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A Victorian End of Year Review (of sorts)

ImageVaultHandler_aspxAnd so, the end of 2013 has passed… and so has my two-year themed reading challenge. It’s been such fun choosing a monthly theme then piling up the appropriate books with fevered anticipation. And then posting gratuitous pictures of my personal library. The total of books read thematically has been less than impressive, as seen on my Good Reads list.

Organising my reading thematically has given me focus, made me take books off my shelves (even if they’re just been piled up and reshelved after a couple of months), and challenged me to discover new authors and genres.

However, it has sometimes been restrictive and the blogging element of the experiment has fallen by the wayside a little. I haven’t reflected on the themes deeply enough, perhaps because the reading in the end hasn’t been so focused. I’m still distracted by all the books I haven’t read, and all the books which keep piling up in our house.

So October’s theme, which melded into November and (oops!) into December, was Victoriana. I loved the anticipation of this and found some delicious looking books on my shelves (see previous post). The few novels I managed to read were successfully atmospheric and (perhaps) overly dramatic. Some were set in brothels with suitable emphasis on sexual proclivities (The Crimson Petal and the White in particular; not too gratuitous but with an engaging narrative style. And stonking good plot). There was swirling fog, gorgeous dresses, and grisly murders (at times). They all seemed to be hefty tomes with complicated plots and lots of sex. Perhaps it’s an attempt to redress the balance of our mis-conception that the Victorians repressed everything. (see Matthew Sweet’s Inventing the Victorians to redress the balance)

Reading contemporary novels set in the Victorian era has been an interesting contrast to the style and content of the ‘real’ Victorian novels I’ve already read.  Some of the Victoriana was almost a self-conscious parody, seeking to recapture the thrills of a Victorian ‘sensationalist novel’ but failing. I’d rather read Wilkie Collins or Mary Braddon, thanks.

I would recommend anyone to try a year, or a few months, reading within a certain theme; whether a particular author, setting, genre, subject matter. I have discovered some gems and authors I wouldn’t have otherwise have tried. Get out of your comfort zone and look in a different part of your local bookshop or library.

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And so as I look ahead into 2014, I’m resolving to ‘watch less, read more.’ I have many books piled up waiting to be read and am looking forward to a year’s ‘free reading’, returning to my old habits of reading different books, whatever takes my fancy…
…. but with the twist that I cannot buy any more books for myself for the whole year.

Now, that’s an idea for a year’s worth of blog posts…

 

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2013: New Year, New Reading Challenge

Amongst the usual new year resolutions to lose that last bit of weight, exercise a little bit more and go to bed earlier, I’m setting myself another year-long reading challenge. Again, I’ll aim to theme my reading throughout the year, allowing books to ‘hangover’ from previous months, make allowances for reading group choices and allow the occasional ‘just because’ choice to slip in.

I found last year’s experiment quite challenging, but I enjoyed the (flexible and self-imposed) restraints of themes; I didn’t just browse the bookshelves, seeing what I fancied. I had a schedule to follow! By the end of the year preparing for three family birthdays and Christmas within a few months left me little time for large chunks of reading so my Dickens theme flopped as I only read a few short stories by the great man.

So, may I present my provisional reading plan for 2013:

January: The French Revolution (!)

This is a period of history I know very little about so I hope to be better informed by the end of the month; I’m focussing on A Place of Greater Safety (Hilary Mantel) and Les Miserables (Victor Hugo). Both are enormous tomes (over 800 pages each) but if I have time, I might squeeze in The Scarlet Pimpernel and A Tale of Two Cities. Bonne Chance, moi!

February: Regency Romance

A really light month! Lots of Georgette Heyer, with a sprinkling of Mary Balough and M C Beaton, more Jane Austen: just right as Valentine’s Day approaches, following on from the Revolution.

March: Nordic Noir

Having just enjoyed The Killing (season 1), my appetite’s whetted for darkly gritty murder mysteries (with great jumpers optional): expect lots of Henning Mankell, Anne Holt, Steig Larsson, et al.

April: it’s the ‘cruellest month’, so I’ll try non-fiction

I focus too much on fiction, so I could try anything. At the moment, I’m considering: Watching the English (Kate Fox), The Victorian House (Judith Flanders), Family (Susan Hill), Home (Julie Myerson), A History of Modern Britain (Andrew Marr), This Sceptered  Isle (Christopher Lee).

May: Thomas Hardy

In honour of the fertility of the soil, I’ll journey to Wessex to enjoy some of the stories I’ve not yet been told: Desperate Remedies, A Pair of Blue Eyes, Return of the Native, amongst others. I’ll probably also read Claire Tomalin’s biography, The Time-Torn Man and some of Hardy’s poetry.

