Review and acquisition round-up – Evelyn Waugh, Philip Sassoon and Virginia Woolf #SNB #books #Woolfalong

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Shiny New Books logoJust a tiny round-up today to cover almost the last two books I read in July (one Ann Bridge review to come!) plus a naughty but nice acquisition.

First off, I was lucky enough to get two fab mid-20th-century biographies to review for Shiny New Books. I love being part of the non-fiction gang, and these two really fitted in well with my interests. Snippets here, but do pop through to the full reviews.

And then I might have bought something to read for #Woolfalong. Oops.

Philip Eade – “Evelyn Waugh: A Life Revisited”

When approaching a biography of Evelyn Waugh, one can’t help but assume it’s going to be a portrait of quite a nasty man who was mean to his friends and savaged friends and enemies alike in his novels. There have of course been quite a few biographical works on Waugh over the years, with his own autobiography being a major source, and there was Selina Hastings’ major work in 1994. But this is indeed a ‘Life Revisited’, as Philip Eade had access to quite a few sources that no one else has seen. He also seems to have a mission to save Waugh from this reputation of nastiness, and does indeed go some way towards doing this. Read more

Damian Collins – “Charmed Life: The Phenomenal World of Philip Sassoon”

Damian Collins, MP for the same constituency that Sassoon held almost uncontested (literally, sometimes) for three and a half decades, only came across his predecessor when he visited the estate of Port Lympne, which Sassoon created from nothing and fitted out lavishly. He posits that Sassoon always felt something of an outsider due to his ‘oriental’ and Jewish heritage, and there’s an implicit suggestion that this is the reason that this the first biography of the man to emerge. However, there may be other reasons for this. Read more

Virginia WoolfNow, this acquisition is entirely Not My Fault, and probably actually Doesn’t Count. Heaven-Ali’s #Woolfalong project is up to Phase 4: Biographies. I was entirely prepared to re-read the lovely “Orlando”, which counts. Then Karen from Kaggsysbookishramblings wickedly posted a blog post about working on this phase, mentioning a Woolf bio that I had never come across before: “Recollections of Virginia Woolf”. I have a lot of bios of VW, but I’d never seen this. Then I had. A bit of a look on the dreaded Amazon, and what do I find, but the lovely High Street Books in New Mills is selling a copy.

So it had to be done, didn’t it – and it arrived today, looking very tempting. I have a little road trip coming up soon and I think it will be coming with me – there or to Iceland … Of course, one very good thing is that it was published in 1976, a year that is missing in my Century of Books. So that’s OK, then, right?

State of the TBR – August 2016 (yes, I know) #books #20booksofsummer

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Aug 2016 TBRYes, I know it’s not quite 1 August yet, but the TBR situation isn’t going to change in the meantime, and I’ve got a lovely book that’s on sale from tomorrow that I want to review tomorrow … so here we are with the State of the TBR.  It doesn’t feel tooo bad to me (there is another one on the left that you can’t quite see, see photo of upcoming books below) although a bit messy, as I photographed it after having a 90 minute ‘nap’ (is that a nap or a sleep?) and forgot to remove my book in Icelandic, notebook and dictionary.

I hadn’t been taking much off the TBR, reading some review books and Kindle books, but then I had a lovely long read yesterday of a fab Ann Bridge book I’ll be reviewing later in the week, and I’ve taken Freddie Flintoff to start this evening.

Aug 2016 currently

So, coming up soon / currently reading alongside David Kynaston’s “Modernity Britain” (nearly done!), we have these lovelies (refer to my previous post for a fuller image of the two blue ones), two of which arrived this week and didn’t actually make it onto the TBR. I’m running a marathon in August (my first – and my LAST long training run, completed this morning, was the reason for the ‘nap’) so I wanted to read the inspiring “Your Pace or Mine?” which is about another more ‘sedate’ runner who has completed lots of exciting runs, and Jo Pavey is about to appear in the Olympics IN HER 40s so her book had to be bought, too. Freddy Flintoff rounds off a set of sporting reads: I fished him out of a box of books a running club friend donated to BookCrossing and I think he’ll make a light, fun read before I settle into the joys of All Virago / All August (some … in some of …)

