Book review – March Moonlight (Virago) and a competition!


Dorothy Richardson - PilgrimageWell, I have finished Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” sequence and right on time, too. The 13 volumes have taken me 13 months to read, and I could not have done it without having the other lovely bloggers and LibraryThing Virago Group members to see me through.

I’m going to do the competition bit first to allow people to go in for it without seeing any review spoilers – I will put a big heading before it and my MEDAL after it so you can zip down to the bottom of the post to comment.

See, I’m not going to read these again. It was good and interesting to read them, but I’m not planning on re-reading. And they’re both quite hard to find and not that valuable as such, so I’d like to GIVE my set of four (my original one, two I had from fellow Viragoite Kerry and one I bought in Macclesfield), as pictured, the first one a bit rough of spine, to someone who wants to read them.

All you have to do is add a comment saying you would like to win them. If you’re not in the UK I will post them surface mail. I will leave the comp open until the end of the year and send them out in the new year.

If you would like to win a full set of “Pilgrimage” in the original Virago Green edition, please post a comment to say so.

Good luck!

Dorothy Richardson – “March Moonlight”

(28 March 2015, Macclesfield)

The last volume, at last. It’s a short one, and you know why? Because it’s bloody unfinished. Now, I do not like unfinished books. I don’t read them. I didn’t realise this was unfinished until I started reading a book I bought recently on Richardson and it mentioned this fact. I do feel a bit cheated, I have to say. Worse … I couldn’t tell!

OK, the positives. In much of this book, we’re in the Oberland again, in a guest house with a lot of other guests I’m pretty sure we haven’t met before, including the fascinating Jean, who she can have long silences with as well as interesting chat. Unfortunately, Jean has some shady business going on with one of the chaps (a bishop?) and really upsets Miriam. Or Dorothy.

As well as shifting between the first and third person, Miriam finds herself being addressed as “Dick” or “Dickie”. Miriam Henderson or … Dorothy Richardson. I’m guessing this was heavily unrevised, possibly at Richardson’s death, and it’s a real shame, because you keep getting jerked out of any engagement with the narrative when these oddities arise.

Not much really happens, not much really progresses. I was much cheered by mention of a tall young woman who’s off with the CMS, trained at Woodbrooke – the Church Missionary Archives are still at the University of Birmingham and Woodbrooke is a Quaker Study Centre, so that was lovely to see there and pulled the book closer to me just when it needed to be. There is quite a bit about writing, which I know will please Jane, and this rather illuminating quote:

“If you can describe people as well as you describe scenes, you should be able to write a novel.” But it is just that stopping, by the author, to describe people, that spoils so many novels?

Ignoring the content for a moment, that stray question mark or “it is” instead of “is it” seems to back up that lack of revision.

There are the usual comments on marriage, and Miriam seems to have come to a point where she’s accepted she’s on her own and will go through life writing, using her small amount of money to sustain her. And that’s it.

Well, I’m glad I have read this through: it’s a seminal work of modernism and it’s important to the works of other 20th century writers. It wasn’t easy but it was interesting, and it was lovely having a group of people to discuss it with along the way. And it’s done.


State of the TBR December 2016 (and a small confession)


dec-2016-tbrDecember should be a time of clearing the decks and making sure I’ve got room on the bookshelf for lots of lovely books that usually appear for Christmas and then my birthday in January. Hm. Well, all those trips to bookshops and booky towns are going to take their toll, aren’t they. And I didn’t even stop today – I was busily trawling the local charity shops for goodies for Not So Secret Santas and presents for friends and managed to buy one for myself … Anyway, here’s the resulting TBR, not toooo bad, I think, and look at the lovely gap in the Pile now!

dec-2016-currentI’m currently reading some rather monochrome books … Yes, still reading “Yeah Yeah Yeah” – it’s REALLY good, but I need some proper long sit-down time with it, not just bits at mealtimes. Mollie Panter-Downes’ “London War Notes” came up on the TBR and seemed to work well as a bed read, though I hope it doesn’t get too graphic. It’s interesting at the moment to read the view of an outsider reporting back to the US. And of course it’s the start of a new month, so for the 13th – yes, the THIRTEENTH – month in a row, I’m going to be reading a volume of Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” series. The last one. I basically have 105 pages to go. Watch out for a fun (maybe) competition to WIN the whole set of four when I’m done with them …

dec-2016-coming-upNot pictured is Virginia Woolf’s “The Waves” which I have got all prepared on the bedside table but forgot to photograph. That will fill in the last round of the excellent #Woolfalong. Maybe not one to read too close to the Richardson, though.

