Top Ten Tuesday: Autumn TBRs

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. 

Usually I begin a TBR post with a long whinge about how I never stick to my reading plans and don’t really know why I bother making them. My last such list, made about this time last year, began exactly that way. This time, however, is a little different because I actually read six (six!) of the books I listed back then. Six! Hoo-bloody-ray.

Admittedly, it’s been a year but…… Six!

The books on my current Autumn reading list are a combination of leftovers from the last one (with the exception of To The Hermitage which I’m finally giving up on after thirteen years and four attempts) and those I got for my birthday:

1. A Place of Greater Safety by Hilary Mantel. This came all the way to France and back again and remained unread in my suitcase for the entire holiday. I liked the idea of reading it in France but clearly it wasn’t to be.

2. The Warden by Anthony Trollope. I know, I know. Soon.

3. Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimimanda Ngozi Andichi. I was so excited about this book when I bought it, and still am, but I just don’t seem to have quite gotten round to actually reading it yet.

4. Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov. I loved Azar Nafisi’s book Reading Lolita in Tehran, which I read last year. I’d not really given this book much thought until then.

5. For Two Thousand Years by Mihail Sebastian. This is a bit of an unknown for me. I chose it entirely because I was intrigued by the blurb on the back. It could be awful but I’m hoping not.

6. The Dark Side of Love by Rafik Schami. When I added this to my wishlist I failed to appreciate how big it is. It may well wait until Christmas when I’ll hopefully have a bit more time on my hands and will be able to throw myself into it properly.

7. The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim. This book gets so much love from bloggers and I have to admit to being a bit curious. It looks like exactly the kind of thing I normally love.

8. The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. Another mega-ton tome and another gift from my lovely friend L. She always buys me the biggest books on my wishlist because they’re better value for money apparently.

9. The Bookseller of Kabul by Asne Seierstad. I picked this up in a secondhand shop a while ago and am desperate to make a start. I keep putting it off until after I’ve read more of the birthday books though.

10. Silkworm by Robert Galbraith. I recently read The Cuckoo’s Calling and was surprised by how much I enjoyed it. I’d like to read Silkworm before I fall too far behind the TV series.

As Autumn approaches I’m also considering some more from the Victorian and Edwardian Ghost Stories collection I’ve been reading over the past few winters. For Christmas last year P gave me a collection of short ghost stories collected by Roald Dahl and I’ve been delaying reading any of these until after I’ve finished the other collection but I’m not sure how strict I can carry on being about that. The Roald Dahl ones look awesome.

Oh yeah, and I still have to finish Doctor Zhivago. And hopefully some time soon before I completely lose the will to continue.

Good luck with all your own reading plans!

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Bronte Waterfall and Top Withens

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My recent discovery that Lucy at Hard Book Habit and I share an appreciation for Emily Bronte’s poem ‘No Coward Soul Is Mine’ reminded me that I’ve still not provided the second part of my post on the visit P and I made to Haworth back in June. This, then, is that post but be warned: there are a lot of shaky, over exposed camera-phone pictures coming up….

A couple of days after our visit to the Bronte Parsonage P and I drove back that way with the intention of walking along the Bronte Trail as far as the waterfall and back again. We’d already walked to the top of Malham Cove earlier that morning (it was awesome, in case you were wondering) so to save our poor legs we ended up ditching the car at the Penistone Country Park, halfway between Stanbury and Oxenhope, and walking from there. It knocked a couple of miles off the trip. At this time it was still quite sunny so we weren’t in any particular hurry and there was plenty of time to admire the lambs, the green hills and the distant view of Haworth behind us.

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It took about forty minutes in all, I reckon. Probably less.

When we got to the falls there were quite a few people milling about taking pictures so we sat on a rock overhanging the stream and watched some children playing with a dog in the water below. In spite of the bustle around us it still felt peaceful. It’s a really beautiful spot.

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We weren’t especially tired and although the weather looked like it would turn – there were some seriously ominous clouds on the horizon – I thought we’d probably have just enough time to walk the extra mile or so to Top Withens, the supposed inspiration behind Wuthering Heights. At this point I have to say that this is one of the reasons why I think P is a particularly lovely person; we could both clearly see that it was about to rain a lot but he could tell that I secretly had my heart set on going to Top Withens so he not only insisted that we go but also made out that it was all his idea so that I wouldn’t feel bad about dragging him around the moors on a pilgrimage to a site he doesn’t really care about in the rain. He’s great.

Unlike the first part of our journey, the walk from the waterfall to Top Withens was almost entirely uphill, much rockier and desperately muddy. The green and rolling hills had very quickly been replaced by desolate, windswept moorland. The tiny tree on the horizon in the photographs below marks our final destination.

