Book Reviews – Are You Dave Gorman? and Devil’s Cub

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July 2013 coming up I’m really pleased with how my  Month of Re-Reading is going. And unlike some of those millions of Barbara Pyms, these two are very firmly on the book pile to the left (as are the two I’m currently reading – more of those later. But for now, two very different books, although both of them seem quite escapist and like some more holiday reading. I suppose it is the summer holidays, even if I’m not off much. Actually, I took advantage of having some free time on Monday and Tuesday (including a thunderstorm during which I turned off the computer and went downstairs with my book and cats) to get a lot of the first one read, and have been able to linger over my meals a little with the second one. Of course, work is ramping up again now, but I’m still determined to carve out reading time!

Dave Gorman and Danny Wallace – “Are You Dave Gorman?”

(11 October 2001)

As I may have mentioned in my original post about this Month of Re-Reading, I chose a few representative books for this month to see if they were actually worth the re-read. This one, the Joanna Trollope (which I haven’t got to yet) and the Molly Moynahan (which I might well not get to at all) fall into this category. I have quite a few “quest” books on my shelf, you know, the kind of book that starts with a daft bet and then tells the story of what happened next. Once you know who won the bet, is it worth keeping for a future re-read? Well, the answer as regards this one, which will stand for and thus protect all the others, is a resounding “Yes”.

I hadn’t read this at all since the original purchase and read back in 2001 (a few days after I got together with M – I dimly remember buying stacks of books at the Books Etc. near his flat), and it’s still fresh and funny, as well as endearing. In fact, it’s probably more sweet and endearing than I remember, being very much about Dave and Danny’s friendship. This friendship, and Danny’s relationship with his girlfriend, is put to the test as they embark upon an almost accidental search for people called Dave Gorman. Having two writers alternating sections works well and allows for very funny double-aspect descriptions of the same events at times, although avoids being repetitive, and there’s a palpable sense of the friendship and people behind the humour, which makes it more of a satisfying read than just whizzing through to see if they achieve their target. I like the epilogue, which updates us on various developments and appearances of badges and t-shirts in different TV programmes. This actually made me want to go and re-read other quest and travel books in my collection.

Georgette Heyer – “Devil’s Cub”

(18 March 2013)

One of my naughty purchases from The Works; I pulled three of these out of the TBR because I’m confident that I’ve read them all before, so it’s an easy way to make the Month of Re-Reading work to whittle down the TBR shelf to an extent (an extent rather undermined by my purchases this month, admittedly!)

You find all that you could wish for in a Regency Romance in this one – and sorry if you never wish for a Regency Romance; I love Heyer and have done since my teens, and make no apologies for that. It’s not a guilty pleasure, just a pleasure! There are dangerous heroes, resourceful heroines, chases, France, elopements, misunderstandings, dresses and boots, and excellent supporting characters. In this book’s case, there’s the additional delight of it being the sequel to the equally marvellous “These Old Shades” (read last July), finding the characters from that novel twenty years down the line, but still very much the same, and not very wiser, with Leonie in particular as fiery as ever. After a rather violent beginning for Heyer, we settle down for a good, rollicking read, with clear-headedness and bravery celebrated and love being found in odd corners. Very enjoyable.

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Current reading is Magnus Magnusson’s “Iceland Saga”, first purchased and read in 1991, while I was studying the sagas at University, and very enjoyable still, and Anthony Powell’s “Dance to the Music of Time: Spring”, which I’m reading with M and some friends in the usual fashion, so that’s progressing a little more slowly than it would if I was reading it independently. Much fun being had by all, though!

