A Reading Meme 
Friday, May 28, 2010, 07:20 PM
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Via Normblog, also Harriet and Karen

Do you snack while reading? Rarely.

What is your favourite drink while reading? If anything, tea. Or wine in the evening.

Do you tend to mark your books while you read, or does the idea of writing in books horrify you? I write in books, particularly if it’s a book I’m writing about rather than just reading for fun – but I usually use a pencil.

How do you keep your place? Bookmark? Dog-ears? Laying the book open flat? Open flat – or improvised bookmark.

Fiction, non-fiction or both? Nearly always fiction.

Do you tend to read to the end of a chapter or can you stop anywhere? End of the chapter, preferably.

Are you the type of person to throw a book across the room or on the floor if the author irritates you? No – I just stop reading.

If you come across an unfamiliar word, do you stop and look it up right away? Probably – if the internet is to hand.

What are you currently reading? Frances Trollope’s Jessie Phillips

What is the last book you bought? Ian McEwan’s Solar – a present for Alex.

Do you have a favourite time/place to read? I particularly like reading on trains and outside in the sun on holiday.

Do you prefer series books or stand-alones? Mostly stand-alones – beginning a series always seems like a big investment, although I was glad to discover Lois McMaster Bujold’s Vorkosigan series.

Is there a specific book or author you find yourself recommending over and over? Longer term, Diana Wynne Jones and Georgette Heyer. More recently – David Mitchell, Dorothy Whipple, Sinclair Lewis and Shirley Jackson.

How do you organize your books (by genre, title, author's last name, etc.)? I don’t.

Barbara's additional question: background noise or silence? Silence, but it’s not essential.

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Crossing Qalandiya: Exchanges Across the Israeli/Palestinian Divide 
Wednesday, May 19, 2010, 09:31 AM
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Shireen Anabtawi , a Palestinian from Ramallah, and Daniela Norris, an Israeli, were introduced to each other by a mutual friend at a party in Geneva. Both were initially rather disconcerted by the encounter, but the two women found they had plenty in common, including young children of similar ages, so decided to meet the next day for coffee. Daniela writes candidly about how she nearly didn’t go:

"I have a confession: I hesitated before I went to meet you the next morning. After all, you are supposed to ‘The Enemy’, and who knows what The Enemy has in store for them?"

And when Daniela later invited Shireen over for lunch it was her turn to hesitate:

"Over the last decade, the only Israelis I’d had contact with were soldiers, and in my eyes all the Israelis were the same – occupiers and enemies."

Despite initial uncertainties, a strong friendship grew up between the two women. However they realized they would have difficulty meeting back home, so decided to write to each other in order to keep in touch. Their letters are reprinted in Crossing Qalandiya. Both women are honest and indeed critical in their letters, yet self-critical too. Each wants the other to understand her own point of view, and both try to appreciate the other side’s perspective.

Part of the proceeds from the book will go to Children of Peace, and I was delighted to have the opportunity to represent the charity at last night’s book launch at Daunt Books, and hear Shireen and Daniela read the book’s opening letters.

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Cephalus and Syphilis 
Thursday, May 6, 2010, 08:50 PM
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My recent work on Tudor translations of Ovid has made me wonder about the derivation of the word ‘syphilis’. The name for this disease is derived from a Latin poem by Girolamo Fracastoro, ‘Syphilis sive morbus gallicus’ (‘Syphilis or the French Disease) in 1530. I have not read this poem myself, but apparently it tells of a man, Syphilus, who was cursed with venereal disease by Apollo as a punishment for his defiance.

According to the Wikipedia article, the name Syphilis may be derived from one of Niobe’s children, Sipylus, mentioned briefly by Ovid. But I’d like to suggest another possible source, a much more prominent character in the Metamorphoses. This is Cephalus, whose story is told in Book 7 of the Metamorphoses. The story of Cephalus and Procris is comparatively little known today, but was well known in the Renaissance.

