Books we love…

To celebrate Shakespeare Week, we are reviewing a play we love…HAMLET – the best ever written who-done-it tragedy!

This week’s blog post is written by Zvezdana, revealing some interesting facts and background about classic Shakespearean mystery story. 

He is young, handsome, clever, eloquent, honest, well-educated; he is rich, and he is a prince. What could possibly go wrong in this young man’s life?  

Well, firstly, his father dies in suspicious circumstances.  

Secondly, only two months later, his mother re-marries; swept from her feet, like a teenage girl, full of love – for her brother-in-law!   

Spies are everywhere, and the prince is suddenly questioning everything and everyone – his mother, his uncle/ “father”, his girlfriend, his friends from university, the ghost of his late father, and even questions his own existence!

The murderers of his father will not cease at anything. His life is in imminent danger, unless, he could fake his madness.   

Will he be able to solve his father’s murder and punish the culprits, before they silence him?  

Wow! The best Nordic Noir crime writers could not have done it better!  

William Shakespeare wrote ‘The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark’, often shortened to ‘Hamlet’, between 1599 and 1601.  

This revenge tragedy is Shakespeare’s longest play and it is considered one of the most powerful and influential works of world literature.  

Richard Burbage, from the Lord Chamberlain’s Men, was the first actor to play Hamlet in 1601.

Since that time, for the next four hundred years (and counting), it has been every famous actor’s dream to play that role.  

Hamlet is available to borrow from our libraries in multiple formats. Click on the follow link to view our catalogue:  https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/search/results?qu=hamlet&te=  

Obtain your free library card here: https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/search/registration/$N?pc=ILSWS_RBKC

Books we love…

…Playwrights we love!

In preparation for Shakespeare Week, Zvezdana from Chelsea Library has given us the context, history and importance of Shakespeare in today’s world, as well as her experience of using Shakespeare’s works to engage with our communities.  We’ve also got an intriguing activity too! 

Over to Zvezdana to tell us more… 

If you were not aware, Shakespeare Week is almost upon us (15-21 March 2021). It is a national annual celebration giving primary school children opportunities to enrich their early experiences of Shakespeare. This celebration has been organised by the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust in collaboration with many other organisations, writers, actors, illustrators… The most important partnership is with the schools, parents and children.  

This year all the activities are online. Visit the website, register and enjoy the stories, art, craft and various fun materials prepared for you, available all year round – perfect whether school is in, or out. (https://www.shakespeareweek.org.uk/

Perhaps someone would ask – why Celebrate Shakespeare? 

He lived 400 years ago, and his language and his style of writing are so old-fashioned, so complicated and difficult to understand. NO! Completely wrong assumption!  “Shakespeare’s language can cast a light on the complexity of human emotions and is a wonderful way to explore and understand our own and others’ feelings.” 

Many British children encounter Shakespeare only in their teens as a mandatory topic in secondary schools. Therefore, Shakespeare Week opens the door to Shakespeare and ensures that children are given a chance to have a great first experience with one of the world’s most famous playwrights. 

Do you know that Shakespeare is a named author on the curriculum in 65% of countries, studied by around half of the world’s schoolchildren every year? And if you were not aware, William Shakespeare has been hailed as the UK’s greatest cultural export?  

And what about Shakespeare’s language!? Many words were invented by Shakespeare, introduced to the us through his plays! Can you spot in this short text any words that were coined by Shakespeare? 

Maria’s birthplace was an old farmhouse. She shared her bedroom with two siblings. It was a gloomy and noiseless late evening when she tiptoed downstairs and heard her aunt’s gossip about an alligator found in the well.”  

                                                              You will find the answer at the bottom of this blog. 

If you are too young to read Shakespeare’s plays, find in libraries retold versions, or read information books about his life and life in the Elizabethan era. Arguably, Shakespeare’s biggest achievement was not writing the sonnets or Hamlet, but, plainly surviving his first year in plague-ridden England. We do not even know for sure when he was born. By tradition, it is agreed to be 23 April, St George’s Day. This is the national day of England and, coincidentally also the date on which Shakespeare died fifty-two years later. Since Shakespeare was born under the old Julian calendar, not the Gregorian, there are many very curious combinations coming out of the calendar chaos! Check Bill Bryson’s book “Shakespeare” about that and many other interesting, inquisitive and eccentric facts from that time. 

