TSS week 1 post 1: derailed

Sunday_salon_3 I thought I had the perfect solution to how I could contribute to my first Sunday Salon. Unlike many other bloggers, I’ve noticed, I seem to have little ability to ringfence my blogging time from work (in the week) and domestic duties (at the weekends). Most of my Sundays are spent catching up on keeping the household minutiae that crop up and build up in the week from becoming an unstoppable tide. How, therefore (even with the help of the extra hour due to the ending of British Summer Time), could I hope to contribute to a whole day of reading and blogging about it?

Karen of Euro Crime, the generous source of about 60 per cent of my total reading material these days, came to my rescue in mid-week. Her latest parcel of goodies contained not only a book that I’m keen to read but three small novellas. Perfect, I thought, I can whizz through those on Sunday in between doing the ironing, clearing out Jenny’s room in preparation for a long-awaited makeover, and assisting with the parts of the half-term homework that are so dire they have been left till the last day, and write the odd paragraph or two about them while I am at it — and my duty will be done.

But I’ve been derailed by Accident Man, a book by the pseudonymous Tom Cain. I didn’t know/had forgotten what this book was going to be about when I picked it up the other day, after finishing my previous assignment for Euro Crime, but I could see from the cover that I was going to hate it, for two reasons: one, it was clearly going to be one of those "granite-faced assassin" thrillers, with toffee-nosed foreign-office bosses, evil Russians on motorbikes, lovingly described machine-gun makes, triple crosses, etc; and second, it is that book  — yes, the one about Princess Diana and how she really died in that car crash, a topic about which I am totally allergic. So, I thought, fine, I’ll read the first 50 or 100 to do it justice, but by then I’ll be hating it so much I can drop it by Saturday, just in time to start the three novellas on Sunday morning.

But, darn it, I’m hooked! More later!

Join us at the Sunday Salon

Sunday_salon_2 A reminder that the first Sunday Salon is today. Set up by Debra Hamel of the Deblog and Clare Dudman of Keeper of the Snails, the Salon is a way to spend a relaxing Sunday reading and chatting online about reading. See this page for how to join, the chat so far, and some suggestions for discussion topics. (I have added this link to the far right of my blog bar, also.)

Galaxy of stories

Also via The Times: The Galaxy of Stories, "where famous names from the worlds of film, TV and comedy tell memorable children’s stories and bring them to life in their own unique way. In this section, parents can download new stories each week to keep the family entertained at home or in the car." Sponsored by Classic Fm and Ford, a new podcast is added each week. Examples on the site so far include:

Cinderella: Will Cinders be doomed to the life of a skivvy? Ashley Jensen has the answer.

The Princess and the Pea: Samantha Morton describes how to tell a true princess in this classic fairytale .

Little Red Riding Hood: Hungry for more? Tune in to Miranda Richardson as she tells the complete story.

Alice in Wonderland: Imelda Staunton reads the complete tale of Alice’s extraordinary adventures.

Sinbad: Join Christopher Eccleston as he reads Sinbad, a gripping tale of wild seas and wild laughs.

The Snow Queen: Absolutely Fabulous star Joanna Lumley reads a chilling version of The Snow Queen.

The Golden Goose: Hear comedian Harry Enfield read a new and exciting version of the cautionary tale

The Emperor’s Birthday Suit: Richard E Grant reads a comical take on an old story.

Susan Hill, once removed, twice

Susan Hill, or rather her influence, features twice in The Times today (Saturday 27 October).

First is the winner of the Times-Vintage Hallowe’en ghost story competition, judged by Susan, Erica Wagner (literary editor of The Times) and Liz Foley (editorial director of Vintage classics). The story is a chiller in miniature, The Witch’s Promise by Robert Fenner. You can read the two runners’ up, We’ll Meet Again by Shirley Wright and The Resident by Roger Wareham, here.

The second featuring of Susan Hill is a review of her new book, The Man in the Picture. "In the capable hands of Hill, the Gothic novel, that venerable but undeniably pensionable genre, finds a new lease of life." As well as finding the review at the link in this sentence, you can also listen to Susan reading from her famous book The Woman in Black.

Time waits for everyone

There are pianos everywhere, there for the playing, there for the sound of places, to turn the soil, to uncover the roots of things, as roadmaps to our true motives, instructing, retelling, drawing from us — with a patience and sincerity we may not always manage on our own — what is essential about breathing and dreaming, what may really be happening as we run blood through ourselves, share or take it from others, passing into Autumn, only just aware of the trees.
-piano improvisations found in Hungary, Germany, Poland, Russia, and in rememberance of things past. Played by Viggo Mortensen, recorded by Travis Dickerson.

The Sunday Salon

The Sunday Salon is a virtual get-together of bloggers who read. Brainchild (as they say) of twitter-lit blog suprema Debra Hamel, it launches this Sunday, 28 October. I’ll be there; I hope you will be, too. Participation is open to anyone with a blog and a stack of unread books. (But your blog needs to have an RSS feed.) Debra explains how to get involved here.

Recent blogosphere highlights

From a few posts I’ve read over the past week or so (see my Google Reader page for more):

Dovegreyreader and Bluestalking Reader both feature excellent reviews of The Gathering by Anne Enright. (In case you blinked recently, this book is the winner of the 2007 Booker prize.) Dovegreyreader expected to hate it, loved it, didn’t predict it to win, but was delighted when it did. Bluestalking Reader also loves the book. I strongly recommend reading both these reviews, which in their very different ways provide a wonderful sense of the experience that is in store should one read this book (which I haven’t, yet).

