Saturday, 29 June 2013

mst, academic year turns, peony, a girl is a half-formed thing by eimear mcbride, bobby "blue" bland, nook

















Great to see the MSt students at the Guided Retreat earlier in the week and to hear the readings at the showcase.

The academic year turns and other courses are coming to an end (lots of marking). Soon there will be the summer schools.

At the libraries the reading rooms are so much quieter since the undergraduates and taught master's students left. A brief lull, though, because soon the summer researchers will be here--some are already.

Meanwhile, our peony (a Sarah Bernhardt) is in flower. Glorious to look at; glorious fragrance!

I'm really pleased to have received my signed copy of A Girl Is A Half-formed Thing by Eimear McBride, which I ordered from the publishers' website (Galley Beggar Press). The review of the book in the TLS made it sound unmissable (despite the 'Gob impressive' headline). Looking forward to reading this.

About to download Two Steps from the Blues (original LP, Hoogan Records 1961) by Bobby "Blue" Bland, who died this week, aged 83 (see Guardian obituary).

Contemplating buying a Nook e-reader.

Saturday, 22 June 2013

cycling, hay fever, aclaiir, e-books, lac garden party, preparing for guided retreat, supermoon



















Had intended to go to the allotment early this morning but as it rained during the night I ended up cycling--for the first time in ages.

It was lovely to be out in the countryside. Even though I have been suffering from hay fever since last Sunday. I haven't had hay fever like this since I was in my teens. But then this year, lots of people who've never suffered before are snuffling and sneezing away. It's all because everything has flowered at once, apparently, as a result of the late spring--that seems to be the accepted explanation. Achoo!

Headed to London on Tuesday for the ACLAIIR AGM and seminar. The theme this year was e-books from Spain and Latin America, which fitted in well with the e-book skills training I attended in Oxford the following day. Academic e-books are beginning to take off now, it seems, both in terms of the numbers being published and collected and in terms of the enhanced ways of viewing them. Downloading them for a time-limited period and viewing them with Adobe Digital Editions or, even better, on an e-reader device such as a Kindle or a Nook, makes for a much more satisfactory reading experience than before.

Went to the Latin American Centre summer garden party yesterday. A lovely occasion.

Meanwhile, have been preparing for the MSt guided retreat and for a couple of busy weeks of assignment marking.

Huge moon yesterday evening, by the way. Supposed to be even bigger tonight! A 'supermoon' indeed!

Saturday, 15 June 2013

last week of term, lunches missed, laura marling, oxonian review, a conscious englishman, gabriel roberts


Last week of term.

Lots of things to do, though. Even so, was sad to miss the Oxford Centre for Life Writing lunch on Tuesday and yesterday's lunch for all colleagues who had done Navigator courses (I did one last autumn).

Ah well, a busy but productive week.

Productive in terms of work but not on the allotment--too wet to do anything when I had free time. Hoping that by some miracle the soil will have dried out by tomorrow morning.

At odd moments on the bus have been continuing to listen to Laura Marling's Once I Was An Eagle. A generous album both in terms of length and how many details that re-listening reveals.

Excellent review of A Conscious Englishman in the Oxonian Review by Gabriel Roberts. An insightful balance of well-articulated criticisms and praise from someone who clearly knows the subject. These words sum up how I feel about the book:

'A Conscious Englishman holds its own against other versions of the same story and provides an easier route than academic studies into the contexts of Thomas's writing. Anyone with a burgeoning interest in Thomas should begin by reading the poems, but A Conscious Englishman is a worthy addition to the expanding secondary literature.' Gabriel Roberts, The Oxonian Review

I'm so pleased for the book and for Margaret!

(Photos taken on Oxford canal on my way to work this morning.)
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Monday, 10 June 2013

dog walking, stillness, a fox, iain banks


I arranged to go into work a bit later this morning because I had to walk our dog. Which makes dog-walking sound like a chore, which it wasn't. Although grey, the light was soft, so that the greens and the colours of the wild flowers were muted but vibrant. The wind has at last dropped too--the air was so still. Just after I took the photo above in the Bampton Millennium wood, we rounded a corner and there was a fox, setting off swift and silent along the track.

Very sad, though, to get home and read of the death of Iain Banks.

Below is a review I wrote for the Times of Banks' 2002 novel, Dead Air. I hope that the piece captures something of Banks' high-energy and eclectic style. Although, as the review suggests, I thought the end of the book less successful than the beginning, I remember the novel very clearly and refer students to it when teaching at Oxford.

Banks' work reveals him to be, amongst so many other things, a terrific technical writer. This novel is a great example of the way that the 'tipping point' works in fiction. The tipping point occurs anywhere between one third and two thirds the way through a novel and is the moment when all the careful work has been done to build up the story and the plot suddenly begins to move inexorably towards its conclusion, sometimes gently at first then gathering speed, or, as in Dead Air, at a helter-skelter pace, and with dizzying twists and turns.

