Friday, November 25, 2011

Writer's Daily Routines

On his fascinating blog Daily Routines, Mason Currey collects schedules once kept by notable writers, artists and thinkers. Here are a few samples:

Immanuel Kant

Wake at 5am. Drink one or two cups weak tea, smoke pipe, meditate. Prepare lectures and books until 7am. Lecture 7 - 11 am. Write until the lunch. Walk. Spend rest of afternoon with friend. Light work and reading.

Franz Kafka

Work at office 8.30 am - 2.30 pm. Lunch until 3.30 pm. Sleep until 7.30 pm. Exercise. Family dinner. At 11 pm, begin work, letter- and diary- writing "until one, two, or three o'clock", followed by "every imaginable effort to go to sleep".

Haruki Murakami

Wake at 4 am. Work for five to six hours. Run for 10km or swim for 1,500 miles (or both). Read, listen to music. In bed at 9 pm.

P. G. Wodehouse

Wake at 7.30 am. Perform calisthenics. Breakfast with a "breakfast book" (perhaps a mystery). First pipe of the day. Short walk with dogs. Work 9 am - 1 pm. Lunch at 1. Walk. Soap opera. Tea with wife. Nap. Bath. More work. Cocktail. Sun parlour. Dinner. Reading, occasional game of bridge.

Charles Darwin

Wake at 7 am. Breakfast at 7.45 am. Work 8 - 9.30 am. Letters until 10.30 am. Work 10.30 - 12. Walk. Lunch at 12.45 pm. Read The Times. Answer letters. Rest, smoke. Listen to light literature read by wife. Walk. Work. Rest. Listen to reading aloud again at 6. Light high tea at 7.30. Games of backgammon if no guests present. Read, listen to piano. In bed by 10.30 pm.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The Dublin Writers Museum

Whatever you think you know about Irish literature, you’re sure to find something to astound and delight you at the Dublin Writers Museum. Dublin is famous as a city of writers and literature, and the Dublin Writers Museum is an essential visit for anyone who wants to discover, explore, or simply enjoy Dublin's immense literary heritage.

The idea of a Dublin Writers Museum was originated by the journalist and author Maurice Gorham (1902 - 1975), who proposed it to Dublin Tourism. Opened in November 1991 at No 18, Parnell Square, the museum occupies an original eighteenth-century house, which accommodates the museum rooms, library, gallery and administration area. The annexe behind it has a coffee shop and bookshop on the ground floor and exhibition and lecture rooms on the floors above. The Irish Writers' Centre, next door in No 19, contains the meeting rooms and offices of the Irish Writers' Union, the Society of Irish Playwrights, the Irish Children's Book Trust and the Translators' Association of Ireland. The basement beneath both houses is occupied by the Chapter One restaurant.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

New Words to Learn

Hundreds of meaningless words litter our lives, but what about those common experiences, feelings and situations, which no word can adequately describe? In The Meaning of Liff and The Deeper Meaning of Liff, Douglas Adams and John Lloyd solve the problem by ambushing the names of British towns and reapplying them where they needed most. Here are their thoughts on all things literary...

Ahenny - the way people stand when examing other people's bookshelves.
Ainderby Quernhow - one who continually bemoans the "loss" of the word "gay" to the English language, even though they had never used the word in any context at all until they started complaining they couldn't use it any more.
Bathel - to pretend to have read the book under discussion when in fact you've only seen the TV series.
Beppy - the triumphal slamming shut of a book after reading the final page.
Dalmilling - continually making small talk to someone who is trying to read a book.
Fritham - a paragraph that gets you stuck in the book. The more you read it, the less it means to you.
Great Wakering - the panic which sets in when you badly need to go to the lavatory and cannot make up your mind about what book or magazine to take with you.
Great Tosson - a fat book containing four words and six cartoons which costs £12.95
Liff - a book, the contents of which are totally belied by its cover. For instance, any book the dust jacket of which ears the words, "This book will change your life".
Pulverbatch - the first paragraph on the blurb of a dust jacket in which famous authors claim to have had a series of menial jobs in their youth.
Ripon - to include all the best jokes from the book in a review to make it look as if the critic thought of them

