State of the TBR January 2017 and Christmas book confessions (happies)

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jan-2017-tbrI know, I know, a bonus post from me, two on one day. But I had a lot of stuff to fit in! First of all, here’s my January TBR, which I think you’ll agree is marvellous, svelte, hardly visible, etc. Well, you can see it’s smaller than January 2016‘s effort (and you can see the TBR wax and wane in my Year in First Lines post). This has been boosted by my lovely Secret Santa gifts.

Lovely Christmas arrivals

I’m in three Secret Santa arrangements every year. The first one to be opened is the BookCrossing one, as we do that over a meal some time in early December. Here’s my haul (minus a sweet Christmas tree decoration I had left downstairs) from my friend Jen:

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… all off my wishlist, lucky me. Then I’m in a photo a day one and fortunately for the TBR, received a lovely parcel from Alexandra containing a super colouring book and a lovely notebook. That was opened on Christmas Day, as was my LibraryThing Virago one from Belva, complete with chocs and Parma Violets and a lovely double CD to listen to while I read!

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Then, of course, there were lovely booky gifts from Ali and Gill, dear local friends (as well as lots of other good things from other friends, but this is about BOOKS, otherwise we’ll be here all day). So, here’s the pile in all its glory:

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Scott Jurek – Eat and Run – about endurance running (and veganism) and apparently a v good read.

Miriam Toews – A Boy of Good Breeding – small town America and she writes so beautifully

Farahad Zama – Mrs Ali’s Road to Happiness – fourth in the lovely Marriage Bureau for Rich People series – I’ve loved the first three

Susie Dent – How to Talk Like a Local – a book on local accents and dialects by the Countdown Dictionary Corner queen

Mollie Panter-Downes – One Fine Day – her post-war book, which I’ve wanted for a while after reading her short stories and war reportage letters

Virginia Woolf – The Years and Between the Acts – I read BtA earlier in the year for Woolfalong, but only in an ebook copy, and didn’t have a copy of The Years – I read it between unwrapping it on Christmas Day and yesterday to finish off Woolfalong, so that was a great and timely gift!

Oliver Sacks – On the Move – his autobiography, and I’m just about recovered enough from his loss last year to read this now, so another timely one

Zora Neale Hurston – Their Eyes were Watching God – fills in a space in my Reading a Century and it’s a Virago!

R. C. Sherriff – Greengates – a lovely Persephone I’ve had my eye on for a while

Amber Reeves – A Lady and her Husband – a Persephone novel about fair wages for tea shop workers

Earlene Fowler – Delectable Mountains – one in a lovely series of cosy mysteries set around the quilting world

I’m so lucky, aren’t I! Have you read any of these?

Coming up next

jan-2017-coming-upI’m currently reading a lovely edition of Iris Murdoch’s letters, which I’m very much enjoying (I don’t like having a book hanging over from New Year’s Eve to New Year’s Day but was busy finishing The Years and letters seem less bad to hang over than a solid novel etc.). Coming up next are these lovelies from fairly late on in the year (my book buying was definitely weighted to the end of the year in 2016) – a couple of autobiographical works, a book about women and sport, a Kingsolver novel I’m still not sure about, a couple of novels (my second by Tove Jansson and a Joanna Cannan) and some older travel narratives that look really fun. I also have a few review copies on the Kindle and have made a start on Margery Sharp’s “The Flowering Thorn” to make sure I’ve read it in time for Margery Sharp Day later in the month. It’s absolutely DELIGHTFUL so far, as all her books are.

Reading challenges for 2017

Well, for the last six or seven years I’ve been engaged in reading projects – all of Iris Murdoch, all of Thomas Hardy, all of Elizabeth Taylor and Barbara Pym, The Forsyte Saga, A Dance to the Music of Time, and, last year, the marvellous Woolfalong and the challenging read of Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” series. It’s been great, and it’s had me reading books I might not have read then or at all. But it’s time for a rest, I think.

So, NO CHALLENGES in 2017.

