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.
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.
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!
I have been having another wonderfully literary week. First up, on Saturday I got to attend the LM Montgomery Institute’s round table discussion on Rilla of Ingleside at 100. I have always loved the sound of the Institute’s conferences but as they are in Canada it has been impractical for me to get there. Since the pandemic forced them to hold the event online this year I finally got to attend and I am so glad I did.
It was such an interesting discussion. It took me a while to get round to reading Rilla because I was a bit scared it would be too distressing but it turned out to be a beautiful book and quickly became one of my favourites in the series. It was wonderful to hear such an academic conversation about it.
Then on Monday night I went to the Sevenoaks Bookshop’s online event with A J Pearce, talking about her new book Yours Cheerfully. I rhapsodised about that one a couple of weeks ago so I won’t do so again now other than to say I loved the book and was very excited to get to go to this event.
It was a great evening – A J Pearce seemed lovely and the conversation was fascinating. I was especially pleased to hear that more books will hopefully be in the pipeline. I can’t wait!
When I was a child I was always reading multiple books at once. I would just pick up the closest book and read from where I had left off. I never got the stories muddled and it was just what worked for me.
As I grew up I was less likely to do that. Partly because I knew that if I was reading a difficult book and put it aside for something else the chances were it would be weeks before I picked it up again – if I ever did. Reading one book at a time was fine too but reading was less joyful – I would feel obliged to read a book I wasn’t really enjoying and so sometimes I wouldn’t read at all.
More recently still, multiple books are making an appearance again. They are mostly being read at set times but that’s okay too. I need something light and easy in the mornings (but not too gripping or it will make me late for work!). Currently that is Storm in the Village by Miss Read. On the other hand, the book I read in my breaks at work needs to be gripping without making me stressed – The White Riders by Monica Edwards is getting me through at the moment. Although, today I dropped that for yet another book – volume four of Heartstopper arrived and I couldn’t resist it!
For bedtime reading I just pick whatever I feel like at the time – which might be any one of the books I’m reading or something else entirely. I’ve just finished Ben Aaronovitch’s What Abigail Did That Summer which I loved so tonight I get to pick something new!
I’m also still working my way through Barnaby Rudge which has got pretty exciting and will be finished very soon. I can take my time with that one so, as my copy is a bit too fragile for bedtime reading, it is reserved for mealtimes – or any other time I manage to sit down and read.
This all sounds like an organised system but it really isn’t. It’s just what happens to be working right now. No doubt next week will be different again but for now I’m reading a lot of books and it’s making me very happy.
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.
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.
For the past several years – with many gaps in between – I have been slowly reading through The Barsetshire Chronicles. I had never really thought much about reading them until I saw the BBC adaptation of Doctor Thorne in 2016 and absolutely loved it. Naturaly that made me want to read the books. I looked up Anthony Trollope and found a quote from – as I thought – Dickens describing him as too sentimental (or possibly romantic). That I thought sounded wonderful and I embarked straight away on The Warden. Now I come to look for that quote again I cannot find it – if you know it please do let me know! All I can find are references to Trollope’s own satirising of Dickens as ‘Mr Popular Sentiment’.
I fell in love with Trollope soon after beginning The Warden. I found his writing style delightful and I was completely hooked by the story line. Perhaps even more importantly – for me anyway – I really cared about the characters and what happened to them. Of course I had to read more and so Barchester Towers was obtained. In fact, my puchasing habits became fairly predictable – usually within a few chapters of starting one of the books I knew I had to keep reading and I would buy the next book so that it was ready for me as soon as I needed it. That wasn’t normally as soon as I thought – by the end of the book I wanted something else to read – but I always came back to it eventually.
This afternoon I finished The Last Chronicle of Barset. During the course of reading it I have both laughed and cried and there was something very sad about the last lines promising that this was indeed the last book. Tollope’s authorial voice in the books has been one of my favourite parts and, although I am glad to have all the loose ends tied up, I am sorry not to have the next book ready to go.
Of course, Anthony Trollope wrote many, many other books which I am sure I will enjoy just as much as I did these. Which should I read next?