Friday, September 30, 2011

reading paint VIII

some of my favourite works of art with reading in them, which I have not yet shown you

Paul Serusier, 'La Grammaire'

Vittorio Reggianini, 'The poetry reading'

Coles Phillips, 'Woman reading a book'

Attilio Baccani, 'Lady reading a book'

Budapest statue, 'Anonymous'
I took this photo in Budapest in September 2009.

Phil Winsloe, 'Reading in the chapel'

Edward Hopper, 'Compartiment C, Voiture 193'

Sigmund Hampel, title unknown

Francesco Pige, 'The portrait of Penelope Deligiorghis-Drossini'

Edward Cucuel, 'The novel'

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

poetry from a pile of books

This is an idea stolen/borrowed/taken from Jen of This is Not the Six Word Novel. Before that it came from a long list of other people which I won't repeat here but it originated with the writer Tahereh Mafi.

I'm so ridiculously bad at poetry. But this idea was so cool that I ended up doing it anyway. I encourage you to do the same. I'm sure yours will be much better.



OUT OF THE STORM we inhabit










Thursday, September 15, 2011

reading paint VII

when reading is all about the position

Pablo Picasso, 'Reclining woman reading'

Gustave Caillebotte, 'Interior, Woman Reading'

Justin Wiest, unknown title

Balthus, 'The living room'

Oliver Ray, 'Girl Reading'

Ye Liu, 'Banned Book'

Henri Lebasque, 'A Woman Reading'

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 'Woman Reading'

Marie Fox, 'Woman at Beach Reading'

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

jane eyre

I am very excited about the new Jane Eyre movie, which is opening on Thursday here in New Zealand and has already opened elsewhere. She is one of my most-loved heroines and one of my favourite books of ALL TIME. To the extent that one of the questions I consider when thinking about any member of the opposite sex - is he my St. John or my Rochester? (Embarrassing to admit, but you get the idea.)

So, of course, I am haunting the Guardian's books pages. There was this extremely interesting article about 'the rise and rise of Brontëmania', for one thing. It talks about the response of the Victorian public to the novel, about the myths and realities of lives of the Brontë women, and about the mysteries that still surround aspects of the Brontë legacy.

Then there was this opinion piece with a 'Clever' Pun in the title: 'There is no Eyre of feminism about this modern Jane'.

I am unconvinced.

In both cases, however, it's almost as interesting to read the comments as it was to read the articles. One of the fascinating things about the novel Jane Eyre is its capacity to produce completely different interpretations from different people. In some cases, I would argue they've misunderstood what Charlotte Brontë intended; in other cases, I love that instead of sledgehammering us over the head with a moral-of-the-story, Brontë allowed us to make up our own minds, and this breadth of opinion is a marker of that.

Whatever one's opinion, if it's about Jane Eyre it seems to be a strong one. But the novel also instills in so many people a fierce affection for its deserving heroine and flawed yet sympathetic hero. And I was really happy to read one comment on the Guardian opinion piece about feminism and the novel that put my own feelings about Jane Eyre into better words than I ever could have:

Thanks to Guardian reader 'kauri' who hopefully will not mind me reproducing her/his awesome thoughts here! (I say 'awesome' because I agree with them and feel excited by them!)

I have no idea when I will get to see the film, as I am currently disastrously short on cash, but the film will be seen! And it will be reviewed on this blog!

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

libraries are expensive EXPANSIVE

I am completely in love with this story.

It is of a mysterious paper/book sculptor who has been leaving beautiful sculptures around literary service providers in Edinburgh, as encouragement and "in support of libraries, books, words, ideas". No one knows who this person is but they are, without a doubt, talented, creative and generous. It's not only a wonderful thought but each item is executed so beautifully.

Some of the sculptures are below:

a 'poetree'

See all the sculptures so far at this link.

Edinburgh's STV reports here.

And The Guardian reports here.

Friday, September 9, 2011

the cat's table

When I first picked up The Cat's Table, my only thoughts were: what a great cover. I didn't know that Michael Ondaatje was eminent or renowned in any way as a writer. It's only as I've come across a few reviews since I started reading it that it's become clear that this is the case.

And I'm glad I didn't know this, as I was able to read the book without expectations of any kind. As it happened, without being told that I should like the book, I was sucked into it from the start. It's odd, because usually I criticise books that don't have a clear, strong plot arc. And the structure of this is certainly not clear, but it is masterful. Moreover, the writing is amazingly precise and unpretentious while it is also compelling, beautiful.