But that’s not strictly true, of course.

For a start, I’ve mentioned that I’m reading a Margery Sharp for Margery Sharp Day.

I’m going to do 20BooksOfSummer again in the summer, because I make that pile up out of books on the TBR and it’s so fun to connect with other bloggers.

I’m sure I’ll do All Virago / All August again, and again, that’s usually taken off my TBR.

I’m going to carry on Reading the Century and see how I’m doing by the end of the year – I might then start looking to fill the gaps.

And I have really, really wanted to do some more re-reading again. I used to have two months of re-reading a year, and that was too much, so I’m going to try to re-read a book a month through 2017.

In addition, of course I’ll carry on with my Shiny New Books reviewing.

So, not entirely challenge-free, but no big author project for once.

What are you up to with challenges in 2017?

 

Top Ten Books of the Year 2016 (and reading report)

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jan-2016-tbrWell, the TBR started the year as above and (sneak preview) finished it like this, so that’s some progress, right?

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In 2016 I read 126 books in total (up from 115 in 2015): 77 of them were fiction (83 in 2015) and 49 non-fiction (32 in 2015) and I had 6 Did Not Finishes (3 in 2015). 84 of the books I read were by women and 42 by men (very tidy stats). As to diversity of location: not so much. 59 books where the location could be identified were set in England or the general UK, 24 in the US, 9 in Iceland, 4 in Switzerland, 3 in France, 2 each in India, Ireland and Scotland and one in Wales. Then there were 1 in Canada, Morocco, Japan, Spain and Europe in general. None in Eastern Europe, Russia or China? No South America or Africa as a whole? Hm. I re-read just five or six books, half for Woolfalong.

Top 10 books of 2016

So here are my top ten with links to their reviews.

Barbara Kingsolver – Flight Behaviour – community, nature, science, learning, wonderful novel.

George Eliot – The Mill on the Floss – just wonderful: these are classics for a reason, aren’t they!

Katharine d’Souza – No Place – set in a Birmingham that’s so recognisable and a fabulous story.

Lisa Jackson – Your Pace or Mine? – removed the last traces of shame at being a slow runner and the author even emailed me on marathon day.

David Kynaston – Modernity Britain – his volumes of social history always make my top ten.

Joan Russell Noble – Recollections of Virginia Woolf – such a special book of pieces by her contemporaries.

A.S. Byatt – Ragnarok – a good old-fashioned read and about the Norse mythology.

Simon Armitage – Walking Home – a bloomin good read about a long walk.

Bob Stanley – Yeah Yeah Yeah – the definitive history of pop and SO entertaining.

Virginia Woolf – To the Lighthouse – difficult to choose between this and some of her others.

Honourable mentions to:

The rest of Woolf

Margery Sharp – brilliant and just pipped to the post

Jo Pavey – This Mum Runs

I know you’ve all done your top 10s now but have you read any of these?

Challenges completed

I got on well with my own A Century of Reading and now have read or own 70 of the years.

I completed 20BooksofSummer this year!

I completed #Woolfalong, reading a book for every section and thoroughly enjoying the process.

I read all of Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” series.

Happy reading for 2017!

Thanks to all my followers, readers and commenters; hope you have a great year of reading.

Coming up later: Christmas book pile (yay), state of the TBR and challenge plans for 2017 …

 

Book reviews – Dorothy Richardson and The Years #woolfalong #amreading

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dec-2016-tbrTwo final reviews for the year – of course, I’ve now got a few hours of 2016 left with no book started as I don’t like to be untidy, but there you go. Hope everyone’s had a good reading year, I’ll be doing my roundup and TBR photo tomorrow, and until then, I’ll leave you with two reviews of books connected with Modernist writers, the outcome of my competition to pass along the set of Richardsons and an offer to share one of the books reviewed here.

