Mincemeat shortcake (a shortbread base, with mincemeat mixed with almonds on top, and decorated with Christmas shortbread shapes) is a speciality in our family and one of my favourites. This year I made some individual ones in my mini flan tins.
I had so many ideas of things that I wanted to write about at the end of the year, and to take a really good look at what I've been reading this year, but somehow it has snuck up on me, and I didn't get time to count books. Partly because I realised a week ago that I was within a whisker of having read 700 books this year, so I have been spending a lot of time reading this week. So here instead is an end of year meme, borrowed from Simon at Stuck-in-a-book, and hopefully next week I'll get round to starting on some of the reviews that I want to write!
- How many books read in 2009? 701. Normally I read somewhere between 300-350, so this was a bit of a record. Mostly it is due to having been chronically ill for much for the year and unable to do anything apart from go to work or lie on the sofa and read.
- Fiction/Non-Fiction ratio? Probably about 100 were non fiction - recipe books, memoirs, biographies... - Male/Female authors? Mainly female, due to having started my Virago Venture, attemtping to read my way through the Virago Modern Classics. - Favourite book read? This is a difficult one as there have been very many good ones, but The music room by Will Fiennes was really very very good. I have read a number of wonderful books published by Persephone and Virago too. - Least favourite? I struggled with No place on earth by Christa Wolf.
- Oldest book read? Absolutely no idea - I haven't read anything very old this year.
- Newest book read? Read Margaret Forster's latest book, Isa and May, which I can strongly recommend and which is out in February.
- Longest book title? Probably The voluptuous delights of peanut butter and jam - Shortest book title? Home by Penelope Mortimer - How many re-reads? Probably about 50.
- Most books read by one author this year? I think Rosamund Lehmann, as I read all of her books at the start of the year.
- Any in translation? Yes. Most recently The Post-Office girl - How many books were borrowed from the library? A large number of them, but not all as I seem to have acquired about 400 books this year. - Name a book you've read this year which was recommended by a blogger? ooh, that's difficult as so many of the books I've read have been as a result of blogging. Most recently, probably A very great profession by Nicola Beaumann.
I made these seriously yummy cupcakes to finish up eggs before we went away, and to feed some people dropping in to wish us a Happy Christmas. The recipe came from my Usborne Children's Book of Christmas baking, and replaces half of the sugar with maple syrup. Pecans are also added to the batter.
I'm back from the ski slops with no broken bones, and feeling very relieved that I managed to shoehorn so many books into my suitcase as I ran out of books on the plane home. The skiing was absolutely beautiful and it was fun to spend Christmas in Austria again.
I'll resume blogging about books next week I think, but in the meantime this week, I shall be bringing you Five Bakes of Christmas - a different Christmassy bake each weekday. But first a brief word on the books that I read whilst away.
The two Honno classics, Dew on the grass (Lewis) and Travels with a duchess (Gallie) were absolutely delightful and will be reviewed in due course here. Housewife on top (Fenton Harper) and Relative love (Brookfield) were Christmassy reads. I enjoyed Odd girl out (Howard)and The vinegar jar (Doherty) which had been languishing for some time. I didn't think much of The snow cow short stories, but again, will be writing about this. Nightingale Wood (Gibbons) was a wonderful Virago which I enjoyed much more than Cold COmfort Farm. It was good to read another Jane Gardam, The queen of the tambourine. I read two Greyladies titles, Pink Sugar (Douglas) and Pirouette (Scarlett) - the first was disappointing, especially given such an appealing title, but the latter was a lovely Noel Streatfield-esque book. Adrian Mole: the prostrate years continued the Mole saga. My boyfriend had taken A taste of my life, the autobiography of Raymond Blanc, and I read this too - a fascinating insight into the man and lots of interesting advice on cooking. Evelyn Finds herself was a typical school girl story and most enjoyable. Christmas at Fairacre was good and Christmassy, but Christmas at Thrush Green, the ghostwritten Miss Read was a disappointment - the characters were there, the plot was about right, but the writing and details were just wrong.
The piece de resistance of the B Files Christmas is our shortbread nativity and gingerbread stable; the stable was constructed by my boyfriend. Isn't it amazing?!
We're off skiing for Christmas, and I won't be blogging for a bit. I'll be back with some more Christmas bakes after Christmas, and in the New Year with more book-chat, and the start of another book-buying moratorium.
