Monthly Archives: Jun 2013

On book-ish things

Yesterday I bought a bag.
Not a very exciting purchase you might think; perhaps not even worthy of mentioning in a blog, certainly not as the opening line.
But just look at the bag:

Yesterday's new things: gorgeous tea, trainers for daughter, bag for me.

Yesterday’s new things: gorgeous tea, trainers for daughter, bag for me.

I simply couldn’t resist it. I have many reusable cotton bags and certainly don’t need any more. But it’s a pseudo-retro-print of ‘Jane Eyre’: the only book I am ever able to decide upon as my favourite book, one of the few books I will happily and regularly read again, and one of those novels which has shaped my life (perhaps a subject worthy of another blog post?)
It wasn’t cheap but it cheered me up. It is also full of library books awaiting their return today: it’s useful and beautiful.
But did I really need it? And why could I not resist another book-related ‘thing’, as useful and gorgeous as this is?

I already have these lovely things:
Book mugs on a book tableBook-ish notebooks (one is half written in; I feel I have to write 'special' things in it, not just shopping lists)

Book mugs on a book-table, book-ish notebooks (one is half written in (I feel I have to write ‘special’ things in it, not just shopping lists)image

Our walls are decorated with books in so many different ways. The poster of Emily was bought on a ‘pilgrimage’ to Haworth when I was 14; framed for my 16th birthday: melodramatic, moi?! Its Wuthering Heights counterpart from The Shipley Art Gallery’s exhibition celebrating Penguin books a few years ago.

I simply love these things; both in terms of design and in what they represent.My book related accessories reflect my book obsession.
If can’t be reading when outside or socialising, then a bag, mug or jewellery is almost as good.
But, of course it isn’t. It’s aesthetic rather than actuality.

I  have this bookcase in our living room (non-fiction):

And the other set in the living room is like this; this one’s double stacked (fiction, alphabetical):


You may be pleased to hear that I am not going to photograph every bookcase or pile of books in our house. I recently realised there are significant

Are you as frustrated as me that you can't see the titles in this 'to read' pile?

Are you as frustrated as me that you can’t see the titles in this ‘to read’ pile?

numbers of books in every room, except for our small bathroom. (The only time a book’s in there is if we’ve left our bathtime reading on the floor, probably perilously close to a puddle of water. Books don’t last long in that room.)

Books are an alternative form of decoration. They’re bright and varied, intensely personal (if you really have chosen them yourself rather than buying them by the yard as I’ve heard of in hotels and pubs), and are a great form of insulation.

And yet, sometimes they are overwhelming. The bookcases tower above me, demanding my time, energy and interest. I feel a sense of guilt of ownership and pressure to read when I realise how many books I own. It’s almost although I’m behind with my homework. (I’m always behind with my housework)

But who’s pressurising me to accumulate, to read, to feel overwhelmed?
Well, there’s this self-imposed structure of monthly reading themes and the discipline of writing this blog (this month’s theme reflection to follow soon-ish). There’s the feeling that I ‘should’ have read certain books, keeping up with the latest bestsellers or filling reading gaps in the classics canon (not many, admittedly; I spent most of my teenage years reading Victorian melodramas).
But why? Who cares what I’ve read?
I do.
And reading is (almost) never a waste of time.

I know books are inanimate, the pressure is internal, the guilt is misplaced. Most books are second hand, charity shop buys; my financial outlay is very modest compared to a habit of mortgage-sized shoes or excessively priced handbags (no, tote bags aren’t included in this!).

And, of course, books are so useful, aren’t they?
They DO something.
Books are much more than items of furniture or decoration; more than something to be looked at, their beauty proclaimed.
Their true value lies within.
Behind the covers you could encounter anything. No matter how new, glossy and vibrant or dog-eared, peeling and dull, the words within have the same potential to thrill and transform, entertain and educate. You cannot judge a book by its cover.
Hang on, that sounds like a profound message, a parable for life.
No matter how our ‘covers’ appear, our true value is within. It is discovered over time. You need to gently pick up the book, start to leaf through the pages, and spend energy, imagination and time in someone else’s company.image

No, there’s never enough.
Perhaps I should be spending the time I lust after beautiful fripperies at The Literary Gift Company reading; the time I spend idly, aimlessly browsing on Amazon, reading; the time I spend looking at new Kindle covers, instead turning on my Kindle and reading; the time I spend browsing in the library, sitting in a corner reading. With a cup of tea in ‘The Common Reader’ mug, of course.

The book accessories are fun and nicely designed but I know they shouldn’t replace my reading resources, either time or money.

But my Jane Eyre cotton bag is so much more attractive than a plastic supermarket bag, don’t you think?