Carol Watts – “Dorothy Richardson”

(29 October 2016, Buxton)

Quite a hard book on the author whose “Pilgrimage” series I have of course been working through this year, which purposefully doesn’t set out to match biographical details to the novels, but instead looks at memory, relates the books to a separate short story called “The Garden” and talks a lot about the relationship of the books to the world of the cinema, which I can see, even though Richardson never mentions the cinema in the books, with all the tracking shots and changes in focus, etc.

There were some good finds in this short volume – as well as herself cutting up five volumes of Proust and reading them in a random order, Richardson apparently advocated reading “Pilgrimage” from a random starting point! There is a lot of meat in this but it was maybe a little academic for me. I do feel compelled to read the autobiography; not sure if I can face the semi-fictionalised book about her as I’m not usually keen on that sort of thing.

If you would like to read this book … As there have been a few of us reading “Pilgrimage”, I’d like to share this book about it. If you’d like to join a book ray for the book (so you will undertake to read it and post it on; it’s 90 pages long and will probably go Large Letter in the UK) then please post a comment and I’ll put a list of email addresses in the front cover and send it out.

*We have a winner* Winner of the full set of “Pilgrimage” books, chosen by random selection (numbers in a hat) is Dee! I will get in touch for your address. Of course you might like to circulate them among all three of you who entered the comp!

Virginia Woolf – “The Years”

(25 December 2016 – from Belva, my LibraryThing Virago Group Not So Secret Santa)

How fortuitous to receive this book just when I wanted to read it to round off #Woolfalong! It would make my top ten of the year easily were it not for the glaring anti-Semitism – I know it’s of its time etc. and expresses what people were thinking but it did make me pause.

But anyway, I got totally absorbed in this family saga running from 1880 to the late 1930s. It’s not nearly as experimental as “The Waves“, read earlier this month, although, as we’ll see, it’s far from being traditional. The middle generation are seen as they age from being a set of anxious children with an ailing mother to prosperous – on the whole – elderly stout folk, but the events and attitudes of the age undermine the paterfamilias, who is found to have feet of clay, and the central character, Eleanor, one of those spinsters who has lived for everyone else and not herself finds a new life of travel and maintains a gay best friend, and women move from father-funded and mocked philanthropy to independence, rooms of their own and careers.

I felt my assessment of this book as a “Forsyte Saga” with more on women’s rights and people’s feelings and better descriptions, or a “Pilgrimage” that you could actually understand and follow (there’s even a Miriam on one of Eleanor’s committees!) was a bit shallow, but the introduction to my (Wordsworth Classics) copy does in fact compare it to Galsworthy. But although it seems like a return to the standard novel in some ways, the ebb and flow of repeated memories, totem objects and thoughts is all Modernism and reminded me of “The Waves” to an extent. It’s moving, too, how episodes of childhood remain with the middle-aged and elderly and an object is given, ages, wears out, is discarded and is rescued by the servant.

Compulsive reading and an excellent finale to the year and to my participation in #Woolfalong.

Still to come tomorrow, State of the TBR, Christmas Book Pile, round-up of my reading stats, Top 10 books of the year and plans for book challenges for 2017. Happy New Year, everyone! And don’t forget to comment if you’d like to read “Dorothy Richardson”!

Book review – The Waves #Woolfalong #amreading

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dec-2016-tbrWell, what can you say about such an iconic and rather daunting book? I’ve so enjoyed taking part in #Woolfalong this year and was determined to fit some reads into the last section, Woolfalong Phase 6, in which we are asked to read any or all of “Jacob’s Room”, “The Waves” and “The Years”. So I started this a few days ago and finished it having woken early on Christmas Day with nothing particular to do (we were off to extended family, bearing gifts of Schloer, so got away without too much prep). I hope this review does it justice!

Virginia Woolf – “The Waves”

(4 January 1992)

This examination of six lives from childhood to middle age starts off with short sentences said by each of them, which feels like a clever word game such as the Bloomsbury Set would play, until you realise that it’s their internal monologues at work. Although the “Susan said,” etc. could feel a bit forced, it does make sure you know who’s talking and what they’re likely to be on about, so anchors you in this experimental world.