Peter of Detectives Beyond Borders asks us for the details of books where the protagonist dies. Now this is where my zero memory is so annoying, as I know I’ve read a few of these, including one quite recently, but I can’t remember anything about them (except thinking at the time that the one I read recently was a bit of a cheat). The only remotely similar plot I can think of is that movie starring Edmond O’Brien that was remade with Dennis Quaid and Meg Ryan (when they were an item). And I can’t even remember the title. Both movies were good, though, involving a protag who has to solve the crime within 24 hours before the poison he’s been given takes effect. The remake was a lot more sentimental than the original.

Just read this marvellous post by Henry Gee on End of the Pier show, complete with extraordinary pictures, extract below:


Yes, I know, more animals. Apart from the obvious misspelling (I’m entirely aware of it, so please don’t write in), what struck me most about this notice was the qualifier ‘beyond this point’—as if giraffes on unicycles are entirely acceptable elsewhere, or that dismounted giraffes (or giraffes employing some other mode of transport, such as skateboards or roller blades) might be exempt from this proscription."

This post on Euro Crime links to an interview on Getting Medieval blog with Simon Levack, who writes the Aztec mystery series featuring Yaotl, a slave. Karen (aka Euro Crime) writes that Levack "has now had four printed adventures. The fourth book, Tribute of Death, has had to be self-published due to insufficient sales of the previous books, despite critical acclaim."

Via Crime Always Pays, I read that Brian McGilloway, author of the superb Borderlands, has started a blog. Definitely one to add to my "writers who blog" list.

Borderlands was published by Macmillan New Writing. It’s a Crime! here features another book from the imprint, The Herring Seller’s Apprentice by L. C. Tyler. Crimeficreader writes: "It bounds into being with a cracking pace and cutting humour, both of which can be hard to maintain all the way through a novel, but L. C. Tyler keeps both going with an energy exceeding that from a Duracell battery." Read the rest of her review at the link.

That’s it for now.

Millais in London

When I was 12 or 13, I joined a local film society, being the youngest member by at least 20 years. I still remember the films I saw there: L’Assamoire, L’Etranger, Animal Farm, Odd Man Out, Battleship Potemkin, et al. Before each film, a short documentary was shown, followed by a talk about the main feature. And that is when I discovered the pre-Raphaelites, and in particular Millais, in a wonderful short film about the movement that I remember to this day. 

I didn’t know anything at that time about Bubbles, the main reason for people to sneer at Millais, and to me this picture is an irrelevance. My love of Millais and his contemporaries was, and is, due to the beautiful evocations of the classics and Shakespeare. This is why I am looking forward to seeing the Millais exhibition currently in London: see Millais’s high drama and low designs – Times Online. The picture of Ophelia has special meaning for me, and is so well-described in the article at the link:

"This discomfiting fascination with the relationship between human bodies and what they are in – both clothes and setting – is one of Millais’s distinctive qualities. Through all the variations in style and genre which this exhibition amply documents, he remains absorbed by the idea that a setting can become a kind of vesture, the vesture project an image, and the image tally uneasily with the human being to whom it is attached. No character has been more comprehensively sunk into a natural setting than Ophelia, and yet the effect of this is the opposite, it seems to me, of that suggested in the exhibition’s detailed and generally perceptive catalogue: “the depicted cycles of growth, maturation and display doubly absorb Ophelia into a natural process, and render her insignificant”. Of course the silver flowery embroidery of her dress mingles with the stream and connects with the sprays of white dog rose above; and the purple loosestrife on the bank calls out to the poppies, violets and daisies of her bouquet now scattered on the water. But this weaving of pretty patterns will not assimilate the bare bits of her moribund body which stick up above the surface: her cupped hands, which are shaped like lily flowers but whose cold fleshiness repels the thought of the comparison as soon as it occurs; her lips, which are not at all like an opening bud; her cheeks, which are pink but hardly rosy. The painting sets up and worries at a contrast between what can be taken as decoration – leaves, flowers, and dress material – and what, here at least, cannot: the woman’s body."

Jim Watson retires

"Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory (CSHL) today [25 October] announced that Dr. James D. Watson, 79, has retired after nearly 40 years of distinguished service to CSHL. He had stepped down as President of CSHL in 2003 and most recently served as Chancellor." No reason is given for this annoucement. Here is part of Nature‘s editorial this week (free access: see Nature 449, 948; 2007) published yesterday, before the CSHL announcement:

"So ‘Honest Jim’ Watson has finally fallen victim to his notorious propensity for making outrageous statements — forced to cancel a UK lecture tour and suspended from his leadership role at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory in New York after being quoted in a British newspaper as claiming that black people are less intelligent and employable than whites…… Scientists with controversial arguments need to be able to withstand the heat, defending or retracting statements as the evidence indicates is required. Watson, however unpleasant his utterances, has always been willing to act in this spirit. The cancellations run the risk of playing into the hands of those who wish to suppress scientific inquiry. Many human geneticists are engaged in the sensitive task of unravelling differences between the world’s population groups, all the while acknowledging that ‘race’ is an emotive and unscientific word. Others are investigating the equally sensitive genetics of ‘desirable’ traits, such as cognitive ability. Asking such questions has always been controversial, given the potential for abuse of the outcomes demonstrated by the history of eugenics. Scientists explore the world as it is, rather than as they would like it to be."

(See the Nature reference above for the full text of the editorial.)

Poverty and human development

Cross-posted at Nautilus:

The Council of Science Editors has organized journals around the globe to participate in its 2007 Global Theme Issue on Poverty and Human Development. Hundreds of journals are publishing articles related to the scientific and medical issues that surround this theme. The Nature journals are pleased to contribute the content highlighted on this page, all of which is free. We have also created a supporting archive comprising previously published content from the Nature Publishing Group that is relevant to this theme.
See here for the nature.com Poverty and Human Development index page.