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Reading Life: 24th January 2020

A macro photograph of the side of a blossom

Whilst I’m currently in the middle of writing a couple of further thoughts type posts, one in particular that I thought would take only an hour or so and then ballooned in the research department, I thought I’d have a think on what I’ve been reading so far this month, though not everything because that would make this post very long and I don’t want to descend into naval-gazing. As I said on Monday, it’s been a fair amount, and I hope to finish at least a couple more. It’s also been immensely satisfying.

I started the year by finishing a book I’d carried over, Sherry Thomas’ Delicious. This is different for me as I like the idea of that first book of the year, a brand new page. But I did find that finishing a book you’ve carried over feels the same as if it were new, which was a nice discovery – I know, it probably should have been obvious. This all said, whilst it was a carry-over, I was only a quarter of the way through it, and this was because I was finding it difficult. I’d read three of Thomas’ romances before, liking two a lot and disliking the other, so I knew it was possible I’d like this next one.

(I’ll say here that I’m specifying Thomas’ romances because whilst she is known as a historical romance writer, in recent years she’s written Young Adult fantasy which I want to read regardless of the general ratio I find in regards to my enjoyment of her romances – her use of language has always been stunning.)

I found Delicious difficult because it was confusing, at least to me – perhaps if I’d read it quicker, with fewer breaks for other books, I’d have been less confused, but the basics of the plot are that a woman has relationships with two brothers, and she feels she has to hide her face from the second years later because it had up to then been a one-night stand and awkward. She also seems at the start of the book to be some sort of ex-Lady, which was also confusing at that point.

Anyway, over all I liked it enough. Subjectively I suppose it was always going to be less successful for me because it’s about a cook and I can rarely get into fiction books where food is a big feature. But I’m glad to have finished it. I will try another of Thomas’ books at some point, I might just double-check the storyline.

I’ve read Table Manners and The Forgotten Sister as you know, and I read E C Fremantle’s The Poison Bed.

Then I have my bedtime read – the short story collection Reader, I Married Him – which is a concept I’ve essentially instigated because I’ve been having trouble sleeping; I suppose Christmas hasn’t quite worn off. I picked a book I’d had for a while in the hopes that I wouldn’t be too excited about it – when thinking about the recommendation of a bedtime routine to foster good sleeping habits, I have to pause at the advice to read as a way to calm down. It is great advice, unless you like to write notes, or review, blog, and so forth. How am I to relax and get ready to sleep if I’m needing to make notes in the book or, in my case, note down anything I should remember for a review? Reading is relaxing, but not as much as I expect the people who write these guidelines expect it to be. Needless to say it’s not working as I’d hoped – I hope that’s a not yet – but it is at least enjoyable; I like that I have a book I’m reading in the evenings followed by a change to another book. It’s an unintentional nicety but I reckon switching books during an evening helps keep away any burnout, and the effective procrastination I’ve found previously when trying to change books for whatever reason doesn’t happen when there’s a routine reason for the change.

I don’t think that’s what the original advisors were imagining when they came up with reading as an aid to sleep, but it’s been an interesting experience.

Reader, I Married Him is effectively what you would expect it to be – a collection based on Jane Eyre, and the sentence in all its emotions and meanings. Some stories are quite distant to the classic text, others very close to it; this is to say there’s a fair amount of variety in it. I’m enjoying it – some of the stories I’m not quite ‘getting’, I believe, but it’s fun. It’s also more lengthy than you might think when picking it up, the differing subjects perhaps adding to the length as you have to ‘reset’ your thoughts ready for a different location, time period, and author.

So it has been a good month so far – I hope I can add a few more books to it.

Completely off topic, Lit Hub has compiled a list of the many literary adaptations coming to screens this year and it is worth a check if you haven’t seen it already – there are tons and a variety of genres are included. I’m looking forward to David Copperfield with Dev Patel myself.

Do you read before bed?

 
Reading Life: 27th November 2019

A photograph of a field at Hever Castle with autumn colours on the trees

I’ve been reading almost every evening for the past few weeks. It’s been wonderful, both in general and in terms of adding to my list, but I’m currently taking a couple of days out, hoping to see off any burnout before it happens. I noticed yesterday the words just weren’t going in so I took myself off to a digital medieval world; I got fined for accidentally starting a fist fight with a city guard – the keyboard controls to fight and to talk are next to each other – but regardless it was a lot of fun. I plan one more evening of it and then it’s back to the books. I reckon two days away from reading should work – either way, it’ll be interesting to see if this amount of time (albeit that I’m still blogging about books during it) works to freshen up the reading and reset any tendency to burnout.