Book Reviews – Pym Fest! Crampton Hodnett, A Very Private Eye and Civil to Strangers

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July 2013 coming upThis photo gives the lie, doesn’t it. Well, I started reading “A Very Private Eye” just before this Month of Re-Reading, and all of these are in fact re-reads. Basically, I panicked just before going to the Barbara Pym conference, and threw “Crampton Hodnett” (a full novel published posthumously) and “Civil to Strangers” (a collection of a couple of three complete novels, one unfinished work and some short stories) into my rucksack at the last minute. I know I must have read them when I bought them back in the 1990s, but I certainly haven’t done since, and was unsure of their contents. As it happened, I managed to read only part of “Crampton Hodnett” before the conference, but never mind …

Barbara Pym – “Crampton Hodnett”

(7 Jan 1993)

A very early novel, published after Pym’s death, this is a hilarious portrait of North Oxford life with Miss Doggett and Miss Morrow, who were recycled for “Jane and Prudence“, taking centre stage.

We find the classic Pym clergymen and their wives, women who are bad at being a wife, happy, wry spinsters and of course a curate, described deliciously here at one point as resembling a satisfied marmalade cat, with the addition of the adoration of a professor by his clever student and a delightfully waspish Bodleian librarian. Heavily edited by Hazel Holt, it remains a good, fun read, with plenty to say about love and marriage, spinsters and wives, and fussy and foolish men, with some great characters and some interesting insights into what Pym’s women actually do want out of their relationships with men.

Barbara Pym – “A Very Private Eye” (ed. Hilary Pym and Hazel Holt)

(? No indication as to where I got this. I suspect the book stall in Greenwich, but I’m not sure)

An autobiography collected by Barbara Pym’s sister and executrix out of her diaries and letters, this is of necessity not as selective or well-shaped as a conventional biography would be. Some of the student writings were pretty gushy, and I found the Stevie Smith-like letters to Elsie almost unbearably pathetic in their attempts at cheer and not caring about her marriage to Pym’s love, Henry; but I did love the letters to Larkin, although I would have liked to read his to her, too), even though the inclusion of these, diary entries and letters to another correspondent gave rather a repetitive effect at times. There was a lot of good detail about the writing of all of her books, the background to Quartet in Autumn being particularly interesting (this from someone who claims not to want to know about the authorial intent – oh well!).

On this repetition, I suppose that in 1984, with Pym gone 4 years previously and the posthumous publication of “Civil to Strangers”, etc., not yet completed, this gave people want they wanted – as much more of Pym’s words and writings as they could possibly get. You can’t really argue with that.

I loved the glimpses of Iris Murdoch (of course), and also of Paul Binding, who I met at the Pym Conference, and who actually introduced BP to IM, at his house!

Barbara Pym – “Civil to Strangers”

(9 January 1993)

This substantial book contains the title novel, a well-done study of a taken-for-granted wife with increasingly clear sight and a perhaps inadvisable trip to Budapest; the autobiographically based what-if novel, “Gervase and Flora”, set in Finland and re-writing early disappointment as created by the disappointed one, looking for a sort of closure; the unfinished “Home Front Novel”, with its detailed portrayal of a village in wartime; and the madcap spy novel, “So Very Secret”, which is competently plotted but surely both written and read for the characters; plus some pleasing short stories which look at old love revisited, show us Mark and Sophia Ainger and Faustina from “An Unsuitable Attachment” in later life, and are all very interesting; and an essay about developing her voice.

Slightly patchy on the whole, but we must remember that they were unpublished at Pym’s death, except for certain short stories, and they do, of course, give us more of Pym, which is what we all want, really, isn’t it!

Book Reviews – Perch Hill and Emma

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July 2013 coming upTwo more old friends in my Month of Re-Reading, and you can see them both in the photo, I think … These were two more that I read on our recent holiday; I read all of “Perch Hill” in a few sittings and got up to the end of Book II of “Emma” on my Kindle, but I tired of reading the “Collected Works” on that and not knowing how far I was through the book, so stopped there and picked it up in my old Penguin Classics edition when I was back at home.

