Illiterati

"Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world." — Angela Carter

Month: February, 2013

Lily Pond by Vicki Feaver

Thinking of new ways to kill you
and bring you back from the dead,
I try drowning you in the lily pond –

holding your head down
until every bubble of breath
is squeezed from your lungs

and the flat leaves and spiky flowers
float over you like a wreath.
I sit on the stones until I’m numb,

until, among reflections of sky,
water-buttercups, spears of iris,
your face rises to the surface –

a face that was always puffy
and pale, so curiously unchanged.
A wind rocks the waxy flowers, curls

the edges of the leaves. Blue butterfles
appear and vanish like ghosts.
I part the mats of yellow weed

and drag you to the bank, covering
your green algae-stained corpse
with a white sheet. Then, I lift the edge

and climb in underneath –
thumping your chest,
breathing into your mouth.

– Vicki Feaver, The Handless Maiden (1994)

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A Word on Independent Bookshops

The Guardian reported recently that the number of independent bookshops in the UK has dropped by 7% in the last year. In 2005, there were just over 1,500 indie bookshops operating in the UK, a figure which has decreased by a third in the last 7 years.

There’s plenty of debate on just why this might be; oft cited factors include recession, the new found popularity of the ebook and the convenience of online book buying. In fact, it becomes quite easy to envision tiny bookshops falling to their knees amidst the forlorn cries of avid book-lovers (and frequent book-buyers), knocked out ruthlessly in the first round by online super-giants Amazon. Though all of these things are probably in part responsible for the closure of bookshops over the UK, the picture’s not quite as simple as that.

With the book market taking an obvious step towards online trade, independent bookshops have to take this step too. As easy as it is to decry book buying through Amazon, their websites, including AbeBooks, create an invaluable platform for independent booksellers to modernise and start selling their books online. For booksellers who specialise in second-hand, out of print and antiquarian books, online markets provide a wider customer base than even their own websites could provide.

Image representing AbeBooks as depicted in Cru...

Whether ebooks will take over the book market is a whole other question, but it’s been quite firmly established through debate on the subject that books, and bookshops, offer something that ebooks don’t. People want physical books in their hands and on their shelves as much as they don’t want to haul their latest fantasy epic to work every day. Is it fair that Amazon hold a monopoly over the ebook trade? Not according to some booksellers. Will ebooks ever replace books? Probably not.

If you really would be sorry to see independent bookshops disappear forever, there are a few things you can do:

  1. Use your Amazon/Abe account without feeling guilty. If you need a specific text, and don’t have the time to look for it in the high street, order it online. But when you do, consider who you’re buying it from. You don’t have to to buy directly from Amazon, click on the used or new options and buy it from an independent bookseller.
  2. Shop in your local bookshop. The amount of people who tell me they’ve walked past the bookshop I work in nearly every day (sometimes for years!) and have only just got around to going in is unbelievable. If you see a bookshop that piques your curiosity, go in. Have a browse, buy a coffee (if it’s on offer), maybe pick up an interesting book. You don’t even have to buy anything, but either way, if you like it, tell your friends.
  3. Look out for bookshops that might interest you. If you don’t know where your local bookshop is, find it. If you live in the UK, you can use this site here. If you have a specialist interest, it’s likely that somewhere or other is a bookshop for you. There are bookshops that specialise in books by and for women, fishing, sci-fi and fantasy, there are even bookshops that are half bookshop, half bookbinders.

 

 

The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco

Eco

Umberto Eco’s The Name of the Rose was on my radar for a while; I’m not sure you can do an English degree without hearing his name mentioned at least once. Which is not a particularly surprising fact, considering the great reach of his abilities: philosophy, semiotics, novel-writing. He’s done it all, and I hear he’s done it well. All this, and more, made me very acutely aware when I started reading The Name of the Rose that it was A Difficult Read. And that it is; even Eco himself has said, “probably I am writing for masochists.” The novel is erudite and complex, but it’s also enchanting, thought provoking and exciting. It has all the best qualities of any great murder mystery, alongside the delightful ingenuity and thoughtful exploration and defining postmodern novel. So, while The Name of the Rose is A Difficult Read, it’s also A Great Read.

The plot follows a Benedictine novice, Adso of Melk, and his mentor, William of Baskerville, as they investigate the deaths of several monks in an abbey in Northern Italy. William is a sort of 14th century Sherlock Holmes, with piercing powers of logic and deduction, who becomes the perfect instrument for Eco’s exploration of symbols and meaning. Throw in a forbidden labyrinthine library, a guy who can speak only in a language compiled entirely of broken pieces of different tongues, and discussions on the subversive powers of laughter, and The Name of the Rose quickly becomes a Saussurean wet-dream.

Eco’s novel is searingly clever, elegant and well executed. It’s a long read, that is difficult at times, but it is more than worth persevering.

Top line: “There are words that give power, others that make us all the more derelict, and to this latter category belong the vulgar words of the simple, to whom the Lord has not granted the boon of self-expression in the universal tongue of knowledge and power.”

You won’t find elsewhere: Anything quite like it. An ending that comes together so satisfyingly, and perfectly, on all levels.

Low point: It takes a little while to get used to the narrative pace of this one. It can seem long-winded and difficult if you don’t sit back and enjoy the philosophical, theological and critical discussions.