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New Year: New Challenge

No more themes.
No more book buying!
Yes, in an attempt to halt the flow of books cascading through our house, I have vowed not to buy any more books for the whole of 2014. I intend to ‘watch less, read more’.

I'm trying to avoid too much of this...

I’m trying to avoid too much of this…

The ‘no book buying rules’ in full:
1) I shall not buy books for myself for the whole year;
2) I can (if necessary) buy books for others or my children (they cannot have birthdays or Christmas without new books!);
3) I can swap books;
4) There is no limit to the number of books I give away;
5) I can exchange books at Barter Books in Alnwick, as long as I do not pay for them with cash;
6) I cannot download titles I have to pay for;
7) I could download free classics if I don’t already have a paper copy (up for debate);
8) I can receive books as gifts;
9) I can order or reserve books from my local library;
10) There is no limit to the number of books I borrow from my local library.

By the way, as you’ll probably have gathered from the monthly photos of my home library, there is no concern that I will run out of reading material. My bookcases are overflowing, there are books in every room of the house; my Kindle(s) are packed with over 900 books and our local library is excellent.

I anticipate the first few weeks, even months to be difficult. Even the past few days have been tricky. I have been challenged when shopping or late-night browsing. I have disabled my Amazon account and have not gone into my local charity shops in the hope of keeping away from temptation.

However, I hope our finances are improved, my addiction is lessened, and some of those toppling towers of books are out of the house over the coming months.
I am also hoping that by ‘going public’ with my addiction, I will be supported in my resolution.

Do you ‘suffer’ with book-buying-compulsions? Do you seek the thrill of a new (second hand) book? Do you listen to/watch book-related programmes with pen in hand to jot down titles to then order online? Do you love the anticipation of a fresh book joining others on your shelves?
Do you feel overwhelmed by the sheer volume of unread paper on your shelves? Do you just not know how to start reducing the number you buy? Do you not know where to start reading?
Do all your efforts at reducing the number you have end up in a half-hearted ‘prune’ of a few tens but with the discovery of more great reads you’d forgotten you had?
Do you have unintentional duplicate copies of novels you’ve not even read?
Welcome to Book-Addicts Anonymous!

The only difficulty now is just what to read?!

 
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Posted by on 05/01/2014 in Book-ish things, Life, Reading space

 

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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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On Victoriana

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Inspired by my son’s school topic this half term, I am choosing to read a selection of Victorian inspired modern fiction. I’ve read a good selection of the ‘real’ thing although there are always gaps to fill. However, I have chosen to read modern writers’ interpretations of Victorian literature. Even within this selection I am aware there is a potential range of style: some may almost be pastiches, others add alternative voices to the established canon, some look at a familiar subject from an unfamiliar angle. Most of them would probably be viewed as scandalous if published during the reign of ‘ Victoriana’!

I’m forward to fog and furs,  crinoline, corsets and the Crimea; a selection of mystery, romance, murder, history and great costume descriptions.

Of course, the stack of books shown is another gratuitous shot of books from my shelves; there’s enough material there to last about six months. I hope I can make some progress.

Enough of this: time to read!

(not shown: collected works of Sarah Waters and Scarlett Thomas, and whatever I can find loaded on my Kindle)

 
 

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On Being On Holiday (Belatedly)

20121117-224129.jpg I’ve been on holiday. Literally (for a short time over the summer) but also metaphorically (from blogging). I didn’t go away anywhere very exciting, or particularly relaxing (I have children so much of my life is essentially the same with different scenery), but I have given myself a break.

I’m supposed to be blogging every month, reflecting on my reading theme. As you’ll have noticed by now, it’s been a while and I’ve heard a few self-imposed deadlines whizzing past.

Nevermind; back on track for the final few months of 2013. To be honest this ‘holiday’ has been refreshing. I extended June’s Sci-Fi theme into half of July so I could finish The Passage.  I have paused my reading of  The Game of Thrones for so long I think I should now admit to having given up on it, for this year at least (a shame, I know; I may regret the decision). I then challenged myself to take only my Kindle on a short trip to London, intending to read Wolf Hall and that alone (see blog post ‘On Not Packing Books’ in July ). That I managed, but over a longer period of time than I’d expected, with other books in between.Jubilee 2012 184

