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Incoming Podcast!

A photo of a microphone

This photograph was taken by Chris Engelsma.

The last couple of weeks I’ve been contacting authors, re-reading books, and creating questions. I had been wanting to start a podcast for a long time but put it off because of silly worries. I finally got myself in gear, said enough was enough and it was time to get it done.

I’m excited to announce that episode one of The Worm Hole podcast will be uploaded next Monday, 28th October. The guest is Nicola Cornick. We recorded the episode on the 16th and it was a lot of fun.

It will initially go out via SoundCloud (there’s a mobile app for it as well as the web browser version) and be shared on iTunes as soon as possible following that. I’m also looking at TuneIn as a future possibility. The link will be available as part of that day’s blog post, so those of you who are on my mailing list will get it, too, and I’ll be posting it on Twitter. New episodes will go out on the second and fourth Monday of each month.

Hope you all enjoy it as much as I (we!) enjoyed making it.

Updated – first author finalised.

 
(Very Subjective) Thoughts On Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway

Book Cover

I’ve chosen to eschew my regular review/discussion format – I don’t feel I can do Mrs Dalloway justice, and I’m not sure I ‘got’ it.

I appreciated a lot about the book. So much of it was poetic – poetry in prose. The language was sometimes difficult to read – I don’t mind long sentences but my word! – but the choices made, and the rhythms, were lovely.

The portrayal of PTSD – then ‘shell shock’ – at the time when it wasn’t fully understood was very careful and caring. If Woolf’s book, albeit published several years after the war (1925), played a role in helping people to help veterans further and later, I wouldn’t be surprised. Woolf shows the symptoms well, creating a balance of flashbacks and other mental health issues that came as a result. She shows the effect of misdiagnosis and the beginnings of understanding.

I appreciated the look at love, unrequited, and same-sex.

The inclusion of suicidal thoughts and an actual suicide is interesting in its context. I wasn’t sure whether it’s ‘right’ to see anything here in items of hindsight, Woolf’s mental health and her later choices – I wonder if, perhaps, the book reflects a few of her thoughts pertaining to herself. Certainly if nothing else, she explores it all in its social context.

All these things I ‘got’ but I was left feeling that I was still missing something, hence my choice to bypass a review. All opinions are valid, but I felt too strongly about missing something – can I really evaluate something with which I struggled so much?

I struggled with the stream of consciousness. When I was able to keep my attention on the words – try as I might this was a continual problem – the moment the perspective changed I was right back at the beginning.

I didn’t ‘get’ the sudden changes in perspective. Had the book been solely from Clarissa’s point of view it would’ve been easier. I realised these extra characters might turn up at the party but still their inclusion seemed irrelevant.

I suppose I’m not sure what it was, exactly, that Woolf was trying to say overall – I’ve not a clue. Society at the time? Relationships – problems in love? Attitudes to each other, two-facedness? I did like how everything revolved around Clarissa whether the characters intended it to or not, whether they liked her or not.

Can you enlighten me? Was I somewhat right about the book or completely wrong? And how have you found Virginia Woolf yourself?

 
On My Old N/A Rated Books

A photograph of three books with bookmarks in them

In my 10 years of statistics post, I mentioned the books I’d decided not to rate. To recap, this happened a few months before I started blogging; when I started blogging I went back to the previous year’s books (started blogging March 2010, started keeping statistics September 2009, and noted the books I’d read in the months prior) to help me write reviews so that I had a bit of a backlog to fall back on. In doing this I decided to rate the books I was intending to review; I decided that books I wouldn’t review – which often included books I’d attempted to review and given up on – didn’t need a rating.

Hindsight is a wonderful thing, and so on. Although it’s hardly the end of the world that I don’t have those books rated, I feel a bit of a bad reader for having essentially left them out of the running. Some were books I didn’t enjoy and probably wouldn’t enjoy today. But others I loved.

