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.

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 CiarĂ¡n 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.

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!

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!