Friday, 2 January 2015

7 Quick Takes, Vol I

As part of a New Year's experiment to try blogging again, I'm linking up with 7 Quick Takes - I think the title is self-explanatory.

1.  In keeping with the original plan for the blog, I'm starting with two 'neglected' classics that I got in Folio editions for Christmas.  The first is Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence (Lawrence of Arabia).  I fell under Lawrence's spell two summers ago when I visited Clouds Hill, his last home. I was immediately gripped by the mystery of why an educated, cultivated - and famous - man would choose to hide away under an assumed name in a such a primitive home.
I also love Seven Pillars because it's the sort of book that would never get past an editor today: a sprawling, 800-plus page mass of biography (real and 'elaborated'), history, military campaign, geography and topography. As I wrote on Facebook when I first finished it, "I feel like I've been through the entire Arab campaign with Lawrence. Plus I now know a lot about camels."

2. The second is my number one desert island book, Tristram Shandy by Laurence Sterne. I even wrote a post on this some time ago. Sterne plays wild experiments with the novel as a written and physical form before the conventions we're so used to were even established. Poor Tristram Shandy sets out to faithfully record his life for his readers, from the moment of his conception, but can barely get a few pages in before he gets hopelessly diverted. Hovering in the background of this crazy, funny novel is the bittersweet knowledge that he'll never catch up with himself before he dies. By the way, since reading this novel, I can never look at a wind-up clock in the same light...

3. ...But I didn't get a chance to re-read either, since I'd promised myself the leisure to curl up with Royalist Rebel, written by a friend, Anita Seymour. Her book tells the story of Elizabeth Murray, heir to Ham House, during the English Civil War. I appreciated the skill with which Anita introduces a haughty, not altogether sympathetic, young English noblewomen and draws the reader to her as we experience Elizabeth mature through her wartime experiences and the struggle to hold onto her birthright.  I also loved seeing places familiar to me, such as Richmond and Hampton Court, through the eyes of the seventeenth century.

4. An interesting addendum to this came when describing the book to a friend here in the States. I explained it was set during the Civil War, and she asked, "Which one?". It was one of those 'culture gap' moments that comes from bring an expat. The Civil War means one thing only to the British, but of course she was also thinking of the Wars of the Roses. Come to think of it, one might add the wars between Stephen and Matilda, the conflicts among Henry II and his sons... the list goes on, but still, there's still only one "Civil War".

5. I've also been a beta reader for another friend's novel over December, and a question she had about publishing had me thinking - I now know people published across a whole spectrum: agented and unagented, with traditional (usually small to mid-house) publishers, e-publishers, self-publishing, and often a mix of all these. It's a wide-open market, and I can't decide whether that's confusing or exciting. I wonder which trends will grow in 2015?

6.  New books + moving a bookcase = several hours completely rearranging our library. My husband's  method would be to shove the books where they fitted, but my librarian background compels me to organize everything by subject and in chronological order. After an hour of angst, I was ready to admit I have a disorder...

7.  Happy New Year and Merry Christmas for those of us who hold grimly on to the twelve days of Christmas. Since we didn't get the tree up until the 23rd, at least it won't be sad and dead come January 6.

For more Seven Quick Takes, the linkup is hosted at This Ain't the Lyceum. In the interests of disclosure, as they say, its origins are in the Catholic blogosphere, but there's plenty of entertainment for everyone.

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