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willoyd

Willoyd's English Counties Challenge

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Glad you enjoyed Cold Comfort Farm! I remember thinking it was humorous, but I felt that I was missing some of the jokes. I'd like to give it another go one day and see if I enjoy it more.

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That's three of us all at the halfway mark in the challenge now! You, me and Janet have all read 24 out of the 48 books. :D  I'm so glad we started it, I've read some fabulous books that I would never have dreamt of picking up without the challenge.

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I've got a couple of reviews behind, so here they are copied over from my reading blog thread:

Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons *****
I first read Cold Comfort Farm about 12 years ago, but came round to it again as it was on the English Counties Challenge list. Then I had rated it as a 5-star read, and I have to admit that, a couple of chapters in, I was beginning to wonder why. For various reasons, I wasn't able to get a good run at the book, forced to pick it off a few pages at a time (usually at bedtime), and another couple of chapters on I was beginning to doubt my sanity that first time, thinking that this was going the way of most 'humorous' books in my ratings, i.e. bouncing round near the bottom. With a book group deadline looming, I suspended further efforts, and got stuck into that choice (see my previous review, And The Mountains Echoed). Then, a deep breath, an evening cleared, surely this couldn't be so bad if I rated it so highly last time?

Well, no it couldn't, and I read the rest of the book (over half) in one sitting, smiling my way through most of it, and even, on occasions, laughing out loud (the scene of The Counting was pure magic). Which all goes to show how much one's enjoyment of a book can depend on context, mood, and any number of other factors. But above all else, a book has got to have a chance to breathe, and the reader has got to have a chance to immerse him or herself. Reading a book a few pages at a time is no way to treat the animal, and I had been desperately unfair to both the author and her book in trying to do so.

Cold Comfort Farm was written as a send-up of rural dramas by the likes of Mary Webb, Thomas Hardy, DH Lawrence etc, often laced as they are with tragedy and doom ridden atmospherics. Thoroughly practical, modern, metropolitan, but pauperised, Flora Poste goes off to live with her cousins, the extensive, agricultural and deeply conservative Starkadders. The impact is initially fairly gentle, but then Flora starts to get to work, and the feathers start to fly, especially when the family matriarch, Great-Aunt Ada Doom, normally hidden away in her room, starts to get wind of what Flora is up to....

Even if one hasn't read any of the (affectionately) lampooned authors, there is much to enjoy. I have to admit that I thought that some of the jokes were a bit obvious to start with, and that there was a danger that the whole book would slide into a slough of cliche and stereotypes, especially the Starkadders themselves, whose characters initially teetered on the edge of Little Britain nonsense (sorry, but for me it was). But having set it up to look this way, the author rapidly veered away from these dangerous rocks, as Flora's efforts started to reveal previously hidden strengths in the family and they turned into characters one cared for rather than laughed at. And that was the point at which I actually started to laugh - and any book that manages that with me is pretty exceptional!

The Go-Between by LP Hartley ***
I last encountered The Go-Between as a set text at O-level back in the mists of time. I have to admit that I wasn't a particular fan then, and whilst my revisiting the books I studied at school has almost always found me extracting much greater pleasure than when I actually studied them, this particular reread left me comparatively unmoved. There was no doubting the quality of the writing, but some way before the well flagged denouement, I was willing the author to get a move on. The edition I used (Penguin Modern Classics) was also well endowed with footnotes. Normally, I really enjoy the insights these provide, but on this occasion I found much of the symbolism and textual cross-referencing tedious and even pretentious, so fairly soon stopped taking notice of them, enjoying the book rather more as a result. Overall, I still enjoyed this more than first time round, but can't say that it goes down as a classic read. I do seem to have a bit of a problem with 1950s/60s British literature!

Edited by willoyd

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Completed book number 26 today:

 

Winnie-the-Pooh by AA Milne ******

I haven't read this classic for many years in spite  (or maybe because?) of the fact that I have such joyful memories of it from my childhood (and reading it to my own child).  Indeed, I came to it with slight trepidation, as it really is one of those books which is so ingrained in the fabric of my child-orientated memory that I was worried the gloss might come off it reading it purely as an adult. 

