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Monthly Archives: April 2012

Reading? Can’t you do something more useful….?

This week, I proudly told my huband that I’d read 25 books so far this year. Not a bad total, I thought, for a mum of 2 who’s trying to ‘run a household’.

However, my beloved rejoindered with, ‘Couldn’t you be using the time to do something more useful? Like housework?’

(A caveat: I adore my husband of 12 and a half years; he’s not a philistine and has very rarified taste in books himself. But he works long hours and would prefer to relax with the iPad or tv (usually both) rather than a book. Whereas whenever I get a spare moment, I’ll reach for a book not the remote.)

Well, which would you rather do: clean behind the kitchen bin or transport yourself into the medieval mind? Pair up socks or solve a murder mystery? Empty a bin or fill your head with words? It’s a question almost not worth asking….

The housework needs doing again in such a short space of time. The washing’s never ending; small children leave trails of crumbs and socks everywhere; bins overflow at an alarming rate; meals need to be thought of, shopped for, prepared and cleared away; and that’s just the things I admit to doing. I don’t iron and rarely do DIY. And thinking about what’s in dust…

I would much rather do enough to raise our living standards to acceptable and settle back into my chair  to read about someone else’s life, loves, passions and thoughts. 

And how often is housework mentioned in novels? What thrilling plot device can be found in cleaning the inside of the windows? Now, that’s an idea for a new cosy crime novel…

 
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Posted by on 26/04/2012 in Uncategorized

 

Historical Fiction: what’s the point?

This months’ historical reading theme is making slow progress; life events are getting in the way.

But now we’re over half way through April, I’m resolved to read more. Before I restart, I wanted to consider why I’ve chosen historical fiction this month.

It’s transportative. Reading a book about Viking battles, medieval courtly love, Tudor intrigues, Regency romances, Victorian mysteries, Edwardian emancipation, wartime life, and so on, can allow the reader to live in another age for a short while. In your imagination you can be rich or impoverished; starving or sitting down to a medieval feast. You can fall in love with a dashing, restrained hero (cf most women’s love affair with Mr Darcy) or join Arthur on the battlefield.

You can also convince yourself that reading historical fiction can be educational. They can bring ‘boring’ history lessons to life, injecting romance and intrigue, details of daily life to the bald narrative of rulers and eras.

And there are rollicking good stories to be told. You can read of murder and mystery; mayhem and upheavals; intrigue and plots; in addition to stories of everyday life, how the ‘average’ person lived and loved.

And the costumes can be amazing!

However, my usual reading pattern is to jump straight from one type of novel to something completely different. Not in this reading ‘plan’; I’m following one historical novel with another. The question is, do I vary the period or can I jump forward and backwards in time indiscriminately?

First this month, I finished The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. Set in 1937-8New York, the story of a trio of friends – Katy Konstant, Eve and Tinker Grey – was light, enjoyable and fairly inconsequential. Perhaps a reflection of the age it was set, the goings-on of a group of middle class friends was important at the time of reading but fades in to insignificance when real life takes over again.

In contrast, The Paris Wife by Paula McLain told the story of Ernest Hemmingway’s first wife, Hadley Richardson. In her voice, we read how ‘Hem’ began his writing career, their friendships with great writers of the Jazz Age (Scott Fitzgerald and Gertrude Stein making significant cameos), and the development and decline of their marriage. This was a story that has stayed with me; I really cared about Hadley and Hem and was affronted when (spoiler alert!) he left her. It has also prompted me to dig out some Hemmingway and see what all the fuss was about, now I know something of the background to the writing.

Set in 1880s Oregan, The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, was a very masculine tale of mercenary brothers in the wild west just at the start of the  gold rush.

For the rest of the month, I’m reading:

Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn (suffragettes and cricket in Edwardian England)

She by H Rider Haggard (a ‘boy’s own’ adventure story of plucky Brits exploring ‘dark’Africa)

Lined up I have:

The Somnambulist by Essie Fox (Victorian murder mystery set in the music hall);

The White Queen by Philippa Gregory (the story of Elizabeth Woodville, the Queen of Edward IV);

The Greatest Knight by Elizabeth Chadwick (a medieval romance, it seems); Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel (the immensely detailed story of the early career of Thomas Cromwell in the court of Henry VIII)

Does anyone else enjoy historical tales? Which eras? Do you read a glut of the same things consecutively, or do you – like me – time travel? Does human nature ever change? Do we read these to escape or reflect on how history repeats its lessons.

