Regular readers will be aware of my love for Cornwall, and of Cornish books, arising from spending so many holidays and weekends in the region as a child. Fleur_fisher recently mentiond her own Cornish reading challenge and I thought that that sounded like something that I'd like to try. She's planning to read at least one Cornish book a month, and I think I'll do the same, although I'd love to try to read one a fortnight, or certainly more when I am on holiday in the county over Easter. Cornwall is a very diverse country, and having holidayed mostly on the North Coast, many of the books I have previously read have been set in the West and the South of Cornwall so I'm hoping I may encounter more reading which mentions the places which I know.
Cath at read_warbler has a wonderful list here of books set in Cornwall, many of which I have read - the Daphne Du Mauriers, the Wycliffe, Mary Wesley, Rosamund Pilcher, Alan Titschmarsh.
I already have some Cornish themed reading on my TBR pile Summer in February (Jonathan Smith) (next month's read for obvious reasons) Rambles beyond railways (Wilkie Collins) Hungry hill (Daphne Du Maurier)(set in Ireland but apparently mentions Cornwall)
Otherwise, I am hoping to read at least one of Winston Graham's Poldark books, the two Susan Cooper novels (Over sea, under stone and Greenwitch), Thomas Hardy's Pair of blue eyes, Deep down by Ballatyne (if I can get hold of it) and maybe I'll give the Rose Trevelyan novels a go too. I've found an author called Gordon Channer who I haven't yet heard of, and I've ordered his first from the library. Fleur fisher mentioned Laura Knight's autobiography, so I have ordered a copy of that from the library too. Travelogues are good; so along with the Wilkie Collins I might check out Craik's An unsentimental journey through Cornwall. I'm also hoping to read some non-fiction and maybe do some baking along the way too - Cornish Hevva Cake and Saffron Loaf are two bakes that I have in mind.
This post is as much a brainstorm for me as anything else, but I'd love to hear about books set in Cornwall that you have loved, or anything Cornish related...
Regular readers will know my fondness for Chalet School books and my delight in Girls Gone By Publishers who republish them and have made available the titles which are more difficult to get home of, or which were heavily abridged when they were brought out in paperback.
It had escaped my attention that they had republished The chalet girls cook book, but shortly before Christmas I stumbled on it, and it finally arrived last week.
The book was originally a compilation of recipes which appeared in the Chalet Books for Girls (a sort of Chalet School annual that appeared three times). Rather than being a straightforward recipe book, it is set shortly after Frieda, Joey, Maria and Simone have left school, and features plenty of chat between the girls about various aspects of food and cookery. The recipes are broadly divided into sections - meat, fish, vegetables, cheese, eggs, desserts - and the girls bring together an explanation of a wide variety of recipes from English, Austrian, German and French culture.
I wouldn't recommend this as a cookery book at all, but if you enjoy Chalet School books then this is a must-have for your collection. The recipes are at best somewhat sketchy and rarely give quantities or cooking times. The GGBP edition has the wonderful addition of a chapter at the end where two of the editors test the recipes for modern cooks, with mixed results!
I very much enjoyed reading Brooklyn by Toibin over the Christmas period, I liked his style of prose and was absolutely gripped to the final pages of the novel, and was thus keen to read more by him. In a departure from the norm, I dispatched my partner to the branch library to find me some more books while I was at work, and he came back with two Toibin books for me - The south and Story of the night.
Set in the 1950s, The south tells the story of Katherine Proctor, who leaves Ireland for Barcelona in an attempt to fulfil her desire to become a painter. The reader never really learns why she chose to leave her husband and small son but we follow her in a determination to create a new life for herself. Part of the story is the desire to escape from political troubles, having spent many years being ostracised as a protestant in Southern Ireland. But when she meets Miguel, another painter with whom she has a child, she finds that it is not so easy to escape, since he was involved in the Spanish civil war. When she separates from Miguel she suddenly desires to return to Ireland and find her son and attempts to rediscover Ireland. Painting is one of the ways she tries to do this.
