Tuesday, 31 December 2013

There are two motives for reading a book; one, that you enjoy it; the other, that you can boast about it - Bertrand Russell

It's the end of another year. How did that happen? And so much has happened this past year. Not least my move from one country to another. I am now happily installed in my new home, waiting to start my new job. And before I look ahead, I just have to take a little peek backwards.

I particularly lament my lack of reading these past few months. The move seems to have disturbed my momentum and killed my ability to finish books. A phenomenon which will be reversed the more I settle, methinks. Me hopes...

Still, overall, I have made my way through a delightfully diverse and not-so-shabby list of books over the past twelve months. From children's books to classics. Europeans to Americans. And a couple of re-reads thrown in for good measure.

The highlights for me have been many. Finally discovering Roald Dahl and Pooh Bear. Not disliking Dickens. Loving Waugh, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Tolstoy and Virgil. Re-acquainting myself with Emma and Le Petit Prince.

Disappointments have also been part of the journey. Realising that I really don't like Virginia Woolf. Finding Joyce hard going. Being unable to finish Kundera and Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

My absolute favourites of the year? Hardy's A Mere Interlude, Hawthorne's The Scarlet Letter and Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.

In total, I managed roughly 30 books this year. I'd like to improve on that during 2014. However, I put no pressure on myself. Some of those names remaining on my Classics Club Challenge are quite chunky. And, as I said, I'm just not on top of my reading at the mo. Let's see what happens, eh. And enjoy. :0)

Thursday, 19 December 2013

He that loves a book will never want a faithful friend, a wholesome counselor, a cheerful companion, an effectual comforter. By study, by reading, by thinking, one may innocently divert and pleasantly entertain himself, as in all weathers, as in all fortunes - R H Barrow

I finally finished Emma. And in her company thoroughly enjoyed my Sunday afternoon of rain and gales. The storms outside tamed by the gentle ambling of the inhabitants of Highbury. 

It really was a pleasant read. With all the reminders of why Jane Austen's works remain timeless classics. Easy reading. Charming characters. And enough twists and turns to ensure a healthy - and amusing - mental constitutional.

Before we began our study of Emma for A level, my English teacher gave us a very severe warning. You will love it or hate it. The marmite of English literature, it would seem. A warning well founded.

Emma cannot be considered an entirely lovable character. She is wealthy, beautiful and intelligent. Added to which she is spoilt, revered and headstrong. Hardly a person to insight sympathy. And yet I cannot dislike her. Never have and apparently never will.

Austen herself it seems did not dislike her either. Indeed, she is credited with declaring that in Emma she was creating a character that only she would like. You can almost feel her presence hovering protectively over her favoured protagonist. Explaining her misdeeds. Excusing her silliness.

"Vanity working on a weak head, produces every sort of mischief", she muses. The warning is clear. Although the application not quite so. Isn't Harriet Smith the weak head? Worked on with vanity by Emma? Indeed it is so. Yet Emma is by no means immune to the effects of vanity. And in doing so, shows her weakness. And the result? Only ever mischief, says Austen. Never malicious.

Austen also works through the delightful Mr Knightley to show Emma's humanity and personableness. How masterfully he rebuffs her puerile meddlings and fertile imagination. "Better be without sense, than misapply it as you do". Her stoic acceptance of such discipline and put-downs must give evidence of a good heart. Indeed, her entire conduct towards her troublesome father shows her worth.

So the read was a pleasant one and has given me a taste for the rest of Austen. Now that I have found a job (hurrah!), I feel that I can indulge this taste. Although re-reading such classics really does feel like too much of an indulgence. Like time ill spent when there are so many other books waiting for my attention. Can I indulge guilt free? Mmm. We shall see...

Sunday, 8 December 2013

The person, be it gentleman or lady, who has not pleasure in a good novel, must be intolerably stupid - Jane Austen

It seems inconceivable that a month has passed since my last post. And without my having finished a book. Not one.

Indeed, since my last post, I have barely advanced through Emma. Or One hundred years of solitude for that matter. So much for "working through Austen's novels over the next couple of weeks". Still, my settling in has continued. I am now settled. And in.

Only germs these past three days have made me stop and stay at home. And read again. Hence I feel that I can post without shame. That said, I still haven't finished Emma. Speed is beyond me. And it suddenly seems to be a very long novel. Was it ever so?

That's one more thing about reading on Kindles. It's fine having a percentage gauging your way through. But it's nothing like seeing how far through a book you are. And how far you've got to go. Like carefully placing your bookmark, and flicking through the remaining pages to the end. Not reading, just savouring what's gone before and what is to come.

Yet my reproach is harsh and fleeting. My dear Kindle is in fact ideal. When you're feeling pants, and want to lie down on the sofa and read. When you feel colder than normal because of the germs coursing through your veins and so want to keep as much of your body as possible under the quilt. When your cats have cuddled up to sleep on your belly and your feet, and you can't move without waking them. Then my dear Kindle is indeed ideal. Only one hand needs to be exposed because only one hand is needed to hold it and turn the pages. No need to expose two hands. No need to move and disturb me or the cats. No need to fret. Oh yes. I still love my Kindle dearly.