The Story of Twenty One Books

That’s the sum of this month’s book shopping – it was an exceptionally good month.

This may be a long post, but I resolved to record all of my purchases this year.

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20150328_171336These were ‘library building’ purchases. I have a dozen or so authors whose books I am gradually collecting as and when affordable copies appear.

I knew that I wouldn’t be able to give back the library’s copy of The Flowering Thorn back until I had a copy to keep – that’s always the way with Margery Sharp – and I spotted a Fontana edition that was if not cheap then at least much less expensive than many. I do like Fontana paperbacks, but I have to say that in this instance the image and the tagline suggest that the artist and the writer haven’t read the books.

And the rather nondescript book that one is resting on is an first edition of ‘Return I Dare Not’ by Margaret Kennedy!

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The next round of shopping was not at my expense – because I won £50 of books from Harper Collins! At first I was overwhelmed by the choice, but when I saw Vintage on the list of imprints my path became clear.

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  • ‘A Long Time Ago’ filled another gap in my Margaret Kennedy collection.
  •  Remembering Darlene’s words of praise, I picked ‘Here Be Dragons’ to add to my Stella Gibbons collection
  •  ‘A Street Haunting and Other Essays’ by Virginia Woolf looked too lovely to resist
  •  Several people recommended ‘The Black Count’ by Tom Reiss after I fell in love with The Count of Monte Cristo’ so I took their advice.
  • And of course I was going to have a copy of Victoria Glendinning’s much lauded biography of Anthony Trollope!

I’d say that was £50 very well invested.

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Visits to two charity shops I hadn’t been into for a long time paid dividends.

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I remember my parents reading Nevil Shute and Howard Spring, I loved the books from their shelves that I read years ago, and so I was delighted to find two titles I didn’t know in lovely editions.

I saw ‘Death of an Avid Reader’ by Frances Brody in the library and though I liked the look of it I didn’t pick it up because I knew that I had copies of earlier books in the same series at home unread. But when I spotted a like new copy I had to bring it home.

I was always going to pounce on a book by Francis Brett Young that I didn’t have on my shelves. I love his writing. I hesitated over this one because it’s a history of England in verse, but in the end I decided that I didn’t pick this one up I might never see another copy and I might live to regret it. When I came home I remembered that I loved the extract I knew, and I knew that I had made the right decision.

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I picked up two more books when I dropped off several bags of books to another charity shop.

20150328_171629A lovely hardback edition of the collected stories of Jane Gardam that was only published last year for £2 was a wonderful bargain.

I don’t know much about R C Hutchison – and the dust jacket of this book doesn’t give much away – but I picked the book up because it was in condition and it clearly dated from one of my favourite eras. I found some 1950s leaflets from the reprints of society, that somebody must have used as bookmarks inside, adverting authors including Winifred Holtby, Somerset Maugham, Howard Spring and Margery Sharp. I too that as a sign that I should buy the book. When I got home and looked up Hutchinson I found that he had been reissued by Faber Finds and by Bloomsbury Reader, which has to be a good sign.

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And then there was the Oxfam Shop.

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I can only assume that someone with very similar taste to me had been clearing out, because among lots of books I already own I found:

  • Two more by Jane Gardam
  •  Two British Library Crime Classics I I hadn’t meant to start collecting but now I have four and I think maybe I am.
  • Childhood memoirs by Marcel Pagnol, whose books inspired two of my favourite films – ‘Jean de Florette’ and ‘Manon Du Source.’

I looked in again next time I was passing, just in case there were any more. There weren’t, but I found this.

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I know the library have copies, but it was such a nice set.

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Just one more – a brand new hardback that I just had to run out and buy – another  ‘library building’ purchase.

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“The winter of 1924: Edith Olivier, alone for the first time at the age of fifty-one, thought her life had come to an end. For Rex Whistler, a nineteen-year-old art student, life was just beginning. Together, they embarked on an intimate and unlikely friendship that would transform their lives. Gradually Edith’s world opened up and she became a writer. Her home, the Daye House, in a wooded corner of the Wilton estate, became a sanctuary for Whistler and the other brilliant and beautiful younger men of her circle: among them Siegfried Sassoon, Stephen Tennant, William Walton, John Betjeman, the Sitwells and Cecil Beaton – for whom she was ‘all the muses’.

Set against a backdrop of the madcap parties of the 1920s, the sophistication of the 1930s and the drama and austerity of the Second World War and with an extraordinary cast of friends and acquaintances, Anna Thomasson brings to life, for the first time, the fascinating, and curious, friendship of a bluestocking and a bright young thing.“

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I’ve stayed out of bookshops today, so that is definitely it for March.