And in the meantime - Seasons Greetings to everyone who is reading this! Hope you have a wonderful holiday period.
We're off skiing at the end of the week and I'm trying to complete my packing. I've been worrying a little bit about having enough books and the right books (whatever they are) but this has been increased by the news of the BA strikes. Of course we are flying with BA, and although we are flying out before they start, it will affect our journey home. Luckily we're on a package holiday, so it is Ingham's responsibility to get us home, but I have been forced to pack some spare clothes. This means that the suitcase is already overflowing and I have yet to pack a single book.
These are the books I'm thinking about taking. The left hand pile contains lighter and Christmassy reading, the right hand pile some more serious things (the two Penguins at the top chosen soley because they are small and have very small writing). I really need to take at least 10 books to get through the week, ideally more.
I hope you can see the photo, but if not... On the left... * Evelyn finds herself (a Girls Gone By publication) - a school story is essential I think * Christmas at fairacre (Christmas themed Miss Read) * Pirouette and Pink Sugar (both Greyladies titles that I have been anticipating for some time) * Housewife on top (Christmas themed chicklit that I picked up in charity shop earlier in year) * Relative love (Slightly heavier book, also Christmas themed - I enjoy Amanda Brookfield very much) * Christmas at Thrush Green (new ghostwritten Miss Read book) * Adrian Mole : The prostate years (I often have a Sue Townsend to read over Christmas - she does make me laugh)
On the right... * The realms of gold (Drabble) * Odd girl out (Elizabeth Jane Howard) * The stone angel (Margaret Laurence - can't go away without a Virago!) * The snow cow (won this review copy of ghost stories about skiing!) * Fugitive pieces (have been meaning to read this for ages) * Queen of the Tambourine (Gardam) * Nightingale Wood (another Virago Modern Classic which I have been looking forward to for a while)
It is traditional to give leaving workers a print of the college that we work in, but lacking wallspace for pictures (all taken up with bookshelves) I asked if I could have a couple of books from my Wishlist instead. My colleagues kindly gave me the four lovely volumes below - they are what I would describe as keeping-books - not books which I shall read avidly and shelve, but ones which are to be pulled off the shelf for browsing at intervals, and which have lovely pictures.
London transport posters - I have had this title on loan from the college since we purchased it shortly after I saw the exhibition on which it was based. Nigella Christmas - I often bake things for work, and was keen to have this Christmas book to accompany my copy of How to be a domestic goddess. 700 Penguins - this is a book of 700 different Penguin covers - wonderful for flicking through and seeing the history of Penguin Penguin by design - this puts 700 Penguins in context and is another book that I have been coveting for years.
Stollen was this week's Christmas baking experiment, and I was extremely pleased with the result. I got the recipe from the Usborne Book of Christmas Baking (a wonderful book, not just for children with lots of accessible recipes, many of which I want to try!). I cheated a little bit and used my bread machine to mix and knead the dough, but I did make my own almond paste (surprisingly easy, just egg, ground almonds and sugar). It smelt absolutely wonderful and tasted pretty good too.
I also had an Advent Tea for some of my friends last week, and here are the biscuits and cakes that I baked. At the back, Swedish gingerbread (recipe to follow after Christmas), on the right, Christmas rock cakes and vegan cranberry oat biscuits, and Christmas shaped shortbread; I might post recipes for some of these if anyone is interested! We also had chocolate coins in belated celebration of St. Nicholas day, since my father is called Nicholas!
The bookaholics' guide to book blogs was a kind Christmas present from a colleague at another library who also reads my blog and thought that it might be an interesting read. I wasted no time in sitting down with it because the world of blogging is something that I have become acquainted with in the last year, by reading other people's blogs, and then by setting up my own. I was interested to hear what a pair of publishers had to say about the phenomenon.
