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Willoyd's Reading 2017

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Shame the quantum physics book was such a disappointment. It is a difficult subject and a shame the author didn't manage to write it down comprehensibly.

 

It's not nice when you feel you have to tick off a challenge rather than reading a book you really want to read. I hope you will enjoy reading more instead of wanting to do challenges :)!

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Sounds like a good idea. I've just finished a fabulous non-fiction book and said I really must read more - especially since adding three more to the TBR based on the first book's recommended further reading! - but somehow they do seem to get pushed aside. 

 

I'm trying to finish the English Counties Challenge by the end of the year, but I've left some books I really want to read to the end so hopefully shouldn't be off putting! 

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Reading catchup

Finished Cold Mountain (Charles Frazier) in the past week or so: an excellent, absorbing read although: 

Spoiler

I found the ending disappointing - killing Inman off in virtually the last few lines struck me as thoroughly gratuitous.

 

I've now started David Goodhart's Road to Somewhere, on how the Brexit Leave vote came about, which I'm finding really illuminating, even going some way to changing my own thinking about the pros and cons. I certainly feel I understand the issues better.  It's also thoroughly readable - very well written.  Both this and Cold Mountain have taken a bit longer to get going, simply because I spent a fortnight almost completely absorbed in the Leeds Film Festival.  Hopefully, things will pick up a bit now.

 

As ever, I've acquired a number of books in the past couple of weeks as well, mostly using saved up Waterstone's loyalty cards, and birthday tokens!

 

Citizen Clem by John Bew

The Road to Somewhere by David Goodhart

Mr Lear, A Life of Art and Nonsense by Jenny Uglow (one of my two favourite biographers; by way of bonus, the book is a gorgeous looking volume too)

A Maigret Christmas by Georges Simenon

A Life of My Own by Claire Tomalin (the other in my duo of favourite biographers) - a Kindle deal.

 

Edited by willoyd

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A couple of reviews

I've not been great at keeping up with reviews the past month or two, but here are those for my two most recently read books, both part of my Tour of the United States challenge:  Winesburg Ohio by Sherwood Anderson, and Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier.

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Jacob's Room Is Full of Books by Susan Hill **

 

Howards End is on the Landing was my non-fiction Book of the Year back in 2010, so this follow up was high on my priority list as soon as it was published.  I sat down a few days ago, ready to devour it.  Well, what a disappointment!  This proved not a patch on its predecessor.

 

In terms of the actual books covered, I seem to see eye to eye with Susan Hill with much of my reading, both in terms of books and authors loved, and those not so positively enjoyed (!). Jacob's Room is likely therefore to prove a really useful resource in finding other books to investigate (I've already put a couple on my wishlist as a result), and will at least for a while stay on my bookshelves, However……

 

This book purports to be about "A Year of Reading", and I suppose it is, but there is far too much that has nothing to do with reading, particularly early on.  Rather than the focused read I expected, it soon became apparent that this was a general mish-mash of (sometimes apparently random) literary thoughts, mixed in with various nature notes and other ruminations.

 

There's also quite a lot of repetition (for instance, she has a thing about aspiring writers who, in her opinion, don't read enough).  Some topics were thought provoking and promised much, but it seemed to me that they were always the ones that were never developed in any depth, and just as she got going, the entry finished.  On the other hand, personal gripes received more attention (she complains of others holding grudges - pots and kettles black!). Others, almost all non-literary, just annoyed me; often badly informed (mostly to do with bird life), they just seemed to promulgate ignorance from someone who I thought would know better. 

 

My biggest problem, though, was with her personal criticisms (as opposed to critiquing books).  In particular, there was one moment, early on in the book, where she describes John Bayley as 'betraying' his late wife, Irish Murdoch.  It's a mean spirited comment that had no place here, and, I have to admit, almost stopped me reading at that instant.  I carried on (it really is early on) but it left an unpleasant taste, which affected later reading.  And when I reached the section where she takes Rowan William's writing apart ("his prose is so clotted as to be impenetrable") and asks whether it might be due to his origin of birth ("Is it to do with his being Welsh?"), I was stunned with disbelief.  She does say "I can't think why", but what on earth does she  think she's doing?  (To be clear, I have no great issue with her critique of his writing, although I do wonder why she needs to pick on him at this point,  but I have a big one with her suggested reason why).  And as for her name dropping.....

