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.

The Barsetshire Chronicles

For the past several years – with many gaps in between – I have been slowly reading through The Barsetshire Chronicles. I had never really thought much about reading them until I saw the BBC adaptation of Doctor Thorne in 2016 and absolutely loved it. Naturaly that made me want to read the books. I looked up Anthony Trollope and found a quote from – as I thought – Dickens describing him as too sentimental (or possibly romantic). That I thought sounded wonderful and I embarked straight away on The Warden. Now I come to look for that quote again I cannot find it – if you know it please do let me know! All I can find are references to Trollope’s own satirising of Dickens as ‘Mr Popular Sentiment’.

I fell in love with Trollope soon after beginning The Warden. I found his writing style delightful and I was completely hooked by the story line. Perhaps even more importantly – for me anyway – I really cared about the characters and what happened to them. Of course I had to read more and so Barchester Towers was obtained. In fact, my puchasing habits became fairly predictable – usually within a few chapters of starting one of the books I knew I had to keep reading and I would buy the next book so that it was ready for me as soon as I needed it. That wasn’t normally as soon as I thought – by the end of the book I wanted something else to read – but I always came back to it eventually.

This afternoon I finished The Last Chronicle of Barset. During the course of reading it I have both laughed and cried and there was something very sad about the last lines promising that this was indeed the last book. Tollope’s authorial voice in the books has been one of my favourite parts and, although I am glad to have all the loose ends tied up, I am sorry not to have the next book ready to go.

Of course, Anthony Trollope wrote many, many other books which I am sure I will enjoy just as much as I did these. Which should I read next?

Lockdown Browsing

This has been a good week for me as it saw the arrival of the latest magazine from the Friends of the Chalet School.  I love this magazine with its huge range of interesting articles written by club members. Reading it is like having the best kind of bookish conversation with friends.

This time though, I found myself reaching for the sales and wants section (where members can advertise books for sale – and, of course, those they want) before embarking on reading the magazine itself.  That is not so usual for me and it got me thinking.  Lockdown has obviously stopped all visits to the bookshop and although books can be bought online – for which I am very grateful right now – there is nothing quite so good as browsing in a real, bricks and mortar bookshop.

Part of that joy is of course the browsing among the shelves, not looking for anything in particular.  Those unexpected, unlooked for finds of books I didn’t even know existed are for me even more exciting than finding a book I knew I wanted.  That is something I find much harder on a website and is I think part of the reason I was so happy with my sales and wants list.  You never know what you will find listed there and although most of the titles are familiar there is always something which tempts me into trying to secure it for my collection.

This then is how I will be spending my evening – with a large cup of tea and a highlighter to hand.

On Icicles and Barsetshire

The weather today has been absolutely glorious.  Bright blue skies with endless sunshine and not a sign of a cloud.  So much so that I was tempted to take my books out to read.  Of course, in reality it is far too cold to do that for long.  We may not have had the snow here that has covered most of the rest of the country but it is a bit of a winter wonderland nonetheless.  After working on the hedges this morning I went for a bit of a wander along the stream in the hopes of finding icicles.  I was not disappointed!

My reading this week has slowed down considerably.  Partly that is because despite the lockdown I have been busy with other things (the aforementioned hedges and the stationery I am hoping to start selling online soon) and so my reading time has shrunk back down to coffee and lunch breaks.  That is of course much more normal for me anyway – although I am tending to draw out those breaks to read for just a bit longer! 

A lot of it is to do with my reading matter though.  As much as I love Anthony Trollope (and that is a lot!), I just can’t read him as fast as all the cosy crime I read last month.  The book is about three times as long too!  My other current read is Barnaby Rudge – I’m reading a chapter a day as part of a buddy read which is lovely but not the way to read quickly! The bookmark was presented with The Sunday Companion in 1924 and I love it.

Of course, none of this really matters anyway.  Yes I will read far fewer books in February than I did in January but that isn’t important.  At least I’m reading – and even if I wasn’t it would be fine.  The books aren’t going anywhere.  Now though, I need to pour myself a cup of tea and settle down in Barchester for the evening.  Or possibly London or Allington.  This book moves around a lot!