Tag Archives: Anthony Trollope

Dorothy Savidge; The Woman Books Built

On Wednesday this week we all said our final goodbyes to Granny Savidge Reads, aka Dorothy Savidge. I thought I would share the speech I gave as part of her eulogy with you all as it is fitting and also because it does show the importance of books in people’s lives. You can also hear Gran talking about books in an episode of The Readers that I recorded with three generations of the reading Savidge’s here. Thank you all so, so, so, so much for your comments, emails and tweets about Gran, the support has meant so much to me and my family. Savidge Reads will be back properly on August the 1st, I will leave this as a fitting interim post until then…

To say that my Gran, Dorothy, quite liked a book would be something of an understatement. She loved books. Gran once said that “one of the wonderful things about books is that despite reading being a solitary activity, in the main they can bring you together with other people”. Gran proved this often, with family, friends, neighbours, people in libraries younger than her whom she then founded book groups with, potential son in laws who liked Philip Kerr and random strangers on her travels. You name them, Gran could talk books with them.

The other thing she said recently was that “books can have the power to educate people and make you walk in their footsteps”. She would often read veraciously about places she was going to before she went and sometimes read a guide book so closely you would have to remind her she was actually in the place she was reading about. Yet Gran didn’t come from a bookish background, she was predominately a self taught reader.

Gran grew up in a house that only had three books, though a saving grace was that one of those was ‘Gone With The Wind’. Her father was away at war, her mum busy with all Gran’s siblings and so it was her eldest brother Derrick who would read Rupert Bear adventures to her and her younger brother Gordon from the Daily Express. However on his return from the war her father took Gran to the library often, it was there that she discovered the page turning addiction that is Enid Blyton and the adventures of the Famous Five.

From the library Gran progressed to Broadhurst’s book shop, which is still running, in Southport. Gran said “I couldn’t afford the books but I could sit in the corner and read, hopefully hidden”. She wasn’t as well hidden as she thought, thanks to a kindly bookshop owner though Gran was allowed to sit and read as she pleased from ‘The Scarlet Pimpernel’ onwards.

I don’t know much about Gran’s reading life when she was courting my Grandfather, Bongy, and had moved away from home to the suburbs of London. I do know that he influenced her reading, partly with his love of Anthony Trollope and how often he re-read ‘Barchester Towers’ which Gran soon caught. I also know that a discussion with Bongy made Gran read Hardy as, for some unfathomable reason, he mentioned there was a book in which a man sold his wife at a market like she was cattle’. Make of that what you will but it certainly made Gran read ‘The Mayor of Casterbridge’ even if out of incredulity.

Reading to her children Louise, Caroline, Alice and Matthew and helping them learn to read was something which gave Gran a great amount of joy. My mother, Louise, can remember hours with Peter and Jane and ‘This is Pat. Meet Pat the dog. Watch Pat run’ a little too well. It was the same with her grandchildren. I remember many an occasion cuddling up to Gran with a good story, even until quite recently. I still get that same feeling of excitement walking into a Waterstones as I did as a child. Trips to Scarthin Books with Gran have been a highlight of the last twenty years, or more, of my life.

Gran and I bonded over lots of things, books were a particularly constant source of conversation. She could be a book snob on occasion, only months ago asking if I had thought of reading ‘anything of any actual worth’ this year, scary. She often broke this snobbery though, sometimes by force like when she had to read all Philip Pullman’s ‘Northern Lights’ trilogy as Bongy had done the awful thing of only allowing Gran to pack four books for a whole four weeks away… she unashamedly cried her way through the final book by the pool, secretly loving every moment of it.

Mainly her love of reading was infectious. I’ve Gran to thank for my love of Kate Atkinson, Andrea Levy, Margaret Atwood and many, many others. Sometimes her enthusiasm could also be overzealous. For example when I was about halfway through the aforementioned Margaret Atwood’s complex and lengthy tome, ‘The Blind Assassin’, Gran suddenly said ‘Oh that is the book where **** happens at the end isn’t it?’ Then the awkward silence followed before an ‘oops’.

No matter what was going on in our lives, good, bad or indifferent, we could talk books and did so several times a week. She was always up for recommending something or have something recommended to her. Though I have recently noticed that a copy of a Barbara Cartland novel I bought her as a slight joke over a decade ago is still looking rather pristine.
It was the challenge of wanting to try new books and her love of discussion and bookish debate that led Gran to book groups. Some might say that joining three was slightly excessive, not for Gran. It seems she was a popular member of the groups whether she co-founded them or simply joined them. “Her opinion on a book was always looked forward to, even if sometimes with baited breath” her fellow member Jim told me. She was often seen as something of a book encyclopaedia, often called upon to name an author or book title that had slipped someone else’s mind. Invariably Gran would know exactly what they meant.

In the last few months I know it was hard with Gran not being able to read so much. I tried reading her new favourite series to her, unlike her big brother Derrick I didn’t do the voices and so in the end we had to settle with the audio book or episodes of The Archers.

Books still brought her joy in other ways during this time. Be it talking with friends and family about books or recommending them. We had marvellous discussions with nurses at various hospitals about books including a lengthy one at the Whitworth where we discussed what happened to the books in our heads. Did we just see the words, hear voices or watch a film playing in front of our eyes? There were also all the friends who visited who she had made through books and via book groups and all the laughter and smiles that they brought with them.

Gran’s reading legacy will live on through her children, grandchildren and great grandchildren when they arrive one day. Also through all the friendships that she made through books and reading and the book groups she started and joined. She loved getting any book recommendation, so on behalf of Gran, when you can, go and pick up one of her favourite authors, Graham Greene.

