A lazy Sunday in Winter

Somehow I was in the mood for being a bit lazy today.  The winter is gradually getting colder but I am warm and snug.  The low sun streaming in the windows has been  alternating with bursts of noisy rain..

After a few chores by lunchtime I was ready to finish reading Maggie O’Farrell;s Instructions for a Heatwave.  How inappropriate has it been reading about London in the midst the 1976 drought, the parched and cracked lawns,  the effect it had on people, particularly Irish born Gretta  Riordan, her three adult children and their worry about the  husband and father who inexplicably has gone missing.

It’s an interesting story about the irritations between various family members,  their problems and misunderstandings.  There is a build up of tensions as various snippets of the family’s background and secrets come to light to help solve the mystery.. As in most novels to my mind there is a slight exaggeration or dramatization of the characters compared to what I would expect in real life but it is a very believable story.  I enjoyed it more than the only other Farrell novel that I have read, The Hand that First Held Mine.

Then by chance this afternoon I watched the 1966 movie of Ray Bradbury’s novel Fahrenheit 451, a clunky old movie which I found quite riveting.  I had read this book early in its life and had seen the movie before.  I was very much a Ray Bradbury fan, seeing how ordinary people would cope with a strangely changing society.  But after so long just the overall impression remained,  not much in the way of detail.

It was quite distressing seeing all those familiar books being burnt, cover after cover in the flames, always enough time to appreciate the book which was being burnt. It can happen.  It has happened.  And the censorship of books is a small example of the  book burning. mentality.  I am old enough to have read Lady Chatterley’s Lover from a copy sold from under the counter by an obliging bookseller.  And it is quite embarrassing to look at the list of books which used to be banned in Australia, a list full of well known and respected authors.

But attitudes change.  Mainly it is the political influence which moulds  the censorship ideas. These days printed books on pornography, suicide and  anything which encourages terrorism comes under close scrutiny in Australia.  Less easy to police though is the internet.

As reading is always associated with coffee for me, today’s coffee came from a newly acquired Nespresso machine.  It makes a beautiful coffee but my main complaint is with the bully boys who control the sale of the coffee capsules to make my coffee.  To shop online I am quite happy to supply my name and address and credit card details but this firm is unbelievable, the amount of information they extracted from me before they would send me a single capsule.  What control.. What manipulation.   What the heck does it matter where I had bought the machine .  What if it had been a present and I didn’tknow its source, would they have refused to send me coffee capsules ?  I’m surprised they didn’t ask my bra size and shoe size !

Instructions for a Heatwave


The Oxford English Dictionary and related books

I’m posting the newsletter I got today from Barwon Booksellers in Geelong, not to advertise the shop but because I always thoroughly enjoy what they have to say.  This edition is on the Oxford English Dictionary and books related to the Dictionary, a topic which has cropped up in blogs this year, including The Surgeon of Crowthorne. There’s the information on the Compact Edition and it’s interesting to see all the books listed together.  Ammon Shea’s Reading the OED would be a different kind of read.  And I hadn’t heard of the book by Murray’s granddaughter. I hope you enjoy the Newsletter too.
Digging In The Word-Hoard – The Compact Oxford English Dictionary

Whether your finishing off that eight volume history of the wooden spoon, or your PhD exploring barnacles on the First Fleet, or just trying to clarifya moot point in a family game of dictionary, the last word in  English words is unquestionably theComplete Oxford English Dictionary, otherwise known as the OED. Famous for its native completeness and its practical method of citing the first printed usages of any given word, the OED is to the English language what rock art paintings are to aboriginal Australia.The complete version of the OED runs to some 20 rather hefty volumes but from 1971 there has also existed the Compact Edition, which, by photographically reducing each page to one half of its linear dimensions, means the entire OED is available in a much more portable 2 volume set, complete with a specially designed rectangular magnifying glass for viewing the miniscule text.

From 1991 the Compact Edition format was resized further to fit the lot into a single volume. Each page now went ‘nine-up’, meaning each leaf contained nine of the original Dictionary pages, which of course required even smaller text and thus a veritable glass-brick magnifier to view it with. As a consequence there is a school of thought that the ideal version of the Compact OED is indeed the two volume rather than the one volume version.

In over 20 years we have had the two volume edition at BB on only a couple of occasions, and now we have it again. This is the 1975 ‘four-up’ version, in its box and with the magnifying glass in its nifty little cardboard drawer. The volumes themselves are in great nick although the box is rather worn in patches. Still, the thing is rather marvelous and fetches quite the penny around the traps.

For a week we’d like to offer The Compact Edition of The Oxford English Dictionary exclusively to our newsletter subscribers for only $80. First in best dressed.

Befitting such an important work there is an increasing amount of literature surrounding the OED, most famously Simon Winchester’s biographical account of W.C.Minor, the millionaire American Civil War surgeon turned lunatic and murderer who became one of the keenest contributors to the original Dictionary from, bizarrely enough, Broadmoor Asylum in Crowthorne, Berkshire. Minor dedicated his entire cell-bound life to the Dictionary and Winchester’s account of his life and his relationship with the Dictionary’s original editor, James Murray, is a remarkable read.

