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!

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!

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!

Summer FĂȘtes

On Saturday I had my first book stall in almost two years. I have definitely missed taking the books out during the pandemic! I went out to a local summer fĂȘte and for the first time combined my stall with selling my stationery.

The combination worked very well and I was so pleased with the feedback I got for the stationery. The forecast had been for rain all day but while we were open we got away with only one shower which definitely helped make the day go well. Paper products out in the rain is not the best of ideas!

I revelled in being at the fĂȘte and so much enjoyed sharing my books with people. I get to talk about books every day at work but there is something extra special when I can say that I love every single book on the shelf. The highlight of the day though had to be this very special customer. He was incredibly cute and was very interested in the cards.

It was a great day and I am very much looking forward to the next one.

Powering Through

This week I have a great feeling of accomplishment because I finally finished a book I started in (I think) November.

I first picked up The House of the Seven Gables because L M Montgomery raved about it in her journal and I thought that if she liked it I probably would too. I read George Eliot’s Romola for the same reason and that turned out very well so I had high hopes. The book is a bit slow to get started but I was enjoying it and I was definitely invested in the characters.

Then I got to chapter seventeen and it suddenly became very rambling and had a completely different feel to it. I found myself reading sentences several times and still not really taking them in. I kept going but found that the next chapter was even stranger. I finished chapter eighteen one evening, put the book down and didn’t pick it up again for months.

I was so close to the end though that I didn’t want to give up so I did eventually make myself read on. In the very next chapter the narrative reasserted itself and I raced through the rest of the book. I even enjoyed it. It was a very odd experience because apart from those two chapters I thought it was a great book. They were enough though to put me off trying another Nathaniel Hawthorne any time soon!

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!