Books In 2011, for a change, I decided to read a something everyone was talking about and so thanks to twitter's recommendation I tore through Caitlin Moran’s How To Be A Woman in a couple of days. There’s little point repeating my review here, except to wonder why it is I so rarely do make a point of selecting something from the best seller lists. Partly it’s for reasons discussed below, partly it’s because I tend to find my fiction in films and television, partly it’s because I’m such an excruciatingly slow reader at times, but mostly it’s habit. For someone who professes to be intensely interested in everything, my range of reading tends to be on-line. Everything else is film, Shakespeare and Doctor Who and lately only the very latter on audio. I am taking some steps to change that.
Firstly I’ve been working through the collection of books I’ve amassed over the years with fascinating titles like Hyde Park Atrocity: Epstein's "Rima" - Creation and Controversy or Shape of the World: Mapping and Discovery of the Earth. I began with the coffee table books, some freebees, some presents, some impulse buys. One of the best was undoubtedly Hollywood: The Pioneers by Kevin Brownlow and John Kobal, an in-depth investigation based on an ancient ITV documentary into pre-sound cinema which investigated not just the films themselves but the technology and the copyright wars which resembled scenes from the later gangster pictures, largely because they were gangsters. When watching both Mark Cousins’s epic series The Story of Film and Scorsese’s Hugo, I could recognise the technology and what an important innovation sprockets were.
Secondly, as you may have gathered, in an effort to widen my exposure to literature beyond Elizabethan and Jacobian classical drama I’ve begun collecting the Oxford World Classics, picking up copies in used bookstores, charity shops and ebay with the plan to read them in the order of purchase and utilising an Amazon wish list to keep track of the books I'm still looking for. With almost all of literature available, and me being the king of indecision, I wanted to introduce a random element, so I’m only buying the very latest edition (see above) both because I like the simplicity of the cover design and because they’re relatively new and so rarer and more of a challenge to find. I’ve just completed Pride & Prejudice (Red Cross, Old Swan, last month), with Wuthering Heights (Oxfam, Allerton Road, 13th December) still to come.
But I’m a creature of habit and this year’s also been stuffed with Shakespeare. As well as finally reading Jonathan Bates’s super The Genius of … I’ve been lucky enough to be receiving review mailings of The Arden Shakespeare which now also includes the other series the Early Modern Classics. The banner publication and somewhat straddling both was Sir Thomas More the collaboration which editor John Jowett convincingly argued Shakespeare contributed to and which means that (the royal) we have a page and a half of manuscript in his hand. Also in their Library series was Katherine Duncan-Jones’s Upstart Crow to Sweet Swan which investigated the lesser known documentation from the period of Shakespeare’s life, demonstrating the ebbs and flows of his social status as an actor and poet.