I know that many people were struggling to read at the beginning of the lockdown but that wasn’t a problem I had. All I wanted to do was devour books all day long. However, as the weeks have gone on I’ve found that my reading rate has slowed down considerably. I couldn’t really understand it as I was fairly sure that I was spending the same amount of time reading. Having said that, I have also been keeping myself very busy with other things such as chores outside, painting and crochet – things I never normally make the time to do.
My reading had definitely slowed down though and in the end I decided it must be because of my reading choices – I was steadily reading my way through the Swallows and Amazons series by Arthur Ransome. I absolutely love these books but I do have to admit that they are very gentle stories and not action packed – they are not the kind of fast-paced book which forces you to keep reading so you know what happens next. They very much allow you to take your time and luxuriate in them.
It has been wonderful to re-read my way through the series in order (apart from Winter Holiday which I read every Christmas and didn’t want to read again so soon) but I am beginning to feel the need to read something a bit more gripping. Not that I will stop reading Swallows and Amazons – I will just intersperse them a bit with something else. My first choice was Ben Aaronovitch’s Lies Sleeping – I bought his latest book just before the lockdown started and I’ve been catching up with the series since then. I don’t just enjoy the stories themselves – I love how intellectual the Latin and historical references make me feel!
Channel 4 have recently been doing a Stay at Home Academy in the evenings – Jamie Oliver did a series on cooking in the lockdown, then Kirstie Allsopp had some crafting episodes. This week is Richard and Judy’s turn – I was thrilled to find out that they are presenting ‘Keep Reading and Carry On’.
I have very much enjoyed the first few episodes. Of course, I would love for them to be longer so we could see some more in depth discussions of the books but the fact that there is a whole programme dedicated to books on primetime television is wonderful.
I particularly loved Graham Norton and Louis Theroux’s guest appearances. They both came across as genuinely enthusiastic about the books and I would love to have a bookish chat with either of them.
I have also been loving the bookshelves I have seen in the houses of everyone broadcasting from home. Stephen Fry has a particularly enviable study. However, when I watched the BBC’s Big Night In a couple of weeks ago my favourite background was Jason Manford’s – he had a blank wall behind him with pieces of paper pinned up saying, ‘Bookshelves’. I loved it!
Last week I wrote a whole post about watching the two different versions of Swallows and Amazons. I had actually intended to write an entirely different post – I had been watching the new BBC Malory Towers series and really enjoying it. I needed something to fill the gap when the series finished and remembered enjoying the 1970s Famous Five series as a child. I was given some of the episodes on video when my cousin grew out of them and I watched them over and over again. Now seemed like the perfect time to revisit them.
I was pleased to find that I still very much enjoyed them and was just settling in to watching them when I was inspired to watch the 1990s series alongside them. I completely missed these ones as a child so I was really looking forward to comparing the two.
I have a strong emotional attachment to the series from the 70s but I have to admit that the 90s version holds up very well. It is set in the forties for a start and I much prefer those costumes to those from the seventies. For another, they do in the main seem to be more accurate adaptations of the books. There are a few instances when that is not the case but mostly it is.
However, I am not so fond of how argumentative the children are. They bicker much more than they are shown to do in the books and they are often very aggressive in the way they speak – both to each other and to others. I didn’t really see that it was necessary.
I am very much enjoying both series and am especially glad that I chose to watch them together – it is fun to compare them! I am beginning to be aware though that I will run out of episodes soon. I have no idea what I can use to fill the gap they will leave – any recommendations for similar series would be highly welcome!
Last weekend I finally sat down to watch the 2016 film of Swallows and Amazons. This was one of my favourite books growing up and I also loved the 1974 film so I was looking forward to the film with some trepidation but mostly excitement. As soon as it started I was taken back to my childhood. The setting was of course stunning and the costumes were just perfect.
I was not at all prepared for the storyline though. Whilst it was loosely based on the book, the adaptor seems to have felt that the book was far too boring for a modern day audience and that a much more exciting plot needed to be added. For me, Swallows and Amazons is a wonderful, gentle book about a group of children playing make believe and exploring the Lake District. This film did not convey that feeling at all.
Not only that – the children seemed much more argumentative and not nearly as nice to each other as I remembered. In fact, I did immediately start re-reading the book and can confirm that the original children were much friendlier. The film also made them far more incompetent than the book. I didn’t see that it was really necessary for them to lose their entire food supply before they even arrived on the island. Susan is meant to be a pretty decent cook and the idea of cold, miserable, hungry children just seemed odd.
Having said all of that, I think the film itself was actually very good. If I hadn’t grown up loving the books I would have adored the film – my only gripes with it were where they have significantly changed the plot. Which does make me wonder why they had not just written a spy story with their own characters.
The next evening I did go back and watch the 1974 film. It is certainly not as exciting as the new one but it gives me much more of the happy, peaceful feeling of the books. I was very glad to find that I still loved it just as much as I did as a child.
I have written several times before about my love for audiobooks. Now we are stuck at home with the lockdown my audiobook consumption has reduced somewhat – I can no longer listen on my way to and from work.
I do still listen when I am doing yard chores for the ponies though and also whilst working on my crochet. I love to crochet but normally I don’t tend to make enough time for it. However, as soon as the lockdown started I just wanted to make things – I crochet when we sit down for a cup of tea and a chat and if we watch a film in the evening I am almost guaranteed to be hooking away. Of course, at other times of day, listening to audiobooks is a perfect accompaniment to crafting. It is amazing how quickly a project will progress if you work on it consistently!
