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

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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 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?

Book reviews – Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris and Prodigal Summer #books #amreading

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oct-2016-tbr

Two more holiday reads here – I can’t quite believe I only read four books while we were in Cornwall, but then I did mine two more for quotations to finish my Iris Murdoch research (first draft done) so that took up some reading time. Oh, and I chatted on the train on the way down, which took away some reading time, too. Never mind, these two were great reads, and I had a lovely holiday still.

Paul Gallico – “Mrs ‘Arris Goes to Paris”

(25 January 2016 via BookCrossing)

A charming tale, reminiscent perhaps of the famous Persephone, “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day”, focusing on a charlady who comes into some money and saves up the rest, determined to have a Dior dress, having seen one in one of her clients’ houses (her London clients are just one part of this book that are beautifully drawn in just a few lines).

It’s a fairy-tale, of course, with Mrs Harris’ simple charm winning people over and bringing people together all over the place. You could see the dialect-filled dialogue she’s given as condescending, but she’s clearly an attractive and charming lady who the author loves, so that can be overlooked, in my opinion. It’s incredibly sweet – some might find it too much so, but there are elements of peril and some sad bits, too. The portraits of London and Paris are charming and it’s a lovely escapist read.

The only downside to this book was that it was in a bizarre 1980s edition with hugely anachronistic illustrations which paid no heed to the post-war feel of the book and were really odd. It was originally published in 1957, which means that it fills in one of the years in my Century of Reading! And, because it was a BookCrossing book, I left it in our holiday cottage!

Barbara Kingsolver – “Prodigal Summer”

(25 December 2002 (I wonder who from!))

A re-read of this excellent novel, set in the Appalachian Mountains, because Matthew, having read and loved “Flight Behaviour” with me found that the audio book for this one was also narrated by the author. I read it first back in 2003, I expect, so it will be in my paper journals but was before I started an online book journal.

Linked to “Flight Behaviour” by its themes of nature, renewal, the peace of solitude, family, community and science being used for good, we follow a summer (and a bit more) in the lives of a set of interesting characters. There’s independent Deanna, who used to live in Egg Fork and had a conventional life but now lives alone in the forest, with her dream job maintaining and researching the forest and its wildlife. Her search for the coyotes she believes are spreading into the region is interrupted by the arrival of a possibly more powerful predator. Lusa, product of blended civilisations and trying to fit into what she sees as a very traditional mountain family, must use all her wiles to survive and has some big decisions to make. Elderly neighbours are feuding over organic farming methods and the Bible, with comic relief but real passion.

Everyone – and indeed everything – is connected, and nothing truly disappears, even if it’s thrown away. From the throbbing fecundity of springtime nature (and there is a fair bit of throbbing fecundity in this book, one episode of which confused me!) to slowly warming human relationships and slowly dawning realisations, it’s beautifully drawn and observed and highly engaging. Recommended.

I’m currently reading the lovely “Chatterton Square” for the 1947 Club, although I fear I won’t get it read and reviewed by the end of the week as I’ve suddenly had all my work projects come in to roost. I’m also working my way through Woolf’s “The Common Reader” for #Woolfalong – that’s not a chore at all, and I keep muttering “Just one more essay”, so beautifully are they put together.

State of the TBR – October 2016

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oct-2016-tbrI’m going to say Ta-Da! Look! One shelf! How long has that taken me to get to?? There is even a little gap that would fit one book at the right-hand end of the shelf. Yes, there’s a pile, but it’s only one pile, right? So I’m calling that a win. I read 13 books in September, pretty well all from the physical TBR, and gave up on one, so that big wodge of lovely Viragoes is gone, for a start.

Unfortunately / fortunately, I’m going to be in at least two places this month with unexplored charity shops, and you know what I’m like with those. As I’m in a few Not So Secret Santas, this is my last blow-out with the wish list before I have to keep it under control, so who knows what I’ll find? (actually, if I’m ‘allowed’ to buy lots of books, I don’t tend to find things I want to buy, whereas if I’ve got a huge shelf to read, I find millions more. Why IS that???).

oct-2016-next-readsSo what have I got coming up? I neglected #Woolfalong in September, but now is the ideal opportunity to read “The Common Reader”, as I’ve been working on my Iris Murdoch research, which uses the concept of the ‘common reader’ (my participants prefer to be referred to as ‘ordinary readers’ but this is the background to it). I have read the books before but can’t find them (were they in the school library, maybe?) so I treated myself to these nice new editions, although they seem to have used an old print block. And the two Viragoes? Well, a new month means a new Dorothy Richardson volume (only short now, remember) and for Karen and Simon’s 1947 Club, I went all over-excited and bought a copy of E.H. Young’s “Chatterton Square”, which I’m really looking forward to reading.

oct-2016-coming-upComing up on the TBR after that is a bit of a mixed bag. Two bits of social history in “Stranger in the House” and “War Notes from London”, a weird Icelandic novel (my last one on the TBR!), Simon Armitage’s poetic travels, a book about working with J.D. Salinger, “The Novel Cure” which looks like a lot of fun, and another book about reading (which appears to be part of a three-for-two purchase-fest from just after Christmas last year – I must have had a book token!).

Have you read any of these? How many challenges are you doing in October? How’s your TBR doing? Do share!

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