Tag Archives: Charles Dickens

New books: September 2015

[This post was typed up in October, but I haven’t got round to posting it. Some of the things that I say in it are out-of-date by now, but I’m leaving the post as it was written. I’ll add the amendments at the bottom and maybe elaborate in a subsequent post.]


September threw up an unexpected surprise, as well as an unexpected sadness. I was going to do a separate post on both of these at the time, but didn’t get chance to, and it seems a tad pointless now. Anyhoo.

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  • Edmund White –  Chaos*
  • Valeria Parrella –  For Grace Received: Four Stories of Modern Naples*
  • Antoine Francois Prevost –  Manon Lescaut*
  • Todd Solondz –  Storytelling*
  • Malcolm Bradbury –  Inside Trading*
  • Gavin Young –  Something of Samoa**
  • Imme Dros –  Annelie in the Depths of the Night*
  • Philip Gross –  Marginaliens*
  • Sylvia Plath –  Collected Poems*
  • Marivaux –  The Game of Love and Chance*

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  • Nathaniel West –  The Day of the Locust.    50p
  • Thomas de Quincey –  Confessions of an English Opium Eater.    99p
  • Virginia Woolf –  Orlando
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez-  Love in the Time of Cholera***  –  In Evil Hour  –  Chronicle of a Death Foretold
  • Jon McGregor-  so many ways to begin***
  • Charles Dickens –  Martin Chuzzlewit***
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  • Thomas de Quincy –  On Murder Considered as One of the Fine Arts.    80p
  • Charles Dickens –  The Signalman: A Ghost Story.    £1.99
  • Pu Singling –  Wailing Ghosts.    80p

* 20p

** 10p

*** Library book sale

Now the sad news. All of the books in the first picture were from Webberley’s, which we learnt over the summer is to close in the new year. Webberley’s is the only independent book shop in the city that sells new books (we have several second hand bookshops), and so will be a big, big loss to the city when it closes. On the plus side, there may be another sale… No, I think I’d prefer to have the bookshop still open rather than a few more bargains.

However, some good news that I wasn’t expecting this month. I knew that following the publication of ‘Autobiography’, Morrissey was working on his first novel. However, I only learnt on about the 21st that this was to be published on the 24th, so we rushed to Amazon to place an order. Yes, I know we should have gone to an independent bookshop (or at least Waterstones), but… we can be fickle. I read a few reviews of this on the day it came out, and was slightly surprised that they were so negative. I’d expected there would be some that were less-than-glowing (coz, hey, it’s Moz, and the British press love to hate him just because he is), but was shocked by just how scathing they were. This has coloured my opinion somewhat even before I read it, which I wish it hadn’t. I want to be impartial, or at least not be negatively influenced from the outset. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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[Since this post was originally written, Webberley’s has closed (mid-Jan.), and I read ‘List of the Lost’ (Nov?). Despite the rather unnatural dialogue, I didn’t think it was that bad. There are some wonderful turns of phrase in it, and the ending is actually quite shocking, even if the plot is a tad odd. I do hope he writes more, even if it is just to write a novel that is on the same level as the sublime ‘Autobiography’. I’ll do a full review eventually, but will definitely re-read it, as there are things to pull out of it with repeated readings.]

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My Penguin Classics Collection Part 1

Penguin Classics

More book porn. I’ve meant to do this for a while, but haven’t really had enough of the black-spined Penguin Classics to warrant it until now. Personally, I quite enjoy searching through Google Images for pictures of other people’s Penguin Classics collections to get a feel for the thickness and physicality of certain volumes, and to generally foam over nice piles of pretty books, and so thought that I’d add to this be showing mine in case anyone is interested. Over the coming weeks, I will also do posts with my Penguin Popular Classics, Twentieth-Century Classics (the light-green spined ones), Modern Classics (both silver and white editions), and the older black and cream Penguin Classics.

Penguin Classics

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The death of the Mockingbird (or ‘The best laid plans…’)

I dislike Michael Gove for a number of reasons. For one, he is a Tory. Also, as a member of staff in a secondary school, I can see first-hand just what an adverse effect some of his ideas and policies are having on the school, the teachers’ moral, and the students’ stress levels. However, as has been widely reported in the media over the last few days, he’s now decided that English Literature should be buggered about with. However, as with his views on the History syllabus several months back that got the country seething, this worries me due to its narrow, blinkered, and agenda-laden undercurrents.

