Classics Club Spin – August 2018

It’s time for my first ever Classics Club spin!

‘How to’: It’s easy. At your blog, before next Wednesday 1st August 2018, create a post that lists twenty books of your choice that remain “to be read” on your Classics Club list. 

This is your Spin List.

You have to read one of these twenty books by the end of the month. On Wednesday 1st August, we’ll post a number from 1 through 20. The challenge is to read whatever book falls under that number on your Spin List, by 31st August, 2018. We’ll check in here then to see who made it the whole way and finished their spin book!

I’ve only been doing the Classics Club for about a fortnight so I’ve loads to choose from. I opted to read 50 books in 5 years and finished my first one last week – A Room With A View. More on that soon. In the meantime, here are 20 books for the spin list, divided into categories for extra interest.

Five I’m most excited to read:

1. Daphne Du Maurier – My Cousin Rachel

2. Shirley Jackson – The Haunting of Hill House

3. Mollie Panter-Downes – One Fine Day

4. Marilynne Robinson – Housekeeping

5. EB White – Charlotte’s Web

Five from the 20th Century:

6. Willa Cather – O Pioneers!

7. Ford Madox Ford – Parade’s End

8. Somerset Maugham – The Painted Veil

9. EM Remarque – All Quiet on the Western Front

10. Jean Rhys – Wide Sargasso Sea

Five pre-20th Century:

11. Elizabeth Barrett-Browning – Aurora Leigh

12. RD Blackmore – Lorna Doone

13. Voltaire – Candide

14. Ralph Waldo Emerson – The Essential Writings

15. Walt Whitman – Leaves of Grass

Five epic reads:

16. WM Thackeray – Vanity Fair

17. Doris Lessing – The Golden Notebook

18. Seamus Heaney – Beowulf

19. James Fenimore Cooper – Last of the Mohicans

20. Charles Dickens – David Copperfield

In which I join the Classics Club

A big shout-out to Lory of The Emerald City Book Review for this one, because I’ve loved reading her Classics Club posts and it’s through her that I originally discovered the Classics Club.

In short, the Classics Club was created to ‘to inspire people to read and blog about classic books’. Which is a great goal and I’m totally on board. There are plenty of books that I feel are gaps in my reading. In fact, there are some on my list I’m downright embarrassed about.

You’ll note that there’s nothing terribly groundbreaking about much that I’ve included. I think that’s part of the problem. Many of these books are considered such classics, that it’s almost assumed everyone must have read them and you start forgetting that you haven’t yet got round to it. But I also have no intention of reading for the sake of it or because I feel I should. In front of witnesses, I declare my intention never to read Ulysses or Finnegan’s Wake, and I’m going to be honest about my plan never to read Dostoevsky again because The Brothers Karamazov pretty much did for me. The books below are there because I think (hope) I’ll love them.

So here’s my accountability. Five years. Fifty books. Some ‘classic’ blogging. [I’ll update the list below with links as and when I review a book. So you can click through to read my verdict.]

