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Reading Life: 11th April 2018

A photograph of a stalked flower bed at Hever Castle

I’m preparing for my next Southampton event; having been to Cobbett Road Library – the one recently used for the Cheryl Butler talk I covered last month – and knowing now a fair bit about it, it seemed the right venue in which to go ahead. I’ve arranged for Claire Fuller to join us in May and whilst there won’t be a video recording to share, we will have photographs and I’m hoping I can get some notes down. I’m catching up on Fuller’s work and loving it; in Our Endless Numbered Days, which is about a young girl whose father takes her to a remote location to live for years in secret on the pretense that the world outside is gone, the writing is such that there’s a fantastical element to it; the shock isn’t contained by it, but the book is unique for it, almost at times evoking a children’s adventure story and very unlike other stories of the same type for it.

When you finish a book on a Kobo, you are taken back to the home screen where a selection of your newly-added books are shown, and if you turn off the device following this, the screen will often default to a picture of a book you’ve started sometime previously, whether one you’ve actively started to read or just taken a peak at. Prior to finishing Emmeline a few days ago, I’d had thoughts of beginning Aphra Behn’s work, but when the Kobo showed Charlotte Lennox’s The Female Quixote I decided that maybe my plan wasn’t the best thing at that moment and decided to take the Kobo’s mechanical suggestion to continue reading works from the 1700s, particularly because it also meant continuing Project Charlotte – Lennox is number 4 of 5.

A picture of Charlotte Lennox

There is just one problem and I’m not sure yet what to do – it is entirely a parody of the Spanish book, where I had thought perhaps there would be a few references, and as such I wonder whether I ought to read Cervantes first. In another situation I might simply put the later book aside and read the first for context, but I remember the bookmark that remained stuck around 2/3s of the way through my father’s copy of Don Quixote for years and I know how big a book it is and… that’s one heck of a commitment to make. (I expect the bookmark is still there, but recently Dad culled his shelves of a lot of super classics and books that brought back fond memories and I’ve found it hard to look.)

I hope that simply by knowing the basics of the original – loss of sanity, chivalry, shooting at windmills… the 1980s Nik Kershaw song… this is the sort of book that might stand alone.

Aside from this, I’ve been reading about Lennox’s life. Well connected but yet incredibly unknown otherwise, she was friends with Samuel Johnson and Samuel Richardson, and likely knew, through the former, Frances Burney and other – now less well-known – female writers such as Elizabeth Carter and Hannah More, but her books were published without credit and she made little money, relying on money from the Royal Literary Fund after separating from her husband. The Female Quixote was fairly popular, and she created the first comparative study of Shakespeare’s work, but despite the fact information on her seems to eclipse that of the other female writers I’ve mentioned above (barring Burney), she’s very obscure today.

Away from literature, the defining moment of the last few weeks came last Friday when the England Ladies’ Football arrived in Southampton to play their World Cup qualifier against Wales. It was quite surreal – I’ve seen them play once before but having them in Southampton was incredible and the stadium was pretty packed. It was a 0-0 match that was surprisingly good to watch because England had 22 shots at the goal; the ball rarely passed over the halfway line. They are currently 2nd in the world.

Today’s question must be bookish:

How do you deal with reading around the subject and reading source material – do you cover the originals first?

Reading Life: 12th February 2018

A photograph of flowers

I’m reading three books at the moment and they are all superbly written which is rather wonderful. Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie’s Americanah, Jessie Greengrass’ Sight, and Edith Wharton’s The Age Of Innocence.

I’ve been surprised by the Wharton. I knew it would be good because I’ve heard as such before, but the slight humour and spot on commentary was a great discovery. I’m taking it slowly; with the handful of different characters and all the information proffered upfront there’s a fair amount to remember, particularly as I started the book during a lazy afternoon. I’m using my Kobo, which is almost a novelty; I put it away a while ago when I decided to concentrate on physical books (I’ve tried, but I can’t read ebooks one after the other), and found it when clearing up.

Having read the first several chapters I found myself wanting to read up about Wharton herself and spent a few hours doing so. Hers was an interesting life; she was part of the high society she wrote about and travelled extensively. When the war reached France she decided to remain there and help rather than return to America. The house in Massachusetts, that she designed, is now open to the public and in a manner that I recently found at Avebury Manor – you can sit on the furniture and interact with objects and so forth.

Americanah is less of a priority simply due to the length. I’ve a need for shorter books at the moment but don’t want to stop reading it entirely. I’m glad for my reluctance to make notes in books because if I wasn’t reluctant most of what I’ve read so far – a few chapters – would have been scribbled over.