It has long been part of the English GCSE syllabus taught in many English (state) schools that literature from other cultures and societies is compared and contrasted with that from our own. For example, when I was dong my GCSE’s, I studied a cluster of poems called ‘Poems from other Cultures’, which included works written by English speakers round the globe, and focussed upon issues that affected the society in which they wrote, such as apartheid, the Vietnam War (and its effects upon the Vietnamese people), superstition in an Indian village and homesickness when moving from the Caribbean. I also studied both modern and classic English/Irish poetry, John Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’, J.B.Priestley’s ‘An Inspector Calls’ and R.L.Stevenson’s ‘The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. It is perhaps clear from this little list that the focus of these texts was upon those written by English writers. Having just assisted several Y10 students through their GCSE English Literature papers, I can attest to the even greater focus upon English writers now, with the poetry not taking the form of two clusters, with one being foreign, but one cluster with predominantly English writers in it. The books studied are the same as those I studied, but again here the weighting is clearly 2:1 in favour of British writers (Stevenson being Scottish- he may class as foreign soon, I don’t know). However, Gove in his wisdom has decided that there is too much focus upon American texts such as ‘Of Mice and Men’, ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ and ‘The Crucible’, and these should be taken off the paper in favour of all English texts. Now- okay, I can sort of see his point: not enough students are interested in or know much about the English ‘greats’ such as Austen and Dickens, and they should learn about our own cultural heritage before concerning themselves with other people’s. However, this falls down for me in several ways. From the practical point of view, Dickens is loooonnnnngggggggg. Apart from the Christmas stories, Dickens wasn’t really known for writing concise works, due in part to their initial publication in serial form. This means that it would be impossible to study an entire text of Dickens at GCSE due to the other constraints of the course and the teaching schedules of schools, meaning that students would need to be taught key passages of chapters and have to fill in the blanks with brief summaries, or read the text in their own time (which many students wouldn’t bother doing). As such, it would not be possible for the overall feel of the text to be gleaned, or for themes, images and ideas to be traced effectively through the course of the text. ‘Of Mice and Men’, on the other hand, is a short text. It is easy enough to read in class, with a plot that can be held in the head amongst the million and one other exam topics that students have to memorise, and enough themes and literary devices to fill several exercise book of essays. It is a good text that easily grabs students attention, proves popular, and is a jewel to write about. However classic they may be, Dickens and Austen are not quite as student (and more importantly teen) friendly- pick the wrong text, and you could nurture a hatred of literature that could last a lifetime, rather than inspiring a love that lasts a lifetime.

However, the thing that bothers me more is the problems that such Anglo-centric teaching could cause. I also hold this view on the focusing of the History syllabus on the ‘Great’ in Great Britain, which brings this in nicely. It is a plain fact that Britain is a multi-cultural nation. There is no getting away from this, and is indeed something to be celebrated rather than derided, as some political parties seem to think. As a result, many children in our schools do not come from British backgrounds, and so by focussing the curriculum solely upon the British Isles, there is the very strong possibility of isolating a very big part of the school community. Do students whose families have come over to Britain following the outbreak of war in Afghanistan and Iraq wish to sit through a History lesson where theory hear how ‘Great’ Britain was when it had an Empire and ruled their homelands? Or would people wish to study world history that focusses upon the positives and negatives of a nation, period or event, rather than a biased victors tale? They say that history is written by those who win, but that does not mean to say that we should take this a Gospel. Good history involves the criticism of evidence and the balancing of facts. That is what history does. It is unbiased, and does not plug an agenda. If teachers now are unlikely to praise the leaders of Britain in the World Wars, it is not due to a lack of pride in the nation, but rather down to their ability to understand that what these great people may have done in the past was no always right. We can learn from the past and our mistakes. Should we teach that Hague was a good general who won the Battle of the Somme, and cover up the thousands of Allied and German dead, or should we assess how well he did his job, looking at both the positives and the negatives in order to make an informed decision? By removing this option from students through the glorification of our national past, we are doing our young people a disservice, and taking away from them an important life skill, of being able to critically interpret evidence and information to make their own interpretations and conclusions rather than blindly following one course and one message. Or is that what the Government want?

