Top Ten Tuesday: My Literary Dinner Party

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. This week we were encouraged to visit/revisit some old TTT themes from months and years past… 

Top Ten Literary Dinner Party Guests is not (as far as I know) an old TTT theme. It’s one that I’ve just made up but it sounds like the real deal. The idea came about because of one of those silly late night conversations about which famous people, dead or alive, you’d invite to dinner. Except, last time we had this conversation I had a complete meltdown over it because I realised that a) I had too many guests I wanted to invite and b) the men far outnumbered the women (because ‘history’ is mean like that). In an effort to address the balance someone was going to get bumped off the guest list to make way for Eleanor of Aquitaine and I had a horrible feeling that it would end up being Rick Mayall and that, my friends, would have been a bloody travesty. Wouldn’t Mayall be more fun at a party? But wasn’t a strong female presence needed to balance out Oliver Reed? I agonised over my guest list for so long that P eventually turned out the light and went to sleep.

This, then, is a revised list made up of only authors, poets and playwrights. No Rick Mayall. No Queen Eleanor (I know they both wrote books but let’s just not go there, ok?). Here goes:

1. Oscar Wilde. I bet Oscar gets a lot of imaginary invites to imaginary dinner parties. He’d keep everyone entertained with his witty, entertaining conversation but I wonder if it’d wear a bit thin after a while?  

2. Zadie Smith. Zadie Smith is probably the coolest person I can imagine. I’d turn into the worst kind of grovelling fan if she came to my party.

3. Lord Byron. This could be the worst decision ever. Sure he’d be fun and I don’t particularly mind if the party descends into drunken debauchery under his influence since it’s an imaginary one and I won’t have to clean up afterwards…. But, what if he brings his bear? Or fires his pistols during the starters? Or tries to seduce Zadie? Byron’s a risk. But it might pay off.

4. Mikhail Bulgakov. Purely because I read A Country Doctor’s Notebook last week and I’d like some more of those stories please.

5. Mary Shelley. I’d like to hear all about her  elopement with Percy Shelley, those months in self-imposed exile on the continent, that evening creating horror stories with Byron and Polidori in Italy…. I imagine she’d have some brilliant (but possibly quite sad) stories.

6. Christopher Isherwood. Just because I love every book of his that I’ve read (which, admittedly, isn’t many) and I think they’re all beautiful. Plus, he was a very well travelled man so he’d have some great tales to tell.

7. George Eliot. I like reading about Eliot’s crazy life and her intense relationships with others and I’d happily spend a night hearing about it straight from the horses’s mouth. I bet she and Byron would get on pretty well.

8. Agatha Christie.Maybe Christie would use my party as inspiration for one of her stories, one in which an eclectic group of writers are mysteriously gathered together for no apparent reason and then they all start getting bumped off, one by one… hmm. No. Maybe not a good idea at all.

9. Terry Pratchett. Every good dinner party needs an opinionated, slightly mad (in a good way) guest.

10.  Zelda Fitzgerald. By all accounts, when Zelda was at her best she was intelligent, creative and high spirited; the perfect dinner guest. I’d try to invite her before the marriage though, when she was still Zelda Sayre, and had fewer cares in life.

There are some notable exceptions here: Austen (too prim), Dickens (he might bring everyone down by talking about social reform or something), Hemingway (Byron’s enough for one night)…. What do you think? Have I missed anyone vitally important?!

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Top Ten Tuesday: Books to read this autumn

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the folks at the Broke and Bookish. This week the theme is all about the top books we’d like to read this coming autumn.

Before writing this post I looked back at my TBR list from the start of the summer and realised, with dismay, that I have only read three of the books that I listed. Three! Well, three plus one short story. Good grief.

I said at the time that I don’t really plan my reading ahead because I’m too fickle, too easily distracted. I believe I have just proved my point. So here’s the latest attempt but with the usual disclaimer: this list will have very little bearing on what I will actually end up reading in the coming months.

1). The Cuckoo’s Calling by Robert Galbraith. I’m looking forward to reading something a little more grown up from Rowling. I know absolutely nothing about it – I didn’t even read the blurb before buying it – so whatever happens hopefully it’ll be a nice surprise!

2). The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy. This was on the TBR list I made in June and I’m still desperate to read it. I think I have to be in the right mood for Hardy and lately I just haven’t been.  Sometimes I just want to read a book where I know all the main characters will survive to the end, is that too much to ask?

