Vanity Fair

Whilst I was away I was ploughing my way through Vanity Fair. This is a book which has sat on my TBR for years and which has always intimidated me so I hadn’t picked it up to read before. The size of it wasn’t an issue but I think I was worried that I wouldn’t like any of the characters and so wouldn’t enjoy the book. That would more than likely make me struggle to read it.

However, I was determined to give it a go and being away at a book festival seemed like the perfect time to do so. I started it on the train to Cheltenham and really I didn’t want to put it down again! Every spare moment I had I was reading it and I had such a good time doing so. It is much easier reading than I had anticipated and also funny which was unexpected.

It was true that I did not especially like many of the characters – although my liking for them was constantly changing – but for once that didn’t matter so much and I was just caught up in the story. In fact, it was poor Amelia – a character who is very good and dutiful – who at times irritated me far more than manipulative Becky Sharp.

Hopefully I will learn a lesson from this and not put off reading a book for quite so long again.

Cheltenham Haul

I am finally home from the Cheltenham Literature Festival. I am utterly exhausted but I had the most amazing time and I am already planning and hoping for next year. To be so completely immersed in books was just wonderful.

In the end I was relatively restrained when it came to book buying. Two event books – The Book Smugglers and The Boy at the Back of the Class which I have been meaning to read for so long – plus Agatha Oddly and Wishyouwas. Agatha Oddly is another book I have been intrigued by for a while but one I have never seen in person and Wishyouwas was brand new and irresistible. There were many, many more books I could have bought, most especially The Murderer’s Ape which a colleague raved about but which sold out before I bought it. I will definitely be getting hold of a copy soon though.

I did however also buy a couple of tote bags because I just couldn’t resist them. Not that I don’t already have plenty of those!

I loved being at Cheltenham and I was very sad to leave it all behind me. On the other hand, it is very good to be home and back in my own space. The rain is simply pelting down outside and I am curled up by the fire. Evenings don’t get much better than that.

Cheltenham Part Two

Now that Cheltenham Literature Festival is open – and actually more than half over which is sad – I have had a bit of a chance to catch my breath. Of course, I am still working very hard but not for quite so long each day – and I am revelling in the festival atmosphere. There is nothing quite like drinking tea and reading my book surrounded by other people who love books just as much as I do. It is an added bonus that the leaves are just starting to turn so everywhere is looking simply beautiful and autumnal.

I have even managed to get to a few talks but for me the highlights so far have definitely been meeting Anna James and Onjali Rauf and getting my books signed. They are both just the nicest people – and Onjali made my day when I saw her again later and she remembered my name! It is wonderful to see children so excited by books too – there were little girls clutching piles of books and literally skipping away from Anna James’ signing. It made me so happy!

Perhaps my favourite part of each day though is when I finish each evening. I’m normally very tired but I treat myself to a hot chocolate, find myself a bench and just sit and read for an hour or so. It is the best way to end the day and soak up every last bit of festival atmosphere.

Cheltenham!

I am back at the Cheltenham Literary Festival – this time to work rather than as a visitor. Much like Appledore a couple of weeks ago, the work is physically very demanding and I am covered in scrapes and bruises but I am having so much fun.

Of course, the festival doesn’t open until Friday so we are still all about setting up. It is great to see behind the scenes but unfortunately I have already come across several books I would love to buy… I definitely need to set myself a budget.

Despite all the work though I am managing to make time to appreciate Cheltenham itself. Things like having lunch in the park at my favourite tea shop. After all, reading time is very important at a book festival!

Comfort Watching

I am very sad that the book festival is over but I am definitely appreciating the shorter working days and even some time off. I feel as if I could sleep all day! The festival was wonderful, although interestingly my two main highlights were more related to watching stories on screen than reading them myself. The first of these was getting to meet Hayley Mills – she gave a great talk and I was completely starstruck.

Second was meeting Andrew Davies. He was such a nice man and he too gave a fascinating talk. We had a lovely chat afterwards and he even signed my copy of The Making of Pride and Prejudice – which has been very well read!

Period dramas have really been helping me through the past few weeks. I have been exhausted when I get home and have just been collapsing on the sofa and watching an hour or so of something. It started with the Andrew Davies adaptation of Sense and Sensibility which I don’t think I have seen since it first came out. I loved it even more on a second viewing and it is definitely one I will be keeping for the future. Since then I have watched the Kate Beckinsale Emma – which I love for having Prunella Scales as Miss Bates – and two different versions of Persuasion. The Amanda Root and Ciarán Hinds one is still easily my favourite.