In Gove’s manifesto on History, he also claimed that we as a nation should be proud of the Empire that we once owned an the position that we held on the world stage. Well- I’m sure that UKIP and the BNP would love that view of our past, but it is incredibly naïve and somewhat foolish. It is difficult to read an anthropological ethnography such as Evans-Pritchard or Malinowski without finding the shadow of Colonialism looming omnipresent and yet unmentioned over the texts. Much 20th century anthropology is tinted with its effects or after-effects, and indeed many of the world problems are due to the repercussions independence has had on these countries. We would be blind to try and pretend that the time of Empire was one of fearless explorers claiming savage lands for Queen and country, rather than seeing it for the danger, violence, barbarity (on our part as colonial overlords) and cultural repression that it was. Read ‘Heart of Darkness’, ffs.

Another thing that Anthropology teaches us is that to understand ourselves as people and as a society, we need to first understand the world. This is where Gove and his removal of American literature from the syllabus falls flat. Yes, we need to learn about our own culture in order to appreciate it, of course we do- but we also need to understand and appreciate other cultures in a reciprocal manner, to learn and grow as people. We can learn lesson from American and German, Chinese and African literature that we never could from our own. We use the Greek and Roman Classics as the foundation stones to much or our culture an society- should we dispense with these too? The key thing that Gove seems to be missing out, is that English Literature is not the study of Literature that is English (if it was, then we couldn’t study Yeats, or Heaney, or Stevenson), but the study of Literature written or translated into English. We should embrace and value the diversity and colour of language and the written word, and foster this passion and love in our pupils and students and children, not whitewash it.

Just one last point. Steinbeck’s ‘Of Mice and Men’ is set after a global economic recession, and focusses upon two itinerant farm workers on what are effectively zero-hour contracts, unable to move socially and unable to reach their goal and dream of owning their own property. The work suggests that dreams and ambitions are useless and futile, with circumstance being the cause of people’s misfortune rather than the desire and perseverance of the individual. Gove wants to drop this. Go figure.

Image: timeshighereducation.co.uk

Image: timeshighereducation.co.uk

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New Books: April

As promised on my last book-purchases post, here are my new acquisitions from April (albeit a tad late):

 

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  • Geoffrey Berg- The Six Ways of Atheism: New Logical Disproofs of the Existence of God     10p
  • Patrick Moore- The Guinness Book of Astronomy     10p
  • Lesley and Roy Adkins- The Keys to Egypt: The Race to Read the Hieroglyphics     20p
  • Suetonius- The Twelve Caesars    99p
  • Caesar- The Conquest of Gaul     99p
  • The Paston Letters     10p

 

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  • Charles Dickens- Great Expectations     20p
  • E. W. Hornung- Raffles     20p
  • Penelope Lively- Moon Tiger     20p
  • Yevgeny Zamyatin- We     £2
  • Ralph Ellison- Invisible Man     £2
  • Leo Tolstoy- War and Peace     50p
  • Mary Shelley- Frankenstein     10p
  • Philip K. Dick- The Man in the High Castle     50p
  • Jonathan Swift- Poems Selected by Derek Mahon     Bought for me
  • William Shakespeare- Henry IV Part 2, The Taming of the Shrew, Twelfth Night     50p each

 

Also, I had these bought for me (which I’d asked for):

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  • Timothy Taylor- The Prehistory of Sex: Four Million Years of Human Sexual Culture
  • Evelyn Waugh- Brideshead Revisited
  • Hermann Hesse- Strange News from Another Star and Other Stories
  • Dante- The Divine Comedy Volume I: Inferno, The Divine Comedy II: Purgatory, The Divine Comedy III: Paradise (I translated by Mark Musa; II translated by Dorothy L. Sayers; III translated by Dorothy L. Sayers and Barbara Reynolds)

 

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Books, and ‘Reclaimed Books Part 5’

I came across these over the past few days:

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  • J.D. Salinger –  The Catcher in the Rye     50p
  • Francoise Sagan –  Bonjour Tristesse     20p
  • J.R.R. Tolkien –  The Hobbit     25p
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez –  Of Love and Other Demons     20p
  • Jennifer Elliot –  An Introduction to Sustainable Development: The Developing World     25p
  • William Shakespeare –  Macbeth     25p
  • William Shakespeare –  Henry V     25p
  • Ovid –  Metamorphoses     25p
  • Homer –  The Iliad     25p

The book on sustainable development is interestingly written by a woman who was (at the time the book was published) a Geography lecturer at my local university, Staffordshire University. Also, I nearly bought this book in Oxford when I was studying gender and sustainable development as part of one of my anthropology option papers, but didn’t like the price Oxfam were asking for it, so I was happy to find this copy for 25p!