 

In the end, I saw the book through to the end - there was just about enough to keep me going, and it was a straightforward read - but, whilst not the worst book of the year, it will rank near or at the top of my 'most disappointing' list.  Howards End is on the Landing had a genuine raison d'etre which helped make it the excellent read it was; this doesn't.  If Hill had focused simply on the books (as HEIOTL largely did) this could have been a fascinating book, particularly if she'd expanded on some of those under-developed thoughts, but, for some reason, she and her editor allowed her to use the space to created by staying superficial to wander into uncharted and personally critical waters, with the result that the book and, in my opinion, the author suffer significantly.  It'll still sell well though.

Edited by willoyd

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On ‎24‎/‎11‎/‎2017 at 2:01 PM, Madeleine said:

Yes I thought that ending was a bit of a cop out as well.

Spoiler

Me too...that huge read and then....

 

Edited by Inver

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On 24/11/2017 at 2:01 PM, Madeleine said:

Yes I thought that ending was a bit of a cop out as well.

 

3 hours ago, Inver said:
  Hide contents

Me too...that huge read and then....

 

 

Phew! I'm glad it wasn't just me - you do sometimes wonder when running counter to the general flow of comment, not least in potentially misleading others.

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What a shame Jacob's Room Is Full of Books was such a disappointment! I too really liked Howard's End is on the Landing.

 

17 hours ago, Little Pixie said:

Still, your review has saved me some money. :ph34r:

 

Always look on the bright side of life.. :singcat:

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I did have Jacob's Room Is Full Of Books on my Christmas wishlist, but I've removed it based on your review!  I'm still going to read it, but it doesn't sound promising and probably won't be re-reading it, so I'm going to borrow from the library first instead. 

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7 hours ago, Athena said:

What a shame Jacob's Room Is Full of Books was such a disappointment! I too really liked Howard's End is on the Landing.

 

 

Always look on the bright side of life.. :singcat:

 

:lol:  Besides Howard`s End ( which I have ), is there a similar book which is really good ? :) 

 

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5 hours ago, chesilbeach said:

I did have Jacob's Room Is Full Of Books on my Christmas wishlist, but I've removed it based on your review!  I'm still going to read it, but it doesn't sound promising and probably won't be re-reading it, so I'm going to borrow from the library first instead. 

 

I feel very nervous now!  Having said that, the library is probably a good bet - that way if you disagree with me, you can still buy your own copy.  I'm using the library more than ever nowadays (not least because I'm working a day a week in one!).

 

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17 hours ago, Little Pixie said:

:lol:  Besides Howard`s End ( which I have ), is there a similar book which is really good ? :)

 

Hmm, well the one that comes to mind is Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch. I did read a couple of other memoirs about reading, but I didn't like them as much as Howard's End is on the Landing or Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.

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19 hours ago, willoyd said:

 

I feel very nervous now!  Having said that, the library is probably a good bet - that way if you disagree with me, you can still buy your own copy.  I'm using the library more than ever nowadays (not least because I'm working a day a week in one!).

 

 

Don't be nervous - the library option works perfectly.  Like you said, if I do like it then I can always get my own copy, and if not, a £1 reservation fee isn't going to break the bank and won't take up shelf space! :lol:

 

I'm planning to use the library a bit more next year, as I want to get a head start on the Wainwright Prize books for next year, so I'm keeping an eye on new nature and travel books being reviewed to see if I can pick some that look like they'll end up on the long list in the summer, and I'm going to borrow them from the library ahead of time.  Admittedly, I might end up not reading any of the books they choose, but as a lot tend to be hardbacks, it'll still save me some money and shelf space again. :D 

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Thanks for that!  On potential books for the Wainwright prize, I will be amazed if Adam Nicholson's book The Seabird's Cry doesn't make it at least onto the shortlist - for me it was a very easy 6 stars, and a strong contender for my non-fiction book of the year.

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13 hours ago, Athena said:

 

Hmm, well the one that comes to mind is Tolstoy and the Purple Chair: My Year of Magical Reading by Nina Sankovitch. I did read a couple of other memoirs about reading, but I didn't like them as much as Howard's End is on the Landing or Tolstoy and the Purple Chair.

 

Thank you ; off to look that one up. :)

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9 hours ago, willoyd said:

Thanks for that!  On potential books for the Wainwright prize, I will be amazed if Adam Nicholson's book The Seabird's Cry doesn't make it at least onto the shortlist - for me it was a very easy 6 stars, and a strong contender for my non-fiction book of the year.

 

Yes, I've got that one on my list already! :D  I loved his book The Sea Room (that must have been a long time ago now though, maybe 15 years?) so it definitely made it on to my potential nominees list. :)

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Some mini-reviews.

 

Yet more mini-reviews to help me catch up!

