July Reading

In an unprecedented display of efficiency, I’m actually posting my July reads at the end of July instead of sometime in the next month. The reason is that as my cousins are visiting from Friday to Sunday, I won’t get much more reading done, so I might as well do my wrap-up today.

SilverBrumby

Ongoing project:

Murasaki Shikibu and Royall Tyler (trsl.), The Tale of Genji
I read a few pages this month but not that many. I’ll have to pick up again next month.

Poetry:

Roger Lonsdale (ed.), Eighteenth-Century Women Poets
I started this anthology for Jane Austen July and am enjoying it very much. I’m about half way though and will continue with it till I’m done. It’s a shame that these poets aren’t more widely known, as they are just as good as male poets.

Short Stories

Robert L. Mack, Arabian Nights’ Entertainments
I didn’t make much progress with this either, but I’ll keep at it.
Also short stories by Laurie R. King listed with the novels.

Non-Fiction

  • Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own
    This was also a round-about Jane Austen July book. It was very good, see my review if you are interested.
  • Peter Martin, Samuel Johnson: A Biography
    This one I reviewed yesterday. Not bad but only if you are interested in the details of Samuel Johnson’s life. But in that case, you should start with Boswell’s Life, which is great.

Novels

  • Jane Austen, Persuasion
    Read for Jane Austen July – very good.
  • P.D. James, Death Comes to Pemberley
    Also part of Jane Austen July. I reviewed it and Persuasion here.
  • Janice Hadlow, The Other Bennet Sister
    Another excellent (except maybe a bit long) novel for Jane Austen July, reviewed here.
  • Laurie R. King:
    • Mary Russell’s War and Other Stories of Suspense
    • The Language of Bees
    • The God of the Hive
      My ongoing project to read all of the Mary Russell and Sherlock Holmes series, reviewed here.
  • Elyne Mitchell, The Silver Brumby
    Revisiting my childhood with this lovely book about the adventures of a special wild stallions in the mountains of Australia. I wrote a bit about it in this post and then felt the need to read it once again. It’s very good and available on Kindle. My edition is an old library book which I got second-hand, which has lovely drawings of brumbies and other Australian wildlife (see the photo above).

July was a good reading month – I read a lot and managed to write all the reviews this months, too. I’m not sure if I ever managed this before. I hope you also had a good time reading in July!

Keep safe, world.

Jane Austen July 2

One of my TBRs for Jane Austen July was Claire Tomalin’s autobiography A Life of My Own. Tomalin wrote a biography of Austen, which I liked, and I also read (and liked) her biography of Nelly Ternan (who was Charles Dicken’s secret lover) last year. A rather tenuous link to the challenges of Jane Austen July, but who cares? I enjoy reading biographies and therefore thought the autobiography of a writer of biographies would be an interesting read – and it definitively was. I think I’ll eventually read some of Tomalin’s other biographies, as I do enjoy her writing very much.

Tomalin

Tomalin belongs to the generation of my mother. She’s actually a few years older than my Mum, but I found a couple of episodes in her life that resonated somewhat with my own experiences (although in general her life was nothing like mine – I’m not a well-known editor and author to name just the most obvious difference). Tomalin was born to an English mother and French father, who divorced when she was a child so that she sometimes lived with one, sometimes with the other parent (though mostly with her mother, who was a composer of music). Tomalin studied English at Newnham College, Cambridge. She married young and had 5 children one of whom died shortly after birth. She worked as a literary editor for the newspapers New Statesman and The Sunday Times before she started writing biographies full time at 53. She lost her first husband, a journalist, who was killed covering the Yom Kippur War in 1973. Later in life she had a second marriage.

Her autobiography is a mix of narrating what happened with a lot of name-dropping (but not obnoxiously so) and some introspection. I would have preferred a bit more of the latter, but that’s just a quibble.

One bit I could specially relate to was that she got glasses when she was twelve, which I did too, although my reaction was the opposite to hers. Here’s Tomalin’s account:

At the same time, it was discovered that I suffered from short sight and I was given my first pair of glasses. I detested having to wear them and left them off whenever I could; and I was especially disappointed to find that the stars, which had appeared to me as fuzzy shining shapes, became merely small dots in the sky. I still often take my glasses off during a walk in the country, to see it with a softer aspect, a vagueness I find congenial.

Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own, Viking 2017, p.55.

I’m also short-sighted. When I got my first pair of glasses at 12, I was amazed at how clear and shiny the world was after having seen everything as a murky blur for quite some time. I remember that as I was going to pick up my glasses with my parents, I saw a dingy brown shopfront with grey writing above the shop window. This shop was opposite the optician’s shop and when I first put on my glasses, I looked out straight at that very shopfront and was absolutely astonished at the lovely chocolate-colour and the bright crisp white lettering on that building. I couldn’t believe it – I took off my glasses and put them on again to check. And then I spent the entire afternoon hanging out of the window of the house where we were staying just looking. Cars were especially noteworthy. They also were so crisp and bright, not just coloured blurs on wheels. I absolutely adored my glasses (still do) and never take them off (except when I’m sleeping). Quite different from Tomalin’s experience but I find her appreciation of “vagueness” intriguing.

During her studies at Newnham, someone introduced her to Moby-Dick:

He also urged me to read Melville’s Moby-Dick, and I bought myself a small edition of that very long book, dating it January 1953 […] I tried and failed to get on with it, but kept my copy for six decades and, when I finally read it in 2015, I found that George was right: it is a great and noble book, presenting many men of different faiths who live tolerantly together, different topics, chunks of history, distant seas, complex feelings and sensations.

Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own, Viking 2017, p.105

I also read Moby-Dick at university (in 1996 as I noted in my paperback). But I loved it straight away and it is one of my favourite books, up with Toni Morrison’s Beloved or The Lord of the Rings. I’ve still got that paperback and maybe it’s time to revisit it.

She writes about grief, how it changes your perception and relation with the “pleasures offered by the world” (p. 254) which is relatable to anyone who’s ever lost a loved one. You get over the grief eventually (although it can spike now and then), but you never forget them and in time you focus on the good times and it makes you appreciate your life and relationships more deeply, I find.

She was 53 when she left her job at the Sunday Times and became a writer of biographies:

Working on a biography means you are obsessed with one person and one period for several years. Another life is bound up with yours and will remain so for the rest of your own life – that at least is my experience. […] Your interest is so strong it can be called a passion.

Claire Tomalin, A Life of My Own, Viking 2017, p.284.

This kind of struck me and made me ponder my own situation, because I’m currently 53 but I’m not going to leave my job and start a new career. I haven’t got a passion like Tomalin except for reading but who’s going to hire me to read? Also, as a job, reading might become a slog and that would be just terrible.

Luckily, although my job is not my passion, it’s a good job, so no need to drop everything and start anew. It’s also quite secure, even during the pandemic, and I like the reassurance that a secure job provides. My colleagues are mostly very lovely people and the job has a lot of different facets, so it doesn’t get tedious (some bits are boring, but you get that with most jobs). It does sometimes get stressful and annoying, but on the whole it’s quite doable and often even enjoyable. I tend to moan on the blog about the things that go wrong, but it’s also kind of fun to deal with roadblocks (to a degree, not if it happens all the time). Also, my job pays well and has good benefits which is nothing to sneeze at (especially if you have a degree in the humanities which can make it hard to find a good job). I can even afford to work only 4 days a week instead of 5. That’s the best decision I ever made (10+ years ago), even if it cost me 20% of my salary – the additional free time is so, so worth it). Sometimes I think that it’s a pity that I haven’t got a job that’s also a passion, but then I think “count your blessings, it could be much, much worse”. There are so many dreadful and underpaid jobs – I generally think passion about jobs is overrated. It’s great if you’ve got it, but it’s very possible to be content in a job without being passionate about it. Though it’s helpful if you have something to be passionate about in your free time.

But to return to A Life of My Own: it’s very good and I enjoyed it a lot. I always like it when other people’s experiences broaden my view of the world and cause me to reflect on my own life. That’s why I read autobiographies, memoirs and biographies.

Keep safe, world.

October Reading

In October I had two weeks’ vacation. The first week was spent on the Baltic coast with my Partner, my cousins and Curious Dog, so not that much time for reading. The second week was at Mum and my place in Bavaria (with Curious Dog, of course) so quite a bit of time for my favourite activity. Let’s see if this had an effect on the number of books read.

