Archive for the ‘ Books & Comics ’ Category

Effi Briest


Tonight is book group night. My book group covers an eclectic range, and has introduced me to books which have become favourites (such as Life of Pi and Remains of the Day), forced me to read books which I had somehow neglected (Jane Austen’s Emma being one of the most embarrassing examples) and involved me in some hilarious discussions when we have realised that not one of us enjoyed the supposedly brilliant book we had just been reading. This time around, the novel in question is Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane. We like to alternate between classics and newer works, and this late nineteenth-century offering is apparently a standard part of the literature curriculum in Germany. I can’t honestly say that I was that taken with it.

Of course, reading books in translation is a difficult thing, as it is nigh on impossible to know whether elements of style which you particularly love or loathe belong to the original author or to the translator (in this case translators, Hugh Rorrison and Helen Chambers). I found it languid, very hard going. I wondered at first whether the overwhelming sense of boredom I felt was deliberate, evocative of the heroine’s position in life, but I eventually concluded that this was not the case – I just found the style and the plot dull. We are tantalised occasionally with something interesting, but it always happens off camera (most notably, there is some wonderful ghost story to explore, but the book shies away from actually telling us what this story is). I don’t demand high-octane action, but I do like to be engaged by what’s going on in a book.

Effi Briest tells the story of its eponymous heroine, a young woman who gets married to a man at least twice her age (who happened to have been an admirer of her own mother many years back). The two of them move far from the home where she grew up and she finds little stimulation in her new position, eventually beginning an indiscretion which will come back to haunt her some five or six years later. Most of the time, the camera (as it were) focusses on her, and we get to ‘hear’ much of her inner turmoil. Sadly, this is expressed so vacuously most of the time that it irritates more than it illuminates. We do get the odd glimpse into her parents, her husband and her servants, but they are mostly cyphers. Her father does have a somewhat endearing verbal tic, declaring anything he does not want to talk about to be “too vast a subject”, but this is as deep as the characterisation tends to go.

In some ways, the book reminds me of A Doll’s House, wherein a woman breaks societal convention (in a much nobler way than having an affair) and suffers the consequences. In both, the heroine is confined by her marriage, and her husband is so bound up in what society expects and trying to do “the right thing” that his own actions and choices are pre-determined by others. Effi’s husband challenges his cuckolder to a duel, even though he doesn’t want to. He feels there is no other way. And Torvald in A Doll’s House is so bound up with what he expects from male and female roles that he fails to understand or react appropriately to anything in the third act of the play. It does not help matters that unlike A Doll’s House, where the sequence of events and revelations makes some sort of sense, the plot of Effi Briest seems to happen essentially at random. Effi’s lover is only able to make his first move due to an extended series of unfortunate hiccups one snowy evening (which defy all logic if you start to think about them), and her affair is only brought to light due to a combination of her own stupidity (though her maid does comment on this) and a truly contrived accident.

What the novel does do is to paint a picture of the society in which Effi and those around her lived, complete with its rules, customs and expectations. This is always interesting, but was the only real point of interest I found in reading it. I know I should like it, but I don’t. In the realm of classics, give me Wilkie Collins, Henry Fielding or Jane Austen. In the real of foreign novels, I tend to get on best with Russian writers (though have yet to tackle either Tolstoy or Dostoevsky). I’m sure the novel is a marvellous achievement, but it just wasn’t to my taste. It will be most interesting to see what everyone else made of it.

Wetly done indeed!


Last week, I headed to the picturesque surroundings of St Augustine’s Abbey in Canterbury to see a play.  I have attended a number of Shakespeare productions there before, including a particularly good version of Much Ado About Nothing, and it has proved to be an atmospheric location for an evening of outdoor theatre.  The play on this occasion was Heartbreak Productions‘ adaptation of Jane Austen’s Emma.  Before I discuss the play, though, there is one thing I need to address.  It rained.  A lot. Continue reading

Stock editing


Sometimes, every library has to do something which does not come easily to its staff – get rid of some precious, precious books.  Sometimes they are sold, and librarians witness the strange spectacle of people fighting to pay for a book which nobody has wanted to borrow without charge for several years.  Sometimes they get traded to another library or donated to schools or literacy campaigns.  Sometimes the books are of no use to anyone and simply get recycled.

