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.

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!

Winter Mood Reading

For the first time in weeks I have picked up a book which isn’t just cosy, familiar comfort reading. It did come from a familiar source though – L M Montgomery mentions The House of the Seven Gables several times in her journals and she seemed to enjoy it a lot so I have been meaning to read it for years.

For some reason, now seemed like the time. I have been immersing myself in her journals once more and they persuaded me to pick it up. I’m only about halfway through at the moment but I can definitely agree that it is a good book.

It’s funny though – it is both exactly what I need to read right now and also not at all what I want. It is a very gentle book which moves slowly with not a great deal of action (the first chapter is entirely given over to the backstory of the house and the family who lives there). So far anyway – for all I know it really picks up in the second half! That is certainly very soothing but it is also not gripping at all so I don’t find myself desperate to pick it up and I am more likely to get distracted by other things.

It is at times like this that I’m grateful I can read more than one book at once. When I have the focus for a slow story I have this one ready, when I need a bit more plot I can pick up something else. Choice is a wonderful thing!

Working and Reading

With the re-opening of shops this week, I have been called back in to work. I spent a long time thinking about the perfect book to take with me – it needed to be nice and cosy but not too gripping because I wanted to be able to leave it at work when I went home.

In the end I decided on Pat of Silver Bush. L M Montgomery is always the best comfort read for me and, although I remember thinking that Pat was very similar in character to me, I haven’t read it for quite some time. I hoped that would mean I would be drawn into the story and it would be a distraction if things got too stressful at work.

In fact, I have hardly read at all over the past few days. We are working shorter days which means we get less time for lunch and I only get through a few pages. Then when I get home I am completely drained and just want to collapse on the sofa in front of the television (I have been binge watching Miranda and it is just as wonderful as I remember).

Hopefully though I will settle back into work fairly quickly and I’ll soon be reading more again. I am very much looking forward to my day off and the extra hours of reading time that will bring!

Cosy Comforting Christmas

Christmas reading time is here! One of my favourite things about Christmas is the long, dark evenings which can be spent in front of the fire with a board game or a book. It is just so cosy and wonderful.

It has to be the right kind of books though and I have made a tentative stack of books I may read over the next few weeks. Or possibly not. The whole point is to read exactly what I want and what makes me happy.

Most Christmases I try to read lots of my favourite children’s Christmas stories but this year not all of the books are obviously Christmassy. Some of them do have hidden Christmas scenes – I am reading What Katy Did at School primarily for the wonderful Christmas box the girls receive – but what I really want right now are cosy comfort reads. In fact, I have been looking forward to these books for weeks – which makes me think that perhaps I should read more of them throughout the year!

I have just finished reading Daddy-Long-Legs (I still love it as much as I ever did) and have moved on to Katy which I have not read for years. I know I am going to thoroughly enjoy the next few weeks!

Do you have Christmas reading (or other) traditions? I would love to hear them.

Reading Retreat

I have never been on an actual reading retreat but the idea sounds absolutely wonderful. Going away to spend time reading is like a dream.

However, last week I went away for the week and, although I did have some things I wanted to see while I was there, I planned to read as much as possible. We had a stunning view from our window so I spent a lot of time there with a book and I think I read in most of the coffee shops in the town!

All of that industry was very productive too – I managed to read seven books in six days. They were all children’s books but that’s still quite impressive for me. Even better, for the first time in my life I finished every single book I took with me – so I was more than justified in taking so many (and indeed in buying more!).

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I had the best time and I didn’t really want to leave – now I’m back at work I have been reading the same book since Sunday and it’s just not the same!

Kindred Spirits

This year I am starting my annual Christmas re-read of Little Women a bit early as I am doing so in the company of some lovely people on Instagram – the Kindred Spirit Network.

Social media is a bit of a tricky topic for me – if I spend too long scrolling – and on a bad day too long can be five minutes – I end up feeling very down and it really isn’t good for me.  On the other hand, I need to use it if I want to promote my blog.  It is difficult for me to find the right balance sometimes.

However, a huge positive side of social media – and Instagram in particular – is the connection I can so easily make with like minded people.  I love having a book club with real people I can talk to in person but none of them really enjoy the same books as me.  Yes, it makes me read a wider range of books and that is great – but sometimes I just want to read a cosy, comforting book which I love.  It is even better if I can share that book with other people who love it just as much as I do.

I am therefore very much looking forward to a couple of months spent curled up with Little Women (and Good Wives – they are usually published separately in the UK).  I can’t think of a better way to spend an evening.

