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.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

A breath from elsewhere

Hi... Sorry you all hated this. I understood what you meant - I think the criticisms were valid - but it nevertheless managed to help me switch into enjoying and planning my garden, and seems fused in my mind with lying (all too briefly!) in my hammock in the summer looking at the garden as I read. So I've clearly been too generous to the book. But isn't that often the way - our circumstances can make such a difference to our response to a text/film/person, and things can get arbitrarily and indelibly associated?

Anyway, delighted that everyone loved Bennett and had such a range of happy responses. Will be interested in your answers to Sue and Pella's questions!

The next choice is the Marie Strachan (The earth hums) as posted by Val.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

The uncommon reader

Well hello, I am new to TIS and this is my first book. So hi to everyone!

I liked the book, easy to read, some interesting concepts. I had never reflected on the queen and what she may or may not feel, but I liked the conceit of using such an abnormal role to bring out all the interesting perceptions of what readying might do to 'one' in terms of generating empathy - do you really think it does? I have read for so long I can't imagine what life would be like without it. Neither of my parents will ever read a novel because they are 'not true'. They will only read biographies or improving books of one type or another. What is true after all? Authors put all sorts of truths into their novels, don't they but my parents are not interested because it is not factual. Incomprehensible! Are they lacking in empathy - mmm. I also liked the 'books did not care who was reading them' - I like the feeling of their indifference!. Sir Kevin though reading was a selfish pursuit, I never thought of it in that way, but I guess it is definitely 'me time'! Great ending.
What's next?

Friday, September 25, 2009

Excellence and Irritation

When I saw that Alan Bennett was next on our list I went out and bought this book, knowing it would be one for the shelf. So it was. Brilliant in its brevity, composition and character portrayals. Such gentle, but often poignant humour, with a good plot and superb ending. As someone for whom reading was a delight that wasn't shared or understood by my family as I grew up, I found this a truly poignant read. My only grievance with the book was that Bennett insisted on linking those who like reading with those who like writing. This is not always the case and I thought it a shame that both the Queen and Norman went from critically appreciating books to feeling the need to write one. However, that aside, I know this will be a book well worth re-reading as there were so many vignettes to enjoy over and again.

As for A Breath from elsewhere, I found this an extremely irritating book. I was so glad to see that others found her equally difficult and I'm afraid I gave up after the first chapter. I came to the book as a reasonable novice in gardening and was very interested in the first chapter as supposed succour for the novice gardener. I agree that "there are no right ways" and that experimentation and creativity is good in the garden, but I got annoyed that her "right way" was continually being promulgated. No rules but "As for trees, neglect these at your peril" and "no garden should be without a wall"? One moment she is saying "As for Good Taste... forget it" and the next "But there is no excuse for the owner of a garden full of unusual plants to instal a pre-fabricated shop-bought electric blue 'kidney' in which to plant water lillies". I found her tone preachy and arrogant.

She continually insisted that she too was once a beginner but had clearly forgotten the nervousness and insecurity of the novice, who needs those gardening magazines and supposedly stifling rules in order to navigate their way through the myriad of mysteries that gardening at the outset can seem to be. Similarly, visiting gardens can be inspiring but can also be completely overwhelming for the beginner; like being given a copy of Dickens when first learning to read. Exhausting. I also took umbrage (and suprised Emily that you didn't too) at what she said about photos and photographers in the garden. Her book, I felt, would have been a great deal better for a few glossy photos (for example I would have loved to see a picture of the garden with the piano in it) and again, for the beginner, how essential is the odd photo if you can't picture the aforementioned plant by it's Latin name.

Definitely not a book for a novice gardener, or for one who can enjoy photography as an art form or for one with a small garden and a limited budget!

Monday, September 14, 2009

Uncommon reader by an unfamiliar blogger

It's been so long since contributing, but here I am again....! And Emily cleverly suggested Alan Bennett's "Uncommon reader" as my first read back in.

I thought it was great. Terribly readable - diverting, entertaining and light-heartedly poignant. And what a pleasant "manifesto on how reading changes lives" (as one critic comments on back cover), I didn't feel preached at despite strong views being aired about why read and how to go about it. So being lobbyed on merits of reading - expanding vocabulary, raising sensitivity towards others by increasing powers of observation and reflection. That it's not to be exercised out of duty but rather for pleasure and enlightenment - which challenges my finisher tendencies, when I start a book, I like to finish it. Though I'm not convinced these need necessarily be kicked into touch (as Sir Kevin might say!). But it is good to be reminded that book reading shouldn't per se, be work.