Apparently bookish blogs were one of the first big areas of blogging, ahead of blogs centring on other subjects such as cooking. The authors can't explain this phenomenon but write that the aim of this book is to: "capture this moment. It's a book blog keepsake, when book blogs are exploding across the web and in it we talk abot the ones who are good, who should be sought out, communicated with and encouraged"
The chapter I found most interesting compares the role and value of book review pages in newspapers and magazines with blogging, and asks whether or not print journalists should be concerned about the rise of blogging. The principle criticism is the lack of quality control among book bloggers. But arguably book bloggers have many advantages that the journalists lack - they have the freedom to review the books of their choice, they can instigate debate, and they are not restricted in giving their opinion. Whilst I like to read the book pages in the newspaper to alert me to new books which I may or may not be interested in reading, it is usually from book blogs that I form an opinion of whether I am interested enough to order it at the library rather than wait to see if a copy comes available for my persual. Moreover, book blogs may alert me to older books or less mainstream books, and cover a far greater range of books.
The book is "illustrated" throughout with extensive quotes from blogs (I often found these more interesting than what the authors had to say about them). I hadn't heard of many of them, but Dovegreyreader gets a mention early on in the first chapter.
Other chapters talk about the different motivations for blogging, the blogs of bookshops and booksellers (I loved some of the stories quoted in these chapters about the various customers in bookshops and their weird and wonderful demands) and publishers' blogs. The blogs of writers are also given a chapter, and there is a chapter about online bookselling questioning whether there is going to be increasing overlap between review sites and online shops.
There is an interesting chapter on fanblogs; examples are mentioned which include The Bronte Blog, devoted to the Bronte's (the writers are a little scathing about the obsession of someone with such a narrow sphere of interest) and The Baker Street blog centering on Sherlock Holmes. This chapter also deals with blogs devoted to genre literature - horror, crime, romance.
I was left wondering whether really this book might have worked better as a blog...it could have included links (I read this sitting by the computer so that I could have a look at some of the sites mentioned), and I just felt that the content might have been better suited to that form. Blogging is such an interactive activitity that is quite different from the traditional medium of the book, and having the book as a book seemed at odds with some of what the authors were saying.
Has anyone else read this? I'm not sure it is a book that is necessarily interesting to a non-blogger, but I think that anyone who blogs might find it gives extra insight into a world which they encounter on a daily basis.
It's rather nice to be writing an acquisitions post for once, it's been a while. But since I lifted my book-ban, I have acquired rather a lot of books, although only two of the little pile below have in fact been purchases. I am still waiting for my copy of the latest Greyladies title to arrive!
The two books that I bought are: The world that was ours (Bernstein) which I bought when I went to hear Nicola Beauman tak about Persephone on Monday night. The ticket cost £4 which was redeemable in the shop, and I'd also bought my friend's ticket, so it would have been rude not to get a Persephone for £4. The Usborne Book of Christmas Cooking was an impulse buy to give me the recipe for stollen, which I have already baked (and eaten!) and will be featuring on Bake of the week this month.
One book was a pre-order which I have been waiting for for ages: To bed with grand music (Laski) is one of the latest Persephones and I pre-ordered (AND paid for it) it ages ago from The book depository. Supply problems meant I had to wait ages but it finally arrived, and I fortuitously recieved its bookmark with the Persephone BiAnnually. I'm saving this for Christmas now, and really can't wait!
Two books were extremely kind presents: Book Snob Rachel sent me Dust tracks on the road which is Zora Neale Thurston's autobiography. I recently raved about Their eyes were watching God on my Virago blog, and am really looking forward to finding out more about the author. My colleague Owen, who reads this blog, sent me the intriguing and very relevant The bookaholic's guide to book blogs which looks fascinating. Thanks Owen and Rachel!
One book was a competition win: Demobbed by Allan Alport came from a draw on DoveGreyReader's website - thank you very much! I don't usually get lucky in competitions, but I did this time. This looks like a fascinating read about what happened when soldiers returned from the war.
Four books were sent to me by publisher: Snow Cow came via Librarything Early Reviewers and is a book of skiing Ghost stories - one for my holidays too then I think, as we are off skiing in a week's time... The bird room was sent to me by Canongate - they occasionally send me books to look at, and I will be looking at this in due course... Ruby's spoon came via Random House on Twitter - I was one of the first to reply to their tweet offering review copies of this book. Dear Mr Bigelow was very kindly sent to me by Fiona at Vintage/Random House. I spotted this the other day on Amazon, and thought that it would make the perfect Christmas read. I love reading diaries and letters from the war, and somehow Christmas seems just the right time of year to read them. This is definitely on my post-holiday pile with To bed...
