Tag Archives: Thomas Hardy

Do I Want To Read… Charles Dickens?

I haven’t done a ‘Do I Want To Read’ post for sometime but seeing as I know I will be moving when this goes up, there really are occasional bonuses to being able to schedule a post if it all goes right, and as it will also be his 200th Birthday (I could go on about what would happen if we celebrated everyone’s 200th but I won’t, oh I did) I thought maybe it would be appropriate to ask you all about Mr Dickens and what you would recommend this reader do with the ‘Dickens difficulty’ he has.

Happy 200th Birthday Charlie-Boy!

My mother, no less, has said on many occasional that I shouldn’t really call myself a reader if I haven’t read Dickens, or maybe it was Hardy… or maybe Austen (I have failed at all three in the main). I tried to argue this one out and failed, she is an English teacher after all. We have also come to snarky sneery banter about Shakespeare; I hated him at school and have been unable to shift this phobia. Anyway let’s discuss my ‘Dickens dilemma’ further, for it is his birthday and should be all about him.

I have tried and failed with Dickens on four occasions now. ‘Oliver Twist’ was first, I thought being a tale for children it might be the easiest way in, along with the fact it was one of the shortest. The 22 year old me just didn’t like it, remember he wasn’t the best reader though – or certainly not a patient reader shall we say, I have no idea why now but I simply didn’t enjoy it and so probably promptly moved onto an Agatha Christie.

The following year came Andrew Davies adaptation of ‘Bleak House’ which being made by the BBC and starring Gillian Anderson (I am of the X Files generation, what can I say) enticed me to watching the whole 15 episodes which I really enjoyed and thought ‘ooh I must read the book’. I started it and thought it was ok, then I got lost with all the characters and plot (which seemed so much more graspable in the adaptation, enough said) and these dreaded words ‘well the TV show was much better’ were actually muttered out of my mouth. I think dear reader I might just have heard you muter ‘heathen’ under your breath. Rude.

Moving in with a very well read family member in December of 2010 who was also, very important for this post, is a huge Dickens fan I found my interest peaked again. ‘Great Expectations’ was the recommendation, apparently his most accessible work. If I remember rightly I think Polly of Novel Insights and I were considering reading it that Christmas, in fact knowing our Christmas Classics pact she probably did, I picked it up, got on with it ok but wasn’t held enough to read it right through. My bookish magpie eyes kept seeing other newer shiny reading gems. We parted ways about page 80-90, we haven’t faced each other since.

This Christmas we had another adaptation of Dickens ‘Great Expectations’ on the BBC, and again with Gillian Anderson once more I was drawn into the show. But I decided to hold off watching and try to read the book instead. Until I saw someone on twitter give away the fiery ending and so I thought ‘what’s the point now?’ I soon settled down with some of his ghostly stories instead but Scrabble, Spite & Malice or (the most likely) a Snowball cocktail lead me away from them.

Yet I do still want to try him, so oh wise readers of this blog… where should I start?

(And will anyone else please own up to not having ever finished a Dickens so I don’t feel such a literary loner? I have also noticed I didn’t mention the Queen yesterday, but frankly 60 years ruling a country vs. me moving house, which is bigger news? Ha!)

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Taking Little Novel(la) Risks…

I am deep in the middle of reading Man Booker longlisted novels for We Love This Book and also the submissions for the Green Carnation Prize and it’s made me realise, and often without those two excuses, that I do tend to read a lot of contemporary fiction. In fact looking at my reviews most of them now veer towards books published in the last year or soon out. I have started to feel I am missing out on books pre-2010/11 and I think I need to combat that.

I also worry I’ve not read enough of ‘the greats’ either. I’m not just talking about Jane Austen, Thomas Hardy and Charles Dickens (seriously I haven’t read them, I shouldn’t call myself a lover of books should I?) but also writers like Somerset Maugham or Forster and what about modern-ish classic writers like Philip Roth or Gabriel Garcia Marquez? Well the other day I had a slight epiphany.

Going to the library one lunch time this week (as I don’t already have enough books do I?) I saw ‘Lesley Castle’ by Jane Austen. It was very short, it would be a taster of her writing. I had a brainwave, why not search the shelves for some authors I have meant to try/heard are masters from all eras and find the shortest books by them too? This is the collection I pulled off the shelves…

20110825-144013.jpg

I wanted a real mixture from all eras, areas of the world etc and so I ended up with ‘Lesley Castle’ by Jane Austen, ‘Claudine in Paris’ by Colette, ‘Memories of my Melancholy Whores’ by Gabriel Garcia Marquez, ‘The Lady and the Little Fox Fur’ by Violette Leduc (which Simon T has mentioned), ‘Up At The Villa’ by W. Somerset Maugham and ‘Anthem’ by Ayn Rand. What a collection!

I am going to read them randomly at whim, well I have already devoured two on trains in and out of town this week, but I like the idea of slowly upping my classics in take and being introduced to new older authors between more ‘current’ reading.

What do you all think of this idea? Do any of you do all this already? How do you try and keep a more stable reading diet combined with a whim routine? Or do you not?