Now hang on- there’s more! After I’d snapped this little lot, I then got these:

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  • Roald Dahl –  Switch Bitch, The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar and Six More, and My Uncle Oswald     50p each

I would have also had one of Roald Dahl’s other short story collections ‘Someone Like You’ as well, had another man not grabbed it before I had chance.

Oh, and then yesterday…

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  • Elizabeth Gaskell –  Cranford     20p
  • Charles Dickens –  The Christmas Books: A Christmas Carol, The Chimes, The Cricket on the Hearth     40p

Now, I know that I already own a copy of ‘Cranford’ that includes two other related novellas, but this edition includes a critical introduction, a Cranford-based short story, and a short essay by Gaskell. And it’s an OUP edition. And it was only 20p. The other book, I do actually own a copy of already in this edition, and it is still at my parent’s house. However, I have no idea where, and so I thought for 40p it wouldn’t hurt to get another copy incase that one doesn’t turn up.

This last point now moves me smoothly on to the ‘Reclaimed Books Part 5’ bit of this blog post title. Today, I picked these up from my parents:

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  • Euripides –  Medea and Other Plays
  • Sophocles –  The Three Theban Plays
  • Robert Harris –  Fatherland (one of my favourite novels, which I read in less than two days about four years ago)
  • Thomas Hardy –  Far From the Madding Crowd
  • William Shakespeare –  Romeo and Juliet
  • Daniel Defoe –  Robinson Crusoe

…and I finally remembered to get these:

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I picked up ‘The BFG’ and ‘Danny the Champion of the World’ a few months ago, and so these are the rest:

  • James and the Giant Peach
  • The Complete Adventures of Charlie and Mr Willy Wonka (Containing ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’)
  • The Magic Finger
  • Fantastic Mr Fox
  • The Twits
  • George’s Marvellous Medicine
  • The Witches
  • The Giraffe and the Pelly and Me
  • Boy and Going Solo
  • Matilda
  • Esio Trot

I know that they are children’s books, but I’m using the excuse that they are classic examples of children’s literature, and so can still be read by adults. Anyway, I like Roald Dahl, and want to read them again. Don’t judge me!

 

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A few more books, and ‘Reclaimed Books part 4’

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Well it’s time for the inclusion of more crappy-quality photos. Those above are:

  • Paulo Coelho-  The Alchemist     50p
  • Gabriel Garcia Marquez-  One Hundred Years of Solitude     50p
  • Graham Greene-  The Heart of the Matter     50p
  • Nelson Mandela-  No Easy Walk to Freedom     50p
  • Sue Townsend-  The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole aged 13¾    30p
  • P.L. Travers-  Mary Poppins     50p
  • African Art, a book from the 1970s     10p (library book sale)
  • Gita Mehta-  Karma Cola     10p (library book sale)

I’ve been looking for the Marquez book for a while, so that was a nice find. Also, I’ve picked up a few more books from my parents recently. There are a few children’s books amongst them this time:

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  • J.K. Rowling-  The Tales of Beedle the Bard
  • Roald Dahl-  The BFG
  •                     – Danny the Champion of the World
  • Brendan Hook-  Harry the Honkerzoid
  • Bram Stoker-  Dracula
  • J.K. Rowling-  Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them
  •                       –  Quidditch Through the Ages
  • Two ‘Doctor Who’ books: The Tomb of the Cybermen and The Five Doctors
  • Mary Shelley-  Frankenstein
  • Charles Dickens-  Hard Times

I do own the rest of Roald Dahl’s major books for children in the same editions to those shown (except ‘Boy’ and ‘Going Solo’, which are a more recent combined edition), but will pick up the rest (i.e. ‘James and the Giant Peach’; ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ and ‘Charlie and the Great Glass Elevator’ as one volume; ‘The Magic Finger’; ‘Fantastic Mr Fox’; ‘The Twits’; ‘George’s Marvelous Medicine’; ‘The Witches’; ‘The Giraffe, the Pelly and Me’; ‘Matilda’, and ‘Esio Trot’) at a later date. The two I got this time have always been my favourites, and have been begging for another read for a long time. So what if they are children’s books- I enjoy them, and will read them as Classics, before passing them on to my children when they are old enough to read them.

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