Revisiting Hogwarts

When Harry Potter was first published I was exactly the target age for it.  At the time I was always very proud of the fact that I was reading it before it was cool!  I have a very vivid memory of sitting on the edge of my bed devouring my library copy of Chamber of Secrets.  I’m fairly sure I was supposed to be doing something else – possibly sleeping – but I was too scared to stop reading.

After that I was hooked.  Book one was soon received as a Christmas present but I was made to wait for book three to come out in paperback before I was allowed that one.  By the time book four came around I was buying the hardbacks as soon as they were published.  I even went to my local bookshop’s midnight opening for the final book and stayed up all night to read it.

I grew up with the characters and so the books have remained close to my heart – despite any shortcomings I might be able to see now.  However, I do find that my emotional responses to them have changed.  As a teenager The Order of the Phoenix was my least favourite book – partly because the ending broke my heart (I cried a lot) and partly because Harry was just so angry all the time.  I found him incredibly annoying! 

These days I have a lot more patience with Harry.  I am currently listening to the audiobooks for the first time and having just finished book five I find that instead of  being annoyed with Harry I am angry with all the adults – and especially Dumbledore – myself. Why not tell Harry why he needed to learn occlumency? If he’d known he might have tried harder and even if it didn’t work he would have been prepared for the consequences. As far as I can see the only reason not to tell him is to enable the plot to develop as it did.

Neither can I see any real reason not to tell him earlier why he needs to stay with the Dursleys every summer. Since eleven year old Harry knew Voldemort wanted to kill him wouldn’t it have been comforting to know that he was safe as long as he spent some of each year in Privet Drive? Plus, of course it would have made being there just a bit more bearable.

All that aside, these books were a big part of my childhood and they are hugely nostalgic for me now. I am sure I will visit them again many times in the future. Do you have any childhood favourites with which you have a different relationship now?

Reading Schedules

When I was a child I was always reading multiple books at once. I would just pick up the closest book and read from where I had left off. I never got the stories muddled and it was just what worked for me.

As I grew up I was less likely to do that. Partly because I knew that if I was reading a difficult book and put it aside for something else the chances were it would be weeks before I picked it up again – if I ever did. Reading one book at a time was fine too but reading was less joyful – I would feel obliged to read a book I wasn’t really enjoying and so sometimes I wouldn’t read at all.

More recently still, multiple books are making an appearance again. They are mostly being read at set times but that’s okay too. I need something light and easy in the mornings (but not too gripping or it will make me late for work!). Currently that is Storm in the Village by Miss Read. On the other hand, the book I read in my breaks at work needs to be gripping without making me stressed – The White Riders by Monica Edwards is getting me through at the moment. Although, today I dropped that for yet another book – volume four of Heartstopper arrived and I couldn’t resist it!

For bedtime reading I just pick whatever I feel like at the time – which might be any one of the books I’m reading or something else entirely. I’ve just finished Ben Aaronovitch’s What Abigail Did That Summer which I loved so tonight I get to pick something new!

I’m also still working my way through Barnaby Rudge which has got pretty exciting and will be finished very soon. I can take my time with that one so, as my copy is a bit too fragile for bedtime reading, it is reserved for mealtimes – or any other time I manage to sit down and read.

This all sounds like an organised system but it really isn’t. It’s just what happens to be working right now. No doubt next week will be different again but for now I’m reading a lot of books and it’s making me very happy.

Seaside Reading

On Monday I had a day off work and decided to take advantage of the glorious weather we have been having by spending the afternoon at one of my favourite picnic spots up by the coast path. We had a late coffee and set off for a walk. Although it was short, it was the first proper walk I have had since the pandemic started and I had forgotten just how much I enjoy walking. The weather couldn’t have been better and we had a lovely time.

Back at the car we settled down for lunch and an afternoon of reading and staring out to sea. It is one of my favourite ways to spend a day and I have missed it!