 

I needn't have worried!  Beautifully written, wiith something that strikes a chord on every page, and so much gentle humour, it was easy to see why this continues to maintain its position as one of the great classics of children's literature.  I was doubly fortunate to be reading the Folio Society edition, with the wonderful EH Shepard drawings in colour (along with examples of his original sketches as an appendix) - the book simply wouldn't have been the same without them.

 

Any child who has only encountered Winnie-the-Pooh through the Disney version has surely missed out on one of the great childhood experiences, the film being a very pale shadow of the original.  Words can't really do the book justice; suffice to say, it is sheer genius.

Edited by willoyd

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So glad you enjoyed re-reading Winnie the Pooh, it was a cornerstone of my childhood and to this day remains one of my favourite stories!

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Book number 27 completed earlier today. Review copied here (also on Bedfordshire thread and on my book blog thread)

 

My Uncle Silas by HE Bates *(*)

Read as part of the English Counties challenge, this is one of the rare books on that list that I really haven't liked - rather contrary to the majority of reviews I have to say. Oh dear. I'm sorry, but I really can't share everybody else's enthusiasm. Indeed, I'd go so far as to say it has been the most disappointing read of the 27 books to date aside from, perhaps, Cider with Rosie, of a similar ilk.

 

Right from the first, I had concerns, with its overblown idyllic descriptions (how many colours can one cram into a single paragraph? How many adjectives can be squeezed into a sentence?), and this was soon exacerbated by some highly stereotypical characterisation, all of which persisted throughout. As the book progressed, I also tired of the incessant repetition in those descriptions ('wet' lips stick in the mind!), and the predictability of the stories. I can't say I was excited either by the alcoholic japes around which most were centred. There were moments of genuine pathos (I found the ending of The Wedding particularly moving - ironically one of the rare occasions when the author kept it brief and to the point), but they were just moments. I couldn't but help recall Cold Comfort Farm - this could have almost been the original target of that far more strongly written book's satire.

 

In the end, for me the one strong point was the book's overall brevity, This and the fact that it is part of the Counties challenge are the sole reasons for me reaching the end. I say 'the end', but the edition I read was, in fact, The Complete Uncle Silas, merging the two Silas books into one for the Kindle. I was relieved to put it down after the last story from the first book, and am in no hurry to move on to the others!

Edited by willoyd

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Completed The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, aged 13 3/4 this morning. It proved to be a very quick read, having only started it at bedtime last night, which was just as well as it proved to be somewhat dated and repetitively tiresome: basically a one-joke novel. After a run of excellent books in this challenge, the last two have been the most disappointing to date, so am looking forward to things picking up.   28/48 completed.

Edited by willoyd

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Completed Geraldine Brooks's Year of Wonder (Derbyshire) last night. Sat up late to finish the last 60 or so pages - says it all. Gripping read, firmly embedded in both historical and geographical setting. Another book that I almost certainly wouldn't have read but for the challenge, and am so glad I did. (4/6 stars).  Am now moving onto Kestrel for a Knave (South Yorkshire), as I'm off to see the play next week at the West Yorkshire Playhouse.

Review of Secret Diary of Adrian Mole now posted here.

 

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On here to update, and realised didn't mention completing Mrs Dalloway in my last post (finished a few days after Adrian Mole). Kestrel for a Knave was read in a day, but then it is barely a couple of hundred pages long. Since then have been focused largely on Fanny Burney's Evelina, my alternative choice for Bristol. Finished that this morning - really enjoyable read, if not one of the greats. Review to follow.  Now completed 32/48, and what a great list it is - loads of variety and some good, even brilliant, books that I wouldn't have read without the incentive.

Edited by willoyd

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How brilliant you read so many great books because of this challenge.You're progressing well with it, two thirds of the way there!