Was it worth taking my Kindle on holiday, by the way? The jury’s out this time. To be fair, I had crammed in a large number of Barbara Pyms because of the Conference. I would not have normally taken that many print books on a trip, now that I have the Kindle. So, even though I only read 2/3 of one book on it this time, I will take it next time …

Adam Nicolson – “Perch Hill”

(10 December 2005)

Needing respite after a bad year culminating in a mugging, Adam Nicolson and Sarah Raven determine to find a place in which they can nestle down and hide from the world. Having searched all over the country (as an ex-fellow Weald dweller, I smiled at “even East Kent”), they find Perch Hill, an unprepossessing collection of shabby farm buildings and poor land, but tucked into a beautiful, almost magical valley in Kipling country.

Their concerns may be the same as in any other “giving it all up and going to live in the country” narrative – hateful chickens, dim sheep, hard lessons, collapsing buildings, neighbours good and bad – but because it’s written by this author, we get wonderful writing that you can enjoy for its own sake as well as for the sake of the narrative, precise descriptions, emotional depth and a deep, abiding sense of his love of the English landscape and land, and in addition, it’s often very funny (I was constantly reading bits out to Mr Liz).

A worthwhile and enjoyable re-read as I had half forgotten that I owned this book, and remembered the feel of it (except at the very beginning) but not the detail. One of the great narratives of countryside living.

Here’s my previous review pf this book from March 2006 (when I didn’t review so comprehensively!)

Jane Austen – “Emma”

(late 1980s / early 1990s, dated from sticky-backed-plastic covering)

How DO you actually review a book by Austen? Hasn’t everything already been said before? This was one of the two least-known of her books to me (the other being “Persuasion”, which I read back in January) but it’s just such a good read, with wonderful characters, and, although I had forgotten much of it, I remembered the well-plotted and satisfying story.

As with other classics (see Hardy reads and “Middlemarch“, I have found my reaction to this book changing over time. I found Jane Fairfax unjustly judged now – although that’s obviously part of the story – where I found her annoying before, and I recall being more frustrated with Mr Woodhouse in earlier days – now I can see the worry shining through his dealings with anything at all out of the ordinary, having lost his wife young and only having one daughter left at home. Book blogger Dovegreyreader, who has also recently read and reviewed this book, although for the first time, points out the effects of the loss of her mother on Emma, and you can see that when it’s pointed out to you, with the lack of female guidance (think of Jo from Little Women without her mother) and only her governess to oversee her moral development, someone who is, although full of sense herself, perhaps a little over-indulgent of her dear Emma.  And I think that it is to these women of sense, rather than sensibility, that we turn as we get older, isn’t it? Emma perhaps moves from one point to the other over the course of the book, and of course her relationship with Mr Knightley is just perfect! A great read, anyway.

I haven’t read this one recently enough to have an existing review to quote. But here’s Heaven-Ali’s review from her Austen in August re-read.

Book Reviews – A Few Green Leaves and A Start in Life

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July 2013 coming up My Month of Re-Reading  continues with two books by favourite women authors – to whom, incidentally, I was introduced by the same person. Mary was a neighbour whose garden backed onto ours. She introduced me when I was in my formative years to feminism, socialism, Iris Murdoch, Anita Brookner, Anne Tyler, Elizabeth Taylor, Erica Jong, Virago books and much more. Did you have someone like Mary in your young life? Who introduced you to the books you still love today?

Barbara Pym – “A Few Green Leaves”

(7 October 1994)

My re-reading interest in this book was piqued by the Barbara Pym Conference (more of that later in the blog) and luckily I had this one handy at the time, unlike “An Unsuitable Attachment”, which I also want to re-read soon. We’re back into village life with this one, with Emma Howick, perceived to be unsuccessful and the daughter of an academic, moving into her mother’s cottage and deciding to make an anthropological study of village life. She’s not the only one studying the population, with the young doctor interested in geriatrics, not to mention the beady eyes of the other inhabitants. Her notes and observations frame the tensions within the community between new doctor and old doctor, doctor and rector, original and newer inhabitants, and there is some of that unsatisfactory romance that BP does so well, too, as well as some marvellous lone men to throw into relief the difference between them and spinsters.