It’s been a bit mad – some lovely review copies have landed too – but there won’t be many months like that.

Though we’ll be visiting one or two bookshops when we have a week’s holiday in Devon next month …..

Sixes

It was Jo’s idea last year, and we’re doing it again this year.

Celebrate the first six months of the reading year by putting six books into each of six categories.

It’s not quite as easy as it looks. I tweaked the categories last year to suit my reading style, and I’ve tweaked them a little more this year to make sure that the right books got in.

Here they are!

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Six Books that tugged at my heartstrings

The Night Rainbow by Claire King
The Lonely by Paul Gallico
A Perfect Gentle Knight by Kit Pearson
The Blue Castle by Lucy Maud Montgomery
The Young Clementina by D E Stevenson
Letters from Skye by Jessica Brockmole

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Six books illuminated by wonderful voices from the twentieth century

The Painted Veil by W. Somerset Maugham
The Fool Of The Family by Margaret Kennedy
A Pixy in Petticoats by John Trevena
Mariana by Monica Dickens
Excellent Women by Barbara Pym
The Slaves of Solitude by Patrick Hamilton

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Six books that took me to another time and place

Serving Victoria: Life in the Royal Household by Kate Hubbard
This January Tale by Bryher
The Love-Charm of Bombs by Lara Feigel
In Diamond Square by Mercè Rodoreda
The Pinecone by Jenny Uglow
A Commonplace Killing by Siân Busby

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Six books that introduced me to interesting new authors

Death of Lyndon Wilder and the Consequences Thereof by E.A. Dineley
The First Book Of Calamity Leek by Paula Lichtarowicz
Telling the Bees by Peggy Hesketh
The Sea Change by Joanna Rossiter
Chaplin and Company by Mave Fellowes
The View on the Way Down by Rebecca Wait

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Six books I must mention that don’t fit nicely into any category

The Chaperone by Laura Moriarty
Yew Hall by L.M. Boston
Orkney by Amy Sackville
A Five Year Sentence by Bernice Rubens
The Asylum by John Harwood
Perfect by Rachel Joyce

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Six Books I started in the first six months of the year and haven’t quite finished … yet …

The Palace of Curiosities by Rosie Garland
The House on the Cliff by Jon Godden
Elijah’s Mermaid by Essie Fox
The Criminal Conversation of Mrs Norton by Diane Atkinson
Warpaint by Alicia Foster
The Rich House by Stella Gibbons

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Do think about putting your own sixes – it’s a great way of perusing your reading, and I’d love to read more lists.

10% Report: Filling In The Gaps

It was a  wonderful idea: pick 100 books that you want to read, but somehow never get around to, and commit to reading at least 75% of them in five years.

It really shouldn’t have taken me more than two years to reach ten books, but it has. I’m too easily distracted by new books, new discoveries, library books …

And I have actually read thirteen books, but three of them I read when I was on a blogging break and I’m not going to count them until I pick them up again and write something about them.

But, for now, here are my first ten books:

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

Nightingale Wood is a fairytale says the cover, and yes it is. The story of Cinderella, set in the 1930s, still recognisable but twisted into something new and something just a little bit subversive.

The Yellow Wallpaper by Charlotte Perkins Gilman

It is a stunning portrait of one woman’s descent into madness. And a clear indictment of a particular society’s oppression of women. So much has been and could be written about The Yellow Wallpaper. But I feel so deeply for its narrator that I cannot write about her words intellectually.

Just Like Tomorrow by Faiza Guene

Fifteen year old Doria’s life is far from perfect. She lives with her mother in a tower block on the outskirts of Paris. Her father has returned to his Moroccan birthplace to find a new wife who will provide him with the son he so badly wants. And so mother and daughter are left to subsist on the meagre wages that a woman who doesn’t speak the language can earn as an office cleaner.

A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers by Xiaolu Guo

Her impressions and experiences as she found her feet in London were wonderfully observed, and her use of language illuminated the gulf between Chinese and English in a way that was both beautiful and clever. I was also struck by the bravery of anyone who travels alone to a country with a very different language that they hardly know. A country so different, so far from home.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson

Merricat (well how would you abbreviate Mary Katherine ?!) is a quite wonderful narrator – engaging, unreliable and utterly unique. And her tale is quite extraordinary. But I’m not going to say too much about that tale. Much has been written already. And if you haven’t read the book you really should. And you will enjoy it more for knowing little beforehand.

