Monthly Archives: December 2012

Ten Weeks in Africa by J.M. Shaw

Ten Weeks in Africa- What would you sacrifice to do the right thing?

Ten Weeks in Africa- What would you sacrifice to do the right thing?

When Ed Caine, an NGO  worker employed by the Global Justice Alliance moves his wife and young child to Africa to improve living conditions in the Makera slum, he genuinely believes he can make a difference, but in ten short weeks his ideals are shattered. Despite the assistance of Beatrice Kamunda and her father Joseph Kamunda, a senior government official known for his principled stance against corruption, he finds himself stonewalled as funds are siphoned off by the government. As Ed and his friends try struggle to save their project, they begin to realise that they a powerful enemy is behind the land grab. As political tensions seethe pushing the country to the brink of civil war, Ed and Beatrice begin to understand that much more than the survival of the project is at stake.

For anyone who remembers the outcry that arose when it was revealed that millions of pounds of Western Aid (including funds from Live Aid) was used by rebel leaders to buy arms, Ten Weeks in Africa by JM Shaw is an interesting read. It is well written with a fast paced and engaging story, but more than this it poses some interesting questions about Western interference in Africa. Through careful characterisation and plotting, Shaw creates a brilliant tension which gives birth to a pointed question: does financial aid from rich countries exacerbate the problems it is intended to solve?

Though I am interested in politics and global justice, I can’t make any claims to be an expert, so I did some research about what the experts actually thought about it and the consensus seems to be that it is a well-researched, accurate representation of the concerns of people working in this area. For more information I recommend this article by Peter Gill for The Guardian and this article by Charles Moore for The Telegraph.

 

‘Twas The Night Before Christmas

When I was small, reading A Visit from St Nicholas, more commonly known as, ‘Twas the night before Christmas by Clement Clarke Moore was a Christmas Eve Tradition. I don’t normally post the full text of a poem to my blog, but this was published in 1823 so the term of copyright has expired and I couldn’t resist. I hope this gets you into the Christmas spirit!

Many St Nicks!

Many St Nicks!

A Visit from St Nicholas/The Night Before Christmas

Clement Clarke Moore

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
in hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there.

The children were nestled all snug in their beds,
while visions of sugar plums danced in their heads.
And Mama in her ‘kerchief, and I in my cap,
had just settled our brains for a long winter’s nap.

When out on the roof there arose such a clatter,
I sprang from my bed to see what was the matter.
Away to the window I flew like a flash,
tore open the shutter, and threw up the sash.

The moon on the breast of the new-fallen snow
gave the lustre of midday to objects below,
when, what to my wondering eyes should appear,
but a miniature sleigh and eight tiny reindeer.

With a little old driver, so lively and quick,
I knew in a moment it must be St. Nick.
More rapid than eagles, his coursers they came,
and he whistled and shouted and called them by name:

“Now Dasher! Now Dancer!
Now, Prancer and Vixen!
On, Comet! On, Cupid!
On, Donner and Blitzen!
To the top of the porch!
To the top of the wall!
Now dash away! Dash away!
Dash away all!”

As dry leaves that before the wild hurricane fly,
when they meet with an obstacle, mount to the sky
so up to the house-top the coursers they flew,
with the sleigh full of toys, and St. Nicholas too.

And then, in a twinkling, I heard on the roof
the prancing and pawing of each little hoof.
As I drew in my head and was turning around,
down the chimney St. Nicholas came with a bound.

He was dressed all in fur, from his head to his foot,
and his clothes were all tarnished with ashes and soot.
A bundle of toys he had flung on his back,
and he looked like a peddler just opening his pack.

His eyes–how they twinkled! His dimples, how merry!
His cheeks were like roses, his nose like a cherry!
His droll little mouth was drawn up like a bow,
and the beard on his chin was as white as the snow.
The stump of a pipe he held tight in his teeth,
and the smoke it encircled his head like a wreath.
He had a broad face and a little round belly,
that shook when he laughed, like a bowl full of jelly.

He was chubby and plump, a right jolly old elf,
and I laughed when I saw him, in spite of myself.
A wink of his eye and a twist of his head
soon gave me to know I had nothing to dread.

He spoke not a word, but went straight to his work,
and filled all the stockings, then turned with a jerk.
And laying his finger aside of his nose,
and giving a nod, up the chimney he rose.

He sprang to his sleigh, to his team gave a whistle,
And away they all flew like the down of a thistle.
But I heard him exclaim, ‘ere he drove out of sight,

“Happy Christmas to all, and to all a good night!”