To conclude, I am happy and privileged to meet some young enthusiastic readers while running Chatterbooks. On 6th of March we had a great Shakespeare themed Chatterbooks session- All the World’s a Stage. The children showed great knowledge about Shakespeare’s time, his comedies and his tragedies. Twelve years old, Maximilian Lubin recorded Puck’s famous soliloquy, ‘If we shadows have offended’, from ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’. You can listen to his audio on Our Community is Reading. Thank you, Max.   

To reward the Chatterbookers, I invited a special guest – an actress, Maya Barcot, who has performed a few Shakespeare roles in the theatre – Titania and Hermia in ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’, Rosalind in ‘As you Like it’ and Lady Macbeth.  

Image of staff with special guest Maya Barcot!

Maya talked about why we’re still doing Shakespeare today and performed, especially for us, Titania’s “forgeries of jealousy” monologue.  Titania and Oberon’s quarrel can be seen as the driving forces behind the climate change.   

So, if you didn’t know, “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” is not “only” about love and mischief! Titania certainly knows the best! 

Why not have a browse of the rest of our Shakespeare collection in our libraries catalogue – https://trib.ent.sirsidynix.net.uk/client/en_GB/rbkc/search/results?qu=shakespeare&te=

Please join us next week for more interesting insights into the world of Shakespeare! 

ANSWER: Maria’s birthplace was an old farmhouse. She shared her bedroom with two siblings.  It was a gloomy and noiseless late evening when she tiptoed downstairs and  heard her aunt’s gossip about an alligator found in the well. 

Books we love

This week, Fiona from Brompton Library will be reviewing Hamnet by Maggie O’Farrell.  

Hamnet book cover by Maggie O’Farrell

Over to Fiona to tell us more. 

Hamnet, which won the Women’s Prize 2020, is named after Shakespeare’s son, who died of unknown causes at 11 years old.  The book focuses on Agnes (known as Anne Hathaway), Shakespeare’s wife, a woman who the author says has been vilified for 500 years.  Shakespeare was married at 18 to Agnes, who at the time was 26, and many historians have branded her an uneducated farm girl, a cradle-snatcher who trapped a young man into marrying her. However, very little is really known about Shakespeare’s marriage, his wife or his children other than a few scant facts and the details of his will, where he only left Agnes his second-best bed and the rest to his daughter.  Even the exact details of Hamnet’s death are unknown. 

O’Farrell focuses on Agnes, her marriage, her family and her children, with Hamnet’s death at the centre. Shakespeare is never mentioned by name, he is always named in relation to those around him; ‘the father’, ‘the husband’, ‘the glove-maker’s son’.   It focuses on the life of a woman, mostly alone with her children, and is rooted in the fields, forests and low-ceilinged rooms of Stratford.  The second-best bed even gets mentioned. 

I really loved this book.  If I’d had time, I could have easily read it in one sitting.  It is earthy, passionate, tender and deeply moving.  It has a folklore/fairy tale quality to it, brought to life by Agnes, a woman whose connection to the earth and her ways of reading people, makes her as much a poet as her husband.  The folklore atmosphere is heightened by the ever-present countryside that surrounds Stratford and Agnes mysterious nature.  

 There were points in the book that reminded me of Shakespeare’s plays.  O’Farrell does this quite subtly and is totally true to the story she is telling, sometimes at very poignant moments, but she has clearly drawn some parallels between his life and his plays; the star-crossed lovers of Romeo and Juliet; the playful twins who dress as each other from Twelfth Night; the fairy queen Titania and her wandering Oberon and, in the end, we come full circle back to Hamnet. 

Another interesting element is to the novel is the plague.  Before reading the book, I had read an interview with the author where she talks about her experience of being in lockdown having spent the previous while researching the black death and in an interview for the Women’s Prize, she says ‘I feel closer to the Elizabethans and the terror they must have felt with this ever-present disease.’  It also struck me that Shakespeare never wrote about the plague, but he was surrounded by it in London and would often return to Stratford when there were outbreaks of it.  Being in a similar type of outbreak, it’s easier to understand why he would rather focus on life as it is normally. 

Fiona, Brompton Library 

Copies are available to borrow using our Select and Collect service!

Chelsea Library’s special reading events: a recap

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year to all our readers
who participated in Chelsea Library’s reading events in 2018 and this year. A big
thank you and here’s to many more in 2020!

Our next reading event is on Tuesday 21 January when we will meet Ruth Galloway and read from ‘The Crossing Places’ by Elly Griffiths.