I was a little frustrated by the amount of loose ends in the story, both at the beginning, and at the end - the story did not come to enough of a conclusion for me. However, in some ways that was similar to Brooklyn, where I was left wondering what happened after Eilis returned to America. I will be interested to see if this happens in The story of the night.
Has anyone else read any other Toibin apart from Brooklyn?
Shortly before Christmas, I appeared in the Bookseller's weekly column that features librarians and booksellers highlighting a pair of books from a similar genre called I'm loving/I'm not loving. As I don't see The bookseller, I had to wait for a copy to be posted to me, which took forever due to the snow, but I finally saw myself in print last week. I chose to feature reprinted books and chose to love Miss Buncle's book, recently republished by Persephone Books, and decided that I didn't love Miss Hargreaves, recently republished by Bloomsbury.
Here's what I wrote: Miss Buncle’s Book (D.E. Stevenson)
Persephone books specialise in reprinting neglected classics by 20th century authors, and my favourite of their recent reissues is this story of a spinster who tries to augment her income by writing a novel about the village where she lives. The villagers are incensed by the caricature made of their lives and try to work out who is responsible. Miss Buncle is a charming heroine and this book is a wonderful light read, perfect for the holidays.
Miss Hargreaves (Frank Baker)
Bloomsbury are also reprinting “lost novels”, and although this particular title was recommended to me by several friends, I was ultimately disappointed. Miss Hargreaves, an imaginary character created in a game played by two young men, mysteriously comes to life and causes havoc by her appearance. The unsettling premise of the story felt implausible, and I did not warm to the character of the querulous and somewhat interfering Miss Hargreaves at all.
Claire reminds me that I made a mistake when I announced Persephone Reading Week on Friday - we actually planned to run it during the first week of May! The good news is that that is even sooner :)
I've just enjoyed reading the second volume of Mollie Panter-Downes stories, Minnie's Room, over the last couple of days, and think that I enjoyed it even more than the wartime stories for its evocation of post-WW2 life and how austerity impacted on the middle classes of Britain. Highly recommended!
I have to confess that one of the reasons for having a week of Persephone-themed posts was so that I could blog about my recent acquisitions. I mentioned the other week how my visit to the Persephone bookshop had re-awakened my desire to obtain a complete set of Persephone books... After verbalising this, I went on Amazon marketpalce to see if I could pick up any second hand. This was slightly dangerous as it saw the last of my Christmas money disappear. I had to wait quite a while for them to be delivered due to the snow, (the postman eventually brought them all at once on Wednesday morning, very early - I forgave him for waking us both up when I saw the treasure!) but but it has considerably expanded my collection. This is the pile that arrived - the top half of the pile as far as Flush are the ones that I have not yet read, and the bottom half are those which I have read before but not until now owned my own copy of. (I actually have Flush in my bag today). Some of them came with bookmarks
This necessitated a considerable rearrangement of my books as I wanted to keep them altogether, in numberical order. In the event, the only option was to run them along the top of my bookshelves: The ones on the left are the ones that I have read; they are followed by my collection of Persephone Classics, and then the ones that I have yet to read (mainly short stories and letters, which I am looking forward to dipping into over the coming months).
I hope you've enjoyed my week of Persephone posting. Do put Persephone Reading Week into your diary - the last week of May. By which time I can hope to have the whole collection, wouldn't that be fun.
I was browsing through this book last week, having picked up a copy at the Persephone bookshop the week before, and felt that it would be a shame not to blog about it as although an Aga cookbook might not seem like an obvious read, this was both interesting and entertaining!
Written in 1933, four years after the Aga had first come onto the market in Britain, this is a book that firstly deals with the scope of the aga, and then provides 12 chapters of seasonal recipes that can be cooked using the Aga. In actual fact, I think most of the recipes could be cooked without an Aga (and, currently doing a harsh exclusion diet*, I was able to torture myself with thoughts of yummy food). It also has charming illustrations by Edward Bawden.
The recipes were fantastically written; the recipe for pilau rice concluded: "and then the whole thing is well warmed up and esten, let us hope with gluttonous ejaculations". What a wonderful phrase - I'd love my cooking to produce those sorts of noises!
