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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 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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On big books

imageAs part of my self-imposed, extended sci-fi & fantasy month of June, I read Justin Cronin’s The Passage; a 960-something sprawling tome full of viruses, vampires, nuns, survivors and a young girl called Amy.
It’s a great read – the first part of a projected trilogy – and I’d heartily recommend it, particularly if (like me) you don’t usually enjoy sci-fi. It’s well-written, compelling, moving and engaging. And there’s a bearable version of a vampire legend.
But you have to commit to a book as long as this.
It’s a huge book to lug about (I have a ‘real’ copy, resisting the temptation to buy it again for my Kindle) and the action takes place over a century or so time span. There is a large cast of characters. And vampires, twelve of them.
It took me about five weeks to get through this, having read about 300 pages when I first bought it a couple of years ago. Not bad going, but I was reading other books in between and alongside so hadn’t been entirely faithful to Amy and her defenders.
This is where I come unstuck.
I cannot always commit.
I am a book magpie. I like gathering books around me, attracted by glittery things, piles of paper to line our nest. And thus, restricting myself to reading one book at a time is difficult: I am not sure what mood I will be in, where I’ll be reading, how much time I have available, whether I’m looking after the children, or whatever else I am doing.
This is why I am unlikely to finish The Game of Thrones; I am completely lost only a third of the way through the first instalment, without an end in sight. It’s just the War of the Roses with lots of snow and a big wall, right?
But I committed to The Passage (mostly) and am pleased that I persevered. Having finished it last night, I now feel footloose and fancy free! I don’t have to move the book’s heft up and down stairs; I can look at other books, with the chance of spending some time with them instead.
So, what’s next? A few more days of sci-fi & fantasy? I’m sure I can squeeze in a Terry Pratchett Discworld novel…

 
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Posted by on 12/07/2013 in Uncategorized

 

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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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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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2012: My Year In Books

No comment or reflection, just a list of the 70 books I’ve found time to read this year. Marks are given out of 5. RG = Reading Group book; K = read on Kindle. As you’ll see, I wasn’t very strict with my themed reading; will try harder next year.

January

  1. Requiem for a Mezzo    – Carola Dunn (4)
  2. Secrets – Jaqueline Wilson (5)
  3. The Boy In the Dress – David Walliams (5)
  4. Confessions of a Jane Austen Addict  – Laurie Rigler (3)
  5. Don’t You Want Me? – India Knight (3)
  6. More Than Love Letters  – Rosie Thornton (3)
  7. Snowdrops – A D MIller  (3) (K, RG)
  8. Mistress of Mellyn – Victoria Holt (4)
  9. There But For The – Ali Smith (5)
  10. Emily Goes to Exeter – M C Beaton (4) (K)
  11. This Charming Man – Marian Keyes (3)

February

  1. The Winter King – Bernard Cornwall (3)
  2. Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? – Jeanette Winterson (5)
  3. The Wives of Henry Oades – Johanna Moran (4) (RG)
  4. Before I Go To  Sleep – S J Watson (5) (K)
  5. The Pillars of the Earth – Ken Follett (4)
  6. The Library Book – Various (5)

March

  1. Dark Matter: A Ghost Story – Michelle Paver (3) (RG)
  2. Stop What You’re Doing And Read This! – Various (5)

April

  1. The Rules of Civility – Amor Towles (3)
  2. The Paris Wife – Paula McLaine (4) (RG)
  3. Minerva – M C Beaton (4)
  4. Fifty Shades of Grey – E L James (2)
  5. And Now The Shipping Forecast – Peter Jefferson (3)
  6. Half of the Human Race – Anthony Quinn (4)
  7. The Taming of Annabelle – M C Beaton (4)

May

  1. The White Queen – Philippa Gregory (4)
  2. The Daughter of Time – Josephine Tey (4)
  3. Sweet Danger  – Margery Allingham (3)

June

  1. The Mystery of a Butcher’s Shop – Gladys Mitchell (4)
  2. The Chinese Shawl – Patricia Wentworth (4)
  3. Why Didn’t They Ask Evans? – Agatha Christie (4)
  4. The Case of the Guilded Fly – Edmund Crispin (4)
  5. She – H. Rider Haggard (4) (K)
  6. The Sense of an Ending – Julian Barnes (2) (RG)
  7. A Gathering Storm – Rachel Hoare (3)
  8. The Dark Tower: The Gunslinger – Stephen King (3)
  9. The Dark Tower: The Drawing of the Three – Stephen King (3)

July

  1. The Song of Achillies – Madeline Miller (5) (K)
  2. Into the Darkest Corner  – Elizabeth Haynes (5)
  3. Cameron on Cameron – Dylan Jones (3)
  4. The Revelations – Alex Preston (2) (K)
  5. Death At Pemberley – P D James (5) (K)

August

  1. A Perfectly Good Man – Patrick Gale (5)
  2. One of Our Thursdays Is Missing – Jasper Fforde (5)
  3. Daughters in Law – Joanna Trollope (4)
  4. Sleepyhead – Mark Billingham (4)
  5. Jubilee – Shelly Harris (3) (RG)
  6. The No 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency  – Alexander McCall Smith (4)
  7. Pure – Andrew Miller  (4) (RG)
  8. Winter In Madrid – C J Sansom (5) (K)

September

  1. The Weirdstone of Brisingamon – Alan Garder (5)
  2. The Night Circus – Erin Mortgenstern (4) (RG)
  3. Burnt Shadows – Kamila Shamsie (5)
  4. Poetry: Fierie – Jackie Kay (5) / Family Album – Sheree Mack (5)/ Out of the Blue – Simon Armitage (5)

October

  1. The War of the Worlds – H G Wells (5) (K)
  2. Then – Julie Myerson (5)
  3. Zoo Time – Howard Jacobson (4)
  4. The Moon of Gomrath – Alan Garner (4)
  5. The Greatcoat – Helen Dunmore (5)

November

  1. The Last Weekend – Blake Morrison (5)
  2. Shirley – Charlotte Bronte (4)
  3. Lady Audley’s Secret – Mary Elizabeth Braddon (5) (K)
  4. Emma Brown – Clare Boylan (3)
  5. The Betrayal of Trust – Susan Hill (5)

December

  1. One Night Of Love – Mary Balough (4)
  2. A Weekend With Mr Darcy – Victoria Connolley (4) (K)
  3. The Thoughts and Happenings of Wilfred Price, Purveyor of Superior Funerals – Wendy Jones (4)  (RG)
  4. The Woman Who Went to Bed for a Year – Sue Townsend (4)
  5. Crocodile on the Sandbanks – Elizabeth Peters (4) (K)

So, that was my year. Not a particuarly large number, but respectable for a mum of 2. More comment to follow, along with plans for more themed reading in 2013…

 
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Posted by on 31/12/2012 in End of month review

 

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