Category Archives: Re-reading

Still sitting on the fence…a review of Sense and Sensibility by Jane Austen.

S&SWell, I’ve finished reading Sense and Sensibility – it’s been an interesting read this one. As I mentioned at the end of my last post I hadn’t read Sense and Sensibility since I was a teenager and back then I wasn’t especially keen on the book. Confusingly, over ten years later, I still find myself sitting on the fence with regards to this book. While I most definitely enjoyed reading it more this time around, I can’t say that it’s ever going to be a book I love. It seems to me that Sense and Sensibility is something of a solid, middle-of-the-road kind of classic novel. It’s well written and plotted and its characters are well-developed, and yet, for me, there is still something a little lacking. There is far less humour to be found in Sense and Sensibility compared to some of Austen’s other works and her satirisation of characters is not as cleverly done as in some of her other writing.

s&s badge copyDon’t get me wrong, though. I’m not saying that I found reading Sense and Sensibility unenjoyable, far from it.

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Filed under 19th century, Books, Fiction, Jane Austen, Novel, Re-reading, Reading

On Jane Austen’s doorstep…

Austen doorIt’s been roughly two years since I posted about having moved to a new town and, surprise, surprise…I’ve done it again. This time I have moved south to the beautiful Georgian city of Bath. Those of you who are familiar with my love of Jane Austen can imagine, I’m sure, how excited I am to be walking the same streets she walked.

Austen plaque Bath

Not a stroll goes by without me spying a street name mentioned in Northanger Abbey or recognising a location from Persuasion. And I’ve become rather a pain when it comes to spotting and reading the little historical plaques that adorn the buildings in Bath  in which famous men and women have lived or stayed. Only the other day I made my long-suffering other half cross Great Pulteney Street in excess of four times in order to check if any of the plaques mentioned anything about Austen.

Great Pulteney Street © Charlotte Jones, 2014I thought, therefore, with the landscape, literally, on my doorstep that it was only polite to re-read Austen’s two novels which are largely set in Bath. Naturally, there is no self-interest whatsoever in my having to read two Austen novels. Cough cough. Continue reading

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Long overdue.

books 1(3)I am sorry.

When I was little and my brother used to say these words to me by way of making up for some wrong he had done me, I would reply with the very churlish retort “well, sorry is supposed to be when you won’t do it again”. Perhaps it is time for me to eat my words. At the opening of my last blog post…many, many moons ago, I offered my apologies for my lack of blogging. I have repeated my offence. It has now been over two months since I last put finger to keypad and posted. Why? I will hazard a guess. When I began In my good books…, way back in March 2011, I made this statement

“One of my major motivations when starting this blog was to use it as a means of keeping me on the straight and narrow, so to speak. Not in the sense that blogging will distract me from a life of crime, but more that it will (hopefully!) prevent me from re-reading the same books over and over and over again.”

I think, bizarrely, that within the gaps in this sentence lie the reasons for my lack of posting. It’s hard to neglect great loves…and it’s even harder to ignore them when they whisper sweet nothings to you from a nearby bookcase…

“It is a truth universally acknowledged…”  

“Trust me, I’m telling you stories.”  

“In a hole in the ground there lived a hobbit…”  

                                 “…she always had the feeling that it was very, very, dangerous to live even one day.”

“…do it from the heart or not at all.”

books 6

I have been re-reading, indulging. When I began In my good books… I had the best of intentions, I sought to broaden my reading, to experience new books. I think, somewhere along the way, I made an error. Somewhere between “I must read more classics” and “I like re-reading” I surmised that my love of re-reading precluded my reading new books. From this conclusion I seem to have created a sort of shame, an unhealthy disdain for my urge to re-read. Having created this disdain, I think I have consequently become ashamed to acknowledge my re-reading habits…past, present and future. Consequently, when I have re-read, I have not blogged. When I think about it, this seems incredibly naive and foolish.

books 5In another post I labelled myself “a re-reader by nature” and acknowledged that my battered copy of Pride and Prejudice has never been allowed to sit unread on the shelf for a whole calendar year. I wonder exactly when I decided that I must go against my character, or rather, that I must conceal it. I think that I must adjust my attitude to my reading. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that from now on I will re-read to my heart’s content and bury my library card in the garden. I am saying that from now on I will strike a happy medium. When I re-read, I will blog about it. When I read new books, I will blog about them. I guess that previously I had made some sort of unconscious distinction between ‘books’ and ‘reading’ and, somewhere along the way, I decided that blog posts must be about books. I revise this premise, from now on blog posts will not only be about books, but also about the act of reading books, both old and new.

