Unread Shelves

This time last year I decided to really make an effort to read through the unread books on my shelves. It’s something I’ve tried to do for years but without tracking how it was going I had no idea how I did – not very well though I think! I have kept a record of my reading for a long time so tracking the unread books was just a small extra step.

I have been very pleased with my progress – I started the year with a hundred books on my shelves I hadn’t read (I did not include the books I wanted to read but which I had bought to sell – that was just too complicated!). I actually read 95 books I owned and had not previously read but as I also somehow managed to acquire 70 new ones I ended the year with 64 still to read. The discrepancy is because there were a few books I decided I was never going to read and so I got rid of them.

I was still very pleased with that result though – until it was time to draw the new books to track this year’s unread shelves. I found 19 books I hadn’t accounted for which did feel a bit of a failure – although I do still have 17 fewer unread books than this time last year which is definitely a win.

Interestingly, in total I read 182 books last year – more than I have ever recorded before. Obviously the lockdown helped – and the high numbers of audiobooks and children’s books didn’t hurt either!

The new year has given me a lot of thinking time as I analyse my reading. My stationery business has been taking up more and more of my time and as I only have limited free time I have reluctantly made the decision that it is time to stop writing this blog. I will still be posting on my Instagram account and my books feature pretty heavily on my stationery account too.

I have loved sharing my bookish adventures over the past few years. Thank you for reading.

Reading by Candlelight

Some of – if not the – first signs of Christmas in our house are the welcome lights which go up at the beginning of December. We have three sets, one of which always sits in my window. They are so welcoming when we get home after a long day.

Since they went up this year I have got into the habit of lighting an actual candle at bedtime and reading purely by candlelight – which is something I always used to do anyway but which I had stopped doing when I was ill once and never started again. I had forgotten just how lovely it is.

For me, it is a much calmer and more peaceful way to end the day than having my bedside lamp on. I have been feeling far more relaxed since I started having the candles and I shall be sorry to see the welcome lights go after Christmas. I am determined to remember this feeling and get back into the habit of lighting candles. It is so worth it!

Christmas Crime

Now that December is well and truly upon us I am beginning to want to read all the Christmas books. However, although I am listening to A Holiday by Gaslight – which is utterly charming – my main reading has actually been very much focused on cosy crime. Apparently that is what I want from Christmas right now!

I have just finished Josephine Tey’s The Franchise Affair. I have been slowly working my way through her books as until a year or so ago all I had read was Daughter of Time. I loved that book so much but for some reason had never moved on to any other, maybe because I was worried that it was the Richard III theme which appealed and not the writing itself. It turns out that – unsurprisingly – Josephine Tey is a great writer and I very much enjoy her books.

The Franchise Affair is possibly my favourite so far – except for Daughter of Time of course. I was hooked very early on and all my spare thoughts were occupied by it. Inspector Grant actually featured very little but I loved Robert Blair and was completely invested in his story. Plus that of the Sharpes of course.

In short, I loved this book and I am very much looking forward to the next.

Finding Lark Rise

I have stayed in Dartmouth many, many times and I thought I knew all about its literary connections (Agatha Christie, Christopher Robin…) but it turns out that there really is always something to learn. Flora Thompson lived there from 1928 to 1940 and in fact wrote Lark Rise to Candleford there.

I discovered this purely by chance when we were booking our cottage – we stayed in a house called Larkrise and when I Googled ‘Larkrise Dartmouth’ I got several results about Flora Thompson. Of course, I had to do a bit of research then and find out all I could! Once we were there I made sure I found the house where she lived and although I didn’t get to her grave (with a book shaped headstone) this year I will make sure I do next time.

Lark Rise had been on my TBR for years so naturally I had to take it with me. My copy is such a lovely little book and it felt wonderful carrying it about with me – and reading it in the places Flora would have known. I have always loved taking books back to their roots and it is definitely something I can recommend.

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!