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Filed under Granny Savidge Reads

The House of Mirth – Edith Wharton

I am beginning to think that my little faux pas that Edith Wharton was one of the UK’s canon authors, when deciding on the six authors for ‘Classically Challenged’ with AJ, was actually a twist of fate and an accidental moment of brilliance. While I liked Jane Austen’s ‘Persuasion’ and enjoyed Charles Dickens’ ‘Great Expectations’ (let us gloss over Trollope’s ‘The Warden’) I have to say that ‘The House of Mirth’ simply surpasses them for me by a long stretch and has been the first to set me alight. I think it is probably going to become one of my favourite novels of all time and has reminded me what joys there are in the classics and forget the side that makes you feel like you are back at school. Now though I have the nightmare task of trying to write my thoughts on this book which I know will never really do it justice. Gulp!

***** Oxford University Press, paperback, 1905 (2008 edition), fiction, 368 pages, kindly sent by the publisher

In New York in the late 1800’s Lily Bart, at the ripe old age of twenty nine, is in the time of her life where she needs to find a husband. She has had many good seasons living with her rich friends of high society, which is quite miraculous as she herself is made of limited means and no fortune yet Lily is wily. We follow her on her quest to find a husband and the gambles she takes not only with her meagre allowance and cards but in the society she keeps and how she plays them and they play her.

Edith Wharton does some wondrous things in this novel. Firstly Wharton marvellously creates an overview of society at the time. As we meet her Lily actually spends most of her time living off her incredibly wealthy friends. Of course nothing comes for free. It is Lily’s beauty, wit and ability to seem fascinated by anyone and everyone whilst having them fascinated by her that gets her in with the right set. Keeping them as friends and on side however is the really tricky part and one that anyone would find hard to pull off. Lily knows that if she marries someone with utmost wealth she could have everyone at her bidding and the life she has always felt she is her due. This was the plight of many women at the time. When not living off friends though, Lily finds herself living off an aunt, Mrs Penistone, who took her because no one else would after her mother’s death. This relationship I think has a real psychological affect on Lily. She doesn’t want to owe anyone, apart from a husband, anything nor does she want to end up like many of the spinsters that her aunt knows, working in factories and living in boarding houses.

The second wonderful thing about ‘The House of Mirth’ is Lily Bart herself. Lily isn’t really likeable and yet we do like her. She has airs and graces above her station and yet she is witty and does care about people, well overall if we give her the benefit of the doubt. She is the creation of a society at the time along with the aspirations left upon her by her mother’s influence from a young age. There is a real sense of sadness and tragedy underlying her beauty and charm however and I think it is this that while we might not always think she is behaving as we would or correctly makes us like her and root for her all the same. For those of you who have read the book it was her behaviour with a certain collection of letters that showed her true character I felt.

With so much going on it is takes a deft writer to throw in another strand to the story and Wharton does this by introducing, from the very start in a brilliant set of paragraphs where he describes Miss Bart so we are left in no doubt as to her looks and personality, the character of Lawrence Selden. This is another master stroke. He is by no means a rich man having been forced to do the thing that everyone in Lily’s set dreads, work. As a lawyer the rich think he might be useful someday and indeed some of the rich married women of high society, like Bertha Dorset, find his handsome charms might just be the thing to provide some light relief in their lives or all sorts. There is a tension and chemistry between Lily and Selden however, though neither of them really wants it as both know that Lily ideally needs to marry for money, being a woman of no stature. Yet this friction and their love hate relationship are part of what we follow throughout.

‘Exactly. And so why not take the plunge and have it over?’
She shrugged her shoulders. ‘You speak as if I ought to marry the first man who came along.’
‘I didn’t mean to imply that you are as hard put to it as that. But there must be some one with the requisite qualifications.’
She shook her head wearily. ‘I threw away one or two good chances when I first came out – I suppose every girl does; and you know I am horribly poor – and very expensive. I must have a great deal of money.’

Their sparing with each other show what Lily is really thinking or planning and why. Also through Selden’s eyes we get this rather brutal and pitying look on Lily and the monster she threatens to become. This was another of the things I loved about this book; the ability of Wharton to flip between Lily’s perception of things and then to the perceptions others have of Lily and her actions, these perceptions of course being based on whether the person has sympathy for Lily or is in some way her rival or superior. This also highlights the calculating nature of a certain group of women, who Wharton was clearly aware of at the time, from the destroyer such as Bertha Dorset and indeed our own Lily in her calculations of how to get a suitably rich husband or live off others, whichever the case may be.

It was not that Miss Bart was afraid of losing her newly-acquired hold over Mr. Gryce. Mrs. Dorset might startle or dazzle him, but she had neither the skill nor the patience to affect his capture. She was too self-engrossed to penetrate the recesses of his shyness, and besides, why should she care to give herself the trouble? At most it might amuse her to make sport of his simplicity for an evening–after that he would be merely a burden to her, and knowing this, she was far too experienced to encourage him. But the mere thought of that other woman, who could take a man up and toss him aside as she willed, without having to regard him as a possible factor in her plans, filled Lily Bart with envy. She had been bored all the afternoon by Percy Gryce–the mere thought seemed to waken an echo of his droning voice–but she could not ignore him on the morrow, she must follow up her success, must submit to more boredom, must be ready with fresh compliances and adaptabilities, and all on the bare chance that he might ultimately decide to do her the honour of boring her for life.’

‘The House of Mirth’ is a real unflinching and honest lifting of the lid on society and how it worked just before the turn of the 20th century in America and you feel Wharton new exactly what was going on no holes barred. She also looks at the interesting divide of old money and new money and how the latter felt they had to win the other over until the Wall Street crash when roles were reversed. Here the initially, to Lily, odious Mr Simon Rosedale suddenly becomes the man everyone wants to know and many women want to wed. There are so many layers, sub plots and characters to the book I could go on all day, so I shall bring myself to a close and surmise.

