On My Reading List: July 2017

By the time I worked my way through last month’s list I felt like I was drowning in testosterone, so I’ve kept this month’s list short and gentler.

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‘Cider with Rosie’, by Laurie Lee (1959): is a memoir of the author’s childhood growing up in a village in the English Cotswolds in the years following World War One. These are no misery memoirs but neither does the golden glow of nostalgia entirely obscure the reality of a life in which it was perfectly acceptable for a house to flood every time there was a storm, education to consist of a rudimentary Three R’s delivered as well as they would ever be by the age of 14, and for a child to have eleven siblings, of which four were deceased. And that’s before we’ve even reached the superstition, murder, and suicides. Lee shares his memories with a warmth and humour which is irresistible even when his recollections are decidedly unsettling. Continue reading “On My Reading List: July 2017”

Treasure Trove: ‘Aslan’s Theme’ by Geoffrey Burgon

This short piece was the theme music for the BBC’s ‘Chronicles of Narnia’ back in the 1980s. I loved the series, and consider it to be superior to the more recent movies because it was far truer to the books and therefore did a far better job of conveying the deeper meaning of Lewis’ works, rather than focussing on the visual appeal of special effects.

Characters from the BBC's The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe, 1988
Characters from the BBC’s The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe, 1988

Geoffrey Burgon (1941-2010) was a composer of television and film scores whose best-known works include the scores for Monty Python’s ‘Life of Brian’ and ITVs ‘Brideshead Revisited’. He won BAFTAs for his themes for ‘Longitude’ and the remake of ‘The Forsyte Saga’. He was also a jazz trumpeter, and this was his original intended career. He eschewed the various musical trends of the 20th century in favour of more traditional styles and medieval influences. As a result he was dismissed by critics as ‘commercial’ – and popular with mainstream audiences like eight-year-old me who understood nothing of classical music but liked the pretty, hummable tune which heralded the latest instalment of a favourite show.

Shakespeare at the Pop Up Globe

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The Pop Up Globe, as seen on the walk from my hotel to the conference venue.

Earlier this month work sent me to a conference in Auckland. This isn’t something which would normally make the pages of this blog – which I intentionally keep quite separate from my working life – except for the fact that the conference in question was being held at the Ellerslie Events Centre in Auckland. The hotel at which I was staying was about five minutes’ walk away, and in between lay something which I’d longed to visit ever since I first heard of it – the Pop Up Globe. Continue reading “Shakespeare at the Pop Up Globe”

Playtime: The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie

“Keep the secret of whodunit locked in your heart.”

The Mousetrap 1.jpgThe longest-running West End show ever (it opened in 1952 and has just kind of kept going) is actually quite hard to track down online, especially if you’d like to be able to hear what the actors are saying and not get seasick from shaky camera action. The version I eventually settled on was pretty good apart from the person who coughed all the way through. And the rather hit-and-miss efforts of the American actors to affect British accents, but then I am British so I know the difference. Continue reading “Playtime: The Mousetrap by Agatha Christie”

Author Profile: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

 

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Virginia Woolf 1902

Acknowledged along with James Joyce as one of the foremost Modernist writers, and by Simone de Beauvoir as one of the few female writers to have explored what she referred to as “the given” – the assumptions made about what a woman ‘is’ – Virginia Woolf is best-remembered today for a handful of her most prominent novels, but during her lifetime was also a noted essayist and critic.

 

She was born in London on the 25th of January 1882, into an upper middle class family with strong literary and artistic connections. Continue reading “Author Profile: Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)”

On My Reading List: February 2017

February has been a quiet month for me, reading-wise. I’m well behind in my annual Bible read, which is a situation I must rectify during this Lenten season. I have, however, completed the four Shakespeare plays I mentioned back in January. Perhaps it’s having slogged through the Canterbury Tales last year, but I’m finding Shakespeare much easier to read these days. Still not easy, mind you, but easier. These are the other things I’ve been reading: Continue reading “On My Reading List: February 2017”

Treasure Trove: This Really Cool ‘Prize Bound’ Book Awarded By My Old High School Nearly A Hundred Years Ago

While browsing one of the second-hand book-stalls at my local market, as I am wont to do on a Saturday morning, I found… THIS!

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The cover caught my eye immediately: while my school crest has changed over the last hundred years, the school name – Wanganui Girls’ College – hasn’t. (The spelling of ‘Whanganui’ has changed, but that’s a don’t-mention-the-War kind of thing). Continue reading “Treasure Trove: This Really Cool ‘Prize Bound’ Book Awarded By My Old High School Nearly A Hundred Years Ago”

Author Profile: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)

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Dostoyevsky by Vasily Perov 1872

One of the greatest writers not only in Russia but in the world, Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote books which reflect a deep appreciation of human psychology, a profound interest in philosophy, and a devout Christian faith. His plots at times seem rambling to the point of chaotic, and his cast of characters extensive, but the reader is never left in any doubt that the author has a point and intends to make it.

Dostoyevsky was born in Moscow on 11th November 1821, to Mikhail Dostoyevsky, a doctor estranged from his family, who had expected him to become a priest, and Maria Nechayeva, who came from a family of merchants. He was raised in the family home in the grounds of the Mariinsky Home for the Poor, where his father worked, an upbringing which was steeped from an early age in the Christian faith and the literature of Russia and Europe: Pushkin, Goethe, Cervantes, Walter Scott, and Homer all joined the Bible in expected family reading. He had a ‘delicate constitution’ but a determined attitude which would see him in good stead in later life. Continue reading “Author Profile: Fyodor Dostoyevsky (1821-1881)”

Five Books About Family

My recent visit to my family has brought to the front of my mind just how important family is, but while family life plays a significant role in much of children’s literature it is often less prominent in adult literature, no doubt reflecting the greater variety of influences and situations in adult life. But there is some literature which places family life front and centre, and here’s my list of five of the best. Continue reading “Five Books About Family”

Author Profile: Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)

Little House in the Big Woods first edition
First Edition of Little House in the Big Woods

Having owned, and read repeatedly, the entire ‘Little House’ series as a child, I was already aware that Laura Ingalls Wilder had lived the adventurous childhood of a true ‘pioneer girl’ (the original working title of her memoirs). However, unlike many authors of fictionalised accounts, Ingalls actually downplayed, or omitted entirely, some of the events of her childhood. Like the brother who died in infancy (a particular tragedy at a time when it was still considered important for a man to have a son: Laura had no other brothers), or the time a man in the town where her family was living got drunk and accidentally set himself on fire. Continue reading “Author Profile: Laura Ingalls Wilder (1867-1957)”