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Favourite Book Covers

It struck me last week as I was writing out the first lines post that I’ve never really looked at favourite book covers.

I have always been enticed by nice covers, though perhaps more so since I started reading ebooks and particularly now during isolation where I’m reading them almost entirely.

Most often I will be struck by the combination of a nice cover and a hardback book. Hardbacks tend to have more than their fair share of nice covers; when publishers switch covers for the paperback I find the new one is often not as appealing. Hardback jackets also seem to lend themselves better to embossing, gold paint, and better colour pigmentation. The bigger size of the book also gives it more grandeur.

This is to say that I’m not entirely sure I could make a decision on favourites without that context. Even looking at the covers online, without the physical nature of the hardback, it’s difficult to get away from the way they look in person. So I won’t try – the covers below are sometimes going to be influenced by the fact of the hardback.

I’m leaving out all books that are in the public domain where the ideas of the author and original designers are long gone, and I’m keeping it to one book per author. I’m also keeping it to books I’ve read. I’ve put title tags on all these as the covers are small – hover over them if you’d like the details.

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Due to there being so many – and this is inevitably the shortened list – I’ll leave out any navel-gazing. I think it’s safe to say I love bright colours, multicolours, and images where one person stands in front of something, a future or situation being the subtext. (I’ve always though the latter is probably the reason for those covers – they make you want to find out more.) I like YA fantasy/magical realism/paranormal covers. And I rather love both covers that were created for One Night, Markovitch enough that whilst the reason I wanted to buy the book was the cover I’d seen, I still bought it when I found a copy with the new cover. Likewise The Particular Sadness Of Lemon Cake – I loved the title and the hardback cover but I guess the title drew me more as I read the paperback version seen above.

Which covers of books you’ve read are your favourites?

 
On Reading For Interviews Versus Reading For Reviews

A photograph of an open notepad with a big question mark drawn on it and a pen lying on top

Something I didn’t expect or, rather, didn’t know to expect, is that reading a book primarily with an eye to interviewing would be so at odds with reading for review and/or study, or indeed enjoyment. Granted, if I read purely for enjoyment – in other words I’m not taking many or any notes – it can be hard to write a thorough review later, but it can definitely still be done. Likewise reading for study purposes – it’s sufficiently similar.

Reading for interview is very different; perhaps not for everyone but I certainly find that regardless of the long list of questions and topics I have compiled ready for a podcast, it can be incredibly hard to continue on to a review. All talking points are there, and in theory those talking points should be able to inform a review but they become very literal – talking points, not review points.

I thought it would be as ‘easy’ as remembering that I’m reading for both interview and review (when I plan to review as well) but it’s not. This has made me aware that the two are in fact pretty different types of reading and that to combine them is a lot of work. It’s actually a bit like walking into a strong wind – not impossible but still hard.

I find in the two types different variations of close reading. I’ve wondered whether a book requires two reads for the two purposes – certainly that would make it easier to keep track. You could say they require different skills. It’s the reason there haven’t been many reviews here lately. It underlines the need to write the review soon after finishing the book; when working on a podcast the book’s ‘review’ details fade far fastest than they would normally, which makes sense given focuses.

It’s something I want to figure out a best practice for so I’ll be thinking about it in future.

Have you any experience in reading the same book(s) for different purposes?

 
Interests, Time, Frustration, Balance + Podcast

On today’s podcast I’m joined by Andrew Blackman, author of On the Holloway Road and A Virtual Love. Andrew’s also a fellow book blogger. We discuss life on the road, following in Jack Kerouac’s footsteps, offline and online identity, climate change activism, and withholding – for very good reason – the endings your readers expect.

Email and RSS subscribers: you’ll need to open this post in your browser to see the media player below.

The main episode page, which includes the full episode details, the transcript, and a question index, is here. The podcast is also available on iTunes, Spotify, Stitcher, and now Google Podcasts as well. (Those apps may take a few hours to receive the episode.) You can also subscribe via RSS.


A photograph of a conservatory on a summer's day

Something I struggle with, and I had a particularly difficult time of it Saturday evening which is why the concept came to mind, is the way that I feel like I’m not using my free time well if I’m not reading or doing a bookish thing. It may well be a me-only thing; it may be something where the activity that feels important changes based on the person at hand; it might be because I’m a recovering perfectionist; it’s probably because I’ve made books such a big part of my life, that it transcends ‘hobby’, much as it does others who’ve chosen to blog about them. It’s a self-created pressure.