When my Dad told me a few weeks ago that he was planning to watch Wild that evening, I remembered I hadn’t yet seen it. I bought and read Strayed’s memoir before the film’s release so that I could watch it in context but while I did read the book I forgot the second part of the plan. So I sat down to watch the film myself and got about 20 minutes in before calling it a day. It was the inner monologue that did it for me. I’ll try again at some point but I’m not sure I’ll get through it. I liked the book enough – it wasn’t great but it was far from bad – but the film’s execution of it could perhaps be better.

In non-book news I’m still knitting avidly, and finding it to be a good companion hobby to reading. I can’t listen to music when reading, for example, but I can when I’m knitting. I’m finding irony in the fact that knitting doesn’t feel anywhere near as productive as reading but there’s a lot of satisfaction in a finished piece. I’ve completed the jumper I was making for my nephew – with help at the end as trying to sew it all together was making me want to abandon it – and started something in a thicker yarn so that it’d be quicker to knit. I definitely prefer having finished to being in the midst of making.

What are you reading and, if you’ve seen Wild, what did you think of it (whether in context with the book or not)?

Reading Life: 24th November 2017

A promotional photograph for the 1953 film Roman Holiday

Reading has slowed down a bit as the preparations for Christmas have started but over all I’ve been reading quite a lot. I haven’t yet started the Young Writer books I took home from the event but once I’ve finished the book I’m currently reading it’ll be all systems go. Despite the looming award announcement date and the fact that before then there are a few things to be done, not least getting the decorations ready, I hope to have read a good amount of them, with ‘amount’ being the word rather than ‘number’ – I may well read a couple in tandem.

I also have Tony Peake’s North Facing still to read. I’m a bit late on the review for that one but I’m planning it for December.

At the moment I’m concentrating of J Courtney Sullivan’s The Engagements; a good book if a bit too descriptive – lots of extraneous back story which explains why the book is over 500 pages. I have been wanting to read the author’s début, Maine, since its release date a few years ago but it’s proved difficult to find; the one and only time I found a copy it was very battered and whilst I did want to read it I didn’t want to pay full price. I liken the situation to that of Maile Meloy – they are likely different subjects and stories but the covers, at least in the US, are similar and both authors’ works are ridiculously difficult to find in Britain a month or so after publication. I do reckon I would prefer Maine but the one I’m reading is a fair enough substitute.

I’m holding off on the new Pasi Ilmari Jääskeläinen translation (Secret Passages In A Hillside Town) because a few pages in I recognised it as prime ‘certain mood/situation’ material. I very much want to read it and the few pages I read suggested it’ll be just as good as The Rabbit Back Literature Society but I want to be giving it all my attention.

I decided to start Mrs Dalloway but found it quite confusing; I’m not sure whether it’s a case of it being the wrong time or whether it needs longer or it’s just something that won’t work for me but as I was already reading it earlier than planned I’ve put it back on the December reading list. I was having trouble working out the time period and Clarissa’s age – had to resort to Wikipedia – and I knew carrying on at that point might make me uninterested. Perhaps it’s just not the right Woolf for me to be starting with.

Talking of a few pages, I’ve a mind to start ‘letting’ myself browse before committing to a read. I’ve always thought – at least in terms of my own reading – that reading a few pages to decide what to read next is unproductive, but I know it will help me to read the right book at the right time.

Something I can’t not talk about that isn’t book related – a couple of days ago I saw Roman Holiday for the first time. I’m going through an Audrey Hepburn film phase rather like my Marilyn Monroe phase a few years ago, and have got a box set of films. Well, I absolutely loved it and found it to be one of those media items that’s in a league of its own, akin to that idea that a book can be absolutely stellar but then there’s a category beyond that for which there are no words. I liked that the plot wasn’t bog standard and deviated a bit from the stereotypical royal-gets-away-and-or-meets-a-member-of-the-public theme and the ending was incredibly clever. Next up is a re-watch of Breakfast At Tiffanys; can’t wait, though in literal terms I’ll have to.

A question about Mrs Dalloway, then:

Does the story come into its own pretty quickly, and did you find yourself confused in the way I did? (If you can answer without spoilers, that’d be great.)

Reading Life: 18th September 2017

A photograph the Breacon Beacons, taken from a few metres from the edge of a mountain

Firstly, thank you all for your messages about Tabby. I’m not able to respond individually at the moment but I did read them all. Thank you.

My reading life has been different lately; I’m still figuring out reading times in regards to my job – I’ve been doing some content marketing for the SO: To Speak festival of Southampton and it’s been a lot of fun, finding out connections between Jane Austen and the city, and Southampton composers and Charles Dickens.