Coming up after those is the next set on the TBR – though I fear the first two will have to wait until one of the chunky ones is finished with. At least with everything from the Tove Jansson onwards, I’m up to the books bought at Astley Book Barn, which takes us up to September buys (amazingly – what was I doing between Christmas last year and then??). There are some good and varied ones here, anyway.

dec-2016-confessionAnd my confession. Well, as I mentioned above, I was trawling around the charity shops today, I spotted this one. It’s not on my Wish List, so not too much danger of someone already having bought it for me, and it falls under my Collection Development Policy, see? Language, publishing, books, AND by a descendent of Vita Sackville-West. I’ve read a lot of Nicolson’s works and in fact have his “Atlantic” there on the front of the TBR, so all good, honest!

What are you up to reading-wise in December? Are you expecting a lot of book-shaped parcels under the Christmas tree? And are you planning your book challenges for next year? I know Ali has eschewed them and, apart from 20 Books of Summer, I think I’m going to the same. I want to do Mrs Oliphant in 2018 so I think I’ll just try to get through some more lovely Trollope and that will be it. Freedom!

Book reviews – The Common Reader Vol II and Lingo #amreading #woolfalong #books


nov-2016-tbrGetting two book reviews in before the end of the month – everything on the front of the TBR is now Large Books so these will be the last ones finished this month (and the photo is a bit outdated so you’ll see those on Thursday)! At least these two go together a bit better than yesterday’s mixed bag, both being non-fiction.

Virginia Woolf – “The Common Reader Vol 2”

(2 September 2016)

OK, this was for the last chunk of #Woolfalong but it wanted to be read and was most enjoyable. More beautiful, elegant, lucid essays, and in fact more about people I knew (of) than volume 1. There’s also the seminal “How Should one Read a Book”, which I’d already read through and mined for my research project while on holiday in October.

I loved the pieces on essayists, wondered if anyone DOES read George Meredith nowadays (anyone?) and enjoyed the piece on Elizabeth Barrett Browning, which made me think of Woolf’s lovely book, “Flush”. Even when she’s writing about someone I don’t know, she’s just so enjoyable to read, and it was lovely to read her on Hardy in this volume, even if she doesn’t rate him as highly as I do.

I find it hard to write about collections of essays without going into too much detail, so I’ll leave this there, but I really enjoyed it.

Gaston Dorren – “Lingo”

(29 December 2015)

Purporting to be a romp (OK, an “intriguing tour”) through the main and minor languages of Europe, this translated book is a bit of an oddity. It’s often simultaneously two detailed and not detailed enough, going into linguistic subtleties but then laughing at linguists, and then skating across whole languages and only giving them a paragraph at the end of their own chapter.

Then there were some big problems. It made a little more sense when I realised on reading the Acknowledgements that the author is Dutch and the book has been translated, because it’s a well-known fact that humour is practically untranslatable, but the chapter on Belarus(s)ian, made up of two invented addresses from the different sides of the dispute about which form of the language to adopt seemed in very poor taste, inflammatory and at best misguided. This was followed by a chapter on Luxembourgish written in the form of a fable, which was confusing and never actually explained which languages the author was talking about. Then there was a section later very carefully explaining how to read the Cyrillic alphabet based on the Greek, which even I, someone who likes an alphabet, skimmed.

There were good bits, and a nice pairing of a loan word plus a not-directly-translatable word that would be useful to have in English at the end of this chapter, but this was a bit patchy and in places downright uncomfortable.