The book I completed most recently was the Riverton I reviewed on Monday. My current reads are Nancy Bilyeau’s The Blue and Sherry Thomas’ Delicious, both historicals but set a century apart and in different genres. They’re my fourth and third read by the two authors respectively. I’m about a quarter of the way through the Bilyeau and so far so good – it’s obviously very different to the author’s Tudor period books but the sense of evident research that pervaded those books is in The Blue as well, which is lovely. I’m about a fifth of the way through the Thomas, and it’s going okay – this is a longer-term read that I should technically have finished a while back, as I started it a couple of months ago.

On that note of books still to be finished, I started looking at mine last month and have divided them into two categories (they’re not quite lists, thankfully). There are some that I barely started and really should be removed if I’m to be honest about time limitations and how much I’m actually reading: Susanna Kearsley’s Season Of Storms (begun just after the New Year, and never returned to – wrong time); Elizabeth Chadwick’s The Love Knot (begun in earnest but never returned to as I already had two current reads at the time); and Philip Pullman’s The Secret Commonwealth which I struggled with upon beginning, got past that, but then faltered. Then there’s Lillian Li’s Number One Chinese Restaurant (started in September, still in mind, and just not managed to get back to properly yet), and the Sherry Thomas which as noted above is a current read again. Along with the Thomas, I’m going to see if I can complete the Li and the others I’ll probably remove from the list for now. I once carried over three ‘old’ reads from one year to another. It didn’t go well.

In book-related life, I’m looking to sort one of my shelves out. A couple of my bookcases are properly organised but I have another that I’ve just been adding newly acquired books to without standing them on the shelves – I’ve been piling them up instead, partly due to time but mostly because I’m aware it’s my last bookcase and at the moment I can pretend that the books not yet properly shelved don’t equate to one and a half shelves of properly placed books which would lead to only one and a half shelves remaining. This said, I really enjoy organising my shelves so there’s a tug of war going on between the part of me who doesn’t want to admit I’m running out of space and the part that wants it all looking nice and tidy and done.

There’s at least one book on my Christmas list this year, first time in a while. I’d probably better get on with it…

Have you (ever) run out of shelf space? What did you do? And what does the last month of this year look like for you in books?

 
Reading Life: 9th September 2019

A photograph of the view over London from Primrose Hill

At about 1/3 of the way through This Must Be The Place, I’m finding it a lot of work, mentally, but still enjoying it; it changed rapidly with the introduction of new subplots which O’Farrell is exploring concurrently and via various characters. A lot of it has to do with different periods of time and ‘clues’. Aside from the requirement to keep up, the book is satisfying in its complexity. The various voices are intriguing, with characters from different places; O’Farrell’s staying in tune with the dialects.

Conversations With Friends, begun very belatedly (it won the Young Writer of the Year Award in 2017), is going well. It’s not caught my interest quite as much as the O’Farrell simply because the plot is more simple and the book overall more usual, more of what I’ve read before. It’s also not due back at the library in a few weeks, like the O’Farrell. The conversation in it is definitely the best part, at least for now. The narrator is an interesting choice – the character who is the most open, most talkative when it comes to others, less likely to hide things, and more reliable simply due to the seeming honesty in her words and obviousness in her actions.

I’m in an accidental Irish author phase.

Somewhat in tandem with my trip to Virginia Woolf’s house last week, I’m going to be making my fourth attempt to read Mrs Dalloway. The book and Woolf’s life has been continually on my mind since last summer – I’d been wanting to visit Monk’s House for a year – and so I’ve decided there’s no time like the present. The catalyst for my actually going ahead is in fact my trip – a big reason why I struggled with the book is that I couldn’t work out how old Clarissa is meant to be; I thought she was middle-aged at least, but researching other reader’s opinions suggested she’s a lot younger. Well, whether it’s still one person’s opinion or one born of more extensive research I found the answer I needed in Leonard’s garage – the National Trust’s handwritten note of recommendation for Mrs Dalloway says she’s 52. Again, whether or not that’s right and whether or not I’ll find difficulties moving forward I don’t know but it’s enough to make a start. I’m taking having seen it there as a sign.

Have you read any books by Maggie O’Farrell or one of Sally Rooney’s two? What did you think of it/them?

 
Reading Life: 31st May 2019

A macro photograph of the side of a blossom

As I’d planned at the start of this month, I’ve put my reading time in May to use in finishing books, a couple of which were starting to languish on my list.

I’d been reading The Crossway for a few weeks, which isn’t a bad time for a book I’m not too sure about; it’s a good book, but there was a lot less about the pilgrimage itself than anything else – the ‘whys’ were covered, but most often the ‘hows’ were left out. The best aspect of the book as it is, to my mind, is the history, for which Stagg has done a lot of research to expand on the stories he heard and read about along the way.

Belinda, if you saw my review last week (my last post in fact; it’s been a hectic week) you’ll note was partly problematic due to my having read the wrong edition (or the right edition depending on the era of the reader, and therein lies the problem). I have a mind to find a copy published by Oxford World Classics, try to work out exactly what I missed, but at the same time I’m loathed to make it a priority; I’m expecting that it’d be a case of finding a few paragraphs – which would be easy enough – but then combing through the text for the rest.

Having finished these books, as well as the Dolly Alderton that was a quick read, I’m now making my way through Michelle Obama’s Becoming and Peirene Press’ upcoming You Would Have Missed Me, the English translation of a Birgit Vanderbeke, their second book by the award-winning German author.

I read the first chapters of Becoming for my post on the British Book Awards, and knew at that point, already, that it was going to be a good read. Now, on chapter five, I can say it most definitely is. The pages are flying by. It’s a very open book, and the information about the social history of Chicago, provided by way of the story of her childhood, is fascinating.

I’m 40 pages into the 122 page Vanderbeke and I’m on a roll with it; I’m planning to go back to it after publishing this post, and I’m aiming to finish it tonight. Having struggled with Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway I thought twice before starting – like the Woolf, Vanderbeke’s is written in a stream-of-consciousness manner – but it’s brilliant. The ‘stream’ here is used to return to previously discussed topics – it’s much like the way stand-up comedians loop back to their opening subjects during and at the end of their allotted time, just without the humour – and the voice, adult but in the context of the character as a child, and the themes, are fantastic. I’ll save the rest for the review.

There has been a lot less literary study or literature-inspired internet rabbit hole journeys this month; it’s been strange to write this post feeling something’s missing. I have been watching literary-related programmes however, most notably the BBC’s Gentleman Jack, which I’m loving almost as much as the first series of The Marvellous Mrs Maisel (though I know they are very different!) The acting is superb, the breaking of the fourth wall a lot of fun (I’ve assumed this is so that we can hear from the source material itself, unedited), and the general execution of the story as a screen adaptation just very compelling. Unfortunately Anne Lister’s diaries are not on Project Gutenberg – I checked, though I think it’s likely that due to them being rediscovered and decoded recently, ownership – Shibden Hall, probably – will continue for a while.

 
Reading Life: 8th March 2019 (This Is Long, And Long-Winded)

All the posts I haven’t made on this blog the past few months have here been somewhat accounted for by the length of this one. I’ve separated it into sections and fully expect you to only read some of it.

Book cover of L M Montgomery's The Blue Castle

For Starters

In my February round up, I said that for March I plan to read at least one more classic, having spent time with three in those short 28 days. Eight days in to March and I’ve completed one classic and am quarter of the way through another.

It took only the first day of March and my craving to return to Montgomery’s The Blue Castle – to both fulfill my want of a re-read and to carry on reading Montgomery without necessarily carrying on with Anne’s story – to realise that I need to read classics.

I’ve a number of contemporary books I’d like to read right now/soon, and will be reading Sofie Laguna’s The Choke as planned (published next month) but otherwise in terms of active attempts I’m opening contemporary books and getting nowhere with them. Perhaps it’s the way I’m having to juggle my mental energy at the moment, but classics, even lengthy ones, are appealing where newer books aren’t. There’s a peace to be found in older books that have continually ‘made it’ through the years – even if they’re dark or full of filler content, you know you’re going to find something in them that’s worthy of your time.

Right now I’m definitely conscious of that value.

So re-reading The Blue Castle and gaining more from it, which I’ll discuss in a moment, was fantastic, but the book in mind when I speak of value is my current read: Lady Chatterley’s Lover.

A photograph of D H Lawrence

Lawrence

I attempted a brief description on Twitter but character limit made it difficult: I’ve been wanting to read D H Lawrence since I was pretty young. My dad had a mundane-looking hardback of his stories that sat on the bookshelf beside a collection of Graham Greene’s. (When I was younger, adult books with mundane covers drew me more than any colourful, pictorial ones; I think it was some sort of thought as to the way in which reading them would mean you were very grown up.) I once asked someone else about the books and was told of the Lawrence that it was just smut. Of course this made me want to read it more – forget about the sex (or only possible sex, given the person who told me), this was definitely a grown up book.

Unfortunately the negative word still stuck in my mind, and my dad eventually sold his copy on to a secondhand bookshop (I actually went looking for it but he’d been to a number of shops and couldn’t remember which book had gone where). I have the Graham Greene.

I’ve since read up about Lawrence, prepared myself to do battle with that voice in my head and the fact that Lawrence’s work was banned – so at least in this case that opinion of ‘smut’ was correct – found a copy of the book that flustered the world’s feathers, and started reading it.

Lady Chatterley’s Lover is full of sex, and swearing. It was published 90 years ago and it’s still a bit shocking. But the thing that actually grates on me, is Lawrence’s deliberate use of repetition – he uses it when something about society annoys him, wanting to rant, and it’s a literary method that works, but ‘by jove!’ as his upper-class 1920s characters might say, he really didn’t need to keep on with it as much as he does.

Otherwise, there is value in Lawrence’s work. He writes from the female perspective which is often weird and unrealistic… and often relatable. He hits you over the head with his desires for England to stay traditional, not industrialised… and often achieves something that, whilst I don’t like the book myself, is rather as well-done as North And South.

I’m officially enjoying it, likely more than Lady Chatterley, though in a very different way. Lawrence lacks a certain closeness to his characters, and I don’t think I’ll necessarily want to read many, if any, of his other novels, but there’s plenty to appreciate. Of course this could well all change; there’s still the other 75% of the book to go.

A photograph of L M Montgomery

Montgomery

It was after having finished Anne Of Green Gables, and then Anne Of Avonlea, then I decided to re-read The Blue Castle; it had been 6 or so years in the making. It was a surprising experience: while I loved it as much, if not more, than I did the first time around, I hadn’t quite remembered the story correctly, nor had I remembered the amount of humour in it (I had thought there was a lot more humour to it than there was). This may have something to do with the particular experience I had, reading it a few years later, several years of life having happened in the meantime.

But most interesting was the way reading order affected what I took away from it. When I first read the book, it was my first experience of Montgomery’s work. Now, not only was I reading it with added context of her other work, I was reading it straight after those other works, back-to-back, with all the extra memory recall that provided.

And I found that Montgomery kept a number of themes going between the two stories (lumping the two Anne books together for a moment) which, if the difference in years has anything to do with it (Anne Of Green Gables and Anne Of Avonlea 1908 and 1909, The Blue Castle 1926) suggests a likely use of the themes in her work over all.

What I took away with me most was the use of daydreaming – Anne Shirley’s day dreaming that may well have been partly ADHD but is certainly both a young girl’s hopes and a way to get away from trauma, and Valancy’s day dreams as a way to get away from abuse and trauma. The characters both dream, and they dream for the same reasons. Perhaps the writer used dreaming herself – she is known to have suffered from depression in large part due to her unhappy marriage. (Wikipedia, link at the bottom, notes the long-thought – and recorded – death from coronary thrombosis that’s since been brought into question by the revelation from her granddaughter that she may have taken her own life.)

Perhaps this is partly why Anne, once in Anne Of Avonlea, dreams less – she now has stability. (‘Partly’ because I do think it has a lot to do with the idea of maturing.)

As well as this, through day dreams, Montgomery seems to suggest that so long as it doesn’t have a bad impact on reality, dreams should be had. She shows it’s a good thing and not just for children. She prefers fantastical dreams – princesses, castles. Valancy dreams a lot of this type – whilst an adult, she’s treated like a child by her family, and her Marble Halls-esque dreams echo both this child-like past and the desire to escape via the proverbial knight in shining armour.

Speaking Of Anne…

As I’ve said previously, I hadn’t planned on reading the Anne books; they were effectively on the very edges of my reading list, being books I might-maybe-possibly get to one day if there wasn’t another book to read. Recently, however, I’d seen publicity shots for the latest adaptation – Netflix’s – and it got my attention. I’m not planning to watch the adaptation, in fact if reports are anything to go by the 1985 Canadian production is the gold standard and the Netflix version, Anne With An E, whilst good, is informed by our present culture rather than the things that occur or are included in the book – menstruation, for example, would never have made the book.

Anyway, I read Anne Of Green Gables, moved straight on to Anne Of Avonlea, and loved it. I didn’t continue onto book three simply because I didn’t fancy having to write notes on the same characters, and no others, for the next few months. I’ll go back to it, likely some time in the near future.

Online References

Wikipedia (n.d.) Lucy Maud Montgomery, accessed 8th March 2019

 

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