The Victorian Chaise Longue by Marghanita Laski

Melanie thinks she is in a nightmare. She tries to wake up, but she can’t. This is real. She is trapped and helpless. Marghanita Laski conveys her feelings quite perfectly. The atmosphere is claustrophobic, and deeply unsettling. And the more you think the more unsettling it becomes.

Loitering With Intent by Muriel Spark

The Autobiographical Association? It’s the brainchild  on the supremely pompous Sir Quentin Oliver; a society that will support and assist people in  writing their biographies and preserving them until all of those mentioned are dead so that they can be safely  published. Because, of course, they will be of interest to the historians of the future!

Palladian by Elizabeth Taylor

It was so, so easy for Cassandra to cast herself and Jane Eyre and Marion as Mr Rochester. But reality would prove to be a little different.

The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey

Elements of the modern police procedural can be seen, but this is very much a book of its time. The language, the world it describes tie it to the 1920s, and references to the Great War emphasise its lasting impact on a generation. I was caught up in that world, and with Inspector Grant and his investigation.

The Ladies’ Paradise by Émile Zola

It is an almost magical emporium, a huge department store that grew from a small draper’s shop, packed full of seductive colours, fabrics, clothes, furnishing, and so much more. The descriptions are rich, detailed, and utterly captivating.

Now I’ve perused my list again I have been inspired, so expect the next ten to arrive much more quickly.

And if you see a book you particularly loved on there, do say!

New Old Books

Until I find a new job I’m not buying any new books. Anything current that you spot me reading will come either from the library or the generosity of kind publishers.

I’m luckier than many, living in the family home and with savings to tide me over, but I still want to be careful while the future is so uncertain.

And there is treasure to be found in charity shops and second-hand bookshops for very little money.

Look what I found last week:

I’ll take things from the bottom up, as that’s pretty much the order that I found them.

The name Eudora Welty caught my eye, and I found an intriguing book. One Writer’s Beginnings. An American book that somehow found its way over the Atlantic to Cornwall. A book drawing on three lectures delivered at Harvard University in 1983, about listening about learning to see, about finding a voice. Doesn’t that sound wonderful?!

I borrowed London War Notes: 1939 to 1945 by Mollie Panter-Downes from the library, but I wanted a copy of my own. And I found one – ex library but in pretty good condition. It really should be in print and would sit nicely along the author’s short stories from the same period in the Persephone list …

My fiance spotted Concerning Agnes: Thomas Hardy’s ‘Good Little Pupil’ by Desmond Hawkins first. I know nothing about Agnes but I love Hardy and so this book, from a local press, seemed well worth the investment of £1.50.

If I’d been working I would have rushed out to buy the new Vintage Stella Gibbons reissues, and so I snapped up a charity shop copy of Westwood as soon as I spotted it.

And finally, Pamela Frankau was a name I recognised as a Virago author. I have yet to read any of her books but I have read a lot of praise as so when I spotted a title I didn’t recognise in a blue numbered penguin I had to take a look. I Find 4 People seems to be autobiography written as fiction, with the author writing about herself in the third person. I was charmed, and so the book came home.

An exceptionally good week, and an excellent haul for less than £10.

Books, Books and More Books

This year, I am changing the way I read.

Over the years I’ve changed from being a one book at a time reader, into a two book at a time reader, and then a many books at a time reader.

I used to think that was a bad thing, but I’ve realised now that it can work for me.

I’m more inclined to read big books, because with many books on the go I don’t feel that the big book is taking me away from so many other books I want to read.

And so many books benefit from a step away to think about things.

But there are limits, and I think I’ve just hit one.

Time to consider my books in progress:

I’ve been meaning to read The Man in the Queue by Josephine Tey for ages. It felt wrong that I had read Nicola Upson’s An Expert in Mirder without having read the book that inspired it. So when The Man in the Queue was chosen as a January group read by the GoodReads Bright Young Things I pulled my copy out.

I have a tendency to whizz through crime fiction, but this time I’m reading a chapter a day and I am appreciating the writing so much more.

It is a long time since I read The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald, and I decided a while back that I should read it again, before watching Baz Luhrman’s film version. I know that isn’t out until the end of the year, but I spotted a readalong this month and so its time seemed to be now.

I’m not enjoying the book as much as I did first time around, but I feel I am giving the book a fair chance by spreading it over a whole month.

At Mrs Lippincote’s by Elizabeth Taylor is another book I read years ago, but I’ve picked it up again to read with the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group as we celebrate the author’s centenary. This one is definitely better second time around, and it is repaying careful reading and quiet contemplation.