I had two books with me this time – firstly I finished Pink Sugar which was the perfect picnic read. I loved it! Then I picked Barnaby Rudge back up. I have been reading it off and on for a couple of months as I am reading it with an online book club. The schedule made me start off by reading a chapter a day which I thought would be perfect but it turns out I just don’t read well that way. I think just one chapter isn’t enough time for me to immerse myself in the story and so I never really got invested in the characters. I realised that I much prefer to read big chunks at a time.

All of which meant that until Monday hadn’t actually picked it up for several weeks and I had got seriously behind schedule. After some intense reading on Monday though I am catching up and hopefully I will do so by the end of the week. I am certainly much more interested in the book now, although some of that is due to the fact that more exciting things are happening!

I had the best day reading and dreaming and I can’t wait to do it again.

Starting the Day Right

With the shops reopening in England and Wales this week I am back working hard in the bookshop. It is good to talk to people about books again – and of course it is lovely to see all the books themselves and find new ones I want to read. Opening the boxes of new books just before we opened felt like Christmas!

However, it is still pretty stressful and I think it will take me a while to get used to actually meeting people again. I am developing ways to cope though and my favourite of course involves books.

I have never been great at getting up early so my breakfast is usually eaten in rushed mouthfuls while I’m also getting dressed. Not very relaxing! Now though I am making the effort to get up just ten minutes earlier so that once I’ve done all my stable chores I still have time to sit down with my breakfast and a book. It has become one of the best parts of my day and naturally makes me wonder why I didn’t make more time for it before!

Currently my breakfast reading is Pink Sugar by O Douglas and I am loving it. I haven’t read any of her books for some time now so I am almost rediscovering her all over again. I couldn’t be happier.

The Comforts of Middlebrow

Finding myself at the end of a book at the beginning of the Easter weekend, I was casting about on my unread shelves for my next read. I had recently finished Yours Cheerfully (more on that another time) and so for the first time in quite a while I was very much in the mood for some gentle mid-century middlebrow fiction.

I love these kinds of books. I can’t remember now whether I discovered D E Stevenson or O Douglas first but I do remember exactly how I found them. Stevenson was a recommendation from a friend (Miss Buncle’s Book was my first), Douglas was a serendipitous find when I was browsing in a charity bookshop (Jane’s Parlour). I adored them both and will now snatch up any of their books – or anything similar – which happen to come my way. Having said that, although I read Mrs Tim of the Regiment many years ago now, I had never got around to reading the rest of the books in the series. This weekend seemed like a good time to finally do so.

They were the perfect books for a long weekend. The weather was glorious (if a little chilly at times) and with very few other claims on my time I could properly indulge myself and read for hours. It was wonderful and I read through all three books. They are just as good as I remember the first book and I was made so happy by them. I was even pleased to find some similarities between Mrs Tim and myself – she too is a fan of Anthony Trollope.

If you haven’t discovered Mrs Tim yet I can highly recommend her acquaintance. These might be gentle books but they are not short on plot and they are some of the most comforting books I know. If you liked Diary of a Provincial Lady I know you will enjoy these too. As you can see, they work well on a picnic but they are equally good reading when you are curled up inside. I am determined to actively seek out more books by D E Stevenson – instead of just waiting for them to fall in my lap!

A Bookish Weekend

We have been having some gorgeous spring weather over the past few days. There has been the odd shower too but I have still been very much cheered up by the sunshine.

I am spending a lot of time in the studio at the moment but I gave myself some time off over the weekend and on Saturday afternoon – despite the fact that I could see that rain would be moving in before too long – I couldn’t resist throwing a book and sketchbook into my satchel and heading out into the ponies’ field. I spread my blanket under a tree and spent a very happy hour reading and sketching. It was lovely.

Naturally I had been right about the rain and it did eventually turn up. Not that it drove me straight in. I could cope with the light rain but a downpour was just too much and I scurried back inside.

I have been seeing a great many posts about the death of Beverly Cleary last week which have made me want to revisit her Ramona Quimby books. I got the audiobooks of these from the library so often that I can still hear the narrator’s voice in my head. I would have loved to get hold of the audiobooks now but sadly they don’t seem to be available in the UK. I do however have two of the books on my shelf and I raced through those on Sunday.