I'm not sure why it took so long for The world that was ours this Persephone book to make it into my consciousness, especially as it has also been republished as a Persephone Classic, but it was not until I realised that it was the only Persephone Classic that I didn't own that I thought I should look out for it. So, it was top of my list to pick up at the evening with Nicola Beauman that I went to on Monday - and fortunately the Woodstock Bookshop had a copy (although it was in the traditional grey rather than the newer edition). I spent most of Tuesday evening, pinned to the sofa, absolutely gripped by this wonderful book.
Word of warning - this is not a comfort read as many Persephone books are. Rather it is a worrying and thrilling real-life account of Bernstein's life in South Africa in the early 1960s, telling the story of the 1964 Rivonia Trial. Bernstein's husband Rusty was acquitted in this trial, but Nelson Mandela and others received life sentences. The book starts out by describing the lives of Hilda and Rusty and their children at this time, and how their membership of the Communist Party in South Africa, and their consequent attempt to fight apartheid, led to increasing numbers of restrictions being placed on their lives. Then Rusty is imprisoned for ninety days, and we learn about his time in prison, and eventually the trial. Then Bernstein's own life is threatened with arrest, and she is forced to make an escape...
I found the book both hugely thrilling and absolutely fascinating, I learnt a huge amount about a situation of which I knew very little, and at the same time saw how it affected everyday life. I was hugely impressed by the resilience of the couple and their determination to stay on and fight for a cause when they could very easily have left the country. The tension caused by the constant worries and frustrations were really well captured by Bernstein and made the book a real page-turner.
And what of domesticity? After hearing Beauman emphasise the domestic element of many Persephone books, I found myself thinking about how this book would fit into this paradigm. At first glance it isn't might seem that it doesn't - it's concerned with politics and apartheid. But actually, it is - the political elements only provide a backdrop to the story, and are secondary to the thoughts and feelings of a woman dealing with living in such a situation. When she escapes from her home, her thoughts are on the washing machine, still in a spin cycle, and on the domestic chores that she was in the middle of doing. Home also provides Rusty with a haven.
What a wonderful time I had reading this book. I've really remembered how much I love Persephone books this week, and am planning to read (and hopefully review) another one each week this year - The Victorian Chaise Longue, The Carlyles at Home, and To bed with Grand Music are all lined up for December.
As I will be away for Christmas morning, it seemed like a good idea to make Nigella's Christmas Morning Muffins now. Filled with cranberries and flavoured with orange juice and nutmeg Nigella recommends these as the perfect way to start Christmas day. I substituted frozen cranberries for the dried ones as I find fresh fruit more digestible.
The boyfriend was a little disappointed - they looked like the sweet American muffins that you see in Starbucks, but they had hardly any sugar in. He claimed not to be able to taste the seasoning either. But I loved the subtle flavours, and as I'd made them with spelt was able to indulge myself. In the end, they were relegated to the boyfriend's breakfast fodder, warmed up and spread with honey, rather than as a sweet elevenses treat.
I'm not sure I'd make them again, but I think it's given me inspiration for rock cakes made with orange juice and cranberries and flavoured with nutmeg...
As you may have read yesterday, I was very excited to be going to see Nicola Beauman speak at the Woodstock Bookshop about Persephone books last night! I had a wonderful evening and had to blog about it today while it is still fresh (bake of the week will follow tomorrow...).
We were very lucky to have the opportunity to see Nicola because apparently she doesn't do very many events, which is a shame as she was a good speaker and extremely interesting. There were only about 20 people there, but you could not have shoehorned another booklover into the shop! Nicola spoke about how she established Persephone books, and how she was motivated to reprint titles which she had written about in A very great profession. She said that the difference between Persephone and Virago, although they could both be considered feminist, was that Persephone was more interested in domesticity. The title which had made their business viable was Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day; an absolute bestseller, it meant that they could keep republishing books. It, like a handful of their other titles, has been republished as a "classic" with a coloured cover; apparently this is also to make them more appealing to the American market. The uniform grey covers were inspired by Nicola's love of uniformly designed french books, but apparently these don't sell so well overseas! We heard about plans for future books, including the Nemirovsky short stories due out next, and a wonderful book about madness planned for next Autumn. Nicola wouldn't say what her favourite title is, but it was obvious that Dorothy Whipple is probably her favourite author and we were all encouraged to read her if we hadn't already.