I picked up The Perfect Summer: Dancing into Shadow in 1911 by Juliet Nicholson a while back on ReadItSwapIt, and I picked it up a few weeks ago thinking that it would be a good book to set the scene before this years WW1 War Through The Generations Reading Challenge.

Each chapter focuses on a different character, and so it suits reading over time. I’ve met the new Queen Mary and the young Winston Churchill, and it has been lovely to see both at a point in their life that I hadn’t really considered before.

And there are many more fascinating people to meet …

I started the Old Curiosity Shop by Charles Dickens last year, but I drifted away from it. I’m picking up the threads and I’m going to finish this one before I pick up any of the other Dickens novels that are calling me.

This isn’t going to be my one of my favourites I’m afraid, but there are one or two characters I love and I am going to see their stories through to the end.

I took my copy of A London Child of the 1870s by Molly Hughes from the shelf for another group read – with the GoodReads Persephone Books Group. It is a wonderful memoir of a happy childhood and I am picking it up and reading a chapter whenever my spirits need lifting. I am so pleased that my library has the two sequels.

I ordered Christmas at Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons from the library when I discovered that there was only one story about Cold Comfort Farm and that it was a prequel – so no preliminary  rereading was required – and that only a couple of stories were about Christmas.

I’m afraid I’ve ground to a halt on this one. It isn’t that I don’t like it, but I don’t like it as much as I’d hoped. It might be that Stella Gibbons needs the greater expanse of a novel to weave her particular literary magic, or it might just be that I read it at the wrong moment – Charlotte loved it.

So, now that I’ve realised just how many book I have in progress, and now that I’ve noticed someone else has a reservation and is waiting for it, I think I must take it back.

I have owned a copy of Les Miserables by Victor Hugo for years, and it has been one of those books I really wanted to read but never quite got to. But now that there is a year long readalong I have finally made a start.

A proof copy of Diving Belles by Lucy Wood came through my letterbox a little while ago. I read the first few stories and fell in love, but then I decided I had to spin the rest out, as I really didn’t want to come to the last one. But the book is out in a couple of weeks and  I must read on to the end so that I can sing its praises.

I started reading The Coward’s Tale by Vanessa Gebbie before Christmas. It was wonderful but it needed more attention than I could give it then, so I pushed it to one side. But now slow reading is paying dividends.

I started The Rose Garden by Susanna Kearsley weeks ago and I was loving it, but the book disappeared. It turned up a couple of days ago, under a pile of newspapers and magazines on the coffee table, and now I am happily reading on.

I probably shouldn’t have picked up another book, but I have to have a visit to the dentist first thing tomorrow morning, and I prescribed myself a day curled up with a big book afterwards. The Dovekeepers by Alice Hoffman has been waiting for a while, and once I read the opening I was lost. So tomorrow I shall be in Masada …

That makes ten books. And, even though I’ve decided multiple reads is the way to go, that’s more than enough for now …

Of Attics and Rediscovering Books

I didn’t mean to disappear for so long, but I’ve been up in the attic. Not for the duration of course, but for a good few hours. Since I moved home to look after my mother a good few of my books – mainly the ones I’ve read – live up there for lack of space downstairs.

I went up to pull of my Du Maurier collection, for Discovering Daphne, but I got pulled in other directions. It was time to have a good sort out, and to bring my records on LibraryThing bang up to date.

I got rather dusty, but it was wonderful to get a bit more organised and to meet some lovely books I hadn’t seen for a while.

Now – with a few honourable exceptions – I never used to be a re-reader. I used to think that there were so many great books still to be read that I shouldn’t waste valuable reading time going over old ground. But things have changed – I’ve changed – I want to revisit books, to enjoy the familiarity, to see if my responses change …

And so it was time to make a list of the books I most wanted to read again:

Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier

Growing up in Cornwall, when Daphne Du Maurier was still alive and living a few miles up the road, meant that I discovered her books very young. I fell in love and have read most of them more than once over the years. After reading a couple of modern takes on Rebecca it’s time to re-read the original, and remind myself why it’s so special.

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons

The sequels have just been reissued, but I think I should reacquaint myself with Cold Comfort Farm before I order them from the library.

Case Histories by Kate Atkinson

The BBC adaptation of the first three Jackson Brodie books reminded me just how good they are, and made me want to go back to the beginning and start all over again.

Under The Greenwood Tree by Thomas Hardy

Lifetime Reader wrote about this a while back, and reminded me how much I love Hardy. Actually, I want to re-read all his books, but this feels like the place to start.