I’m going to go and pick a new book off the shelves to start, and then on Thursday it will be (gulp) State of the TBR time. And what a fine, full TBR it is …

Book review round-up – Black Hearts in Battersea, English to English and Cornish Feasts and Festivals #amreading #books


Cornish Feasts and Fesivals front coverA little round-up today (tonight) of a few smaller, lighter books I’ve been reading this week.  Sometimes you just need a little book or two, don’t you – plus the first one in this set of reviews I bought on my trip to London and had to start on the bus home from the station, as I’d not taken quite enough bookage with me to see me through the journeys to and from London! So it’s a bit of a mixed bag: a children’s book, a book about language and a book about Cornwall written by a friend …

Joan Aiken – “Black Hearts in Battersea”

(19 November 2016 – Any Amount of Books, Charing Cross Road)

I love Aiken, but apparently not enough to remember that this is the sequel to “The Wolves of Willoughby Chase”. But it was in the top of my rucksack full of books, so …

It’s a classic children’s adventure with plenty of peril and excitement for orphan Simon as he makes his way to London to study painting with an old friend, only to discover that he’s disappeared. Dukes, lowlifes and artists about and there’s a great comedy Frenchman, an excellent donkey, a kitten that is still OK at the end of the book and the beguiling urchin, Dido Twite. A great and masterful writer – I know there are some short stories out that I’m going to have to look out for.

Suzan St Maur – “English to English”

(1o October 2015)

An A-Z of British-American-British translations, bought to help my editing and particularly localisation (turning US English into UK English work). It’s pretty exhaustive and I wish I’d had it when I needed to know what a muscle car was. It’s also the most modern book of its kind, being published in 2012 (most are early 2000s) although it might have been overstretching it to include Australian and Canadian English as well. It’s laid out a little clumsily and appears to be in a series that’s written to a template – there were confusingly two sections about the author at the end, but it’s a workmanlike and decent resource.

Liz Woods – “Cornish Feasts and Festivals”

(September 2015 – from the author)

An absolutely charming little book in the Pocket Cornwall series, based on the blog of the same name and written by my dear friend, Liz. This has been hanging out on the Pile to the side of my TBR for a while, but what better time to dip into it than in a quiet bit of evening after a heavy work day?

Each little chapter has a piece about an (old, newer, extinct, still-going, continuous, revived, countryside, seafaring) festival tradition, taking us through the year in order, with a sweet illustration by Freya Laughton and a recipe for a linked dish, either a Cornish classic like Star-Gazy Pie or Saffron Buns or something made using Cornish ingredients, with a photograph taken, as the introduction carefully explains, just before the author devoured the food item in question.

Just lovely, and a great reminder of lovely Cornwall, too.

I’m still reading “Yeah Yeah Yeah” and that won’t be done by the end of the month (year??) but it’s v good. I’m also reading a book called “Lingo” about the languages of Europe which I’m not too sure about at the moment … And you?


Book review – The Year of Reading Dangerously #books #amreading


nov-2016-tbrI am ashamed. I read this book in its entirety LAST SATURDAY, yet here I am reviewing it almost a week later. I read it on the way down to my lovely day in London (I started it at  home in case it wasn’t any good – that wasn’t a problem), got more than half-way through, but reckoned I would probably have some more books by the time I was on my way back to Birmingham (I did). It’s still bad that I left it until now to review – I’ve had work, running, yoga and cutting-down of shrubs and it all got away from me a bit …

Andy Miller – “The Year of Reading Dangerously”

(29 December 2015 – bought in Waterstones in a 3-for-2 offer along with “A Spool of Blue Thread” and “Lingo”, using a book token from the previous year)

Stuck in a bit of a life rut, Miller decides to read a Proper Book and ends up enjoying “The Master and Margharita”. He then goes on to create and read (much of) his own List Of Betterment, not books he thinks everyone should read, but his own collection of classics and Great Books that he thinks he should read (I don’t think he reads all of his list, as there’s a list of other books he’s still planning to read in the back of the book. While the book makes it clear there was a gap between reading the books and writing this one, it’s not clear whether there were some interstitial books that filled in the time between the read list and the as-yet-unread list. I’m probably over-thinking this).