Fun facts about the poem

  • In the original poem, Donner and Blitzen are called Dunder and Blixem which apparently links back to the idea that Clement Clarke Moore was inspired to create his Santa Claus by a Dutchman he knew.
  • Only one original copy of the poem remains in private hands, and it sold for $280,000 back in 2006.
  • People often change “breast” to “crest” in the poem because they are embarrassed by the other kind of breasts or think it is dirty. Fools.
  • The poem has been widely parodied, my favourite is the one in the style of Ernest Hemingway

Bookish Plants

As much as I am looking forward to Christmas, once it’s over I miss the sunlight and the spring. I’m preparing for those dark winter months between Christmas and my garden sprouting for another year by preparing some book themed flowers in my house. I know that sounds a little crackers, but it’s all in the name. My flowers will have names which associate them with paper, books, stories… etc.

So far we have (sprouting) Amaryllis Novella and Narcissi Paperwhite… ta da!

Amaryllis and Narcissi growth

Amaryllis and Narcissi growth

Amaryllis Novella

Amaryllis Novella

Narcissi Paperwhite

Narcissi Paperwhite

 

Do you know of any plants with similarly bookish names? I am planning on making my garden a nature reserve but can see potential for extending a similar theme to my borders. William Shakespeare roses for example. I’d be really grateful for any suggestions and am willing to include fruit and veg.

The Nutcracker illustrated by Maurice Sendak

This evening I have been forced out of my sitting room while my boyfriend and two of his friends play a football game on the Playstation.

I don’t care about that though, because I am curled up in my rocking chair in the dining room flicking through this beautiful copy of The Nutcracker illustrated by the late, great Maurice Sendak who died earlier this year. Isn’t it gorgeous? My photographs don’t do justice to the luxurious feel of the paper or the comforting weight of a nice hardback book, but they do show the charm and colour of the illustrations.

pictures 033 - Copy

Front cover

Many headed mouse king

Toy shop

So, I’ve got a good book, tea and a tin of Christmas biscuits. All I’m missing is some little people to read it to, but I’m not planning to do anything about that just yet! If you do have some little people, I think The Nutcracker would make a great bedtime story, a chapter a night in the run up to Christmas and they days that follow. It’s not too late to get yourself a copy either, the ISBN is 978-0-385-34864-5, ask your book shop to order a copy for you, mine gets them in the very next day.

I have a copy to give away to a lucky reader, though sadly it won’t reach you in time for Christmas. If you’d like to be in with a chance of winning, just email me your address with the subject The Nutcracker to bookandbiscuit@hotmail.co.uk

 

Feeling Christmassy at The Book and Biscuit

Yesterday we decorated the Christmas tree.

Book and Biscuit Christmas Tree

Book and Biscuit Christmas Tree

Before heading to Mostly Books, Abingdon, for some late night Christmas shopping and a spot of ginger cake.

Mostly Books Abingdon Late Night Opening

Mostly Books Abingdon Late Night Opening

Then we headed home and had a cup of tea and some Christmas biscuits before wrapping some presents with my little friends.

 

Guinea pigs are better at unwrapping than wrapping.

Guinea pigs are better at unwrapping than wrapping.

Pure by Andrew Miller

Pure by Andrew Miller

Pure by Andrew Miller

In 1785, a young engineer Jean-Baptiste Baratte is tasked with purifying the cemetery of Les Innocents off the Rue St Denis in Paris. The ground is so full of corpses that plants no longer grow, the bodies s no longer rot and the air is thick with the scent of putrefying human flesh, a scent which taints the breath of those who live nearby. The mass graves which in heavy rain have burst into the cellars of neighbouring homes will need to be exhumed, and the King’s Minister has tasked him with dismantling the Church.

Of course, Barrate’s task will not be easy. Though it has been closed for five years, the Church is an icon to the residents who live around it; their family members and friends are buried in the grounds and of course such a scheme is met with some strong opposition. Others, see the potential benefits of the scheme, but this is problematic too, as more zealous supporters see the cleansing as a symbol of the way forward, and revolutionary messages begin popping up all over Paris.

Pure by Andrew Miller won the 2011 Costa Book of The Year. I enjoyed it well enough, but it felt weirdly restrained and was a little unsatisfactory as a result. I think that this might have been because I expected more from it. With all the hints at revolution and the course of the future, I was waiting for something truly revolutionary to happen but it didn’t. At times it was sad and horrible, but this seemed to be brushed away and treated as incidental. It was a pity, because the concept had so much potential and despite all the death and dismemberment, it felt a little bland.

The characterisation was restricted too. The entire novel wasted time focussing on Barrate’s self doubt- which came to little- and Armand’s subversiveness- which came to nothing. The more interesting characters were briefly outlined but not developed. I would have liked a more expansive treatment of the fates of Jeanne or Ziguette, it felt like they were just brushed under the carpet to focus on the anticlimactic ending of the novel in which Barrate (who was too indecisive and insipid for me to believe he was an ambitious man who’d raised himself from poverty) improbably rides off into the sunset with Heloise (who seemed to have more going for her than that).

Have you read Pure by Andrew Miller? What did you think?