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Two more books completed: On the Black Hill (Herefordshire - book 33) and next door neighbour, Summer Lightning (Shropshire - book 34).  Both good reads, and both better than expected.  On the Black Hill was a new read, both book and author, so wasn't sure what it was going to be like, but I loved its down to earth evocation of the Marches, and its humanity.  Summer Lightning couldn't have been much more of a contrast, being a typical (actually, more than typical) Wodehouse farce, whose threads get more tangled than ever.  I've gone off Wodehouse the last few years, but this restored some of my appreciation of both humour and art: the writing is far cleverer and slicker than I remember it.

Edited by willoyd

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Completed Emma last night. A wonderful, absorbing read, with a far greater streak of humour than I remember from when I studied it for A-level - maybe simply because I'm older. Emma really is very knowing, but not quite as worldly-wise as she likes to think, initially as unlikeable as Jane Austen said she wanted her to be, but steadily grows on you. Confirmed its six-star status, with room to spare: not quite my favourite Austen (S&S), but certainly up near the front end.  Just over a quarter of the books, nine of them, I've read so far are six-star reads - not bad going considering I have rated only just over 60 novels at this level overall.

Edited by willoyd

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I've now written up reviews of all the books read recently for the challenge. Links are as follows:

 

Emma - Surrey

 

Summer Lightning - Shropshire

 

On the Black Hill -Herefordshire

 

Evelina - Bristol (my alternative)

Edited by willoyd

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Completed book #36, The Pursuit of Love (Oxfordshire), whilst on holiday.  This was a reread.  It was enjoyable enough, an easy, fluid novel with some depth,  but I can't say that I was anything like as struck as when I read it first time, when I gave it 4/6.  I just couldn't relate to the characters, who all felt thoroughly superficial.  Dropped to a 3 now.  I was going to follow up with rereading Love in a Cold Climate, but given my reaction (maybe partially due to being on holiday, and not in the right frame of mind?), decided not to.

Edited by willoyd

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Getting a bit bogged down with The Stars Look Down (Northumberland) - I really can't yet see why it's particularly well known or popular other than it's a solidly conventional, saga, if overlong and increasingly dull - so took time off to reread The Wind in the Willows (Berkshire). A lovely, gently novel, with much that is still relevant today, although somewhat dated in some of its underlying attitudes. I can't see many children reading it today - the language is far too demanding for most readers (which is intended to say more about modern day language and reading than about the target age or pitched level of the book).

Edited by willoyd

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Finished the Northumberland book, The Stars Look Down and 38/48, this morning after an intense session to get it finished.  If it hadn't been a Challenge book, I'd have packed in hundreds of pages before the end, but kept plugging on.  Would have possibly been better at barely half the length. Can't say I feel rewarded, although, reading Amazon reviews and comments here, I'm probably in a minority of one. I won't be in a hurry to try any more Cronin novels though, and am not surprised he's largely out of print if this is a typical example, as there's a very dated feel to the writing. Edited by willoyd

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I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it, but I can't say I'm surprised!

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On 26/08/2016 at 8:36 PM, Janet said:

I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it, but I can't say I'm surprised!

 

Do explain (I can take it :smile: !).  I was expecting to enjoy this, having quite fond memories of reading a couple of Cronin books in my teens (but can't even remember which ones).  It quite surprised me that I didn't get on with it at all.  (I'll have to consult you more often before reading a book!).

Edited by willoyd

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Well, it was one of the few books I nominated for this challenge and I was nervous about suggesting it - and all the while I was reading it I was thinking that you would probably find it too 'Saga-like' and too long. I thought it was really good (4/5) and particularly the bit when the men were trapped was so well-written that I was on the edge of my seat as I read it. I thought it was also a really good representation of the county.

I loved The Pursuit of Love - it's been one of my favourite of the challenge books so far - I gave it 5/5 and you only 2.5, so when I read your thoughts on that it just cemented what I thought you'd think of the Cronin. However, I think there have been a few we've agreed on, so we aren't completely polar opposites.  :)

I hope that makes sense - my ability to post articulately seems to have gone out of the window.
 