I loved the fact that literary references are included in the work, and was tickled to see a reference to a Virago Modern Classic that I read, The constant nymph, in a recipe for zabaglione! It's fun when books that one has read crop up in other books.
My only quibble with the recipes is that they do assume quite a reasonable knowledge of cooking - one is told to make batter as the basis for something (e.g. stuffed pancakes), but without being given a batter recipe.
* This is responsible for the recent absence of bake of the week - I have been doing some exclusion diet baking, but it is not terribly entertaining or always very tasty, and wasn't sure it was worth blogging about...
I have always been a professed short-story non-reader. My feeling until recently that if a short story wasn't very good, then it wasn't worth bothering with (although at least one hadn't wasted too much time reading it), and if it was good, then one would want it to go on for longer and be a novel. When I heard Nicola Beaumann talk at the Woodstock bookshop back in December I wondered if I should re-evaluate my feelings towards the short story
I picked up The closed door and other stories by Dorothy Whipple while I was at the shop, and decided to give it a go on the train on the way home. I was absolutely hooked. The Persephone catalogue says: "it is a feat indeed to make a short story into a page-turner since normally a story is a photograph, an impression, an atmosphere.", but this is what Dorothy Whipple manages to do with these tales.
Since visiting the shop I've read two more of the short story collections - Frances Towers' Tea with Mr. Rochester and Mollie Panter-Downes' Good evening Mrs Craven. Neither of them were as gripping as Dorothy Whipple, and I did find the Frances Towers stories a bit samey, but I read them in a different way to previously, and read them with interest in what they had to say about the period that they were describing. I'm finding that the short story is good for when there isn't really time to sit down and be immersed in a novel, although they actually take more concentration than reading a novel because there is a greater danger of missing the point.
Persephone published a number of short story collections - has anyone else read any of the others? And what are people's favourites?
(PS: The picture at the top is the lovely endpaper from The closed door...it's a dress fabric but I think it would make lovely curtains!)
I'm planning a week of Persephone-book themed posts, featuring a couple of reviews, and some recent acquisitions, this week. And it starts with the result of the giveaway I offered last week. Following my visit to the shop a fortnight ago, I ended up with a spare slightly damaged copy of Katherine Manfield's Journal. I asked entrants to tell me which Persephone book they most wanted to read; the results weren't hugely surprising as many people mentioned the most popular titles, but I was happy to see so many people wanting to read many of the ones that I have hugely enjoyed. High Wages, The making of a marchioness, The Victorian chaise-longue, Few eggs and no oranges, To bed with grand music, and Saplings were all mentioned.
However, there can be only one winner. The first name out of the hat was Make do and read, so if you email me your address to verityDOTormeATgmailDOTcom, then I will dispatch it to you as soon as I can!
I mentioned last week that Honno books had kindly sent three of their books for me to look at, and I wrote about two of them. I subsequently read Eunice Fleet by Lily Tobias, which was the book which had initially piqued my interest in Honno Books, and proved to be quite a different book to the other two.
The reason I was so interested in this book was because I wrote my undergraduate dissertation (back in 2005!) on the experiences of two Oxford undergraduate conscientious objectors during the First World War. The conclusion I reached by doing my research was that it was impossible to lump conscientious objectors together into a single mass - each objectors' experience was unique, due to the way that their objection had come about, due to the support (or lack thereof) by their friends and families, and due to their treatment by the authorities which was in no sense uniform. I found it fascinating to explore the stories of two men and gained a huge insight into the sort of perspectives that led to conscientious objection.
Eunice Fleet tells Eunice's story as she prepares to face the Second World War. However, her life has been strongly influenced by her experiences during the previous war, when her life was turned upside down by the fact that her husband, a teacher, decided to make a conscientious objection to fighting in the war. Eunice fails to understand why Vincent feels so strongly, and finds it hard to come to terms with the fact that he would rather go to prison, completely abandoning his family, rather than compromise his beliefs. The book is built around a tragedy that arises from this situation, and to say any more would be to spoil it. But what I do want to say is how fascinating this book is as a piece of social history. Apparently the book builds on personal experiences of Tobias, and reading it feels deeply personal and seems to give a real flavour for a perspective that is often ignored - the feelings and emotions of the friends and families of those who refused to fight.