3). The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. I loved this book when I read it back in 2005 but until last week I hadn’t even thought about it in ages. It wasn’t until I saw the advert for the latest BBC adaptation that it all came flooding back to me. I’ve recorded the show but I think this needs a reread first.

4). The Warden by Anthony Trollope. After months of searching I finally found a second hand copy of this amongst some new donations at the charity shop. About bloody time. Who knew that the residents of this little town were so keen to hold onto their Trollopes?

5). The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. I’m so ashamed of not having read this yet. It’s been sitting unread on my shelf for at least ten years. Possibly more.

6). War and peace by Leo Tolstoy. Another example of the BBC shaping my reading habits. I was only saying a few weeks ago that I want to have another go at this and then I heard that there’s a big adaptation planned for next year…. but maybe I’ll leave it a little longer. I’ve had enough big books recently.

7). The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth. P’s dad lent me this nearly a year ago and has been far too polite to ask for it back. I need to get on this soon.

8). Classic Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories by Rex Collings (ed). I don’t plan on reading these all in one go but I think I might try to do one a month or so. Now the nights are closing in they’re pretty perfect for some ghost stories by the fire I think.

9). Lady Audley’s Secret by Mary Elizabeth Braddon. This has been lurking at the top of my TBR pile for ages and there have been several times when I’ve reached for it…. and then changed my mind. Soon, Lady Audley, soon.

10). Something, anything at all, written by Sophie Hannah. I’m going to an author talk in October and it occurs to me that besides some poetry and The Monogram Murders, I haven’t actually read much by Sophie Hannah. I know I’ll get more from the talk if I’m reasonably well prepared before hand.

Voila! Do other people stick to their TBR lists? Or is it just that I’m a bit of a flake?

Top Ten Tuesday: Nineteenth Century Gothic

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke And The Bookish. This week’s theme is all about books I’d include on my syllabus if I taught a literature course of my choice.

I’ve included here a combination of books and short stories I’ve already read as well as ones I’d like to read:

1 Frankenstein by Mary Shelley. This doesn’t need much of an introduction, does it? I know this book fairly well because I read it for A’level English and then again at university. It was a ground-breaking piece of fiction back in 1818 and an important landmark in the development of Gothic literature.

2. The Vampyre by John Polidori. This short story is worth reading alongside Frankenstein since they have similar origins. I’ve always been fascinated by the story of how they came to be written.

3. The Signalman by Charles Dickens. This wouldn’t be the blue bore without one reference to Dickens a week, right? You can find tons of examples of the Gothic in Dickens’ work but this short ghost story has always given me the heebie-jeebies.

4. Dracula by Bram Stoker. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve not yet read this but it’s been on my TBR list for ages. Years ago I went to Whitby, the home of Dracula, with some friends and paid £3 to go on a ‘haunted house’ tour which eventually culminated in the four of us being chased shrieking through a dark cellar by a man in a mask. Absolutely mortifying.

5. The Hound Of The Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle. I was thirteen when I read this and it scared me half to death, until I realised the truth about the hound. If you were being pernickety you’d point out that this was published in 1902 and therefore doesn’t belong on my list. I’d say well, it was probably written in the years before that. I wouldn’t know, I’ve conveniently not checked.

6. The Picture Of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. This has been on my shelf for about ten years and I’ve still not got round to it. I love Oscar Wilde’s short stories and I can well imagine that any Gothic novel he wrote would be bloody brilliant too.

7. The Woman In White by Wilkie Collins. This isn’t just one of my favourite works of Gothic literature, it’s one of my favourite novels in the world ever. It’s got wicked plots, villainous villains, mistaken identity, madhouses, ghostly figures in the woods…. Seriously, what’s not to love about this book?

8. The Turn Of The Screw by Henry James. Aah, Mr James, my old nemesis, we meet again. I haven’t attempted this one yet but it sounds great. I just have to get over my appalling fear of Henry James.

9. Wuthering Heights by Emily Bronte. I’ve never been able to decide whether I really love Wuthering Heights or really hate it! But I do like the way Bronte uses the moors to create that brooding intensity. What is it about the Yorkshire landscape that screams Gothic to so many writers?

10. The Fall Of The House Of Usher by Edgar Allen Poe. I’ve not yet read any books by EAP but I’m told this is a particularly good one. I also quite like the sound of The Pit And The Pendulum.

Doesn’t ‘Nineteenth Century Gothic’ sound like a font?