The Library of Doom has a space crisis on its hands (if libraries can be thought of as having hands), and has had this for quite some time, as I’ve mentioned before.  We don’t have enough room for all the books currently in the collection, which makes it quite interesting trying to add new acquisitions to stock.  In an academic library environment, there can be considerable resistance (generally from outside the library) to removing anything from stock, but it simply has to be done on a larger scale than usual.  This process is known as ‘stock editing’, mostly because terms such as ‘weeding’ and ‘withdrawals’ are seen as negative.  So why should items be edited out of library stock?  None of these can be hard and fast rules, as there will always be exceptions and special cases (I wouldn’t ever want to dispose of a holy book from any religion, for instance – it would seem disrespectful), but here are three key factors which justify editing.

1 – Condition

The easiest way to justify removing an item from the shelves is that it is falling apart.  Bibliographic Services teams in libraries can work wonders on poorly books, transforming them with their array of exciting tools and a bewildering variety of sticky substances, but sometimes the effort is not worth it and that book has to go.  This is even easier with audiovisual material – if a video has been exposed to an electromagnet, or if a DVD has been placed on the record player, there’s little that can be done to save it.  Of course, if items get into a disreputable state, they’re probably being used a lot, so a replacement may well have to be ordered.

2 – Obsolescence

Books become obsolete at different rates.  Certain subjects taught at the university are particularly prone to this – law and health, for instance.  In these subject areas, stock editing is already fairly rigorous, as you don’t want students learning out of date clinical care practices or working on the basis of laws which have altered.  The government frequently changes its mind about social welfare or the educational curriculum, which means that practical books from these subject areas can unexpectedly become obsolete.

Even in less obvious areas, new editions of books are brought out, superseding older ones.  Sometimes there is value in a chapter which only exists an old edition, but it is only worth keeping one copy, rather than a dozen or so, which take up half a shelf between them.  In these modern 2.0 times, print resources can arguably be superseded by electronic equivalents from time to time, particularly for key reference works such as the Grove Dictionaries of Art and Music.

Related to this are those books which have not had a more recent edition published or have no obvious successor, but are still misleading, inaccurate or out of date.  Material on teaching genetics in schools which was published in the 1970s, for instance, though these are quite intriguing if only for the jumpers worn by the children on the covers.

3 – Relevance

Books in some areas never really become obsolete, most notably in the arts and humanities, where new ideas and new interpretations are often seen as alternatives to older theories rather than as new truths.  However, this does not mean that collections of material concerning music, literature, history or theology could never require ‘editing’ in an academic library, as they can become irrelevant without becoming obsolete.

For instance, there may be an academic who has a particular interest in the Victorian novel and teaches a number of modules on the subject.  If he or she were to leave the university, their successor could well be a specialist on eighteenth-century poetry or on literary censorship.  It is likely that such major figures as Dickens, Hardy, Eliot and perhaps Wilkie Collins may continue to be studied, but material relating to minor figures such as George MacDonald (one of my favourites) or Charlotte Mary Yonge will become irrelevant.  Students are not studying their work any longer, so shelves of books concerning them may go unused for years, taking up space which would be better served by increasing the library’s provision of material on, for instance, eighteenth-century poetry.

Modules and entire degree courses come to an end surprisingly often as a result of political or economic factors, and this can be a major cause of academic libraries filling up with irrelevant stock.  If we no longer teach agriculture, why should we have more than a very basic collection on the subject?  If the music department now concentrates on the classical period, do we need thousands of volumes examining the baroque composers?  I think not.

With exceptions such as major research institutions or legal deposit libraries, an academic library should always be a useful, relevant, living resource.  As Charles Cutter, an influential American librarian, said in 1901, “The library should be a practical thing to be used, not an ideal to be admired.”  It’s been over 100 years since he expressed this sentiment, and it’s more true than ever.  Libraries are often seen as outmoded institutions with little to offer in our networked world.  Careful editing of stock can be part of the process of challenging this perception by ensuring that users find the material that they need and want without having to wade through a sea of dust emanating from shelves of books which haven’t been out for a decade or two.  I think that’s worth the effort, personally.

The Singing Librarian looks back on 2007


This time last year, I looked back over the previous 12 months from a personal perspective of achievements, experiences and lessons learned.  This year, to avoid creating an annual tradition, my year-end post will look instead at some bests and one or two worsts.