Double Booking

I was really disappointed last week when my love of horses (see Gadding About with Galahad) meant I was taking part in a show jumping competition when I had been booked to see an outdoor production of Lorna Doone.

Luckily my Mother offered to do a guest blog for me.

We were very sad that Eleanor couldn’t go with us but we enjoyed ourselves nonetheless.

This was an opportunity to see a proper story retold in its native habitat. Lorna Doone was written by R D Blackmore and is set on Exmoor. The play was performed in the Valley of the Rocks, a site on Exmoor with the added attraction of the Bristol Channel as a backdrop.

The story has been well adapted by Helena Stafford Northcote for Pleasure Dome Theatre and performed to celebrate the 150th anniversary of its publication. Narrative sections were provided by actors striding down aisles and across the ‘stage’ speaking one line each which added urgency to the story. The rough terrain provided natural opportunities for various cameo scenes including throwing a baby into te sea, a discreet killing and the final denouement of the play as Carver Doone fell over the cliff.

It was wonderful to see this Exmoor story brought to life in such rugged scenery and watching the Doones advancing waist deep in bracken sent shivers down the spine. As dusk fell, the lights of Wales appeared over the sea adding a final magic to the story. The setting was wild and rugged but, dare I say it, that very naturalness created a rival to the manicured and concrete Minack. A far better place to bring the story of Lorna and John to life.

Sorry Eleanor. You missed a wonderful evening.

I was very sorry to miss what sounded like an excellent production. I have been wanting to see a play in the Valley o the Rocks for several years and was very much looking forward to it. I will have to make sure that I get there next year.

Literary Edinburgh

I have recently been spending some time in Scotland, a place which I love.  I stopped off on the way up to spend the day in Edinburgh and I had a great time soaking up the culture.

My first stop had to be the Scott Memorial.  It really stands out on the skyline and as I was reading Waverley at the time I couldn’t not pay it a visit.  There is a little café in the park there which I found was the perfect spot for breakfast.

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I had a lovely time wandering through the streets before moving on to the National Library of Scotland.  Unfortunately the main exhibition was closed due to technical problems with the lighting but I did get to see a small display of letters and manuscripts relating to the publication of Byron’s Don Juan.  It was wonderful to see and I was especially fascinated by the proof copies annotated with Byron’s corrections.

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I loved this staircase at the National Library of Scotland!

By then it was lunchtime.  I was meeting an old university friend and we had a lovely catch up before going on to the Writers’ Museum.  I had been so looking forward to this and I was not disappointed.  I had actually been before but not for several years and even then it was just a flying visit.  This time I could really take everything in, although we still had to be kicked out at closing time!

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If I lived here I would have to have that little tower room!

The museum mostly focuses on Robert Burns, Robert Louis Stevenson and Sir Walter Scott.  Obviously, as I was reading Waverley, I was excited about seeing the Scott displays.  I was especially moved by his rocking horse – with uneven steps for his feet as he had polio as a child.

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I was also fascinated by the Stevenson displays.  He lived such an interesting life all over the world, although sadly that was mainly due to his ongoing ill health.  Last year I read an excellent book by Joseph Farrell about Stevenson’s time in Samoa so I loved seeing some of his belongings too.

The Burns exhibition was also great, although I am perhaps less familiar with his work.  I’m afraid that I also came away with the impression that he was the least likeable of the three men!

Having left the museum I had half an hour to spare before my train left, which gave me just enough time for a very fleeting visit to The Fruitmarket Gallery.  I had seen the title of their current exhibition – The Annotated Reader – as I passed in the morning and naturally I was intrigued.  It hadn’t been open then but was now so I sacrificed my chance of a cup of tea and dived in.

The creators of the exhibition – Ryan Gander and Jonathan P Watts – had asked a whole range of people to annotate a page from the book they would choose to have with them if they had missed the last train home.  Those pages were hung from the walls around the gallery and visitors were positively encouraged to take them home.  I found the whole idea fascinating, picked up several pages for myself and would have loved to be able to spend more time there.

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Catching my train north I learnt both that Edinburgh Waverley is the only railway station in the world named after a novel and the there is such a thing as a UNESCO city of literature.  I had no idea that was a thing but I thoroughly approve and would love to find some more!

I had the most fantastic day – I couldn’t live in a city but I do enjoy my occassional trips.  I love discovering literary and other cultural places to visit and I always come away feeling inspired to write and to read everything.