Then I moved on to Mansfield Park and watched the version with Billie Piper. Again, I only saw this when it was first shown and I remember enjoying it. This time, I was constantly saying, ‘Fanny wouldn’t do that… That’s not right… Where are they going now?’ It seemed to have taken the characters, changed them a bit and thrown them into a similar – but not quite the same – story. After that I had to watch the 1983 adaptation with Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell which was much more recognisable as the story from the book and is the version I will watch again. I have still not seen the 1999 version – I feel as if I should but it has always sounded as if I wouldn’t like it much!

Now I am running out of dramas. I have Wives and Daughters to start soon – I loved the book but have never watched it before. After that I don’t know where I will go next. Maybe a rewatch of Anne of Green Gables or North and South but I’m open to suggestions. I do have Vanity Fair lined up but I need to read the book first – I’m planning to start it in the next few days and am very much looking forward to it.

Reading by the Sea

This week I am working at the Appledore Book Festival. I absolutely love this event – a week by the sea celebrating books is a pretty much perfect way to spend the time and it is always a highlight of my year. Ironically though I am also reading very little.

I am surrounded by books all day long – and they are long days – but we are also working very hard. Not least because the festival changed sites partway through. I am covered in bruises and constantly impressing people by how strong one has to be to sell books. It has of course been a lot of fun too and I have heard some great talks – I was completely starstruck by Hayley Mills – but my reading has gone down to almost nothing.

However, over the past couple of days I have managed to get away from the crowds for a short lunch break. I took myself down to the sea and just lost myself in a book and the peace. I definitely thrive on having time to myself so it was a very much needed break.

I have finally started Viv Groskop’s Au Revoir Tristesse which I bought at the festival last year so I thought it was probably about time to read it! The little I have managed to read so far has been excellent and I am very much looking forward to reading more over the next few days.

I love book festivals and Appledore is definitely one of my favourites. There are three days left and I am definitely planning to enjoy them!

Indecisive Reading

It turns out that, although the autumn has made me crave some more serious reading, I am not able to read just the weightier books. Over the past few days I have been reading A Gossip’s Story by Jane West and at the same time listening to Rebecca. Neither of them are particularly difficult reading but when I finished Rebecca I had to immediately start something much lighter – the latest in the Needlecraft Mystery series by Monica Ferris was exactly the palette cleanser I needed.

I am very much enjoying A Gossip’s Story – which I have been wanting to read for years because of the idea that it may have helped inspire Sense and Sensibility. However, as with many eighteenth century novels, it is interspersed with long (33 pages) sections of poetry which do not advance the plot and do not always hold my interest. I appreciated the fact that the author said it was easy to see where the narrative resumed so I could skip the poem but I am definitely a completionist and I couldn’t bear to do that. Therefore, on my day off – when I really needed to be sucked into a story – I picked up another cosy crime book – this one the next (for me) in V M Burns’ Mystery Bookshop series.

This series is a lot of fun and – although I find some aspects of the sections which are from a 1938 cosy crime book set in England a little grating – I keep being brought back for more. I only have one more book to go before I catch up with the author now!

All of which goes to show that it is very important – at least for me – to have a variety of books on the go. I am such a mood reader that I never know what I will want from one day to the next!

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.

Making Reading Lists

The mornings and evenings have now got an unmistakable feeling of autumn about them. In fact, I found it quite alarming how late the sun rose this morning. We are still having some gorgeous weather but there is no question that autumn is fast approaching.

This time of year always makes me hanker after learning again – last year I spent several weeks studying Latin and even did some calculus. My post it notes are still stuck up in the bathroom but I can’t honestly say that I have done any work with them for quite some time. Life gets in the way!

This year I need to resist that urge. I have far too much work to do on my stationery to have any time to spare pretending to be a student again. However, I will try to use that feeling in my reading. I own so many classic books that have been languishing on my shelves for years and now may be the time to get through at least a few of them. A Gossip’s Story is right at the top of my list and maybe I’ll finally, finally get around to Rebecca. I have just finished listening to The Hunchback of Notre Dame which I bought about fifteen years ago. It was very good to cross that one off the list.

The most recent book I have started though is not strictly speaking a classic – although it was published in 1912. A Fourth Form Friendship is the first Angela Brazil I have read – surprising given my love of school stories. I can tell it won’t be my last though!

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!