Another review from me today - I started a new job on Monday, and so am using this week as a catch-up from Christmas reading while I get to grips with managing my time again! I received a copy of this incredibly quirky book from Vintage, and had to start reading it straight away because the plot sounded so intriguing. A young girl, named Ruby, becomes caught up in the story of a witch, a mermaid, and a missing woman. Ruby, the main character, helps out in a chip shop, and encounters Isa Fly one night - on a hunt for the missing woman. Ruby becomes involved in the hunt, hoping that she will get the adventure at sea that she longs for, but ends up antagonising the local residents. I found the story a little difficult to follow at times because it was so unusual and unlike anything that I had read before, but I what I liked most about the book was that it was unusual. Set in the Black Country, one of the highlights of the book for me was the use of local dialect which almost had to be read out loud to make sense: "I cor stay long. I cor leave the vats unwatched. Catch the fat could, and then we'd all be fried" Similarly the wonderful descriptions of the surroundings enabled me to imagine a region that I have never visited and added to the sense of mysticalness around the book. I would not be surprised if this book is a big hit when it comes out next year and would not be surprised to see it on a prize list or two.
I picked up A house unlocked in the charity shop just before Christmas because I have enjoyed a number of novels by Lively, and this looked like a fascinating voyage into social history.
The book is about the history of Golsoncott, the house owned by Lively's grandparents in Somerset, which Lively often used to visit. Taking as a starting point various objects that she remembered seeing around the house, Lively then in later life decided to piece together the history of the family and the house. Through a sampler, which features the pictures of six evacuees, we learn about the role of the house in the Blitz. The potted meat jars remind Lively of helping to do flower arrangements in the church, and we learn about the importance of religion and the social hierarchy of the church to her family. She refers a lot to literature, both books that she read there, and ones which places the experiences being described into context.
Lively concludes: "This book has tried to use the furnishing of a house as a mnemonic system. I have always been excited and intrigued by the silent eloquence of the physical world - past events locked nto the landscape or lurking in city streets. Every house tells a story. Golsoncott's story spans much of the century; it is personal, but also public. Historical change determined how life was lived there; objects can be made to bear witness. In the process, a maverick form of social comment seems to emerge - the house becomes a secret mirror of the times, arbitrary and selective, reflecting shafts of light from unexpected directions"
I thought this was a wonderful book. It combines twentieth century social history, focussing particularly on the domestic, with the stories of the lives of Lively's family, and Lively's own reminiscences. Lively writes well, and the book is entirely captivating.
The snow proved passable, and despite a couple of delayed trains and extreme cold I made it to London ok in time for a fantastic day of bookshopping and bookchatting! The primary purpose of the day was to visit the Persephone bookshop, to celebrate the Persephone Reading Week that Paperback Reader (who writes about the trip here)and I held on our blogs at the end of August last year. However, Claire and I managed to squeeze in a visit to a very cheap second hand bookshop in Notting Hill that I could have spent all day in, in order to seek out Virago Modern Classics for my Virago Venture, and we also had a quick trip to the V and A for tea and cake with BookSnob Rachel and BloomsburyBell Naomi; it was lovely to meet the girls, particularly as Rachel had managed to get hold of the Penguin postcards for me - hurrah!
It was great to visit the Persephone shop again and have the chance to chat to Nicola, Lydia and Fiona. Conversation covered all sorts of things, from exclusion diets, to current reading material, and the typesetting of Persephone books. At the end, Claire and I were invited to look at the damaged books shelf in the basement to see if there was anything that we wanted - Claire and I tried not to fight over the ones that we both wanted. I was excited to get among other things, a copy of The Hopkins Manuscript (Sherriff), the Julian Grenfell biography, and some Dorothy Whipples (which I have read but would love to reread as didn't have my own copies), along with The country housewife's book. Very many thanks to Nicola for her kindness and hospitality.