Gifts Ideas for Brontë Fans

If you’ve read this blog for a while you probably know I have a slightly sacrilegious attitude to many of the classics which form the literary canon, but despite this I love Wuthering HeightsJane Eyre and all things Brontë. The sister’s lives could have been a novel in their own right, I’m pretty there isn’t a massive motion picture being promoted at the moment, given the success of biopics about Keats, Austen and Potter in recent years. Either way, their books are amazing, a blend of the Gothic and Romantic traditions which are perfect for reading on cold winter nights.

Consequently, I have decided that Brontë inspired items would make great Christmas presents for the Romantic (with a capital R of course…) in your life. Here’s a list of my favourites.

Jane Eyre Birdcage Necklace

Jane Eyre Birdcage Necklace

I love this necklace for the free thinking woman in your life. As my boss reminded me, much to my amusement, when we were selecting book covers in work the other day; bird cages are very on trend. This trinket adds weight to the motif with a well-chosen quotation on the presentation card, “I am no bird; and no net ensnares me: I am a free human being with an independent will.”

 

 

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iconIf it was the Romance with a capital ‘R’ that brought you here, then I think that these earrings which quote Cathy’s outburst about Heathcliff being “More myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same” has to get a mention. Almost certainly one of the best declarations of love in literature, and one of the ones with the most heartbreaking outcomes for the couples involved.

 

 

 

Jane Eyre Manuscript Journal

Jane Eyre Manuscript Journal

If you’re looking for a present for an aspiring writer, they may take inspiration from this mini journal which is embossed with Charlotte Brontë’s writing from the manuscript of Jane Eyre. It’s a bargain at £6.99 and would make a lovely diary.

 

 

 

 

Wuthering Heights Poster

I mentioned some time ago that I didn’t want so much as need this amazing paper cut style poster which is being sold to raise money for a charity which aims to fight illiteracy. So for about £40 you effectively have a gift that gives twice, a beautiful picture for the recipient and a better life for someone who learns to read.

 

 

 

 

 

Whatever our souls are made of decalIt may be because I’m decorating my house at the moment, but I’m a big fan of this Wuthering Heights decal which contains part of one of my favourite passages in literature. I think it’s great inspiration for a gift for a book worms, you could order a custom decal with a favourite passage from any book, or even a song lyric. I would put this up in a shot if my boyfriend would let me. Compromise leads to a very bland aesthetic.

 

 

 

The Melting Library sells beautifully scented soy candles and has a great range based on a wide variety of books. I want so many of them. If you want to experience being out on the winding, windy moor more fully while reading in the comfort of your own home (or bath) then this Wuthering Heights inspired Wild Heather Emily Brontë candle is just the ticket. Just be careful you don’t stir up any ghosts by leaving it alight in your window…

 

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iconAnne Brontë always seems to me to be the overlooked sister, but I love this greeting card with a quotation from The Tenant of Wildfell Hall. Obviously it would work well as a card in it’s own right, but pop it in a frame and it would make a lovely artwork for a gallery wall such as the one I’ve been creating in my dining room…

 

Fairytale Themed Presents

The Crimson Fairy Book

The Crimson Fairy Book

Recently, instead of catching up on the news while I wait for the bus, I’ve been reminding myself how much I love reading classic fairy tales by reading the stories of Hans Christian Andersen and The Brothers Grimm as eBooks on my phone. The stories are still great, but the lack the magic of settling down by the fire with a beautifully illustrated book. In honour of Christmas Magic, I thought I would share my top fairytale inspired Christmas presents. I hope you find them helpful when shopping for gifts for fairytale lovers.

 

 

 

The Yellow Fairy Book

No list of gifts for lovers of fairy stories would be complete without the Folio Society Fairy Books. Colourful, luxurious and beautifully illustrated with introductions from key names in folklore studies, I think they would make the perfect Christmas present. I’m tempted to start a collection as well, but where to start? They’re all so beautiful. The Folio Fairy Books are quite expensive but have real heirloom potential.

 

 

 

This Once Upon A Time storybook necklaceOnce Upon A Time Necklace, is made from solid silver, and can be customized with a personal message especially for your fairytale fan. It also comes in a really cute little gift box, which is a bonus if you’re no good at wrapping presents. I have this necklace and people always ask about it, especially children who want to open it and read the story inside (it doesn’t open sadly).

 

 

 

I used to have a copy of The Frog Price that was decorated with the most amazing papercut illustrations, I think it might actually still be at my father’s house so I’ll need to dig it out when I’m next back. These papercut illustrations of Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood remind me of that book, and I love the splash of red in Little Red Riding Hood’s coat along with the important life advice, it seems a more Brothers Grimm phrase than the slightly saccharine one that accompanies Cinderella…
original_red-riding-hoods-folly-signed-papercut-printoriginal_cinderella-s-dream-signed-papercut-print
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iconI love Heather Alstead’s Fairy Tale range at Not On The Highstreet, there are so many beautifully designed products, but these storytelling bookends, happily ever after bookmark and dragon slaying mug have to be my favourites.Happily Ever After Bookmarkicon
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Fairytale Bookends