As the characters progress through life, their memories echo down the years, some fading, some becoming more insistent, and their preoccupations may change on the surface but their essential beings don’t seem to. They reflect on each other and particular episodes – hinging on two gatherings in youth and later years – in a way that seems almost Cubist, from different and sometimes surprising angles. As in Richardson’s “Pilgrimage”, the most important events occur off-stage and are referred to and reacted to rather than seen. I found Bernard, the writer, and his soliloquy that forms the end of the book, quite moving.

The book feels in part like a critique of gender roles, with the options for women in particular pretty limited (lover, wife, eccentric), and Susan in particular seeming to be lost in her role as matriarch, even though she longed and planned for it. To be fair, the men also seem to be set inside their suits and limited by their schooldays, and does Bernard actually ever produce anything apart from his interminable notebooks?

I felt a bit daunted approaching this one, obviously last read as a student, but was pleased I picked up on the echoes of T.S. Eliot that were mentioned in the Introduction to my World’s Classics edition. I did very much enjoy the beautiful evocations of the sun rising, moving and setting above the eternal waves in the interludes, and making my way through the characters’ stories.

I did actually receive a copy of “The Years” (in an omnibus with “Between the Acts”, very pleasingly, as I read that in an e-book edition) for my LibraryThing Virago Group Secret Santa, so might be able to squeeze that in before the end of the year. I’m still working my way through “Yeah Yeah Yeah” and have reached the 80s and times I experienced myself, so that book just gets better and better. I’m reading a Reykjavik Murder Mystery for a bit of light relief and you will NOT get my books of the year post until 31 December or 1 January, depending on when I finish my last book of the year! Who knows what gems will leap out at me!

I hope you’re all getting some nice reading time and opened lots of book-shaped parcels yesterday. Including my BookCrossing Secret Santa opened earlier in the month, I have acquired 11 new books, which seems doable and not stressful to the TBR …

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

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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 review – Clear Horizon (Virago) #amreading #books

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Dorothy Richardson - PilgrimageAs I mentioned yesterday, I’ve been working on two book challenges over the weekend; that was about Woolfalong and this one is an update to my reading of Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” series. I’m very glad I’ve been reading this along with fellow bloggers (I’m not going to list them as I’ll miss someone one, but  hopefully you’ll all comment with your progress so far). It has been a bit of a struggle at times, but I think it’s going to feel really good to have finished the whole lot and read this early work of Stream of Consciousness.

*** Note: Spoiler alert – don’t read this review if you haven’t read the book yet ***

Dorothy Richardson – “Clear Horizon”

(28 March 2015)

The eleventh volume of “Pilgrimage” and the end is in sight. This was another confusing and opaque read, even though some events do actually happen during the course of the book (previously, we’ve had an entire, exciting bicycle accident confined to the space between two books!). Amabel the French feminist is living in the boarding house, but, keener for more radicalism than the Lycurgans (are these the Fabians, really??) can offer, has joined the suffragists and is relishing the idea of being arrested. Miriam’s sister Sarah has something wrong with her, and the kind doctor who’s been friends with Miriam for years (maybe years, maybe months) and keeps telling her to get married and have babies but is generally A Nice Man has arranged for her to have her operation in a charity hospital (reminding us about the dark days before the NHS, of course). Meanwhile, he’s diagnosed Miriam as having had a nervous breakdown, but she also seems to be pregnant for at least part of the book (although this is as obscure as her deflowering and takes some patience and careful reading to pick out) – I’m not sure of the cause and effect of the breakdown here.