As you can see, I came home with rather a lot of books...and in fact had to take a taxi from the shop to Paddington Station as I wasn't sure I could manage them all on the underground! At least if I had been delayed I wouldn't have suffered a shortage of reading material! As it was, I started The closed door and other stories by Dorothy Whipple. I thought I didn't like short stories but this is the collection that has changed my mind - each story is complete in itself, and they tend to keep you gripped right up until the last pages.
Now that I have 55 of the 86 Persephone titles I am determined to complete my collection, and will be treating myself to some more from the shop in due course, asking for some for my birthday and looking out for others on Amazon marketplace.
I accidentally picked up two copies of Katherine Mansfield's Journal, and so I am holding a giveaway to celebrate the trip. The copy lacks a dust wrapper, but is otherwise a fine reading copy. If you would like to enter this competition, please comment on this post, and tell me which Persephone book you would most like to read and why. (There is a complete list of the books here)
So - a good day out - books, friends, tea, and now a giveaway - what more could one want?!
PS: For those of you who have asked, the next Persephone Reading Week will probably be the first week of May this year - watch this space!
The day before I went on holiday, my packing was slightly compromised by the arrival of a parcel of three books from the Honno Press. Honno are a publisher devoted to the publication of Welsh women's writing; within that remit they have a "classics" series which, like Persephone books, or the Bloomsbury Group books, republishes "forgotten" Welsh classics. Honno books have been at the back of my mind for a while, so I was extremely grateful when they kindly offered to send me three books to read. (They also sent a catalogue, which made me realise that I'd be interested in some more of their modern books too, as well as forced me to create a wish-list of other items that I'd like to read!).
The first book I read was The dew on the grass by Eiluned Lewis. In some ways, this was like a Welsh Cider with Rosie - a charming, semi-autobiographical description of a rural childhood in Montgomeryshire at the beginning of the twentieth century seen through the eyes of nine year old Lucy. I found this utterly delightful, giving an insight into everyday life as well as describing other incidents, such as the day Lucy gets to spend by herself while the family is away - she enacts the plots of various books, and enlists her small baby sister into being a hostage! I had no familiarity with Wales at this time so found it really interesting to read.
I followed that almost immediately with Travels with a duchess by Menna Gallie. This was quite different! The blurb on the back sums up the story by asking "Just how much trouble can a Welsh Shirley Valentine get into on a foreign holiday?". The book is the tale of Innes Gibson. Her husband Mike's holiday has been postponed, so she decides to go on holiday - to Yugoslavia - alone. On arrival, she teams up with another lone female traveller, Joan, and the pair have a wonderful series of misadventures as they travel around the country. I thought it was hilarious and didn't know WHAT would happen next. Absolutely brilliant. (Isn't it a wonderful cover by the way, illustrated with cut-out dolls?)
I am planning to read the third book Eunice Fleet by Lily Tobias at some point this week and shall write about it in due course. Suffice to say I am looking forward to reading very many more books published by Honno in 2010.
*edit* Honno books had a Christmas discount that was still on on 4/01/10 so I did buy myself four more classics...
Having staggered back to the library on Monday with over 20 books read during the Christmas period, I obviously had quite a large bag to fill with library books. I had three reservations to collect (the middle three books, all of which I have read about on blogs during 2009), and wanted a book about knitting (re-learning to knit, and learning to cast-on is one of my 2010 projects, inspired by blogging friends who knit!), but I just could not find anything else that I wanted which was frustrating as my TBR piles are at the lowest that they have been for a while. I did manage to pick up this wintery sounding Wodehouse for my partner.
I LOVED Brooklyn, and was gripped right until the final pages, waiting to find out how the story would resolve itself. I am very keen to read more Toibin, so if anyone has read anything else by him I'd love some recommendations. I was very excited to see that it has won the novel category of the Costas.
Love and Summer was good, but a little disappointing after Brooklyn. I think I would have enjoyed it more if I hadn't read them together.
Knitting would have happened, but for the snow which prevented me from getting to the knitting shop as planned yesterday. On the subject of snow, please keep everything crossed as I try to get to London, despite thick snow, to have tea at the Persephone bookshop today!
