Together in Spirit

An online reading group ('TIS a reading group!) to bring together friends, and friends of friends, who aren't able to be in a conventional reading group due to constraints of time or geography.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

The Winter Book

I have to agree with many of the thoughts expressed in previous entries. I do not dislike short stories, but I think that they require a high degree of skill to leave you intrigued and satisfied that they are a whole in themselves. This book had a real feeling of whimsy, helped by the light touch of this author. I felt drawn into each situation but was not always satisfied by the ending. There was a certain unevenness between them. Some were obviously fiction and some not, but of these which parts were or not? The Summer Book, for those of us who have read it, certainly helped to set the scene quickly in those stories set on the island and probably made the final story more poignant.

Suggestions for future choices are fine by me. Do I sense that a breather may be welcome?

Amen to that!

I wholeheartedly agree with Val about short stories. I am struggling to read A Winter's Book just because I long to 'get into it' and find a series of snippets, beautifully crafted though they may be, too infuriating. I also feel that I need more education on the genre as a whole which, like poetry, needs some interpreting. Unlike the rest of you I have not read A Summer Book and therefore lack the background information to both Jansson's life and it's geographical setting, which may have helped me.

I also wholeheartedly agree to Emily's suggestion. I am happy to suggest a book for September although, like Emily, I will have the same excuse for possibly not being able to read it and contribute to discussing it with, by then, a four month old baby to deal with. Similarly I may not be able to contribute much to the group in the next few months although will endeavour to read as much as possible in order to retain my sanity!

With two of our members busy child-rearing would it be a sensible suggestion to consider inviting others to join our merry band? Do we have a waiting list of eager applicants Emily?

Sunday, March 25, 2007

winter stories

All my life I have tried to enjoy short stories because I believe them to be – at best – taut, well crafted works of art. But even by my favourite authors, I cannot really abide them. This I think is because for me, leisure reading is about disappearing for a couple of hours into another world of time or place or experience and short stories simply don’t deliver that. I managed to read A winter book because the stories are sufficiently themed and sequential to almost deliver the other sense of time and place that a novel would. Unlike Emily, that place is beguiling for me, a place I believe I’d love to be (though I’d need it without the mosquitoes, sea sickness and fish). As in A summer book, Jansson writes beautifully, evoking that time and place and those lives with effortless (?) skill. And, a good choice of story to end with.

As to choosing our own books for TIS – good idea. I think by now we have some notion of each other’s tastes, sufficient to choose suitable reading matter which extends rather than extinguishes. Shall we do it by alphabetical order of first names, which is particularly memorable for Valerie and me as that’s how we work our proximal reading group. You may find yourself out of a job Emily. So by my calculation, that’s Helen to start us off, when given the go-ahead.

Saturday, March 17, 2007

A Cunning Plan

As you know, we're expecting our third child at the end of the summer, and tweaking my commitments to accommodate this has led to some creative thinking about better ways of doing things. One of which was this. I very much want to continue reading with you all, but wanted to take a sabbatical from choosing the books for a while from September. You've previously been very good about suggesting books, but I wondered if you'd all be on for taking turns to actually choose the book without going through me? I'd try to keep reading them with you, but if I couldn't always manage it, I wouldn't feel too responsible. Don't mind how you arrange it, but thought I'd slip the thought in now so you can start thinking of some books you might like.

(Non-) wintery books

Yes, Helen, I think you're spot-on with the ending of Amy Tan - definitely too happy an ending after all that's gone before (even if a relief that it's not too bleak). A carefully-crafted ending with more of a sense of a redemptive finish, hard-won after suffering, would have been my ideal (eg Girl with a pearl earring, The Shipping News, We need to talk about Kevin, An Equal Music). Am I alone in thinking it's so often the ending of a book which we have most gripes with? eg Bel Canto or The way I live now? I wonder if it's that authors can get away with it (they don't have to write beyond it, so can afford to be sloppy)? Or is there such pressure to provide happy or dramatic endings that this is where the compromises tend to occur?

Anyroad, onto A Winter Book. I have to admit to being disappointed after The Summer Book. I felt it lacked the child-grandmother relationship which gave, I now realise, the human warmth to a very bleak and harsh island existence in The Summer Book. I thought A Winter Book still had merits, being evocative and informative about the coping methods for living such a life. And also a real shaft of light into how being a world-famous writer makes you public property. The letters from fans/nutters made a very good case for retreating to a remote and desolate island from which one could repel visitors! I also liked the humour - "The Squirrel" was my favourite with its battle of wills and the final triumph of the rodent. But what a place to live, and what isolation to live in, for a squirrel to be so central...