Loves of the Famous

In honour of Valentine’s Day, this month’s Biography Store display at Kensington Central Library is on the theme of Loves of the Famous. Many couples have walked on the world stage as separate individuals in… More

Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group

For the next session, MONDAY 11 February, 6:30pm, we will be discussing Craig Thompson’s romantic and philosophical epic BLANKETS.

Wrapped in the snowfall of a blustery Midwestern winter, Blankets is the tale of two brothers growing up in rural isolation, and of the budding romance between two young lovers. A tale of security and discovery, of playfulness and tragedy, of a fall from grace and the origins of faith, Blankets is a profound and utterly beautiful work.

blankets

‘Moving, tender, beautifully drawn, painfully honest and probably the most important graphic novel since Jimmy Corrigan.’  – Neil Gaiman

‘One of the greatest love stories ever written and surely the best ever drawn.’ – Joss Whedon 

If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let me know and we’ll try our best to accommodate. So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Casandra Drake
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Sleepwalk
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblazer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • Bad Doctor by Ian Williams
  • Out of Nothing by Dan Locke
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
  • Monstress

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There may be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

See you there! Bring snacks.
David

Inspirational female authors: Margaret Atwood

Is one of your New Year’s Resolutions to read more? Why not get some inspiration from our monthly reviews of inspirational female authors. We have been reviewing a book by a female writer (nearly!) every month since International Women’s Day in March last year. For January, I have chosen The Penelopiad by Margaret Atwood

The Penelopiad is a reimagining of The Odyssey, but instead of following the adventures of Odysseus, it is told from the perspective of Penelope, his wife. It is part of the Canongate Myth Series, where ancient myths were rewritten by a selection of contemporary authors.

Margaret Atwood chooses to retell the classic story from a female perspective and she creates a complex character in Penelope, who is more than the dutiful wife portrayed in the original. She also gives a voice to the mysterious twelve maids, who are killed by Odysseus when he finally returns from his voyage. In this version, the maids tell their tale as part of a chorus which interrupts the story with songs, children’s rhymes, an academic lecture and even a court trial.

I loved this retelling of the classic myth and in particular the way in which the maids tell their side of the story, which is fresh and unique. As is typical of a Margaret Atwood novel, it is intelligent but also funny, and that odd mix of disturbing but also engaging.

Come back in February for our penultimate review of an inspirational female author.

Philippa, Brompton Library

Brompton Graphic Novel Reading Group- SLEEPWALK

Happy New Year from the Brompton Library Graphic Novel Reading Group

For the next session, MONDAY 14 January, 6:30pm, we will be discussing the stylish Adrian Tomine compilation SLEEPWALK.

An old woman returns alone to the spot where as a young girl she used to meet her lover on his daily lunch break. An unsuspecting couple find themselves drawn to a window to watch the neighbours’ kinky play turn into something more sinister. Twin teenage sisters make an awkward pilgrimage with their ageing-hippie father. A young guy misses his flight and returns to observe a kind of alternate version of his own life, one from which he seems to have vanished. Sleepwalk is a classic Tomine collection, a series of vignettes that scratch beneath the surface of seemingly well-adjusted lives.

sleepwalk gn

“Like Woody Allen in his prime, Tomine is a master storyteller with a keen understanding of life’s bittersweet contradictions, and his meticulous drawing style further evokes the confusion and loneliness that his characters experience as they navigate the murky waters between adolescent fantasy and the less glamorous reality of adulthood.” – Village Voice

 If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let us know and we’ll try our best to accommodate. So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Casandra Drake
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblazer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • Bad Doctor by Ian Williams
  • Out of Nothing by Dan Locke
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
  • Monstress

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There may be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

See you there! Bring snacks.

David Bushell
Library Customer Services Officer

Books to films: Don’t Look Now

This is the first of two blog posts based on two short stories by Daphne Du Maurier that became very successful films. Don’t Look Now is the first of the two and was recommended to me by my colleague as I was about to go to Venice on holiday. I watched the film the night before I left and read the story while I was there.

