Jane Eyre “cultural event of 2006”

As several of my regular correspondents and readers know, I have recently watched and enjoyed the latest version of Jane Eyre, courtesy of a repeat on BBC 4 TV recently and a kind co-resident taping it for us to watch at leisure (a.k.a. consumer control).

When the series (in 4 parts) was first shown on BBC earlier in the year, it received pretty negative reviews. As I’d fairly recently seen the previous BBC version (Timothy Dalton as Mr Rochester), I thought I wouldn’t bother with the logistics of taping and finding time to view the new one.

At Christmas, however, Richard Morrison of the Times asked readers for their favourite show of 2006. More than half of the respondents nominated Jane Eyre, as Richard M revealed here.  The repeat showing of all 4 episodes in one evening overcame recorder’s resistance, and based on the usually reliable RM’s recommendation, we went ahead. The production was adapted by Sandy Walsh; Ruth Wilson (who I am told was not very well known previously) played Jane and Toby Stephens took on the more difficult role of Mr Rochester. I was quite won over by his portrayal. I had never much liked Mr Rochester in my previous readings of the book, but now I’m older I found that although I didn’t like him still up until "the" wedding scene, I became increasingly sympathetic to his dilemma and actions subsequently. Toby Stephens gave a sincere and committed performance as well as being suitably irascible and, yes, passionate.

The production has been showing on TV in the United States and is also now available on DVD. Highly recommended.

Some previous productions:
Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke.

Sorcha Cusak and Michael Jayston.

Charlotte Gainsburg and William Hunt.

Susannah York and George C. Scott.

Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hands.

Colin Clive and Virginia Bruce.

Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles (VHS).

Middle East divide

Richard North Patterson’s latest, Exile, has divided the critics — well, two of them, anyway. Peter Millar in the Times thinks the book is great, Sarah Weinman in the Washington Post emphatically doesn’t.

RNP writes legal thrillers;  being keen on the genre, I’ve read them all and usually enjoy them. The characterisation and the plots are both well above John Grisham level (Grisham is stronger on atmosphere and "place").  RNP’s earlier books featured members of a legal family, their complex personal relationships and their social circle; the reader was guaranteed various crime-related cliffhangers with each volume. Some time ago, though, the author switched into "issues"; his more recent books have featured an American presidential candidate and later president, selection for the supreme court, the abortion issue and capital punishment. Some of the earlier characters figure fleetingly, but increasingly the books have focused more on the political, moral and legal issues than on plot and characterisation. Nevertheless, I’ve enjoyed the intricate accounts of the Amercian political-legal-media process provided by the books, and always look forward to the next.

This time round, RNP takes on the Middle East:  the plot concerns a Jewish-American lawyer with political ambitions who becomes involved in defending a Palestinian, possibly radical Islamist,  ex-girlfriend accused of aiding an attempt to assassinate the Israeli Prime Minister. I imagine the book features long passages weighing up all aspects of the Middle East conflict from the US perspective, and I can well imagine that this would grate with readers wanting  less preach and more pace.

See Petrona’s Selection Box here and here for some more information about this book.

Hogarth comes to the Tate

The most comprehensive exhibition "in living memory" of Hogarth’s works is coming to the Tate Britain on 7 February.  From the catalogue:

"The exhibition demonstrates that Hogarth wasn’t only a brilliant satirist as it showcases every aspect of his multi-faceted career: his remarkable paintings, ranging from elegant conversation pieces to salacious brothel scenes; his vibrant drawings and sketches; and the numerous engraved works for which he is most famous today, including Gin Lane and Beer Street . His society portraits easily rival those of Gainsborough or Reynolds, and the variety and energy of his output is outstanding.

No other artist’s work has come to define a period of British history as powerfully and enduringly as Hogarth’s. The exhibition explores an artist who was strikingly modern in character, confronting subjects and themes – the city, sexuality, manners, social integration, crime, political corruption, charity and patriotism– that continue to preoccupy us today. The exhibition makes the case that Hogarth was in fact Britain’s first truly modern artist, and shows the relevance of his work to British art now."

The exhibition runs to 9 April and then moves to Madrid.

A book called Hogarth, France and British Art by Robin Simon (editor and publisher of the British Art Journal) has just been published, in time to coincide with the show. The book claims to be a radical reappraisal of Hogarth’s art and achievements, including more than 300 colour and black-and-white illustrations. 

Victoria Beckham is blogging

Link: Bloggers Blog: Victoria Beckham is Blogging.

I can’t bear to write any more on the subject, but the full horror, including links, is available at the Bloggers Blog post above.

Book Aid is having a party

Book Aid International, the organisation that operates the reverse book club, is having a party. On 22 February, it is holding a "be inspired" auction, hosted by Jeremy Paxton, at Bloomsbury Auctions (London).

"Literary figures, politicians and celebrities" have written a few words inside a copy of their favourite book(s) to convey why the title is special to them. These books will be auctioned after a champagne reception. A previous "celebrity" who famously sent a signed book was J K Rowling, but this time it seems as if partygoers will have to make do with David Jason (Inspector Frost), Joanna Lumley, D B C Pierre, David Cameron and Cherie Booth.

