World Book Night 2011: The ups & the downs

It’s been almost a week since the hype surrounding World Book Night reached its crescendo, as 20,000 givers prepared to hand out 1 million books across the UK. On the Friday before the book giving commenced, book givers received a welcome, appreciative email from Jamie Byng, Chair of World Book Night:

From the moment this wildly ambitious project to celebrate writing and reading on one night was conceived, it was the passion of readers that we always knew was going to lie at its very heart.  IF it is a success, it is going to be down to the personal passion of the givers who are sharing their love for a book with hundreds of thousands of people across the country.

I signed up to become a World Book Night giver in December, choosing to giveaway The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie by Muriel Spark. With impending library closure and the general downturn trend in book buying, promoting reading seemed like a perfectly good idea. Yet, the idea quickly attracted critics like Vanessa Robertson, owner of the Edinburgh Bookshop, who called the idea ‘misguided and misjudged’. She suggested that it would ‘flood the market with free books and devalue the work of authors in the eyes of the public’. Seriously, what a load of nonsense.

World Book Night blurb
However, this attack on the book-giving event was a clever one; it hit us faithful book lovers where it hurt. It was no-ones intention to ‘flood the market’ or ‘devalue’ writing and so givers (myself included) frantically scrambled to come up with even more ingenious ideas, so that we looked as though not only did we want to spread the joy of reading, we now wanted to appease every critic and independent bookseller in the land. As more elaborate, fan-dangled book giving plans emerged, I regret being pressured into coming up with my own explicitly-book-industry-friendly plan. Continue reading

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World Book Night Giveaway & Review: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

There’s something about Brodie! She is perhaps one of the most complex literary characters that I have come across; she is neither likeable (her admiration of Hitler and Mussolini assures this) nor unlikeable, both heroine and villain, controlling, and “held in great suspicion”. But she is also a woman celebrating her “prime”; she’s enchanting, glamorous, obsessed with romantic love and yet aware that “the age of chivalry is past”. “Give me a girl at an impressionable age, and she is mine for life”, says Brodie early on in the novel. It is this far-reaching and manipulative influence on her selected pupils, the Brodie set, the ‘creme de la creme’, which forms the basis for the story.

Set in Edinburgh, Scotland, in the 1930’s, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie focuses on schoolmistress Jean Brodie and her Brodie set: Monica Douglas, “famous mostly for mathematics… and for her anger”; Rose Stanley, “famous for sex”; Eunice Gardiner, “famous for her spritely gymnastics and glamorous swimming”; Sandy Stranger, “notorious for her small, almost non-existent, eyes, but she was famous for her vowel sounds”; Jenny Gray, the “most graceful girl of the set”; and Mary Macgregor, “whose fame rested on her being a silent lump, a nobody whom everybody could blame”. World Boko Night

Admittedly, I didn’t fall in love with any of these characters, yet they all enthralled me. Their comic naivety is their redeeming feature (“Mr Lloyd had a baby last week. He must have committed sex with his wife.”), but they become increasingly more selfish, shrewd and cliquey under the tutelage of Miss Jean Brodie at the Marcia Blaine School for Girls. Continue reading

Save Our Libraries Day: 5th February 2011

Like This!

Libraries set people free. They’re not a luxury. They’re not a relic. We must fight to save them

Hari Kunzru

As part of Cameron’s ‘Big Society’, spending cuts will result in public library closures across the UK, eroding our cultural foundation and affecting readers everywhere. Cameron, books for all, not just the wealthy please!

I am not going to sit here and bang on about the importance of public libraries. It’s pretty straight forward: reading matters and libraries matter. I’m certain that the majority of people reading this post will have visited a public library at some point in their lives. As a child, I know I was encouraged to borrow and read books from my local library (and then harangued by my parents to return them before the overdue fees started piling up).  I’m CONFIDENT that my interest in reading would not have been able to flourish without those four-weekly library trips with my dad.