Plot

John and Laura Baxter, a couple on holiday in Venice to help get over the death of their daughter. They meet two women from Scotland, one of whom is psychic and claims that she can see their daughter who is trying to contact them to warn them of danger. When Laura is suddenly called back to England to attend to their son who has had an accident, John is left alone with his grief and after thinking that he has seen his wife with the two sisters, a desperate police search for Laura and the sisters begins, and John is lead through the streets of Venice by a mysterious figure in a red, hooded coat.

The book 

Don’t Look Now started as a short story by Daphne Du Maurier. The story is much less atmospheric than the film, partly due to the fact that the twist is explained to the reader rather than being revealed at the end. The writing style is quite dated with the Italian characters’ dialogue written with an Italian accent. As it is only a short story, there is less time in Venice and less time with the characters and it’s difficult to give a completely objective opinion as I watched the film first, but overall it includes all the key elements that go on to make a fantastic film and is an interesting read once you have seen the film.

The film

Now a classic, the film, directed by Nicholas Roeg has been called one of the greatest horror films of all time. Its reputation as a classic has grown over time and is renowned for its film cutting techniques and the love scene between the two main characters. Roeg has made a few key changes to the book.

Firstly, the film is set in Autumn at the end of the tourist season in Venice, rather than in the middle of summer. This adds a lot of atmosphere to the story as the weather is damp and dreary and the hotels and restaurants are starting to close for the winter. Secondly, the couple are not on holiday in the film, instead, John is working on restoring a church which allows the symbolism of art and religion to be woven throughout the story, along with the colour red, in particular the red hooded coat of the couple’s daughter.

Scenes are cut together so that the past, present and future, at times, seem to be happening at once but without the film being confusing. Most brilliantly, the climactic end is not the true twist. The twist comes from a piece of the puzzle falling into place right at the end and he does it in such a way to make it a truly chilling film. He takes the best of the short story and makes it into an exceptional film.

Next time, I will be reviewing The Birds…

Fiona, Brompton Library

Inspirational female authors: Angela Carter

Since March we have been reviewing one book a month by an inspirational female author and this series will continue up until International Women’s Day next year. This month I have chosen The Bloody Chamber by Angela Carter.

It can be claimed that Angela Carter changed the path of fiction with her dark tales of magical realism and her influence can be seen in generations of writers since. Her novels are famous for focusing on women’s stories and The Bloody Chamber is my personal favourite. It is a collection of reimagined fairy tales, which put female voices to the front.

The collection of short stories is quite dark, with sex and violence as key themes. But, she uses this to explore issues around conventional femininity and gender roles. The language she uses and her style of writing is beautiful, in contrast with her sometimes brutal subject matter.

I love how she explores the potential of fairy tales and how she allows her female characters to be flawed and real. I think this book is a good starting point for anyone new to Angela Carter.

Join us in January for the next review of an inspirational female author. See you in 2019!

Philippa, Brompton Library

Christmas memories from our Biography Collection

Our December display for the Biography Collection at Kensington Central Library is an unashamedly nostalgic celebration of some Christmas traditions, ancient and modern, from the cosily kitsch to the highly artistic.

The display falls into two halves. First there are the memoirs of Christmasses past. Published in 1955, Mary Clive’s Christmas with the Savages is a hilarious reminiscence of an Edwardian childhood Christmas staying with the Savage family of upper class eccentrics, like a kind of surreal, unruly version of Downton Abbey. Suzanne Lambert’s Christmas at the Ragdoll Orphanage is a heart-warming tear-jerker set in 1930s Newcastle; perfect for curling up by the fire with a mince pie. With chapter headings including “Near Collapse”, “An Awful Smell” and “Difficult Guests”, Hazel Wheeler’s Crackers at Christmas records a half-century of Yorkshire Christmases between the 40s and the 90s with a stoic misery that combines Eeyore and Scrooge, and paradoxically manages to be immensely cheering for those of us with mixed feelings about the festivities. From 1908, Queen Alexandra’s Christmas Gift Book was designed to look exactly like a personal photograph album belonging to the royal family, featuring intimate snaps and homely captions.