Monday, November 14, 2011

Thriller: More Work for the Undertaker

Margery Allingham (1904 - 1966) is regularly classified as one of the "Big Four" novelists of Golden Age detective fiction. Along with her contemporaries, Christie, Sayers and Marsh, Allingham did much to ensure the continuing popularity of the thriller, but where she differs from them is in her deceptively entertaining approach and in the greater versatility of her detective, Albert Campion.
Campion is an upper-class eccentric whose colourless appearance belies his resourcefulness. His man-servant, Magersfontein Lugg, is as implausible a personality as his name suggests, being a reformed burglar with a heart of gold and a real, if rough, loyalty for his master. As the series progresses, Campion gain a wife, Lady Amanda Fitton, while his police connections extend from Inspector Stanislaus Oates to young Charlie Luke, who appears in this novel only to be completely outdone by Campion.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Ungodly Mistakes - Bibles with Errors

The "Wicked Bible"
In a  15the century edition of the King James Bible, the word "not" was accidentally omitted from the seventh commandment, so that it actually encouraged readers to commit adultery. The printers Robert Barker and Martin Lucas were fined £300 for omitting the word no, and also lost their printer's licence. All copies were ordered to be destroyed by Charles I (dashing the hopes of many).

The "Wicked Bible"

The "Fool's Bible"
A 1632 print-run made a similar boob. They replaced "no" with "a" in Psalm 14 to read: "The Fool hath said in his heart there is a God". The resulting fine put the printing house out of business.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

The Power of Three

Three Blind Mice - Agatha Cristie (1950)
The Three Clerks - Anthony Trollope (1858)
Three Guineas - Virginia Woolf (1931)
Three Hostages - John Buchan (1924)
Three Man in a Boat - Jerome K Jerome (1889)
Three Man on the Bummel - Jerome K Jerome (1900)
The Three Musketeers - Alexandre Dumas (1844)
The Three Sisters - Anton Chekhov (1901)
The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch - Philip K. Dick
Three Day Road - Joseph Boyden
Three Cups of Tea - Greg Mortensen & David Oliver Relin
Three Deuces Down - Keith Donnelly
Three Junes - Julia Glass
The Three Weissmanns of Westport - Cathleen Schine
Three Rivers Form An Ocean - James Funk (2011)
The Three Pigs - David Wiesner (2001)

Classic Fiction: The Moonstone, A Romance

On her 18th birthday, Rachel Verrinder is endowed with the gift of an exceptional diamond, originally stolen from a Hindu temple in India. On the night of her birthday, some rather clumsy Indian jugglers suddenly arrive at the house to entertain the guests, and that night, Rachel's diamond is stolen from her. The indian jugglers are obviously suspected of the theft, but are thought to be not guilty as there are others in the house acting suspiciously, most notably Rachel herself.

There then follows an investigation which reveals all kinds of adventures and dishonesties among Rachel's family, friends and suitors (among them Franklin Blake, the collector of the papers that make up the novel). The story and its conclusion are spectacular, but it is also Wilkie Collins' sense of place and his ear for the nuances of voice among his cast of characters that really set this captivating novel apart.

The Moonstone is a noteworthy novel for so many other reasons, too.  The memorable characters are too numerous to mention. On a structural level, it has neither a third-nor first-person narrator, but the series of characters who recount the sections of the story that they know best. Its portrayal of the Indians was incredibly generous and liberal in the context of the still recent Indian Mutiny of 1857. Many have suggested that this novel single-handedly inaugurated the genre of the Detective Mystery and it certainly has many of the hallmarks of the genre yet to come. The principal criterion, though, must surely be a rivetting plot and The Moonstone certainly has that.

Classic Fiction: Frankenstein, or The Modern Prometheus

Mary Shelley was the only daughter of the writers William Godwin and Mary Wollstonecraft. She eloped with the poet Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1814, and they were married two years later. It was during this time that they stayedvfor a few days at the Vila Diodati on Lake Geneva. It was here that they and friends Byron and Polidori decided to devise stories to entertain themselves. It was the two lesser-known literary figures which produced the most memorable work.

Polidori's Vampyre was relatively successful in its day, but the story of Frankenstein has burned brightly in the popular imagination ever since its publication in 1818.

The story is told by an English explorer in the Arctic who assists Frankenstein on the final leg of his chase at the end of the novel. Frankenstein is a talented young medical student who strikes upon the secret of endowing life to the dead. He becomes obsessed with the idea that he might make a man. The resulting creature is lonely, miserable and an outcast who seeks murderous revenge for his condition.

