Ted Hughes (London: Faber, 1968: 1986 reprint)
Maiden Speech by Eleanor Brown (Newcastle-Upon-Tyne: Bloodaxe Books, 1996)

Sorry, I am too torn between these two slender volumes of poetry which encapsulate different moments in my life. The first is my beautiful and much treasured collection of Emily Dickinson that Cloud purchased for my birthday in 1990, the year we met. Although later a friend brought me the complete collected works, I still have a fondness for this selection with its fiery passion and thoughtful contemplation.

My Life had stood -- a Loaded Gun --
In Corners -- till a Day
The Owner passed -- identified --
And carried Me away --

Nothing beats reading poetry with a loved one, and Dickinson still draws me to the soul of love.

The collection by Eleanor Brown was brought for me at a strange time in my life: negotiating a move from Wolverhampton to Coventry and on-going studies in Leeds; the dissipation of friends across the country after University. Like Parker, there is a bittersweetness to Brown's poetry; but a truth as well. Her poetry draws together classical references (a very sharp analysis of the rape so poetically alluded to in representations of Leda and the Swan; a poignant report from the perspective of Penelope: "I know you've been with other women, though. You never did that thing with my hair before") and modern-day dilemmas. If nothing else, read it for the wonderful "Fifty Sonnets": you can read at least one of sonnets in the volume Being Alive (and by the way, Staying Alive and Being Alive are perhaps amongst the best poetry anthologies released in recent years). Brown's "Fifty Sonnets" charts a relationship and its aftermath, and I've often offered a citation from it to those who have had good (and bad) relationships that have gone wrong and yet continued to haunt.

The Oxford Complete Edition: The Poetical Works of Elizabeth Barrett Browning (undated edition, no printing information; inscribed to Gwendoline Bryant with an additional inscription beneath of 'White Sands' dated 1914-1916)

I remain a huge fan of Browning's writing, not least for the adoption of her text by Yoko Ono on the post-Lennon murder release Milk and Honey. Like Christina Rossetti, Browning's work is full of Christian symbolism (this edition was actually published by the Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge and awarded as a prize for a Divinity entrance exam). Nevertheless, or perhaps because I have a fondness for such language and expression, I do still love her work. I have only ever had poorly printed editions of her work, save for a beautiful small press printing of her Sonnnets from the Portuguese, so this is a relatively recent acquisition. But since Cloud took citation of his luscious green leather bound edition of Shelley's works (possibly a work I would save in a fire ahead of many others), I'll settle for this.

The Holy Bible, King James Edition

Not just any old copy mind, but the Chapman family bible edition that I was handed by my mother/grandmother (great-grandmother came from the Chapman clan of Lowdham, Nottinghamshire). The frontispiece pages records in my great-grandmother's handwriting the births, marriages and deaths of the Chapmans from the late 18th to the early 20th century. It's a proper 'Sunday to be read by pa-pa to the family' bible: big, quite large print and hard-cover embossed binding. So not only is it a copy of one of the key social, poetic and religious texts, it also holds a great deal of sentiment for me as an Orphan Girl.

This nearly made the list:

The Spare Rib Reader edited by Marsha Rowe (London: Penguin, 1982) Too many essays and polemics here continue to be relevant. It rather saddens me. But again, it was one of my earliest encounters with feminist ideas, and I can't thank it highly enough for that.

Sadly, no room for such favourite books as the Sandman graphic novels (though if they had come as a 10 volume box-set I may have been tempted to cheat and include that); no room either for House of Leaves: a visual and verbal delight that still scares me as I read it; no Buffy related reading (aren't you impressed?!); nor even why I love reading Tolstoy's Anna Karenina (and watching it!)

Five to pass this on to

This is more tricky. I'll have to go with my usual suspects in the hope they don't shoot me down in flames for meme-overload (Casyn and Anna); I'll send it to Clare because since she had all the excitement of the quiz she's kept us all gagging for a new post; I'll send it to the Wolf because I'm intrigued to know how he'll respond; and... and... oh come on... I must know more people than this :(

I've started reading Just Jane through a link on Reidski's comment box: if she's game, then hopefully she'll take up this heavy burden. Now I feel like I'm imposing myself on the blogworld...

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