Monthly Archives: October 2011

Treasures of the Bodleian

I recently visited an exhibition at the Bodleian Library Oxford which showcases some of the rare and ancient manuscripts the library owns. The exhibition will run until December 23rd 2011 and allows the public to view the treasures to decide which should go on permanent display.

You can see all sorts of wonderful things including a Shakespeare First Folio, a 1484 copy of Aesop’s Fables, fragments of lyric poems by Sappho, a draft of Frankenstein, The Kennicott Bible and original watercolours from The Hobbit. My favourite was Gregorio Reggio’s Herbarium which contains samples of plants collected around 1596. I just found it incredible that this has survived so long and is in such great condition.

I can’t post pictures from the exhibition here (without paying a £15 permissions fee) but do check it out on the Bodleian website and visit if you get the chance.


I didn’t used to see the appeal of pigs as pets. I liked them well enough, but didn’t see how Fern could become obsessed with Wilbur in Charlotte’s Web. I am now converted to the joys of pigs and need to get a small holding so I can keep one or two like this as pets. No one is making bacon out of my piglet.

Death of a Computer

My laptop is on its last legs. Tech support  (boyfriend) has been consulted, looked bemused and said I need to get a new one. Annoyingly now is not the best time to get a new one with tech support’s company “restructuring” so I am attempting to prolong the inevitable by moving all my documents onto an external hard drive, uninstalling stray programs and defragmenting the little beast.

No, I know, it’s probably in vain. Meh. Computers annoy me.

Depending on the success levels of this enterprise I should be back with some reviews this week… cross your fingers please!

The Coffee Story- Peter Salmon

Teddy Everett, heir to Everett and Sons coffee, knows a good cup when he tastes one. But it’s impossible to get a good cup of coffee when you’re lying in a prison hospital dying of cancer, so instead he tells his coffee story. A story he should have told a long time ago.

A story peopled with capitalists, communists, revolutionaries and fantasists. The story of his first wife, who ran off with a Cuban revolutionary; of Moira, his second wife, whose name meant destiny; and of Lucy Alfarez, the love of his life, who walked out of the jungle aged fourteen with a silver lighter in one hand and coffee bean in the other. In the fragmented narrative of a dying man we are told a story about his legacy, a story about treachery and about his dreams haunted by the need for absolution.

I’ve never drunk a cup of coffee. The strong, bitter smell has always put me off. But reading Peter Salmon’s The Coffee Story I was almost tempted to try a cup. The descriptions of the oily blackness are so sensuous, but this isn’t just a novel with exotic and evocative description, it’s a novel with grit, bite and sharp, sinister twists.

Skilfully written with a wry disjointed narrative that convinces you that this is the disaffected deathbed confession of a man who has seen too much, The Coffee Story is a dark and sophisticated debut novel from Australian writer Peter Salmon.

So, can anyone recommend a place to find a good starter coffee in Oxford? I may yet be converted.

Hospital Reading List

Operation get fit and healthy started today with me joining my fitness freak boyfriend for a run around the park. Like a caucus race, no-one won and I nearly tripped over my next door neighbour’s dog but I didn’t collapse so that’s as good as winning in my book.

The running is because I’m going into hospital for an operation on November 3rd and need to get as fit as possible for a quick recovery. I have to stay in for a fortnight so am liable to go mad with boredom. This is why I need your suggestions: I need the mother of all reading lists to keep me totally distracted from the fact that I am stuck in bed for 14 days.

I’ll try almost anything unless it has paranoia inducing hospital scenes- I made the mistake of watching a House box set when I was sick with ‘flu once… never again! Can anyone recommend some good books to take with me?


The Enchantress of Florence- Salman Rushdie

Whisper it, but I had never bought or read a Salman Rushdie novel until very recently. Fortunately, having filled up my loyalty card at my favourite bookshop, I was entitled to £7 off a book and had a quick scout around the shelves for something exciting. I’m a sucker for a pretty cover, so that (coupled with the fact that I’ve always meant to get around to reading Midnight’s Children and The Satanic Verses) made the book my gratis book of choice. I’m so glad that I picked it up.

The Grand Mughal, Emperor Akbar, is a man of the world who understands that life is often more complex than it seems. His favourite wife is a woman he has imagined into being; his three young sons, each addicted to opium, are plotting against him for his throne; and he is emotionally conflicted by his inability to talk about himself in the first person. And life for the Elephant King becomes increasingly complicated when a young Florentine arrives at his court claiming to be the son of the lost Mughal princess, Quara Kὅz, a noted beauty and enchantress, which would make him the great Mughal’s uncle…

A clever pastiche of the oral tradition of storytelling and packed with historical characters, this book is a beautiful bedtime story for adults. Richly exotic and evocative, Rushdie adopts many storytelling conventions which have sadly fallen out of favour in adult fiction and uses these folkloric devices to create something exciting and wonderfully grown up- with plenty of clever nods to the need for storytellers to flatter their audience. This book is a jewel.

I’ll leave you with this, one of my favourite lines:

When the emperor learned the truth he understood all over again how daring a sorcerer he had encountered on that long-ago morning after the dream of the crow. By then, however, the knowledge was of no use to him, except to remind him of what he should never have forgotten, that witchcraft requires no potions, familiar spirits or magic wands. Language on a silvered tongue affords enchantment enough.

The Enchantress of Florence, Salman Rushdie

See? Genius. What are you waiting for? Get out, buy it, read it to friends, memorize lines and share them with strangers on the bus.