Figures from the past, including, startlingly, all the maids she has ever known at the Orlys’ dental practice, reappear. Miriam has gone off Hypo and doesn’t get excited when his letters appear, but he seems rather implausibly to be able to cover her job while she goes off for a six-month rest cure. He also confusingly appears as H.G. Wells himself in some more general discussions …

Richardson makes no concessions to the reader. We’ve worked that out by now. She offers us practically no handy reminders of who people are or where they fit into Miriam’s life, either when introducing them or reintroducing them. It’s left to us to work it all out. Now, even in quite experimental novels, like Woolf’s, we are able to keep track of who’s who. I think of Iris Murdoch’s party conversations and how it’s possible to work out who’s talking unless it really doesn’t matter. Reading Richardson is more like reading a diary, letters or memoirs, written almost in a shorthand, shifting tenses and first person / third person narrators – but when reading a diary, letters or memoirs, you would have footnotes to follow from a kind editor, explaining and reminding. It’s this lack of compromise which makes the books so hard to read and follow, in my opinion.

pilgrimage-medalSarah from Hard Book Habit came up with a great idea in our discussion of her review of “The Trap“. She suggested that such a marathon read deserved a medal and goody bag full of reviving treats. Well, I can’t provide the latter, but I have created a medal for us to post on our final, THIRTEENTH, review of the series. It’s not great art, I know, but I think we all deserve something, right?! So feel free to copy this image and share it when you’ve finished, too!

Book reviews – The Common Reader Vol 1 #Woolfalong #amreading #books

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oct-2016-tbrI’ve just read two books for two challenges, but I know people are possibly interested in one or the other, so I’ve split the reviews over two days. I’m quite glad that the Woolf I’ve been reading has been non-fiction, as too much stream of consciousness might have been … too much stream of consciousness, really. I also have some book confessions at the end of this one – physical AND virtual!

Virginia Woolf – “The Common Reader” Vol 1

(2 September 2016)

I bought these two volumes especially for Woolfalong, although I did also need them for my Iris Murdoch research, mining them first to pull out information on what exactly Woolf said about the common reader and about critics. I was a bit disappointed to find that my lovely new paperbacks were reprints, and rather smudgy ones at that, of an earlier edition, as I do like the clear type you get in modern books. But I managed.

I loved re (surely re) reading this famous book of essays, so readable, even though they demonstrate formidable scholarship and strong opinions, and thus could feel a little intimidating. I went start to finish as my “downstairs” (dinner table and sofa reading) book, often sitting a little longer for “just one more”.

Yes, it does help if you know who the people are she’s writing about, and I did enjoy least the pieces where she speaks of very minor figures, but I so enjoyed the famous ones on “Modern Fiction” and “How it Strikes a Contemporary) and loved her pieces on Austen, the Brontes and particularly George Eliot, having forgotten these from my original reading, back in the day.

I don’t agree with Woolf on Bennett et al (although as Ali has mentioned in her review of the Writer’s Diary, she was sad at his death) even though she does concur that he’s a good workman, but the modernists had to have people to rail against, didn’t they, and she does back up her arguments! Her comments about the tyrannical conventions that make the modern novelist feel they have to provide plot, comedy, tragedy, love interest and an air of probability make you see why she and others like her felt their way of working to be important. A good read, and another one I’ve been glad to pick up for #Woolfalong.

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Continuing the Woolf theme, Simon from Stuckinabook very kindly sent me this lovely book which he’d duplicated in his own library – I’d been talking about it ages ago and had totally forgotten so what a lovely surprise (I’m a right one for sending books to people ages after I’ve promised to, so it’s nice to know that that is a lovely thing to happen!).

I’ve also been a bit over-active on NetGalley. I received an invitation to read Grayson Perry’s new book, “The Descent of Man” and happened to click at just the right time, so I have that. Then I (fatally) had a look around and requested two more, both of which I got. Now, several of the books I’ve had via this method have been pre-approved by publishers or very near publication. The two I requested – and won – both came with emails asking me not to publish my review until at least 30 days before the day of publication, in one case, and the actual day of publication for the other one (also saying I mustn’t release any information about it before then!!) so I’ve thoroughly scared myself there, and I’m NOT GOING TO MENTION THEM, will read and review soon then schedule my reviews for NEXT YEAR and then hope I don’t accidentally publish a clash. This is common, right?

How are you doing with Richardson or #Woolfalong or just your autumn reading?

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