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‘[Book title] + summary’ And The Likelihood The Book Will Not Be Read

A photograph of a pile of books

Looking through my stats, I’ve noticed a lot of people searching for ‘[book title] summary’ in Google. (They rarely reach my site, presumably because I don’t provide full summaries, but I see them all the same.)

My first thought was that these people would mainly be students, secondary school age, looking to do what my classmates and me did and get away without reading the book, but increasingly the searches involve modern books. Some of these books I can see being placed on a syllabus but many wouldn’t be. And we’re not talking books that have necessarily been turned into films, either (which might have suggested people wanted to know the differences between the mediums).

I worry because it strikes me as likely that it’s just that people don’t want to read the book. If you get the summary, and thus know the main features of the plot, you can potentially hold your own in a conversation, but you likely wouldn’t get characterisation aspects without a different search and it can often take reading the book to know whether it’s character-driven and so forth. And is pretending really worth it? What happens when the person or people to whom you’re pretending ask about something that isn’t related to the plot? (I know this situation is similar to those times you’ve read the book but forgotten it and therefore can’t talk about it much, but it’s easier there, and likely comes across as honest, if you say as much.) I may be biased – I’d prefer to say I’ve not read a book or not yet read it; then again, I’m used to talking to bloggers and similarly-minded readers who know that the number of books out there is limitless.

Of course another possibility is that of a reader who reaches the end but doesn’t quite understand what they read. Usually those are apparent through more specific questions, but not always. Sometimes it can be hard to find what you’re after with specific questions because you have to get the words correct in terms of how the internet has referred to the subject. I looked up The Bell Jar‘s summary after reading the book to see if there were more clues about Joan’s role than I’ve noted. But when that didn’t work I added ‘Joan’ to my search, which made my intent obvious.

Lastly, if you’re studying another book and that book references another you feel it’d be good to have context for, I can see that being another reason to opt for a summary rather than a full read.

What do you think of summaries online and the use of them? There are quite a few study-sort of sites, but not all of them include commentary – I’d say commentary alongside the summary adds a real reason for it.

 
Planning For Christmas 2018

Book cover

Over the last month I’ve been musing over the end month of the year. Every year I say I’m going to add some seasonal books to my reading list but it doesn’t happen as well as I hope. This is partly because I leave it too late – I’m making up for it here – but it’s also because it can be difficult to find Christmas books that aren’t romance.

Finding Christmas romances are easy, they are everywhere and it makes sense that Christmas would be a priority because of the cosiness, mistletoe, and just general seasonal mood. Most of what I’ve read so far at Christmas have been romances. I like settling down beside my tree with such books but I also want to read in other genres too.

Book cover

And that is difficult. I suppose with literary fiction it’s the case that most books set at Christmas may sport some good cheer but at some point in order for the literary-ness to be included, the character’s lives will be upended… and that’s not really what you want at Christmas. It’s also just hard to find such books; most often those with ‘winter’ or ‘Christmas’ in the title move swiftly on.

Historical fiction is a possibly good bet but you have to accept that any Christmas time will likely be fleeting, and quite possibly unlike the season we know. Then there are classics. A Christmas Carol, which I’ve read; The Lion, The Witch And The Wardrobe which I’ve also read and is somewhat fleeting unless you include the endless winter into the Christmas time… which wouldn’t be right because as Mr Tumnus says, it is “always winter, but never Christmas”; and finally Little Women which I’ve added.

Then there are these: L Frank Baum’s The Life And Adventures Of Santa Claus; E T A Hoffmann’s The Nutcracker And The Mouse King (which, something I didn’t know, was first re-written by Dumas before being turned into a ballet – Dumas’ re-write informed Tchaikovsky); Nikolai Gogol’s The Night Before Christmas; O Henry’s The Gift Of The Magi; Hans Christian Andersen’s The Snow Queen. I believe the Henry is an adult short story; I’d not heard of it before but it sounds famous.

Book cover

I’ve seen a Dilly Court’s The Christmas Card looks like a possibility, but I’ve read a couple of books in that Victorian-to-early-1900s-historical-sort-of-romance-always-with-similar-set-ups-in-terms-of-family and not liked them. (Is there a specific term for books like hers? They’re a particular sort of historical but are generally placed away from ‘regular’ historical fiction, and are instantly recognisable. I’ve noticed supermarkets here have tons of them but they are rarely on display in bookshops. Historical chick-lit perhaps?) I’ll probably give the Court a go for variety’s sake.

So that’s where I am in my planning at present: Dilly Court, Alcott, a contemporary romance or two (likely by Shannon Stacey because whilst I find her work hit and miss it’s always got the escapism factor) and a few children’s fiction options. When I looked for Dilly Court’s book cover I found this list of Christmas books on GoodReads that’ll be worth looking into, especially as it’s a list of other lists.