Aug 2016 coming upAnd after those, this is what’s on the front of the TBR, and handily a load of Viragoes I’ve acquired from various people have bobbed to the top of the TBR, although only two of these (the two Whartons) are on my #20BooksOfSummer list, and the rest of those are on the back row, so we’ll see how I do with those and some other Viragoes. I’ll also be re-reading Orlando for #Woolfalong in August, probably on my trip to Iceland for the marathon, as it’s a re-read, a comfort read and a slim volume.

What are you all up to in August? Read any of these?

Book reviews – #Woolfalong Mrs Dalloway’s Party, Kew Gardens and Revolving Lights

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June 2016 TBRA non-#20BooksofSummer review today and one I’ve been a bit delayed on by work things. I am still reading, don’t worry! More on current reading later. Here, I complete the #Woolfalong challenge for May and June (all caught up again!) and complete the seventh volume of Dorothy Richardson’s “Pilgrimage” (over half way!) so a nice achievement and they seemed to go together in a modernist / stream of consciousness way, so I saved up the short stories to review, having read them right at the start of the month.

Virginia Woolf – “Mrs Dalloway’s Party” and “Kew Gardens”

(16 May 2015 and May 2015)

I’m reviewing these short stories together, as “Kew Gardens” is a single story, published on its own in a slim and beautiful volume by Kew Gardens publishing, with lovely illustrations and the text on only one side of the page.

“Mrs Dalloway’s Party” is a set of short stories taking in before and after the famous party in a VERY slim volume. It was pulled together by Stella McNichol, who drew the stories into their current order and provides an interesting Introduction (to be read last, of course). The stories are highly perceptive of the currents and undercurrents that arise through intersections of similar and different people at parties, and you do get a strong sense of Woolf herself sitting on a sofa, perhaps, and observing, observing, observing, perceiving what is unsaid as well as what is said.

We have the “paralysing blankness of feeling” when the conversation stutters and you end up staring at the furniture. The description of Sasha Latham walking like a stag through the garden “as if she had been some wild but perfectly controlled creature taking its pleasure by night” is the stand-out passage for me, but misunderstandings, clashes of personality and feeling are all there, and it’s an excellent companion to the novel itself.

“Kew Gardens”, which I won in Ali’s giveaway (thank you, again!) is a garden’s eye view of people passing a flowerbed, all just as (un)important as the snail which is attempting to climb along a leaf. People hint of past visits, past loves, and the gardens go on timelessly. The lovely illustrations in this edition really complement the text, and it’s a very pleasant exercise in writing that gives a lovely little reading experience.

These books count for the May/June section of Heaven-Ali’s #Woolfalong.

Dorothy Richardson – “Revolving Lights”

(October 2015 – from Julie)

Similar in tone and subject to “Deadlock” (and with a less off-putting title, it has to be said!), volume 7 of “Pilgrimage” centres on Miriam’s life in London (complete with nice long walks, my favourite part of the books) and her relationship with Michael Shatov, which has reached that point where both parties want different things, as was inevitably going to happen.

Miriam ponders the differences between men and women – are those differences natural or caused by society and what can we do about it? – and also thinks about and experiences different aspects of religion. This part seemed a little forced to me, although I suppose she is exploring her identity and the underpinnings of her tenets in life. There’s lots of talk of ‘Jewesses’ which reads, both in that word and the discussions, a little jarringly nowadays, and she attends a Quaker meeting, remaining unconvinced, as all she sees there is men and their egos (a strong example of our seeing through Miriam’s eyes and filters). Add to this a distaste for children and realisation of what marriage and family would entail, and you have a young woman mulling over her future and making some decisions – but risking perhaps becoming inflexible and set in her ways.