Theatre

There’s really no contest for me.  Parade was not only the best production I’ve seen this year, but the best production I’ve seen for a very long time.  I was fortunate to see a number of excellent productions this year, but this one was head and shoulder above the rest.  It was emotionally moving, intellectually engaging and theatrically inspired.  I haven’t seen Hairspray, the winner of this year’s Evening Standard award, but from my position of ignorance, I cannot see how it can in any way be considered better, unless ‘better’ means ‘more profitable’.  I waxed lyrical on Parade when I saw it, so won’t repeat myself.  It really was extraordinary, though.

Television

It may be odd, but the best thing I’ve seen on television this year is ‘Blink’.  Why odd?  Well, it’s a single episode of Doctor Who, a science fiction drama for a family audience.  It is, however, a series that attracts very talented writers and actors and this episode was wonderful.  Deeply scary (what could be more disturbing than statues that move whenever you stop looking at them?) and probably produced on a lower budget than your average episode with an emphasis on characters being drawn in to the Doctor’s strange world of “wibbly wobbly timey wimey…stuff” though meeting him only briefly.  The new incarnation of Who has had some stunning episodes and for me, this was the best thing I caught on the small screen all year.

On the opposite end of the scale is a show that shares the same time-slot when Doctor Who is not being broadcast.  Robin Hood.  It has become traditional for the denizens of my house to gather round and watch this together and although I rather enjoyed the first series, I have found other things to do as this year’s batch of episodes has gone on.  It has taken preposterousness to new heights (or rather depths), which is really saying something since my favourite piece of television this year features a time traveller and living statues.  I didn’t mind the occasional anachronism, the odd bit of perturbing erotic subtext and what have you, but several of the episodes I’ve seen recently have made me despair.  Perhaps not the worst thing I’ve seen, but by far the most disappointing.

Cinema

The Simpsons Movie is probably the most entertaining film I’ve seen this year, with the choral arrangement of ‘Spider-Pig’ over the end credits being a particular delight, but it certainly wasn’t the best.  Enchanted was almost as entertaining, nodding and winking to Disney movies of the past and containing a few wonderful musical moments, but that wasn’t the best of the year either.  Stardust was the most anticipated, and I enjoyed it, but that wasn’t the best.  Atonement was very moving, but that doesn’t clinch it for me.  No, my cinematic highlight of the year is a film I hadn’t even heard of before I arrived at the cinema, and which I only saw because we arrived too late to an attempt to see Stardust.  A drama called Lions for Lambs, which is essentially composed of three conversations, each in a static location (though one of those locations is a mountainside in Afghanistan with Taliban fighters approaching, so static is perhaps not the right word).  Six people.  Talking. 

But it was incredible.  Tom Cruise was superb (not something you’ll hear me say very often), Meryl Streep and Robert Redford proved that they deserve their longevity in the business, and the three younger actors more than had what it took.  It was a film about choices.  Right choices, wrong choices, right reasons, wrong reasons.  Highly politically charged, it managed not to preach any particular angle without sitting on the fence either.  And it left things open.  At least one key choice remained unclear as the credits rolled.  It made me think very hard, and that’s always a good thing.

Music

Leaving aside theatre music (the London cast recording of ParadeNoise Ensemble recorded!  Me and Julietreleased on a public domain label!), the music charts provided some interest for me this year.  John Barrowman’s pop recording debut was underwhelming to these ears, but he was far from the biggest disappointment of the year.  That was Paul Potts, an opera-singing average bloke who won a TV contest called Britain’s Got Talent in June which led to a recording contract and an appearance on the Royal Variety Performance, which is where I finally saw and heard him.  My goodness.  Worst opera singer I’ve ever seen or heard.  He hit the notes and had a fairly pleasant voice, but there was no soul behind the performance, no special spark at all.  I totally fail to see what all the fuss was about.  Meh.

More positively, Michael Bublé released another album, Call Me Irresponsible, which contained many pleasures, though perhaps not as many as previous albums.  Mika was an impressive newcomer, the Plain White T’s had me hooked on ‘Hey There, Delilah’ but my favourite singles this year are perhaps two by Take That.  I know, I know, and I may even have ridiculed some people for liking the group in my time.  But ‘Shine’ and ‘Rule the World’ (the latter written for the film Stardust) were infectiously enjoyable singles.  So much so that I downloaded them from i-Tunes.