We have The Surgeon Of Crowthorne in stock and also The Professor And The Madman which is Winchester’s text retitled for a U.S. readership presumably slower on the uptake. (It is always quite amusing to see how publishers dumb down book titles for the American market).

Also in stock here at BB is Caught In The Web Of Words, James Murray’s granddaughter K.M.Elisabeth Murray’s biography of the legendary OED editor.  We have a copy of Simon Winchester’s The Meaning of Everything, in which he expands the story of the making of the Dictionary beyond the efforts of Minor and Murray, and we also have Reading the OED on our shelves, in which obsessed logophile Ammon Shea describes spending one whole year reading the 21,730 pages of the OED from cover to cover. As the flyleaf of Shea’s rather fascinating book says, Reading the OED is a feast for word lovers.

All of the books mentioned above are hardbacks in good condition at $12 each. As a nice addition we also have Oxford’s Modern Australian Usage, Nicholas Hudson’s examination of the editing and publishing issues around the evolution of English in the Australian context. Modern Australian Usage is in hardback at $15.

Lastly, may we express our sadness at the passing of one of our very favourite poets, Seamus Heaney, only a few days ago. As the natural successor of WB Yeats, Heaney himself was one of the greatest diggers amongst the word-hoard, which in itself is much richer for the many arcane gems he revived and reenlivened in the body of his work. Heaney was also of course Professor of Poetry at Oxford for a number of years. Reportedly his last words, texted to his wife Marie, were:  noli timere. Which translates from the Latin as – don’t be afraid.

Book or screen version -Austen, Tolstoy and Shakespeare

Twas  early in March and all through the town

Windows were closed and blinds were pulled down

For didn’t you know that this day our fate

Was  for the temp to actually  rise to three eight

The refrig iwas loaded with salads and water

The air con was humming the way that it oughta

It made me feel all at sixes and sevens  *

So as this heat wave rolled on what was there to do but sit around and loaf and read and play with the blogs, that is after I’d rescued that dear little young rabbit from under car wheels on our street.  Such a pretty little grey thing who is now with the local vet and hoping that someone will come forward and claim him.


But because of several blogs that I have read it has got me thinking, did I really like a classic book, or am I really just talking about a screen version

In the Comment section of blogs so  many people  refer to their favorite screen version and how wonderfully a certain actor portrayed the hero. I do it all the time.  Did I like Pride and Prejudice.  Of course, bu I I just loved  Jennifer Ehle, she was perfect for the role  in the BBC series.  How dare that Knightly woman think she could play that role. ( And I also loved Jennifer Ehle in Camomile Lawn  – I wonder if that was a book I could read.)  Which set me thinking as to how do we know that we really enjoyed the book or are reacting to the screen version.

I read One Day by David Nicholls without having seen the movie.  I was aware that Anne Hathaway had been cast for the role of  Emma  so her face floated across the page the whole time I read the book.  Her looks were perfect for the role. But I didn’t enjoy the movie.  It just didn’t seem to be cohesive the way the book was.

Sometimes, however, seeing a well-done screen interpretation can be a great help in re-reading.  Take War and Peace for example.  Audrey Hepburn as the elfin Natasha is just perfect. The images  my mind stored from the movie were a great help when  I again read the book.  I usually prefer to let my imagination run  riot but perhaps I needed a little help with mid C19th  Russia – those broad landscapes, a curving staircase, the magnitude of the war scenes. In fact I wouldn’t mind if some books were illustrated with a few  paintings or photos to illustrate possible settings

Remember. I’m talking about do I know I really like the book or am I influenced by what I have seen on the screen.

If you were to ask me if I like this or that play by Shakespeare I would probably wobble my hand from side to side in a take it or leave it motion. But if you should pick on one w here a stage or screen version  had helped me to understand and enjoy the play and sent me back to read the script then you would get a resounding Yes, I liked it.

This was true when I recently watched the latest offering of Richard II, part of the series The Hollow Crown. I have always found this play a bit boring  but now I am a great fan.  The help I needed this time was not with the backgrounds but with the way the words were spoken, the phrasing and the pauses to get the meaning from the words.  Ben Wishaw as Richard II did this perfectly, in fact he IS Richard II.  So still of body but with such subtle facial expressions you can read what Richard is thinking.

Last night our local TV had an episode of Shakespeare Uncovered, this time on Richard II, presented by the admirable Derek Jacobi.  There were many excerpts from productions long past, but even though the words were familiar none of them moved me the way the present version did..  It is living history.

In the end, does it really matter ? Book or screen version or the beautiful meld of both, which give me so much pleasure.  So thank you Jane Austen, Shakespeare, Tolstoy et al.

* With apologies to ….whoever.

From Persephone Books to TV

My appetite for books takes  me in many directions and recently that has been in the direction of Persephone Books with its charming collection of reprints – neglected novels mostly from the middle of the twentieth century – beautifully presented paper-backs.