(I'll have to consult you more often before reading a book!).

Maybe it's not meant to, but that comes across as flagrant sarcasm. I wouldn't dream of suggesting whether you should, or shouldn't, read a book - I know you well enough to know you are perfectly capable of making up your own mind.

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On 28/08/2016 at 8:14 PM, Janet said:

Maybe it's not meant to, but that comes across as flagrant sarcasm. I wouldn't dream of suggesting whether you should, or shouldn't, read a book - I know you well enough to know you are perfectly capable of making up your own mind.

 

OMG - absolutely not! I don't do sarcasm (what I say is what I mean, especially on-line; I do try irony occasionally - but it doesn't usually work!).  I meant that genuinely: you seem to be good at judging what books people would like and dislike from what we post here, and, if I recall correctly, have got it absolutely spot one with me on a number of occasions.  Anyway, saying whether you think someone would enjoy or not enjoy a book isn't, to me, saying whether  one should or shouldn't read it - it's just a prediction of what you think someone will feel about it. I quite enjoy comparing prediction to outcome!

 

I know this may sound odd in the circumstances, but I actually think The Stars Look Down was a good choice for the list.  It is, after all, one of the best known, if not THE best known book set in Northumberland, so it certainly earns its place, and, as I said, I'm in a very small minority of readers who hasn't liked it if reviews are anything to go by.  That's the whole point of a challenge isn't it?  To provide a range of books for people to tackle, to encourage us to read around and beyond what we would normally read, to broaden our horizons?.  I may not have enjoyed The Stars Look Down in the normal sense, but I'm very glad to have read it, even if I was even more glad to have finished it!  The more I read from this challenge, the more I think what a good idea it was and what a good range of reading it is providing.

 

The Pursuit of Love is a funny one.  I first read it a few years ago, and really enjoyed it, ranking it 4/6 (I then read Love in a Cold Climate and gave that 5/6).  I was really looking forward to rereading it for the challenge, and was quite surprised that at the end I had dropped it to 3/6.  That, however, is still a book I enjoyed, even if not unputdownable (I love Mitford's style, even if I was a bit more doubtful about the narrative).  On the scale I use, the 6 is an extension of 5, solely for the very few books that are even better than excellent, that actually rate as an all-time favourite having something that is personally a bit special, a bit like going from A to A*. Only just over 100 books have ever had a 6 from me.  So, a 3 on my scale would still rate 3 if I was rating it on Amazon.  (On LibraryThing, I list my 4 as a 3.5, my 5 as a 4, and my 6 as a 5). So, whilst it dipped, I still enjoyed Pursuit of Love a bit more than might seem at first glance.  It's a book I can totally see why someone would rate it at full marks (but then, I can see that of the Cronin too).

Edited by willoyd

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OMG - absolutely not! I don't do sarcasm (what I say is what I mean, especially on-line; I do try irony occasionally - but it doesn't usually work!). I meant that genuinely: you seem to be good at judging what books people would like and dislike from what we post here, and, if I recall correctly, have got it absolutely spot one with me on a number of occasions. Anyway, saying whether you think someone would enjoy or not enjoy a book isn't, to me, saying whether one should or shouldn't read it - it's just a prediction of what you think someone will feel about it. I quite enjoy comparing prediction to outcome!

Thanks for the explanation and apologies for misconstruing your meaning. :) Sometimes it’s difficult to gauge what someone is trying to say – or conversely sometimes it's difficult to post something online to come across the way one means it to come across. There have definitely been occasions where someone has said they wouldn’t recommend a book where I’ve read it and gone on to enjoy it.  Life would be dull if we all liked exactly the same things.