Many mentions of characters from other books – the ex-priest, Adam Prince was at Father Thames’ clergy house with Wilf Bason the adventurous cook, and there is news of Fabian Driver and Esther Clovis, the latter of which provides a plot point allowing us to be updated on the status of Digby Fox, Deirdre, Dr Apfelbaum and Gertrude Lydgate from “Less Than Angels”.

Satisfying, well-written as ever and extremely funny, for example Daphne’s increasingly violent memories of Greece as she contemplates the church flower arranging.

Anita Brookner – “A Start in Life”

(1990s)

I did want to re-read a Brookner anyway, but then Heaven-Ali came up with the idea of Brookner in July to celebrate the author’s birthday, so this forms part of that challenge, too. This one has a superb opening sentence: “Dr. Weiss, at forty, knew that her life had been ruined by literature”. We’re in classic (early) Brookner-land here with a red-haired, solitary daughter with her slightly raffish mother and unreliable family in general, odd retainer and unsatisfactory lover, with London and Paris playing starring roles and minute observation of the disconnect between the central characters and modern life.

It’s quite Pym-like in ways, although much more melancholy than even the saddest Pym – a farcical attempt at cooking a meal for a lover is tragic here, rather than comic – but a world in which the reader can immerse themselves and as good a reading experience now as when I was much younger and reading Brookner for the first time.

Book Reviews – The Sweet Dove Died and Cider With Roadies

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July 2013 coming up Two old friends here as part of my Month of Re-Reading.  The Barbara Pym was read for my readalong with the Virago LibraryThing Group, and the Maconie was added at the last minute (so doesn’t appear in the book pile to the left) because I’d been to see him talking about his new book and he’d read bits out of it which reminded me how enjoyable it is. So on it went to the pile, and off it came straight away to be read!

Barbara Pym – “The Sweet Dove Died”

(9 January 1991)

I think this is the most Elizabeth Taylor-y of Pym’s novels (Pym and Taylor readers, do you agree?). We meet cool (cold? calculating?) Leonora, who uses her accidental encounter with Humphrey and his nephew James to entwine them into her life, getting all their useful aspects without having to engage in any of the messier or more uncomfortable side of human relationships. She is unable to see the parallels between her obsession with James and her friend Meg’s difficulties with her own young male friend, even when parallels between the young men’s lives come into sharp focus, and dispatches those who cause problems with ease and aplomb. Yet somehow we do feel sorry for this lady with her empty life and continual polishing in this quietly impressive novel which  Pym described as a study in selfishness (picked up at the conference). Originally read this in the early 90s and I’m not sure I’ve got a review written down. I did remember many parts of this although not the plot as such.

Stuart Maconie – “Cider With Roadies”

(08 May 2004)

A jaunt through Maconie’s early life up until his leap from journalism to radio broadcasting. Extremely amusing of course, and I also enjoyed a lot of the points about dealing with interviewing music people which are even more interesting for me now that I transcribe a lot of these (not for Maconie, I hasten to add). His sheer joy in music and bands shines through the humour of course … and also, I have to say, shines through the typos with which the text is littered. But a good, fun read. I can’t find my original review of this at the moment, as I would have read it about a year before I started book blogging online, but will dig it out of my notebooks and add it.

State of the TBR and Month of Re-Reading in July

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July 2013 TBRWell, just LOOK at my TBR. I might have “only” read 12 books last month (not all reviewed yet, in case you’re counting), but I seem to have got through some of the wider ones on the shelf, and look how good it’s looking (pop to the State of the TBR category to compare with previous months). Unfortunately, apart from the three Georgette Heyers I have already removed for Month of Re-Reading in July, nothing else is likely to leave the TBR next month; however, I’m going to make an effort not to add anything, either … We’ll see how that goes.