The second half of the display focuses on some of the people who created or invented rituals and experiences we cherish as part of Christmas. Their Christmas contributions may only have represented a small part of their achievements, but provide a good starting point for looking more closely at their lives. As you would expect, there are some Great Victorians – Henry Cole, who as well as founding the Victoria and Albert Museum, gave us the first commercially produced Christmas card; Isabella Beeton, who perfected the recipe for what we now know as Christmas pudding; Christina Rosetti, whose poem “In the Bleak Midwinter” has become one of our most popular carols – and of course, Dickens, the man who probably did more than any other to create the dream of a London Christmas in the mid-nineteenth century to which our imaginations have returned for generations, with his surprisingly scary and moving, life affirming A Christmas Carol. (Did you know he was involved in a court case about a plagiarised version of it? We include an account of this extraordinary footnote in literary history). No Prince Albert, I’m afraid, as it seems the idea that it was he who introduced the Christmas tree to Britain is erroneous – in fact we owe that to his wife’s grandmother, fellow German Queen Charlotte, and have included a fascinating biography of her.

Christmas in Hollywood has always been a sparkly affair, so you can find Frank Capra, director or It’s a Wonderful Life, Irving Berlin, composer of “White Christmas”, and a host of singers including Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Nat King Cole, who have provided the soundtrack for countless “Merry Little Christmasses”.

The story of Kensington’s own Peter Pan was the first great Christmas “show for all the family”, so J. M. Barrie is included – as is Tchaikovsky, whose Nutcracker ballet continues to enchant. Composers of some of the most magnificent Christmas music are also here – Handel (The Messiah), Bach (Christmas Oratorio), Britten (A Ceremony of Carols and St. Nicolas) and Vaughan Williams (Fantasia on Christmas Carols). All of these works are available through our website via the Naxos Music Library  (There’s free access to this for library members)

So turn down the brussels sprouts, retrieve the tinsel from the dog, turn off the TV for a while and enjoy a biographical glimpse at some of the people who have sprinkled a little sparkle over Christmasses we have loved.

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library

Brompton Graphic Novel Reading Group- Monster by Naoki Urasawa

The brompton Graphic novel reading group will be meeting on Monday 10 December, 6:30pm.

Where they will be discussing volume 1 of the psychological Manga thriller: MONSTER by Naoki Urasawa:

Everyone faces uncertainty at some point in their lives. Even a brilliant surgeon like Kenzo Tenma is no exception. But there’s no way he could have known that his decision to stop chasing professional success and instead concentrate on his oath to save peoples’ lives would result in the birth of an abomination. The questions of good and evil now take on a terrifyingly real dimension. Years later, in Germany during the tumultuous post-reunification period, middle-aged childless couples are being killed one after another. The serial killer’s identity is known. The reasons why he kills are not. Dr. Tenma sets out on a journey to find the killer’s twin sister, who may hold some clues to solving the enigma of the “Monster.

Monster_GN_Cover

 

I loved Monster, and I cannot believe it took me this long to read. I’ll be back for more, very soon” – thebooksmugglers.com

Monster appears primed to take the Western world by storm the same way it did Japan” – IGN

 

If you have any other suggestions for the reading list, then please let me know and we’ll try our best to accommodate.

 

So far we have the following for consideration:

  • Sleepwalk
  • Casandra Drake
  • Cry Havoc
  • Full Metal Alchemist
  • Sleepwalk
  • Barakamon
  • Hellblaizer
  • V for Vendetta
  • Jaco the Galactic Patrolman
  • The Legend of Wonder Woman
  • The Flintstones Vol. 2: Bedrock Bedlam
  • Uncanny X-Force Vol. 1: Apocalypse Solution
  • My Brother’s Husband, Volume 1
  • Bad Doctor by Ian Williams
  • Out of Nothing by Dan Locke
  • Blankets by Craig Thompson
  • The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
  • Monstress

The reading group takes place on the second Monday evening of every month. There will be a pub quiz afterwards if you want to join in!

David Bushell, Library Customer Services Officer

 

Inspirational female authors: Sophie Mackintosh

Since International Women’s Day in March, we have been reviewing one book a month by an inspirational female author. For November I have chosen The Water Cure by Sophie Mackintosh. It is her first novel and it was longlisted for the Man Booker Prize this year.