Do you have any Christmas book favourites? And have you anything I could add to my list of classics?

 
On Referencing And Changing It

Bibliography, split into three pieces, and typed in grey on a white background, with a dotted effect on top

I’m getting either studious or pedantic about referencing. I really can’t say which it is, perhaps it’s both. As I find myself wanting to write more academic, or at least more studious, posts – that word again because who am I kidding on the academic front – there’s been a parallel increase in desire to use a referencing system, and, more to the point, to do it properly. In the past I’ve used both in-text links and end-of-text references, but the pedantic part of me is looking at the benefits of standardising the whole thing except perhaps in cases when it would look silly (I can’t see myself always referencing a regular blog post academically for example, and in-text links are the standard for websites).

I’m very aware right now that I’ve been spending too much time with techy people who use newfangled vocabulary.

This idea of standardisation has occurred mainly due to my own folly; the first several times I used end-of-text referencing I did it in a different way each time, enough that when I’ve recently looked to use my own posts as a template there was no template. I’ve tried various university systems for referencing and done a lot of research; sometimes there are no options for the sort of reference you need to provide. It was bad enough when I was taking university classes and went to cite a quotation that was a quotation itself.

So I want to standardise and the easiest way to do it on this blog looks to be a sort of amalgamation of various styles with my own ideas thrown in for good measure. Less continual comma…isation…, more brackets, and less reliance on web links that will almost certainly lead to a 404 error a year later.

I’m also getting far too excited about the idea of using footnotes for their intended purpose, and recently went and added a useful contextual note for a recent further thoughts post. Oh dear. (On that in-text link note, my own posts will remain links. Anything else is unthinkable.)

All this may make the blog look pretentious. It may mean that on the surface it looks to newcomers to be the work of a scholar in a book-lined room who knows what she’s about rather than the reality of a girl who over thinks literature and is unfortunately aided by the existence of Google, but that will hopefully just be a minor downside. Footnote: I have found evidence of people quoting my posts in essays and hope they research what I’ve written to check it works!

The question you fully expect: do you or have you used referencing in a non-university (and so forth) manner and how did it go?

 
A Day At Beaulieu, New Forest

A photograph of Beaulieu Palace House

Please note: the lens I took with me this visit turned out to be entirely the wrong one for the weather and light in the house so I have supplemented them with photos from a previous trip in June 2013. The arrangement of furniture in the house has changed since that day but the gardens are much the same.

Last Sunday morning and early afternoon I spent at Beaulieu (‘byu-lee’) in the New Forest. It was to my knowledge the hottest day of the year so far here, the temperature reaching 29 degrees Celsius at some points.

A photograph of the Abbey's arch

Beaulieu is an estate that offers a lot to do and it’s always packed with visitors. It’s best known for its National Motor Museum which was created by the 3rd baron Montagu of Beaulieu in 1952, whose statue stands outside the entrance to the museum building. The Montagu family still own the estate, living at Palace House, the historic home on the edge of the estate, by the river. It was originally built in the 1200s as the gatehouse of the abbey, and following Henry VIII’s dissolution of the monasteries the estate was purchased by Thomas Wriothesley – whose portrait is in the house – then passed down through the Montagu family.The house is partly open to visitors; not surprisingly, it’s my favourite element of the place. (And currently, there is a garden set piece dedicated to Alice Liddell, the supposed inspiration for Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland, who visited Beaulieu as an adult. Image at the bottom of this post.)

A photograph of the Abbey

Beaulieu Abbey is medieval, founded in the early 1200s by King John. It was the residence of a fair few Cistercian monks and nowadays it’s rather haunted. You can view part of the inside but the upper floor is solely for event hire. (In recent years I attended a reception there; the hall is dark as expected but worth seeing if you get the chance – all beams and rafters.) You can also walk along the foundations of the abbey church, outside.) The surviving rectory serves as the parish church.

A photograph of the monorail

Apart from the attractions I’ve already noted, Beaulieu has an elevated monorail that takes you from near the entrance of the estate, through the eves of the Motor Museum and up to the Abbey. A kitchen garden is accessible. And the restaurant features a lot of choices – on this day I favoured the slushies, which were invariably crowned best item on the menu.

A photograph of some of the Jaguars

And on this day about a hundred Jaguars were parked up by the main thoroughfare, an added attraction. (The Motor Museum contains many old vehicles – early and record breaking cars, cars from films and television. The Weasley’s Ford Anglia from The Chamber of Secrets resides there as does Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. There’s also a tent dedicated to Top Gear experiments.)