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Are We Reading Eclectically Enough?

I don’t want to keep banding the cancer word about, yet I do think its interesting that since I was told that those evil cells were now firmly friends of mine I have been thinking differently about reading. I mentioned last week how I went from racing through lots of books and today I wanted to discuss how it made me wonder if I was actually reading eclectically enough, and eclectic reading in general, so I hope you will all offer your thoughts.

I was actually eavesdropping at the hospital waiting area where they have a book exchange, which I find an interesting idea in a hospital, I mean the NHS have been great but no one wants to be coming back and forth to a hospital do they really no matter how necessary – sorry I have digressed. So anyway I was eavesdropping as a couple were routing through the shelves. They came across a copy of an unnamed but incredibly pastel coloured book and the woman said ‘oh even I wouldn’t read that it looks like utter chick lit nonsense’. On a separate visit a different pair were routing through the books on the shelves and came across a book that she described as ‘dafty alien rubbish, that’s the kind of thing you would read’ before shooting an eyebrow up at him. I found this interesting as both assumptions I had made about the same two books yet hearing them out loud I thought ‘oooh what snobs’ and then thought ‘oh dear does that make me a snob?’

I am hoping it doesn’t as really I would classify sci-fi and chick lit not as books that I am snobby about but just ones that aren’t really to my taste. This used to be the same for non-fiction books, however I have slowly but surely started to convert myself, and the same applies to classics actually (though these were more books that English Literature lessons at school put me off rather than me being adverse to them in the first place) which I have been trying harder at… occasionally, in fact I should be making more of an effort with the classics again and finally read a Jane Austen, Charles Dickens or Thomas Hardy if I am honest.

Why don’t I think I like sci-fi, fantasy and chick lit? Well I have never been a huge fan of aliens in books, in films and TV it’s fine, I used to love The X Files and am still a fan of Doctor Who (though not to excess), but for some reason on the page its never quite washed with me. I have yet to read a book that has convinced me by an alien world. The same applies to fantasy, I tried Lord of the Rings when I was younger and just thought it was ridiculous and have carried that thought, without testing it again, ever since. Weirdly though I love a good tale of the supernatural or ghost story, not that they are the same but its interesting a spooky world can ignite me (yet I don’t tend to read horror either) yet an alien or troll filled one doesn’t seem to.

Chick lit and I used to be friends. Who hasn’t read Bridget Jones Diary, and what made people less sneery about that book than others? My friend Gemma has been telling me for ages I must read Marian Keyes and I have always winced a little and said ‘really?’ I have been told to read Jenny Colgan often by Paul Magrs and the same response has been given. Yet I used to read everything by Lisa Jewell, and ‘A Friend of the Family’ is still one of my favourite books, and yet I havent picked up another in years and years. Why not?

So maybe its time to challenge myself, I have pulled four books I have been sent (I couldn’t find any fantasy) out of the TBR and they are by the bedside and will be little tests, to be read on a whim of course, that will gently test the waters with my tastes once more (the Daisy Goodwin sounds up my street, I have seen the film of I Am Number Four, Jessica Ruston is Susan Hills daughter so have always wanted to try her and I have had success with China Mievilles crime novel so might with his full on sci-fi)…

But I think its time for a gauntlet to be thrown down and see if maybe I need to be a bit more adventurous. So I thought you could all help by suggesting your favourite books in various genres (because I am aware that while I love crime fiction books there are lots of you who don’t) and seeing if we could enlighten each other to what books we have loved that might open new reading paths for each other. So here are the categories and I have put my favourites in and left question marks in the ones I have no idea about .I have missed out literary fiction as I never really know what that means; I just think that’s general fiction isn’t it or have I opened a can of worms there? Have I missed any other genres?

Chick Lit: ?
Crime Fiction: Any of the series by Tess Gerritsen, Sophie Hannah or Susan Hill
Horror: ?
Fantasy:  ?
Non-Fiction: In Cold Blood – Truman Capote, Letters Between Six Sisters edited by Charlotte Mosely
Science Fiction: ?

Anyway it could be a fun little exercise for a Tuesday. If you don’t fancy giving it a go then do let me know your thoughts on eclectic reading (or do both) in general. Are there any genre’s out there you avoid and if so why? Do you often test the waters with genres you think you don’t like to see if your mind can be changed or do you think with so many books out there life is just too short and it’s best just sticking to what you know? Is all of this just a question of taste, can you be converted?

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Spending Sundays With A Classic?

