I have actually read half of the books in this picture now!

Well I really #amreading at the moment, due to a combination of having a cold and not having too much work on (it’s OK!) and not much doing at the weekends. So here’s a double review, which I used to do all the time and don’t really do now, but it gets more January books reviewed in January and they are linked by both being about voyages on water!

As to the dates, oh dear, I am soooo behind in terms of the lag between buying and reading. However I am reading a lot, and I don’t usually have so many books come in as I do in December-January, I’m confident I will get all my Christmas books on the shelf by the end of the month (sort of confident) and I’m saving up my lovely book tokens for a summer splurge.

In other news, before the reviews, my review of “Impressionism” by Ralph Skea is up on Shiny New Books today – read it here. Another book in the Art Essentials series, it’s beautifully illustrated and gave me some new insights. Do pop over and see the lovely folk at Shiny and read what I thought about it!

Harold Nicholson – “Journey to Java”

(17 July 2018, Oxfam Books, Kings Heath)

The diary of his and Vita Sackville-West’s cruise to Java via South Africa, week in the country and journey back, all paid for by an “enormous cheque” which his friends clubbed together to give him on his 70th birthday. It is mixed in with accounts of his academic pursuits while on board, on the nature of melancholy. I have to say that I preferred his rather shaky encounters with bingo and his “bunk reading” and, as he admits that he skimmed Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy”, so I also skimmed his musings on Rousseau and the Ancients.

There’s plenty of other stuff, however, and I loved the terribly endearing glimpses of the elderly couple of their separate cabins, he being a little irritated by Vita’s propensity to believe the theories of a stranger over the knowledge of loved ones, fond of her habit of sitting bolt upright on a hard teak bench rather than reclining in a deckchair, and positively glowing about her odd leaps of logic:

What I like about V. is that she is always having odd ideas. (p. 187)

He also admits – see, the endearing nature of it all – that

V. is inclined to distrust my scientific knowledge and even my classical illustrations which, I admit, are too often based upon vague memories. (p. 175)

There are some very funny descriptions of both the workings of the boat (they are most discomfited by the noises of a working ship, and also shocked at finding a nice man from Kew in the Second Class area) and his interactions with its passengers. For a book by a member, however transgressional, of the establishment in the 1950s there is only a little casual racism around the “jabbering” of the Indonesian staff and a few colonial digs at people not being able to run their own countries; he mostly likes and even admires the staff and you have to take this as it is, and less bad than other books of the period.

The shadow of the Second World War and the atrocities that occurred in the Far East are often lurking at the corners, with people often praised for having got over various things and being absolutely fine now (but were they?) but in the main this is a gentle, competently written and engaging read which I very much enjoyed. Maybe suggesting to one’s husband that we try Gran Canaria on the basis of Harold and Vita liking the place in 1957 is a little over-hopeful, however …

Sarah Henshaw – “The Bookshop that Floated Away”

(23 August 2018, Blue Cross charity shop, Stratford-upon-Avon)

I bought this when my lovely friend Cari (books AND running link us – hooray) was over visiting and we had a day out in Stratford where I pressed books upon her and came home with a pile (picture half-way down this post and I note I’ve read all but three of them now).

A rather odd little book, Henshaw runs the Book Barge, a bookshop on a narrowboat, and documents a six-month journey around the UK (including a bit in Birmingham that mentions a canal boat race I’m sure is in another book I’ve read, possibly “Hidden Nature“) promoting the shop and independent bookshops, without and yet strangely with her long-suffering boyfriend. She sets off not knowing how to operate the boat or what she’s going to do about going to the loo and I’m sorry, but I do get a bit impatient with people who just set off without proper planning, even though I know that’s my problem more than theirs.* She therefore has various mishaps. There is a whole section written “by” the boat itself in the style of “Black Beauty”, and quite a weirdly disconnected and floaty (ha ha) feel to it. The best moment is when my lovely client Erica Wagner is mentioned, and you can’t help but root for Sarah and the barge/business, but it’s all bit too slapdash and whimsical for me (why did I not mind that in that Mongolian horse race book, though?).

* I berated my poor husband for not ‘knowing his knots’ before I realised that most people DON’T actually know their knots …

There’s a very small amount of info about the Book Barge here.

I’ve just finished Chetan Bhagat’s excellent “2 States” which I will review on the 31st, as tomorrow I will be publishing my review of Marian Keyes’ “Grown Ups” which I read via NetGalley in October and then realised to my horror had a reviewing embargo until the week before it was published!