 

I know this may sound odd in the circumstances, but I actually think The Stars Look Down was a good choice for the list. It is, after all, one of the best known, if not THE best known book set in Northumberland, so it certainly earns its place, and, as I said, I'm in a very small minority of readers who hasn't liked it if reviews are anything to go by. That's the whole point of a challenge isn't it? To provide a range of books for people to tackle, to encourage us to read around and beyond what we would normally read, to broaden our horizons?. I may not have enjoyed The Stars Look Down in the normal sense, but I'm very glad to have read it, even if I was even more glad to have finished it! The more I read from this challenge, the more I think what a good idea it was and what a good range of reading it is providing.

I have definitely read plenty of books doing this challenge that I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up. So far I have enjoyed nearly all of them very much, which is testament not only to the books, but also to the choices we made as a group. I very much doubt I’d have picked up South Riding (despite having enjoyed the BBC adaptation that was on a few years ago) and yet I think it’s possibly been my favourite of the books so far!

 

The Pursuit of Love is a funny one. I first read it a few years ago, and really enjoyed it, ranking it 4/6 (I then read Love in a Cold Climate and gave that 5/6). I was really looking forward to rereading it for the challenge, and was quite surprised that at the end I had dropped it to 3/6. That, however, is still a book I enjoyed, even if not unputdownable (I love Mitford's style, even if I was a bit more doubtful about the narrative). On the scale I use, the 6 is an extension of 5, solely for the very few books that are even better than excellent, that actually rate as an all-time favourite having something that is personally a bit special, a bit like going from A to A*. Only just over 100 books have ever had a 6 from me. So, a 3 on my scale would still rate 3 if I was rating it on Amazon. (On LibraryThing, I list my 4 as a 3.5, my 5 as a 4, and my 6 as a 5). So, whilst it dipped, I still enjoyed Pursuit of Love a bit more than might seem at first glance. It's a book I can totally see why someone would rate it at full marks (but then, I can see that of the Cronin too).

Ah, okay – I see what you mean. I find ranking the books very difficult and if it wasn’t for the fact that I rank them on Goodreads I might even adopt Kay’s method of just saying ‘I loved it’, ‘I hated it’… etc. Quite often I think I over-mark and by the time I come to write down my thoughts, I’ve often reduced the mark by half or even a whole mark.

 

I really am enjoying this challenge though – even if there are one or two books that I’m not looking forward to. :)

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On 29/08/2016 at 10:23 PM, Janet said:

I have definitely read plenty of books doing this challenge that I wouldn’t have otherwise picked up. So far I have enjoyed nearly all of them very much, which is testament not only to the books, but also to the choices we made as a group. I very much doubt I’d have picked up South Riding (despite having enjoyed the BBC adaptation that was on a few years ago) and yet I think it’s possibly been my favourite of the books so far!

 

I really am enjoying this challenge though – even if there are one or two books that I’m not looking forward to. :)

 

I'd agree with you both about the challenge as a whole, so many brilliant books, and about South Riding. Like you, I would probably never have picked it up, and yet it has proved to be an instant six star read. Of the books I've read for the first time doing this challenge, it's certainly vying for my favourite, challenged only perhaps by Far From The Madding Crowd and Howards End (which I read as an alternative to P&P, as I've read this so often that I wanted to tackle something else). Of the books I've previously read, I'd say my favourite is a toss-up between Middlemarch and Emma. But there's still a few to go.....!

Edited by willoyd

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Completed the Tyne and Wear novel, Another Place, today. Beautifully written, as are all Pat Barker's books, but never completely engaged me. Admire it?  Yes. respect it? Yes.  Love it? No. 3/6.

Edited by willoyd

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You must be almost finished with the challenge now!  I'm hoping to get to 36 by the end of September, but I have to admit, some of the books left for me are ones I'm more reluctant to read.  I have read one Pat Barker before for my reading group, but I've always assumed she's a war writer, and that puts me off a little bit.  I haven't looked up Another Place yet, so not sure what it's about, but if it is a war story, I wouldn't be surprised.  Maybe I'll bump it up my list and try and read it this month.

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I finished Another World (not Place) yesterday too (we've been staying in Newcastle) - there is an element of war in it, Claire, but it's definitely not a war book. :) I gave it 3/5 as my initial reaction.

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