The event cost £4, which could be redeemended against a book from the shop, so it was not surprising that I treated myself to a Persephone book. I bought The world that was ours in the original grey edition (I kind of wanted the classic edition, but this does have a lovely bookmark); it's in my bag today and I hope I will write about it later this week if it interests people. I took along a friend who loves Virago Modern Classics, but who had yet to read a Persephone book. She came away with To bed with grand music, and we plan to discuss it soon as I already have my copy!
I'd not been to the Woodstock bookshop before; it was small with an impressive mix of books - pile them high, but not multiple copies. I could have come away with armfuls of books, but I merely made a note that I definitely want to read Toibin's Brooklyn before too long
I am very excited as tonight I am off to the Woodstock Bookshop with a friend (soon to be colleague again) to hear Nicola Beauman speak about Persephone books. My friend has an extensive collection of Virago Modern Classics, but doesn't own a Persephone book, so I am hoping to be able to convert her.
In preparation for hearing Nicola speak, I decided to read her book A very great profession : the woman's novel: 1914-1939. (It was one of the things that kept me occupied on my sick bed last week). And what a wonderful book it was. I felt that the book encapsulated and contextualised all of the reading that I have done in the past year, which has been heavily weighted towards women's fiction of the first half of the twentieth century.
The book starts from Beauman's curiosity after seeing a Kate O'Brien library book in the basket of Laura, the heroine of the film Brief Encounter. Laura went weekly to change her library book at Boots, and this led Beauman to wonder what other books she might have read. And this led her to a quest to find out about what middle class women would have read during the inter-war period.
Packed with quotes from novels, at some points I felt the book read like the Persephone catalogue, and indeed many of the books she mentions have now been republished by Persephone. I kept a notebook to hand and jotted down titles that I have not come across yet for future inspiration - who knows, they might turn up as the next Persephones. One question I will be asking Nicola if I get the chance is what she plans to publish next! The book also has a list of the novelists mentioned in the text, with brief bio and mentions of some of their books which I found fascinating.
My copy was of course the Persephone edition, although the book was originally published by Virago, and so I am considering it "read" for my Virago Venture (and will post a link to this post on my VVV blog!). In a departure from the traditional endpapers that utilise fabric or designs of the period, the endpapers are the covers from the two Virago editions of the book, one of which I share with you here... (I have to say I would quite like a Virago copy of this too).
Well, this will be my last book buying update - I have made seven weeks without buying a single book, and am about to break it by buying myself a Christmas present of the latest Greyladies title, Pirouette by Susan Scarlett (Noel Streatfield). I absolutely adored Noel Streatfield books as a child, and I love her Susan Scarlett romances, so I think that this will be the perfect treat for myself. Ballet shoes for grown ups.
Otherwise this week has been fairly easy. Confinement to the sofa certainly kept me out of the shops, and I was lucky enough to recieve a couple of review books from publishers which I'll be writing about in due course. My final bookish Christmas present for my boyfriend arrived - I'll write about it in the New Year (just in case he happens to read this!) as it took quite a bit of research to choose and I'm very excited about it.
Thanks for your support guys! I have been pleased with my progress, and it has enabled me to read quite a lot of books from my TBR bookcase. I am definitely going to think about how many books I buy in the New Year, and will almost certainly be giving up book-buying/non essential purchase making for Lent if not before...
I seem to have succombed to some sort of seasonal bug and have been confined to the sofa since being sent home from work yesterday. I feel achy and exhausted but otherwise well enough to be quite bored, and have at least had the chance to do quite a lot of reading. I'm expecting a number of books in the post (no, I haven't been breaking my bookban - they are a pre-order aid for before the ban, and a couple from publishers as well as a few remaining Christmas presents), so I hope they arrive later to cheer me up.
Here's some of the things I've been reading:
Waiting (Ha Jin). This has been on my TBR for ages since I picked it up for £1 in a charity shop, and was absolutely fascinating. Set in post-revolutionary China it tells the story of a love affair between a doctor and nurse at the hospital, complicated by the fact that the doctor is already married and his wife refuses to give him a divorce.
