Finally, here are my first two books in my #20BooksOfSummer challenge (for more info on the challenge, see my first post on the topic). These are not connected apart from by virtue of being part of the project, and of standing a little outside the main run of the TBR, “Patricia Brent, Spinster” being an ebook and “Oxford Guide to Plain English” having lived in a little pile of what I like to call “books for work”, separate because you never know when you’re going to want to/have to read them. Oh – another link – both of them fill in gaps in my Reading A Century project, too, which is another reason why I wanted to get them read, apart from mere tidiness.
Herbert Jenkins – “Patricia Brent, Spinster”
(ebook, bought June 2015 (I thought I’d already downloaded it but couldn’t find it on my Kindle: the shame!))
OK, OK, Simon from Stuck-in-a-Book and all the other people who exhorted me to read this novel were right. It’s charming, delightful, a dear of a book and unputdownable.
Patricia Brent is only in her 20s, but is marked down as a lonely spinster by the fellow inmates of the rather pretentious boarding house she inhabits in London. Sick of their goading and cattiness, she resorts to inventing a fiancé, and then weaves her way into a delicious web of deceit when challenged somewhat passive-aggressively to prove it, springing upon a hapless chap in a cafe and persuading him to take part in her misleading ploy.
Of course, then the chap in question turns to (seem to) be actually keen on Patricia, and starts to send her flowers and telegrams, but she’s that horrible combination of proud and embarrassed, and a whole comedy of misunderstandings and crossed wires starts to develop, helped along by the quite horrific fellow-boarding-house-dwellers, the “rising politician” whose secretary Patricia is and his dreadful wife and her marvellous father, and the background of London coping with World War One, ever present, and intruding dreadfully in one scene.
What with a Troublesome Aunt, a solicitious major domo at the boarding house who moves subtly from caricature to rounded and sympathetic character and a set-piece which shows all of the characters for who they really are, plus the breathless Lady Peggy who inexorably gathers the main characters under her win, it’s a cheerful and very funny book with a strong and interesting core and a heart-warming story, very akin to those Persephone Books stalwarts about Miss Pettigrew and Miss Buncle. Charming.
This book will appeal to anyone who loves the aforementioned Miss Buncle and Miss Pettigrew; anyone interested in social changes and society in the First World War.
Martin Cutts – “Oxford Guide to Plain English”
The author of this book co-founded the Plain English Campaign although is no longer associated with it, so has a good background for writing this book about that marvellous thing, Plain English, which helps people to write clearly and understandably. I’ve just broken one of its suggestions, by the way …
The book is fairly small but has just the appropriate amount of information and detail. It sets out a useful set of 25 suggestions for writing (covering planning, structure, sentence structure, layout and then specific types of writing and audience) and then has a chapter covering each, including useful worked examples to explain and clarify the points the author is making. There are also quite a few “amusing” examples of typos and mistakes – this is a bit of a bugbear of mine, and I’ve criticised it elsewhere, but it’s not too snarky and doesn’t take away from the usefulness of the book itself. (I don’t like it because I work with people whose English is not their first language and people who are not confident about their writing, and I don’t like any hint of mockery, which could really put them off. That’s why I don’t tend to be found sharing funny signs, etc., in public. Anyway.)
It’s written – of course – in a clear and also approachable style – not too personal and overbearing, either (there is a funny section about a small argument with The Telegraph about split infinitives). It concentrates on factual report and letter writing, but the general points extend to all kinds of writing except the most literary and/or experimental. The fact that I didn’t find anything that surprising, shocking or new suggests that I can be reassured that I’m on the right track with my own writing – hooray! Overall a useful book that should be added to the shelf of anyone who writes for a living or for pleasure.
This book will appeal to anyone interested in writing. By the way, if you need a Plain English editor, my friend and colleague Laura Ripper is qualified in Plain English.
Currently reading … NOTHING! That last book got finished just after lunch and I am not sure what I’ll pick up next – maybe something else from my first eight #20BooksOfSummer as these are only the first two …