The Black Spider by Jeremias Gotthelf

This was a real life book club read. Written in 1842, it is an allegory about the meaning of Christian beliefs and the nature of evil. 

It is a short novella set in a small Swiss mountain village. The story starts on the morning of a Christening, and the first half of the book has a great deal of detail about the preparations for the event, and I will admit that I struggled with it. The second half though was fantastic. It feature an old man from the Christening party telling all the guests the reason that an old beam remains and integral part of a new house. The reason revolves around a pact with the devil made generations previously and still haunts the village. 

It is clearly a story meant as a sermon, but it also an early horror story and that alone makes it interesting. It isn't something I would ordinarily have picked up, but I am really glad that I have read it. It is interesting that what was considered frightening in 1842, still has that creep factor even now. 

Where In The Literary World Are You Today?

Today I am in Germany. I am a defence lawyer, defending a man who walked into a hotel, shot another man, and then called the police and waited for them to come. He admits murder, but won't say why he did it. It is going to be a tricky case.

- The Collini Case by Ferdinand von Schirach

Fictional Houses

Fennell Towers is home, and I wouldn't want to live anywhere else. It is full of books (obviously) and most of all it is where The Delightful Mr F and I shelter from the world. 

All that said, there are some great houses in literature in which I would love to spend a weekend.

Mr and Mrs Weasley's house from the Harry Potter books sounds like a great place. Known as the Burrow it is homely and warm and welcoming, apart form the ghoul in the attic. 

The Burrow

The Burrow

221B Baker Street is another holiday destination on the list. The Delightful Mr F would love to spend the day with Sherlock and his science experiments in that wonderful old house full of curiosities. 

For a relaxing time, Bag End in The Shire sounds idyllic, after Sauron had been defeated obviously. The slow pace of life and rolling countryside are just my idea of a perfect place to live. 

PG Wodehouse's Blandings Castle would be a lot of fun. For a start with all the servants, there wouldn't be any cooking or cleaning. Then of course there would be all the mad residents, who for a weekend at least, would be fun to have around. As permenant housemates I think they could become a bit wearing, but at least the place is big enough to get away from them!

For a more cerebral time, Whitehaven Mansions with Poirot, Hastings and Miss Lemon would be the order of the day. Stylish art deco surroundings, perhaps with a mystery to solve. 

Which fictional houses do you fancy moving into?

Where'd You Go Bernadette by Maria Semple

Bernadette is a semi-recluse. A former award winning architect, she lives with her over achieving (but generally lovely) daughter, Bee, and her Microsoft executive husband in a community of pushy mothers and stuck up neighbours. 

Bee plans a family trip to Antarctica, but before the family can depart, Bernadette disappears without trace. Everyone assumes she is gone for good, or even dead, but Bee is determined to find her Mum. 

The story is told through a series of emails, letters and faxes. I had a lot of sympathy for Bernadette, she is slightly barmy, but in part is driven to it by the horrible school mums she deals with and whom she calls the "gnats". There is a wonderful scene where a school fundraiser is spoiled by an event that the mums bring upon themselves after constant hassling of Bernadette. 

Bernadette's relationship with her virtual PA, resident in India offers some truly funny emails, as the PA patiently deals with all the things that Bernadette would rather not cope with. 

This is an easy read, fun, and clever, with a wonderful protagonist.  It accurately depicts those awful social cliques which personally drive me mad, and shows them for what they are.

Music Scores in TV and Film Adaptations

A week or so back, I heard the most wonderful interview on BBC R4's Woman's Hour with Debbie Wiseman who wrote the score for the BBC adaptation of Wolf Hall. Debbie plays parts of the score live on the piano and explains how they relate to the book and the characters. I have the first couple of episodes recorded, but I haven't watched them yet. The small extracts of music I heard during this interview made me think about how books inspire music. 

The score that sprung to mind immediately was Neville's Waltz from Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. It is a beautiful piece which sees Neville practising his ballroom dancing before the yule ball. I love that scene, although I don't recall it from the actual book. Along with Neville's Waltz is Hedwig's Theme which I think perfectly captures the secret magical world which sits so closely beside our own. 

One of my longstanding favourite sound tracks are the three which go with Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings trilogy. The orchestral score is so beautiful and tranquil whilst in the Shire, rapidly changing to robust choral music when the black riders approach. When I need to blank everything out, and work, or think, this is the CD which gets played. The Knife In The Dark when Frodo is stabbed by a Black Rider always gives me goosebumps.

Another wonderful soundtrack is Sherlock from the BBC. The Game Is On is fantastic and has a real feel of daring-do about it. 

Last but by no means least is the wonderful Bookshop Band, who write music based on books. I've seen them at Mr B's and they are fantastic. Check out their website to see all their wonderful compositions. 

Do you have music related to reading which you really love?

The Strange Library by Haruki Murakami

This is strange indeed. I am not a Murakami aficionado, but I know that many are and I would be interested to know whether this is typical of Murakami. 