So there you have it. I guess this goes some way to explaining the gaping holes that have hung like dropped stitches in the knitting pattern of In my good books… – I’d say it’s fairly safe for you to assume that where there are gaps in time, there was re-reading. I have re-read Pride and Prejudice at least twice since beginning In my good books…, I have re-read The Lord of the Rings trilogy, I have re-read Persuasion by Jane Austen, I have re-read the first three Harry Potter books, and probably more that I can’t recall. I think it is abundantly safe to infer that I will always re-read books. I have found true love on the pages of my favourite  books and I very much hope that it will last a lifetime.

books 3So what of The Story of English in 100 Words? I hear you cry (!). Well, I have almost finished it. Only a few lonely  pages to go. I have also, as is my wont, begun simultaneously reading other books. Another reading habit which I seem to have begun in early childhood. From the days when I first started reading books by myself my mother would despair at the pile of bookmark-stuffed books beside my bed. It’s a habit I’ve tried to kick. It’s never particularly conducive to mental clarity to have several different plot-lines and, lord knows, how many characters  all buzzing about your head simultaneously.

I have, however, made it my intention to read (or should that be re-read) Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women over the festive period. I first ‘read’ this book when I was a child, I say ‘read’ because it was actually read aloud to me by my Mum. I have never actually held the book in my own hands and turned the pages and I think it’s about time. So, armed with a beautifully bound Penguin classic, I intend to read its pages for myself for the first time.

books 2I suppose this post has turned into rather an odd ramble about my reading habits. I apologise to those of you anticipating a book review. I think, in the end, this post has turned out to be more of a ‘reading review’. It seems clear to me now that this review (like most of my others!) has been long overdue.

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Blessings and disguises…a review of Nancy Mitford’s The Blessing

bookcase2I guess first and foremost, I have to express no small degree of embarrassment about the length of time which has passed since my last post. Secondly, I have a further confession to make…I have, since I last posted, fallen into that ever-enchanting trap of re-reading. Whilst I have spent my time reading The Blessing, I have also luxuriated in the pages of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy and been captivated by a less fictional offering…David Crystal’s The Story of English in 100 Words.

There you have it, confession confided.

tolkienBefore I write about The Blessing, I do want to make some attempt at justifying my falling from grace and head-over-heels into the trap of re-reading. As I have already mentioned since I began blogging, I have always had a huge tendency to submit to my obsession with re-reading my favourite books…they sit there on the bookshelf like old friends calling to me across a crowded room. Old friends who I love dearly. Old friends who have comforted me during hard times. Old friends who have inspired and succoured me over many years. It is hard to resist them; and while In my good books… has helped to loosen my dependency upon re-reading, I’m not sure I ever wish to be entirely cured of it. I love re-reading, others have asked me many times what I get from it and the answer is fairly obvious…I get something different from every book each time I read it.

Take The Lord of the Rings books, for example, I must have read them every year since I was about fifteen. So (without divulging my exact year of birth), it’s safe to say I have been turning the pages of these lovely books for well over a decade. This summer, my parents made a big change in their lives – moving from the suburban house in the Midlands (centre of the UK) where I spent my childhood, to a rambling Victorian sea-front house on the Welsh coast. Naturally, I was there alongside them to enjoy the highs (and lows!) of such a big change. During the downtime from unpacking boxes, I felt my fingers itch; without thinking, I plucked their battered copy of Tolkien’s The Fellowship of the Ring from the bookcase and was instantly enthralled. Wales always makes me want to read Tolkien, you look out of the window and the landscape on the page simply continues across the vista. wales 2Craggy mountains of stone, lush green woodland, and, to the West, the waves lap against the shore…for me, Middle Earth will always be Wales. So, where was I? I think I was hoping to explain and justify this year’s dalliance with Mr Tolkien. As has happened many times in my life, his words carried me through huge change and into new possibilities. Plus, I found a new pun – I’m a sucker for a good pun – Mum and Dad’s house being situated on the extreme West coast of the UK, I figure they now live in one of the ‘last homely house[s] east of the sea’.