All of which means that I am still listening, just in a different way. I am also strictly listening to cosy books – I am currently re-listening to the Needlecraft Mysteries series by Monica Ferris. Set in a needlecraft shop, I discovered them last year and absolutely loved them. This year they are the perfect comfort read and I am so enjoying listening to them. Apparently crime fiction always increases in popularity at times of stress. We love to read books where there’s only one thing wrong – the murder – and that always has a comforting solution. If you are looking for gentle mysteries to read I would highly recommend trying these.
I have never been able to decide which I prefer – sitting outside with my book in the summer or curling up with it by the fire in the winter. At the moment I can just about get away with doing both – it has been very warm today and lovely to sit outside but the evenings have been cool enough for a fire still.
Even though the evening fires may end soon I have the comfort of knowing that I am helping to build up our store of logs for next winter’s fires. Since I am obviously not at work at the moment I am spending my time helping my parents out with the work on our fields (which are at home so we can carry on without breaking any social isolation rules).
Specifically we have been doing a lot of work on the hedges – brambles have been pulled out and a few trees which had got out of hand have been felled. The log store – which had been getting rather empty – is starting to fill up once more. Of course, these logs won’t be burnable for a year or so but it is good to know that they will be there and ready when we want them.
I recently watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society for the first time since seeing it (twice) in the cinema. I adored it when I first saw it and was very pleased to find that I still loved it just as much.
So much so that I immediately fetched the book off the shelf to read that again too. I haven’t read it for several years, beyond a quick flick through to remind me of the main points before I first saw the film.
As I expected, I still loved the book too. It is such a comfort read for me and it was wonderfully cosy to come back to it. I had forgotten though just how many changes the film had made – I knew there were quite a few differences but it was only reading the book properly which reminded me just how many. Some of them made practical sense but there were some things which I just couldn’t understand.
However, it is interesting to find that I do love both the book and the film, despite those differences. I think the film keeps the same spirit as the book and of course the main plot is more or less the same. They are both beautiful stories and I cannot help loving them. I need more like them please!
On Saturday I went to a meeting of my local branch of the Jane Austen Society. I miss a lot of these meetings because I often tend to be working when they happen so I am always extra happy when I can get to one. It is lovely to have a room full of so many Jane Austen enthusiasts and of course the talks are excellent.
I was especially impressed with the talks this month. In the afternoon we heard from architectural historian Amy Frost about the locations used in adaptations of Jane Austen’s work. It is surprising how many of them are just wrong when you actually look at them. I was particularly amused by the locations chosen for Sense and Sensibility – Norland has grown enormously with each new adaptation, while Barton Cottage has shrunk right down. I loved the cottages used in the more recent adaptations but they certainly bear no resemblance to Austen’s description!
The morning talk was also brilliant. It was somewhat more intellectual than a lot of the talks we have – a fact which I very much appreciated. So much so that I was scribbling away throughout the talk and had to pull out my books when I got home to transfer the notes.
This was Anne Toper – Dialogue in Pride and Prejudice: Blunder and Innovation. She was (unsurprisingly!) talking about Austen’s use of dialogue – particularly how infrequently she uses words such as, ‘He said’ or, ‘She said.’ When she does use them it is deliberately for effect – for an example, read the first proposal scene in Pride and Prejudice (chapter 34) and compare the speech attributions with those used when Fanny and Edmund are talking about stars in chapter 11 of Mansfield Park. The intimacy between the characters is entirely different.
I thoroughly enjoyed both talks and loved the feeling that I was properly studying the texts. As ever, I came away completely enthused and thinking that I must make myself more opportunities for similar events.
I mentioned in my last post that Five by Hallie Rubenhold was one of my favourite books from last year. It is essentially a biography of the five women killed by Jack the Ripper and is very much a book about their lives and not their deaths – although those are covered too.
It is an utterly fascinating book and I was genuinely gripped by it. I wanted to know what happened to those women and how they ended up on the streets of Whitechapel.
Non-fiction can be a struggle for me. No matter how much I am interested in a subject and want to read the book, I do not tend to pick them up. Instead I go for stories. I can’t really explain it but I love to get lost in another world.
In the case of Five, it had been sitting on my shelf for months just waiting for me to pick it up. Every time I started a new book it was overlooked. Then I thought of audiobooks and borrowed a copy from the library.
It was a revelation. I was hooked and just couldn’t stop listening. Which was potentially awkward at times when I had forgotten my earphones – if someone had walked in on me and just heard snippets out of context it might have sounded odd!
Audiobooks are definitely a great tool and something I will remember the next time I want to read a non-fiction book but am putting off starting it. I should manage to learn much more this way!
I’m a little late with my round up of last year’s reading because I wanted to post about Christmas last week. It is still nice to reflect on the year though so better late than never!
2019 was a good reading year for me. I’m not overly driven by numbers – it is much more important for me to feel that I have been enjoying my reading. There were a couple of times when I got bogged down in a book I didn’t much like and which really slowed down my reading but on the whole I can say that I read a lot of books I loved. Most of the time I just wanted to get back to my books.
That being said, I do know that I read 128 books last year – of which 16 were re-reads – which was a big jump up on the 91 of the year before. Of course, part of that is because I listened to 44 audio books – up from 14 in 2018. That definitely helped!
I am not at all good at picking favourites – they change so much depending on my mood. There are a few which stick in my mind though – I loved Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie, Holly Jackson’s A Good Girl’s Guide to Murder and Waverley by Walter Scott. Hallie Rubenhold’s Five was fascinating and I was completely hooked by it.
As for reading resolutions for the new year, I have stopped setting myself firm reading lists as for me they creates too much pressure and stop me enjoying the books so much. The only resolution I really have is to read the books which bring me joy. I so much loved reading my cosy books over Christmas that I want to carry on doing the same all year round and not pressure myself into reading books I think I ought to read. That sounds like a pretty good year to me.