Monday, 31 January 2011

Have nothing in your house...

...that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful.

What Morris forgot to mention was the category of things that you made yourself, which may be slightly funny-shaped, and a bit too elfin-sized to be practical (shown on my hand for scale), but that you'd happily fill the house with given the chance.

Also, it's the last day of January and I haven't written all about book 7 A Gate at the Stairs, Lorrie Moore on glorious funny sad form as always, or 8 Baby and child, a seventies classic by Penelope Leach. It's sort of one that if you've read it you'll know whether or not you love it, and if you haven't then it may well be because the life-course hasn't taken you that way. For the record, I loved it.
I'm also preparing to go on and on about Studs Terkel, but with only two days on the bench every week now, progress is slow.
And, if my magnum opus gets proofread tonight, I might manage to finish my latest Mantel-fix, 9 Fludd, but I'll not say more until I have (I wanted to finish it in January. I wanted the year to have got off to a balanced reading start and as always, I don't feel I'm doing enough of it, nor getting enough time to appreciate it and write about it. But already I am delighted to have my records from 2010, so even if I only name them, it's something I'll look back on and be pleased).

Sunday, 16 January 2011

It's been Tony Parker week

And it seems he's converging on a point, really the thing he cares about, being crime and particularly how people end up in situations where it seems to them that the only realistic options are criminal ones. So book 4 was The Frying Pan: a prison and its prisoners, about a "psychiatric prison" somewhere in the midlands, which was a the time of writing (early seventies) very modern and experimental. As usual, the book is virtually all transcribed interviews with little commentary. While there are a few "hard nuts" in there, most of the interest (for me) lies in the people who are more on the fringes, who seem to have fallen into repeated petty offences without being able to see a way to change what they do.
This is taken forward in number 5 The unknown citizen, which looks at just one person, his life so far and the efforts of a few altruistic others to help him. It's a short, sad book and it's hard not to come away wondering what on earth there is left to be done for Charlie. He had a hard childhood, but so did both his brother and his sister, and it's indisputable that every time he leaves prison he does something else wrong.  Parker argues, though, that he's incapable of any other kind of behaviour, and that punishing him for it rather than adapting our society to find ways to help him has as much logic as punishing a man without legs for being unable to walk.

I'm all out of Parker at the moment, so the bench book I start tomorrow morning is going to be some Studs Terkel. In fiction, I'm intermittently enjoying book 6, the english translation of I promessi sposi: I'm  reading and listening to a very abridged version in Italian but felt I should look at the full one. It reads as you might expect something to read that was written in the early nineteenth century and then translated without too much thought for readability. If we could cut out some of the Milanese politics I think I'd find it easier going - at least it's helping me appreciate how much Italian I now understand since the abridged version is seeming like a breeze.

Saturday, 8 January 2011

Staying indoors

There's just no appeal to it out there. It's grey and it's cold and the rain is spitting in faces, and it doesn't even feel fresh, just spent.
So far in January I have read three books, I think.
1. Lighthouse, Tony Parker talking to lighthouse keepers, gave me plenty of lovely imaginings and suggested it might be a lifestyle I could get used to (apart from the boat travel and all that brass-cleaning)
2. What mothers do, Naomi Stadlen, a lovely little book which is really all just about the relationship between a mother and her new baby, and how much meaningful work is done in the first few months as the mother learns to read her child. It made me want Denzil to get a move on.
3. Annie's coming out (Crossley and McDonald), a fascinating Pelican about a teenager with cerebral palsy which gave her such physical difficulties that it was assumed (by the institution she'd been in since the age of three) that she was mentally incapable. Rosie, employed as an assistant in the institution, discovered that Annie had highly developed mental functionings and worked on building up ways that she could communicate these with the world, culminating in a court case where Annie demanded her right to be allowed to leave the institution. Fascinating and disturbing and the sort of thing you hope doesn't still happen.

I'm still moving on with War and Peace, which is regularly staggering me into silence. When you read Tolstoy's accounts of how a war was not down to big decisions of the leaders but individual actions motivated by human weakness, it first makes you look sadly at the world and second leads you to ask what the point is in ever trying to write anything if you can't write like that.

This weekend there will be some more reading, and a proper launch of Project Clothe The Baby, just as soon as I've decided on some patterns. 

Saturday, 1 January 2011

2010, 2011

This will either be a short one or a long one.
I was going to spend some time yesterday thinking over 2010, what I'd learned, and so on, but it turns out I don't have enough patience for all that reviewing. I could say well, the momentous event was getting married (which it was) although really, I think that deciding to get married might have been even more so. And I did some interesting work stuff, and some interesting study stuff, and welcomed into my home the loveliest cat in the world (would it be ok to buy her an anniversary present?).
But already I'm all over planning for 2011. Mainly I'll be having a baby, though that doesn't seem to need much intervention from me at the moment, and is proceeding along nicely without me. But I'm also going to be enthusiastic and brave and curious and open-minded and kind and generous, and I'm going to have a sense of perspective, and I'm going to remember that other people have off days too. These all fail the resolution tests, because they're not specific or measurable, but what's wrong with just deciding on some ways you would like your mindset to be?
Haven't quite decided what to do about books this year, in particular about numbering for ones I started in 2010 but finish this year. I think I'll take them off the 2010 total and add them into 2011, not there are many though of course War & Peace is lingering. Perhaps as the year progresses it will be harder to find time for reading, though a newborn can't take up that much time, can it?

(I nearly didn't write this post at all after reading what The Heartful Blogger had to say about resolutions. But since I'm going nowhere near the idea of size 8 skinny jeans, I reckon it's just about acceptable...)