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

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?

Elaine Dundy – The Dud Avocado

Elaine Dundy was first pick from the TBR jar I compiled back in 2017. I’ve had this book for years – I think, originally, it came from a Virago collection of books by female authors that might also have included some Elizabeth von Arnim and Rosamund Lehmann. I’m almost sure it was a present from my mum (clearly, excellent taste!).

I’ll jump right in and say that pick one was a definite hit. I LOVED this book. It follows the central character, American wannabe actress Sally Jay Gorce, as she attempts to conquer Paris in the 1950s, veering from comedic farce to tragedy at breakneck speed. Bankrolled by a wealthy, eccentric uncle, Sally Jay could be insufferable but instead she’s somewhat adorable, despite her tendency towards flighty, ill-thought out and impulsive decisions, usually involving unsuitable artist types. Studiedly carefree and endearing, she hides the kind of brave, flinty interior that gives one the gumption (I love that word – this book is full of gumption) to move alone to a foreign country. She’s probably what a lot of people (perhaps me?) wish they could have been if they were a bit less careful. Pink hair and all.

Dundy herself spent time working in Paris as an actress, which it didn’t surprise me to find out. There’s a terrific freshness about her writing that hints at first-hand experience. The story is at once firmly rooted in all the colour and sass of 50’s Paris, while being the kind of writing that doesn’t seem at all out of date today. Dundy’s writing is so witty and well observed that it’s like reading about people you’ve already met or knew once.

This is Sally Jay talking about her first reactions to the Champs-Elysees:

For some people history is a Beach or a Tower or a Graveyard. For me it was this giant primordial Toy Shop with all its windows gloriously ablaze. It contained everything I’ve ever wanted that money can buy. It was an enormous Christmas present wrapped in silver and blue tissue paper tied with satin ribbons and bells. Inside would be something to adorn, to amuse, and to dazzle me forever. It was my present for being alive.

This encounter with an attractive man in a cafe is a great example of the world-weary insight that balances out her naivete:

I had guessed at once that this wasn’t his everyday expression, and sure enough, as I approached, I saw it relax slowly into an entirely different one. Close up he was even more devastating. The eyes, smouldering lazily under their bushy, beetling brows, almost seemed to be lying down, while the magnificent head leaned forward, not eagerly exactly, but alertly. My heart raced. If he wasn’t unaware of his power, he certainly wasn’t bored by it either. He looked carefully at me. I-feel-as-if-we-have-already-so-why-waste-time? the look stated unequivocally.

Then there’s this description of the Hard Core artists that form part of her social circle:

The Hard Core was what we called a group of rugged individualists who circled around an old satyr, a sort of archetypal poet-painter nicknamed the Ancient…A rowdy bunch on the whole, they were most of them so violently individualistic as to be practically interchangeable.

Or this, perhaps my favourite line in the book:

At eleven o’clock that night, in one of my dangerous moods – midnight-black, excited and deeply dreading (as opposed to one of my beautiful midnight-blue ones, calm but deeply excited), my nerves strung taut to singing, I arrived alone at the Ritz, only to discover all over again what a difficult thing this was to do.’

Given this review is in danger of turning into the book review equivalent of ‘death by holiday snaps’, I’ll stop there. But I could have carried on.

I wish I’d first read this book all those years back when I received it – it would have been fascinating to know how different my perceptions would have been. At the grand old age of 38, everyone in it seemed so perilously young, with their carefully constructed opinions and their preoccupation with how to rebel or blend in or stand out. Their complete terror of being predictable or,  god forbid, a ‘type’. All of which makes me sound like some ancient sage who has it all figured out. When of course it’s only that I’m just old enough to have stopped trying so hard to make it look like I have.



Reading in 2018

I like to take my time with new year resolutions. I quite enjoy the ponderousness of this time of year, thinking about where I’d like to be and what I might be doing in 12 months. Given how incredibly dark the last few mornings have been, it’s rather nice to be focusing on hopeful thoughts about all the things I might achieve (before I roll over and hit snooze and vow to do better tomorrow!)

On the subject of blogging and books, I have definite thoughts. I read in a very loose, impulsive, mood-driven way last year. It was lovely and clearly exactly what I needed, but I feel like recently I’ve been craving some structure. I’ve also stopped challenging myself with books and feel like I might be a little stuck in the comfort-zone. Squishy and reliable it may be, but I can’t shake the nagging voice that keeps reminding me of the rewards there are if you crawl out from under the duvet once in a while.

At the beginning of last year, after the move, I wanted to ‘read my own damn books’. I didn’t  get very far with that and I suspect when the gongs went on 31 Dec 2017, my TBR was longer than ever. On the plus side, I DID fulfil my goal of streamlining. In fact, I went a bit bonkers for streamlining, giving away boxes of books, cutting down my TBR and facing up to what was actually sharing my home. There are still a lot of unread books but they are now sorted, catalogued and on a shelf, leaving me feeling like we’ve all been reacquainted and they’re not going to languish in boxes and dimly-lit corners this year. Plus I made the TBR jar – woop!

So, this year I’m going to choose my books by rotating through the following categories to avoid settling into a rut or letting myself be too ruled by whim:

  • TBR jar
  • On impulse / wild card
  • Recently published (i.e. 2018)
  • Favourite author back catalogues

In addition, I’d love to accomplish the following:

  • Post twice a week – I’ve really enjoyed getting the blog back on track and engaging more meaningfully with all the other lovely blogs I’ve followed for years.
  • Clear the pile of books that seems to permanently loom at my bedside – and not put it back almost immediately afterwards.
  • Take part in some more blogging/reading ‘events’ – perhaps a virtual book tour, or something like the fab #TheDarkIsReading twitter readalong.
  • Write a guest post – I’ve long nurtured the goal of writing a review for Shiny New Books. Maybe this will be the year.

Hoping 2018 is going to bring you all lots of excellent books. Let’s get started.

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?