My first read was” Family Roundabout” by Richard Crompton, well known for her Just William stories. Set between the two wars it tells the story of two families and their contrasting matriarchs, one domineering and the other gentle. I thoroughly enjoy drifting back into that era, knowing that the writer has lived it, that the details are accurate and not imagined and researched.

Then came “The Making of a Marchioness” by Frances Hodgson Burnett, the author of The Secret Garden. First published in 1901 it has now been chosen by ITV as a suitable TV series.  And herein lies my problem.  They have renamed it The Making of a Lady. Why ? Why ? Why?  It is so disrespectful of the author.

As I understand it to be a Marchioness you have to the wife of a Marquess, one step down from a Duke and Duchess,  whereas a lady can mean many things.  For all you know I am a lady – I know which knife and spoon to use, I can conduct myself decorously and make polite conversation about safe topics like the weather when the mood takes me. So you could call me a lady.

I can be a lady without belonging to the British nobility and using the title Lady, which  even then doesn’t  indicate to which rank I belong.

In this novel, by her conduct,  the heroine is already a lady, poor but skilled in all the social graces.. To be made into a Marchioness she has to meet a Marquess, attract his attention and marry him, which is the basis of the story.  She is becoming a Marchioness, not a lady.


So I can’t help being cynical and saying oh my, what a big word is Marchioness, much too big for the export market to cope with.  We can’t use a word the non-Brits  won’t  understand .  Let’s just make the title meaningless instead.

There is much about the movie and TV world which puzzles me, such as the remakes of perfectly good shows.  Take the Wallander series with Kenneth Branagh as an example.  If you haven’t read the Henning Mankell books or seen the original TV shows with sub-titles it’s a perfectly nice, pretty little series, but it is not a patch on the original.   Brannagh’s stubble doesn’t make up for the grittiness of the original.  And apart from re-writing story lines they have introduced a new character called Scenery so that we can have lengthy views of beautiful scenery to pad out the series. It’s just another British cop show with a bigger budget. Take out the name Wallander and call him Smith or Jones and you wouldn’t even know it was a Danish story. I really am cheesed off !

And the dramatic Danish Dragon Tattoo trilogy – Daniel Craig might be gorgeous but in my humble opinion  the original sub-titled films were better – and so it goes on.  No doubt “The Bridge” will be the next in line for conversion. They’ve already destroyed “The Killing” by transferring it over to New York.

Please, TV-land, give up the re-hashing and make your shows from original books or stories as the BBC did with its adaptation of P.D.James’ “Death in Holy Orders” and “The Murder Room”.  They were a while ago now but when things are well done you don’t forget them.

Black Swan Green by David Mitchell


My attitude to life frequently depends on what I am reading. And this week it has been David Mitchell’s Black Swan Green.  I feel good.

As usual  I am way behind everyone else –  I should have read this book years ago. But now that I have finished I find it hard to write about it.   It was so…. good.

The book is full of potential quotes such as “the screws of grammar that hold the sentence together”.   And I was delighted to see Vyvyan Ayrs from Cloud Atlas and his now mature daughter Eva crop up again as Mrs Crommelynck.

I was also intrigued by the final two lines.

”It doesn’t feel  very all right”

“That’s because it’s not the end “

A book published in 2004 expressing the same sentiment as in a 2012 movie, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.  That was a great film which I saw before reading Black Swan Green.    I was most impressed in the movie when an Indian came out with “Everything will be alright.  So if i’ts  not alright it’s not yet the end.“  Here was I thinking that this was an Indian proverb, and what a good attitude to have to life.

Now I’m wondering if there is a prior history to the idea ”not finished so not the end” compared to the idea which is more familiar to me,” it will be alright in the end”..  Not OK therefore not the end, compared to. Is the end therefore is OK

And yes, I did finish Casual Vacancy.  Enough said !Image

Hello world!

I enjoy my Coffee, particularly a skinny latte mid-afternoon.  I like to have my latte warmer than is considered politically correct as I want it to last for as long as possible.  That warm glass in my hand is always a link to some other pleasant activity be it reading, chatting, observing others or just simply gazing out the cafe window and day-dreaming.

But it didn’t quite work out that way today as my TV recorder is practically full – no room for tonight’s downloads. It’s my own fault – there is always so much I’d like to watch but never enough time.

The earliest recording was the film  South Solitary so I sat down with a home-made black coffee to watch it. Seven people on a lonely lighthouse island off the Australian coast in 1927.  Circumstances reduced it to just two, each with their own personal and post WW1 problems.  I found it a sheer delight, the delight of simple story telling, added to which is some beautiful photography.

I feel sorry for Margaret , one of the movie reviewers on At The Movies on ABC TV.  And I quote – ” David, I actually wasn’t as impressed by this as you are and I watched it and I went, “When is the second act going to kick into this film?” And like it never happens. It’s like it goes forever, this monotony of life on the island.”

Hey, Margaret, those people were healing, they were finding a better life than they were expecting, and healing like theirs doesn’t happen rapidly; we needed to see the various strands which led up to that healing.  It’s a story of hope for all of us.  I just have one problem – I want to watch the film again so I can’t delete it from the Recorder

A parting gift but no sorrow as the future is bright with anticipation.