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About willoyd

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  • Reading now?
    Battle Cry of Freedom by James M McPherson
  • Location:
    Wharfedale, Yorkshire
  • Interests
    birding, cycling (mainly touring), running, walking, family history.

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  1. Claire's Book List 2018

    Always worth the wait! I'm still catching up on some previous years, the latest being H is for Hawk, which was much better than I expected. Of more recent ones, I was mildly disappointed with Linescapes and A Sweet Wild Note (but still enjoyed them - it's all relative!), but am looking forward to both Lewis-Stempel's latest (the two others I've read of his have been outstanding), The Wood, and Mark Cocker's Our Place. For me, they, the authors, are both amongst the best, to the extent that I might even buy the latter in hardback (I've got a couple of L-S's paperbacks to read yet!). Anything else to keep one's eyes open for?
  2. Claire's Book List 2018

    'Only'! (I'm contentedly on 17).
  3. Willoyd's Reading 2018

    A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor ***** This was the April selection for one of my book groups - my choice in fact! I chose it because at the time I had read one of the author's other books (Blaming), and I was both intrigued by the author and felt that, on that limited experience, her writing lent itself well to book group discussion. In the intervening period, I read two more of her books (The Soul of Kindness and Mrs Palfrayman at the Claremont), both of which confirmed my growing fascination with Elizabeth Taylor's works, and her choice as a book group read. I wasn't mistaken either, as we had plenty to discuss! Essentially, the novel is set in the small, post-war (it was first published in 1948), rather run-down seaside town of Newby, and examines the interactions of a small group of largely near neighbours living on the harbour front: Robert and Beth Cazabon (a name that struck an immediate chord!) and their children Prudence and Stevie, next door neighbour and Beth's best friend Tory Foyle and her son (largely away at boarding school, and the source of some perceptively funny letters), nosy and irrascible invalid Mrs Bracey and her two long-suffering daughters Maisie and Iris, recently bereaved Lily Wilson (owner of one of the few local attractions, a wax-work museum as run-down as the town), and a rare, but long-term, visitor, Bertram Hemingway, retired naval officer and aspiring (but mediocre) painter. As with all her titles, A View of the Harbour is soon seen to be very carefully chosen. Superficially, it's the title of a painting hung up in the pub where Bertram is staying, and one to which he has promised a companion piece. As well, It obviously alludes to the reader's perspective, the view of the harbour's inhabitants and their lives, but we gradually realise that it also refers to the fact that this book is all about what people see, don't see, think they see, and don't understand even when they have seen! The threads connecting, even entwining, the various characters are many, and often become rather entangled. Our discussion centred very largely on these interconnections, what the author told us overtly, and what was actually bubbling up underneath. This was all very much mixed up in a discussion about the way Elizabeth Taylor writes. Her style reminds me of Virginia Woolf and Muriel Spark: incisive and focused very much on the internal characters and how they see the world. Just like these two, her books are slim but full of meaning, not a word wasted. ("...and, with one of those impulsive gestures she thought out so well beforehand, she tucked her hand under his elbow and strolled with him along the waterside towards the cliff-walk"). I also find it fascinating how she draws on and refers to other writers: the name Cazabon is surely no coincidence, so close to George Eliot's Casaubon in Middlemarch, although the roles are reversed her, with Beth being the writer buried in her own work and Robert the frustrated one. The allusions are just that though, as the narrative takes its own distinctive line, perhaps showing how an accumulation of small differences can lead to distinctly different outcomes. In similar fashion, Taylor's employment of the lighthouse is surely a direct reference to Woolf's most famous work. Again, one can see the parallels and allusions, underlined by Taylor's use of the weather to introduce chapters, as in The Waves, but the final product remains very much Taylor's own. There is much else here, and the author keeps one thinking right the way through to the very last line (literally!); it's definitely a book that merits a good discussion!. Suffice to summarise it here as another outstanding read from an author whose relative obscurity I find completely bemusing, but hopefully part of a wave of writers who are beginning to be rediscovered and appreciated. I found it interesting to read (somewhere!) that whilst it was the Angry Young Men (Osborne, Braine, Sillitoe etc) who dominated the literary scene at the time and for a while after, longer term it is the generation of female writers who are actually lasting and being read - Spark, Taylor, Pym etc, not least because of the work of publishers like Virago and Persephone. I hope so. I found it rather sad that the only previous stamp in the book I borrowed from the library was in 2004, but encouraging that it's not so difficult to find Elizabeth Taylor on bookshop shelves. I think the best accolade I can pass on this is to say that I've now bought my own copy, as this is a book I am already dipping back into. As I usually do in this situation, I give it 5* to start with, it is one of the best so far this year, and reserve judgement on the sixth for later.
  4. Willoyd's Reading 2018

