WordPress has just notified me that today is the 3rd anniversary of The Book and Biscuit. I feel like we should have cake but the occassion has caught me unprepared, so for past cakes try here, here and here.
I started the blog to give myself something to do with all my free time when I finished teaching and to reach out to like minded book geeks, and while logically it makes sense that it’s been three years, it doesn’t really feel that long ago.
Thanks to all my followers old and new for sticking with me through redesigns and moves- your comments always make me smile and sometimes laugh out loud.
If anyone would like to get in touch with comments or ideas for the blog going forward, I can be reached at bookandbiscuit (at) hotmail (dot) co (dot) uk
If you’ve been on twitter, news websites or watching television this week, you’ve probably already heard that JK Rowling has released a well-received crime novel called The Cuckoo’s Calling under the pseudonym Robert Galbraith. As a pseudonym, it bears all the hallmarks of JK Rowling’s characters’ names reflecting their traits and means Famous Stranger. Well played, JK Rowling, very well played.
But why all the fuss about her writing under a pseudonym? I can completely understand that with such wild success under her belt she would want to see how her work was received by readers who weren’t prejudiced by their opinions of her previous work. (See statement from JK Rowling on Galbraith here). I mean, show me a review of The Casual Vacancy that doesn’t mention, if not compare it, to the Harry Potter books. Even I was annoyed by the reviews that complained it was a departure from the wonderful world of Hogwarts and its inhabitants. Imagine how she must have felt.
Still, while I could understand excitement at JK Rowling releasing a new book (who doesn’t love a new book from one of their favourite authors) I feel that there has been a hell of a lot of negativity and that it mostly seems to stem from the fact that JK Rowling is so successful.
Suggestions that it was all just a publicity stunt. Maybe it was a marketing ploy, the way it was discovered is a little fishy, but I still think that it’s pretty cool that she did it. As I’ve said, it must have been nice to have her writing appreciated without her name being considered. Let’s face it, publicity stunt or not, it’s not like any book by JK Rowling is at risk of going under the radar. But it does serve to highlight that writing isn’t a get rich quick scheme and even if you are lucky enough to get published what a fickle world it can be. Industry experts like Jonny Geller of Curtis Brown have pointed out on Twitter that until the news broke, the well-reviewed Galbraith novel had sold 449 copies since April. This gives you an idea of why new talent is such a big risk for publishers- they take an awful lot of effort to market when compared to an established name.
People complaining that she felt that she had to use a man’s name as though she’s a gender traitor.Some have said that this allowed her to conceal her identity more effectively, but honestly? It’s just an example of sexism in literature. Male names sell better than women’s names in Crime Fiction. This is why she was told to use her initials rather than Joanne Rowling as a name when she released Harry Potter- because boys don’t like reading books by girls. Pathetic yes, but when did you last pick up a Romance book with a man’s name on the cover? There are plenty of men writing for Mills and Boon, they just use female pseudonyms. Yes it’s sexist. But JK Rowling has done enough to prove that women can right, it’s the attitude of publishers AND the reading public that needs to change here.
Saying it’s all about the money. JK Rowling is allegedly the first billionaire to give away enough money to charity to lose billionaire status. And while it is, admittedly, all relative, it’s annoying to see people giving her a hard time for being successful. Some of the nastier jibes about this have come from agents and publishers on twitter (eg. this tweet from Melville House, below). I wonder if they have a policy of rejecting clients and authors who they deem to be too successful? If so, send them my way. I’m not so fussy.
So, when The Cuckoo’s Calling is out in paperback, I will be reading it. In the meantime I will continue to read a mixture of established authors and new authors, but to be honest, I’ll be more interested in the content of the book than the name on the cover.
An inspirational quote to kick the working week off, but I’m never entirely sure whether I actually believe it. Regardless of whether you believe in free will or determinism (or compatiblism, I’ve done my reading) I don’t think anyone can truly believe that their destiny is entirely theirs to decide.
Still, it’s a nice thought and sounds good on a Monday.
Image adapted from original by Constanza under Creative Commons license
I love this quotation from The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery. The full quotation reads
”When tea becomes ritual, it takes its place at the heart of our ability to see greatness in small things. Where is beauty to be found? In great things that, like everything else, are doomed to die, or in small things that aspire to nothing, yet know how to set a jewel of infinity in a single moment?”
Infinity in a single moment, there you have it. Books, tea and biscuits are all very well for every day use, but we’re talking about the grand occasion here. What better reason to get out your best china and have a ritualized afternoon tea on a sunny Saturday? Clotted cream scones, cucumber sandwiches and all.
If you had to list all the conventions of dodgy “chick lit”, what would be the first things that spring to mind? A heroine an ugly duckling heroine who works in publishing/media/journalism and meets one or more wrong men before blossoming into a swan? A contemporary city setting, possibly London or New York? An irritating friend whose heart is in the right place? A cool friend who acts in underhanded ways?