July 2013 PymCurrent reading is a bit of a cheat, as I started it in June, but I didn’t have a little one I could fit in before the end of the month. Because I’m going to the Barbara Pym Centenary Conference this month, I wanted to catch up with all the books on her, so there are two of her novels on the TBR pile and then this autobiography in letters and diary entries to read, too. It’s a good read although very full and detailed, so might well be background reading for a while as I skip through some novels, too

July 2013 coming upAnd this is the pile for Re-Reading. I added all the Georgette Heyers I had on the TBR as I know I’ve read them all before. The two Pyms (the one you can’t see the title of is “A Sweet Dove Died” are this and next month’s LibraryThing Virago Group reads, getting as many re-read as I can before the conference). M remembered enjoying Dance to the Music of Time on the TV and decided he’d like to read it on audio book, so I said I’d read along as we like doing that, just the first season this month, though. “Iceland Saga” is following a theme of reading books about Iceland that I’ve been doing recently. “Are You Dave Gorman?” is there because I’ve got a lot of these ‘quest’ books on the shelves and I’m wondering if they stand up to a re-read. The same is true of the Joanna Trollopes – I have all the early novels still, but do I need to keep them? And the Molly Moynahan is a random grab off the shelf – “Living in Arcadia” – do I need to keep that, as I thought I did at one stage?

I like to do a Jane Austen in these months. Ali is re-reading Emma next month, so I thought I’d go for the same one as her again. And she’s hosting an “Anita Brookner July” themed read, so I’m participating in that with a re-read of one of her early novels.

That’s quite a lot, but mainly novels and I should have a bit more reading time this month …

Is anyone else doing any Re-Reading in July? You don’t have to devote the whole month to it, but I do find it very rewarding (see my other months in the category cloud).

Book reviews: Persuasion, The Dark is Rising Sequence, A Lot to Ask and a Month of Re-Reading Roundup

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Jan 2013 month of rereadingThe month of re-reading is over (well over, sorry!) and it’s time to review those last reads and to have a think about how it’s gone this time.

Jane Austen – “Persuasion”

(1980s)

I was slightly dreading reading this one, as I was leaning towards the more familiar “Pride and Prejudice”, which was celebrating its 200th anniversary in January, too, and it is one of the two Austens I know least well. But it’s not a hard read, and it’s a short one (my normal length volume fooled me by including the memoir of JA by her nephew in the same edition) and very absorbing. As usual, Austen does her timeless thing so well, with her portrayal of ex-lovers meeting, or rather being thrown into one another’s company, years later, having to cope, matchmaking their friends, etc. – situations that can easily be described emotionally in exactly the same way if the cultural trimmings are pulled gently away. Anne Elliott is a little saintly but is fully rounded and I loved her relationships with their beloved neighbour, Lady Russell, and her difficult sister, plus her children. The book is full of attractive and well-drawn characters and the naval details go outside those two inches of ivory Austen is usually portrayed as inhabiting.

I have to say that I don’t remember this one at all from my last reading, which must have been in my teens. I have an urge to re-read all of her other novels now – not sure whether I’ll do one per month or one per Month of Re-Reading.

Susan Cooper – “The Dark is Rising Sequence”

(30 December 2012 – replacement copy)

A wonderful Young Adult sequence I remember reading over and over again in younger years, but not recently. I have managed to persuade Matthew to read these, too – I stayed just one book ahead of him the whole way through, so my reading of these was spread satisfyingly throughout the month.

“Over Sea and Under Stone” – First in the sequence and we meet the delightfully ordinary Drew siblings and their rather mysterious Great Uncle Merry. Barney’s knowledge of King Arthur is put to good use, and there’s nothing too supernatural or scary in this one.

“The Dark is Rising” – Over to Will in the Thames Valley for the explanation of the mythology and some serious supernatural stuff. All, of course, comes together in the end in a satisfying way (although not the best book to be reading during a really heavy snowfall!) and I love the rootedness in real life and “real” myth and the family relationships.