Ongoing Projects:

  • Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
    Done! This year’s read along with one of my best friends brought to a triumphant conclusion. It was a great read, and I hope to get around to writing a report on in. We’re considering which book to read next year.
  • Robert Burton, The Anatomy of Melancholy
    Total fail again, as usual. I’m going to come up with a new plan to get through it next year (or maybe make a two-year plan). We’ll see. Or maybe I should just sit down and read it in a couple of weeks? Probably not. I do think it’s good for sampling in small doses.

Poetry:

  • Daniel Karlin (ed.), The Penguin Book of Victorian Verse
    I finished this magnificent collection. It was great, and I’m sure I’ll be rereading this one often. What struck me was that at least half of these poems are about death or death-in-life. Some of them are quite dark.
  • Thomas H. Johnson (ed.), Final Harvest: Emily Dickinson’s Poems
    I didn’t feel like dragging the big Penguin collection along on my vacation, so I read a few of Dickinson’s poems during that time. I’m very fond of Dickinson and should read this entire collection (which I was gifted by one of my university professors) and then I should get her complete poems. They are so great…

Short Stories:

  • Jay Rubin (ed.), The Penguin Book of Japanese Short Stories
    Again, I continued reading these short stories and enjoy them. I’m at about the half-way mark. I didn’t read a short story per day in October, as I was reading other things.
  • Gardner Dozois (ed.), The Year’s Best Science Fiction: First Annual Collection
    I only read a couple of these, but they are good.

Non-Fiction:

  • Jenny Harley (ed.), The Selected Letters of Charles Dickens
    Very interesting. I only dipped into these letters every now and then and have only read about a fifth of them but will definitively keep going.
  • A. N. Wilson, The Mystery of Charles Dickens
    Shows how Dickens’ life left distinct traces in his books. Some of my comments are here.
  • Claire Tomalin, The Invisible Woman
    A fascinating biography of Ellen Ternan, Dickens’ lover. I wrote a few thoughts here.
  • Mary Seacole, The Wonderful Adventures of Mrs. Seacole in Many Lands (1857)
    A BookTube inspired Victober read, very good. A kind of alternative Florence Nightingale autobiography, which I still want to write a review on. This one I finished while on the Baltic. A slim book.

Three and a bit non-fiction books read in October, not bad at all.

Graphic novel:

Total fail. I’m still not feeling like reading graphic novels.

Novels:

  • Charles Dickens, The Old Curiosity Shop
    The first of my October Dickens’ novels. It wasn’t bad, but not one of my favourites. Here’s my review.
  • Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
    The second novel by Dickens read in October – in honour of Victober. I absolutely loved it but have yet to write a review.
  • Toni Morrison, A Mercy
    Another one of Morrison’s historical novels, set far back in the 1690s, during early slavery times in America. Shows how slavery affects the lives of a Dutch couple and their three slaves. Also shows how similar to slavery indentured servitude was. I will write a review; just finished it yesterday.
  • Russel Kirk, Old House of Fear
    A book club read, not bad, but not as good as expected. The gothic horror elements are sadly underdeveloped and what’s left is an atmospheric adventure set on a fictional island of the Hebrides. Not bad, a quick read, but not great (like, for instance, the short stories by M. R. James).
  • Michel Faber, D: A Tale of Two Worlds
    A Dickens-inspired work of children’s literature. An imaginative adventure by a lovely heroine, Dhikilo, a young girl from Somaliland who lives with her adoptive English parents in an English sea-side town. The fantastic creatures she meets in a second world (to which all the letters “D” are being abducted with dire consequences for our world) are all based on Dickens characters, but reinterpreted. The fantasy story is full of suspense, but fairly gentle, suitable for children but also lovely for adults – I especially liked identifying the Dickens’ characters the fantastic characters are based on. Also well done is Dhikilo’s experience as a person from Somaliland in an English setting. A quick and enjoyable read.

Well, that was a nice number of books read, even though I had a hellish two work weeks after my vacation. Guess I got most of my reading done in the second week, when I was on vacation, but staying home in Bavaria. Over Christmas, when, I reckon, I’ll be taking my usual three weeks off, I’ll have a longer stretch of reading time (if nothing comes up). Looking forward to it already. I didn’t read many short stories, and no graphic novel, but everything else was very satisfying.