He in no way exhorts people to read what he’s read – it’s a personal list that fills in gaps in his own reading, which has also lapsed since his son was born (hooray for commutes, he finds. I miss commuting, for only that reason). I don’t think he describes all of the books he reads in his year (50 in all, not bad going when you consider they include “War and Peace” and “The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists“), and his notes on the ones he does discuss include some spoilers (there’s a warning in the front of the book).

Interwoven with his musings on the books he readers are bits of memoir and anecdotes from Miller’s more recent life with wife and child. It’s enjoyable and funny without being trite and silly, and it’s lovely to see ‘proper’ books getting an airing, not to mention a man talking about reading Austen and Eliot. I’ll even forgive him for not getting on that well with Iris Murdoch’s “The Sea, The Sea” until he realises thanks to a friend that parts of it are supposed to be hilarious, for the general high quality of the book and for the fact that he lists the Three Investigators Mysteries in his “The Hundred Books Which Influenced Me Most”.

This book might not change your life like it profoundly changed the author’s – and I admire him for getting through some of the books – as I suspect it might appeal to those who’ve read a number of the Big Books anyway (but if it lassoes the odd Quest Book reader and encourages them to try a more challenging book than usual, that’s wonderful, of course). But it’s an engaging and very readable book which will certainly appeal to anyone who likes books about books. It’s well written (as befits an editor) and has a great mix of books and memoir. The only odd bit was his appendix listing all the times he met Douglas Adams, which I think could have been woven more happily into the substance of the book itself. But a good and entertaining read that I’d recommend.

I’ve read 20 of his 50 and wouldn’t want to read another 24 of them myself. No idea how that matches up against other readers of this one!

Phew, that feels better. I’m currently (still) reading Virginia Woolf’s “Common Reader” Vol. 2 and “Yeah Yeah Yeah”, Bob Stanley’s wonderful but Very Large history of pop. How’s  your reading going as the year draws towards its close?

London book confessions


nov-2016-1I went down to London yesterday with booky friend Ali to meet up with some other ladies from the LibraryThing Virago Group, one of whom is also a book blogger. After having trips to Cornwall and Buxton where I was ‘allowed’ to buy books and didn’t really buy an awful lot, now it’s Christmas and (for me, at least) birthday season and I’m supposed to NOT buy books, I went a bit over the top and came home with … um … ELEVEN BOOKS.

Here I am looking a bit startled, with Claire, Lucy, Ali and Karen, outside the Persephone Bookshop. But you want to know about the books, right?

nov-2016-2First of all, Luci is known for the very generous bags of books which she drags up to meetups and then lays gently on the table in front of us. I’ve done very well from this habit of hers before, and yesterday was no exception.

Barbara Taylor – “Eve and the New Jerusalem” – a history of 19th century feminism and socialism which is interesting in its own right and might give me some background to my reading about New Women and even the Dorothy Richardsons.

Jane Gardam – “Old Filth” – Gardam is one of my favourite authors ever and I love her books set on the East Coast and her quirky way of writing. I’ve never read these ones, though, put off a bit by the male main character. But there it was, so …

Natasha Solomons – “The Gallery of Vanished Husbands”  – I’ve apparently never read anything by her but this seemed intriguing – a novel about a woman regaining confidence in herself and breaking free in the 1960s.

Diana Wynne Jones – “Dark Lord of Derkholm” – I adore Wynne Jones and rate her novels above the Harry Potter ones, in fact press them upon people. This is both a satire on high fantasy and a highly readable work of high fantasy, apparently, and I bet it is!

nov-2016-3We then popped up the Charing Cross Road (from Gaby’s, somewhere I’d inexplicably never been and which is now a firm favourite) to Any Amount of Books, which is perhaps my favourite of the (dwindling number of) bookshops on that road. It has “£1 each, 5 for £4” trays outside (and a bookcase just outside the front door) where I’m pretty well guaranteed to find something. And indeed I did. Sorry this picture is blurry – I’ve put them all away now!

Joan Aiken – “Black Hearts in Battersea” – well, I didn’t put this away because I started it on the bus home from the train station. I loved these in my youth and they still stand up. I can’t wait to get her short stories soon.