It is amazing how the memory works. Some of the scenes in these two are so vivid – I especially remember Beezus drawing a horse with wings (although I think this scene is actually in Beezus and Ramona) but a lot of these books felt as if I was reading them for the first time (I definitely wasn’t!). I had a lovely, nostalgic wallow in them and would love to get my hands on more.

All in all, it was a pretty wonderful weekend.

Exciting New Ventures

As I mentioned last week, my reading recently has been seriously curtailed as I have been keeping myself busy through lockdown by painting designs to use on stationery. I have always loved letter writing and when I stopped being able to browse my favourite stationery shops I started to design my own paper. I enjoyed it so much that I decided to open my own stationery shop online.

It has been a lot of work (painting is the smallest part of it!) and I am exhausted but my little shop opened on Saturday. I have enjoyed the painting so much that my range is going to increase quickly – I currently have a selection of letter paper, while cards and bookmarks will be following shortly. Of course, books are one of my favourite things to draw so they had to feature.

I celebrated the opening by taking my pony for a ride and then settling down to read The Penderwicks by Jeanne Birdsall. I have never read it before but had been meaning to do so for such a long time. It was the most delightful children’s book and exactly the easy reading I needed. I will definitely be seeking out the second book soon.

Books as Decoration

I haven’t been able to do much reading this week – I am in the final stages of setting up my online stationery shop (opening on Saturday!) and so any time I can spare has been dedicated to that. It has been quite an intense process and even at bedtime I am normally too tired for more than a couple of pages. Still, I am very much enjoying the process and am looking forward to opening for business.

I am not being completely deprived of books though – audiobooks are wonderful if I am doing something which doesn’t involve too much brain power – and just seeing some of my beautiful books is enough to make me happy. This little stack of Enid Blyton books on the staircase always makes me smile.

Hopefully things will be more normal for me next week and I will be right back in the swing of reading. I do have a lovely pile just waiting for me to get to it!

Birthday Books

It was my birthday last week and I was very lucky to receive a lovely stack of books. I was very excited and immediately dropped everything to start reading them.

I cannot remember where I first heard about A Sweet Girl Graduate but I knew I had to try it. It is set in a women’s college in England in the late 19th century and as I love books like Daddy Long Legs and Anne of the Island so much I was sure I would enjoy this too. I’m almost at the end of it now and I wasn’t wrong! Jane West’s A Gossip’s Story is supposed to have been an inspiration for Sense and Sensibility so I am very excited to try that soon. Linda Newberry is an author I have never read – but have heard very good things about – so I am looking forward to The Nowhere Girl as well.

The Sign of Four is only the second Sherlock Holmes book I have read (although we read a couple of the short stories at school and I was very proud of solving one of them before Holmes did – and without sitting for hours smoking too, which is what I remember him doing in that instance!). It was the first one of this stack I picked up and I raced through it. I loved the book anyway but I also really enjoyed picking up on all the bits included in the Sherlock TV series – some of the ways they adapted it were so clever.

This book came with a little extra – some beautiful book stitch markers for my crochet. If you look closely you can see that one of them matches the book cover. Even the back cover is correct. I love them and they are making my current project look beautiful.

The Woman in White

Many years ago I listened to the audiobook of The Woman in White. I knew it was abridged but hadn’t realised how much until I listened to the full version last month. I think my abridged copy was only two or three hours long – the whole book is more than twenty hours. That really hit home when I was about half an hour in and I hadn’t yet recognised a word.

It also explained why I had thought that the only other two Wilkie Collins books I’ve read – No Name and The Moonstone – were so much better than The Woman in White, which is probably his most famous work. It turns out that when you miss out most of the words you lose a lot! No Name is probably still my favourite but I was totally gripped by this one – even though I knew more or less what was going to happen – and I resented having to stop listening.

This time I listened to the version read by Gabriel Woolf. I thought he was an excellent reader but the book badly needed better editing. There were a lot of extraneous noises like throat clearing and many instances of the reader making a mistake and then correcting himself. I still very much enjoyed it but it was distracting and if you’re thinking of listening it is probably worth looking for a different reading.