Found little dig at Harry Potter amusing, considering this book at one level was an explicit rally call to read, something which JK Rowling has been praised for doing so through her writings.

Resonated with delight Queen had when author discovered, and found he/she has written others (reminded me of Mum and Ellis Peters Cadfael series). Loved the picture of the Queen participating in and excelling at pub quizes. And found musings on literature's indifference to its readers, that books don't care who's reading them or whether one's reading them or not, all readers are equal, poignant in the context of this "uncommon reader". And therefore the intoxicating appeal to her of reading - that it's anonymous, shared and common. "She who led a life apart craved it".

Just being slightly thick, could someone explain the comment "literature is a commonwealth, letters a republic", on pg 31.

Journey reading took her on, in which it was confirmed to her "she had no voice", and the reality this could be achieved through writing leading to the final twist and her abdication, reminded me of colleagues in the past who've struggled at times in representing the organisation we've worked for and who've exclaimed at their leaving dos "it's such a relief to have my voice back".

Finally, identified with analogy of reading to a muscle. Like so many things in life, it needs to be exercised. Something I've not done much of in the last 8 months. So starting out again with a light bit of exercise in the form of this delightful book was so therapeutic.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Lots of Words and Not a Lot to Say

I read every word of this with utmost difficulty. What is the literary equivalent of verbal diarrhoea? We were subjected to the skittering thoughts of someone with a grasshopper mind, who was quite unable to organise them and continually went off on a tangent e.g. the shipping forecast, flitting from one to another, sometimes contradicting and often repeating herself. If she chattered in the same way, I wonder poor Michael ever got a word in. For all the language at her disposal, she still felt the need to print that of others, which were probably the best part of the book.

Her ideas of gardening I originally concurred with, but I could not go along with all the extra items, often painted in garish colours and felt that there was more of a junk yard feel than a growing space by the end. There were also a large number of plants that were on her hit list that I felt out of keeping with her original assertions of no rules.

I don't think that this is the book for you, Emily, if you are planning your garden. I did agree that the best way is to visit other gardens and see which ones you like. Gardens evolve anyway and you learn by making mistakes. If you can check out the soil, aspect and shade, you have a sporting chance of success.

I felt I had spent a day with someone who did not cease talking about herself....please save me... and in the end believe that this a vehicle for just that.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Earth Hums in b flat

I’m posting details of this book at Emily’s request – but please don’t feel pressure to read it yet. The background, for those who don’t know, is that I ‘know’ the author which is a first for a blog book. I’ve worked with Mari Strachan’s husband, Glenn, for many years (and indeed he was one of my students) and a nicer man you couldn’t wish for. How’s this for proof: they live on a farmstead they are renovating in N Wales, but when Glenn got the post of co-Course Director at London South Bank, they bought a narrow boat and moored it on the Thames, then spent alternate weeks in London and Wales. At his leaving do, Glenn explained that for the three years of his contract at LSBU Mari had migrated back and forth with him ‘and made sure milk wasn’t left behind in the Welsh fridge, but was there for us on the boat and vice versa’. Now it was pay back time and Mari’s career was to come first. How many men do you know who even realise someone does this and all the myriad tasks it represents? Anyway, whilst on the boat, Mari wrote much of The Earth Hums. She’s a librarian, but recently did a Master’s in creative writing and ended up with a two book deal from it and this is the first. Lots of info about her and it on her website, but this is what Glenn sent me:

Mari's book is doing very well, we don't know exactly how sales are doing yet, but it was a Waterstone's New Voice, it is an Amazon Rising Star (see reviews on Amazon, some people don't get it, but many do), she has performed at Literary Festivals in Glasgow, Laughne and Hay and it was Book at Bedtime on Radio 4. Sadly no major prizes yet, so I can't retire. It is now published in Australia, Holland, Turkey and the US and coming out in several other European countries. More info at

I’ve been in touch with her, and said I’d choose it for the blog, and she seemed happy to respond. Best if we see what we think about it first, so as we can hate it without compunction, but any questions or suitable posts I can pass on to her.