The Comforts of Middlebrow

Finding myself at the end of a book at the beginning of the Easter weekend, I was casting about on my unread shelves for my next read. I had recently finished Yours Cheerfully (more on that another time) and so for the first time in quite a while I was very much in the mood for some gentle mid-century middlebrow fiction.

I love these kinds of books. I can’t remember now whether I discovered D E Stevenson or O Douglas first but I do remember exactly how I found them. Stevenson was a recommendation from a friend (Miss Buncle’s Book was my first), Douglas was a serendipitous find when I was browsing in a charity bookshop (Jane’s Parlour). I adored them both and will now snatch up any of their books – or anything similar – which happen to come my way. Having said that, although I read Mrs Tim of the Regiment many years ago now, I had never got around to reading the rest of the books in the series. This weekend seemed like a good time to finally do so.

They were the perfect books for a long weekend. The weather was glorious (if a little chilly at times) and with very few other claims on my time I could properly indulge myself and read for hours. It was wonderful and I read through all three books. They are just as good as I remember the first book and I was made so happy by them. I was even pleased to find some similarities between Mrs Tim and myself – she too is a fan of Anthony Trollope.

If you haven’t discovered Mrs Tim yet I can highly recommend her acquaintance. These might be gentle books but they are not short on plot and they are some of the most comforting books I know. If you liked Diary of a Provincial Lady I know you will enjoy these too. As you can see, they work well on a picnic but they are equally good reading when you are curled up inside. I am determined to actively seek out more books by D E Stevenson – instead of just waiting for them to fall in my lap!

A Bookish Weekend

We have been having some gorgeous spring weather over the past few days. There has been the odd shower too but I have still been very much cheered up by the sunshine.

I am spending a lot of time in the studio at the moment but I gave myself some time off over the weekend and on Saturday afternoon – despite the fact that I could see that rain would be moving in before too long – I couldn’t resist throwing a book and sketchbook into my satchel and heading out into the ponies’ field. I spread my blanket under a tree and spent a very happy hour reading and sketching. It was lovely.

Naturally I had been right about the rain and it did eventually turn up. Not that it drove me straight in. I could cope with the light rain but a downpour was just too much and I scurried back inside.

I have been seeing a great many posts about the death of Beverly Cleary last week which have made me want to revisit her Ramona Quimby books. I got the audiobooks of these from the library so often that I can still hear the narrator’s voice in my head. I would have loved to get hold of the audiobooks now but sadly they don’t seem to be available in the UK. I do however have two of the books on my shelf and I raced through those on Sunday.

It is amazing how the memory works. Some of the scenes in these two are so vivid – I especially remember Beezus drawing a horse with wings (although I think this scene is actually in Beezus and Ramona) but a lot of these books felt as if I was reading them for the first time (I definitely wasn’t!). I had a lovely, nostalgic wallow in them and would love to get my hands on more.

All in all, it was a pretty wonderful weekend.

Books as Decoration

I haven’t been able to do much reading this week – I am in the final stages of setting up my online stationery shop (opening on Saturday!) and so any time I can spare has been dedicated to that. It has been quite an intense process and even at bedtime I am normally too tired for more than a couple of pages. Still, I am very much enjoying the process and am looking forward to opening for business.

I am not being completely deprived of books though – audiobooks are wonderful if I am doing something which doesn’t involve too much brain power – and just seeing some of my beautiful books is enough to make me happy. This little stack of Enid Blyton books on the staircase always makes me smile.

Hopefully things will be more normal for me next week and I will be right back in the swing of reading. I do have a lovely pile just waiting for me to get to it!

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.

On Icicles and Barsetshire

The weather today has been absolutely glorious.  Bright blue skies with endless sunshine and not a sign of a cloud.  So much so that I was tempted to take my books out to read.  Of course, in reality it is far too cold to do that for long.  We may not have had the snow here that has covered most of the rest of the country but it is a bit of a winter wonderland nonetheless.  After working on the hedges this morning I went for a bit of a wander along the stream in the hopes of finding icicles.  I was not disappointed!

My reading this week has slowed down considerably.  Partly that is because despite the lockdown I have been busy with other things (the aforementioned hedges and the stationery I am hoping to start selling online soon) and so my reading time has shrunk back down to coffee and lunch breaks.  That is of course much more normal for me anyway – although I am tending to draw out those breaks to read for just a bit longer! 

A lot of it is to do with my reading matter though.  As much as I love Anthony Trollope (and that is a lot!), I just can’t read him as fast as all the cosy crime I read last month.  The book is about three times as long too!  My other current read is Barnaby Rudge – I’m reading a chapter a day as part of a buddy read which is lovely but not the way to read quickly! The bookmark was presented with The Sunday Companion in 1924 and I love it.

Of course, none of this really matters anyway.  Yes I will read far fewer books in February than I did in January but that isn’t important.  At least I’m reading – and even if I wasn’t it would be fine.  The books aren’t going anywhere.  Now though, I need to pour myself a cup of tea and settle down in Barchester for the evening.  Or possibly London or Allington.  This book moves around a lot!