The creature flees with Frankenstein in pursuit. It is here that he meets the explorer and recounts his story, dying soon after. The novel has been filmed numerous times, but none has effectively conveyed the stark horror and philosophical acuity of the novel.
 “I am alone and miserable; man will not associate with me; but one as deformed and horrible as myself would not deny herself to me. My companion must be of the same species and have the same defects. This being you must create.”

Sunday, November 6, 2011

A Little Guide to Second-hand Books Buying

Here are some of handy acronyms for second-hand book purchasing on ebay...

ARC     Advance reader's copy (paperback edition circulated before the trade edition for publicity)
AUTO  Autographed
EXLIB  Ex-library book
F/E       First edition
HB/DJ  Hardback with dust jacket
HIC      Hole in cover
SC        Slight crease
NC       No cover
NM      Near mint
OOP    Out of print
PB        Paperback or paperbound
PC        Poor condition
RC        Reader copy (a book in a good condition but with no real investment value)
ROM    Romantic
VHTF   Very hard to find
WOC   Writing on cover

...and one that should be there:

DBAWOI  Don't believe a word of it

Modern Fiction: The Alexandria Quartet

This much acclaimed tetralogy published between 1957 and 1960 consists of Justine (1957)m Balthazar (1958), Mountolive (1958) and Clea (1960). In this four vivid novels, the author Lawrence G. Durrelluses an innovative Postmodernist style, recounting a set of events experienced by the same protagonists but from different perspectives. Each book reveals a little more of the whole truth of the matter, and ends in a death.

The overarching themes centre on love, lust and politics. The novels are set just before the Second World War in the exotic city of Alexandria, with its ancient Egyptian and Hellenic overtones.

The main characters include Darley (the narrator and a poet), his mistress Melissa, Justine (a free-loving Jewess) married to Nessim, Clea, Pursewarden (the brilliant novelist) and Mountolive (the British Ambassador). Together and individually they express the full range of passions, emotions and in some cases perversions.

Durrell's use of rich, exotic and even extravagant descriptions make this read a sumptuous banquet.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Bad Sex in Fiction Prize

Each year the Literary Review awards its "Bad Sex in Fiction" prize to a novel featuring the most "inept, embarrassing, unnecessary" sex scene. Rachel (sister of Boris, mayor of London) Johnson was awarded the 2008 prize for her novel Shire Hell.

The prizewinning book "Shire Hell"
She described her victory as an "absolute  honour". Below is the prizewinning extract:

Almost screaming after five agonizingly pleasureable minutes, I make a grab, to put him, now angrily slapping against both our bellies, inside, but he holds both my arms down, and puts his tongue to my core, like a cat lapping up a dish of cream so as not to miss a single drop. I find myself gripping his ears and tugging at the locks curling over them, beside myself, and a strange animal noise escapes from me as the mounting, Wagnerian crescendo overtakes me. I really do hope at this point that all the Spodders are, as requested, attending the meeting about slug clearance or whatever it is.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Poetry: Anna Akhmatova's "tortured mouth"

Anna Akhmatova
Anna Akhmatova is the literary pseudonym of Anna Andreevna Gorenko. Her first husband was Nikolay Gumilev, and she too became one of the leading Acmeist poets. Her second book of poems, Beads (1914), brought her fame. Her earlier manner, intimate and colloquial, gradually gave way to a more classical severity, apparent in her volumes The White Flock (1917) and Anno Domini MCMXXI (1922).
The growing distaste which the personal and religious elements in her poetry aroused in Soviet officialdom forced her thereafter into long periods of silence; and the poetic masterpieces of her later years, A Poem without a Hero and Requiem, were published abroad. 
Her style, characterised by its economy and emotional restraint, was strikingly original and distinctive to her contemporaries. The strong and clear leading female voice struck a new chord in Russian poetry. Her writing can be said to fall into two periods - the early work (1912–25) and her later work (from around 1936 until her death), divided by a decade of reduced literary output. Her work was condemned and censored by Stalinist authorities and she is notable for choosing not to emigrate, and remaining in Russia, acting as witness to the atrocities around her. Her perennial themes include meditations on time and memory, and the difficulties of living and writing in the shadow of Stalinism.
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