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We were probably about a third of the way there when it started to rain. The sky turned quite dark and the temperature dropped but even thought it was all quite depressingly bleak I was secretly thinking how perfect this all was; if you’re going to visit Wuthering Heights for the first time you might as well do it in a storm, right? Like Lockwood at the start of the novel.

I said this to P but he was keeping very quiet.

Thankfully it didn’t rain for long and, British weather being what it is, the skies were clearing by the time we reached the top of the hill. The farmhouse is derelict now of course but it was inhabited right up until the 1920s. There’s a display board detailing the history of the house and a plaque noting the part it is reported to have played in Wuthering Heights. The building doesn’t really match any of the descriptions of the farmhouse in the novel but I can well imagine that Emily Bronte took inspiration from the setting; the spot it occupies is at the top of a crest overlooking the moors and completely exposed to the elements. It’s eerily bleak.

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We had a really lovely weekend in Yorkshire but I have to say that this was absolutely my favourite part.

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I Struggled to Complete

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. This week’s theme is all about the books we had a hard time getting into. 

Thinking back, I’m sure I’ve made a similar list to this one before – something along the lines of ‘Ten Books I Didn’t Finish’ – but I now can’t find it (admittedly, I didn’t look that hard). This time I’m listing ten of the books I found a real chore to read, at least at first. In some cases they improved on further reading, in others I just gave up.

1. Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie. I am in awe of this book but there’s no escaping the fact that, for me, it required insane powers of concentration, patience and perseverance. [review here]

2. As I Lay Dying by William Faulkner. I had to give a presentation on this book for a university course I was taking on depression-era America. I kind of loved it in the end but spent a lot of time cross referencing the book with the Spark Notes to make sure I was on the right track. It did my head in a bit.

3. Moby Dick by Hermann Melville. Don’t. Even. Get. Me. Started.

4. The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco. I eventually got through this on the third attempt and it was absolutely well worth the effort. I think I just got a bit bogged down in all that stuff about semiotics, the Inquisition and monastic poverty. I tried too hard.

5. The Sot Weed Factor by John Barth. I gave up. I just couldn’t.

6. Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. I’m not knocking this book, it’s ruddy brilliant but it’s definitely a slow burner. It was one of the first Russian novels I read and I found the names – all those Raskolnikovs and Razumikhins – particularly confusing.

7. The Magus by John Fowles. I have no intention of going back to finish this. It was infuriating.

8. A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth. I think I was probably just intimidated by the size of this one. Once I got over that minor obstacle I fell in love with this book.

9. Catch 22 by Joseph Heller. I think this book is wonderful but it took me a long time to get used to the way Heller writes. He darts around from one story to the next, never telling anything in the right order. It can catch you out if you’re not careful.

10. To The Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf. I can’t even tell you why I have given up on this book so many times. I just have. And I’m embarrassed by it.

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Recommendations for Londonphiles

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish.

This week’s TTT theme is all to do with book recommendations and I confess to having had a bit of a brain freeze with this one; nothing really seemed to be coming to mind. I’ve plumped for the above purely because we had a day out in the big city last month and I’ve been mulling this list quietly over in my mind ever since. This week seemed like a good enough time to put it to use.

Many a moon ago I lived in London but I now only really get to experience it once or twice a year as a country-mouse day-tripper fresh off the train. It’s a strange turnaround and my feelings on the subject are mind-bogglingly complicated – I mean, really, who knew I could feel quite so many things about something so simple? – and while I never feel truly myself when I’m in London these days I’m still quite disgustingly fond of the place. In its honour here are some books that have attempted to bring the city to life:

1. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman. Gaiman’s imagined city beneath the city feels so alive. It’s bizarre and wonderfully inventive and definitely my favourite Gaiman novel so far.

2. The End of the Affair by Graham Greene. An agonising love affair set amongst the bombed out houses of Blitz London.

3. The Children’s Book by A. S. Byatt. A multi-layered and immensely detailed novel partly set around the foundation of the Victoria & Albert Museum which will always be one of my favourite places to visit in London.

4. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens. You could pick almost any Dickens’ book here but I particularly like this one. The characters that populate the dreary Thames’ shores and fancy parlours of the novel are among his best. [Review here].

5. Bridget Jones’ Diary by Helen Fielding. As a teenager this was the kind of London I imagined for my adult self; all swanky black cabs, trendy flats, office parties and handsome co-workers. Ridiculous.

6. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Arthur Conan Doyle. As an adult this is the kind of London I like to imagine for myself.

7. Rivers of London by Ben Aaronovitch. Ok, so I didn’t love this. But I think the idea is a great one and, like Gaiman, Aaronovitch shows that fantastical, otherworldly Londons can feel as exciting and real as the city itself. [Review here].