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Having had some space from the book and time to mull it over there is very little doubt in my mind that ‘The House of Mirth’ is an absolute masterpiece and could easily be one of my favourite books. I loved Wharton’s prose, her humour and the fact she did completely the opposite of what I was expecting with Lily’s story which alas I can’t discuss in detail for I would completely spoil it for you if you have yet to read it – if that is the case you must go and get it now. Lily Bart walked fully off the page for me and I found myself thinking about her a lot when I wasn’t reading the book. Reading it is an experience, and I don’t say that often. One thing is for sure, I will not be forgetting the tale of Lily Bart for quite some time and I believe I will be returning to it again and again in the years to come.

Who else has read ‘The House of Mirth’ and what did you think? Did anyone else (without any spoilers please) see the end coming? What about Bertha Dorset, did anyone loathe her as much as I found myself doing? Did anyone else think that Selden was a bit of an ineffectual wet lettuce? Which other works of Wharton’s have you read, as I now want to get them all, and you would recommend?

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Filed under Books of 2013, Classically Challenged, Edith Wharton, Oxford University Press, Review

The Warden – Anthony Trollope

And so to the second in the series of books AJ and myself have chosen to read by ‘canon authors’ that we have called ‘Classically Challenged’ and to a book that I feel very conflicted about writing about to be honest. Though really the good things about a book like Anthony Trollope’s ‘The Warden’, and indeed any canon classic, is that the author is dead so they can’t take offence and the book has legions of fans already. Plus can anyone’s book thoughts really do justice to books with so much fame/infamy? Interestingly AJ and I have been saying how hard these books are to write about when you think about the legions of academics who have studied and poured over the books in the past, I would never simply say a classic was’ boring rubbish’ or just ‘dead good’ but you know what I mean. Can you tell I am procrastinating actually writing about my thoughts on this book at all?

Oxford University Press, paperback, 1855 (2008 edition), fiction, 336 pages, kindly sent by the publishers

‘The Warden’ is the first in the series of the Chronicles of Barsetshire/Barchester Chronicles, tales all constructed around a fictional English Cathedral town. The novel doesn’t have a particular date in which it is set but as you read on you realise it is very much about the Victorian period in which it was written. Really ‘The Warden’ centres on Mr Harding who is the precentor of the cathedral and also the warden of Hiram’s Hospital, an almshouse supported by a previous and now deceased Diocese of Barchester which supports several men in it and also the warden themselves. It is this income that has been bequeathed that a certain John Bold, a zealous reformer, wants to look into as it seems that Mr Harding gets around £800 a year for really doing very little, is that really what the Diocese wanted and that money not benefit more people in better ways? Throw in the fact Mr Bold is in love with Mr Harding’s youngest daughter Eleanor and all becomes rather awkward.

I have to admit that I just didn’t ever really get into ‘The Warden’ for several reasons. Firstly there was the problem of utter confusion. At the time this was published everyone reading would most likely know what a precentor of a cathedral was, I had no clue and going off an d looking it up I was given a mass of contradicting definitions, some simply said a clergyman others said a man in charge of the choir. I also just got confused with how an almshouse worked; again I went off a researched and still didn’t really get it. So coming to it from that angle, no matter how much I wanted to understand it was a slight issue.

My second issue with confusion was why John Bold was making such a fuss. Not because, as I agreed, the money was extravagant at the time but what on earth it had to do with him. Here I will be as honest with a well respected classic author as I would be with a debut novelist as I like to compare books as a reader not an academic… It seemed simply do be done for the story, throw in this love for Eleanor and there we have a vague plot of a Victorian Robin Hood when actually Mr Harding isn’t really a villain. Plus if you have read the book and see the outcome this all becomes all the more unsatisfying frankly.

I also found ‘The Warden’ a bit boring, both in terms of the subject matter, no offence to anyone of the cloth but it just doesn’t interest me much though that said if I’d enjoyed the book more I would have been happy to find out more, and also the writing. The first few chapters were really tedious trying to build a picture of the town, the history of Hiram’s hospital and Mr Harding situation itself, all ultimately being very confusing. It is also a book of a lot of ‘and then he did this, and then he did that, and then he did another thing’ which some people might like but I find the writing equivalent of those colouring in books where the colour matches the numbers, eventually there’s a picture but the effort wasn’t quite worth all that colouring in.

“As soon as he had determined to take the matter in hand, he set about his work with his usual energy. He got a copy of John Hiram’s will, of the wording of which he made himself perfectly master. He ascertained the extent of the property, and as nearly as he could the value of it; and made out a schedule of what he was informed was the present distribution of its income. Armed with these particulars, he called on Mr Chadwick, having given that gentlemen notice of his visit; and asked him for a statement of the income and expenditure of the hospital for the last twenty-five years.”  

Though in the main I found it rather dull and dry I did like some of his writing. Trollope does describe the setting of the town very well, if a little long windily, at the start of the ‘The Warden’. I could also see that there was some deeper under workings about class and social morality going on, they were just to encased in the mundane, which reminded me of ‘Mary Barton’ by Elizabeth Gaskell only much shorter thankfully. It even manages to put some dampners on some wonderful names and characters Trollope creates, Mr Sentiment, Sir Abraham Haphazard etc.  Also, when there is dialogue I felt the book really came alive it is just a shame this was few and far between.

“‘Why not!’ almost screamed the archdeacon, giving so rough a pull at his nightcap as almost to bring it over his nose; ‘why not! – that pestilent, interfering upstart, John Bold – the most vulgar young person I ever met! Do you know he is meddling in your father’s affairs in a most uncalled for – most…’ And being at a loss for an epithet sufficiently injurious, he finished his expression of horror by muttering, ‘Good Heavens!’ in a manner that had been found very efficacious in clerical meetings of the diocese. He must for the moment have forgotten where he was.  
 ‘As to his vulgarity, archdeacon’ (Mrs Grantly has never assumed a more familiar term than this in addressing her husband), ‘I don’t agree with you. Not that I like Mr Bold – he is a great deal too conceited for me; but then Eleanor does, and it would be the best thing in the world for papa if they were to marry. Bold would never trouble himself about Hiram’s Hospital if he were papa’s son-in-law.’ And the lady turned herself round under the bed-clothes, in a manner to which the doctor was well accustomed, and which told him, as plainly as words, that as far as she was concerned the subject was over for the night.”