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Posted by on 26/06/2013 in Uncategorized


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June Journeying: in Anticipation

New month, new reading theme.
This month I’m venturing into new worlds and ideas with Sci-Fi and Fantasy. I know I shouldn’t really combine the two, but I don’t think I could manage a whole month of Fantasy alone.
I’ve collected a mixture of styles and subjects; eagle-eyed viewers might recognise a couple of titles from last year’s theme; I really will finish Under The Dome and The Passage this time.
Most of these titles are from our over-stuffed shelves, but a satisfying, more experimental selection are from our local library.
Oh, and there’s some Doctor Who sneaked in too…

So, what should I read first? What’ve I missed out? What can I expect?

June's sci-fi/fantasy pile of anticipation

June’s sci-fi/fantasy pile of anticipation



Posted by on 02/06/2013 in Reading Themes, Uncategorized


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Hardy: a Heart-Tearing Man


‘Emotional convulsions seemed to have become the commonplaces of her history…’ far From the Madding Crowd

May has ended, spring might have finally sprung.
I tried to get myself into the seasonal mood, by focussing on the fecund and pastoral work of Thomas Hardy, but – as ever – I was distracted by ‘real’ life such as family birthdays, half-term holidays and (minimal) gardening.

I wasn’t starting from scratch; I had an idea of what to expect. I knew I had to be emotionally strong to put myself through the affecting wringer that is a Hardy novel. I had already read Tess of the d’Urbervilles (and studied it for A level), Jude the Obscure, Two on a Tower, The Well-Beloved, The Trumpet Major, Under the Greenwood Tree and The Mayor of Casterbridge; emotional roller-coasters all.  I remember reading Tess when I was about fourteen (far too young to appreciate much more than the bare bones of the story) and having no idea what happened between Tess and Alec until I studied it again at eighteen. The pool of blood seeping through the guest house ceiling made a chilling impact on its first reading though. And I never ate strawberries in the same way again.

This month I started with a selection of Hardy’s short stories, a mixture of Wessex Tales and The Distracted Preacher. Fellow Townsmen was as hard-hitting as expected: conflict, tragedy, reflection on the pace of change, architectural details – all the usual tropes and themes were present and correct but slightly more palatable when in a bite-sized dose.

9780140431261The main focus of my reading has been Far From the Madding Crowd, Hardy’s first major successful novel, published in 1875. I was drawn into the story immediately; I found it not so much a ‘love triangle’, more a ‘love pyramid’ with the scathingly beautiful Bathsheba Everdeane as the central focus. My sympathies ranged between characters, mainly towards the sympathetic, straightforward, hardworking shepherd Gabriel Oak, but also towards William Boldwood, Sergeant Frank Troy (but only slightly), Fanny Robin, and even Bathsheba herself.
(I confess, as I write this on 1st June, my Penguin Classics’ copy is beside me with a large leather bookmark in page 370, begging to be finished. I am desperate to find out what happens in the end; hosting in-laws, entertaining children for half-term and writing this blog have prevented me from keeping to my deadline precisely)

[the next day: finished, with a sigh of relief as it’s a happy ending. Highly recommended, now, where’s the DVD adaptation to relive it…?]

Desperate Remedies was my Kindle reading; I’ve not progressed very far, although I know already that the path will not be smooth for Cytherea and Edward.

9780141017419I only dipped into Claire Tomalin’s biography Thomas Hardy: A Time Torn Man; what I read of his early life was beautifully presented and I will certainly return to his story, even if I don’t continue reading it into June. The artistic tension between his training and work as an architect and his vocation as a poet and later novelist (mainly for the money; he never felt as proud of his novels as his poems) must have strained him at his metaphorical seams. He was also torn between his first wife and his second, reinventing his love for his first wife after her death; almost loving her more in death than in life, recreating her in his poems, more lovely and beautiful than in reality.
His life (1840-1928)  immense and intense chronological tension and changes during a particularly significant period in England’s history, from the beginning of the Victorian era with all the technological development and change, the extension of the British Empire, the explosion of innovation in art and design (architecture included), societal developments in addition to The Great War of 1914-18.

I will continue to dip into Hardy’s poems, novels and short stories for many, many years to come. I hadn’t intended to read much more than one major novel and a selection of poems this month and so I’ve achieved my goal; I knew the pile of books in the cherry blossom tree at the start of the month Thomas_hardywas overly ambitious.
Hardy’s an indisputably great writer (albeit a little verbose at times) and takes the reader on an intense journey of feeling and character development whichever novel you read. His romantic realism is breathtakingly beautiful at times. Some of his characters will always remain with me (Tess, Bathsheba and ‘Little Father Time’s’ heartbreaking note: ‘Done because we are too menny’). I cannot decide whether he loves or hates his heroines in particular; he treats them so badly. Perhaps there’s an element of masochism in his writing which he was never able to put into practice in real life.

As a postscript, I am (indirectly) named after one of Hardy’s poems. Although both my parents are fans of Hardy’s novels and poems (my mum’s a former English teacher and my dad’s an architect), I only discovered his poem ‘Amabel’ about ten years ago while wasting time on a search engine. As expected, it’s a poem of thwarted love and longing; Amabel’s a ruthless woman.
Look her up.


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