The Cat's Table is the story of a different Michael, an eleven-year-old boy in the 1950s who crosses the oceans between Ceylon (present-day Sri Lanka) and London in the Oronsay, to join the mother he has not seen for four or five years. The journey is a mere three weeks - but it is remarkable for the people Michael studies and grows to understand as they sit at what is called 'the Cat's Table', the least important group of diners on board the ship. While Michael is 'bursting around the place like freed mercury' with his friends Ramadhin and Cassius, the journey is having an indelible effect on their lives to come.

I know now that this is Ondaatje's sixth novel. Apparently it is a "notable departure" from his other work. It also has an autobiographical tinge to it - Ondaatje himself took the same journey as a boy - but the writer explains: "Although the novel sometimes uses the colouring and locations of memoir and autobiography, The Cat's Table is fictional - from the captain and the crew and all its passengers on the boat down to the narrator."

I loved the book. It's very readable, very engrossing. The adventures of Michael and his comrades are absorbing and funny and sometimes shocking. I particularly enjoyed Michael's forays into thievery, and the time he and Cassius strap themselves spreadeagled to the ship in order to watch a storm.

This isn't just a list of amusing stories about three disobedient little boys, however. It's written thoughtfully, by an older man looking back and fighting to recover memories and questions from the time. Always, underneath what is going on, is Michael's broken family life, his hidden confusion, and his dislocation from his Eastern home and movement towards the most English city in the world.

The most interesting thing about the book for me was the way it records lessons that the boys learned, subconsciously, about the people that were around them. I loved the introductions to different characters, all of whom were considered with some depth for their most interesting qualities. The intriguing Miss Lasqueti. Mr Hastie, with his tall stories. The beautiful and generous Emily. The deaf girl, Asuntha. Sir Hector de Silva, the millionaire under a curse, travelling to England with a retinue of servants to find a cure for his hydrophobia. Mr Daniels, with his secret collection of plants hidden in the bowels of the ship.

In any case, it seemed to us that nearly all at our table, from the silent tailor, Mr Gunesekera, who owned a shop in Kandy, to the entertaining Mr Mazappa, to Miss Lasqueti, might have an interesting reason for their journey, even if it was unspoken or, so far, undiscovered. In spite of this, our table's status on the Oronsay continued to be minimal, while those at the Captain's Table were constantly toasting one another's significance. That was a small lesson I learned on the journey. What is interesting and important happens mostly in secret, in places where there is no power. Nothing much of lasting value ever happens at the head table, held together by a familiar rhetoric. Those who already have power continue to glide along the familiar rut they have made for themselves.

The novel is just as remarkable for its writing, which brings moments before us like photographs or feelings. It is always possible to see through Michael's eyes, and to understand why a moment is beautiful or interesting to him. It is encouraging to read novels that are simply yet beautifully written, readable, unassuming - that don't try too hard to be clever - and still manage to be breath-taking.

It's four stars from me.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

reading paint VI

men reading

Odilon Redon, 'Alsace, or Monk reading'

Pierre-Auguste Renoir, 'Claude Monet Reading'

Peter Samuelson, 'Robin with friend and Trixie, 1952'

Georg Friedrich Kersting, 'Man Reading by Lamplight'

Girolamo Parmigianino, Portrait of a Man with a Book

Francois Vispre, 'Portrait of a Man Reading'

Yi Ming, 'Reading the Book "The Three Kingdoms" at Midnight'

Jan Kupecky, 'Portrait of a Man'

Henri Girault de Nolhac, 'Pierre du Nolhac, conservateur du musée de Versailles'

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

the great gatsby

I am so very overly excited to hear that Baz Lurhmann is filming a new version of The Great Gatsby, due to be released in 2012!

Sometimes I am not excited to hear about interpretations of my favourite novels, especially when they have already been made into a perfectly good movie. In this case, one look at the cast was enough to drive up my expectations.

I loved the earlier film, made in 1974. There were a few things that annoyed me about it. It seemed to move quite slowly and it didn't always capture that sense of dazzling excitement of some chapters of the novel. I'm not sure that Nick Carraway's narration always worked - always the problem with adapting a first-person observer novel. However, there was something about it that clicked. The cast was excellent, for one thing.

So here are the actors - class of 1974 and class of 2012.

Robert Redford, and Leonardo DiCaprio, as Jay Gatsby.
Now that I've heard that Leonardo is Gatsby, I wonder if anyone else could possibly have been cast in that role. He just seems to be the perfect fit. My fingers are firmly crossed that he will bring to the role that handsome pleasantness that Gatsby needs but also the fierce hidden longing. The determined optimism. And that sense of unknowability, if that is a word - the sense that he is slightly too smooth.