What is so special about Chelsea Library’s reading events? Well, we  read extracts from the books aloud; we share favourite moments and discuss relevant issues and characters. But, if you just want to listen and comment, and do not wish to read, that is fine too. You do not have to be a book club member to join us either. Sometimes readings are linked with a film or a TV series, such as Tolstoy’s War and Peace, Hugo’s Les Miserables and Gerald Durrell’s The Durrells.

An Evening with Tolstoy, in September 2018, marked the 190th anniversary of Leo Tolstoy’s birthday. That was our first such event and we focused on ‘Anna Karenina’ We watched a few remarkable moments from film adaptations, and then passionately commented about the right or wrong choices of actors in these films. We read in English, Russian. Italian and Serbian, completely oblivious that one of the guests present was one of Tolstoy’s descendants. Amazing!

In October 2018 we read from the Great War diaries and letters written by female doctors and nurses.

Last December we met to celebrate the 175th anniversary of ‘A Christmas Carol’. Since that time, this Ghost story of Christmas has become an irrefutable symbol of Christmas, and Marley and his companions – ghosts of Christmas past, present and future –have become some of the most popular ghosts in literature. So, gathered enthusiastic readers took part in reading my abridged dramatized version of Dickens’ classic and we all had a great time playing Scrooge, Marley, Bob, Tiny Tim … and eating mince pies.

For this December I decided to stay within the supernatural milieu and we read extracts from the ‘Haunted house’. If you have not read it before, it is never too late. Please, read these paragraphs to give you a flavour what you can expect. It is funny, it is witty – Dickens at his best. Serve with mince pies and brandy cream, as we did. Delicious!

“It was a solitary house, standing in a sadly neglected garden: a pretty even square of some two acres. It was a house of about the time of George the Second; as stiff, as cold, as formal, and in as bad taste, as could possibly be desired by the most loyal admirer of the whole quartet of Georges. It was uninhabited, but had, within a year or two, been cheaply repaired to render it habitable; I say cheaply, because the work had been done in a surface manner, and was already decaying as to the paint and plaster, though the colours were fresh.”

After first few weeks of living there the narrator’s state of mind became “so unchristian”. “Whether Master B.’s bell was rung by rats, or mice, or bats, or wind, or what other accidental vibration, or sometimes by one cause, sometimes another, and sometimes by collusion, I don’t know; but, certain it is, that it did ring two nights out of three, until I conceived the happy idea of twisting Master B.’s neck—in other words, breaking his bell short off—and silencing that young gentleman, as to my experience and belief, forever.”

Back to earlier this year and to honour my French readers, I chose Hugo’s ‘Les Miserables’ for January 2019.

 

When I had ‘Hamlet’ in mind, the idea was to involve the Danish Embassy and talk about Helsingborg / Elsinore castle. For somebody like me, with English as a second language, the challenge of reading Shakespeare aloud (and not to kill the beauty of the masterpiece in the process) was a daunting prospect. That worry proved to be needless. Everyone present was reading Shakespeare with such ease, as if they were eating Victoria sponge cake and drinking English tea. Fantastic! (The Danish Embassy were too busy to spare anyone, but I had to go to Copenhagen and visit Hamlet’s castle. Could not find anything rotten there.)

Jane Austen’s ‘Pride and Prejudice’ followed. We watched extracts from Andrew Davies’ BBC adaptation, laughed at Mr Collins, argued as Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy did, and even had heated discussion with a Jane Austen-expert who was in attendance. Marvellous!

Our June reading session was dedicated to holidays, to Corfu, to Gerald Durrell and his fantastic book ‘My Family and Other Animals’. Who could blame the Durrells for moving to Corfu after this kind of August in Bournemouth?

“July had been blown out like a candle by a biting wind that ushered in a leaden August sky. A sharp, stinging drizzle fell, billowing into opaque grey sheets when the wind caught it. Along the Bournemouth sea-front the beach-huts turned blank wooden faces towards a greeny-grey, frothchained sea that leapt eagerly at the cement bulwark of the shore. The gulls had been tumbled inland over the town, and they now drifted above the house-tops on taut wings, whining peevishly. It was the sort of weather calculated to try anyone’s endurance.”

So, the Durrells moved to Corfu, in 1935, ‘like a flock of migrating swallows.’ The lush green landscape greeted them on their arrival.