Books

This has not been a fantastic year for reading chez Singing Librarian, and much that I have read was not published in 2007.  In fact, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows may well be the only 2007 book I’ve read this year.  The books that I have most enjoyed reading this year have been The Moonstoneby Wilkie Collins (I find I enjoy Collins more than I enjoy Dickens, though I still feel that Dickens is in some way ‘better’), Night Watchby Sergei Lukyanenko and The Lies of Locke Lamora by Scott Lynch.  All were read over the summer months and all were excellent.  The only execrable book I’ve read this year is The Alchemist.  Blah.

I was given the latest Terry Pratchett and the original illustrated novel of Stardust for Christmas, though, and am greatly looking forward to reading them.

Comics

I don’t appear to have blogged about comics this year, but I have been reading them.  52 concluded well after a dip in excitement and interest levels, going out with a bang in May.  It introduced new characters, brought others to greater prominence and  was followed up by a rather less well-produced weekly series called Countdown.  It has spawned a number of followups and Countdownis a spinoff-producing monster which I have been ignoring more and more as the year plods on.  Most entertaining 52-followup is definitely Booster Gold.  Time travel, egotism, heroism, betrayal and comedy is a heady mixture.  Ongoing series in the DC Universe (home of Batman, Superman et al) which have been most enjoyable are probably the most obscure.  Blue Beetle has introduced a great new hero, and Checkmate, which features political skull-duggery where the lines between superheroes and the United Nations blur, is quite simply an excellent read.

But my favourite is less mainstream and sadly, much less regular.  Rex Libris features the black and white adventures of a librarian who will travel the universe and the time-stream to recover an overdue book, saving lives and defeating monsters along the way.  It’s silly but intriguing and I am thrilled each time it appears.

End

So what do we make of this?  My favourites of the year include a musical about a miscarriage of justice, an episode of television about killer statues, a film about the war on terror, the return of a boy band and the adventures of a gun-toting librarian.  I think we can gather that I have eclectic tastes and that 2007 has managed to cater to them.  2007, I salute you!

Hey, old friend…


Well, it seems I need to blow the dust off the Singing Librarian, doesn’t it?  So very many weeks have passed since my last blog entry, and although much has happened, the world of the wonderful web knows nothing of it.  There are an assortment of reasons for the deathly silence that has hung around this little corner of cyber-space, chief among them my house move.  We didn’t have enough live power sockets to run my PC at first, and then it objected to having been neglected and went on strike.  I got it back from the lovely computer fixing people today, fought the urge to hug and kiss it, and have now got it up and running in my new room which is so very close to the city’s majestic cathedral.

This last weekend was a particularly busy one and should furnish me with sufficient material for at least three blog posts, I should think.  But first I shall return to that ‘To Do List’ which I wrote back in the mists of time.

Answer Reed’s questions.  I did that in the very next post, which allowed me to feel as though the completion of my list was a very real possibility.

Move house.  I did that too,  just over two weeks ago, and it’s wonderful to be here.  OK, so we still lack functioning lights in the kitchen, we have more loose floorboards than you could shake a whole bundle of sticks at, the television aerial cabling hasn’t been done and the hot water likes to take its time in the morning, but it’s wonderful.  It’s our house, big and old with a strange and new bit at the back.  We can see the cathedral from the front windows, and the cat has enjoyed a couple of wonderful adventures exploring the world beneath the floorboards on two different floors.  The four human inhabitants of the building have refrained from physical violence thus far as well (apart from the authorised use of force against stud walls and rubbish plastering jobs), which is encouraging.

Read.  Another mission accomplished.  Wonderful.  Both the accomplishment and the books.  I enjoyed all three of the books mentioned and would commend them to others.  I am now obsessively checking to see when the normal paperbacks of the sequels to The Lies of Locke Lamora and The Night Watch will appear.  I am tempted by the current trade paperback editions, but that would look untidy on my shelves, which just wouldn’t do.  In order of reading, my one sentence reviews.  The Moonstone is a masterpiece of plotting with some very funny characters, even if some of the details of the ending can be seen coming from a very long way off.  The Lies of Locke Lamora does an incredible job of world-building with an intriguing setting, and another exciting plot, though I felt the violence was sometimes more than a tad gratuitous.  The Night Watch is utterly compelling in its reinvention of the supernatural, combining it with elements of the police procedural and espionage thriller.  My most recent read was The Alchemist, which I can sum up in two words: don’t bother.  It is short, though.