Angelou, Maya I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings
Barrett-Browning, Elizabeth Aurora Leigh
Barrie, JM Peter Pan
Bates, HE Fair Stood the Wind for France
Blackmore, RD Lorna Doone
Carter, Angela Wise Children
Cather, Willa O Pioneers!
Defore, Daniel Moll Flanders
Dickens, Charles David Copperfield
Dickens, Charles Bleak House
Didion, Joan Slouching Towards Bethlehem
Du Maurier, Daphne My Cousin Rachel
Du Maurier, Daphne Jamaica Inn
Eliot, George The Mill on the Floss
Eliot, George Daniel Deronda
Ellison, Ralph The Invisible Man
Emerson, Ralph Waldo The Essential Writings
Faulkner, William As I Lay Dying
Fenimore Cooper, James The Last of the Mohicans
Fitgerald, F Scott The Great Gatsby
Ford, Madox Ford Parade’s End / The Good Soldier
Forster, E.M Howards End / A Room with a View
Gibbons, Stella Cold Comfort Farm
Heaney, Seamus Beowulf
Hemingway, Ernest For Whom the Bell Tolls / East of Eden
Jackson, Shirley The Haunting of Hill House
Jerome, K Jerome Three Men in a Boat
Lee, Harper To Kill A Mockingbird
Lessing, Doris The Golden Notebook
Mann, Thomas The Magic Mountain
Maugham, Somerset The Painted Veil
McCullers, Carson The Ballad of the Sad Cafe
Panter-Downes, Mollie One Fine Day
Perkins-Gilmore, Charlotte Herland
Remarque, Erich Maria All Quiet on the western front
Rhys, Jean Wide Sargasso Sea
Robinson, Marilynne Housekeeping
Salinger, JD The Catcher in the Rye
Spark, Muriel The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
Steinbeck, John The Grapes of Wrath
Taylor, Mildred Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry
Thackeray, WM Vanity Fair
Voltaire Candide
Walker, Alice The Colour Purple
West, Rebecca The Fountain Overflows
White, EB Charlotte’s Web
Whitman, Walt Leaves of Grass
Wiesel, Elie Night
Wolf, Naomi The Beauty Myth
Woolf, Virginia A Room of One’s Own

Is anyone else taking part already? What are your favourite classics?

My blog’s name in TBR books

As a way of easing myself back in after a blogging hiatus, I recently spotted this meme and thought it sounded like a fun way to waste  productively spend some enjoyable time poking around on my TBR shelves, which I don’t spend a lot of time looking at these days since (wasting some different time) making my TBR jar. The meme originated on Fictionophile but I spotted it on both Stuck in a Book and A Life in Books.

Turns out having two ‘U’s in your blog name is tricky. And ‘R’s are hard. Who knew? Plus I wasn’t sure whether you could cheat with titles that started with ‘The’ by jumping to the next word in the title (e.g. ‘The Signature of All Things’ or ‘Signature of All Things, The’). Then I decided I was overthinking it and in the end I only had to cheat once anyway.

Poking around on bookshelves is so great.

Here’s what I came up with, although it’s worth noting that some categories had multiple options and I overthought those too.

Molly Keane, Loving and Giving – I loved Good Behaviour and picked this up ages ago to read more of Keane’s work. How brilliantly grotesque is that cover art? Based on that, I’m expecting more delicious darkness from this one.

Maggie O’Farrell, Instructions for a Heatwave – I just read I Am, I Am, I Am, of which more later because it is brilliant but hard and I’m still digesting and shaking it off somewhat. And after finishing, it occurred to me that, oddly, it was the first of O’Farrell’s books I’d read. So this is next on the list.

Vera Brittain, Testament of Friendship – Testament of Youth is still one of the most beautifully written, affecting books I’ve ever read and I bought this copy so I could make sure that at some point in my reading life I’d read all that Vera Brittain had to say. This book is about Brittain’s friendship with the writer Winifred Holtby (see below).

Artemis Cooper, Elizabeth Jane Howard: A Dangerous Innocence – I love EJH so much and have quite a few of her books rattling around the shelves. This was a gift and then I made the mistake of putting it in the TBR jar when I really want to read it right now so I might cheat and bump it up the list. From what I understand of EJH, she had a very interesting life indeed. Plus we know from this gem of a book that she had a famous collection of jewellery comprised of mostly ancient gold. I still love that detail so much.

Max O’Rell, Rambles in Womanland – Oh would you look at this glory of a book. It’s a real favourite of mine and although I haven’t yet read it all the way through, I have picked it up and read passages at random. Firstly in the wonderful Wantage secondhand bookshop where I bought it to make sure that O’Rell wasn’t of the ‘Women! Know your place!’ school (spoiler – he isn’t) and then each time I pick it up or spot it from a distance.

Plus it has this wonderful inscription inside, which I’m still trying to decode (Bristol Church Congress??) and which contains a story all of its own. Note that the book was also published in 1903:

Josceline Dimbleby, A Profound Secret – I bought this secondhand, not long after reading a couple of history-slash-memoir books about family secrets and catching the bug.