So all in all I am really rather disappointed in ‘The Warden’. Partly because I got on so well with Jane Austen so hoped I would every classic I tried and also because my Granddad Bongy, who used to make those books for me as a child and is no longer with us, loved this book and indeed the whole series was a favourite so I hoped I would love it too. I haven’t written Trollope off though, especially since discovering this was his fourth and apparently most disliked novel, so maybe I should try more?

In fact why did so many of you vote for AJ and myself to read this book as the first Trollope if it is so dire, not that I am saying AJ disliked it you will have to check his review yourselves. I am a little more panicked about read Charles Dickens and ‘Great Expectations’ next now. Speaking of which check the post below to win a copy.

So what are your thoughts on ‘The Warden’? Have I missed something? Should I ever read another Barchester Chronicle, or try something else by him instead?

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Filed under Anthony Trollope, Classically Challenged, Oxford University Press, Review

A Blogging Breather; What I Was Up To…

And he is back! I didn’t intend not to blog for ages, quite the opposite, but sometimes life makes you stop and think, get some space, and then you realise you quite like having that imposed breather and so you self impose it for a little bit longer. I was at Gran’s from the start of last week and was thinking that post radiotherapy she might be quite tired and need lots of rest and reading time.  Therefore, in my head I was expecting lots of time reading together between chatting and the like, and then while she needed a rest I could blog… Erm, wrong!

It was non-stop! Gran is certainly making the most of life, as much as you can in a wheelchair, while she can and good on her. If there weren’t carers and/or physiotherapists and other health workers then there were visitors coming round. Then we had a day trip to Sheffield on a rare ‘no one is in the diary’ day, we had meant to go to see the Warhol exhibition but it was shut alas, so instead as she hadn’t had the joy for nearly five months we went and did some retail therapy, including a trip to John Lewis (or JL’s as its simply known in the Savidge family) which is one of Gran’s favourite places. Weirdly we didn’t go to any bookshops which I would have thought was a must. Gran did however treat me a lot, I felt like I was little again, with stops at a posh Museum restaurant (where I had the most amazing vegetarian fish and chips) and then a trip to Patisserie Valerie, she knows me so well.

 

We did do a lot of talking about books though. Since Gran’s prognosis she, understandably, has been having trouble concentrating on reading. She wants to re-read some favourites but alas the one she had picked, ‘The Birds Fall Down’ by Rebecca West, simply wasn’t gripping her. So we had fun going through all the books on the shelves in her dining room which is where she keeps all the books she has read as the ones she hasn’t read stay out of sight (now I know where I get that from) and seeing if any grabbed her. Truman Capote’s ‘In Cold Blood’ seems to have done the trick. This lead to some interesting chats about books and authors she hasn’t read any really wants to, and which I felt that way about, plus also reading habits and the life of a reader in general. It got me thinking and talking about reading and blogging and the pros and cons of both of them and between the two of us she has sorted me out. I won’t navel gaze in front of you all, as it is never attractive, but the gist is life and reading come first, blogging second and only when I feel like it and when I feel what I am putting out there is good enough. Many of you have been telling me this on and off for ages when I have had wobbles but Gran really clarified everything for me. So thanks Gran, the blog sort of restarts now.

Anyway, when I got back from Gran’s utterly exhausted, so how she isn’t is beyond me, I carried on with my break from reading and blogging and just had a bit of a breather. The Beard and I have been getting addicted to old black and white Joan Crawford movies, though we did have a break to see Breaking Dawn Part 2 which I thought was a bit of a dud and expected more from, and also got a little bit addicted to bowling – a sport I am actually good at! The Beard was shocked at how good I was, but they don’t call me Simon ‘Strike’ Savidge for nothing… ok, so they don’t call me that.

I have also been spending lots of time playing with Oscar. It seems the Bengal side of him is really coming out now as he is suddenly growing and exploring more places than he has been able to previously. He is also higher maintenance, everything is more extreme, when he is manic he is absolutely bonkers, when he wants a cuddle he sits on your face quite literally smothering you with love.

We have made a big decision though, we are getting him a playmate, most likely a younger girl that he can have rough and tumble and cuddly times with when we aren’t home as he doesn’t like going outside alone or without a lead, and when he has he ends up freaking out and running up tall trees to everyone’s dismay. Ha! Any tips on making them get on please let me know and of course I will introduce her when she arrives. But enough of cats for now, I can bore you all to death on them so must show restraint, ha!

The break has done me good though and the reading funk I didn’t realise I was in has well and truly gone as in the last three days I have read as many books and loved them all, interestingly they were all whim reads. It’s the way forward.

So that is me all up to date with you all. You have my news and latest on Gran, Oscar and other non bookish stuff. So now I shall go and curl up with Anthony Trollope’s ‘The Warden’ in time for Classically Challenged on Sunday. What have you all been up to and what are you reading right now?