8. About A Boy by Nick Hornby. Or, in fact, most Nick Hornby novels.

9. Vile Bodies by Evelyn Waugh. It’s not too long since I read this so it’s still on my mind. For Waugh’s wealthy, carefree Londoners the city is a shallow whirlwind of wild parties, fleeting relationships and senseless fun. [Review here].

10. White Teeth by Zadie Smith. I think of all the fictional Londons I’ve listed this is the one that most closely resembles the ‘real’ one, if such a thing exists, or at least it most reminds me of the one I lived in as a child.

All done. I’m trying to get back into the habit of Top Ten Tuesdays as they’ve fallen by the wayside over the past few months. Next week’s is a back to school related freebie so I’m desperately trying to think of something now… We’ll see how it goes.

Top Ten Tuesday: Instant reads 

Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by The Broke and The Bookish. Each week a new theme is posted and this time it’s all about those little things that make you instantly want to read a book.

I’m a creature of annoyingly predictable habits. I swear I try not to be; I push myself to try new things all the time and I love it when this yields surprisingly pleasant results. But I can’t help the embarrassing fact that sometimes nothing feels quite as good as the comfort zone. Here’s what mine looks like:

  1. India, France or Russia. I suspect this is for no deeper or more meaningful reason than the fact that some of my favourite books are set in these three countries. Books by Indian, French and Russian authors are fairly highly represented on my shelves.

Suggestions: The God of Small Things, Suite Francais, Anna Karenina

  1. Maps and plans. If a book opens with a plan – of a fictional country or an ancient building for example – then my excitement will know no bounds.

Suggestions: The Hobbit, The Name of the Rose, Treasure Island 

  1. Inter-war. I’m naturally drawn to books set between the wars. I expect it’s just because so much changed in so very little time and you can see that reflected in the books of the period, sandwiched as they are between the traditional classics and modern fiction.

Suggestions: Vile Bodies, I Capture The Castle, The Great Gatsby

  1. Traditional murder mystery. I’m not a fan of modern crime fiction but I will happily read a golden oldie any time. They’re entertaining and easy to read and not half as grimas their modern equivalents.

Suggestions: The Moonstone, Murder on the Orient Express, The Nine Taylors

  1. An arty cover.I seem to own a ton of classic novels with covers featuring artworks, specifically art depicting beautiful but sad looking women.

Suggestions: On Tangled Paths, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, The House of Mirth

  1. Letters, diaries and documents. I suspect I like these just because my lazy brain can’t always be arsed with lengthy descriptions, scene setting and inner monologue. Sometimes it just wants the facts explained as concisely as possible thank you very much.

Suggestions: His Bloody Project, The Perks of Being A Wallflower, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾  

  1. A quest for the truth. It is a truth universally acknowledged that books with protagonists who must uncover a long dead secret are splendid, especially if said protagonist must visit dusty archives, unravel clues hidden in a diary or (preferably) poem and interview elderly witnesses who clearly have something to hide.

Suggestions: Possession, A Very Long Engagement, The Woman in White

  1. Looking back.A regretful narrator (or narrators) telling the story of that thing that happened long, long ago is one of my favouritest things ever.

Suggestions: Atonement, The Poisonwood Bible, The Secret History

  1. Monasteries and cathedrals.I don’t know why this is either.

Suggestions: The Name of the Rose, Dissolution, The Pillars of the Earth

  1. Family trees. I love a family saga, particularly ones so complicated a family tree is necessary to help the reader untangle the narrative. It’s the sense of history that appeals to me I think.

Suggestions: War and Peace, The Forsyte Saga, One Hundred Years of Solitude

 

 

Top Ten Tuesday: Tyrants, despots and dictators

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. 

I had already half decided not to involve myself in the next few Top Ten Tuesdays, at least until I had a bit more time to spare. However, as soon as I realised that this was a freebie week, the idea for a post on tyrannical regimes in literature immediately leapt into my head fully formed. It would have been wasteful to ignore it or to put it off until another week when the subject would be less relevant (although I guess it’ll remain relevant for at least the next four years). But still, it seemed like an apt week.

1. The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood, in which a revolutionary extremist Christian movement seizes control of power and strips women of their rights and freedoms, with horrifying consequences. I’ve read this a few times now and it never fails to scare me.

2. 1984 by George Orwell. An obvious choice perhaps but I don’t think this list would be complete without reference to 1984. Winston Smith exists in a nightmarish world where the state controls the truth and every move is watched by Big Brother; there’s no privacy, no freedom, no love.

3. V for Vendetta by Alan Moore. I think the dystopian world in V for Vendetta is disturbing because it’s just about recognisable. This is a police-state London in the 1990s, post civil-war and run by the fascist Norsefire party.

4. The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe by C.S. Lewis. The White Witch’s tyranny over Narnia has lasted a hundred years and caused a deep, deep winter to settle over the land.