“Greenwitch” – We’re back in Cornwall with the Drew children, joined by Will and with the Captain home. Something important has been stolen, and they need a lost item to save it all. It’s  nice that Jane, with her kindness and forbearance, has a central and very positive role in this book – I assume because it was written by a woman, as this is fairly rare, in my experience.

“The Grey King” – Now we’re off to Wales with Will and new mysterious character, Bran, and his beautiful dog. Peril under the mountains contrasts beautifully and effectively with human evil, cruelty, love and protection.

“Silver on the Tree” – The Drew children meet Will and Bran in Wales. there’s a role for each of them, more bravery for Jane, nods to C.S. Lewis, a quest (which still has a bit that REALLY scares me) and a final battle full of myth and wonder, with historical characters woven cleverly into the narrative fabric.

A wonderful set of books with a clear and understandable mythology and a rootedness in human nature and relationships, landscape and myth. I was familiar with the stories but it was odd  not reading them in one single volume: I realised I didn’t really know where the breaks between the books came!

Hazel Holt – “A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym”

(bought ?? has not appeared in my inputting of my reading journals into an Excel index yet … Started in January, finished in February)

A re-read of a well-done and thorough biography. Full of excerpts from letters to and from BP and diary entries, and written with a clear eye, even though the author and BP were friends and colleagues – and Holt deals well with the potentially tricky part when she herself comes into the story. Philip Larkin is very sweet, and there are three mentions of Iris Murdoch (although not indexed!) plus a very Murdochian hairstyle (close-cropped hair like shiny animal fur). A good background to the books, the people depicted in them and the woman behind them. I had forgotten how much proofreading and editing BP did, and can’t wait to get on to the anthropological novels.

Will add my original review here, as I’m sure I bought and read it after 1997 and it will crop up in my reading journal index in due course …

A Month of Re-Reading in January

So – a good month? Yes, I think so. I read all the books I set out to read, although finishing one in February, and one and a half non-re-reads found their way in to the month, as they always do. I really find this exercise valuable; it’s lovely to revisit old favourites or discover books anew, and I feel like the large book collection I have amassed over the years is earning its keep a bit better these days. I might even venture into one of the larger format non-fiction books I have next time. Read how my fellow re-reader, Ali, summed up her month. And keep reading for more book reviews – I’ve read quite a lot in February already!

Are you taking part in the Month of Re-Reading?  Do tell me all about it!

Book reviews: The Secret of Terror Castle, The Nonesuch and Sea Room

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Jan 2013 month of rereadingThe month of re-reading is continuing to go well, with two old favourites all comfy-like and one that I have only read once before and REALLY enjoyed revisiting …

Robert Arthur – “The Secret of Terror Castle”

(22 November 2012)

I know I read all of these as a child/teenager so they all count. And this is the very first of the Three Investigators series, in which Bob, Pete and Jupiter Jones reassuringly prove all seemingly paranormal and scary phenomena to be the work of human agents. This is the first Alfred Hitchcock book and sets the background and the procedures for all of the others (again, reassuring). They inveigle their way into meeting Hitchcock and investigate a “haunted” castle he wants to use in a film. Dramatic and well-written, with twists and turns and humour. Good, escapist reading with all peril carefully explained away.

Georgette Heyer – “The Nonesuch”

(2011 – omnibus from BookCrossing)

Not many people’s favourite, but I really enjoyed this Heyer set entirely in Yorkshire. The famous Nonesuch has inherited a stately home that’s been owned by a miser uncle, and causes flurries in the neighbourhood when he moves in to renovate it. He has two very different cousins under his wing, and all three make their mark on local society in their different ways. We have a deliciously naughty minx, Tiffany, who, however, turns out not to be the heroine of either the action or the emotional centre: that belongs to her sweet neighbour, Patience, and her companion, Miss Trent, respectively. Misunderstandings ensue, characters are redeemed and get their just deserts, and the background and period detail are of course impeccable. I really like this one and its unusual setting.