Well, perhaps, it’s time I returned to my pre-destined course of reading and Nancy Mitford’s The Blessing. This, as frequent visitors may recall, is the third of Mitford’s books that I have reviewed. Possessing, as I do, a compilation text of Love in a Cold Climate that also contains The Pursuit of Love and The Blessing, I thought it was about time I got around to reviewing the final book.

book coverWhen I finally begun reading, I wholeheartedly enjoyed The Blessing. As I expected and hoped it is another enchanting novel about the upper echelons of British society, although, this time, it largely takes place in France. The novel centres principally around its heroine, Grace, and her relationship with her husband, the captivating Charles-Edouard. Like Mitford’s other books this novel is, ostensibly, laced with somewhat frivolous concerns in terms of the world-view, but in terms of the internal view of Grace’s relationships it does ask some weighty questions. I don’t want to give away too much of the novel’s main plot points for prospective readers, but suffice to say Mitford’s story brings to the fore the differences to be found, not only in upper class marriages, but also in French marriages compared to English ones. The story commences during the Second World War, although the bulk of the narrative takes place in later peace-time years. I think of the three Mitford novels I have read, this is perhaps the most light-hearted and (not to diminish the book in any way) trivial. However, I think it is one of my favourites. Despite Love in a Cold Climate’s being the most well-known of the books, I think, with consideration, I prefer both The Pursuit of Love and The Blessing. The characters in both of these two books are more endearing, I cared more about their journey. In some ways, this story reminded me of the plot of Madame Bovaryalbeit on a slightly more moneyed level. Thankfully, though, The Blessing‘s heroine is infinity more palatable and appealing.

Chevaux_de_MarlyAs for the book’s title, which refers to the nickname Grace and Charles-Edouard give their young son, well, let me say the old idiom ‘a blessing in disguise’ comes to mind – although, in his case, the disguise is sugary sweet. Siggy (as they call him) is by no means entirely worthy of his pet name.

The Blessing is engagingly written with an experienced hand. Humour and satire are penned with expert precision and Mitford’s descriptions are vivid. I have yet to be disappointed with one of Mitford’s novels, they are saturated with fleshy comical characters who you cannot help but love, despite their many faults and excessive vices. I think the message of The Blessing is one of pragmatism and acceptance. The novel is littered with disguise and deception, from the candy-clean American politician who turns out to be a Bolshevist to the evening when all of the characters attend an elaborate costume ball. However, the over-arching morality of the book seems to suggest that we should accept our loved ones for what and who they really are, warts and all. Be understanding of their faults and forgiving of their mistakes, but alongside this, do not become a doormat, forgive so that you can forget…show understanding in order to understand your loved ones better. Oh, and never spoil an already precocious child.

crystalAs I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I have also been reading David Crystal’s The Story of English in 100 Words. Having only ever studied English Literature, and not English language, at school and university I had never encountered one of Crystal’s books before. The book was recommended to me by the course director of a phonics-based reading programme I recently trained to teach. I ordered it on something of a whim and was thoroughly rewarded. Crystal, who is traditionally more of an academic writer, has penned an entertaining, easy-read. The Story of English in 100 Words is very fun to read and educational but interesting. A hard balance to strike. I haven’t finished reading the book yet, so I won’t say anything more now, but I have already bought it as a gift and recommended it to others.

Unsurprisingly then, I will (hopefully sooner than last time) shortly be reviewing David Crytal’s The Story of English in 100 Words.

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