I seem to be jumping from one book to the next at the moment, led by serendipity to a story here, a dip into an old favourite there, but not actually finishing very much. This seems to happen to me more and more these days. I could blame age or the internet for my short attention span but really, I just wish I wasn’t interested in so many different subjects, genres & authors. I’m halfway through The English Festivals by Laurence Whistler (brother of Rex, who I wrote about here) just reprinted by Dean Street Press. This is a lovely book about the traditions & customs of the festivals of the English year from Christmas to Candlemas, Plough Sunday & Easter, which is where I’m up to at the moment. I’m just about to start The Octopus by Frank Norris with my 19th century bookgroup which I’ll be reading in weekly instalments for about 6 weeks. It’s the story of a dispute between wheat farmers & the railroad in California in 1880. I haven’t read any Norris so I’m looking forward to that.
I’m listening to Antonia Fraser’s childhood memoir, My History, on audio, read by Penelope Wilton. It’s wonderful. If you would like a taste of it, the lovely blog, Books as Food, has had some excerpts here. It’s not only about Fraser’s childhood, her own history, but about how she came to love history as a subject. It’s sent me off on some reading & browsing trails as well as wanting to reread some of Antonia Fraser’s biographies. She mentions Our Island Story by H E Marshall, which was recently reprinted & which is on the tbr shelves. Reading the chapter about the Princes in the Tower made me wonder if this was the school book that the Amazon loaned to Alan Grant in The Daughter of Time (do I have time to read it again?).
Part of her schooldays were spent at a convent school founded by Mary Ward, a seventeenth century nun who believed passionately in education for girls. Fraser wrote about Mary Ward in her book on seventeenth century women, The Weaker Vessel, which I haven’t read since it was published 30 years ago. I picked it up to read about Mary Ward but I’m much more interested in the seventeenth century than I was back then so I’d love to read the whole book again.
The nuns & the convent school also provided the setting for Fraser’s first detective novel, Quiet as a Nun, published in 1977. Open Library had the same edition that I read all those years ago so I’m reading it for at least the third or fourth time. I loved the Jemima Shore books & this first one, about the mysterious death of a nun in the tower called Blessed Eleanor’s Retreat in the convent grounds, was the best.
Then, I received an email about a conference on the work of Mary Elizabeth Braddon. Among the sessions was a reading group discussion of one of her stories, The Mystery at Fernwood. Braddon is one of my favourite sensation novelists & I had this story in the Delphi collection on my eReader so I dropped everything to read it. Braddon is an early member of the Had I But Known school of mystery writing.
If I had but gone with her! It is so difficult to reconcile oneself to the irrevocable decrees of Providence, it is so difficult to bow the head in meek submission to the awful fiat; so difficult not to look back to the careless hours which preceded the falling of the blow, and calculate how it might have been averted.
Isabel is intrigued by the air of mystery at the home of her fiance, Laurence Wendale. There are forebodings of misery & secrets & a mysterious invalid who lives in a separate wing of the house & is never seen. The secret wasn’t so very mysterious but Braddon’s writing is so atmospheric. She uses the weather so well to suggest a sinister atmosphere & heightened emotion. I loved it. However, Laurence’s sister, Lucy, mentions Sir Walter Scott’s Demonology & I’d never heard of it so needed to find out what it was. Then, I checked my Delphi edition of Scott, & there it was, so that’s another book I want to read.
Christmas is coming so I’m starting to think about some suitable reading, listening & watching for the next few weeks. I’ve started reading one story each day from Silent Nights, the Christmas mystery anthology edited by Martin Edwards for the British Library Crime Classics series. The first story is an old favourite, The Sherlock Holmes story, The Adventure of the Blue Carbuncle, but most of the stories are completely new to me.
I’m also reading poetry. Last year, someone mentioned Janet Morley’s anthology, Haphazard by Starlight, a poem a day from Advent to Epiphany. I was too late to get hold of it then but I did buy it & also the Lent anthology, The Heart’s Time, which I enjoyed reading. The poems aren’t all religious, or not overtly religious, but I’m enjoying concentrating on one poem a day. I’ve started listening to Christmas carols & I watched Miracle on 34th Street again last weekend. It begins at Thanksgiving so I always seem to watch it at this time of year. The original version only, please. I’m sure I’m not the only one who cries when Kris sings with the little Dutch girl, no matter how many times I see it. I just love 1940s movies, especially set in New York. You’d never have a movie these days where the romantic leads were called Fred & Doris, would you? Such lovely, old-fashioned names. Maureen O’Hara, the last of the main cast members, died recently. She was such a beautiful actress, I remember her in How Green Was My Valley as well.
I’ll be listening to Miriam Margolyes reading Dickens’s A Christmas Carol, & I’ve borrowed a couple of Christmas mysteries from work, new reprints of 1930s titles – Crime at Christmas by C H B Kitchin & Murder for Christmas by Francis Duncan. Not the most imaginative titles but they have lovely retro covers (I tried to load a photo but it came out upside down) & the more reprints the better!
I have finished reading a book, Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole, which I’ll be reviewing soon. My non-book buying has been going well (I obviously don’t need to buy books when I have so many on my shelves & eReader to dip into) although I do have a little confession to make but that can wait a couple of days. This post is long enough already.