Winifred Holtby, South Riding – I’ve had this far too long without reading it. This is a gorgeous copy too, found in a charity bookshop in Wallingford, near where I used to live. I’ve heard so many wonderful things about this book and now that I’ve dug it out, I feel it too may need promoting from bottom of TBR jar to the basket by the side of my bed where my imminent reads get to hang out.

Mary Wesley, An Imaginative Experience – It could have been this one or A Sensible Life, which is also lurking on the TBR shelves. Mary Wesley is one of many female writers of the period 1930-2000 which I unofficially collect, so there are also a lot of her books kicking around these parts. I find her writing style to be ‘no nonsense’ in a refreshing, perceptive, palate-clearing way.

Carol Shields, Unless – This looks hard going and I’ve shied away from the subject matter a little since my daughter was born. I’ve read a lot of Shields and I’m sure it’s brilliant but it might need to wait a year or two, or ten, until I feel braced and ready to tackle it. Alternatively, I’ll keep defaulting to my new favourite category of book – Books I one day want to read with my daughter. Just yesterday we bought a copy of Bedknobs and Broomsticks from a charity bookshop. She seemed super excited about it for all of 25 seconds, but then she is two and a half so anything over 8 seconds is a definite win.

Joyce Grenfell, Requests the Pleasure – I can’t remember how old I was when I first read some of Grenfell’s comedy monologues but I really wasn’t very old. I think my mum might have put me onto them. This is one of two memoirs that Grenfell wrote – the other, In Pleasant Places, is also on the TBR shelf – and I’m really excited to read them. Bet they’re great.

Umberto Eco, Foucault’s Pendulum – *cheat klaxon* *cheat klaxon* So two books beginning with ‘U’ defeated me. In this category, therefore, you get ‘Umberto’. I’ve only ever read The Name of the Rose and, as you can see, the New York Times says this is ‘deeper and richer’. The only problem with Eco is that he is so deep and rich and clever (in a thrilling rather than a smarty-pants way) that I feel I should be operating with maximum neurons before reading and I’m really not at the moment, thanks to a combination of 2/3 parenting, 2/3 working etc. (you do the maths) and so I fear he’ll have to wait a bit longer.

Jess Richards, Snake Ropes – I don’t know anything about this book. Nothing. It is a complete mystery to me. I can’t remember where I bought/acquired it. I haven’t heard of the author before. I couldn’t tell you what it’s about (although if I wasn’t feeling so lazy I could walk across the living room and read the back cover copy, of course). Interestingly, only now that I’m looking closely at the cover image do I see those faint, super-imposed, mysterious sea creatures lurking under the water.  Which immediately makes me more intrigued about it than I was two minutes ago. Anyone else heard of this one?

Shiny new-ness (otherwise known as ‘my reading inbox’)

A snapshot of the shiny book-related loveliness that came into my home over the Christmas period and during the post-Christmas sales:

I’m currently reading Matthew Battles’ book Library (a history of the library as we understand it today) and have been left feeling extremely fortunate that compiling a personal ‘library’ of sorts is no longer something that is the exclusive preserve of the super-wealthy or those with the means to hire a few hundred scribes.

It’s also left me aware that the idea of the book as something to be admired for its beauty as well as its content is a relatively new idea in the history of the written word. So I feel doubly lucky to be looking at such beautiful things.

However, given that my own personal library goals are now more skewed towards curation than acquisition, the books that stay are having to jump a few more hoops than previously and a couple had to go to make way. Thinking like a librarian (or even a bookseller – thanks Shaun!) definitely helps me let go more than I could before.

But in the meantime, there is this mound to look forward to. I’ve already read The Diary of a Bookseller, of which more later, but where should I go next? I’m thinking Armistead Maupin but could be persuaded otherwise…


Nonfiction November – New to my TBR

What a fun month nonfiction November is in the blogosphere!