“Halfway up the slope, guarded by a group of tall, slim, cypress-trees, nestled a small strawberry-pink villa, like some exotic fruit lying in the greenery. The cypress-trees undulated gently in the breeze, as if they were busily painting the sky a still brighter blue for our arrival.”

Talking about people and animals we discovered that one of the readers, Emina, featured in Maria Perry’s book ‘Chelsea Chicks’, with a story that involved her very social parrot.

In September 2019 we had a guest speaker, Sir John Nott, who talked about his book ‘Memorable Encounters’, in which he selected twenty famous people who made a distinctive impression on him, from Margaret Thatcher, Enoch Powell, to Robin Day and Ted Hughes.

Sir Nott’s career in politics and business has given him a unique perspective on some of the key events in British public life. The gathered audience were obviously charmed by his witty comments.

In October I was so happy that Simon Brett accepted my invitation and included Chelsea Library in his busy and dynamic schedule. Simon is a renowned author of comedy thrillers, mystery who-done-it novels and has written to date 106 novels. He is best known for his Mrs Pargeter novels, the Fethering series and the Charles Paris detective crime series. In 2014, he was presented with The CWA Diamond Dagger and in 2016, he was awarded with OBE for his services to literature.

Simon talked about his career, his books and characters and we laughed and thoroughly enjoyed the evening.

Here is an extract from ‘Mrs Pargeter’s Principle’, which he read to the audience.
It is just after Sir Normington’s funeral.

“Helena Winthrop, in designer black, did not look prostrated by grief, but then she had been brought up in the upper-class British tradition that any display of emotion was unseemly and embarrassing. Also, her face no longer had the capacity for much change of emotion. Feeling the approach of age, she’d had some work done, which had left her with an expression of permanent surprise at how old she was.
She had acted as hostess at many public events for her husband and appeared to bring the same professionalism to this one as she had to all the others. The absence of Sir Normington on this occasion was not something to which she thought attention should be drawn… though her guests did seem to want to keep talking about him.
Mrs Pargeter, experienced in widowhood, wondered whether Helena Winthrop would fall apart into a weeping mess the minute she got back to her empty Mayfair home, but rather doubted it. Unshakeable stoicism was ingrained into women of Helena’s class. She had spent so long suppressing her emotions, Mrs Pargeter reckoned, that she wouldn’t recognize a genuine one if it bit her on the bum.”

Edited to add this part – Simon sent us this lovely quote  in response to this piece and we thought we’d share it with you.

I greatly enjoyed my visit to read and talk at Chelsea Library. The audience was acute and perceptive, a legacy of the series of events which had been set up to encourage reading in the borough. I remember, when I first started doing library talks, the plea ‘Has anyone got any questions?’ used to be followed by a profound silence and a lot of people looking at their feet. That, I’m glad to say, is no longer the case. The growth of book groups and events, like those set up by Zvezdana Popovic in Chelsea Library, have ensured a much readier and more informed response. As an author, I always find such sessions fascinating, because they always make me question – and sometimes even make changes to – the way I write. So, keep up the good work, Zvezdana.

 

I hope that you have enjoyed sharing this recap from our previous reading events. One of our future events is definitely reserved for the Brontë sisters. Tell me which book (or author) you would like to be included and we’ll go from there.

Once again, best wishes.
God bless us, everyone!

Zvezdana, Chelsea Library

Chatterbooks at Brompton library

Stephanie Webb, Lending Librarian at Brompton Library, writes:

The Chatterbooks session on Monday 9 March was both a happy and a sad occasion as it was the last one led by Babita Sinha. Babita is leaving at the end of March and has led Chatterbooks here at Brompton for five years and before that at Chelsea for three years. She has a devoted following of children who will be very sad to see her go.

Babita's last Chatterbooks session at Brompton Library, March 2015
Babita’s last Chatterbooks session at Brompton Library, March 2015

However, she went out in style with a (slightly premature) Shakespeare Week event which had the kids searching the children’s area for Shakespearean clues, followed by word searches and other quizzes and some readings from the bard. All this was helped along with some naughty nibbles to mark Babita’s last session.

So, Babita is leaving (Boo-hoo!) but Katie Collis will be taking over (Hurrah!) in May.

Chatterbooks session at Brompton Library, March 2015
Chatterbooks session at Brompton Library, March 2015

There’s still room for a few more at our Chatterbooks reading group which is on the third Monday of each month at 3.45pm