Monday Miscellanea

I had a mostly relaxed weekend after my stressful week at work. The weather wasn’t great, but it wasn’t bad either. On our walk with Curious Dog on Sunday, we found some more walnuts that had fallen during the night, when it was windy and rainy. I thought that they were all already fallen, but obviously not.

Talking about walks with Curious Dog, he currently doesn’t want to go out in the Morning, ever since he gave himself that electric shock from the cattle fence last Monday. Somehow, he seems to think that it’s dangerous leaving the house in the morning. He has no problem with afternoons. I’ve always managed to get him to come out, but it’s not been easy. A lot of bribery and a bit of scolding. Once he’s outside, he walks as normal unless we want to go in the direction of the offensive fence (even if it is really far off, like a couple of kilometres). Then he sits himself down and refuses to go on. So, another round of enticements and scolding. Oh well, I guess sooner or later he will forget about it and act normal again. Then we’ll probably run into another problem. Poor guy, real bad luck with that stupid electric fence. But there’s no point in giving in to his hang-ups because mornings are the best times to go for walks, especially in summer. Anyway, once he’s outside, he does enjoy his walk.

We watched Little Women (2019) on Saturday but I didn’t like it as much as I had anticipated. The March girls were played by the same actors all throughout the film, while I remember from the book that they started out much younger. Also, while I don’t mind it normally when a film jumps forwards and backwards in time, in this film I found it slightly hard to follow (at least at first). Also, with all those jumps and the actors looking the same age all the time, it didn’t work well for me. Not a bad film, but not great in my opinion. I hoped for more, from what I’d heard about it. Maybe I’ll have a look at some other adaptations sometime.

I did a lot of reading on the weekend and not very much of the usual weekend chores. I went grocery shopping and hope that I can avoid having to go again before maybe Friday. Since Corona is worsening, it’s probably better to only shop once a week, also it’s probably unlikely that one gets infected while out shopping. All the shoppers wear masks and do distancing, and I’m only in the shop for a short time, so it shouldn’t be a problem. Still, I hate shopping and once a week is quite enough ̶ it’s only that I often forget things (even if I write a list, as I forget to put things on the list).

Otherwise I only washed the kitchen and hall floors (both very small) and cleaned the small bathroom. Also did three loads of washing, one colour, one white, and one of Curious Dog’s towels and dog bed covers. Dried it all during consecutive nights in the living room. Worked out very well.

I read The Mystery of Charles Dickens, by A.N. Wilson. It’s very interesting and explores how Dickens’ life experience influenced his works, and how he had a light and dark side to his personality. This is mirrored in his novels and other writings. I don’t agree with all the theories that Wilson proposes, but they are certainly thought-provoking and a lot of it rings true. Dickens comes across as a bit of a split personality and must have been quite difficult to live with. He could be extraordinarily kind and very cruel. Both the kindness and the cruelty can be seen in his characters. Afterwards I felt interested in the life of his long-time lover, Ellen Ternan, and so I read Claire Tomalin’s biography of her, The Invisible Woman. Also a very interesting read. Ellen Ternan grew up as a child actor in a family of actors or stage managers. As a young girl of 18 or thereabouts, she started a secret relationship with Dickens (or rather he started one with her) and after his death, she made an entirely new life for herself. The relationship was kept so quiet that it was almost forgotten entirely, especially as a few key people in Dickens life did all they could to keep the secret, including Dickens’ first biographer. Quite fascinating.

Partner and I tried out a new vegan burger recipe involving beans and green beans as the main ingredient. The taste was good but maybe they are not worth the effort. The consistency was a bit soft. He also baked some very nice cakes. First, last week, a sunken apple cake (easy, but yum), then a sweet yeasty loaf eaten with jam, jelley or honey, and lastly another and more complicated apple cake with an apple pudding topping with cashew cream on top. That’s a very nice cake, but I forgot to take a photo and we had the last pieces today for afternoon coffee.

The work week is shaping up into another stressful one. We’ve got two deadlines on Wednesday and some more coming up next week. But then, maybe it won’t be as bad as I think. On Mondays half my day is meetings, or rather calls. They always tire me out, either from talking about all the things that need to be done during the week, or through bore-out if I have to listen to a lot of rubbish that doesn’t concern me.

Keep safe, world.