    Just returned home from a few days visiting family on Speyside. Stopped off overnight near Alnwick, and had a few very pleasant, if rather crowded, hours at Barter Books. Stock was a little bit thin in the areas I was most interested in, but picked up three books, two I've been looking out for in reasonably priced hardback, and one pure serendipity. Hope and Glory: Britain 1900-1990 by Peter Clarke (Penguin History of Britain) The Coast Road by Paul Gogarty (loved his earlier book, The Water Road, travelling round England in a narrow boat - this one in a motorhome). and serendipity: London, Flower of Cities All by Richard Church, with some lovely illustrations by Imre Hofbauer. Having finished H is for Hawk, am concentrating over the next few days on James M McPherson's near classic history of the American Civil War, Battle Cry of Freedom. At just over 800 pages, it may keep me occupied for a while! Next book after H is for Hawk for the reading group is A Thousand Splendid Suns. I spent an hour or so trying to get into it, but failed horribly, and skimmed through to the last few pages. Not my cup of tea at all, and think I'll give this month a miss.
  5. Willoyd's Reading 2018

    H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald ***** For me, this book is a combination of what I would normally regard as opposites: 'misery memoir' (Mark Cocker, The Guardian), a genre I usually abhor, on one side, natural history, a genre I usually love, on the other. Somewhere intertwined with this was a semi-biographical account of TH White, focusing on his own attempts to train a goshawk as recounted in his minor classic The Goshawk. All in all a complex book trying to pull off a balancing act between the three relationships (Dad, White, Mabel) that could so easily find itself weighed down too heavily in any one direction. And, yet, for me, Helen Macdonald manages to pull it off. This is a book that I've been aware of ever since publication, but completely shied away from reading, mainly because of that abhorrence. However, because of all the other strands, and in spite of the fact that her grief is central to understanding the whole book, it never quite overwhelms as so often happens with others of that ilk. Having said that, I have to admit that after a start that completely knocked me out and left me almost gasping in appreciation, I found that there were times later on when I thought "We've been here before, and not just once", and others where I thought she was over-egging the psychology (or was it psychiatry, especially in relation to White?!). Each time, however, she managed to pull things back into balance, usually with one of her shifts into one of the other two subjects, so I kept on reading, and wanting to read . In some books, this sort of topic shifting can irritate, but here it not only worked well for me, it was an essential! Inevitably, given my prejudices, I most enjoyed and related to the sections where the author worked with Mabel, in particular the later scenes in part 2 where she actually goes out hunting with the goshawk. I'm no fan of hunting for sport (indeed, rather the opposite), although falconry has a subtly different feel to it, but I found the relationship between the two fascinating, even when we found ourselves almost moving into some sort of therianthropy. In fact, I surprised myself in how enthralled I was in that. Indeed, having used birdwatching and 'getting out on my own' as some of my own therapy for dealing with different stress issues, I could relate to a surprisingly good degree of what she was writing about. But, even more, I loved Macdonald's descriptions of the outdoors and events there, all brought vividly to life in her distinctive prose style. I did wonder if I would have enjoyed it without the other strands, and, yes, I would have, but then it would have been a very different book - more of a straightforward natural history/sporting narrative, lacking the same depth and personality - so perhaps not as much as would first seem. Whilst the psychiatry/psychology was occasionally overwrought, it was still essential. So, in the end, this was a book that took me by surprise, pleasantly so. I wasn't expecting to particularly like it, but I came close to loving it. Several reviewers have suggested that it has much in common with Amy Liptrot's The Outrun ("If you like X, you'll love Y…"). I suppose it does in terms of being a memoir about nature helping the author's recovery, and they are close enough that the comparison is a almost inevitable, but they are also very different. In particular, Macdonald's book struck me as darker, more introspective, even more mystical. None of that is either negative or positive, just how they differ. However on balance, and mainly because of the caveats above, this doesn't quite manage the 6* status of The Outrun, although it still manages a well deserved 'excellent' 5*.
  6. Your Book Activity - April 2018

    You're a few years younger than me (a child of the late 50s) then! now that I can identify with (the archetypal child bookworm).
  7. Your Book Activity - April 2018

    Interesting. It's a book that superficially appeals a lot, although it's attracted rather mixed reviews. Not that this has ever put me off reading a book, but it's good to know that you rate it so highly. As you suggest, you don't give 5 stars away freely!
  8. Your Book Activity - April 2018

    Just read first four chapters this morning - blown away. Sooo frustrated at having to put it down!
  9. Your Book Activity - April 2018

