Monday, 23 August 2010


From The Bookseller e-bulletin, today:

Library Use Falls Dramatically

There's an institution in my humble home town of Hitchin that offers amazing literary experiences at practically no cost. It calls itself a 'library*', and rumour has it that there may be one or two of its ilk across the land. Astonishingly, this 'library' will, once you have obtained a small, easily portable segment of plastic, (which may be done without undue effort or inconvenience) allow you to take home a number of books - and what is more, read them - for absolutely no fee, providing they are returned within three weeks. This astonishing offer extends across the entire spectrum of the written word, and what is not present on their shelves can be requested from other 'libraries' (here I must admit that a fee of £0.60 is levied for such a service, proving that there is nothing perfect in this fallen realm). I wonder if readers of this blog have discovered similar facilities?

*from the High Middle Etruscan, meaning 'woefully underused institution'.


Friday, 20 August 2010


One of the peculiar side-effects of reading Byron's Don Juan is that one begins to think in Byronic style. Here is the refined version of one such example. You're most welcome to send me your own, and we can have a mass cod-Byron festival. I am aware, by the way, and deeply ashamed, that my last line has eleven syllables, and that I have taken poetic liberty with singles and plurals.

Commuting is to voyage twice, for we
Not only take our body but our heart
From one place to another. We may be
The tranquillest of persons when we start,
But, bludgeoned by the rude stupidity
Of blind and selfish drones, our better part
Will, I fear, in every instance shirk us,
Especially when we change at Oxford Circus.


Wednesday, 18 August 2010


On my daily journey to work, I am currently reading Byron's Don Juan for the first time, and am meeting surprise, delight and amazement at every stanza. Not to mention exuding an aura of insufferable smugness about reading such proper, grown-up literature. I have to work very hard at exuding this, because I'm reading it on my Sony e-reader, so am not visually projecting the identity of my reading to fellow commuters.

The technical virtuosity of Byron's verse is extraordinary, as he conjures a variety of landscapes, situations, moods and characters in chronicling the odyssey of travel, romance and sexual encounters that make up Juan's story, all within a rigid stanza pattern of rhymed pentameter, mostly iambic, and embracing reflections on politics, history and the arts.

The humorously contrived rhymes Byron employs have passed into literary legend, perhaps the best-known being:

But O ye lords of ladies intellectual,
Inform us truly, have they not henpecked you all?

But there are hundreds of exquisite examples, leading me to believe the author was deliberately setting up rhyming challenges for himself in his vocabulary selection. Byron also uses rhyme to more conventional comic effect, as when, in this passage, he undermines his own mock-seriousness:
And she bent o'er him, and he lay beneath,
Hush'd as the babe upon its mother's breast,

Droop'd as the willow when no winds can breathe,
Lull'd like the depth of ocean when at rest,

Fair as the crowning rose of the whole wreath,
Soft as the callow cygnet in its nest;

In short, he was a very pretty fellow,
Although his woes had turn'd him rather yellow.
There are also beautifully expressed passages of meditation:
O Love! O Glory! what are ye who fly

Around us ever, rarely to alight?

There's not a meteor in the polar sky

Of such transcendent and more fleeting flight.

Chill, and chain'd to cold earth, we lift on high

Our eyes in search of either lovely light;

A thousand and a thousand colours they

Assume, then leave us on our freezing way.
Yet again, I find myself marvelling at the brilliance and energy of a 'classic' writer, and struggling to find parallels in the modern world, aside from Vikram Seth's verse novel, The Golden Gate.


Friday, 13 August 2010


The Guardian ran a blog earlier this week about 'the most under-rated authors'. Apart from the fascinating lists of books and authors which people have recommended (also intimidating if , like me, you are a slow reader with many gaps in their literary knowledge) there has also been a running debate in the comments about how fixated British readers are on Anglophone literature, with contributors almost seeming to compete with each other to recommend the most obscure writers from around the planet.

I contributed my own remarks to recommend (as ever) Flann O'Brien and Leonard Cohen (at least, in the case of the latter, Beautiful Losers, as I don't rate The Favourite Game so highly).

It's well worth visiting this blog for the usual inspiration, affirmation and exasperation that such lists provide.


Wednesday, 11 August 2010


At Capuchin Classics, the design, appearance and physical qualities of our books are as important as the texts themselves. Until now, each of our covers has borne a black and white line drawing by Angela Landels, whose unwavering eye for selection and detail have in no small way helped to define the Capuchin brand, and to make it succeed. Her work, and the Capuchin design, have received many plaudits, ranging from a feature in The Independent to highly favourable remarks on the respected ‘Caustic Cover Critic’ blog.

Beginning with the batch of titles to be published in March 2011, we have opted to intermingle Landels’ covers with those of Candida Thring, and also to introduce colour, as you will see from this striking rendition of the more primal member of the Jekyll and Hyde partnership, from our March 2011 edition of this seminal novel.

We hope you enjoy the work of this new cover artist.


Wednesday, 4 August 2010


It's good to see very positive reviews appearing for Julian Mitchell's dramatisation of Ford Madox Ford's The Good Soldier, which is running at the Theatre Royal, Bath until 14th August.

The Guardian's Elisabeth Mahoney said:
While its themes offer a tantalising prospect for stage adaptation, Ford Maddox Ford's 1915 novel also presents the challenge of a non-chronological tale told by an unreliable narrator through a vexing tangle of flashbacks. One of the striking achievements in Matthew Lloyd's stylish production is the reworking of this by playwright Julian Mitchell into something more approachable, without losing the ideas that swirl through the original.
While The Stage observed:
This alternative programme is launched in impressive style by Julian Mitchell’s resourceful adaptation of Ford Madox Ford’s seminal 20th-century novel of marital infidelity and eventual tragedy.
Our edition of Julian's remarkable novel, The Undiscovered Country, is also performing well, with good opening orders having come in from bookshops and individuals across the country.

We're hoping Julian will be asked to appear at the Hay Festival next year, so look out for news on that.

Finally, a reminder that - unlike some other websites named after legendary females of formidable martial prowess - the Capuchin website offers 3 books for the price of 2, plus postage and packing.


Monday, 2 August 2010


The latest four Capuchins have now manifested themselves on the physical plane and are in bookshops across the country. They are The Undiscovered Country by Julian Mitchell, The Island Pharisees by John Galsworthy, Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad and Highland Fling by Nancy Mitford.

Thanks to all who organised and attended the launch of Highland Fling at the marvellous Heywood Hill bookshop in Curzon Street. The equally sparkling champagne and guests, together with a reading from the book by foreword writer Julian Fellowes, (pictured, right) made for a delightful evening.

Should you need any other reason for visiting this bookshop than the inspiring stock and knowledgeable staff, there is the fact that they are currently celebrating the life and work of Nancy Mitford, (who used to be one of those very booksellers) in a new exhibition: Love from Nancy, running to Friday 10th September. The exhibition includes many items from the Mitford Archive at Chatsworth, set up by the author's sister Deborah, Dowager Duchess of Devonshire.