Physically it is a lovely thing. Quite small, with an old fashioned library ticket pocket on the front. Inside is a curious tale of a boy on the way home from school who pops into a library to pick up a book. He is taken to a special reading room, run by an odd man who locks him there and says he will be released when he can memorise the contents of the books he wants. What follows is a strange, supernatural and rather suspenseful story rooted in whether escape from the maze of the library basement is possible. 

The books is beautifully illustrated by Chip Kidd with odd drawings which create an amazing backdrop for the reader to overlay the narrative. It is very short, only 88 pages, but it utterly engrossing. 

Bookshop Memories

I was looking through some old photos the other day, and it started me thinking about bookshop visits when I was a child. I was always a reader and much of my pocket money was spent on books. This was a time pre-MrB's (I know it is hard to imagine, but stick with me). Thankfully it was a time when bookshops were aplenty and I had three main ones that I would visit. 

The first was a small bookshop in the village of Chipping Sodbury. I can't remember what it was called, but it was a lovely little shop, and the children's section was at the back. I can remember very clearly buying Haphazard House by Mary Wesley there. JK Rowling was born in the town and lived locally as a small child. I wonder if she was taken there too?

The next shop I remember was a huge WHSmith in Broadmead in Bristol. I am not sure if it still there, but it was huge, or at least I remember it being so. They had a large children's section and I used to sit on the floor to look at the books. I bought all of the Malory Towers books there, which I still have. When I checked the price, they were £1.25 each! I can also remember spending a whole £9.99 on a box set of Narnia books, which I still have. I had saved for them, and it seemed like a huge fortune at the time. 

George's Bookshop, Bristol, 1936

George's Bookshop, Bristol, 1936

Finally was the special treat bookshop. Georges on Park Street in Bristol had several stores, being opposite Bristol University it had a couple of academic bookshops, one with maps in I seem to remember, but it was the main shop which I loved.  I may be misremembering, but I think it had four floors, full of every book you can imagine, and a huge children's section.  We didn't go often as it wasn't in a part of Bristol we regularly visited, but I was taken as a special treat around my birthday. I still have many of the books I bought there, including an encylopedia of British birds, and another one on butterflies and moths. 

I can remember feeling as though I had entered a treasure trove, and the non-fiction was a revelation. Beautiful, glossy books on subjects which made my mind race and wonder and most importantly think. The shop is still there, although it is much smaller now. 

When I left home I lived in Scotland for a while, where I met the Delightful Mr F. I shared a flat with some other students, and that flat was above a bookshop. We were all working on an industrial work experience placement, and I when my first pay packet arrived in my bank account, I went out and bought a coat (it was Scotland and winter was coming) and the Gold Bat by PG Wodehouse. A sensible use of my new found income, don't you think?

Do you have fond memories of a childhood bookshop? I am sure that Mr B's is filling that slot for many children in Bath. 

Places to Read No. 3: Bentley Cottage, Brockenhurst

Full disclosure here. The Delightful Mr F and I were invited down to sample the delights of Bentley Cottage by my lovely colleague Ashley and his delightful wife, Katrin. 

Books at Bentley Cottage

Books at Bentley Cottage

Bentley Cottage is annexed next to Ashely's house in the village of Brockenhurst in the New Forest. This area was new to The Delightful Mr F and I, so on Friday we packed our weekend bag with all the necessities, and a good handful of books and made our way down the M3. 

The weather can only be described as a bit nippy, but as we pulled up outside the cottage the night was clear and the area so free of light pollution the stars could be clearly seen. The Delightful Mr F, being of an astronomical turn of mind, pointed out the constellations as we gazed upwards. 

The cottage is beautiful, newly renovated as a holiday let. It has 3 bedrooms, 3 bathrooms, and a wonderful living area, with a big kitchen and a wonderful set of comfy sofas around a cozy log burner.  Frankly, it is a perfect reading habitat. Books are even supplied if, God forbid, you should forget to bring any with you.

On Saturday morning The Delightful Mr F and I went out to Lymington, a coastal town about a 20 minute drive away. We had a lovely, if rather bracing walk along the harbour side. It was knitwear to maximum given the biting wind, but the fresh air and lovely scenery made up for it. We returned to the cottage ready for some intensive reading next to the fire.

Lymington in February - Knitwear to maximum!

Lymington in February - Knitwear to maximum!

The cottage is peaceful and warm and comfortable, perfect for getting completely lost in a book. In my case I was in Tokyo catching up with an old Japanese teacher, whilst The Delightful Mr F was fighting Hell monsters with Sandman Slim. Outside, the new forest ponies pottered about, and Ashley's cat, Teddy,  sat on the fence outside making sure all was well with the world. 



Ashely and Katrin have set up this cottage so guests have everything they could ever want or need. All the practical things are there, and there are some lovely touches in the decor and in the little extras such as maps and suggestions for things to do. If you are in an energetic mood, walking, cycling, sailing and any other number of activities are available. For me though, would could be better than after a long week at work, to find myself in the middle of a beautiful national  park, with a log burner and a stack of books to choose from?  If you want some peaceful reading time, book yourself some time in Bentley Cottage. Thank you Ashley and Katrin for a lovely weekend, we'll be back soon!