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.

Christmas Comforts

I love this time of year. These evenings spent by the fire reading or playing games in the glow of the Christmas tree are so precious to me and I resent anything that pulls me away from them. Of course, this year I’m getting to indulge myself fully!

We always keep as screen free as possible over Christmas Day itself and I’m trying to carry that on throughout much of the whole Twelve Days. Naturally there are times it is impossible to avoid the screens but mostly it has been very refreshing to not have my phone handy to be checked every few minutes.

For the past few evenings I have been reading Imagining Anne: The Island Scrapbooks of L M Montgomery. It is full of copies of the pages in the scrapbooks and it is wonderful. I have been having such a great time reading old newspaper clippings and admiring small souvenirs. I have coveted this book from afar for a while now and I am so happy to finally get my hands on a copy. In these difficult times I am finding great comfort between its pages.

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!

Restorative Reading

This week I was planning to be on what has become our annual trip to Dartmouth. I always look forward to this week immensely – it is the most relaxing time, with plenty of stops in coffee shops and a lot of reading. It is so lovely to just be.

Sadly that isn’t possible this year – and we had realised quite some time before this lockdown was announced that we wouldn’t be going. Instead, we planned to have a lovely, relaxing week at home with no work done and only minimal cooking effort needed. Instead of coffee shops we might take a flask out onto the moor or somewhere equally remote.

Of course, even those trips out aren’t possible now but I am still managing to have such a great time. I am reading every moment that I can and I have even been making a conscious effort to leave my phone in another room – it’s so much easier not to pick it up if it’s not within reach!

This was a great week to pick too – it has been a bit grey and drizzly outside which is perfect for lighting the fire and curling up with a book. Betsy Ray has been great company and I will miss her when I finish the series in the next few days. Then I’ll also have the difficult decision of what to read next – the brand new (to me) Chronicles of Avonlea or picking up my Anne re-read where I left off by choosing Anne’s House of Dreams instead. Alternatively, I did say I would read The Vicar of Wakefield next. There are too many choices!

Outside Inspiration

I mentioned last week that I saw a lot of Betsy-Tacy in my near future and I was completely right – I picked up Betsy in Spite of Herself on Monday and I have been galloping through the books.  They are wonderfully cosy and comforting and I don’t want to be reading anything else right now.  Except perhaps for L M Montgomery – she has a conflicting claim on me and I want to be reading both together!

For some reason, reading Betsy-Tacy always makes me want to take my books outside.  Probably mainly because of scenes like this one at the beginning of Betsy Was a Junior where Betsy is out on the lake with her journal.  It is just idyllic and I want to be a part of it.

Of course, I haven’t just been reading this week – now I am partially furloughed again I have been helping outside once more.  My hands are a mess of bramble scratches but the hedges are looking good!

The main plus side of doing the work though is that tidying up the hedges reveals the hidden perches in the trees.  Today I found this wonderful nook which cradles me perfectly and is surprisingly comfortable.  All I need is a cushion for my head and I could spend hours there.  Perhaps not quite that long just yet – it’s a bit chilly if you sit still for too long – but in the spring I will be all set with a perfect new reading spot.  I can’t wait.

Pony Story Time

As with many small girls, I was completely pony mad. In fact, I never grew out of that pony phase. As a child, I was desperate for a pony of my own – I was one of those annoying children who frequently presented my parents with detailed charts showing all the things I could give up to fund said pony.

In lieu of the pony, I read every single pony book I could get my hands on. I read the ones from the library many times and I was constantly searching for new titles. There is something about the pony book which shows every pony mad girl to herself – I particularly identified with red-headed Jinny and for years my dream horse was a beautiful chestnut mare just like Shantih.

Although I now have my own pony (who, incidentally, I got largely because of my time volunteering at the Moorland Mousie Trust and one of the most exciting things I got to do there was helping with the publishing of a new edition of Moorland Mousie – if you like Black Beauty you should definitely read it!) this is another thing I haven’t grown out of and there are so many pony books out there that I can still find brand new (to me) titles to enjoy.

My favourites are mainly those set in Britain in the forties and fifties (although I do love others – I’ve already mentioned Patricia Leitch’s Jinny series) – Ruby Ferguson, the Pullein-Thompson sisters and Gillian Baxter are some of my favourites. As most of my childhood reading of them was from the library I am still trying to fill the many, many gaps.

Unfortunately, most of these books are out of print and many of them are rare (or at least very expensive) even second hand. I have a suspicion that this is partly because they are children’s books which tend to get more damaged than books for adults. I also know from experience that some second hand book dealers can dismiss children’s books as not worth selling which is terrribly sad.

My current obsession is the Romney Marsh and Punchbowl Farm series by Monica Edwards. I read a couple of them as a teenager but couldn’t get hold of any more. I recently discovered that Girls Gone By Publishers have been reprinting them and I have slowly been building up my collection. I have been having a wonderful time reading them and the ponies seem to enjoy it too – Galahad wasn’t too sure at first but Cookster was very enthusiastic!

Autumn Reading

I have been having a lovely bookish couple of weeks. Last week should have been the Bath Children’s Book Festival. Of course they couldn’t hold it in person but they teamed up with several other festivals to put on the Reading is Magic Festival online instead. All of the events were free and I had a great week picking talks to watch.

This week it is the turn of Cheltenham Literature Festival. They do have a very small number of people in actual physical audiences but they are also broadcasting the events online so every evening I am settling down for some wonderful booky content. It is great to feel so literary!

Of course I am sad all these festivals can’t go ahead as normal. Watching at home is great but it is not the same as being there in person. On the other hand, there is no way I would have been able to get to nearly as many events as I have watched this year so I have seen a small benefit of covid restrictions.

On top of all that, we had solid rain for about four days. It wasn’t particularly pleasant outside but it was perfect weather for curling up with a book indoors. Life is pretty great.

Reading Spots

I have a need to read. After my studying post last week I got obsessed with doing the exercises in my calculus textbook and spent a lot of time working on those. I loved doing them but I could feel myself gradually getting more anxious as the week went on because I had lost so much reading time. Reading really does keep me on an even keel.

I take a book with me everywhere. I have even been known to take a teeny-tiny little book to a wedding – not that I actually read it! It does mean that I generally also have to carry a big bag with me all the time though. I do have some lovely, cute little bags but they just won’t accommodate a book. On the rare occasions that I use them I tend to carry a book separately. It might be a bit inconvenient but I console myself with the hope that maybe it makes me look a little intellectual.

It can also get me into trouble. As a child I got told off for reading when I should have been doing chores. If I’m honest I still do this now – I just don’t tend to get told off for it any more! I have never yet read in a queue for the till in a shop (although I have been tempted) but I do all the time when waiting for the train or even just in the street waiting to meet someone. I still maintain that it should be socially acceptable to read at a concert. I can enjoy the music just as much when I am reading!

All of this does mean that I can end up reading in some very odd places. I distinctly remember practising for my Duke of Edinburgh expedition by loading a backpack with the heaviest books I could find and taking myself for a walk. It wasn’t long before I had pulled out one of the books and started reading it as I walked. Then there is this lovely perch in the apple tree. Who could resist at apple picking time?!