Book Club Musings

Sometimes it is the books you least expect which cause the best discussions.

This week my book club met to discuss Raynor Winn’s The Salt Path – her account of walking the South West Coast Path with her husband Moth after they not only lost both their home and livelihood but Moth was also diagnosed with a terminal illness.  I read a great many glowing reviews when it first came out and everyone I have ever spoken to has absolutely loved it.  That was the first reason I thought we wouldn’t have a great discussion – when all of us love a book we have very little to say.

The second reason was that the only other time we have read a non-fiction book we really struggled to talk about it.  We couldn’t dissect the plot because it was true and it was one of those books about which nobody had any very strong feelings.  We all enjoyed it but nobody loved it or hated it.  It turns out that as a group we need strong feelings to get a decent discussion!

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As I said though, books can surprise you.  I have to admit that I didn’t love The Salt Path but I didn’t dislike it either.  However, the book group as a whole had a lot of strong opinions.  There was a really good turn out and what ended up being an excellent discussion.  People had a lot to say!

It was one of the best meetings we have ever had and was exactly why I wanted to join in the first place.  There is nothing like talking about books with other people who love them as much as you do.

The Delights of Readalongs

Over the past couple of years I have taken part in several readalongs. I never really knew they were a thing until I discovered Bookstagram but there seem to be so many of them to choose from! For anyone who doesn’t know – a readalong is when a group of people read the same book with discussions every so often about set chapters.

Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South and Mary Barton are two of my very favourite books so when I discovered that Shelbi over at The Nobby Life was running a series of Elizabeth Gaskell readalongs I jumped at the chance to join in. Shelbi hosted some excellent discussions and of course I loved the books.

Sadly, I still haven’t finished the last book we discussed. The Sylvia’s Lovers readalong came at a time when I had a lot going on and was also in the middle of quite a reading slump. Sylvia was doing nothing to pull me out of it and the stress of knowing I had to read a certain number of chapters a week was not helpful so I ended up stopping altogether. It’s a shame because I really enjoyed the discussions but that’s the point – readalongs are for fun! Hopefully I’ll pick the book up again soon.

Currently I am taking part in a bookstagram readalong of Martin Chuzzlewit. I am rather behind – I sing in a church choir and had five services plus extra rehearsals over Holy Week so I was somewhat busy – but am hoping to catch up again this week. The main thing is that I am enjoying the book and for me that’s the important part. Of course, the discussions make it extra interesting and I really have been learning a lot from them. I would certainly recommend joining in to anyone who is interested!

Springtime Reading

We have been having some simply glorious weather for the past few days. We have had some cold days too of course – it is only April after all – but definitely a good proportion of the time has been sunny.

Days like this make me want to escape outside as much as possible and whilst I was at Halsway Manor last week I took full advantage of the free time on offer to explore the grounds and neighbouring countryside. I found the loveliest disused tennis court complete with the most amazing view and a tumbledown pavillion. There was even a beautiful set of steps just right for sitting and reading.

I also went some way up the hill beind the house. My seat of choice up there was a tree in the hedgeline. I don’t think I’ll ever grow out of wanting to climb trees! I didn’t manage to get a picture of myself up the tree but I can show you the view which was magnificent.

It was the most wonderful place to while away a few hours.

Reading and Dancing

This past weekend I went away for a few days folk dancing at Halsway Manor.   I recently treated myself to a copy of the first Abbey School book by Elsie J Oxenham – The Girls of the Hamlet Club and although I have only read a couple of books in the series before but I knew the girls were very keen on folk dancing so it seemed the perfect choice to take away with me.

The house is absolutely beautiful. I had been particularly looking forward to seeing the library and it did not disappoint.

In fact, it was even better than I had hoped as I found half a shelf of Abbey School books in there which made me very happy indeed.

The weekend was very full but I still found plenty of time for reading and thoroughly enjoyed myself. I had the most wonderful windowsill in my bedroom.

It was perfect for sitting and reading and I could have quite happily spent the whole weekend there!

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The Joys of Spring

Spring is springing!

We have had a glorious few days of the most beautiful sunshine and it has been marvellous. Things always look so much better when the sun shines.

For me, one of the best things is being able to read outside again. There is nothing quite like it and it makes me so happy that I’ve been able to do so this week.

I had to wrap up warm and my fingers went numb but it was still wonderful.

Of course, as I write this there is an absolute deluge of hail outside and I am curled up by the fire. That is lovely too!

In Defence of Escapism

We all have bad days. Yesterday was quite stressful for me and when I got home all I wanted to do was curl up in front of the fire with my book and a cup of tea. Yes I had a list of chores which needed doing but they would still need doing another day!

This is why I like to have escapist books. People so often scoff at happy books as being ‘just’ escapism but sometimes that’s what I need. If I’ve had a hard day I don’t want to make myself feel worse by reading about someone else being miserable. Books are my happy place after all.

In this instance I was reading Alan Bradley’s The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie which I picked up on my trip to Foyles. It’s a book I had heard of but never really knew anything about – when I found it though I could tell it was perfect for me. I’m halfway through now and I definitely made the right choice!

Just a couple of hours reading settled me back down. Books are the best medicine.

Book Review – Jane Austen at Home

Last year I went to see Lucy Worsley’s talk about her book Jane Austen at Home. Obviously I am a Jane Austen fan but I also love watching Lucy’s television programmes so I was very much looking forward to it.