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The Winners of ‘The Warden’

A quick post to announce the winners of the second giveaway of the second set of Classically Challenged titles which are ‘The Warden’ by Anthony Trollope. The three picked at random by The Beard from a hat who left comments on both my blog and AJ’s are…

Shukriyya
Chris of My Vermont Kitchen
Impossible Alice

Please drop me an email to savidgereads@gmail.com with ‘The Warden’ in the title and your postal details in the subject and the books will be sent out from OUP headquarters as soon as they possibly can be. I believe that ‘Persuasion’ should be in the post now to the two winners who emailed me. KATY you won a copy of ‘Persuasion’ too so please email me your address or you might not be able to read it in time – says the man who still hasn’t started it yet! Moving on…

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Classically Challenged Giveaway #2; The Warden – Anthony Trollope

I meant to post the winners of the previous Classically Challenged Jane Austen giveaway yesterday, that said I meant to do a whole new page for Classically Challenged full stop. Oops. So today I am giving away more books and announcing the winners of the three winners of ‘Persuasion’ in the same post. I myself have started ‘Persuasion’ now but it is too early to give you any details as to whether I think I am going to love it or not.

Anyway today the lovely Oxford University Press have kindly offered to give away three copies of ‘The Warden’, the first in the Barchester Chronicles, by Anthony Trollope on both my blog and another three on AJ’s blog too. Now as we have a bit longer to get the books to you this time the competition is open worldwide wherever you are. So if you have always fancied giving this book a try then now is the chance to get a lovely edition for nothing.

So what do you have to do to win one of these novels? Well, now that you have asked, you need to do the same thing, but twice. So firstly we would like you to tell us what your favourite series, or chronicles, of books are and why. AND you need to do this on both mine AND also AJ’s blogs. This actually gives you double the chance of winning and also means both me and AJ get to chat to you, as it were, which is doubly nice all round.

You have until midnight GMT on Saturday the 13th of October to enter the draw and the winners will be chosen at random out of a hat and announced on the following Monday when we announce which Dickensian delight we will be reading from your votes the last time round (as we haven’t had chance to tally them yet. Good luck!

P.S the winners of ‘Persuasion’ were… Russell, Katy and Rosie. Please email me your details to savidgereads@gmail.com with the subject ‘Persuasion’.

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Vicariously Through The Victorians…

As I mentioned a few weeks ago I really do love the autumn, especially for reading. I have been going through my TBR pile on and off over the last week and with certain worrying matters going on off the blog I have been looking for thrilling yet comforting books which will keep me reading. I tend to get readers block when lots of things are going on, I am sure this happens to all of us, and so these reads should combat this. However my version of thrilling yet comforting might not be the same as yours, as mine tend to involve the foggy, mysterious and dark streets of Victorian London, as the hoard I pulled down shows.

Now because I was being all arty-farty by having them on my ever-so suitable Victorian reading chair in the lounge you might not be able to make them all out. Well, it is quite a mixture. First up we have the fiction from the time in the form of ‘The Memoirs of Sherlock Holmes’ by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, which I think sums up Victorian London at that time wonderfully, along with ‘The Odd Women’ by George Gissing which I have to admit I really bought (ages ago) because of the title, it just sounds quite me. I am also planning, through my new venture ‘Classically Challenged’, on finally reading two of the authors that many say are the literary greats, Anthony Trollope and the Charles Dickens.

I have thrown in some non-fiction into the mix too. I really struggle with non-fiction, it has to have a narrative and drive or I just get bored. In the case of ‘Beautiful Forever’ by Helen Rappaport (which I think my mother bought me two maybe three Christmas’ ago, oops) there should be no worry at all as it is the tale of Madame Rachel of Bond Street who ‘peddled products which claimed almost magical powers’ ripped people off and blackmailed them. I cannot wait for this, why have I left it so long. The same goes for Mary S. Hartman’s ‘Victorian Murderesses’ which I found in a book swap cafe last year. I don’t tend to mention that I like true crime writing, well I do, and this one looks great. Finally, non-fiction wise, I have ‘Wilkie Collins’ by Peter Ackroyd (I should have read this in the spring) which I am hoping if isn’t a narrative based non-fiction book will hook me in because I am such a big fan of Wilkie, full stop.

Finally I have thrown in three neo-Victorian novels, interestingly all by female authors about fictional women who stood up to Victorian ethics by all accounts, ‘The Journal of Dora Damage’ by Belinda Starling, ‘Little Bones’ by Janette Jenkins and ‘Beautiful Lies’ by Clare Clark. So there is some really exciting reading to look forward to. Yet before I start all these I am going to be meeting some very special ladies who I will be asking for more recommendations from as I will be discussing Victorian books, why they are so tempting to read and to write with them on Tuesday at Manchester Literature Festival

 

Yes, Jane Harris of one-of-my-all-time-favourite-ever-novels ‘Gillespie and I’ fame, who has also rather luckily become a lovely friend and the lovely Essie Fox, who did a special Victorian episode of The Readers and has written ‘The Somnambulist’ and has ‘Elijah’s Mermaid’ coming out soon (which I have read in advance and cannot wait to tell you all about at the start of November. I will be asking them for recommendations from the period, about the period and set in the period – and reporting back of course.

Now… do you have any recommendations of books about/set in the times of/written by Victorians and if so what? Oh and if you have any questions for Jane and Essie let me know and I will ask them especially.

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Classically Challenged… Part II

So last week I told you of my plans with my friend AJ, of AJ Reads, to start challenging ourselves by reading some of the classic canon authors that are heralded by many as the greatest writers of all time, and yet are a selection of writers which neither of us has read. We chose Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton (who I had completely forgotten was American but we are going with it regardless), Thomas Hardy and George Eliot as six authors to focus on over six months but asked you to vote for which title by each author we should read. Well with the exception in the case of George Eliot, as we decided we needed to take on ‘Middlemarch’. Well you responded in your droves, and before I reveal which titles will be read and when, technically on your say so, I wanted to share some exciting news about the project…

The lovely people at Oxford University Press, after a natter with them, are rather thrillingly coming on board with the whole project. Who really could be better with all the Oxford World Classics they print (we have even been talking about doing a European version this time next year with Zola etc)? Now they aren’t sponsoring us or anything but they have kindly offered to help with some special posts and excitingly for all of you (and AJ and I as we have parcels on the way) give away copies of all the books that we will be reading over the next few weeks and months. Starting with a giveaway of the first read today, more on that in another post but that does link into what you voted for!