I seem to read more and more nonfiction these days and it’s comforting (and somewhat overwhelming at times!) to know that I will never run out of inspiration. Work got in the way of me actively contributing to week 1 (Your year in nonfiction hosted by Julz Reads), week 2 (nonfiction and fiction book pairings hosted by Sarah’s Book Shelves), week 3 (Be the expert/Ask the expert/Become the expert, hosted by Kim at Sophisticated Dorkiness) and week 4 (nonfiction favourites hosted by Katie at Doing Dewey).

But this final week’s nonfiction topic is ‘New to my TBR’ and it’s being hosted by Lori over at Emerald City Book Review. As I’ve been following along with as many nonfiction posts as possible, I’ve made quite a few additions to the TBR (although in note form, not book form as Christmas is blimmin’ expensive and books for me are not on the ‘to buy’ list right now).

I decided to limit my list to ten for brevity’s sake. Be grateful – there were MANY more I could have included…

  1. Sixpence House: Lost in a Town of Books by Paul Collins (recommended by Howling Frog Books). WHY? Because it’s a book about books, and in particular about one family’s experience of living in the mecca of book lovers, Hay-on-Wye.
  2. The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore (recommended by Angela at Musings of a Literary WandererWHY? Because it tells the story of the forgotten women who worked in America’s radium-dial factories, how these so called ‘shining women’ began to fall mysteriously ill, and how their courage and tenacity in the face of impossible circumstances led to a change in regulations, saving hundreds of thousands of lives.
  3. Dear Fahrenheit 451: Love and Heartbreak in the Stacks by Annie Spence (recommended by Sarah at Sarah’s Book ShelvesWHY? Because who wouldn’t want to know what a witty librarian with more than a decade of front-line experience thinks about the books in her life?
  4. Moby Duck: The true story of 28,800 bath toys lost at sea by Donovan Hohn (recommended by Heather at Based on a True StoryWHY? Because if, like me, you’ve been watching the latest series of BBC1’s incredible Blue Planet and you only just found out about the 28,800 plastic ducks lost at sea, then this book couldn’t have popped up at a better time.
  5. Playing Dead: A journey through the world of death fraud by Elizabeth Greenwood (recommended by Katie at Doing DeweyWHY? Because every so often there’ll be a story on the news about someone who faked their own death (remember that canoe guy? and did you know Olivia Newton-John’s ex-partner did it??) and I will find myself going over and over in my head the whys, wherefores and practicalities of such a immense thing.
  6. Putting the Supernatural in its Place: Folklore, the Hypermodern and the Ethereal by Jeannie Banks Thomas (recommended by Katherine at The Writerly ReaderWHY? Because I have a HUGE obsession with folklore and mythology, which is almost always written about historically. So a book that attempted to look at how folkloric traditions sit in the contemporary world and continue to proliferate really caught my attention.
  7. The Family Gene by Joselin Linder (recommended by Kim at Sophisticated DorkinessWHY? Because Kim’s write-up really hooked me, and also because this sounded like the perfect blend of science, memoir and thought-provoking ideas.
  8. Last Child in the Woods: Saving our children from nature-deficit disorder by Richard Louv (recommended by Too FondWHY? Because every so often a book comes along that seems to have been written exactly to address a particular issue you’ve been struggling internally with (in this case, how to make sure that my daughter grows up with a passion for nature and not an unhealthy obsession with screens).
  9. The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Science from the Frontiers of Brain Science by Norman Doidge (recommended by books are my favourite and bestWHY? Because I love everything that Oliver Sacks has ever written and he’s written about a lot of cases where the brain develops stunning new capabilities after traumatic injury. I’d love to read more about that. (Tip: read Sacks’ Musicophilia if you haven’t already)
  10. Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner by Judy Melinek and T J Mitchell (recommended by Always DoingWHY? Because who doesn’t like peeping behind the scenes of a job that fascinates but you would never, ever, under any circumstances, want to (or be able to) do?

And finally a book that DID make it into my TBR book jar, because I joined the nonfiction November book swap… My lovely swap partner sent me 740 Park: The Story of the World’s Richest Apartment Building which takes a peek inside New York’s best known and most lusted after real estate, and the people who’ve lived there over the years. I have wanted to read this for AGES!