And now to escape: into an Edwardian, Victorian or medieval adventure?

 
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Posted by on 18/04/2012 in Uncategorized

 
Aside

A link to latest book read: The Rules of Civility by Amor Towles.

<a href=”http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10054335-rules-of-civility&#8221; style=”float: left; padding-right: 20px”><img alt=”Rules of Civility” border=”0″ src=”http://photo.goodreads.com/books/1311705045m/10054335.jpg&#8221; /></a><a href=”http://www.goodreads.com/book/show/10054335-rules-of-civility”>Rules of Civility</a> by <a href=”http://www.goodreads.com/author/show/4536964.Amor_Towles”>Amor Towles</a><br/>My rating: <a href=”http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/301176684″>3 of 5 stars</a><br /><br /> Although centered around a trio of Katy (narrator), eve and the alluring and enigmatic Tinker Grey, the relationships spiral outwards as character’s fates take them up or down. Evocative of time and place, his is an interesting debut novel. As slick, glamorous and ephemeral as the jazz age in New York this story is set, I was left wondering what was the novel’s central message.<br/><br/><a href=”http://www.goodreads.com/review/list/6280526-amabel”>View all my reviews</a>

 
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Posted by on 10/04/2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Why I read (and why I can’t)

Mummy?

Yes?

Why do you have soooooo many books? You are too fond of them!

Well, I  love reading and I love having a selection of books around me.

But, Mummy, why don’t you just read them rather than sleeping?

…..!

This short exchange with my son (almost 7) early yesterday morning made me think about why I read and what stops me from reading as much as I’d like. 

As a full time mum, you might think that I’d have plenty of time to catch up with the literary treasues gathering on my bookcases. But no. Perhaps it’s because I have two children, a house and a husband to manage that reading comes lower than I’d like in my daily priorities. For about 12 hours a day, I’m a combination of entertainer, teacher, cook, housemaid, organiser, taxi driver and cook. When evening comes, there are still jobs to do, in addition to the temptations of the computer and television before I can settle down to reading.  

So, why do I define myself by what I read; why is it – as my son said-‘my hobby’?

Although I can’t remember when I started to read, I’ve always been lucky enough to have plenty of books of my own. I am an only child and most of my entertainment came from reading as much and as many stories as I could. Apparently one of my favourite toys in my buggy was a tattered copy of Beatrix Potter’s The Tale of Pigling Bland. My birthday is less than a month before Christmas; I looked forward to the ‘glut’ of books or book tokens I received every December (and the resulting thank you letters to dutifully write). I loved visiting my local library and always borrowed the maximum number of library books allowed; it was like an Aladdin’s cave, as many books as I wanted, for free. I spent many break times and lunch hours in secondary school reading in the library. I would read anything and everything. I became obsessed with the Brontes but was too young to understand DH Lawrence. I found it a thrill when an obscure book was last checked out before I was born.

I love the way books are able to transport the reader; you’re only limited by your imagination, what you can visualise through the author’s words. I love entering into someone else’s life, hearing their thoughts, seeing the world through their eyes. It’s a private, intense experience too; unlike a film, you can control the pace of a scene, and rewind whenever you want.

Books are a uniquely intense, personal and private way of experiencing the world and interpreting other’s experiences. I have learnt so much about the world through what others have written. 

Many an evening, I seruptitiously turned my light back on, only to quickly click it off again when I heard my mum coming upstairs). Well I remember straining to read just one more chapter in the fading evening light or from the landing illumination. Then, the power of a story was stronger than the desire to sleep.

Unfortunately nowadays, I too often succumb too often to the lure of tv narrative or the pull of sleep. I still pile up books from my fantastic local library and am a regular patron of charity shops for secondhand bargains. 

But, they are still my guilty pleasure, obsession, method of relaxation, hobby.

I hope that one day my son – and daughter – will understand the joy of reading so much. And why I would sometimes rather be reading than playing Lego or a dolls’ tea party. But only occasionally.

 
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Posted by on 07/04/2012 in Uncategorized

 

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