If you are interested in attending (it costs £40, or £60 for a pair of tickets), you can email Julia Baxter for details. If you are not a party animal or otherwise unable to attend, please go to the Book Aid website (link at start of this post) and consider contributing to this worthy organisation, which carefully selects and sends appropriate books to children and adults in regions where access to useful or inspiring reading is limited or non-existent. Book Aid’s website details how it chooses the books and to whom it sends them.

I have previously posted about Book Aid international here (April 2006) and here (November 2006).

Google web and blog search

Link: Micro Persuasion: Google Web Search Now Integrates Blog Results.

According to Steve Rubel of Micropersuasion, if you type a phrase into google.com and then add the word "blog" to the end of the query, you will be returned a list not just of web results but also of latest blog posts. Very useful.

See Google Operating Systems for more details.

The endless nagging of RSS readers

Link: Geeking with Greg: The endless nagging of RSS readers.

From Greg’s post:

"Dave Winer writesMost RSS readers remind the user, all the time, how wrong he or she is. Or inadequate or lazy or behind in their work … Who needs that. Think about it this way. Suppose you read the paper every day. What if at the top of the paper it told you how many articles from previous issues you hadn’t read. News is not email … Every article is not necessarily something you should read, or even look at … If I’m not interested, or too busy — too bad. No need to count the number of articles that didn’t get my attention. It’s a useless piece of data. See also my earlier post, "RSS sucks and information overload", where I said, "The problem is scaling attention. Readers have limited time. They don’t want information. They want knowledge."  "

Yes, when it is a day like today and I haven’t managed to get to my rss reader for a couple of days and find 250 plus unread posts, I know what they both mean. But on the other hand, I’ve subscribed to those blogs in the first place because I enjoy reading them, and like to see what their bloggers are writing about. If I miss a few days, do I want to see the "unread posts" or not? Rss readers like Google Reader and Bloglines allow you to "mark as read" at one click, so I guess that’s the answer.

A strange truth about the Da Vinci Code

Top ten books we lie about reading:

1. The Lord of the Rings – J.R.R Tolkien
2. War and Peace – Leo Tolstoy
3. Wuthering Heights – Emily Bronte
4. Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus – John Gray
5. 1984 – George Orwell
6. Harry Potter and the Philosophers Stone – J.K Rowling
7. Great Expectations – Charles Dickens
8. Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
9. The Da Vinci Code – Dan Brown
10. Diary of Anne Frank – Anne Frank

I am rather surprised to see some of the titles on this list. If I were to lie about what I had read, my list would be:

1. Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire

2. A la recherche de la temps perdu

3. Plato’s Republic

4. Caesar’s Gallic Wars

5. The Descent of Man by Charles Darwin

OK, I won’t go on, you get the picture. But to lie about having read The Da Vinci Code, or Men are from……..oh dear. The real "book snob" would surely lie about not having read books like these?

Promise Me by Harlan Coben

I haven’t written a book review for ages on Petrona; even though I have read quite a few books recently, I haven’t been able to find the time, motivation or inspiration to write about any on this blog.

On the train coming home from work tonight I finished Promise Me by Harlan Coben. The book is typical of this author: it is one of his Myron Bolitar novels as opposed to one of his "stand alones" (as they seem to be called). Myron is a sports agent who always gets involved in some crime or other. Luckily for me, he has apparently decided to move from sports representation into representing other types of people; in this book a movie actor but maybe in future books I’ll get even luckier and it will be authors or editors (do editors have agents?).

Not that the sports aspects of the Myron books ever get in the way of the plot. Myron is an ex-basketball almost-star who lives with his parents in New Jersey, has one of those friends (Win) who is incredibly rich and has nothing better to do than be there whenever needed, use his formidable fighting and shooting skills to get Myron out of any sticky situation going, chase up baddies, etc. There are also a few other regulars, such as Esperanza the ex-wrestler ("Little Pocahontas") receptionist, and long-term problem-girlfriend Jessica.

Promise Me starts with Myron asking Aimee, the teenage daughter of a friend, to phone him if she’s ever in trouble. As befits the usual formula for this author, a couple of weeks later Aimee does just this, then promptly vanishes after Myron gives her a lift to a house that the girl says is where her friend lives — cue general suspicion of Myron and a request from the girl’s mother to find her. Over the next day or two, Myron tracks down what happened, unearthing a sordid collection of characters and motives. The unravelling of the mystery is done with the usual Coben pace and panache, for which the reader can forgive the author for the rather smug and formulaic interactions between Myron (who thinks so much of himself) and Win (even more so).

Again as is usual with Coben, the denouement is unconvincing. The house of cards set up as the book unfolds is so clever and tortuous that the solution to the mystery just can’t live up to the build-up. Never mind, the book is a racy, easy read — just the thing for blocking out commuter train misery.

Oh, and if anyone wants my copy of the book, let me know. I bought it for £1 in the Macmillan’s staff book sale; it is a large-format paperback, now somewhat battered from its several journeys in my old briefcase.

Was I mistaken in thinking that the previous post contained the decade’s most inane headline?

Cognitive Daily: Do women want to look thinner than men want them to be?.

I can’t stand it. The world is going mad. I’m going off to eat some warmed-over macaroni cheese.