Both AJ and I were really thrilled with the amounts of votes on both our blogs and on GoodReads and the diversity of titles was quite interesting to see, some neither of us have heard of. Yet the figures have spoken for themselves and AJ has done some magic in making pie charts for each author and how the votes fell. I have made them small so that if you aren’t bothered on anything but the results you can scroll on, if you are more intrigued you should be able to click on them and make them bigger. Anyway, first up Jane Austen…

It seems this October we will be, on the last Sunday of the month as will become the routine, discussing ‘Persuasion’ which was a huge favourite with you all and surprised me as I was almost one hundred percent sure that it would be ‘Pride and Prejudice’ and might have to wade my way through the first fifty pages again. Seems not!

Next up in November will be ‘The Warden’ by Anthony Trollope, I was quite pleased at this because ‘Barchester Towers’ was initially doing really well but, as you may all know, I do like to start a series at the beginning and unlike some of the selections its relatively short.

December will be Dickens. Now here we have a slight problem and so the voting is remaining open, as ‘Bleak House’ and ‘Great Expectations’ are currently in a tie. So we need you all to vote for just one of them and say why. And if you do this in the comments of the post below you can win a copy of ‘Persuasion’ for persuading us, see what I did there?  There will be a second chance to vote again tomorrow with another giveaway.

In January we will be heading to ‘The House of Mirth’ with Edith Wharton which I am rather excited about. I have realised with both Dickens and this title I will get to see Gillian Anderson, who I love, in the adaptations I will watch after, no bad thing that.

February, we will be seeing the spring in with ‘Tess of the D’Urbervilles’. It was very nearly Thomas Hardy’s ‘Jude the Obscure’ which lots and lots of you said I would really like. Why? I have heard this is the most depressing book on earth, what are you all inferring? Ha!

Finally in March we will be reading the aptly titled ‘Middlemarch’ which by the length of it I won’t be starting in the middle of March but more likely at Christmas and reading it in parts, as it was serialised after all. Phew, that is the lot! If you are a little puzzled as to the chronological order, keep your eyes peeled on the new ‘Classically Challenged’ page on the blog which will be updated with a simpler schedule later.

In the meantime get voting for which Dickens novel we should read in the previous post (and/or on AJ’s post) from ‘Bleak House’ or ‘Great Expectations’ and you could win ‘Persuasion’ with your powers of, erm, persuasion. Also let us know if you might be joining in with any of them with us, we are hoping many of you will.

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Classically Challenged… Part I

Over the last few weeks and months you may have noticed I have really been thinking about my reading and blogging and just sussing where I am at. I have pondered if I am literary enough, what kind of reader I am and also last week discussing if I read enough worldwide literature. All big questions. Well, if you listen to this week’s episode of The Readers you will hear me talking to my friend, and now blogger, AJ who came on as a guest co-host and who like me has been pondering the same things. Like me he too has been slightly bothered that he hasn’t read many of the ‘canon’ authors like Dickens, Austen, and Hardy etc and so we have decided to rectify this together with ‘Classically Challenged’ and we need your help.

We have decided we are going to read six novels by six authors who are deemed some of the best British novelists (*subject to perceptions) but as yet we have both never read. This will take place on our blogs over the next six months on the last Sunday from October 2012 to March 2013. These authors will be Jane Austen, Anthony Trollope, Charles Dickens, Edith Wharton, Thomas Hardy, and George Eliot. We have both decided that we have to read Eliot’s ‘Middlemarch’, aptly in March, as it is deemed as one of the greatest British novels of all time. However we have not chosen a novel by each of the other four yet…

So, we would love you to suggest, in the comments below, one novel by each author which you loved/think would be the best way into their work. AJ will be collecting votes on his blog too, and we are asking on Goodreads. The novels which receive the most votes from all of you over the next week will be the ones we will read.

I can’t wait to hear your suggestions, and of course if you are planning on joining in. We will announce the schedule and six novels next week. So get voting; an Austen, a Dickens, a Hardy, a Trollope and a Wharton…

Note: I have learnt Wharton is American this was my bad research due to over excitement! We might have to swap her… or maybe not!

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The Comfort of a Series…

There is a real comfort in being able to open the pages of a book, cosy in your perfect reading spot, and being surrounded by a world that is familiar and where you are joined by some of your favourite characters. To me this is the joy of having an ongoing favourite series, and it’s been a saviour in the last few days after what had been a severe bout of readers block.

I had got myself into a vicious thought circuit of ‘why am I not reading anything, why am I not reading anything, why am I not reading anything’ last week, something I seem to do which I am aware only adds to the pressure but it can’t be helped. I was well aware I had a few of the submissions for The Green Carnation Prize to get through, which has involved some stunning reading, as we announce the longlist in just over a fortnight – but I needed a break. I instantly thought ‘right time for something completely different’ and so pulled down the next of M.C. Beatons Agatha Raisin novels ‘Agatha Raisin and the Love from Hell’ (if anyone is sniggering, these are awesome books) and before I knew it I had devoured that and polished off the next one ‘Agatha Raisin and the Day the Floods Came’. Then I got what I call ‘series guilt’.

In my mind ‘series guilt’, though maybe guilt isn’t quite the right word, is rather like when you have an author binge. You read one, want to read more and then think ‘hang on I have almost read all their books and I have no idea when the next one is out’. In the case of Agatha Raisin this doesn’t really apply, I have another eight (as I read two out of sync) to go. Yet I do get this with other series I read. Hence why I have stopped with Sophie Hannah, Paul Magrs etc, I don’t quite know when the next one will be so am saving the latest one for a while instead.

