A lovely quotation, and a few other things …

“Books are nourishment to me in a way that visual media, the Internet and I dare say e-book text can never really be. They carry more than words in their pages. They carry smell and memory; they live in their shapes and heft.”

From Helen Simonson’s wonderful essay Books are more than just text.

Please go and read it!

And I must thank Claire at The Captive Reader for the link.

Now to the other things. The picture of books from some of my favourite smaller presses is significant!

You many have spotted two Persephone Books – Making Conversation by Christine Longford and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson. I’ll be giving both away during the upcoming Persephone Reading Week.

And I’m hoping to read the others before too long. Two have definite slots:

One Thousand and One Ghosts by Alexandre Dumas comes from the Hesperus Press, and it’s lined up for the Classics Circuit celebration of Paris in springtime. 

The Child by Jules Vallés lined up for the Spotlight Series celebration of NYRB Classics.

That’s three wonderful events that you really must not miss this May!

Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand by Helen Simonson

Major Pettigrew arrived in Cornwall a few weeks ago, and we’ve been slowly getting acquainted. Well, his is the sort of story that suits being taken at a gentle pace, with lots of time to contemplate.

Born in India, but now retired to the picturesque English village of Edgcumbe St Mary, he was adjusting to life as a widower. Pottering around the house and garden, maintaining his traditional customs – like a properly made cup of tea and the words of Kipling. He wasn’t a man to show, or even acknowledge his emotions, but he was a man who would always try to do the right thing. 

His brother’s sudden death threw him off-balance. And it was just after he received that news that Mrs Ali, proprietor of the village shop, arrived on his doorstep. An intelligent and compassionate woman, she had lost a beloved spouse not so long ago too, and was just the person to understand Major Pettigrew’s distress and help to steady him.

Major Pettigrew discovered that Mrs Ali loved Kipling and poetry too, and a friendship developed that would grow into something rather more.

They made a lovely couple, and it would be a delight to meet and talk with either or both. And their story is lovely, old-fashioned, and very well told.

But of course there were complications. Both families made demands, and many of the villagers while trying to demonstrate just how multi-cultural they were actually demonstrated that they were nothing of the sort.

None of the sub plots were wrong, indeed there were some lovely moments, some wonderful set pieces, and some thought-provoking points were made. They did enrich the story. Major Pettigrew’s ambitious son and Mrs Ali’s devout nephew provided a particularly well drawn study in contrasts. And some storylines were cleverly set up to look as if they were going to go one way, when in fact they were going to go somewhere quite different but entirely right. 

Yes, many thing were done very well, but unfortunately some wrong notes were hit and some things were taken a little too far, when they needed the wonderful subtlety of the main storyline.

A strong picture of a village community was clearly painted, but some of the details were just not right. And that was infuriating, because it did distract attention from the very many things that were done perfectly.

I am still very happy though that I met Major Pettigrew and Mrs Ali. Two wonderful characters, whose stories have a great deal to say about love, life, family, community and values.

And that made this book well worth reading.

I am reading ….. lots of books!

Tidying up yesterday, I was a litle more thorough than usual. And I put all of the books that I was reading in one pile. I was started to find that there were nine of them. Maybe a little excessive, but I need a choice. Some books have to be read slowly, with intervals between chapters to ponder. And I need to be able to pick up the right book for the right mood – or the right degree of concentration.

Here’s just a little about each of the nine:

I’m reading Georgette Heyer for the Classics Circuit. I had intended to read a regency novel, but I found a selection of her crime books on offer (3 for £5!) and they called me much louder. I picked No Wind of Blame to read first and I am loving it. A wonderful golden age mystery. And I’ll be posting about it on Thursday.

I have only just discovered Salley Vickers and I am smitten. Isn’t it lovely to find a new author with a backlist to explore?! Mr Golightly’s Holiday is both charming and clever, and definitely a book to be read slowly and savoured.

The first six Bloomsbury Group novels have been on my shelf for a while now. Even though I own two of them in Virago editions. I try not to be a completist, but sometimes I just can’t help it. I kept meaning to pick one up, but I couldn’t decide, and they were all books that I felt had to be read at just the right moment. But this week, after seeing a copy of Miss Hargreaves by Frank Baker in the library I just had to pull out my copy and start reading. I am pleased to be able to confirm that this book is a gem!

Let The Northern Lights Erase Your Name by Vendela Vida caught my eye in the library on Saturday. The concept and the opening were so engaging that I brought it home and started to read straight away. I’ll finish it tonight and so I’ll save my thoughts for tomorrow.

The Old Curiosity Shop is this years Dickens. I’m progressing slowly and steadily, which I find to be the best way to read Dickens.

The Virago Modern Classics group on Good Reads has been reading Elizabeth Taylor in February. I picked up A Game of Hide and Seek and I am loving it, but I think it’s more of a summer book and so I am going to put it on hold for a while. And March is Rosamond Lehmann month, so I have picked up The Weather in the Streets instead.

Daphne Du Maurier writes warmly of Love In The Sun by her friend Leo Walmesley. A few chapters in I can see why. A semi autobiographical story of a young couple who set up home together in Cornwall, it is simple, honest, and quite lovely. I suspect that I will be campaigning for it to be reissued very soon!

A Grain of Sand by Erma Harvey Jones is a memoir of growing up in Cornwall between the wars. I hadn’t intended to bring it home just yet, but when I read the first page I just had to. It captures both the magic and the reality of Cornwall just perfectly.

Helen Simonson’s debut novel Major Pettigrew’s Last Stand arrived from Bloomsbury a few weeks ago. It’s a lovely book, another to be read slowly and savoured, but I’m nearly done. And I shall miss the Major when he goes.

And that’s it. Each a great book in it’s own way.

So now tell me, how many books are you reading? Do you like to have a choice on hand, or do you prefer to focus on one book at a time?