It is dystopian, but very different from anything else I have read in that genre. It doesn’t really explore the fictional world she has created, but instead it focuses on three sister’s stories. Grace, Lia and Sky are separated from the rest of the world by the sea. They rely on the rituals and rules of their parents to keep them safe from the danger of men and what lies across the water.

TheWaterCure

It is a book about isolation, suffering and sisterhood. I read it quickly, eager to know what would happen. There are moments of violence but the scariest part for me was the vague, hinted at horrors that men in the outside world are inflicting on women, which are never spelled out. Even when we hear from the women themselves, we just get glimpses of what they have endured. This seems to imply that their world might not be that different to our own.

It is a strange book, dreamy but violent and harsh. What I liked most was the intense atmosphere. I also liked the relationship between the three sisters. It feels honest and their love and hatred for one another is true to life, if slightly amplified by their strange existence. I think it’s the sort of book that will divide opinion, but I found it fresh and unique.

See you in December for our next (and last!) review of a book by an inspirational female author.

Philippa, Brompton Library

Armistice Day

A century ago, at 5 o’clock on the morning of November 11th 1918, the armistice which marked the end of the First World War was signed in a railway carriage at Compiègne in France.  Seven hours later, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, arms were laid down and hostilities ceased.  So ended four years of violence during which a million British servicemen had died and nearly two million had suffered permanent life-changing injuries. The excitement that had affected many at the outset, as they predicted celebrating victory “by Christmas”, had given way to exhaustion, disillusionment, trauma and grief.  What is striking about many contemporary accounts is the absence of joy – notwithstanding the noisy celebrations that erupted all over the country’s streets, the prevailing mood expressed in diaries and letters is one of weary relief haunted by loss and, often, a terrible sense of futility.

Everyone knew that the “war to end all wars” had changed the world forever, and that the Edwardian society that preceded it was now as distant as another planet.  Several ancient European empires had collapsed, including the ancien regime in Russia, swept away by revolution.  Many people clearly saw in the punitive peace terms eventually imposed on Germany the seeds of another conflict – often predicting, with uncanny accuracy, the 20 year interval that would precede it.

Things had changed enormously for women.  Two million women who statistics suggest would otherwise have married were to remain single due to the deaths of so many of their male peers, and this led to an influx of women into the professions (which generally excluded married women).  Women were soon to be granted the vote; middle class women like Vera Brittain, whose Testament of Youth is one of the most famous of First World War memoirs, had worked as nurses at the front and seen horrors their genteel upbringings would never have acknowledged possible.  They were keen to live their lives in a way that acknowledged how far their experiences had diverged from those of their mothers and grandmothers, and to participate in all arenas of politics, society and the arts.

People knew that as well as being an ending, the armistice marked the beginning of an enormous task – the rebuilding of society and the rehabilitation of individuals broken by war.

For this month’s Biography Collection display, we have a range of books which shed light on this moment of history.  We have many memoirs of combatants and nurses, poignant reminders of the scale of suffering involved.  We have memoirs of some of the doctors charged with trying to mend damaged bodies and minds, including Charles Myers, who studied “shell shock”, and Harold Gillies, who pioneered new treatments for the terrible facial injuries that the modern weapons of this modern war had caused.  We have the accounts of the politicians and military leaders who were there when the armistice was signed, and those who contemplated how to transform Britain into a “land fit for heroes”.  We have the poets and painters who revolutionised their art forms in order to describe their trench experiences.  We have those who addressed the problem of how to memorialise the massive human loss – like Edwin Lutyens, architect of the Cenotaph, and Sir Fabian Ware who founded the Imperial War Graves Commission.  To give a sense of the zeitgeist, we have portraits  of some of the leading figures of the day in both intellectual and popular culture: as the bells rang to mark the armistice, Sydney Blow’s production of “The Officers’ Mess” was the hot ticket on the West End Stage (with its rousing number, “Handsome Herbert of the Horseguards”), the hits of Al Jolson and Irving Berlin were on every fashionable phonograph, Charlie Chaplin was already beloved of cinema audiences, Lytton Strachey’s Eminent Victorians was hailed as a milestone of the biography genre (and encapsulated in its style the dismantling of the old order), and Rebecca West’s The Return of the Soldier was one of the first novels to wrestle with the psychological legacy of war.