Miriam is apparently doing some writing for Hypo (criticism not creative writing, as it’s made clear that she’s one of life’s synthesisers and editors (hooray!)) and spends a holiday at his and Alma’s house, which promises to be marvellous, but is rather spoilt by meeting the dreadful novelist, Edna Prout, who is writing a roman a clef. Richardson/Miriam pours scorn on this, surely making this a portrait of someone, thus a roman a clef, but never mind! I did feel that Miss Prout was also a warning of what Miriam could become (see end of last paragraph). She helps Hypo mysteriously to stave off an affair (presumably a romantic one) but this area becomes murky and vaguely worrying.

Not as engaging as the last volume, but I want to read on. I note the next one is really short, and that will be the end of the overarching Volume 3 of 4!

I’ve read Book 5 in #20BooksofSummer but am waiting for something to review it with. I’m currently wading around in Kynaston’s “Modernity Britain”, wallowing in diary entries by the famous to the Mass Observers, with social and economic / political history pulled together seamlessly. Lovely, although a Very Large Volume. I’ve also started Rushdie’s “Two Years …” but haven’t got very far yet (Mr Liz is further on than me with his audiobook reading – oops). At the moment it seems a bit difficult to get into, but I need to give it some time, I think, as I have loved several of his other books.

What are you reading RIGHT NOW? How are your reading challenges going, if you’re doing any?

State of the TBR June 2016 and start of #20booksofsummer

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June 2016 TBRIt’s been a bit of a blogapalooza on here recently – this is the last post for a bit as I’m all caught up with my pre-June reading and reviewing (that’s not entirely true, actually) and will have to get some more reading done now before I post again!

Here’s the TBR in all its glory, looking very svelte and empty indeed. I think the only one I added this month was the Salman Rushdie that’s on the top of the Pile, waiting for Mr Liz to start reading it on audio book (he’s still enjoying “Flight Behaviour” at the moment). I’m pleased that after months of horrendousness, I am reading more than I’m acquiring at the moment. I did entertain wild thoughts of getting it down to Zero TBR and just reading books as I acquired them, but that’s a bit scary. Anyway, the front shelf ends at Flintoff and that’s a big gain for me!

TBR June 2016

I’ve just snuck in two books of Virginia Woolf short stories for #Woolfalong, which took me through the strangely bookless gap after I finished “Night and Day” yesterday, and then this morning, it was time to start the books I’d been itching to start for #20BooksOfSummer – it’s amazing how much you want to read what you can’t read yet, isn’t it! So, there’s a book about the alphabet by Michael Rosen, which is my dinner table / downstairs read, and Charlie Hill’s satire on the book industry, “Books” for my upstairs and handbag read, both now started (if you look closely, you can see the bookmarks) and both very good so far.

June 2016 coming upI’ve fulfilled my Woolf requirements for the month, so there will be just one Dorothy Richardson volume coming up outside of these (and some from the Pile, maybe) so a nice collection of fiction , non-fiction and social history, with the Kynaston obviously having to wait for me to finish the Rosen so it can be my Downstairs book for a while.

Are you doing #20BooksOfSummer and if so, have you started yet? What’s your first one? And where IS the summer?? It’s freezing, grey and rainy here …

Book reviews – Mrs Dalloway and Backwater

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Jan 2016 TBRI do like to theme my pairs of reviews but don’t always manage. But today I have a corker – two fantastic examples of stream of consciousness modernist novels by two seminal writers. One is very well known, one very much less so. One relates her characters to the outer world, to events in history, to characters in history, the other writes in a much more enclosed space.

Virginia Woolf – “Mrs Dalloway”

(bought 9 January 1992)

I bought this when I was 20, at university, and I have a feeling that I haven’t read it again in the meantime, so it was hardly surprising that I’d forgotten as much as I remembered about this classic. It’s thanks to Heaven-Ali‘s #Woolfalong project that I re-read it this month, and I’m glad I did, although I would say that it’s best to approach this (maybe all books that look deep into the mind of people who are having mental crises) when you’re feeling calm and in no way fragile yourself. I read it when I was a bit frazzled, and I certainly found it more disturbing and depressing than I did at 20. Was I more resilient then? Have I experienced too much mental health issues stuff in the meantime? I’m not sure, but I know I did have to read some fluffy stuff afterwards.