My thoughts here aren’t towards the books themselves – they have all been mentioned here over time – but the general idea of having books on my list with N/A in the rating column: should I be adding ratings? I certainly like the idea – not only would it complete my log for the year, it would feel like I’m doing them justice, finally.

But is giving a rating in hindsight – 10 years’ hindsight in this case – a viable option? No matter how much I try to think back, and no matter that I do in almost every case remember my general thoughts on the books, my present reading self will surely come into play. I’ve changed, and my expectations have changed. Perhaps I could give two ratings – one in the context of today, one that I believe I would’ve given then. But isn’t today’s context irrelevant if I’m not re-reading the book? (And, unless I’m reviewing them, does a rating of any context matter beyond completion?)

This all comes back to the question of how much we remember of books read years ago, and how we change over time. By the very fact that I’m wondering how useful a rating given in hindsight might be – that is, not useful in the context of today – aren’t I saying that it doesn’t matter because I’ve moved on? It might have been a reflection of my reading then, but without a re-read – that would show change more clearly – or, indeed, a review, which these books necessarily lack, there is perhaps not much objective use in having these ratings.

How much do I remember of these books? Where the thought was particular, for example I remember one book became almost illegible, suddenly, at 3/4 the way through, and another that it was decidedly average and dry, I could give a rating more in keeping with the time. Where the thought was more about my feelings, I’m not so sure. And the subjective and objective would be mixed without my knowing.

I’m not sure if I’ll ever rate them – it might do them justice in terms of back then, but it wouldn’t be informed and thus also wouldn’t do them justice.

In what ways do you consider your opinions of your old reads relevant and irrelevant?

 
Next Stop Procrastination #12

A photo of Salisbury Cathedral on a sunny summers day

There have been some phenomenal literature-related articles recently, but perhaps the most intriguing find for me was a post on Medium, published two years ago. It’s under Miscellaneous – Jenny Odell’s speech transcript on how to do nothing. Given its original format, it’s a very long read, but utterly worth it. I also highly recommend the article about narrating audiobooks; it’s fascinating.

Author Specific

‘I knew Christopher Robin – the real Christopher Robin’
Sylvia Plath didn’t want her mother to know she’d written The Bell Jar
Interview with Philip Pullman ahead of The Secret Commonwealth
The journey that changed Geoffrey Chaucer’s life
How The Guardian became the first newspaper in Britain to use the F-word
The trial of Lady Chatterley’s Lover

Book Specific

The politically radical family that inspired Little Women
Considering the secret of Northanger Abbey
Teaching Jane Eyre: a teacher’s perspective
An appreciation of Claire Fraser (unfortunately this link has since been made inaccessible for readers in the EU)
On the magical landscapes of Anne of Green Gables
Olivia Laing on Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca, 80 years on

Writing

What is the difference between a preface, a foreword, and an introduction?
Maybe the secret to writing is not writing (on taking breaks)
Can language be understood as a spiritual medium?
When being a disabled writer means being an educator

Libraries & Bookstores

A photo appreciation of libraries
Saying goodbye to my beloved bookstore
On opening Ghana’s first subscription-model library

Misc. Literature

Authors and translators on their unique relationship
500 year old library catalogue reveals books lost to time
Why narrating an audiobook is a lot harder than you think
Picturing writerly demographics in the Norton Anthology of American Literature
2019 is the first year in 20 years that copyrighted works are entering the public domain (includes list and contextual information)
How to visit the graves of 75 famous writers
The curse of reading and forgetting

Other Links

(Reddit thread of the happiest facts people know)
What the blue hour is and how you can use it for photography
A disabled life in a superhero universe
Soft foods helped humans form ‘F’ and ‘V’ sounds
The crew of the Mary Rose may have included sailors of African heritage
The people who wear historical dress every day
Southampton’s medieval vaults
An unpublished essay by Judy Garland written to promote The Wizard of Oz
How to do nothing (long read)

 
Exploring The Question ‘How Old Was Alice In Wonderland?’