Sing.  Ah.  Well.  I did start to learn both ‘King of the World’ and ‘Serenade’ and can do chunks of them sans sheet music, but I haven’t completed the task and I didn’t even start on the other two. 

Relax.  I actually feel very relaxed most of the time these days, actually, which makes a pleasant change.  The Library of Doom tends to rob me of the relaxation, but it soon comes back.  And this without fulfilling my promise to self.  I never did manage a day in the country or by the sea, though I did go on a remarkably pleasant walk around Bishopsbourne in a ludicrously picturesque bit of the county.

So there we go.  The Singing Librarian is alive and capable of stringing sentences together.  He did reasonably well at his summer ‘To Do List’ as well.  Who knows, another blog entry or two may appear by the end of the month as well!

In which we ponder Deathly Hallows, sans spoilers


Last weekend (not the one just gone, but the one before it), my reading of Wilkie Collins’ marvellous novel The Moonstone was interrupted by the 21st day of July, which made it absolutely essential for legions of normally sensible British adults to rush to their nearest bookseller, purchase a children’s book and then not speak to anyone until they’d finished it.  Yes, I am a Harry Potter… reader, and I got through the final volume before the weekend had ended.  After all, the prose isn’t exactly taxing, is it?

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Questions are asked and answered


There is a meme going around, as I’m sure you’ll have noticed, where bloggers interview one another, and end up giving really quite interesting (or in my case, really quite long) answers.  I think the beauty of this meme is in the nature of who is doing the interviewing.  It’s not people that the bloggers know in their day to day life, who would most likely be fishing for particular bits of information that they already know.  It’s also not people completely disconnected from them, who would end up asking entirely generic questions.  These are people who know their interviewees through the blogosphere, a curious form of social interaction which is simultaneously very open and very reserved, as each word can be chosen, pondered and held back.  All of us leave a whole number of gaps in the narrative of our lives as we blog away, and many of the questions and answers I’ve seen have been filling in some of these gaps, which the blog authors may have been entirely unaware of.

So the meme has been floating around, and I’ve seen it whiz through the periphery of  both the comics blogosphere and the theatre blogosphere, and now it has entered the realm of the blogs that I read more regularly.  I finally decided to be brave and ask for some questions following the questions that Aphra posed to Reed.  Reed, or possibly her ever-present Editor, posed five questions, and warned me that they “are all prompted by the fact I am a NOSY woman”.   As a result, this is probably one of my longest posts ever.  If you really don’t want to know about the real Singing Librarian, look away now and come back in a few days when I start wittering about something less personal.

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The Singing Librarian’s ‘To Do List’


My concert season is coming to an end, with one having been cancelled, one already over and two coming up this weekend, leaving only an excursion on 4th August to look forward to.  This means that with no rehearsals, no studying and no Sunday School to prepare for, I have that strange and wonderful thing called time on my hands.  But what am I to do with it?

Answer Reed’s questions.  For the interview meme that all the cool bloggers are taking part in, don’t you know.  I am still pondering a couple of the answers, and will hopefully post them tomorrow.

Move house.  I’ve gone and got myself on the property ladder, only I’ve bought a dental surgery with three friends and we’re in the process of turning it back in to a house.  We have knocked down walls, put in a new bathroom and ordered a new kitchen.  We are now trying to extract a quote from a builder so that we can make sure the place doesn’t fall down and make it possible for all four of us to move in by the beginning of September, at which point I must have left my current abode.  And there’s the small matter of packing everything up and transporting it across town…

Read.  My pile of books to be read is growling angrily from the corner and demands to be reduced.  So reduced it shall be.  First is The Moonstone, my next book group book, which I really ought to have picked up long ago since The Woman in White is one of my favourite novels.  Then the books that people have blogged about which I have subsequently picked up. The Lies of Locke Lamora, courtesy of Helen and The Night Watch, courtesy of Sol.  Then, if I get through those three without getting distracted, the rest of the pile which ranges from Homer to Neil Gaiman, taking in Eco, Irving and sundry others in a bewildering mix of styles and genres. 