Anyway. It was curious how much I had forgotten – I had totally wiped Septimus Smith’s wife, Rezia, from my memory, for example, believing that Septimus wandered the streets of London alone! While we’re on the subject of the streets of London, having lived in London for seven or so years and in Covent Garden for two of them did give an extra dimension of enjoyment, as I was able to imagine Mrs D and Septimus and Rezia’s wanderings quite clearly. I had also forgotten the flashbacks to Mrs D’s youth.

I found it a depressing read, with Septimus’ fracturing world described so horribly clearly and the despair of Rezia heartbreaking to read. That’s  not to say it’s a bad book – it is of course amazing, but it’s one to read when you’re feeling fortified against the horrors of the world.

A Penguin Modern Classics edition with good (if sometimes a bit obvious) notes and a great introduction by Elaine Showalter. And I was excited to find the road we used to live off on the map in the front!

This book would suit … Woolf fans, modernism fans, people interested in the development of the novel in the 20th century, people who’ve read Michael Cunningham’s “The Hours” or seen the film and want to go back to the original

This book fulfils the first section of Ali’s #Woolfalong project, and also fills 1925 in my own Century of Reading.

Dorothy Richardson – “Backwater”

The second book in Richardson’s Pilgrimage series, which I’m reading alongside a few blogger friends this year, and Miriam has left Germany and is interviewed for a position at a school in North London. Again, the characters she meets are shown obliquely and entirely from her viewpoint. As an aside, I described this as being “Cubist” in my last Richardson review, and was pleased (OK, a bit smug) to read in the introduction to “Mrs Dalloway” Woolf’s technique being described in the same way.

Anyway, this technique has started to remind me a bit of when I was studying linguistics, and was introduced to the idea that people talking face-to-face hardly ever use nouns. Think about it – if you’re dress shopping, you’ll go, “I like that one, what about the blue one, oh, this is nice, let’s try these on”. Then the listener must try to piece together what’s being talked about, especially if they’re analysing a tape of the discussion without the context. Following Miriam’s thought processes, preoccupations and discussions, we lose track of people then find them again way later: for example, early on, she meets a man during the holidays, then we get absorbed in the world of school again, and it’s only much later that we obliquely hear what happened to their relationship – because Richardson selects rather than giving everything, and the selection is almost random, as one’s own thought processes tend to be.

Miriam is growing up in this book, but she odes seem like a mardy teenager in places, for example when she’s on holiday with two sisters and a prospective brother-in-law and finds the other holiday-makers’ perfectly normal plans “silly” in the extreme, but then engages in some sort of slightly desulatory flirtation with a man they meet, or using slang terms in front of her older, staid employers. She is given more responsibility than she was in Germany, and her interactions with her acolyte / admirer (who is actually more natural with the pupils than she is) highlight the gap between perception and reality (opening up interesting ideas about how our perception of her life through her eyes might relate to reality).

The book ends on another point of change for the characters and I look forward to the next volume. Why did I think this was so difficult and put off reading it? Again, thank you to the booky friends who have encouraged and joined in this readalong (and please post links to your reviews in the comments).

This book would suit … see above, if you want a lost woman of modernism to contrast with the well-known one!

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Margery Sharp's birthdayCurrently reading – I’ve been a bit tired this week, so I decided to pick the “Chalet School” omnibus off the shelf because it’s a nice big one and will make more room! I’ve also just started Margery Sharp’s “The Foolish Gentlewoman” which I’m reading for Jane at Beyond Eden Rock‘s Margery Sharp’s 111th Birthday Read – seems very good so far although I’m not completely sure I’ll have it read and reviewed for Monday (apparently that’s OK, though!).

Are you doing Woolfalong or the Dorothy Richardson readalong? How is your January reading going?

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