A photograph of the dining room

But back to the house; it’s lovely to walk around and this visit I noticed more rooms were open to the public than in years gone by; not that there were ever few rooms – for a house still lived in the access is very generous. You are welcome to take photographs, invited to in fact. The welcome in general is super; Beaulieu staff are on hand to tell you about the rooms or give you a tour, and there are lots of information boards sporting text from the Montagu family themselves. You never have to wonder who features in a painting and whilst areas are naturally cordoned off it doesn’t feel at all restrictive.

A photograph of the staircase

As I walked up the grand stairs, a member of staff asked if I had a similar staircase at home – I kind of understood where he was coming from because I did nip up there quickly – I told him I’d been to many historic houses. After a number of different staircase designs you’re prepared for anything.

The rest of my photos

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How Much Do You Remember Of Books You Read Years Ago?

A photograph of two books I can barely remember - Celia Rees' Sovay and Kate Morton's The House At Riverton

(I’m considering 8 years or more to be ‘years ago’, as it matches my blog’s age and is only one year off the time I’ve been reading avidly.)

This is a topic that’s been on my mind a lot lately. I’ve been thinking about how my knowledge of the books I’ve read fails at times, then felt glad that I’ve made notes and written reviews… but there are a lot of books I haven’t made notes of, and quite a number are those I’ve read since I started blogging.

It’s bad enough when you can’t remember a book you read a year ago. I’m trying to create a list of conversation points for a book but struggled after two – and it’s a book I know I loved. I can even remember the general concept and sentiment behind it, a lot of the plot too (granted, it wasn’t a long book) but I know there was a lot more to it than that.

Even with notes, it can be a struggle to remember. The problem with some notes is that because you’re making them at the time of reading, despite the fact you know that you have to be careful with details because out of context what you’re writing down might not make sense, there will still always be notes that don’t work long term, where the best will in the world couldn’t help you ‘translate’ them later.

I find that once I’ve read a book twice, remembering is pretty easy. I won’t have an exact grasp of all the content but I’ll be able to speak about it in perpetuity, whether further studies are conducted or not. Writing more than one post can help me remember a book I’ve read once but it’s never as useful in this sense as a re-read. I’m not much of a re-reader generally but I’m definitely a re-reader in terms of realising I can’t remember a book, finding that troublesome, and doing something about it. (These will be books of which I remember having a particulary emotional reaction or studious interest. Some books I can’t remember and I’ve no plans to change the situation.)

I had a favourite book for a long time which was replaced in my affections when I was a bit older and found better books. I can tell you I liked the magic and the reversal of power in the otherwise factually-based society, and I can tell you that I’ve since read others’ opinions on it and came to call into question a section that I hadn’t noticed was problematic at the time because I was too young to understand it. I can tell you there was a princess, a warrior woman, a person who had a disability, and a few other people. But I can’t tell you the story, and I haven’t a clue who the other people were. (That was The Secrets Of The Jin-Shei which I will re-read at some point.)

On the other hand, I could talk about Northern Lights – read twice – for ages; I found the idea of reviewing it too daunting but I’ve written about the trilogy before.

I opened my reading database for 2009, the year before I started blogging, wherein most of the books I read did not receive a belated review. Of the 27 on the list, I could talk about 7 of them with confidence, however this number includes Stephenie Meyer’s first book which would be difficult to forget given the popularity and general talk, two are factual history books on subjects I know well in general, one is historical fiction which didn’t differ from the fact too much (thus I can remember where it did), one is a memoir of someone with a highly unique story, one I’ve gone back to many times since, and the last is The Hobbit. A few I could give a vague summary for – time period, location, how I felt about it, and the rest I really couldn’t say. And that’s scary.

Some years ago I wrote about the ‘production line’ I saw in my blogging and how it affected my reading. It was different to this post today – I hadn’t been reading avidly for long enough to truly forget at that point – but going back to it I’m reminded of my thoughts of being engaged in a text. It goes hand in hand with what I said above about note taking and writing other posts – I’m engaging in my reading even more now than I was in 2013, but that forgetfulness still lingers. I expect the way we naturally change over time also plays a part.

(As I’ve mentioned 2013, I thought I’d open my database for that year as well – 76 books, 24 I remember the general summary for.)

Interestingly, I don’t think that reading less would affect this forgetfulness. It’s all about the progression of time and the fact that unless you revise, you’re going to have trouble remembering the more time moves on. The more you read the more likely you are to come across books that say similar things or have characters that remind you of others and so on that will cause you to confuse texts.

Apart from re-reading or writing enough notes that you might as well transcribe the entire book, there’s no way around the problem. Perhaps as some say the information gets stored in our heads somewhere but if that’s so, science hasn’t yet reached the point where we can get that information back without re-reading. As much as a reading experience can last, it definitely has a use by date and unlike a shop shelf where you can look for food items with longer dates on them, there’s no saying what a book will be like.

How much do you remember? (Your own ‘years ago’ may vary – I’d like your thoughts on that, too!)

 

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