I received The snow cow to review shortly before Christmas, via librarything.com's Early Reviewer scheme. I have often requested their books, but this was the first time that I got lucky. As the book is a short story collection subtitled "Ghost stories for skiers" I thought that I should save it for our skiing trip. I was planning just to read my way through it, but when we were bored with Austrian TV one night, my partner and I decided to read the stories to each other. The experiment was mixed - we liked the idea of reading aloud to each other, but we weren't very impressed by the stories.
The book contains 13 skiing themed stories set in Switzerland; the author obviously knows his stuff about skiing and the area which made them seem pretty convincing to us seasoned skiers. However, I had two major quibbles with the stories. Firstly, neither of us found the stories remotely scary, or even particularly ghostly. Disquieting is about as far as I would go. Secondly, I did not find the writing particularly good; in fact, my partner said "If he skis as well as he writes, then I wouldn't want to be anywhere near him on the piste". I thought it was a bit self-conscious and overly-written. Like another librarything.com reviewer I also found myself wondering what the point of some of the stories was.
Anyway, I liked the idea of reading aloud, and I liked reading stories about skiing. So does anyone have any recommendations for short stories which can be read aloud, or stories about wintersports?
Fiona from Random House very kindly made my Christmas when she sent me a copy of Dear Mr. Bigelow. I am a big fan of what I would describe as "real social history" - where the lives of people in the past are revealed through their letters and diaries, and where personal stories are combined with descriptions of everyday living conditions.
Dear Mr Bigelow brings together an edited selection of letters written by Frances Woodford in the immediate post-war period to Mr Bigelow. The correspondence arose after his daughter, Rosalind, very kindly sent the Woodfords a number of food parcels; Frances picked up that Mr Bigelow was lonely, and tried to convey her thanks to Rosalind for her generosity by writing to Mr Bigelow each week. Because she wrote on a weekly basis, the letters are almost diary-like and give a wonderful insight into Frances' life; she lived in Bournemouth and worked at the Public Baths, where she was supposedly secretary, but actually seemed to run the establishment.
I absolutely loved this book. I loved the period details, and just the descriptions of everyday incidents such as the potential cost of learning to drive, or the member of staff at the baths who eats treacle on top of his crumpets...which are already covered with toasted cheese. She talks about her reading, which includes the comedies of William Congreve, and "for the third time" Pride and Prejudice. It brings home the deprivations of the 1950s, where rationing was even harsher than during the war, with constant shortages of basics like meat.
There are also a number of wonderful illustrations, which Frances sent to Mr Bigelow - sometimes as part of the letters and sometimes separately, and several are included here, mostly amusing cartoons relating to incidents in her life.
I very much recommend these sorts of books for holiday reading - the letter format means that it can be picked up and put down, or read in a longer sitting. I had to ration myself from my usual gallop through a book to ensure that it didn't end too soon. If you liked Nella Last's diaries, Mrs Milburn's diaries, or Simon Garfield's collection Our Hidden Lives, then I am sure you will like this book - and if you liked this book then do try one of those.
Happy New Year to all of my readers. I'm sorry that posting has been a bit sporadic over the last few weeks - the alps below were wonderful, and I am still reeling from having read so many books in 2010. The holiday period was certainly good for reading, and as I have another week until I go back to work I anticipate reading a fair few more books. However, I really must get back to blogging as I have a huge pile of reviews to write, both of books that I particularly want to tell you about and of books which were sent to me by publishers to review. So I hope to get on with that this week!
I haven't yet thought about the things that I want to blog about this year. I hope to keep on writing reviews, and about other bookish things (we are planning a Mitford-themed walk this afternoon!). I am very excited about a trip to a certain bookshop in London on Thursday as a result of the Persephone Reading Week which we held last August, and hopefully we will be announcing another PRW for 2010. I am also looking forward to meeting a couple of Oxford and London based bloggers in the coming weeks. I shall also be continuing with my challenge to read my way through the Virago Modern Classics, so do watch out for my other blog.
I look forward to seeing your new year plans for reading, and hope to drop into your blogs soon.
I came across a recipe from Christmassy shortbread, involving cranberries, and I decided to adapt it slightly, to include nutmeg and orange zest. The result was a delicious spicy and buttery biscuit...
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.