The Sunne in Splendour by Sharon Penman

The first historical novel I read, and finding it again was a joy.

Mullion by Mabel Esther Allen

The perfect Cornish set children’s book. Sadly though re-reading is a pipe-dream. My copy was passed on, the book is now out of print and selling at ridiculous prices, and the library doesn’t have a copy. But I can dream, and hope for a reissue from some enterprising publisher …

Armadale by Wilkie Collins

Lydia Gwilt! Another author I love, and I want to re-read everything Wilkie Collins ever wrote.

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L Sayers

I picked up a book by J I M Stewart, whose praise Karyn has been singing, and it mentioned a gaudy dinner. That made me want to pull out Gaudy Night, though I had been planning to re-read DLS in chronological order. What to do?!

Lady Rose and Mrs Memmary by Ruby Ferguson

I read this one on holiday last year, when I was on a blogging break. I loved it, and I would like to write about it, but I need to re-read first.

Thus Was Adonis Murdered by Sarah Caudwell

Sarah Caudwell’s name was mentioned in a LibraryThing discussion a while back, and I thought I must look out for her books. Then I realised I’d already read her books but the details eluded me …

North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

I only read North and South earlier this year, but I could so easily go back to the beginning and start reading all over again.

Women in the Wall by Julia O’Faolain

I read this years ago, and I was stunned. I’ve never read anything else by Julia O’Faolain, because I thought nothing could live up to the expectations set by this book.

Angel by Elizabeth Taylor

I saw the film a while back, and I remembered just how much I love the book.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey

I don’t know what it is about this book, but I know that I love it.

Evil Under the Sun by Agatha Christie

My mother was watching this when Briar and I came in from a walk a little while ago. I remembered how clever the plot was and thought that I really should read it again.

Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I inherited my mother’s copy as a child and I have read it so many times, but it’s been a while and it’s time to meet the March girls all over again.

There are others too.

But, tell me, what are your feelings about re-reading? Are any books calling you back?

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons

Nightingale Wood is a fairytale says the cover, and yes it is.

The story of Cinderella, set in the 1930s, still recognisable but twisted into something new and something just a little bit subversive.

Viola is a penniless young widow. She is pretty and charming, but sadly her circumstances force her to move to the country to live with her in-laws.

The Withers family is terribly middle class and stifling respectable, and though Mr and Mrs Wither do not consider Viola, a former shopgirl, to be quite of their class they know their duty. Mr Withers is most concerned about Viola’s finances and his wife about her family’s perception and position in local society.

Their unmarried, middle-aged daughters are a little less concerned. Madge wants little more than a dog and to be part of the country set, while Tina is quite besotted by Saxon, the family chauffeur.

The family and its interactions are presented with gentle wit and humour, but the sadness is just below the surface. Sadness at a lack of understanding and at a class system that keeps them all in their places and allows so much potential in the women of the household to be wasted.

A few miles away live the Spring family. Mrs Spring is proud of he successful son Victor, ambitious for him, and delighted that he is virtually engaged to an eminently suitable young woman. Her bookish young niece, Hetty is less impressed.

Viola’s arrival, and her certainty that Victor must be her Prince Charming after she dances with him at a ball, is the spark that changes everything. Lives change, conventions are broken and opportunities are seized.

Stella Gibbons tells a lovely, complex tale with all of the wit and humour you could want, and she balnces that perfectly with real understanding, real emotions, and just a light sprinkling of fairy dust.

This is the third of her novels that I have read, and I really have grown to love the way her authorial voice is always present but never obtrusive, and the wonderful trick she has of seeming to be heading down a traditional, well trodden path, only to head off somewhere different and rather more interesting at the last minute. That really is clever.

This time around her pace seemed a little slow, but it is was worth lingering because there are so many lovely details, dialogues and observations, and some telling points are made about the class system, the lack of opportunity for women and the difference that money makes

But what held everything together was wonderful characterisation, and I continued to be engaged no matter which of the diverse cast was taking centre stage. Such a wonderful variety of people, relationships, and things going on!

I willed Tina on as she took tentative steps to deft convention and make her relationship with Saxon official. I laughed as Madge entertained the huntin’, shootin’, and fishin’ brigade. I worried about Hetty’s future. And I wondered if Victor really was Prince Charming, if he was good enough for Viola.

The ending was in doubt until the very last minute, but when it arrived it was perfect and there was a little sting in the tail.

The perfect ending for a fine entertainment and a lovely piece of social comedy.