 

The Road to Somewhere by David Goodhart *****

A book on the why of Brexit - why did the vote happen the way it did?  Well written, I found this thoroughly illuminating (I've used that phrase before, but it's the most apposite).  Focuses on the differences between the Anywheres, primarily Remainers whose sense of identity comes mostly through their achievements and 'success', and Somewheres, primarily Leavers, whose sense of identity comes mostly through their setting and their context.  Simplistic summary of a careful piece of analysis, which has much to say about the state of our society, especially government, within the UK.

 

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson ****

Superbly written, slim, novel, about two sisters growing up in a midwest settlemen, in the care of a succession of womenfolk from their family, their divergent paths, and the profound impact of the last of this succession, their aunt.  In fact the plot and the subtexts are way too complex to summarise, but suffice to say that this provoked the best discussion about a book in our book group all year.  We all agreed that it did suffer a little bit in the middle third, but pulled itself together before the end.  We also agreed that we all wanted to reread it to get to better grips with all those strands, especially after our discussion.  One word or warning - you need to be fully awake to tackle this, no late night reading!  I'm absolutely sure that this will land up on a higher rating next time round, but a good 4 stars for starters.

 

The Card by Arnold Bennett ****

Another Five Towns (Stoke) based novel, somewhat lighter and sharper than The Old Wives' Tale or Clayhanger.  Very much in the picaresque mold, with the hero lucking his way through a blossoming career in local business and politics.  Enjoyed it, but felt it lacked the depth of the other two novels, even if it had the most modern feel (or perhaps that was the reason why?).

 

Mrs Palfrey at the Claremont by Elizabeth Taylor ***

I've enjoyed discovering Elizabeth Taylor this year, this being the third I've now tackled.  She writes incisively and without any waste, almost a cross between Muriel Spark and Barbara Pym, but very much her own woman. This was as well written as the previous novels, the elderly Mrs Palfrey discovering the 'joys' of living in retirement in a somewhat second-rate hotel in SW London, and making friends with an even more impoverished young writer who conspires with her to help keep up appearances amongst her judgemental co-residents.  It's cuttingly amusing, gently sympathetic, and probably as good as anything of hers I've read to date, but I just couldn't warm to it in the same way that I did to the others.  Can't quite work out why - maybe it was just that touch bleaker? - but I was quite glad to move on.

 

The Fortune of War by Patrick O'Brian *****

Why has it taken me so long to come back to this brilliant series of books?  Centred, as they all are, on the friendship between Jack Aubrey, Royal Navy sea captain at the of the Napoleonic Wars, and Stephen Maturin, ship's surgeon and spy, this one starts in the Far East, taking up where Desolation Island left off, and travels westwards to the United States of the 1812 war with England, taking in shipwreck, fighting actions and high drama on land.  O'Brian renders his characters and setting exquisitely without ever losing sight of the fact that he's telling a story. This series is simply one of the best.

 

Last Bus to Woodstock by Colin Dexter ***

I read this just over ten years ago, and gave it three stars then.  After a conversation about the series, and with no recollection of the outcome, I picked it up again.  The plot was as intricate as one would expect.  What I didn't expect was how horribly dated the book read, and how wooden the writing was.  In particular, Dexter just cannot write about emotion and feelings (at least he couldn't here; maybe it got better) - some passages were just excruciating to read.  Three stars was, in fact, about right, if anything generous, and I'm not sure I whether I will bother with any of the others.  Certainly, on this evidence, the TV series is far superior to the books.

 

Harvest by Jim Crace ****

Set in a somewhat indeterminate past, but one which saw the arrival of enclosures and sheep, this is the story of the downfall of an entire village, triggered by the smallest of events: the ripple that becomes an irrepressible tsunami.  This was my first experince of the author's work, and my first reaction was to be completely bowled over by the writing, creating a slightly out of focus image where the colours and other senses are enhanced but nothing ever seems quite sharp edged, whilst the strong rhythm of the language made this a very easy read.  There were one or two aspects of historical accuracy that niggled slightly, and the tightness of the plot wavered somewhat in the last third, losing me slightly, which is why it doesn't quite achieve a fifth star.  But a good, provoking read, which I'm looking forward to discussing with my book group.