Francis Brett Young – “The Black Diamond” – a book in the same Shropshire Pear edition as the one I bought in Penzance, although not signed. This is set in Africa, not a favourite setting of mine (sorry, entire continent south of the Sahara) but it’s bound to be a good read.

John-Paul Flintoff – “Sew Your Own” – a quest book in which he looks into life, the universe and everything via learning to make his own clothes.

Veronica Stallwood – “Oxford Mourning” – I enjoyed her “Oxford Exit” and have been looking out for others by her – this is the only book that was remotely on my wishlist and is quite a battered copy so I don’t mind if another turns up at some stage! “A crime novel!” cried Mr Liz, but a literary, Oxford-based one!

Eric Newby – “Something Wholesale” – I adore Newby’s books but I didn’t have this one about his early life in the rag trade.

nov-2016-4Those were all from outside, and then I spotted these two final lovelies on the New Books shelf inside.

Richard King – “Original Rockers” – the story of a small independent record shop in Bristol. I worked on transcriptions for this book a while back, so it was exciting to see it in print, although I have sort of read it before.

Jon Kalman Stefansson – “The Heart of Man” – a novel set in the north of Iceland, by an Icelandic author, about loving two women at the same time (rather than chopping people up, etc.). Unfortunately, I’ve noticed that this is the last in a trilogy. But never mind, it’s gone on the Pile (which includes Books Where I Have To Wait To Read Earlier Books In The Series First) and I’ve put the earlier two on my wishlist.

I did at least read a whole book on the journey to and from London – “The Year of Reading Dangerously”, which was excellent, so that’s one off the pile.

We did also go to the Persephone Shop. Some of the books bought there will end up on my TBR in December and January, but the only ones I bought there myself were two for Ali for Christmas.

So there we go – what a lovely day and, I think, a good haul that hasn’t damaged any possible buying by other people.

Have you read any of these? Which would YOU fancy reading?


Book review – Tazeen Ahmad – “Checkout Girl” #books #amreading


nov-2016-tbrI’m experimenting with single book reviews for a few days to see if people like those more than the doubles – if you are interested in one book but not the other, does it put you off reading the post and/or commenting? I’d love to know. Anyway, I also started a substantial book today so there might not be another one to review for a few days, so here’s my reaction to a book in a genre I enjoy (is that the right word), where someone goes undercover to explore a different life or experience to the one they’re used to. What would you call that – social experiment books? Quest books? I did hop ahead in the TBR for this one as I started it when I had a bit of a cold and wanted something easy and not too taxing on the brain.

Tazeen Ahmad – “Checkout Girl”

(11 July 2016 – charity shop in Bridlington)

A journalist goes undercover during the early days of the recession to see first-hand the effect it’s having on people’s lives and spending habits. As it’s a Friday Project book, I assume it was based on a blog, but it’s well put together and reads coherently, which is refreshing.

It’s a warts-and-all but seemingly fair and balanced description of both behind the scenes and in the customer front line working at Sainsburys. She’s honest about her own struggles with the amount of customer interaction she’s supposed to do, the complicated transactions and processes and the different personalities of her colleagues and supervisors. I was saddened – but not surprised – to read about the attitudes of customers – I’ve certainly been guilty of carrying on my own life (and, dare I say it, bickering with Mr Liz) as I pass by the till, but I do make an effort to be polite! In fact, when I was talking to a lady in our Sainsburys, I confirm that although I do place my items on the belt in the order I want to pack them, I also do it so they’re close to her and the right way round (she said she doesn’t notice but I bet she does). I will be extra polite and supportive in future (in fact, I and a friend both told off someone who swore at the lady in the cafe the other day when she needed to check their large-denomination bank note, so hopefully I’m already walking the walk there).

I have to say that my checkout lady said they weren’t actually told to talk to every single customer, but I’m sure stores differ, and this book was published a few years ago now. I’d be interested to read an update on whether the redundancies started to diminish and people moved back from Basics to branded items, for example.

A well-written book which had a lot to recommend it and a human interest story as well as an economic exploration.


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