Mia Farrow and Carey Mulligan, as Daisy Buchanan.
Mia Farrow was my favourite thing about the older movie. She captured Daisy's charm. She was like champagne, a butterfly, fragile and effervescent. But she also perfectly captured Daisy's famous carelessness. I feel optimistic that Carey Mulligan will also be able to bring her own unique interpretation of Daisy to the role.

Sam Waterston and Tobey Maguire, as Nick Carraway.
Tobey Maguire seems to be another excellent casting - Nick is such an important character, and he seems to have all the necessary requisites. He does well in roles that are slightly idealistic, slightly invisible, upstanding without being moralistic, and very likeable.

Bruce Dern and Joel Edgerton, as Tom Buchanan.
I've never seen Joel Edgerton in a movie, but I feel optimistic just looking at him. I always felt that Bruce Dern's Tom was a little too comical. In the books there is that element in his character, but he also seems slightly more sinister to me. Joel Edgerton will (hopefully) bring an extra edge of arrogance and chauvinism to his portrayal of Tom. (And if you happen to read this, Joel, I don't mean to say that you look particularly chauvinistic and arrogant!!!)

Karen Black and Isla Fisher, as Myrtle Wilson.
I hope that Isla Fisher will do really well as Myrtle Wilson. She has the potential to play characters who are vulgar, slightly unlikeable and comedic very well.

I will be really interested to see how the filmmakers deal with the more minor characters such as George Wilson or Jordan Baker. But so far the casting looks excellent, and the only thing I am sad about is that I will have to wait all the way into next year to see this movie.

Saturday, September 3, 2011


In a mirror image to my last post on Harry Potter, I now bring you my top ten most LOATHED Harry Potter characters. It will not include Lord Voldemort because he is just too obvious - too purely evil.

1. Dolores Umbridge
One of the things I think J. K. Rowling does really well is to show the range of human nastiness. Good and evil are complicated. I will always remember the line from Order of the Phoenix, in reference to this particularly repulsive character - "The world is not made up of good people and Death Eaters, Harry."

2. Fenrir Greyback
This werewolf - so different to Remus Lupin - sends shivers up my spine.

3. Marvolo Gaunt
A hideous character who sums up everything that JKR wants to show us is wrong with the wizarding world.

4. Rita Skeeter
I love it when famous people get their own back on the paparazzi by creating loathsome (while hilarious) characters like this.

5. Marjorie Dursley
HORRID. Deserved to be blown up and float away.

6. Vernon Dursley
Not so high on the list as Marjorie... but a true redneck. I do sometimes end up feeling a little sorry for him.

7. Nagini
Is it okay to loathe creatures?

8. Bellatrix Lestrange
This seems like a bit of a cop-out, but really - she is just so foul. And she killed Sirius. And tortured Neville's parents. Eminently loath-able.

9. Pansy Parkinson
Not sure why I'm picking on her in particular of all the Slytherins but she seemed to be the quintessential bully-type kid, without any of the excuses Malfoy might have to have turned out nasty. And the fact that her name was so saccharine made her seem even worse.

10. Mrs Norris
I can't bring myself to dislike poor old Filch... but his tattle-tale cat is just horrid. On the other hand, she would be in my top ten J. K. Rowling character name choices (and JKR does names very well).

Would you agree with this list? Would you add or remove anyone?

Friday, September 2, 2011

the flower to the painter

September is here, and with it a new edition of Halfway Down the Stairs!

See my Surviving History blog post for all my favourites and recommendations.

My contribution to Halfway Down the Stairs this time was a review of Gary Inbinder's new novel, The Flower to the Painter.

Gary is one of our previous authors. His story 'Her Reflection' was published in 'Time', our June issue of HDtS, and he kindly sent me a copy of his novel to enjoy and review.

It's the story of a young American woman in the late 1870s, who is left destitute in Italy after she is fired by the family which employed her as governess. Armed with nothing but her wits, she agrees to impersonate a man in order to apply for a job as an assistant to another American, an author called Arthur Wolcott.

As a woman, her artistic skills were never allowed to be more than "quite pretty", but when Wolcott discovers her talent, it becomes clear that her skills are much more valuable when she is disguised as a man. Wolcott leads her around Italy, France and England, introducing her to influential artists and wealthy patrons, and for a time it seems like she will become the "next big thing".

You can read my full review here.

I give the book three stars.