If I’m only reading, however – in other words doing the exact thing I feel I should be doing – I then feel I need more variety in my life. When I’ve read a lot – say most or all of every evening for a week – and I’m not experiencing burnout, I often still have a need, almost, to watch a film or play a video game, and in turn doing those things will feel like I’m having a break.

Yep, it’s a self-created pressure of a recovering perfectionist… But I do know I’m not unique in feeling this sort of way.

It’s likely down to the question of attention span, again. Sometimes – most often when I feel this way – I wish life were more like it was before screens, of all kinds, came on the scene. I think of women gathered together in parlours and men in clubs, visiting cards and so on, and wonder how having less to choose from would have felt. My guess is it would have been less demanding, but without any experience, that’s looking with rose-tinted glasses. Less to choose from probably made what you could choose from feel less… wasteful. No Fear of Missing Out – or less of it. But then of course we know women didn’t have as many options and if we know anything, it’s that sewing all day when it wasn’t your thing got boring quickly.

There’s no conclusion here; I’m still sorting out the best way to feel less unproductive and then less wasteful for differing reasons. Certainly it’s easier to relax into hobbies when on holiday, particularly when Internet signals are weaker. An idea of a schedule works – compartmentalising my days – but it’s something that needs more work and inevitably there are times I cheat a bit.

Do you ever feel like this? How do you deal with it?

 
In Which Jane Austen Reviews A Book And Makes Me Laugh

The engraving of Jane Austen

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’m currently doing some research for a post about Jane Austen. It’s taking a lot longer than I’d thought it would so I’ll share a brief part of what I’ve noted and add to it.

On Sunday 25th November 1798, Jane wrote from Steventon to her sister Cassandra about a variety of things that were happening. Her letters to Cassandra are often lengthy, and at present I have a hunch (from the bit of research completed so far) that she is more open about her opinions of books to her sister than to anyone else; this is to be expected – as we know, they were very close.

On this day, Jane included a fair paragraph of fun background context and opinion of a book that had been published earlier that year; I’ve not been able to trace the month, but it was Arthur Fitz-Albini by Samuel Egerton Brydges, a novelist/bibliographer. Here is Jane’s opinion:

“We have got ‘Fitz-Albini’; my father has bought it against my private wishes, for it does not satisfy my feelings that we should purchase the only one of Egerton’s works of which his family are ashamed. That these scruples, however, do not at all interfere with my reading of it, you will easily believe. We have neither of us yet finished the first volume. My father is disappointed – I am not, for I expected nothing better. Never did any book carry more internal evidence of its author. Every sentiment is completely Egerton’s. There is very little story, and what there is told in a strange, uncorrected way. There are many characters introduced, apparently merely to be delineated. We have not been able to recognise any of them hitherto, except Dr. and Mrs. Hey and Mr. Oxenden, who is not very tenderly treated.” (Jane Austen in Le Faye (ed.) (2011), pp. 22-23)

Had they been a thing, I think she may have given it one star.

I’ve made a cursory search for contemporary reviews of this long-forgotten book, but it’s been difficult to find any. What I did find was an obituary for Brydges, written by John Bowyer Nichols and published in The Gentleman’s Magazine, November 1837. I’ve redacted it down to the most poignant sections on the man himself as well as the novel because as you might expect, it’s Dickensian in length:

“The biography of this gifted and laborious litterateur, this imaginative poet, and in one sense we may accurately say, this imaginary character, can scarcely be treated in the sober detail of our ordinary narrative; yet, as our object in this place is always the relation of facts, we shall, in the first instance at least, state the circumstances of his birth and early life as we should do those of any other distinguished individual, premising that the particulars are derived from his own account …

The hopes and disappointments of his early years are disclosed in his Novel, called Arthur Fitz-Albini, in which he clothed a fictitious personage with his own sentiments and aspirations, and at the same time depicted with the utmost freedom the foibles not only of his neighbours and acquaintances, but even those of his own family and relations. In Arthur Fitz-Albini, “the few, whose penetration and freedom from envy enabled them to appreciate such a character, beheld the eloquence of the enlightened senator, with the independence of the country-gentleman, and the spirit and hospitality of the feudal chief, without his fierceness, his tyranny, or his uncultivated mind. Before such a man, all the paths of glory seemed to open, and the ascent to fame appeared to be covered with flowers.

[…]

In these and many similar passages may be traced the adumbrations of Sir Egerton’s own character, and proofs that he was not unconscious of the defects which repelled the affections of his fellow-creatures, though unhappily destitute of that sober discretion and that Christian humility which would have proved the only efficient means to control or correct them.” (pp.534-539)

It’s likely that, with this obituary, and references to Brydges’ own forays into writing for the magazine, there is at least one review of the book out there, likely favourable.