Finally, you might be interested to know that David Lodge suggested in one of the essays in Lives in Writing that people read more nonfiction as they age. I think it’s probably true for me – a look back through my list of books read suggests I read a lot more nonfiction than I used to. But fiction probably still edges it by a tiny margin.

What do you think? Has anyone else noticed a bias towards nonfiction creeping in with advancing years?!

Mount TBR – the Book Jar

After the Epic Book Sort, I consolidated all of my unread books on shelves in our lounge. It’s a room I spend a lot of time in as it’s an office (of sorts) as well as being my place to chill out. But, mindful of how things can become invisible once they are comfortably settled in their new home – pocket piles anyone??? – I decided I needed a more novel way to keep them from sliding once more into dusty obscurity.


The Book Jar.

I’m officially the 1,476,298,008,572nd person to do some variation of this (according to pinterest/the interwebs) but that doesn’t make it any less of a good idea. I’ve sort of wanted to do it for a while and considered making a jar of wishlist titles about 3 or 4 months back. But Mount TBR wins now in the battle of neglected books.

I’ve tended towards a more scatter-gun, distracted approach to my reading recently so I think something like this could work beautifully. I’m quite excited about the idea of giving over my book reading choices to someone(thing) else. Of course, I’ll be reading other books besides: 2017 newbies The Witch Finder’s Sister by Beth Underdown and Britta Rostlund’s Waiting for Monsieur Bellivier came home with me from the library just this morning. But the loose plan is to alternate books of my choosing with Book Jar selections (otherwise known as books of my somewhat earlier choosing).

I’d love to know if anyone else has had success with TBR Book Jars. Did anyone make it through the whole jar?

Laying in my winter stores

photo 2

I’m writing this on my first working day after the clocks went back at the weekend and my goodness me, it’s DARK. I can already see the challenge as a freelance working out of my home office. When you feel it’s pyjama time at 4.25pm, that’s not great for business…

Still, twilight afternoons and dark evenings are the perfect excuse for even more reading. Just recently a couple of trips to the library and one or two impromptu detours into second-hand bookstores and charity shops made me realise that I was behaving just like a squirrel preparing for the winter ahead.

My acorns (sorry books) are piling up on the living room floor and making me feel secure, cosy and prepared for the winter ahead. Weather do your worst (as I’m sure it will do eventually, despite the ongoing unseasonable mildness) – I’ll always have a book to reach for when I’m brave enough to stick a hand out from under my nest of sofa blankets.

From top to bottom:

Molly Keane, Good Behaviour – One of Keane’s later titles (although it’ll be my first). Keane gets compared to both Jean Rhys and Elizabeth Bowen on the back cover alone and I’ve heard such good things. I’m not sure when this is set but the stylised cover and enticing crumbling country-house setting suggest it might be in the earlier part of the twentieth century, which would make me happy. BCC line that hooked me: Behind the gates of Temple Alice the aristocratic Anglo-Irish St Charles family sinks into a state of decaying grace.

Penelope Lively, Making it Up and A House UnlockedMoon Tiger is one of my favourite books and Lively’s obsession with memory, story telling, perspective and how we all reimagine our past speak to my own personal obsessions. These two beautiful hardbacks were a fantastic find in the Oxfam bookshop in Henley and trying to decide between them impossible. Making it Up explores Lively’s own life, the choices she made and the destinies she bypassed by taking certain roads over others. In A House Unlocked, Lively revisits her grandparent’s Somerset country house, Golsoncott, and explores the key events and social transformations that left their mark on the house as they transformed the twentieth century. BCC lines that hooked me: [MIP] Storytelling is an ingrained habit; I wouldn’t know what else to do. [AHU] The house as I knew it exists now only in my mind.

Deirdre Le Faye (ed.), Jane Austen’s LettersLove Austen, love reading people’s letters. This is surely a winner? BCC line that hooked me: …intimate and gossipy, observant and informative, they bring alive her family and friends, her surroundings and contemporary events with a freshness unparalled in modern biographies.