The goddess Aurora abducts and seduces Cephalus soon after his marriage to the beautiful Procris. Aurora then encourages him to test his wife’s own fidelity while in disguise. After holding out for a long time, she hesitates, only to flee with shame into the forest when Cephalus reveals his true identity. Eventually they are reunited, but later tragedy strikes when someone overhears Cephalus addressing the air, ‘aura’, as a wooer. The eavesdropper assumes this is some nymph, Aura, and tells Procris. Suspicious, she follows her husband to the woods and hides in the bushes. But when he spots her moving he shoots, thinking she’s a beast, and kills her.

So why associate Cephalus with Syphilis? This was a well known story and spelling was more fluid in the sixteenth century. In Thomas Howell’s 1570 version of the tale his name is spelled Sephalus, for example. Also, this is a story about a man who has an affair with a woman after marriage and kills his wife without meaning to. The tale could easily be glossed as a warning against the perils of venereal disease.

One version of the tale, by Thomas Heywood, was included in his long Troia Britannica (1611). This poem was later republished as part of John Benson’s 1640 edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets and other poems. It is placed immediately before the final sonnets of the sequence, both of which deal with the power of Cupid’s arrows to bestow magical qualities on the water of a spring. The Cupid sonnets are widely felt to deal with the dangers of venereal disease. Perhaps the poems’ editor, like me, sensed a link between Cephalus and syphilis.

UPDATE

By chance I've just come upon a reference to another relevant aspect of the myth. Apparently in Apollodorus' account of the story Procris was given the javelin which eventually killed her (she presented it to Cephalus as a gift) as a reward for curing Minos of some genital complaint.
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Borrobil at Beltane 
Friday, April 30, 2010, 04:17 PM
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It’s Beltane tonight – an excellent time to read Borrobil, a book I liked very much as a child and have just reread. William Croft Dickinson’s children’s novel was first published in 1944, just a few years before The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. The adventure begins on Beltane Eve when Jean dances around the fires which have been lit in a mysterious circle of stones. She and her brother Donald are immediately transported into the mythical past where they meet Borrobil, a kindly though mysterious little man who acts as their guide through a series of exciting adventures.

It was interesting to note which bits had stuck with me for 30 (Ok, maybe nearer 35) years, which I'd completely blanked out, and which I simply hadn’t understood. The rather static and heraldic set piece fights proved forgettable, whereas I remembered some of the novel’s jokes and wordplay word for word.

One aspect of the novel which completely passed me by as a child was its Scottishness – Borrobil can be seen as a kind of Scottish answer to Puck of Pook's Hill. Kipling’s novel begins very similarly, with two children unwittingly tapping into ancient mysteries. Dan and Una perform scenes from A Midsummer Night’s Dream and summon Puck to their side. He explains that he is one of the last People of the Hills, ‘the oldest Old Thing in England’, and tells them many stories from England’s past. Borrobil seems to have been William Croft Dickinson’s invention, but he can be seen as a kind of Scottish Puck, telling the children tales loosely based on Scottish myths and chronicles, and showing them the Brochs of Orkney to balance Puck’s focus on Wayland Smith and Hadrian’s Wall.
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Dim Sum at Charlie Chan in Cambridge 
Sunday, April 18, 2010, 10:05 AM
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On the couple of occasions I’ve eaten at Charlie Chan’s in the evening I’ve found it fairly standard – ok but nothing special. But it’s completely different at lunchtime when traditional Dim Sum dishes are served. Lunch at Charlie Chan is exceptionally delicious – and amazingly good value. We ate there yesterday and the bill for six came to just over £50.00 including service, tea and a couple of soft drinks. We had shredded pork soup, char siu cheung fun, crispy spring rolls, sticky rice wrapped in leaves, and various other dishes including more conventional choices like sesame prawn toast and spare ribs. All the dishes are small – like Tapas - but they are also very cheap – some around £3.00. So if you have maybe been to Charlie Chan’s in the evening and thought it was good but not great and wondered why some people rate it so highly – give it a try at lunchtime.
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