Ambrose's Tavern Token

Day Two: problems with sources

Today’s writing has been centred on the first part of chapter one. Yesterday I experimented with picture-painting in the Prologue, trying to recreate the image of the 19th century Ambrose’s tavern in my readers’ minds. Great fun, although largely conjectural!

Ambrose's Tavern Token

Ambrose’s Tavern Token

Today the focus was on developing a pithy and attractive first chapter of the book proper, trying to distil the essence of this incredibly unwieldy and purposefully undefinable publication into a few tantalising paragraphs. Returning to the first (well, second if we’re being pedantic) issue, I realised that I had never read it in its entirety, instead prefer to nibble on individual essays. And so my inexperienced feet found first stumbling block: there seem to be two versions of this first all-important issue!

I had found a scanned online version of Maga on the HathiTrust’s digital library, which seemed at first ideal – except that the text is difficult to search and because it is such a massive file, can be slow to load. I then found a transcript of the original: which seemed to differ in content from the version I was already using! I think I’ve reconciled the differences, but I see how slow and frustrating even these most basic of research tasks can sometimes be. Suffice to say I didn’t manage to read the whole thing, but I have got a much better idea of how Maga’s class-based humour works (and I mean ‘works’ in a purely 19th century literary context). I also revisited this all-too-excellent essay (wish I’d written it) by Andrew McConnell Stott and brought in a bit of Keats, Leigh Hunt and Shelley into the mix.

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron replica by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, circa 1835 (1813)

George Gordon Byron, 6th Baron Byron replica by Thomas Phillips, oil on canvas, circa 1835 (1813)

I managed to hit the magic ton, and so can retire to a night of slightly more mindless (in)activity. The husband assures me he is rustling up an almond and apricot tart as I type (hopefully it will resemble this one in terms of both taste and beauty) and we having an as-yet unopened box set of Breaking Bad, so I’d say the omens are good!

Words written: 1023

Words left: 2477

Days left til deadline: 25

Attribution: Johannes Jansson/

100 years of reading…

A really good way to broaden your taste in literature is to do commit yourself to a reading challenge.

Attribution: Johannes Jansson/

Attribution: Johannes Jansson/

I’ve just signed up for A Century of Books after being inspired by Stuck-in-A-Book, who has already completed one Century and is about to start his second in January 2014. A Century of Books is just that – a challenge to read one book for every year of a given century. I’m jumping in with 1900 and will blog about my journey through the 20th century over the coming months. Although you could take this up as a New Year’s Resolution, I’m going to make it my Academic New Year’s Resolution and start now. Who’s with me? I’ll be blogging about each book I read – and I’ll be reading them in chronological order, starting with Lord Jim, by Joseph Conrad.

Other reading challenges to try are:

  • Six Books Challenge, for those who find reading difficult
  • Book Trust run a series of games and competitions throughout the year for readers of all ages, from babies to grannies and everyone in between
  • The Literary Exploration Reading Challenge at Literary Exploration – they’ve dated it 2013 but you could attempt it any time
  • Follow in the footsteps of A Penguin a Week but with any publisher or series: how about a poetry one using Faber’s iconic poetry series or Persephone’s beautiful ‘neglected fiction and non-fiction by women, for women and about women’

There are also lots of great online memes and articles to get you thinking about what you read

Right, off to go and collect Lord Jim from his lofty resting place in the library…

Literature –who wants a textually transmitted disease?

What is literature? – a nice easy question to get this blog started…

Some best-loved books in my collection

Some of my best-loved books – but do they count as literature?

Jane Yolen describes it humorously as ‘a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood’ – catchy, but perhaps not altogether definitive. A quick search of some popular online sources gives definitions ranging from Wikipedia’s short and sweet ‘the art of written work’ to Oxford Dictionaries’ ‘written works, especially those considered of superior or lasting artistic merit’ . This then raises the question of who considers them superior or lasting. For those contemplating studying English at university it can often be bewildering to realise that favourite books are not considered ‘literature’. To me, for example, Rumer Godden’s works are hugely important for the role they played in developing my love of literature. Well-written and witty, they absolutely made me realise that ‘You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.’ (Great soundbite, F Scott Fitzgerald.)

For the purposes of this blog I think it is important to keep the definition broad – the work has to be published in the UK, originally in English, and the person blogging about it only has to to demonstrate that, for them, it has artistic merit. I’m reminded of a competition run by the Scottish Book Trust in 2009, which encouraged people to recommend ‘The Book That Changed My Life’ and thereby illustrating the power of the written word to deeply influence people.

As I work in literary heritage education (at The Wordsworth Trust, since you ask) I hope to be drawing on the knowledgeable enthusiasm of my colleagues at various Lit Houses, as well as some friendly literary bloggers from the interweb (you rather spring to mind, Stuck-In-A-Book…)

Each post will look at a different author or literary work and signposted a few bits of further reading or viewing. As this post doesn’t really give you much literature to get your teeth into, let’s start with a look at the building blocks of literature – the language. Some marvellous folks at the Open University have made this handy little 10-minute video guide to English – enjoy!