There are however three series that I will be playing catch up with as a bit of a reading treat for myself and because I know that I have quite a few more of the series of Susan Hill, Val McDermid and Tess Gerritsen to go. So expect to see these three books featured in more detail…

   

Isn’t it odd that these series are all crimes, well and one spooky-goings-on series? I think I need to be looking outside of the box. Though they are perfect for this time of year as autumn starts to show its true colours. I have also thought that the only way to not have to worry if a series is running out is to find some more to get into the swing of, and this is where you come in.  I would like your recommendations for some new series to find.

So I wondered if you would share your favourite series (or two) with me but also if you could let me know of any series of books which aren’t of a ‘genre’ so I can branch out. The only one I can think of at the moment is Anthony Trollope’s ‘Barchester Towers’. I know there are many more than just those, can you help?

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Not The TV Book Group – Summer Selection 2010

Well it’s been a while since the dust settled on the host’s sofa of the last Not The TV Book Group read hasn’t it? Time to reflect on how it all went, what we enjoyed and maybe what we didn’t so much. One of the things I think we all found (both we four hosts and those of you who joined in) was that a ‘scheduled read’ every fortnight was bloody hard work, even if like some of us you read two/three books or more a week!!

So we thought instead of a collective set of reads over the summer we would do something different and simply offer you a selection of reads that you might want to dip into over the summer months, and what a varied selection it is again for the summer. I think even more varied actually. This will be down to the fact there was no publishing date limit, and again no publisher involvement, and we chose books that we have already read. So without further waffle here are eight reads you might like to give a whirl over the forthcoming sunny *we hope* months…

Lynne of Dovegreyreader’s choices

The Last Secret of the Temple by Paul Sussman (Bantam Press, 2006)

If summer holidays are about an exciting page-turner of a read in between dips in the sea and an ice cream (well that’s what we do in Devon) then this book is perfect. An intelligently written and well-researched archaeological adventure as Egyptian Arab detective inspector finds himself teamed up with a worryingly bigoted Israeli counterpart and a Palestinian journalist in the search for an ancient artifact that must not fall into the wrong hands. The story spreads across the broadest of historical canvases…from ancient Jerusalem and the Crusades via Vichy France and the Nazi holocaust right through to present-day tensions in the Middle East but never loses its focus. Edge of the seat reading and countless unexpected plot twists might just have your ice cream melting because you forget to eat it.

The Great Western Beach – A Memoir of a Cornish Childhood Between the Wars by Emma Smith (Bloomsbury, 2009)

Whilst you’re on the beach you might as well read about one, and if you happen to be in Newquay you can wander around Emma Smith’s childhood haunts too. Life in 1920’s Newquay was ordered,calm and pleasurable. There were social events, visiting and the tennis club to be enjoyed, dance classes and daily lessons with a local teacher, friendships to be forged amongst the children, a life by the sea to be enjoyed but hovering over all was Emma Smith’s war-damaged father. Emma Smith has retrieved those memories over seventy years later as if yesterday. It has to be a huge achievement to write a child’s voice memoir like this, without investing it with the wisdom and hindsight of adulthood. Even better not a hint of sliding down that slippery slope into Misery Memoir, a book you won’t want to end.

Kirsty of Other Stories choices

The Loudest Sound and Nothing by Clare Wigfall (Faber, 2007)

This is one of my very favourite short story collections. If you’re not going away over the summer, then you can travel in your imagination with these stories. Never have I read a collection which spans so many places, times, ages, and backgrounds. Never have I read an author who is as comfortable writing in the dialect of a remote Scottish island as she is in the drawl of the southern states of America. In part, this might be one of the benefits of Wigfall’s life to date: according to the dust jacket, she grew up between London and California and now lives in Prague. A wonderful collection to dip in and out of throughout the summer.

Rachel Ray by Anthony Trollope (Oxford World Classics, 2008 –originally published in 1863)

I always think that long summer holidays are the perfect time to lose yourself in a nice, fat Victorian novel and novels don’t come fatter than those of Anthony Trollope. However, this time I’ve plumped for one of his shorter efforts, Rachel Ray. Despite there being important and serious themes running through the novel – the political, religious, commercial, and class warfare that permeates a community – it is also a funny book. Many of the characters have that slight Dickensian caricature about them, and many have wonderfully evocative names that would in no way be out of place in a Dickens story: Mr Prong, Miss Pucker, Mr and Mrs Tappitt (the brewers), Rev Comfort. Rachel Ray is a book rich in descriptions, and rich in characterization. There are shades of grey in everyone; everyone has good and bad qualities (don’t we all?) and there is hardly a character that doesn’t evoke both sympathy and frustration at various points. This is a great introduction to Trollope’s work.

Kim of Reading Matters choices

The Tortilla Curtain by TC Boyle (Bloomsbury Classic Reads, 2004)

If you like your summer reads to be entertaining but also meaty, with plenty to chew over and keep you turning the pages, then TC Boyle’s 1996 novel will fit the bill perfectly. Set in California, it’s a tale of the haves and have nots. There are two view points throughout, told in alternate chapters, which reveal the contrasts between the protectionist middle classes who live with a fortress mentality and the poverty-stricken illegal immigrants (from Mexico) who struggle to put food on their plate on a day-to-day basis despite the obvious and abundant wealth around them. The subject matter sounds heavy, but Boyle has such a lightness of touch and such a wicked sense of humour, that amid the tears there’s also plenty of laughs, too. This is the type of book that stays with you long after you’ve reached the final page…

Valley of Grace by Marion Halligan (Allen & Unwin, 2009)

This exquisitely designed book will make you look tres cool by the swimming pool this summer – even if you don’t read it. However, the content is equally divine: think Parisian streetscapes, chocolate shops, Antiquarian bookshops, beautiful gardens and crumbling old houses in need of tender loving care. Oh, and babies. This is a gorgeous collection of interwoven short stories set in modern day Paris. There’s a fairy tale quality to the writing, which makes Valley of Grace seem like a light, frivolous read, but scratch the surface and there’s a lot going on here, about hope and children and the ties that bind us together. Delicious.