I am a bit behind on my reviews so I’ll be scaling back during November and December. The biggest thing will be reading for my event with A J Waines. Waines is a psychological thriller writer with two interesting stories. One is fair – she is a hybrid author, self-published in Britain and traditionally published in Europe. The second is pretty awesome – in 2013 she published a book called Girl On A Train. You can probably guess the rest – two years later sales of her book increased and, a fact we’re using verbatim in the promotional material, The Wall Street Journal said that she started getting lots of reviews saying it wasn’t what people expected.

Many readers have said they liked it a lot more than the other one.

I’ve retitled the event this time; instead of ‘in conversation with’, we’re calling the evening The Original Girl On A Train, neatly sidestepping any issues over using Hawkins’ title but being obvious about what we’re talking about. I’m looking forward to it, it’s in conjunction with the festival so there’s more support and advertising opportunities.

But, and admittedly more to the point in the context of these posts, Waines’ has quite a backlist, so I’ve lots of reading ahead of me.

In terms of other titles, I’m in the midst of Nicholas Royle’s Ornithology, a short story collection based around the theme of birds that has similarities to other books – Max Porter’s Grief Is The Thing With Feathers, for one. More importantly, in terms of similarities, you may remember a few months ago I reviewed An English Guide To Birdwatching by Nicholas Royle. Excellent book – only it wasn’t written by the Nicholas Royle whose short story collection I’m reading now. However, An English Guide To Birdwatching references the short story collection – I believe it is in part why the title of the novel includes birds. The two authors met a few years ago – they didn’t know about each other until they both submitted work to the same literary magazine and the editor of that magazine sent the replies to both stories to a solo Nicholas.

It’s confusing, yes. But having first read In Camera (‘Salt’ Nicholas, as I’ll likely refer to him from now on – he works at Salt Publishing), and then Birdwatching, reading Ornithology is a particular experience I’d never have had in another situation. It’s this weird situation wherein there’s added context to the book that in a way shouldn’t be there.

I’ll stop there.

Moving on, I’ve just finished Fanny Blake’s Our Summer Together – a contemporary romance about a 60-something British women who has a relationship with a younger Bosnian immigrant. Not bad, just a bit repetitive and with two highly different characters. I’m a fair way through Lesley Glaister’s The Squeeze – a difficult read but well written. Next up is Chitra Ramaswathy’s Expecting – a memoir that’s up for the Polari Prize – and after that I may read a bit of Dorthe Nors. I’m going for shorter books at the moment.

I’m considering making a start on Virginia Woolf’s oeuvre before Christmas but we’ll see – previously I didn’t know much about her and so was surprised not to find her books on Project Gutenberg. I now know a lot more, including the new fact that I want to go and visit Monk’s House, and so will work on the idea that if I get all the reading that needs to be done before Christmas… done… I’ll go purchase Orlando.

What are you reading at the moment, what did you read previously, and what will you read next?

Reading Life: 7th August 2017

A photograph of the church section of Netley Abbey

I’ve been struggling with overwhelm recently. I received a lot of books for purposes other than review that I hadn’t expected; I’m making progress but together with other happenings it’s been difficult. I’m making an effort to clean up my list of currently reading books, finishing those I’m nearing the end of and making a decision on those I’d not got too far through that have been languishing on the list for months. A Brief History Of Seven Killings is off for now; I only got about 50 pages in and the amount left… I know it’d just languish longer. Twelve Years A Slave has been removed because I think by removing it I might actually get back to it; I was enjoying it a lot (as much as it can be enjoyed; as a historical document). There is definitely something to be said for not having a number of books currently on the go. I think three’s the limit for me – any more and it doesn’t feel as though I’m making any progress. It’s also, I’m starting to realise, a reading slump creator.

I finished Erskine’s Sleeper’s Castle last week. As it continued it seemed to me that it’s two stories put together, a plot thread of time slip and a plot thread heading in the direction of Gone Girl; both threads petered out in the end. I may give Lady Of Hay a go but it isn’t something I’m going to prioritise at the moment.

The past couple of weeks I’ve been making a big effort to read in the tiny moments available; I’m trying out the idea of reading in queues, when waiting for people to be ready to leave, that sort of thing. At the moment it’s an ebook I’m carrying via a tablet so there has been some start up time factored into it, but I’ve read a fair number of pages this way, particularly when considering my slow reading speed. Whether I’m actively retaining the information, in terms of whether the ‘quality’ of such reading will result in a fair opinion at the end of the book I’m not yet sure – I think in this case it will be fine because the book is an easy read.

I’m determined to have finished more currently-reading books by the end of this month for a better reflection of what or, rather, how much I’ve read, which is more than it seems at present. A reading list with many finished books means a clearer head for future reading.

What are you currently reading, and do you read in those spare moments?


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