    Finished Elizabeth Taylor's A View of the Harbour. It remains a mystery to me why her books aren't better known - this is one of her best, and one of the best novels I've read in a while. Started Battle Cry of Freedom by James M McPherson, a classic history of the American Civil War. At 800+ pages it should keep me occupied for a while; I'm about 70-odd pages in, and so far it suggests I won't find the task too onerous! I will also soon be starting H is for Hawk by Helen Macdonald, which I need to read for one of my book groups. For some reason, it's not one I've wanted to read before, so hope it exceeds my expectations.
  10. Claire's Book List 2018

    Thanks for the tip. If (I hope when) you get round to Elizabeth Taylor, My favourites to date are A View of the Harbour and The Soul of Kindness. I also rated Blaming highly. I appreciated Mrs Palfreyman at the Claremont, one that many people rate very highly, but it didn't strike quite the same chords with me. Angel is often cited as her masterpiece - one I've yet to read. After this last book, I've added her to my favourite authors list.
  11. Claire's Book List 2018

    Part of my surprise lately is that I've also tended to read more female writers than the average (at least for a male reader), including some years when it's even been a majority. However, I've read a higher proportion of non-fiction books, and given my preferences (History, Science, Natural History), there do seem to be rather more male writers than female around (not to say that there aren't plenty of women writers in these genres, but the fields do seem rather more dominated by men - but no statistical evidence to say for sure!). However, just finished novel by one of my favourite female writers, Elizabeth Taylor (A View of the Harbour), a stonker of a book.
  12. That's rather a lot of books to ignore, so I'm intrigued. If they aren't books, how would you classify non-fiction? (Just thinking of all those books I thought I'd read but apparently haven't!).
  13. Claire's Book List 2018

    Completely the opposite to me! Aside from the fact that you're reading at four times my rate (too much birding in my case!), my ratio this year has been Male : Female = 12:3, i.e. 4:1 Fiction : Non-fiction = 9:6, i.e. 3:2 The two do appear to be at least partially linked, gender ration for non-fiction books being 5:1 I usually read quite a lot of female authors too - but not, so far, this year it seems.
  14. Willoyd's Reading 2018

    March Review Another steady month's reading, two reading group books and three non-fiction (a variety of genre). Currently reading one of each as well. Figures are those to date for the year, with figures in brackets being those this month if more than zero. Books read: 15 (5) Pages read: 5121 (1557), average 342 (311) pages per book. Gender : 12 (3) male, 3 (2) female Genre: 9 (2) fiction, 6 (3) non-fiction Sources: 9 (2) owned, 6 (3) library Format: 8 (3) hardback, 5 (1) paperback, 2 (1) ebook Round Robin challenge: 2 TBR list: 1462: year -9, month -2 Books for reading acquired this month: Constable in Love by Martin Gayford (paperback, charity shop) A Little History of British Gardening by Jenny Uglow (hardback, charity shop) Palmerston, The People's Darling by James Chambers (paperback, charity shop) Exodus by Paul Collier (paperback, online: investigation into UK migration patterns) Time to Fly by Jim Flegg (paperback, online: the science of bird migration) The Age of Decadence by Simon Heffer (hardback, online) Emma by Alexander McCall Smith (Ebook) Selected Writings by John Muir (hardback, Waterstones) Currently reading: A View of the Harbour by Elizabeth Taylor (reading group) Battle Cry of Freedom by James McPherson (history doorstopper)
  15. I'd agree, also because trying to work out the first book actually written can be very messy - what is a book after all? Take Jane Austen for instance. Her first published book was Sense and Sensibility, although she had had a novel called Susan (likely to be the predecessor to Northanger Abbey) previously bought by a publisher but unpublished. However, that was preceded by another full-length unpublished novel, Elinor and Marianne, which may or may not have morphed into S&S, but was apparently epistolary in nature, so must have looked very different; it was read in its entirety to the rest of the family according to Cassandra, but there is now no trace of it. it was also preceded by a variety of juvenilia (three volumes worth) which included a completed novel called Love and Freindship (Austen's misspelling), but never seen as a separate book, which is not the Love and Friendship of the film (that's Lady Susan!), written when 14, as well as her 34-page History of England. Lady Susan was also written before S&S, and Elinor and Marianne. So what is Jane Austen's debut book? For me, it has to be S&S, as that is her first appearance on the public stage as a completed, and independent, book. All the rest are interesting (and I love Lady Susan!), but they are simply works leading up to her debut. Debut doesn't mean 'first', it means 'first appearance'. Put it another way, if S&S isn't, what is her debut book?!