June: Fantasy and Sci-Fi

I dabbled a little last year, enjoying HG Wells, the first two parts of Stephen King’s The Dark Tower sequence and Ursula Le Guin’s Left Hand of Darkness. I think this might be time to try George R R Martin’s Song of Ice and Fire sequence; have the first part on Kindle already.

July: Trollopes (both)

I’ll mix more Victorianna from Anthony Trollope with contemporary stories from his distant descendant Joanna Trollope (and possibly her alter ego Caroline Harvey). Might even dip into more biographies; I have a copy of Joanna Trollope’s Britannia’s Daughters too.

August: a little bit of what I fancy…

It’ll be Summer Holiday time so I’ll catch up with myself, then read whatever I fancy. It’s probably going to be a nice mix of contemporary ‘literary’ fiction. Just wish we were going somewhere exotic  to enjoy it; with two young children, I’m unlikely to be able to spend the full fortnight luxuriating in a pile of novels, but I can dream…

September: Iris Murdoch

As the new term beckons, something more intellectual. I’ve collected all her novels of the years, enjoyed a few and read John Bayley’s affecting memoirs of life with Iris when she descended into Alzheimer’s.

October: Edwardian Fiction and Ghost Stories

I’m looking forward to starting Ford Maddox Ford’s Parade’s End quartet, Vita Sackville-West’s The Edwardians, John Galsworthy’s Forsyth Saga, Arnold Bennett, GK Chesterton, EM Forster, etc. I might stray into more Modernism with Joyce’s Ulysses. And of course, as the nights become dark, a few classic scares will be fun!

December: Dickens

A second chance for me to get stuck into (at least) one of Dickens’ greats. Bleak House perhaps?

So, what about you? What would you suggest for themes? Are there any I’ve missed out? And what books should I really, really read in these themes?

Happy reading!

 

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On not reading enough

It’s December, Advent, time for preparing…

Very little time for reading.

I had hoped December would see me reading Dickens; ending his centenary year with one of his major novels.

Alas!

Instead I’ve been writing lists, shopping, wrapping, hiding, baking, making cards, posting….

Now the dust is starting to settle, I realise most of the month’s gone by with precious little reading and only a few days left to squeeze another book in.

I miss it.

I long for the time to luxuriate in the thrill, adventure and anticipation of a new book; the chance to travel through time, space, others’ heads from my living room. With a cup of tea as my trusty companion.

The less I read, the more I want to.

And so, time to log off, get into my warm pyjamas, and delve into some Dickens.

But where to start….?

 
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Posted by on 21/12/2012 in End of month review

 

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Murder in my library

Although it’s more than half way through the month of May (although you’d not be able to tell that by the weather we’ve been having in the North East!), I’m only now starting to settle into this month’s ‘classic British Crime Fiction’ theme.

Instead, I’ve been battling alongside Edward IV and his wife, Elizabeth Woodville, at the end of the Wars of the Roses in the 1470s and ’80s. Phillipa Gregory’s excellent The White Queen has absorbed me.

And the small matter of planning, preparing and producing my son’s London-themed 7th birthday party last week has gobbled up much potential reading time.

I now have time to look at my bookshelves again and indulge in the great pleasure of piling up the next  books to read.

Following on from The White Queen, I naturally seguewayed into Josephine Tey’s ‘classic’ The Daughter of Time, reappraising the character of Richard III.

I love detective fiction, prefering the ‘cosy’ British sort rather than the rather overblown, somewhat sensationalist recent offerings from over the Atlantic. Despite being constructed around murder, these novelists don’t dwell on the more gory aspects of it. I like the puzzle aspect, although rarely deduce the murderer before the detective reveals it.

The detectives or sleuths are also appealing characters. All misfits, with unusual characteristics or an unexpected context, they hold the novel together; guiding us through the maze, introducing us to suspects and interrogating them within our earshot, uncovering the corpse (and their relationships), and then neatly wrapping up the puzzle by the end.

And they’re often short. (the novels not the detectives)

Perhaps this ‘genre’ is comparable to a good game of Cluedo which can be enjoyed over a few enjoyable, solitary hours.

And so, awaiting me is: an almost complete collection of Agatha Christies, a good stock of Patricia Wentworth, all of GK Chesterton (on Kindle), some Margery Allingham and Dorothy L Sayers, one Frances Iles. Of the contemporary reworkings I have a few Carola Dunns (Daisy Darymple adventures), Alan Hunters (George Gently) and Jaqueline Winspear (Maisie Dobbs).

I also succumbed to a few paperback offers which were too good to miss: a large selection of Gladys Mitchell, Josephine Tey and Edmund Crispin. I also have the complete Anna Katherine Greene on my Kindle (although I know she’s not British).

Anyone got any other suggestions or recommendations?

Just how much murder, sleuthing and ‘cosy’ detecting will I realistically be able to fit into the next fortnight? Charge your cup (of tea); off we go….

 
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Posted by on 19/05/2012 in End of month review

 

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