Sing.  I am determined to add some new items to the repertoire of songs I can sing.  I may never perform them to anyone, but I’m sure it will be good for me.  So I shall attack Jason Robert Brown’s ‘King of the World’ for power, Sigmund Romberg’s ‘Serenade’ for high notes and romantic loveliness, Stephen Sondheim’s ‘Marry Me a Little’ for drama and Lerner & Loewe’s ‘C’est Moi’ for comedy (if I can pull it off the way I’d like to), which is as about as diverse a range of songs as I can manage.  I expect I’ll lose at least one of the battles and may well drive the neighbours insane, but the fight should be entertaining.

Breathe.  I haven’t got much leave over the summer, but I shall try to spend at least a couple of days out in the countryside or on the sea front, going for a walk and then just sitting.  Well, sitting and reading.  I need to relax, enjoy this wonderful county, take in the air of the sea and the fields and switch off.

I think that should keep me busy.

Random books


I don’t normally do the meme thing, largely because the definition of meme bothers me and partly because I simply can’t be bothered. However, when Reed indulged in a particularly booky meme, I thought I might as well hop on the bandwagon and show the strangeness of what I have and have not read:

Look at the list of books below. Bold the ones you’ve read, italicize the ones you want to read, cross out the ones you won’t touch with a 10 foot pole, put a cross infront of the ones on your book shelf, and asterisk* the ones you’ve never heard of.

1. The Da Vinci Code (Dan Brown) [Twice!  Once for myself, and once for book group.  Why did I allow myself to be put through that a second time?]
2. Pride and Prejudice (Jane Austen)
3. + To Kill A Mockingbird (Harper Lee)
4. Gone With The Wind (Margaret Mitchell)
5. + The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King (Tolkien)
6. + The Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring (Tolkien)
7. + The Lord of the Rings: Two Towers (Tolkien)
8. Anne of Green Gables (L.M. Montgomery)
9. Outlander (Diana Gabaldon)
10. A Fine Balance* (Rohinton Mistry)
11. + Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire (Rowling)
12. Angels and Demons (Dan Brown) [Yes, sorry, but I haven’t read the other Dan Brown ones]
13. + Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (Rowling)
14. A Prayer for Owen Meany (John Irving)
15. Memoirs of a Geisha (Arthur Golden)
16. + Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling)
17. Fall on Your Knees (Ann-Marie MacDonald)
18. The Stand (Stephen King)
19. + Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban(Rowling)
20. Jane Eyre (Charlotte Bronte)
21. + The Hobbit (Tolkien)
22. + The Catcher in the Rye (J.D. Salinger)
23. Little Women (Louisa May Alcott)
24. The Lovely Bones (Alice Sebold)
25. Life of Pi (Yann Martel)
26. + The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (Douglas Adams) [All of it, even the terribly dull ones at the end]
27. Wuthering Heights (Emily Bronte)
28. + The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe (C. S. Lewis)
29. East of Eden (John Steinbeck)
30. Tuesdays with Morrie (Mitch Albom)
31. Dune (Frank Herbert)
32. The Notebook* (Nicholas Sparks)
33. Atlas Shrugged (Ayn Rand)
34. 1984 (Orwell)
35. The Mists of Avalon (Marion Zimmer Bradley)
36. The Pillars of the Earth (Ken Follett)
37. The Power of One (Bryce Courtenay)
38. I Know This Much is True (Wally Lamb)
39. The Red Tent* (Anita Diamant)
40. The Alchemist (Paulo Coelho)
41. The Clan of the Cave Bear (Jean M. Auel)
42. The Kite Runner* (Khaled Hosseini)
43. Confessions of a Shopaholic (Sophie Kinsella)
44. The Five People You Meet In Heaven (Mitch Albom)
45. + Bible [Fairly sure I’ve read all of it now]
46. Anna Karenina (Tolstoy)
47. The Count of Monte Cristo (Alexandre Dumas)
48. Angela’s Ashes (Frank McCourt)
49. The Grapes of Wrath (John Steinbeck)
50. She’s Come Undone (Wally Lamb)
51. The Poisonwood Bible (Barbara Kingsolver)
52. A Tale of Two Cities (Dickens)
53. Ender’s Game (Orson Scott Card)
54. Great Expectations (Dickens) [Why haven’t I read this yet?]
55. The Great Gatsby (Fitzgerald)
56. The Stone Angel (Margaret Laurence)
57. + Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets (Rowling)
58. The Thorn Birds (Colleen McCullough)
59. The Handmaid’s Tale (Margaret Atwood)
60. The Time Traveller’s Wife (Audrew Niffenegger)
61. Crime and Punishment (Fyodor Dostoyevsky)
62. The Fountainhead (Ayn Rand)
63. War and Peace (Tolstoy)
64. Interview With The Vampire (Anne Rice)
65. Fifth Business (Robertson Davis)
66. One Hundred Years Of Solitude (Gabriel Garcia Marquez)
67. The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants (Ann Brashares)
68. + Catch-22 (Joseph Heller)
69. Les Miserables (Hugo)
70. + The Little Prince (Antoine de Saint-Exupery)
71. Bridget Jones’ Diary (Fielding)
72. Love in the Time of Cholera (Marquez)
73. Shogun (James Clavell)
74. The English Patient (Michael Ondaatje)
75. The Secret Garden (Frances Hodgson Burnett)
76. The Summer Tree (Guy Gavriel Kay)
77. A Tree Grows in Brooklyn (Betty Smith)
78. The World According To Garp (John Irving)
79. The Diviners (Margaret Laurence)
80. Charlotte’s Web (E.B. White)
81. Not Wanted On The Voyage* (Timothy Findley)
82. Of Mice And Men (Steinbeck)
83. Rebecca (Daphne DuMaurier)
84. Wizard’s First Rule (Terry Goodkind) [I wouldn’t bother if I were you]
85. Emma (Jane Austen)
86. Watership Down (Richard Adams)
87. Brave New World (Aldous Huxley)
88. The Stone Diaries (Carol Shields)
89. Blindness (Jose Saramago)
90. Kane and Abel (Jeffrey Archer) [During my teenage years of reading anything]
91. In The Skin Of A Lion (Ondaatje)
92. Lord of the Flies (Golding)
93. The Good Earth (Pearl S. Buck)
94. The Secret Life of Bees* (Sue Monk Kidd)
95. The Bourne Identity (Robert Ludlum)
96. The Outsiders (S.E. Hinton)
97. White Oleander (Janet Fitch)
98. A Woman of Substance (Barbara Taylor Bradford)
99. The Celestine Prophecy (James Redfield)
100. Ulysses (James Joyce) [I just can’t be bothered]