Scribbles in the Margins

Last week’s post about inscriptions in books reminded me that several years ago I bought Scribbles in the Margins: 50 Eternal Delights of Books by Daniel Gray. It is one of those books which sounds utterly delightful but for some reason has languished unread on the shelf. Yesterday I finally picked it up and I can now confirm that it is wonderful.

This is only a small book, with 50 short essays on different bookish joys. The chapter headings alone give an idea of the gems inside – things like ‘Impromptu Bookmarks’, ‘Choosing and Anticipating Holiday Reading’ and ‘Feeling Bereft Having Finished a Book’. Every chapter resonated with me and I found that my pencil was much needed for a lot of underlining.

There are far too many good quotes to share them all but here are a few which made me feel seen.

Arrival in a house or flat kindles a desire to secure time alone with the bookshelves. The offer of a drink, preferably a slightly complicated one, is accepted, a distraction for your ferreting.

Bookmarks are the second socks of literature, frequently and inexplicably going missing in action.

What horror, incidentally, on those occasions when a fanned-flick forwards shows that what you thought were leafs of storyline are blanks or adverts for other titles.

I have many more I could share but, really, you should read the book. It is a bibliophile’s dream.

Incidentally, there is a chapter on author dedications. I knew from the moment I saw the dedication in this book that I would love it – ‘To the girl who won’t sleep until she’s had a story.’ I imagine this is referring to the author’s daughter but it feels like it was written for me.

Making Notes

Do you write in your books? I like to underline phrases that jump out an me – quotes I want to remember. I also love to find other people’s notes and underlinings in second hand books. What I especially love though are the inscriptions at the front of the books. Books showing my own history are wonderful – I was too young to remember my first visit to Tintagel but I have an excellent set of books to remind me of the trip. Or there is the book of Wordsworth’s poems which my Grandmother won in a potato race in 1924. We never got such good prizes at my sports days!

The inscriptions in second hand books are just as lovely. Presumably Mrs John High had a fondness for Walter Scott – two different friends gave her matching copies of his books in memory of holidays they shared. The questions about these former owners of my books can be endless. Did she collect Walter Scott or just the binding to make her shelf look beautiful? Did all these people go on a trip together or were the books reminders of two separate holidays? What about Walter H Whitehead? Was he a soldier when he bought this copy of Galsworthy’s The Dark Flower in Germany? The books give a fascinating glimpse into past lives.

Even the history of the books themselves can be interesting. When I bought this copy of Byron from a book sale at university I clearly had to write my details in the front – you can trace at least part of its history from the endpapers.

That’s why I am definitely in favour of writing in books. It gives them a life of their own which is fascinating to read in later years.

Jólabókaflóðið

The tree is up, I don’t have to work again until Saturday and I am ready to settle down with my tea and books. Unless I decide on hot chocolate instead.

I am going to make the most of these two days – reading, playing games and definitely relaxing. Christmas really is a wonderful time.

I never set solid TBRs but I know I will be finishing Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome – other projects have got in the way of reading or I would have finished it much sooner! I am also looking forward to our new tradition from last year – we pinched the Icelandic idea of Jólabókaflóðið or Christmas book flood and so we will all be receiving new books on Christmas Eve. Tradition dictates that we should immediately sit down by the fire with a cup of hot chocolate and read the books. I am not one to break with that tradition!

Christmas Bookshelf

Yesterday was very exciting for me as it saw our box of Christmas books brought down and unpacked. These are books I haven’t seen since January and are real Christmas stories – as in they are actually about Christmas rather than just books I happen to like reading at this time of year.

Most of them are old friends – books like Lucy and Tom’s Christmas which I have read again and again since I was very small. There is even a picture book which stars my childhood friends and myself. Christmas just wouldn’t be the same if I didn’t read these ones.

Others are more recent acquisitions. Books which I have read once or twice but loved enough to keep for more Christmases. I won’t manage to read all of them every year but I love to see them nonetheless. Each of them brings back fond memories and they make a wonderful display.

Are there any books you particularly love to read at Christmas?

Chronicles of Avonlea

I have written several times about L M Montgomery – it is no secret that she is one of my very favourite authors – and I have read her books many, many times.  So much so that some of them are literally falling apart.  However, I have only read one of her collections of short stories – The Doctor’s Sweetheart – although that one was borrowed from the library on multiple occasions.  Sadly they don’t have it any more so it has been several years since I read it.  I do remember loving it though.

I have never been much of a short story reader – I enjoy them but do prefer being completely absorbed in a full length novel – but I am determined to read everything L M Montgomery has written so this year had seen me embark on reading the stories.  I thought I might as well begin at the beginning so Chronicles of Avonlea made its way home with me.

This is such a lovely collection of stories and it was so good to find myself back in Anne’s world.  Of course, most of these stories were originally written well before Anne and so have only passing references to Avonlea or Anne – and those were worked in afterwards when L M Montgomery’s publishers (and readers!) were demanding more Anne content from her.  The additions don’t jar though and I have spent a cosy couple of evenings with the book.

I have recently watched the first two seasons of Road to Avonlea for the first time.  Although that is loosely based on the Story Girl books, it draws heavily on Chronicles for plot and it was fun to spot the chosen storylines as I read them.

I loved these stories (I knew I would!) and I will definitely be seeking out the next set soon.