Winter Term at Malory Towers (Pamela Cox). Pamela Cox has written a whole 6-book-series sequel to Enid Blyton's Malory Tower's series, following the fortunes of Felicity, Enid's Blyton's heroine Darrell's younger sister when she arrives at the school, and I was intrigued to see what they were like. They're not quite Blyton, lacking something that I can't quite put my finger on, and are a bit more dense, but still a very enjoyable easy read.
Solace of the road (Siobhan Dowd). This book was published posthumously to great acclaim and has just been shortlisted for the Costa book awards. It is a teen novel and absolutely gripping. It follows the story of Holly, who is brought up in a care home and eventually fostered, who runs away to try to find her mother, and herself. Using the name of Solace the book describes her journey. This was a wonderful book.
Today I want to read some of A very great profession by Nicola Beaumann as I am hoping to go to hear her speak next Monday evening. I also have an interesting autobiography called The locust and the bird and another Cox Malory Towers book..
Apologies for the lack of a picture, that requires a little bit more effort and energy than I have to spare at the moment.
The exciting news which I wanted to highlight today is Virago's publication of The group today, which I have written about over on my other blog. I do really recommend this book, hence flagging it up here too!
No, not the set surrounding Virginia Woolf, but the clutch of lost early twentieth century titles recently brought out by Bloomsbury. There's been a lot of hype around the titles, not least because the choice of titles was partly driven by recommendations of bloggers. It is always exciting when older books are republished because it gives a whole new generation of readers access to
Bloomsbury kindly sent me a set of the bookmarks which I had seen featured on various book blogs, and armed with these I started reading the books. There are plenty of reviews around on the blogosphere so I shall content myself with writing down a few impressions just now. I am particularly interested to hear which ones other bloggers have read and which ones they enjoyed most (aside from the ones which they have championed!)
I started by reading Miss Hargreaves, due to the extensive endorsement by Simon from Stuckinabook. It was certainly an unusual story (a character who is a figment of two other character's imagination comes to life), but I found it both unsettling and annoying.
The pink covered Love's shadow by Ada Leverson came next; I've got her Virago Modern Classic, The little Ottley's, and found after I'd bought Love's shadow that this is the first of three books contained in that volume. It tells the story of a married couple and their friends romantic entanglements in a comedy of manners.
Next up, Henrietta's War by Joyce Dennys. Again, I had read many reviews of this. Essentially a story of life in wartime, told through letters (originally written as a weekly piece for Sketch), this was slightly reminiscent of Diary of a provincial lady. There were some amusing incidents, but I felt that the way in which the book had been written meant that it was extremely episodic and not much plot development, which I would have liked more of.
I was particularly keen to read Mrs Tim of the Regiment because I had made the discovery of DE Stevenson earlier in the year through Persephone books' publication of Miss Buncle's book (and had then obtained copies of the sequels from the library). Whilst it didn't quite live up to Miss Buncle, I enjoyed the story of Mrs Tim, an army wife, and her life immensely. Written in diary format, this was also reminiscent of Diary of a provincial lady.
The only book that I do not own a copy of is The brontes went to Woolworths - I read this earlier in the year in a Virago edition, and intend to get a copy in that imprint if possible for my Virago collection.
Overall, I liked A kid for two farthings best; partly this was because it was the book that I had heard least about beforehand, so I found the story completely charming and new to me. It tells the story of 6 year old Jo, and the unicorn that he buys in the market, which he hopes will have the power to make wishes come true.
You may remember that a little while ago I reviewed The Ultimate Student Cookbook, and mentioned that one of the recipes which I was keen to try were the Chocolate and raspberry brownies...well, I finally got around to making them. Actually, I have made them twice now, but the first batch got polished off before I could take a photograph. I love the addition of raspberries to the mix (it makes them healthy of course!) and I like the fact that using cocoa powder instead of chocolate makes them a lot cheaper!
PS: I promise some Christmas themed bake of the weeks from next week onwards...I'm thinking Nigella's Christmas Morning Muffins, Christmas rock cakes, mincemeat shortcake, my shortbread nativity, and possibly some stollen and a gingerbread house. Any other favourite Christmas bakes I could try?
I love books, baking and my boyfriend, and love to write about the first two. I particular love "forgotten" books, books brought out of obscurity by republication and those still languishing in obscurity. I'm currently reading my way through all of the Virago Modern Classics, but taking in other books along the way.