Make of that what you will.  There are quite shocking gaps in my reading, particularly shocking when you consider that I have an MA in English Literature.  However, I was mostly concerned with eighteenth-century novels, and have read an awful lot of those.  There is, I promise, more on my bookshelves than hobbits and wizards.  It seems I’ll read most things once, really, or twice if I have to for study or book group purposes.  And I’m quite ashamed to see how many I’ve never heard of.  Surely I should have heard of every book ever written?  That’s the attitude that the users of the library tend to have, anyway.

Interestingly, few of my favourites are represented.  How do my readers feel about my personal selection of Tom Jones, The Woman in White, Riddley Walker and Remains of the Day?

A ‘Very Special Issue’ of Robin


TV comedies, particularly American ones, have quite a history of ‘Very Special Episodes’ which tackle a serious theme in a serious manner, often very badly.  The term is usually applied in a mocking fashion, and seems inappropriate to use in conjunction with an episode that actually succeeds at doing more than preach.  Science fiction and fantasy often get away with tackling more of those serious issues than comedy or even ‘straight’ drama can do, as you can wrap things up so much in metaphor, pretending that since people with bumpy foreheads or pointy ears aren’t really human, we can examine their oddly-familiar prejudices and foibles more objectively.

Anyway, the world of comic books is not immune to the ‘Very Special Episode’ phenomenon, though in this case it’s a ‘Very Special Issue’.  AIDS is now a common subject, as are the many and varied forms of prejudice.  Sometimes this works magnificently (there was bucketloads of social commentary in Green Lantern/Green Arrow back in the 1970s, for instance) and sometimes it’s even more stilted and preachy than television manages.  This month sees an example of a very good ‘Very Special Issue’, in the form of Robin Vol. 2 #156

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