Books book books

This weekend I finished two books that had been hanging on for a while. The first was In the Country of Pointed Firs, by Sarah Orne Jewett, which I’m reading as part of the What’s in a Name? Challenge. It’s a slight volume, and the only reason it took me so long was because it was by my bed, so I would read a page and then fall asleep. When I finally paid it due attention, I found it a treasure. In it, the narrator recounts episodes from a summer spent in a small fishing town on the coast of Maine, as she gets to know the people, their histories and their stories. It is beautifully written and almost conversational in tone so that it reads as though a friend were telling the story. I was so transported, I could almost smell the scent of herbs drifting in from the garden where the narrator stays, as long summer evenings gradually shift to dusk.

The second was The Mists of Avalon, by Marion Zimmer-Bradley, also one of my books in the same challenge. I had put this down plain and simply because I was not at all enjoying it. I picked it up again out of sheer stubborness and made it through (not without some skim reading), but I am baffled. It seems to me a half-baked mess of 1980s gynae-mysticism, combined with a not all that good reworking of Arthurian legend from the perspective of mostly one-dimensional characters. I am so irritated by it that I can’t even be bothered to pick at its myriad flaws. If Arthur is indeed sleeping on Avalon to return in Britain’s darkest hour, he must certainly be sleeping uneasily.

I’m also well into part 2 of the audio version of Moll Flanders. Since she has already been whore, bigamous and incestuous wife, deceiver, mistress, abandoner of children and is now an accomplished thief, I’m wondering where next? She’s about 60 and there are still a few hours to go. Clearly, she does not come to a bad end since she lives to repent (hmmm) and write her memoirs.

And now on with the editing…

2007 books roundup

I like this idea of reviewing the (pitifully few) books I read over the last year. Here are the stats:

total books read: 53. Well. Frankly, I am shocked and slightly appalled. That’s less than half the usual amount. Pesky studying. I shall try to do better this year.

total fiction read: 49. That seems about right. Which means…

total non-fiction read: 4. Which is probably 4 more than the average year.

books by American authors: 7. Yup, this was definitely the year of the mental flight back to England. Every single other book I read was by a UK writer. I’m not counting Cultural Amnesia here at all since I’m still dipping into it, and anyway Clive James has lived in England for so long that he’s practically English. And Neil Gaiman may happen to live in Minnesota, but he’s still one of us. What’s interesting (to me, oh look, my navel) about this is that I didn’t make a conscious decision to focus on UK books this year; but I know that I was seeking the familiar, looking for language and settings that I could wrap comfortingly round myself. I suspect this is partly to do with the fact that when I did have time to read I was knackered, and partly to do with the fact that I didn’t go home last year at all.

audiobooks listened to: 23. This was the year that I really discovered audiobooks, and the highlight was definitely Lolita read by Jeremy Irons. I could have sat and let Jeremy Irons’ voice coat me like honey for days at a time. What I also discovered is that I really, really struggle listening to audiobooks read by American narrators. I don’t know why this is, but every audiobook that I have given up on has had an American narrator. It is possibly related to the fact that, early in the year the two books that I didn’t enjoy were The Emperor’s Children and The Geographer’s Library, two particularly poor specimens of contemporary literature. In fact, it still makes me wince to think about them, and angry at myself for listening all the way through.

What a lazy reading year it was. Everything right in the comfort zone of 19th and 20th century stuff and rounded off with Jane Austen on audio and Georgette Heyer in print. Still, I am carefully making no reading plans for 2008, because as soon as I say I ‘must’ read something, it becomes the thing above all that I don’t want to read. My mind slides away from it. This is what’s going on with vol 2 of Proust at the moment. I’m waiting to catch myself unawares so that I can sneak up on the book and be well into it before I realise. I actually do want to read it; it’s just that, at the same time, I really don’t.