I wasn’t disappointed either – Lucy gave a fantastic talk and if you ever get a chance to see her I would thoroughly recommend going. Of course, I had to buy the book and get it signed!

Publisher’s Blurb

On the 200th anniversary of Jane Austen’s death, historian Lucy Worsley leads us into the rooms from which our best-loved novelist quietly changed the world.

This new telling of the story of Jane’s life shows us how and why she lived as she did, examining the places and spaces that mattered to her. It wasn’t all country houses and ballrooms, but a life that was often a painful struggle. Jane famously lived a ‘life without incident’, but with new research and insights Lucy Worsley reveals a passionate woman who fought for her freedom. A woman who far from being a lonely spinster in fact had at least five marriage prospects, but who in the end refused to settle for anything less than Mr Darcy.

It took me a while to get around to reading it but it was always hovering at the back of my mind and when I booked to go to the Jane Austen Society study day I knew it would be the perfect companion for me. I was so excited to finally be reading it.

I sometimes struggle to get into non-fiction but I was immediately gripped by this one and I resented having to put it down to do something else. It was just as well as I had a four hour train journey so I needed something that kept me wanting to read!

This was a really interesting way to look at the life of Jane Austen and I did learn some things I hadn’t previously known. I loved Lucy Worsley’s style of writing and I will definitely be reading more of her books in the future.

Book Details

Jane Austen at Home by Lucy Worsley

ISBN: 9781473632202

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

RRP: £9.99

Medicinal Reading

For the past few days I have been suffering with a shocking cold which always makes me feel miserable.  At times like this I just want easy, comfort reading. Quite often that means children’s books and this time it is pony books I have been craving.

Anyone who follows my pony adventures will know that I am a huge fan of pony books anyway but over the past two days I have read three pony books and don’t look like stopping anytime soon.

Firstly, I have been catching up with Olivia Tuffin’s A Pony Called Secret series.  I adored the first book but it has taken me ages to get round to reading the others.  I am almost up to date with them now and am enjoying them as much as ever.  This is definitely one of my favourite modern series.

Sadly most of the more vintage pony authors I enjoy have gone out of print and often they are very expensive second hand.  However, I came across three at our local market just before Christmas and I couldn’t resist them.  I am very grateful for that weakness now!  I had only read one Joanna Cannan book before and I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed her writing – I will definitely have to seek out more of her books in the future.

From past experience, my pony book obsession will last a few days – or possibly weeks – and I will then feel a desperate need to read something much more meaty.  However, while it lasts I am revelling in it!

Fangirling in Bloomsbury

The day after my Jane Austen Society annual study day last week I was due to meet a friend for brunch. Naturally that meant I had to stay in town which I was more than happy to do! I was very impressed to find that my hotel had Foyles marked as a place of interest on its map.

I had never been to Foyles before so I had planned to visit on the Saturday evening and it was definitely worth the trip – I spent well over two hours browsing the shelves and had to exercise great restraint not to come away with half the books. I especially loved the children’s classics section which had six whole shelves of Enid Blyton and even some books from the Girls Gone By Press. Foyles is much bigger than any bookshop near me and it was wonderful to be able to properly browse and find new (to me) titles. In the end, however, I managed to restrict myself to just two books and a tote bag.

I was meeting my friend at King’s Cross so the next day I wandered through Bloomsbury, picking out as many literary sights as I could. I made a slight detour to find Mecklenburg Square and the house where Dorothy L Sayers once lived. Harriet Vane is mentioned as living in the square too so it was doubly interesting to me.

I had toyed with the idea of having my picture taken with the trolley at Platform 9 3/4 but having seen the length of the queue I decided I could manage without!

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After brunch I visited the Charles Dickens museum which I loved – my favourite room was, perhaps unsurprisingly, Dickens’ study.

I was very impressed with the setup of the house – they used the house next door for things like the gift shop and had a door knocked through so that the house itself was more or less as it had been in Dickens’ time. I thought it was an excellent use of the space!

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All in all, it was quite a literary pilgrimage of a weekend and I had the most wonderful time. I must do things like this more often!

Being a Janeite

Last Saturday was the Jane Austen Society’s annual study day and for the first time I made the trip up to London to attend.  I was very excited about going but more than a little nervous about being on time – my train was due to arrive 40 minutes before the first lecture started and as trains were delayed by the weather that weekend I was convinced I would be late.  However, my journey ran perfectly and I arrived at Senate House with time to spare.

The talks were all based on the theme of reading but took us in a wide variety of directions and I found them fascinating.  I was greatly interested in the Reading with Austen project and I would highly recommend having a look at their website.  They are trying to locate all the books which were in the Godmersham Park library when Austen was there and the virtual bookshelves are wonderful.

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I also particularly enjoyed the talk on 19th century illustrations in Jane Austen.  I found it fascinating that the illustrations focused so much on typically feminine objects like dresses and bonnets and pictured very few books.  The speaker suggested this gave the impression that the books were very frivolous and I think this is an idea which continues today.  Certainly I have heard people writing off Jane Austen as ‘just’ a romantic novelist when in reality she is so much more.  On the other hand, some illustrations made the books look like highly sensational novels – I found them rather amusing!

The break times were an excellent chance to chat with other Janeites and I was in my element with so many other like minded people.  It might have been my first study day but it’s certainly won’t be my last.