This Saturday, 5th February is Save Our Libraries Day. It is imperative that anyone with a fond memory of their local public library gets behind this campaign… Continue reading

Birthday bestsellers!

So yesterday was my birthday. Happy Birthday to me! Anyway, I came across a website a few weeks ago that I though was quite cool (using the term cool rather lightly of course), and I thought I’d save it for a birthday-related post before revealing it to you.

So, ta-da! BibliOZ.com allows you to generate a list of New York Times bestsellers on the day that you were born (see… cool). So, here is my list:

NYT best sellers for the week ending 24/01/1988:
1. The Bonfire of Vanities – Tom Woolfe
2. The Tommyknockers – Stephen King
2. Kaleidoscope – Danielle Steel
4. Presumed Innocent – Scott Turow
5. 2061: Odessey Three – Arthur C. Clarke
6. Patriot Games – Tom Clancy
7. Winters’ Tales – Jonaton Winters
8. Leaving Home – Garrison Keillor
9. Beloved – Toni Morrison
10. Winter – Len Deighton

Tommyknockers?! Hmm, interesting. I’m not really a fan of Stephen King, or Danielle Steel for that matter (though I remember my mum being a bit of a Steel fan). I LOVE that Beloved is up there, it’s a brilliant book and a seminal piece of American fiction. As for the rest of the list? I’m not especially familiar with the other works listed (perhaps with the exception of Patriot Games …a Harrison Ford movie if I’m not mistaken).

But, in an effort to make some use of this list, I will be adding The Bonfire of Vanities by Tom Woolfe to my TBR list for 2011. Has anyone read this? And what was the number one bestseller on your birthday? Find out here.

National Poetry Day 2010: Edwin Morgan and home

Today is the 17th National Poetry Day in the UK, and the theme for 2010 is ‘home’.

For some, home is a birth-place, a birth-right even, or a genealogical map. It might be conceptual or concrete. It might be an identity, realised. For me it is Glasgow.

Glasgow Clydeside by John Lindie

When I think of poetry that reflects ‘home’, I look to the late Edwin Morgan. His poetry is born out of this city. It reflects the city’s pride, its meanness, “a ragged diamond of shattered plate-glass”.

Of Glasgow, he once said:

I was born in Glasgow and have lived most of my life there, and whatever image the city has to the outside world, to me it underlies and pervades my feeling at a deep level of identification and sympathy

i. ( Glasgow Sonnets, 1972) by Edwin Morgan

A mean wind wanders through the backcourt trash.
Hackles on puddles rise, old mattresses
puff briefly and subside. Play-fortresses
of brick and bric-a-brac spill out some ash.
Four storeys have no windows left to smash,
but the fifth a chipped sill buttresses
mother and daughter the last mistresses
of that black block condemned to stand, not crash.
Around them the cracks deepen, the rats crawl.
The kettle whimpers on a crazy hob.
Roses of mould grow from ceiling to wall.
The man lies late since he has lost his job,
smokes on one elbow, letting his coughs fall
thinly into an air too poor to rob.

Continue reading

Banned Books Week 2010

So, it’s the end of Banned Books Week 2010 in the US. This time last week, I didn’t know such a week existed, but it’s been fab to see so many people get behind what is an undoubtedly worthy cause. And so I leave you with this:

Coming soon (well, as soon as Amazon deliver them): reviews of My Sister’s Keeper and Three Makes Tango, as part of my plan to read some of the most recently challenged books in the US…

It’s Banned Books Week!! (25 September − 2 October)

Since this week is Banned Books Week in the US, I thought I’d take the time to reflect on the most ridiculous case of book banning this year:

Annabel Lyon’s The Golden Mead was BANNED, yes CENSORED, from the bookshops of BC Ferries (British Columbia Ferry Services Inc.) in Canada because the front cover has a picture of a naked bum on it… (Alexander the Great’s bum to be more precise).

New Yorker blogger Eileen Reynolds deemed the censorship as “particularly silly” – no kidding. Since when did the image of a naked man draped across a white horse become offensive? Continue reading