Helen Dunmore, The Greatcoat – As an avid book blog reader of long standing, it hasn’t escaped my notice that many people claim Dunmore is a writer who deserves to be much better known and recognised than she currently is. This ‘perfect ghost story’ (Independent on Sunday) about an RAF pilot who begins to haunt the lonely, young wife of a doctor marooned in her winter-bound house on the Yorkshire moors of 1952 seemed made for this time of year. BCC lines that hooked me: And then one night she discovers an old RAF greatcoat in the back of a cupboard. She puts it on her bed for warmth – and is startled by a knock at her window. Outside is a young man. A pilot. And he wants to come in…

John Bude, The Cornish Coast Murder – One of three cosy crime novels reissued by the British Library with nostalgically beautiful covers based on old train travel posters; I can’t quite resist the way that they look. I found (and read) Murder Underground a couple of months back and am afraid I found it to be okay (quite possibly the most anodyne word a book blogger could use). However, Cornwall captures my heart in a way that the London Underground just never will, so I have high hopes for this as an indulgent, comforting read (accepting that there will be a murder, of course). BCC line that hooked me: I’m ashamed to say I didn’t read it. I looked at the cover, showing a stylised image of a Cornish coastline, and made my decision then and there.

Winifred Holtby, South Riding – A classic, and perfect fodder for a Persephone lover with strong leanings towards women writers of the early-mid twentieth century. Another one about which I have heard nothing but good. BCC line that hooked me: South Riding is a rich, panoramic novel, bringing vividly to life a rural community on the brink of change.

Monica Dickens, Dear Doctor Lily – May I refer you to my earlier comment about women writers of the early-mid twentieth century? This book also appears to be about the kind of female friendship that can endure the hardships and tempests of a lifetime, which usually means a great read. Lily and Ida meet on a flight to America and ‘embark on a relationship that is to see them through two very different marriages and is to bring them comfort and distress, joy and tragedy, in equal measure as the years unfold.

Rumer Godden, Kingfishers Catch Fire – It’s comforting to think that I am nothing if not consistent… This 1953 edition published by the Reprint Society is presumably missing its dust jacket so I know nothing about this book and deliberately haven’t attempted to find out. It was a line from the author’s note that made my decision: This book is written out of experience, not of any special experience, but compounded of three years’ living, thinking and perhaps dreaming in Kashmir.

Beryl Bainbridge, Every Man for Himself – Earlier this year, I visited the Titanic museum in Belfast and have always been fascinated by the heart-tugging detail of the countless human stories that emerge from such devastating wreckage. Following the final four days of Titanic’s maiden voyage, and a small group of interconnected passengers, I couldn’t pass up this story. It was the BCC reviews that hooked me, including phrases like highly individual work of art…and…a moving, microcosmic portrait of an era’s bitter end.

Graeme Simsion, The Rosie Effect – If you are a geneticist called Don in search of the perfect woman, it seems you like order, routine, predictability and scheduling. Rosie – ‘the world’s most incompatible woman’ – is the exact opposite. Much reviewed, I’m expecting (and hoping for) a story with humour, heart and unexpected twists. BCC line that hooked me: Until a year ago, forty-one-year-old geneticist Don Tillman had never had a second date. Until he met Rosie…

Fiona McFarlane, The Night GuestIn an isolated house on the New South Wales coast, Ruth…lives alone. Until one day a stranger bowls up announcing that she’s Frida, sent to be Ruth’s carer. With Frida’s arrival, Ruth becomes convinced that a tiger prowls the corridors of her house at night; an otherworldy detail with hints of magic realism that captured my imagination when reading reviews. I have high hopes for this one and pounced on a library copy to store up for some Halloween reading.

Helen Dunmore, The Lie – Well, look who it is. It turns out some things stick in my mind in quite a determined way. I came home from the library with this title having completely forgotten about the paperback copy of The Greatcoat in my TBR pile. But as Remembrance Day approaches in the centenary year of the First World War, this story about a young Cornish soldier struggling with his memories of the trenches and all that happened to him there felt particularly apt.

Which one should I read first?