Later notes about the book can be found in various biographies. A Biographical Dictionary of the Living Authors of Great Britain and Ireland (1816) notes on page 43:

“Sir S. E. B. has distinguished himself in almost every sort of polite literature, but more particularly as a critic of English poesy, in which character it is not too much to say that he stands unrivalled by any living author.”

Next, a rather lengthy biography, which is titled an autobiography, likely due to John Gibson Lockhart’s over-use of Brydges’ own words (an amount that would cause a superb number of cautions for anyone using another’s material today) was published in the Quarterly Review, no. 51, in 1834. It does cite positive points, but the majority leans towards the negative in a way that rather supports Austen’s own view:

“The other great grievance is Sir Egerton’s literary one. With respect to it, we cannot do better than re-quote an emphatic sentence from Mr. Sharp’s “Letters:” namely, “A want of harmony between the talents and the temperament is, wherever it is found, the fruitful source of faults and of sufferings. Perhaps few are less happy than those who are ambitious without industry who pant for the prize, but will not run the race.” Sir Egerton has all his days been busy without industry — perpetually panting for the prize, but never sufficiently persevering to make out one real heat.”

Over all, biographies and other writings published later than the book was published speak moderately to highly of Egerton, who was an MP who, it seems, tried to style himself as the then-head of a baronetcy he was not entitled to. Nevertheless, whatever the objective truth to the novel may be (I must say I don’t plan to read it) Austen’s effective review is definitely, if snarky, the most entertaining there is. Unfortunately, perhaps, for Brydges, it’s also likely the one that will last the longest when it comes to literary studies.

References

Books

A Biographical Dictionary of the Living Authors of Great Britain and Ireland (1816) Henry Colburn, London
Courtier, Peter L (1806) The Lyre Of Love: Volume 2, John Sharpe, London
Le Faye, Deirdre (ed.) (2011) Jane Austen’s Letters, 4th edition, Oxford University Press

Articles

Gibson Lockhart, John (1834) Autobiography of Sir Egerton Brydges, Quarterly Review, no. 51, pp.342-365
Nichols, John Bowyer (1837) Obituary: Sir Samuel Egerton Brydges, The Gentleman’s Magazine, New Series, Vol 2, pp.534-539

 
How Much Does It Help To Have A Reading Plan?

A photograph of a stack of books

I’m currently looking at a good month of reading, in fact I only say ‘currently’ because I’m hoping to improve it in these last few days of January. The goal I set at the start of the month has really helped; I suppose when it comes down to it, it’s effectively a to-do list and being more specific (yet general, ironically) has been key.

So this month I’ve had a reading road map, as it were, for what I was to read and for where I wanted to be at the end of the month. The idea of where you want to be is somewhat repetitive if you’ve a list of books anyway – you want to read those books, ergo you’ll have finished them – but having a starting book and, particularly, an ending book has worked wonders. It’s pushed me to carry on.

I’m well aware I could be heading for burnout. (If only burnout could be scheduled and managed!) Reading a lot in a set period of time tends to mean a period of burnout afterwards, and I would be all the less surprised this time since I had a fairly strict order for my reading. At the same time, I’m currently on a high. Perhaps burnout could be scheduled for March?

My road map was as I’ve previously stated – books for the podcast, early review copies, and carry overs from last year. I also read a couple of books I would’ve read in December had the festive season not pulled me into bonkers games like pretending to be a dinosaur at the intensity level of 1.

I’ve written about the concept of a reading plan before, and how whimsical reading can be great. But the more time goes on and I practise both these ‘versions’ of reading, the more I think one is not better than the other. I think I’d go so far as to say (though I could only ever have first-hand experience of my own reading) that both are best for everyone and best practice is simply definable as what is best at that given point. Sometimes you need structure in order to get it done, sometimes you really don’t, and I’d argue that the natural follow up to structure is whimsy and likewise in reverse.

Reading effectively with a plan puts paid to the worry that you might dither over the possibilities on your shelves, though this isn’t absolute; in forming your plan you probably needed to do some thinking. But, hopefully, the idea of structure aids in keeping that time to a minimum. Browsing shelves works so long as you are strict about it.

Yes, I’m also on a mission to cut back on the time I waste on the Internet.

So my answer to ‘how much does it help?’ is ‘very much – within the limits of a well-rounded reading life over all’. I’m loving my planning at the moment but I know it can’t last; but the important thing is to remember to use it when possible, and also when it makes the most sense.

Where do you fall in regards to this topic?

 

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