Balm for the Soul

The past few weeks have been pretty stressful for me. Work has been very chaotic and busy and my days off have been packed full too. It is lovely to be selling books and stationery at village fêtes or taking my dog to an agility competition but hardly restful. I am definitely someone who needs time to myself to recharge.

My reading wasn’t helping either – in my breaks at work I was reading Mayflies by Andrew O’Hagan for my book club and I was struggling somewhat with the content. It is certainly not a book which is designed to cheer me up!

However, on Saturday I had a free day with nothing to do but ride my pony and watch the cross country from Bicton Horse Trials. I had practically a whole day in which I could do nothing and I made the best use of it.

The day started off perfectly as my Mum made me a wonderful tray of breakfast so I could just sit and eat and read at my leisure. A murder mystery might seem an odd choice of comfort reading but it really does work – and having something that gripping was exactly what I needed. Besides, I love the Good Girl’s Guide to Murder series!

After the horsey part of my day was done, I took my book and hammock outside and spent a very happy few hours curled up just reading. Even the dog thought it looked like fun.

It was wonderful and exactly what I needed.

Surprising Reading

I am always intrigued by the things which make us enjoy particular books. Especially when those books are unexpected – or rather, the enjoyment of them is unexpected. I often find this with my book club – most of the time the books chosen are not ones I would have picked myself and yet those are often the ones which I end up enjoying the most.

My most memorable example of that was This Must be the Place by Maggie O’Farrell. The blurb on the book did not engage me at all and I was not particularly looking forward to it but in the end I loved it. I don’t remember too much about the book now but I definitely remember thinking that the blurb did not do it justice. It was also one of the few books which the whole book club enjoyed – always a good sign!

My Mum had a similar experience recently. She has never been a fan of novels – much preferring to read something with more of a fast paced plot. She was not a huge fan of The Fortnight in September even though it has been so popular – I personally loved it – and she started reading The Feast by Margaret Kennedy expecting it to be much the same. In fact, she raced through it and enjoyed it very much indeed, even going so far as to say that bits of it were the most ingenious she has read.

It all goes to show that you really can never tell what a book will be like. What is the most surprising book you have loved?

The Pursuit of Love

Over the past week I have been reading The Pursuit of Love with a wonderful group of bookish friends. I know that I have read it before but apart from the fact that I had a vague idea Paris came into it somewhere I couldn’t really remember anything about it. Even when I started reading it nothing seemed familiar which was a pleasant surprise and very unusual for me.

I really enjoyed the book – Nancy Mitford’s writing is just suited to me and I raced through it. It’s a funny thing though – although I love the writing I am not immediately drawn to read any more of her books. I can only think that I didn’t find the plot uplifting enough to draw me in for more. No doubt that will change and I will be reading her again in the future.

The best bit though was the discussion we had afterwards. We covered topics from class structure to drag hunting to rationing and I loved it. Bookish friends are the best!

Summer Fêtes

On Saturday I had my first book stall in almost two years. I have definitely missed taking the books out during the pandemic! I went out to a local summer fête and for the first time combined my stall with selling my stationery.

The combination worked very well and I was so pleased with the feedback I got for the stationery. The forecast had been for rain all day but while we were open we got away with only one shower which definitely helped make the day go well. Paper products out in the rain is not the best of ideas!

I revelled in being at the fête and so much enjoyed sharing my books with people. I get to talk about books every day at work but there is something extra special when I can say that I love every single book on the shelf. The highlight of the day though had to be this very special customer. He was incredibly cute and was very interested in the cards.

It was a great day and I am very much looking forward to the next one.

An Evening of Bookish Delights

I had the best bookish evening last night. It started with me rushing home to be back in time for the Pan Macmillan virtual roadshow for booksellers. This took us through a lot of their big titles coming out over the next few months and it was so interesting to hear the authors themselves talking about their books. My reading list just got a whole lot longer! We even got to draw with Rob Biddulph which was a lot of fun – and I was pretty pleased with the result!

Obviously the books were the main part of the evening but almost as important were the snacks that Pan Macmillan very kindly sent out to all attendees. I ate far too much!

That was followed immediately by my virtual book club meeting. It was lovely to see everyone again and to have a proper conversation about the books we’ve been reading. We always end up discussing far more books than just the one we read for the meeting and I love that.

All in all in was a lovely way to spend the evening and I am very much looking forward to the next time. I’m also now getting excited about the Hay Festival which will be held online in a couple of weeks. It is going to be great!

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.

Literary Meetings

Before the pandemic I loved going to meetings of my local branch of the Jane Austen Society. They were lovely places to meet like minded people for bookish chats, lunch and plenty of tea. Best of all were the talks we enjoyed – two at every meeting – and we had some great ones. My favourite is probably still the dramatic reading of extracts from Austen’s Juvenilia – it was hilarious – and I also remember one several years ago about William Beckford. I loved Amy Frost’s talk so much that I immediately went and borrowed every book by Beckford I could find in the library.

In fact, Amy Frost spoke at the last meeting I attended – in January last year – and gave another fascinating talk about what is wrong with location in Austen adaptations. Since then of course we have been kept at home. I have enjoyed several online events – including the literary festival hosted by Chawton House – but it has been a few months since the last one I saw. I was therefore delighted to be invited – along with the rest of my branch – to a Zoom meeting hosted by the Scottish branch of the society.

We were determined to do things properly so we set out a nice tea for ourselves and sat down to a talk on Jane Austen and the weather by Katie Halsey. I very much enjoyed listening to it and of course it made me long to read the novels again (it has been maybe two months since I read any Jane Austen – you wouldn’t think I would need more yet!). It was a thoroughly delightful way to spend the afternoon and I am definitely looking forward to the next opportunity to hear talks like this. They might not be quite the same as meeting in person but they are definitely filling an intellectual hole. If you know of any please do let me know!

Halloween Reading

As it is Halloween this week my online book club has been reading Dracula.  This was my first time reading it and, as I scare pretty easily when reading or watching anything remotely frightening, I was expecting to be terrified.

There were definitely some very atmospheric and spooky parts – the early chapters in Dracula’s castle were especially good. I was not, however, at all afraid. Normally a scary book will make me reluctant to take the dog out at night so this was unexpected.

Some of that was because of the book itself. It does have some issues but mainly I was frustrated by how oblivious all the men in the book are – they don’t even notice when someone has been bitten by the vampire. The only character with real intelligence is a woman – who doesn’t get the credit she deserves.

Partly though, I was affected by the fact that I was listening to the audiobook whilst doing other things like driving or laundry. I don’t think you get the full effect of the atmosphere when you are at a roundabout! I also didn’t like the particular version I had – it was read by two American actors putting on English accents. The accents weren’t perfect but I could have lived with that. What I did struggle with was the fact that every so often they would completely mispronnounce a word and I would find it so distracting that I would miss the next couple of sentences. I think if the whole thing had been read in an American accent it would have been fine – it was the sudden lapses I found jarring.

As ever, my book club discussion was excellent. I love hearing everyone’s reactions to the book and it is so good to have found kindred spirits with whom I can vent over plot frustrations. I am so looking forward to the next one!