No, no you haven’t gone mad and neither have I. I am well aware that today is Saturday and not Sunday. However today seems a befitting day to launch a little something new, that gets me (and maybe some of you if you fancy) back into those classics. It’s also something I will need – oh how demanding of me – I mean I would love your recommendations and suggestions with. Right let me explain…

A few things have conspired with me in the last few weeks that have made me start to yearn for some classics. One factor has been that suddenly August has become really autumnal in the UK (I am hoping it is going to be better for the three day weekend we are all having here) and in London the main view from my windows has been rather like this:

A photo by my good friend Dom Agius (www.domagius.com)

Yes that’s right, rain ready, delightfully dramatic but also most certainly autumnal. The perfect sort of weather to curl up on your sofa or in bed and get curled up with some classics. It seemed most serendipitous then that I had decided that as I was reading so much modern fiction (for a certain something) for a change of scene I would join in with reading ‘I Capture The Castle’ by Dodie Smith for Cornflower’s Book Group which will be being discussed today. (I am supposedly on an internet ban by The Converted One this weekend as I have been overdoing it with work and everything and we have very few free weekends before we head for Brazil, if not I will catch up after.) I will be spilling my full thoughts on ‘I Capture The Castle’ very soon, but getting back to something older, not that it felt dated, had a certain something about it – especially seeing as it was a book I bought ages ago and have been meaning to read anyway. I wondered, have been getting swept up in the modern a little too much?

I had mulled over doing another ‘Sensation Season’ a month or two ago and then again a few weeks ago but I thought maybe it was time for something a bit different. So instead what I am going to do is be ‘Spending Sundays With A Classic’. Not every Sunday mind you just a few here there and everywhere but I will let you know which ones are coming up and when (should I simply give you a few weeks notice or have a sort of schedule, what do you think?) and maybe if you would like to you can join in.

Now before I ask you lots of questions about classics I thought I would share my initial six possible contenders (don’t judge me on not having read them sooner, ha) which are…

  
  

  • Jane Eyre – Charlotte Bronte
  • The Great Gatsby – F. Scott Fitzgerald
  • Crime and Punishment – Fyodor Dostoevsky
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  • Emma – Jane Austen
  • Great Expectations – Charles Dickens

Is there anyone out there left who hasn’t read those already? I bet I am one of the last people ever to the party of these books, but maybe some people will want a re-read, or I am happy to read alone. This isn’t the definite list of six, just the initial one that called to me from my TBR pile. Now what I want is for you to answer some classic questions and they are these;

  1. What do you define as a classic?
  2. What is your favourite classic of all time so far that everyone on earth should be made to read?
  3. Which classic have you just never really managed to get on with?
  4. Which classic books have you yet to read but really must get around to?

Right… over to you then…

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Tackling The Tomes

Following on from yesterday’s post about reading at leisure and just going off at a tangent I was mulling through my shelves and spotted one that has been getting no attention since I moved into my new house. Now I am a big fan of seeing other people’s shelves on their blogs, for example Claire of Paperback Reader has done a series of colour co-ordinated shelves which looked stunning. I tried this back in February and though it looked lovely I couldn’t ever find anything and so that became a bit of a nightmare, if an aesthetically pleasing on, I know it works wonderfully well for a lot of people though.

When I moved house back in July I inherited lots of new shelves in my room as well as the shelves “for books I have read” in the lounge. The question was how to organise them so I did a hardback shelf, a review paperback shelf, a non fiction shelf, a mixture shelf (books by Daphne, Man Booker winners and dare I say it books I haven’t finished), a short reads shelf and the shelf of today’s post The Blinking Big Books shelf.

Blinking Big Books

Now some of the titles have been must reads for ages and I think one or two of them may end up in my packing for my long weekend up north that’s coming up. The ones I have heard lots about and am looking forward to reading are…

  • Small Island – Andrea Levy (on of my Gran’s fav’s)
  • A Widow for One Year – John Irving
  • The Little Friend – Donna Tartt
  • The Mysteries of Udolpho – Ann Radcliffe
  • Birdsong – Sebastian Faulks
  • Tess of the D’Urbervilles – Thomas Hardy
  • Alias Grace – Margaret Atwood
  • The Poisonwood Bible – Barbara Kingsolver (another of Gran’s favourites)
  • The American Boy – Andrew Taylor
  • Beyond Black – Hilary Mantel
  • Crime & Punishment – Dostoevsky

The ones I am not so sure about which have either been bought for me, sent to me or randomly purchased in shops ‘because they look nice’ (and could do with your thought on, though do give them on the ones above too) are…

  • Of Human Bondage – W Somerset Maugham
  • At Swim Two Boys – Jamie O’Neil
  • The Impressionist – Hari Kunzru (one my Mum very much liked)
  • Special Topics in Calamity Physics – Marissa Pessl
  • The Forsythe Saga – John Galsworthy
  • Rebecca’s Tale – Sally Beauman (a Rebecca sequel/prequel)
  • The Historian – Elizabeth Kostova
  • The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters – G. W. Dahlquist
  • The Madness of a Seduced Woman – Susan Fromberg Schaeffer
  • The Grave Diggers Daughter – Joyce Carol Oates

There are a few more (such as the book We Need To Talk About Kevin that I may try and re-read after failing miserably) but that’s quite enough for now. I would just like your thoughts on them especially as I always find really long books quite hard work. I don’t know why this is, one possible explanation is the fact I think about how many shorter books I could be reading. Or the fact they are a bit of nightmare to carry around with you when you are commuting, though I won’t be for quite a while so that’s another excuse down. It could of course just be I am reading the wrong ones?

What are your thoughts on great big books? Which have been your favourites? Do you avoid them at all costs? Do I have any gems above that I simply must read now? Anything big bookish to add?

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