When I started reading Happily Ever After by Harriet Evans, it seemed to check off all the conventions of bad “Chick Lit” and really annoyed me. I’ve read so many books which make careers in publishing, sound glamorous and easy that when this book started to do the same I was almost ready to throttle the main character Eleanor Bee. As I read on though, I realised that the author was hitting the chick lit check boxes in such a self-deprecating and clever way that I began to enjoy it. I enjoyed it even more when the slightly gauche Elle grows up and learns a few tough lessons about how life and love (and publishing) work along the way.
It starts with a quotation from Northanger Abbey, “She read all such works as heroines must read to supply their memories with those quotations which are so serviceable and so soothing in the vicissitudes of their eventful lives.” Rarely have I seen such an appropriate epigraph. I think Jane Austen would approve- Elle B is something of a modern-day Catherine Morland albeit a lot less irritating. She moves credibly from hopeless naivety and weakness to gradually become a stronger, enjoyable heroine.
The beauty of contemporary women’s fiction is that when it is well executed it tackles some really dark themes with warmth and compassion. Elle B has to face some demons and Happily Ever After sits up there with some of the best that I’ve read in this sense. It does obey some of the conventions that you might expect of “Chick Lit” very closely (a fifth of the way through the book I told my editorial assistant that I could guess who the main character would end up with and I was right) but gosh does the author make you work for the ending you expect and hope for. At times I was worried that it wouldn’t all turn out as I’d hoped. But then when an author makes such arch comments about the wonder that is Bridget Jones, the publishing industry and the incestuous world of book people (there’s a lot of office hook ups in this book but I mean incestuous in a hyperbolic, small-world sense and do not mean to suggest that book people interbreed or liaise with their colleagues), you have to expect that there will be some clever tricks along the way.
If you are looking for an enjoyable read which is light but not excessively so then I would definitely recommend this book. At times it is moving, at others it is “snort tea through your nose” funny. It would make a perfect holiday read and I don’t mean that in a bad way. In fact, I’ll leave you a quote from Eleanor B which in many ways sums up my thoughts on holiday reading:
“If I work hard all year and have two weeks’ holiday in Greece I don’t want some pale, worthy, boring book about middle-class people in London sitting round debating their stupid, self-satisfied lives. Sometimes I want a private jet and a hooker drinking champagne.”
This Pimm’s Drizzle cake is the perfect treat to serve at a picnic or barbecue on a sunny day. It just smells of summer and looks absolutely beautiful.
225g unsalted butter
200g caster sugar
225g self-raising flour, sifted
zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 orange
zest and freshly squeezed juice of 1 lemon
Handful of mint, finely chopped
150ml Pimm’s no1
Strawberries, lemon and mint to decorate.
1) Preheat your oven to 160 ºC for a fan oven, 180ºC or gas mark 4 for standard ovens.
2) Cream together butter and sugar until smooth and pale, then whisk in the eggs one at a time.
3) Fold in the flour until smooth then stir in zest, chopped mint and 50ml of Pimm’s.
4) Put into loaf tin and bake for about 50 mins.
Mix the juice of the orange and lemon with the 100mils of Pimm’s you have left and when cake is baked, prick it over the top and slowly pour the juice on while it is still hot allowing it to soak in.
My boyfriend the tech wizz just came into the living room and asked whether I have ever heard of Diagon Alley… because it is now available to view on Google Street View. Whatever you think of the whole evil/not evil debate, you have to admit that is pretty cool. I need to visit the Harry Potter Studios asap.
“People aim for the stars, and they end up like goldfish in a bowl. I wonder if it wouldn’t be simpler just to teach children right from the start that life is absurd.” The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbery
Reneé Michel and Paloma Josse live very different lives. Reneé is a poor concierge alone in the world apart from her cat Leo and her friend Manuela. Paloma is the teenage daughter of bored, bourgeois parents who plans to kill herself before her thirteenth birthday. Both are fiercely intelligent and determined to hide it from the world at all costs and manage to do so until a stranger moves into the apartment blocks and their worlds begin to change.
It’s not difficult to see why The Elegance of The Hedgehog has received such wide acclaim and been translated into so many languages. The parallel narratives of Reneé and Paloma are quietly compelling, the characterisation is fresh and the story is darkly hilarious. Written by a professor of philosophy it contains the best summary of phenomenology that I have ever read (“nothing more than the solitary, endless monologue of consciousness, a hard-core autism that no real cat would ever importune.”) and for all the main characters’ intellectual status, they retain a warmth and humanity that sets them apart from the intellectual snobbery and false superiority of the social elite that surrounds them.
It would make a great read at any time, but an especially wonderful read if you’re visiting Paris.
A friend sent me a link to this reading list on The Guardian billed as “1000 books that everyone must read a definitive list” telling me that it made her miserable because she hadn’t even heard of most of them. Granted that these lists are supposed (I suppose) to be a little aspirational, but it does make you wonder who decides what should be included on these lists. The Guardian’s Review team and a panel of expert judges apparently.
It’s not really an Everyman’s List, and it’s interesting to see that a lot of the “100 Best Books” titles seem to have been left off in favour of a disproportionate amount of the Amises, Perec and Smollet. Which instantly gives you the impression that the panel weren’t looking at populist fiction.
I’m beginning to fear that a lot of these lists are designed to allow a select set of individuals to preen their intellectual plumage rather than offer suggestions for great reads for the rest of us.