Again, I read all of the Heyers as a teen, so I don’t have a review to compare it with, but did remember something of the main characters from that pale green hardback of so many years ago.

Adam Nicolson – “Sea Room”

(19 June 2002)

What an absolute treat of a re-read! Nicolson inherited the three tiny Scottish Shiant Isles in his 20s, but it was only as he prepared to pass them on to his own son that he decided to have their geology, wildlife, history and archaeology researched by experts, and to record a year in his life with the islands.  This was the result.

His writing is beautiful, of course – I would read anything he has written, as he is such an accomplished writer, and his descriptions of land, sea, people and wildlife are stunning, as are his evocations of past residents and their lives, both rich and harsh, and his own relationship with the islands he so obviously deeply loves. The sections on the bird life of the islands, puffins, gannets and the like, are astonishingly lovely and hugely evocative. Humble and self-deprecating as ever, with an eye for a story against himself, respectful and with a lively interest: a marvellous book.

My review from my first read in July 2002 (how up to date was I then, and ooh, get me with my references to Icelandic verse! I was nearer my study of it then, although I did notice the language this time round, too!)

“Excellent, vivid and evocative account of the islands he owns, their geology, biology and history, all told in a plain but lyrical prose that echoes the language of the old skaldic and eddic verse. Full of emotion but plain spoken. Lovely.”

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I’m about to start the last volume of Susan Cooper’s “Dark is Rising” sequence and a little way through “Persuasion”.

Are you taking part in the Month of Re-Reading?  Do tell me all about it!

Book reviews: It’s Game Time Somewhere and The Mayor of Casterbridge

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Jan 2013 month of rereadingAs I work my way further into the month of re-reading, I’ve had a lovely satisfying wodge of Hardy to get my teeth into. I have had to stray away from the well-trodden path again, though, as I won a book on the LibraryThing Early Reviewers programme, and the deal with those is that you have to read and review them within a month of receipt. So, there will be one more review of a non-re-read, then it’s familiar territory through to the end of the month (hooray!)

Tim Forbes – “It’s Game Time Somewhere”

(LibraryThing Early Reviewers; e-book)

Forbes, after one career change involving becoming a golf promoter, decides to re-ignite his old love of sports, planning a quest to see 50 different sports events over the course of a year. But heading to what he thinks will be the great, big game/event fun of his youth, he finds both the sportspeople (arrogant, celebs) and the crowds (alcohol fuelled and aggressive) ruined for him, perhaps by the greed of the team and event owners and especially the media. Here he has to deepen his search below the slightly shallow level he’s been pursuing, and look at research on the subject, which makes it more interesting and valid, actually.

Will his old love of sports be rekindled by an engagement with the “minority” sports he finds a little ridiculous? Will he find a new way to “monetize” minority sports and participation (this aspect annoyed me a bit, but it is the lens through which he, as a sports events promoter and marketer, sees things). I was moved by the description of his wife’s enthusiastic new hobby of running and the description of her first half marathon. It wasn’t at all a bad read, although it took a bit of time to get going into the actual meat of the quest, and a lot of the information was of course on American sports, so I missed some of the finer detail as I didn’t know the rules, but it was interesting and a good read – also a bit more substantial than some of the e-books one comes across.

Thomas Hardy – “The Mayor of Casterbridge”

(Bought 1980s)

A deep psychological study of Michael Henchard’s rise and fall through Wessex society, and a gripping page-turner full of dramatic irony and reversals of fortune, played out against a rich landscape of town and country, modern commerce and ancient monuments. Decency prevails, even in dark hearts, and old loyalties hold true. Elizabeth-Jane, the heroine, is a quiet character in the vein of Thomasina from “The Return of the Native”; the supper scene with two love rivals grasping the same piece of bread is sublime; the low characters are kept in check but still add light and shade. The Chorus stands in judgement and fate looms over the characters, a fate growing from their own character flaws, magnified and twisted as the narrative powers on. Back to the masterpieces and a satisfying read.