A holiday from themed reading  has been invigorating. I could read whatever I fancied, just like ‘the old days’, not exercising my critical faculties at all. (I couldn’t read when ever I fancied, those ‘pesky children’ had to be entertained, educated, fed and watered, but I had the evenings and a few long car journeys.) Unfortunately, I didn’t read anything particularly ‘high brow’ – Wolf Hall notwithstanding. I’ve returned to a few comfort reads (Joanna Trollope’s latest The Soldier’s Wife and a couple more of Mary Balogh’s Bedwyn series) in addition to a few titles I’ve been putting off because they don’t fit into a theme: the Hunger Games trilogy, Tigers in Red Weather, Good Omens, Separate Lives.  It’s been fun to jump and skip about around time, setting, style and theme. The ‘holiday’ feeling has been difficult to shake off. I tried to be good and get into the ‘back to school’ mood by posting On Iris Murdoch (in anticipation). I fully intended to read at least one of her novels and one biography. imageI failed. Both Bruno’s Dream and The Sea, The Sea are woefully, pitifully read. I have started both, attaining about 10% progress. I also started A.N. Wilson’s respectful but unorthodox biography/memoir of Murdoch but am only up to page 52. Both the novels are refreshingly different to what I was expecting with eccentric, troubled male protagonists with tangled personal lives. I may continue to read their stories as they provide a refreshing change both from what I have read before of Murdoch’s novels and my recent fayre. But onwards, onto the next thematic challenge; merging October into November to avoid deadline anxiety with multiple family birthdays getting ‘in the way’ of my reading. Perhaps this holiday from a theme has exposed my intellectual pretence. I am a book tart, a bibliophilic magpie, a will-o-the-book-wisp. imageAm I the only one?

 

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On Iris Murdoch (in Anticipation)

A collection of Iris Murdoch

A collection of Iris Murdoch

A new month, the start of a new school year, another gratuitous picture of my library.

After the Summer off (more of that later) I am returning to my self-imposed reading theme, hoping to get the literary grey cells going with a good dose of Iris Murdoch.

As you can see, I have a(n almost) complete collection of her novels (copies of Flight From The Enchanter, The Bell and Iris are mysteriously missing; particularly odd as I know I’ve read them. That will bother me all night…).

But I don’t think I really ‘get’ Murdoch. She’s a novelist who writes about ideas, about people who talk about philosophy, stringing events together to make a point, rather than a great novelist with a well-honed style.

Or at least that’s my recollection of Murdoch’s work.

I am prepared to be challenged.

But where should I start?

 

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On June’s Journeying

Bob: The Man on the Moon by Simon Bartram. Highly recommended by me - and my kids

Bob: The Man on the Moon by Simon Bartram. Highly recommended by me – and my kids

Perhaps I was enjoying my sci-Fi and fantasy month too much, I extended it half way into July. Admittedly, I enjoyed entering into new worlds, an author’s imagination, imagining ‘what if?’, what’s out there, what are the limits…

it was good to get away from the ordinary and humdrum; to travel to another planet, to imagine the future.

I can begin to understand the genre’s appeal. A little like habitual readers of romance novels, reading a sci-fi or fantasy novel is a time to escape,to turn away from the domestic everyday concerns and let Ian author take you on an incredible journey.

But at heart, what really matters, what I think draws people back is the humanity (even if not humanoid); it’s seeing what people do, think, feel, interact in extreme circumstances. Even if they’re a vampire. Or green.

imagei enjoyed my ‘June Journeying’ but I think my visa’s expired. I shall return to earth and the next (mini) theme..

P.S. here’s what I managed to read:

The Passage – Justin Cronin

Enter Wildtyme – Paul Magrs (an almost random choice from my library; a time-travelling fantasy with its roots in Darlington bookshop. And there’s a sequel: Wild Thyme Beyond)

The Light Fantastic -Terry Pratchett (a rollicking ride!)

The Player of Games – Iain M. Banks (hard work but it paid off; I had to be totally focused)

(Non sci- Fi: This Is How It Ends – Kathleen McMahon (passed the time entertainingly for a day in hospital); The Betrayal – Helen Dunmore (a reading group choice; I alway love her novels))

Here’s what I have left in my overly ambitious pile to read – one day:

The Gone Away World – Nick Harkaway

Darkmans – Nicola Barker

Under the Dome – Stephen King

The Magician – Raymond E. Fiest

The Left Hand Of Darkness – Ursula Le Guin

The Earthsea Quartet – Ursula Le Guin

Jack Glass – Adam Roberts (I can’t wait to start that; a combination of the Golden Age of sci- Fi and the Golden Age of crime fiction.)

Oh, perhaps I can squeeze another book in….

 
 

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Hardy: a Heart-Tearing Man

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‘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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