Filling the Silence
The Times, 31 August 2002

DEAD AIR
By Iain Banks
Little, Brown, £16.99, 384pp
ISBN 0 316 86054 9
£13.59

IAIN BANKS's latest novel is a characteristic blend of contradictory elements. A seemingly trivial story of sexual infidelity which tackles serious emotional and political themes. A Buchanesque adventure yarn set in 21st-century London. A babel of phonetic voices whose title, Dead Air, is radio jargon for silence.

The narrator is a Scottish DJ called Ken Nott. Born Ken McNutt, his surnames indicate that he has his finger on the "self-destruct button" and that he is in denial about the way the world is; "a professional contrarian". His personal life is a mess. Ostensibly, he is going out with Jo, a record company publicist, who has an impressive display of "facial metalwork". But there are other women. Above all, there is Celia, a former model from Martinique whom he meets in hotel rooms for clandestine sex. Her husband, a ruthless gangster, would kill both of them if he found out.

Ken's working life is equally precarious. He hosts a shock jock phone-in on Capital Live! during which he rants against "bigotry and stupidity". The targets of his left-wing anger include Moslem fundamentalists and Israel's treatment of the Palestinians. He receives regular death threats.

In between girlfriends and work he frequents a variety of pubs with the lads: Phil, his gay producer; Craig, a friend from his Glasgow schooldays; and Ed, a black club DJ from "Sarf Landin".

A surprising feature of the book is that its first half is episodic with limited plot development. This approach works because Banks is adept at drawing us into each new situation while deepening our understanding of his characters. In a comic scene, in which Craig and Ken spend a night in, smoking joints and talking about "fitba" (football), Banks makes us empathise with Ken more than we might have expected.

He appears to be vulnerable, is guilty about having once seduced Craig's wife and shows that he has both insight into his erratic behaviour and a desire to change.

Banks also develops weightier themes such as liberal humanism and its limitations. At one point Celia questions Ken's belief in "objective truth" and his assertion that people have every right to think whatever they wish so long as they do not proselytise.

She counters by saying that he wants "to make everybody think the same way". She adds: "You are a colonialist of the mind."

Given that the book's opening is carefully set up, it is disappointing when the second half proves less successful. The narrative turns into a thriller of the will-he-get-the-girl? sort. Clever use of a subplot ensures that this is initially compelling, but after a while much of the story's energy is attenuated.
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Saturday, 8 June 2013

feeling better, cold breeze, soft blue skies, presidential visit, valencourt books, assignments



















I'm feeling better now, thank goodness, although it's only been during the last couple of days that I've got my strength back.

Enjoyed cycling this morning, despite the bitterly cold breeze.

The breeze has been unremitting for the whole week and meant that today was pretty chilly even when the sun was fully out. In sheltered places, though, the air was beautifully clear. The sky has been a soft blue with light cloud.

In the country, the blossom is still out and barley is coming into ear and will soon ripen.

At work, Oxford full term is nearly over--just one more week to go. Gosh the term has flown.

A highlight of the week was a visit to the library by Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Colombia. He came to acknowledge the pivotal role that the Latin American Centre has played over the last 50 years in developing greater knowledge and understanding of Colombia in the UK. He was in Oxford to attend a fascinating event at Magdalen College to launch the Multidimensional Poverty Peer Network.

An excellent article in this week's TLS highlights recent publications from Valencourt Books, an American print on demand publisher specialising in reissuing long forgotten British authors such as Oliver Onions, John Blackburn and Ronald Fraser--authors I had never heard of.

Meanwhile, it has been a weekend of marking assignments so far. A little bit of a lie-in tomorrow, however.

Saturday, 1 June 2013

sunrise, under the weather, book launch missed, lunch with cousin


Working in Oxford for part of today, so was up early. Took photo of sunrise through the lime tree above our garden shed at about 6 am. OK sunrise is a bit misleading--sun had been up for a while. Still fresh and beautiful, though.

Had a lovely walk along the Oxford canal, then camomile tea at Caffè Nero. Now heading back home to enjoy the late afternoon sun in our garden.

Cough and cold mentioned last weekend didn't give up and became something of a nightmare. Still not fully recovered but on the mend.

Was meant to attend Oxford launch of If I Could Tell You by Jing-Jing Lee but couldn't go because I wasn't feeling well. See the book on Goodreads: http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/17225939-if-i-could-tell-you.

I did, however, have lunch with a cousin yesterday. We had never met till then, even though we are quite closely related. A lovely occasion! Discoveries, including places we both know in Wiltshire and Somerset and on my part lots of new information about family history.
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