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.

Christmas Puzzling

I have said before that this time between Christmas and Epiphany is one of my favourites in the whole year. Any stress of getting ready for Christmas should be over and the time is more or less your own to spend as you like. Of course, I do have to go to work so most of the days are spoken for but the evenings are so precious. Much of my time is spent curled up with a book by the tree – Arthur Ransome’s Winter Holiday is my current choice. An old favourite which gets re-read every Christmas.

This year I have the added pastime of a jigsaw puzzle. I never had much patience for these when I was little – books were far more exciting – but I did enjoy finishing off the puzzle my sister had at her wedding a few years ago and this year I couldn’t resist these bookish puns.

I’m only spending half an hour or so at a time on it but I am very much enjoying it and it turns out that when it comes to books I have quite a talent for remembering where they fit. How surprising!

Christmas Preparations

Christmas is a time when I love to read. Obviously I love to read at all times but there is something extra special about curling up with a book by the fire and the Christmas tree. Every time December comes around I look forward to that cosy feeling.

However, what I fail to remember is that I don’t normally manage to find that feeling until Christmas is actually here. Specifically, when we hand out the books for Jólabókaflóðið on Christmas Eve. There is just too much going on before then to relax properly. There are presents to buy or make, cards to write and wrapping to be done. This year, even when I sit down for my break at work it has been hard to just read – I’ve had the added pressure of my stationery shop to contend with and lunch breaks are excellent for admin.

We are nearly there now though. The cards have all been sent, the presents are assembled if not wrapped and I am ready to sit down on Friday evening and just read. I can’t wait!

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.

Advent Reading

This week my main bookish delight has actually been a cookbook – which is unusual for me. I love to bake but rarely make the time for it – there are so many other things going on!

This particular book though is Advent by Anja Dunk and is a collection of ‘festive German bakes to celebrate the coming of Christmas’. I love the Advent season, as things slowly get more Christmassy and we spend more evenings curled up by the fire with books and delicious things to eat. Reading this book has definitely brought me that cosy, hygge feeling – the author has included lots of personal anecdotes as well as recipes – and I have been loving it.

I have only baked one thing so far – the Dattel-Walnussmakronen – but they were the most delicious thing. So light and airy, but still rich and chewy. They are incredibly moreish and I will be indulging in some this evening when I start my card writing. More recipes will definitely be tried soon!

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.

Recharging

Having just spent a week away in Dartmouth I have been reminded once again just how good reading is for me. I had been feeling pretty stressed and wound up and that time away – where I did very little other than read, walk and paint – was exactly what I needed.

I rediscovered all my old reading haunts and even found some new ones. Just sitting on the rocks away from the hurly burly of life is a wonderful balm for the soul.

Also lovely were the evenings. On several days I sat out until it was too dark to read and was very grateful for the warmth of the flat when I got back. Then I could settle down with hot chocolate and my book or a board game and watch all the lights of the harbour. Bliss.

Christie Immersion

Over the past couple of days I have been exploring round Dartmouth and enjoying it very much. There are so many gorgeous houses on the edges of the town – and over the river around Kingswear – and what with those and the palm trees I feel as if I am in an Agatha Christie novel. I can practically see people walking to tennis parties. This is the heart of Agatha Christie country after all

Unfortunately whenever I am here there seems to be an awful lot of building work going on. The walls and fences springing up around those houses make them look more like fortresses and I am convinced they looked much more welcoming in their heyday. I appreciate that the owners don’t want people all over their lawns but four private notices on one gateway does seem excessive. All the pretty blocked up gateways make me very sad too – and it doesn’t help at all that most of the houses are not lived in all year round.

However, I try not to dwell on that and just enjoy the sea air and gorgeous views. I neglected to take a Christie book with me but I did have A Tourist’s Guide to Murder by V M Burns which – completely fortuitously – involves a trip to Dartmouth and so was very appropriate. It is definitely the perfect place for reading cosy crime.

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.