An illustration by John Tenniel from the original edition of the book, it shows, in black and white, Alice sat down in a circle of small animals and birds - Alice is smaller than them

The other day I was looking through my site statistics as I sometimes do, and noted a plethora of searches to do with the aforementioned book. They were specifically to do with Alice’s age. I won’t list them because if Google happens to see value in this post it might start sending the searchers here and my writing today isn’t about answering the question (though I will answer the question later because I’ll need to).

Instead I want to explore that plethora itself. You’ll often see similar search phrases that result in the one answer; everyone words things differently. It was the sheer number of differences that struck me, the differences suggesting that the motives behind the questioned differed too. I wondered why people were asking. (There was also a bit of ‘why now?’ in there – I wrote about the reading age for the book almost a year ago and it’s only recently that numbers have swelled.)

Alice’s age is provided by Carroll in the sequel, Through The Looking-Glass – seven years old. Whilst not given in the first book, we can assume she was six or seven then because the first takes place a few months before the second, May and November respectively. So we’ve an easy answer to the question of why people are asking – the age isn’t provided in the first book and it’s safe to assume that a good number of people don’t get to the second. The question also means that it’s more likely people haven’t read either book and are perhaps looking to ascertain how appropriate it would be for their own child to read. It tends1 to be the case, after all, that in children’s literature, the character’s ages match the intended audience. One of the phrases in my stats was specifically requesting an Alice book ‘for kids’ – clearly this person (a parent?) had misgivings about the story, and I don’t blame them – after reading it myself a few years ago I decided not to buy a copy for my nephew until he was a little older than Alice herself.

(I’ll note here that there were a few searches in the same vein as our main question for Through The Looking-Glass. This could be a different, shorter, post but I think it’s best summed up as wanting to make sure the story doesn’t move too far ahead from the first as to mean that a child – likely deemed old enough for Alice by whatever metric – would have to mature in order to continue. It’s safe to assume that Carroll was looking for or was asked to provide more of the same, hence the short time frame between them.)

This leads us neatly onto the topic of context – are people asking in order to understand the Victorian context of this 1865 book? In my post about the target audience for the book, I wrote about the way the book was clearly written for children but how cultural change means that in our modern world it’s pretty violent and a bit too strange. Certainly Alice is a mix of very mature and not so, which reflects both her age and environment and suits her character’s role in the didactic book. It is interesting to look at the novel in the context of its time, to compare it to others – few have stood the passing of the centuries like Carroll’s – and see where morals and values as well as views about childhood come into play.

In this way I wonder if the secondary meaning behind asking about Alice’s age is relevant here – how old is the book that bears her name?

And on that note, therefore, somewhat, what is the reading level of the book? Does the appropriate age group of a modern child match the target reading level? When I gave it to my nephew, via grandma, I said it might be best read together; he’s a good reader but he necessarily lacks a Victorian child’s mindset. One searcher wanted to know if the book could be read by five-year-olds.

Lastly, looking at different interpretations of phrases, I think it’s possible some searchers are looking to study the content’s appropriateness in terms of Alice’s age, maybe also in terms of her social context. How appropriate is it for a child of seven to be dreaming of heads being cut off and what would her environment have been like? The law was different back then, and as we know from the information available about the progression of early children’s literature, childhood had until recently been viewed very differently to the way we view it now; the idea of childhood began in the 1600s.

I don’t think there are any conclusions to be made here; this post must remain exploratory. But certainly, wondering about the background behind these searches was interesting in a way wondering the same about other searches was not – I gave pondering other search subjects a try in order to ascertain the worth of this post.

When did you last ask ‘why’ of something in literature and what did you discover?

Footnotes

1 I say tends because we very much have to exclude Lyra and Will. On that note it’s interesting that the sales information for The Secret Commonwealth notes that it is for adults. Despite Lyra’s older age, it’s naturally going to mistaken sometimes for a children’s book.

 

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