 

Flood Warning by Paul Berna ******

This was a book that I was amazed to find in a charity shop recently - a book that I recognised as one I read in my pre-teens, but had never even seen since.   Translated from French, it tells of the impact of a huge flood on the Angers-Saumur area, through the experiences of a small boarding school.  It's only 160 pages long, but I loved the author's voice, distinctively French, and was completely gripped by all aspects of the narrative.  Whilst a Puffin book (strongly enhanced with line illustrations by a relatively young Charles Keeping), the language would now probably be a bit older - I certainly never felt there were any concessions either in language or content. At 50p (both the original price and the charity shop price!), this has been the bargain of the year so far!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Edited by willoyd

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Christmas week reading and books

 

As tends to be the norm, I've been galloping through books this month, not least because I prefer to keep it fairly light.  This week has seen a distinctly Christmassy theme running through my reading:

 

A Maigret Christmas by Georges Simenon *****

A collection of three stories, only the first of which actually features the eponymous detective, but all still reek of the Parisian atmosphere that Simenon is so skilled at developing and which I love.  The first feature crime investigations which rack up the suspense rather more than the norm for this series, whilst the last is almost more of a character study involving two women marginally involved in a suicide in a bar,  and which really just kickstarts the main story itself.  Perfect noirish Christmas reading.

 

A Christmas Party by Georgette Heyer ****

Whilst I love Heyer's Regency novels, my previous enjoyment of her detective stories has been rather more restrained.  In fact, I've found the writing singularly wooden.  Not so here.  The premise is almost a cliche - a classic locked room problem during a classic Christmas houseparty - and the characters are classic stereotypes, but there's a strong streak of Heyer's sardonic wit and humour (you rapidly realise that the character stereotypes are, in fact, deliberately making fun) to carry one enjoyably through to a not totally unpredictable denouement (I'd worked out the culprit about two-thirds of the way through, but not the method).  An easy, likeable read.

 

A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens ******

Each time I read this it just seems to get better.  Classic Dickens, with his descriptions  in particular standing out this time.  I just love the richness of the pictures he paints.

 

Alice's Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll ***

It dawned on me in a discussion over Christmas that, unlike Through the Looking Glass, I hadn't actually read the first Alice book all the way through - just bits of it.  That was pretty easy to put right - it's short enough to read in one sitting, which is what I did.  Some clever word play and ideas, but overall I felt it wasn't a patch on the later novel which I found more intricately woven with a stronger narrative drive. It was good to finally put all the famous set pieces into a more coherent sequence though, whilst there were others that I had previously not known other than in a superficial way. 

 

That took me through to the day after Boxing Day, and just 4 days from the end of the year.  I'm currently reading Winter Holiday (an Arthur Ransome reread) and Roger Knight's biography of Nelson, The Pursuit of Victory, both really well put together.  I'll almost certainly finish the former before 2018, but the latter will equally certainly have to wait until the New Year for completion. 

 

There was a goodly pile of books amongst the Christmas presents this year, bigger than in most years, and all non-fiction:

The Victorious Century by David Cannadine

The Gilded Chalet by Padraig Rooney

Walking Away by Simon Armitage

East West Street by Philippe Sands

The Robin, A Biography by Stephen Moss

The Wonder of Birds by Jim Robbins

 

I will see about starting these off early in the New Year!

 

Edited by willoyd

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Final book of the year!

 

And so to the last book that I will complete in 2017, a reread to tie in with the snow outside (rapidly melting as I write though!):  Winter Holiday by Arthur Ransome ******.

It's a long time since I read this (30+ years in fact!), but I'm rereading the Swallows and Amazons series.  I did intend to stick to the chronology, but Winter Holiday (the fourth book in the sequence) just seemed so right given the time of year and weather.  And it's superb!  I've always remembered this as one of the best, and on this reading it will remain so.  Most of the books are set in summer holidays, but here the Swallows and Amazons are joined by the Two Ds (Dick and Dorothea Callum - my favourites, especially Dick) in a wintry Lake District, as the lake begins to freeze and they build up to a major expedition to 'The North Pole'.  Things, of course, don't go quite to plan! 

 

It's probably a wee bit slow for most modern day children, and a bit too removed from the reality of children's experiences today (our loss!)  but the way the characters all get stuck into the narrative of their world as the High Arctic, and enjoy the outdoors in a way that I remember well, but would be an anathema in our horribly overprotected culture, is, for me, pure joy. It's beatifully written too in Ransome's elegant but no nonsense style.  A book in which I was able to completely bury myself, and a lovely way to finish the year off.  Not just a six star rating, but one of my absolute favouritest ever children's novels, and one of the most formative too.

 

So, that's it for 2017.  It's been a good year for reading, and a year of major change personally.  A more detailed review, and preview for next year, is on my 2018 blog thread, which is now open, unless there are any threads her to tie off that I've forgotten or not anticipated!

Edited by willoyd

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