5. Coriolanus by William Shakespeare. Weird choice maybe but I quite like this play, although it is rather harrowing. Coriolanus’ tyranny over Rome eventually collapses because he is completely unable to compromise.

6. Shades of Grey by Jasper Fforde. A slightly more light hearted entry on the list here although it’s still fairly dark. The action here takes place in Chromatica, where the social hierarchy is determined by ability to see colour.Woe betide you if you’re a Grey caught fraternising with a Violet…

7. Animal Farm by George Orwell. The farmyard setting is used here to comment on the high ideals of the Russian Revolution which had quickly gone astray and been replaced with Stalin’s reign of terror.

8. Harry Potter and the … by J.K. Rowling. In the Deathly Hallows Voldemort seizes power and begins his own renewed terrifying reign over the magical world, but you could argue that Delores Umbridge and the Ministry of Magic had been verging on the despotic for some time anyway.

9. Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman. Another alternative history but in this one the people from the African continent have used centuries of technological advantage to subjugate the Europeans. Now the Crosses (Whites) are at the mercy of the more powerful Noughts (Blacks).

10. The Wave by Todd Strasser. A clever classroom experiment – and an attempt to show what life was really like in Nazi Germany – goes horribly wrong when a new movement sweeps through the school.

I realise that this week would also have been a good week for a TTT list on protests in literature but sadly that proved a little harder to write. I’ll bear it in mind for a future week though – suggestions always welcome!

Top Ten Tuesday: Books I’d like to find under the Christmas tree

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Top Ten Tuesday is a weekly meme hosted by the Broke and the Bookish. Each week a new theme is posted and today we’re looking at books we’d like to receive for Christmas.

The hardest part of this week’s list is narrowing it down to just ten. Am I a bit greedy?!

1.       The Essex Serpent by Sarah Perry. I’ve had my eye on this for ages, mainly because I’ve seen a ton of good reviews on the blogs. Fingers crossed.

2.       Anything at all by Ismail Kadare. I don’t mind which book. Any will do.

3.       Mansfield Park or Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen. This year has been an Austen free zone and it’d be nice to cross another of the major novels off the list.

4.       Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray. If only this didn’t look so darn huge, I’m sure I’d have read it already. Maybe in 2017.

5.       The Sellout by Paul Beatty. It’s been hard to ignore all the buzz about this novel. I’m intrigued.

6.       The Luminaries by Eleanor Catton. I’ve not yet read any Australasian novels as part of the Around the World in 80 Books challenge so this might be a nice way of doing it.

7.      The Spy Who Loved: The Secrets and Lives of Christine Granville by Clare Mulley. I heard a radio documentary about Christine Granville last week and now I’m a bit obsessed.

8. Fathers and Sons by Ivan Turgenev. I try to read at least one Russian novel a year and this, I think, is the leading candidate for 2017. I’ve not tackled any Turgenev before.

9. The Elegance of the Hedgehog by Muriel Barbary. Again, it’s the reviews that did it for me with this one.

10. The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton. I read The House of Mirth last year and it was great. I’d like to read another.

That’s it for another week, and probably my last post before Christmas. Have a merry one 🙂

A visit to the Shelley grave

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I’m waaaay behind with reading Anya Seton’s Katherine so there’s no review to post just yet. Instead I thought I’d put up some photos of a grave we visited a week or two ago in sunny Bournemouth. This was my first time in Bournemouth (it’s lovely, by the way; you should go) and before we left I made a point of dragging poor P around the town centre in search of St Peter’s Church. It was fairly easy to find – just opposite a grotty looking Wetherspoons called ‘The Mary Shelley’ – and we didn’t have to spend too much time wandering amongst the graves because the church had provided a handy exhibition board with a plan to help us out. I expect they probably get quite a few Shelley pilgrims visiting.

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This small looking vault is actually the last resting place not just of Mary Shelley, but also her son and his wife and Shelley’s parents, the journalist William Godwin and the feminist philosopher Mary Wollstonecraft Godwin, author of Vindication of the Rights of Women.

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Apparently Mary Shelley only visited Bournemouth a handful of times. In the late 1840s her son began work on a new home at nearby Boscombe, hoping the sea air would help his ailing mother, but she died in 1851 before it could be finished. In the last years of her life she had expressed a wish to be buried alongside her parents so they were duly removed from a cemetery in London and placed alongside her here. It’s also said that the heart of Percy Bysshe Shelley, with whom Mary had eloped as a teenager, is buried here. He drowned in Italy in 1822 but his heart was salvaged from the funeral pyre and brought home to England.

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After leaving Bournemouth we wandered into the New Forest for a bit and came across another literary grave. But I’ll save my photos of that for next time I’m short of reviews!