I really do not remember much about this book, although I’ve clearly read this copy of the book before. You’d think that I’d recall that the heroine shares my name! I do remember the feel of it and the town, and I will without doubt re-read it again at some point; it’s a masterpiece, not too dismal but with layers and depth and truly moving scenes.

——

Currently reading – I’ve just finished the third book of the “Dark is Rising” sequence but can’t start the next one until M has started this one. Also in the middle of a lovely Georgette Heyer, “The Nonesuch”, set in Yorkshire and delightful!

Book reviews: Daniel Deronda and Skating to Antarctica

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Jan 2013 month of rereadingWell, this is a bit of an odd Month of Re-Reading post. One book isn’t a re-read at all, but I started it in December and couldn’t bear to skip over it for a whole month (Tony Blair is, however, languishing unread for the duration). The other, dear readers, is A Mistake. Find out why later on …

George Eliot “Daniel Deronda”

(21 January 2012 – from Bridget)

A lovely Everyman edition – I was going to keep it for best and read the text on my Kindle, then I thought better of it, took the cream dust jacket off it and got stuck in.

An amazing book. Given that “Middlemarch” is one of my favourite books ever, I’m not sure why I have never read any of Eliot’s other novels. That will now change. I couldn’t put this book down throughout its 900 pages.

It’s the story of Daniel Deronda, of course, with whom we rather fall in love, as he works his way rather circuitously towards finding his roots. Even though Eliot clearly loves him, too, she draws a rounded character so he never becomes annoying, even when being saintly (there are some great bits about how annoying it is when everyone looks on you like a saint and never asks how you are!), and his interactions with the proud Gwendolyn, a rather Hardyesque character, I felt, are full of feeling and goodness.

Eliot leads us cleverly through the clues and hints, never letting us get lost or confused by the large cast of characters, and I was enthralled at the depictions of different characters, classes, genders, levels of morality, sibling relationships and indeed races. Although she uses the dreaded word, “Jewess”, not a word that is found acceptable nowadays, George Eliot is firmly on the side of the Jewish characters, and examines conscious and unconscious anti-Semitism with a clear eye.

My only criticism is that I could have done with a few notes to explain some of the more contemporary and obscure references. But how lovely to find a book I know I will return to again and again!

Jenny Diski – “Skating to Antarctica”

(26 February 1998)

My first Month of Re-reading dud! But wait: it’s only the wrong blooming book! The one I meant to read was Sara Wheeler’s “Terra Incognita”. I had even had a conversation about this with a friend in a cafe in December, when I dredged her name out of the back of my mind.

I only realised it was the wrong one when I was part way through, so I persisted, as it was a fairly short book and quick read. This was an odd mixture of Antarctic travel – which did have its interest and good descriptions – and early misery memoir, describing a seriously odd upbringing, her attempts to find more about that from her old neighbours, and several bouts of mental illness and hospitalisation, which all made for decidedly uncomfortable reading!

In fact, I’m surprised I kept it, and will be deaccessioning it now. Here’s my unrevealing review from my first read in March 1998 (oh for the days where I read books a mere month after acquiring them!)

A great book, about her relationship with her parents and self, seen through a trip to Antarctica. Combines self-examination and emotional/intellectual rigour with good, classic travel writing.

——

I’m currently working my way through the Susan Cooper “Dark is Rising” sequence, about to start the third volume. I have had to derail from re-reading again, as I have a LibraryThing Early Reviewers book to read and review by the end of the month, but I’m 68% of the way through that (an e-book, as you may have guessed) and once that’s done I’m off to Casterbridge with Thomas Hardy!

Are you taking part in the Month of Re-Reading? Do tell me all about it!

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