Simon of Savidge Reads choices

Peyton Place – Grace Metalious (Virago Press, 2009 – originally published in 1956)

I know people always say that the summer months are for reading something lighter, something easier and many people might think Peyton Place is one such book because of its ‘trashy’ tag that it sadly gained. It’s not trash at all but an insightful, gossipy and most importantly of all well written novel about the goings on behind closed doors in a picturesque New England town. You will be gripped both by some of the dark storylines and their twists and turns but also by the wonderful characters. It’s pure escapism, but very well written escapism. Perfect for curtain twitcher’s or people watchers who want a little something salacious in the summer months and one that’s wonderfully written.

Mudbound – Hillary Jordan (Windmill Books, 2008)

It always amazes me that this book isn’t better known because it’s bloody marvellous! I am always a fan of authors who can take to a vast amount of places, through some unique characters and push you through several emotions all in a short space of time and with ‘Mudbound’ Hillary Jordan does that and more (I actually gasped and cried at this book I am unashamed to say). Set in the Mississippi Delta in 1946 we meet Henry and Laura McAllan take over a cotton farm, just as they are burying someone. Intrigued, you should be. What then follows is an epic (if you can have such a thing in 330ish pages) tale of war, slavery, racism and a love that shouldn’t be. This ticks all the boxes for a meatier summer read and will resonate with you long after, it’s a must read any season.

So there you have them! Will you be giving any of them a whirl? I have obviously read two of the list but other than that not a single on of them, though I do have one on the TBR (Claire Wigfall’s short stories) but several of the others are really taking my fancy ‘Valley of Grace’ and ‘The Last Secret of the Temple’ in particular. Have you already read any of them and if so what did you think? What did you make of my two choices? Let me know! Oh and a page for te NTTVBG Summer Selection 2010 will be live on the blog under NTTVBG as of tomorrow!

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Granny Savidge Reads

So Granny Savidge Reads (who it would appear is very popular and indeed in demand on this blog) has been staying and I know you have all been desperate to hear from the delightful Dorothy but we have been very busy hitting the museums, restaurants, galleries, cafes and of course bookshops of London town a city which my Gran ‘never tires of’ and still ‘gets excited by’.

Now I did ask Gran to write a blog but being such an upto date trend setter she has a mac and finds my computer a little bit daunting plus we didnt have much time and so until her next visit we decided she would do a top ten of her favourite books. This became a top twenty and I have been told to say that “at 67 years of age when you have been reading for almost 64 years having a top ten is impossible as you have read too many great books… well if you are lucky!” So here is Granny Savidge Reads (though if she ever heard me call her Granny she would be so unimpressed) top twenty books “in no particular order”…

  • Rabbit Run – John Updike
  • Emma – Jane Austen
  • Barchester Towers – Anthony Trollope
  • The Quiet American – Graham Greene
  • Vanity Fair – William Makepeace Thackeray
  • Anna Karenina – Leo Tolstoy
  • For Whom The Bell Tolls – Ernest Hemingway
  • East of Eden – John Steinbeck
  • Snow Falling on Cedars – David Gutterson
  • A Suitable Boy – Vikram Seth
  • The Handmaid’s Tale – Margaret Atwood
  • English Passengers – Matthew Kneale
  • Oscar and Lucinda – Peter Carey
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver
  • A Month in the Country – J.L. Carr
  • Reading Tugenev – William Trevor
  • The Secret Agent – Joseph Conrad
  • Small Island – Andrea Levy
  • The Naked and the Dead – Norman Mailer
  • All Quiet on the Western Front – Erich Maria Remarque

When I said I had only read one of those (I didn’t feel mentioning I had read half of Anna Karenina would count) which is of course Margaret Atwood’s ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ I could have sworn she muttered “call yourself a book blogger” hahaha, before realising “but I have bought you three of them… haven’t you read any of the books that I have bought you?” I was fortunately forgiven. Though I do think that ‘Snow Falling on Cedars’, ‘All Quiet on the Western Front’ and ‘The Poisonwood Bible’ need to climb my TBR sharpish before Dorothy descends again. Have you read any of these?

We naturally, especially in the 5th floor cafe/bar of the huge Waterstones in Piccadilly, talked alot about books. In fact Gran is one of the few people I can talk to about books on and off for two days without either party getting bored. We don’t agree on all books at all. I loved ‘The Time Traveller’s Wife” (which we discussed because of the movie being advertised everywhere) Gran thought ‘it wasnt up to much… and a naked man meeting a young girl, no its not right’ which of course made me guffaw.

I had lots of authors to ask her about and she came out with some gems. On Angela Carter “well its all this surrealism, and then she just rewrote someone elses stories no, not for me”. On Anita Shrieve “well I read one or two but by the third she is much of a muchness”. On Diana Athill (who’s ‘Somewhere Towards The End’ she read and cracked the spine of – I was shell shocked) “you wouldnt warm to her would you, and I don’t like all this pretending that she is poor”.

We do of course love some of the same authors. I have only just started reading William Trevor but agree “his prose is absolutely stunning” and that Margaret Atwood “isn’t one to be missed, even when I don’t like her – which is rare – she is still very good” and Anne Tyler “oh I do like her, does she have a new one out, can you get me a preview copy?”.

She has already booked her next visit, and may indeed be here for one of my theme’s coming up, either the whole September theme (I am teasing you all with that one) or for the special fortnight I am now planning in October which is also her birthday month and we are going to do afternoon tea at The Ritz just before or just after. On that visit she has promised she will do a blog or two “and you can show me how to create and work one of these blogs… I wouldn’t mind having a go.” Which sounds interesting!

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