A century on, the scale of loss and suffering endured in the First World War still shocks.  Nothing evokes what it was actually like to live through its bloody course and traumatised aftermath more powerfully than contemporary records like diaries and letters, and the memoirs of those attempting to make sense of an event that transformed and overshadowed their lives.  We hope that they will bring to life for readers this critically important moment in our history, a hundred years ago.

The Biography Store Team, Kensington Central Library

Reality more astonishing than fiction

This is an epilogue to the Chelsea reading event – Reality more astonishing than fiction, where attendees asked me to recommend the WWI books about women that I used for my research.

We read extracts from letters and diaries – which were sad, feisty and funny.

Elsie Bowerman captured everybody’s imagination.  In the style of Indiana Jones, Miss Brown and Miss Bowerman clambered onto a moving train and saved the Scottish Women’s Hospital’s equipment.

Mabel Dearmer, author and illustrator, kept a diary and sent letters home from Kragujevac (Serbia) in spring 1915. She joined the Mabel Stobart’s Hospital unit. Her husband, Percy Dearmer served as a chaplain with the unit. Several women – nurses, doctors, orderlies – from various British medical missions died in Serbia during the typhus epidemic in 1915. Mabel Dearmer was one of them. See the extract from her letter from 6th June 1915.

Finally, if you would like to hear more about Scottish Women’s Hospitals and Dr Elsie Inglis, come to my talk at Women’s Library, LSE, on 9th November, 1-2pm.

Our next Reading event is on Tuesday, 11th December at Chelsea Library, (contact the library for more details), where we will visit Mr Scrooge. Come and join us reading extracts from “A Christmas Carol”.

by
Zvezdana Popovic

 

 My recommended  book listWomen and WWI / Suffragists and Suffragettes

  • Kate Adie, Fighting on the home front. The legacy of women in World War One.
  • Lucinda Hawksley: March women march
  • Simon Webb, The Suffragette Bombers. Britain’s Forgotten Terrorists.
  • Elisabeth Shipton, Female Tommies: The Frontline Women of the First World War

About Flora Sandes:

  • Louise Miller, A Fine brother. The life of Captain Flora Sendes, Alma Books, 2012.
  • (Book translated by LAGUNA “Naš brat”)

About Dr Elsie Inglis and Scottish Women’s Hospitals:

  • Leah Leneman: In the Service of Life. The story of Elsie Inglis and the Scottish Women’s Hospitals. Edinburgh: The Mercat Press, 1994.
  • Leah Leneman, Elsie Inglis. Founder of battlefront hospitals run entirely by women, NMSE, 1998
  • Eileen Crofton : Angels of Mercy: A Women’s Hospital on the Western Front 1914 1918, Birlinn Ltd, 2013.
  • Mikic, translated by Dr. Muriel Heppell: The Life and Work of Dr. Katherine S. MacPhail
  • Eva Shaw McLaren: Elsie Inglis. The woman with the torch.
  • Monica Krippner, The Quality of Mercy. Women at War. Serbia 1915-18.
  • Isabel Emslie Hutton: With a Woman’s Unit in Serbia, Salonika and Sebastopol.
  • Mabel Stobart, The Flaming Sword in Serbia and Elsewhere

Most of these books can be borrowed in local libraries and some of old ones can be read online, on the Project Gutenberg Free Books website.

Websites and documentary films

 

The Life and Loves of a Victorian Clerk

The diary of Nathaniel Bryceson, 1846

Discovering Westminster: A walk through time

Lunch time walks through the area

LBHF Libraries

"More than a library..."

The Cookbook of Unknown Ladies

Curious recipes and hidden histories from Westminster City Archives

Online Resources in London Public Libraries

A world of information at your fingertips

Text Tribe

Let's talk about books

%d bloggers like this: