Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

Reading Life: 29th May 2020

A macro photograph of the side of a blossom

How are you all? I’m officially bored of not being able to leave home but the sun, whilst reminding me of days out, is also helping. I went through a few weeks of taking photographs of various everything things before running out of interesting subjects – the birds have past their courtship phases; the flowers were spring flowers; the rabbits are a bit sick of their human taking photos of them being cute for the 123456th time of the day, particularly as it doesn’t tend to result in treats. I’m looking at finding a metaphorical angle for books and playing around with different settings.

I’ve still a number of books on the go but I’m making headway; I’ve been adding books, so technically, the over all number is same, but the titles have changed. I’m also adding bookish films to both my ‘watch’ and ‘watched’ lists. I loved the 2019 Little Women to distraction, and enjoyed Booksmart and this year’s Emma.

My current priority is Chibundu Onuzo’s Welcome To Lagos, which I’d been wanting to read for a while. It’s an interesting one – a book that seems too simple until you scratch the surface, after which it seems almost too clever. It’s definitely different but I’m enjoying it a lot.

Before that I read Isla Morley’s Come Sunday in preparation for our podcast recording. The initial idea was to focus on her newest book but we increased the scope and I’m glad we did; Come Sunday is one of the best books I’ve read in a while. I think I like it even more than her latest… (Having just reviewed it I won’t go into detail on The Last Blue here.)

Diana Evans’ Ordinary People is still on the go. The title is proving to be correct, but this shows how stories are everywhere.

On the subject of re-reads, Terri Fleming’s Perception has made me want to catalog my books properly. I already keep a basic list of physical books in order to track how many I’ve read (this ranges between 68-70%, a number that understandably changes little due to new arrivals). I also note where I got the book from. Now I’m thinking more info on the ‘where’, including, where possible, ‘when’. I’m thinking genres, ISBNs, format, new or second-hand… it’s ridiculous how exciting organising book collections can be.

I should add that there’s been an additional ‘push’ to expand my cataloguing. Whilst researching Jane Austen I fell down a rabbit hole – a necessary phrase given last weeks’ post – and discovered a project that is cataloguing the contents of the library at the old Godmersham Park estate, a library Austen visited when staying with her family. The website for it, Reading With Austen, is absolutely fascinating: the team have made it graphical so you can digitally peruse the shelves; they’ve gone to great lengths to identify all the books and their placements.

It was perhaps inevitable that my various research projects and reading would lead me to note other past authors. I’ve downloaded Lady Sydney Morgan’s The Wild Irish Girl, which was popular in its day but largely forgotten now. The prolific author had a number of books published but it’ll probably be a while before they’re all available. (Despite the recent uptick in interest in Charlotte Smith and Charlotte Lennox, these authors works are still difficult to find. On Sarah Burney – yes, the sister of – I’m currently considering scans of the original editions.)

I’ve got a post on the aforementioned Alcott adaptation to write and a few books to choose from next. I have finished a good number of books this month, six – a breakthrough – and want to see if I can squeeze in one more in addition to the Onuzo before June.

Do tell me what you’re currently reading or, if you’re struggling to read at the moment, what you look forward to reading when you can. Also, if you have any favourite book-related podcasts that are currently active, do mention them in the comments. (I’m following Smart Podcast Trashy Books, Charlotte Readers, and the two Jennys’ Reading the End.)

 
Reading Life: 20th April 2020

A photograph of a trellis in Hever Castle's gardens

I have talked previously about being able to have two books on the go, and every now and then I’ll have three, which includes an ebook. With the Coronavirus causing concentration issues, I found taking on extra books to be helpful. And whilst I’ve gained more focus, I’ve still those books on the go, and I’m adding more. Although it’s not particularly sensible in terms of getting anything finished, starting a new book when I fancy has helped keep my spirits up.

I currently have… (seven)… books on the go. It’s a variety, which has been key, and I do have a small raison d’etre for each of them beyond the ‘want’.

Book cover

Lillian Li: Number One Chinese Restaurant. I’ve been trying to get into this one for a while, so it is the book on this list I’m likely to finish last. I’m hoping the familial connections are better explained as the book moves on, because keeping track of who is family as opposed to friend or business associate is difficult, however I recognise that that confusion may be part of Li’s point, with the restaurant’s future and effective spin-offs centre stage.

Book cover

Oliver Goldsmith: The Vicar Of Wakefield. A book that was wildly popular in its day (1766), this one is pretty funny, though at the moment the humour is all in the travel; a previously well-off family have to move elsewhere when they lose their money. The language is easy, it’s simply that I made the mistake of starting it when the news turned grim and so I haven’t followed the narrative as closely as I normally do – I may well restart it.

Book cover

Caroline Lea: The Glass Woman. Lea’s book is incredibly different to her first; whereas When The Sky Fell Apart, was a devastating story of fictional residents of Jersey during the Nazi occupation, The Glass Woman is set in Iceland in the 1600s. The use of history is good; it’s very much character-driven and has few of them so it’s easy to keep a hold of even whilst there is lots of story detail. The social details are abundant. There’s a long-term woman in the attic atmosphere to the book; I’ve since gone past that part and as you’d expect, there’s a difference, but regardless the atmosphere of the Brontë novel remains and it’s incredibly interesting; 1600s Iceland is pretty different to 1800s Yorkshire but there are interesting similarities between her story of an isolated married woman (which, considering her first book, could well be based on facts) and the governess on a deserted moor.

Book cover

Michael Wolff: Fire And Fury. In any other time the following would make no sense: I’m reading this for the escape. Given the presidential events of the past week, I should add that I started the book a couple of weeks ago; after finishing Dan Richards’ Outpost, and having thoughts of non-fiction at this time due to my spring-summer non-fiction reading last year, I picked it up. It’s to be a purposely slower read.

Book cover

Shannon Stacey: Yours To Keep. My reasoning for this one is the good weather. It’s an enjoyable contemporary romance set in Maine and steeped in family that I first read some years ago. It’s my read for when the sun is out. I’m speeding through.

Book cover

James Rebanks: The Shepherd’s Life. Bedtime reading was going well until I forgot to choose another book to follow my previous; I remembered. I’ve had Rebanks’ book sitting on my desk for a couple of years; it’s actually my Dad’s copy that I bought for him, he read it, then lent it to me. Dad said I’d like Rebanks’ book. Reviews and the general raving a few years ago said I’d like the book. I like the book. I’ve only just started but the introduction is great in itself, detailing a day at school when Rebanks was a child; a teacher waxed lyrical about the Lake District in romantic, tourist-like terms, which the pupils – born and raised there – cannot yet relate to.

Book cover

Diana Evans: Ordinary People. Another ‘sun’ read. It’s different enough to all the others, and it’s very good – a promising beginning and a lovely, somewhat relaxed, literary style. I’d been interested in Evans’ work since last year’s Rathbones Folio Prize; I’m happy to have gone for it.

As I’m speeding through the Stacey re-read and am mostly through the Lea (68% – ebook) I should at least have some content for a round up at the end of this month. I highly recommend breaking at this time previously-imposed reading rules.

Are you reading differently at the moment?

 
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?

 

Older Entries