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credit: Studio Padron

Wanting to escape to a cabin in the woods but still have plenty to read? Look no further.

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Prefer something forbiddingly dark and traditional?  (I don’t)

badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Linda from Silly Little Mischief that encourages bloggers to share the books they’ve checked out from the library. If you’d like to participate, just write up your post-feel free to steal the button-and link it using the Mr. Linky any time during the week. And of course check out what other participants are getting from their libraries.

Predictably, I am not getting a lot of reading done right now.  Starting a new job is tiring (but wonderful in every other way, I’m happy to say) plus I’m on day 10 of the head cold that will not die.  However, the shock of the new at work is slowly wearing off, my cold will presumably end at some point, and when it does I have some really wonderful books to dive into.  And even in my current pathetic state some of these are very good invalid reads: poetry and short comic essays in particular are just right for the evenings when my attention span is non-existent.

Where the Wild Winds Are by Nick Hunt – I love books about walking and I loved Hunt’s first book (about retracing Patrick Leigh Fermor’s footsteps across Europe) so am absolutely delighted to finally have my hands on his newest book.  Here he chooses to follow very unique routes, following four winds across Europe.

Women & Power by Mary Beard – who better to write a manifesto about the historical relationship between women and power than Beard, noted classicist, public intellectual, and victim of absolutely absurd amounts of misogyny?

Turning by Jessica J. Lee – A memoir of the year Lee spent swimming in lakes in and around Berlin after a difficult time in her life, I spotted this in the bookstore just before I left for Europe last summer and have been longing to read it ever since.  Germany?  Swimming?  Written by a Canadian(/British/Chinese) author?  There are too many irresistible elements for me to ignore.  Coincidentally, Virago just released a beautiful paperback edition last week.

A Treasury of Stephen Leacock – You know what’s even more fun than one Stephen Leacock book?  Three books all in one collection.  My interest is in the first (Literary Lapses) and third (Winnowed Wisdom) since, as a good Canadian, I am more than familiar with the middle book (Sunshine Sketches of a Little Town – Leacock’s most famous work by far).

Educated by Tara Westover – I am fascinated to read this much-talked-about new memoir about Westover’s quest for education (and multiple degrees from world-renowned universities) after an isolated childhood with her survivalist family kept her out of the classroom until she was seventeen.

The Five Nations by Rudyard Kipling – One of my favourite things about A Century of Books is that it pushes me to pick up things I wouldn’t usually, like this poetry collection.  To be fair though, I don’t need ACOB to encourage me to read Kipling – just poetry.

What did you pick up this week?

This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository, an online book retailer with free international shipping.  If you buy via these links it means I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  

credit: Architectural Digest

A calm oasis with Penguin Classics galore.

Young Boy Reading by Henri Lebasque

Reading through Packing My Library by Alberto Manguel, there were almost endless quotes I wanted to write down and share with you.  Some I’m saving for my review but others, like this, demanded to be shared immediately.  I love Manguel’s description of his school library as a place without order, rich for exploration and exciting discoveries.  That is what every school library should feel like to a child.

My earliest public library was that of Saint Andrews Scots School, one of the several elementary schools I attended in Buenos Aires before the age of twelve.  It had been founded as a bilingual school in 1838 and was the oldest school of British origin in South America.  The library, though small, was for me a rich, adventurous place.  I felt like a Rider Haggard explorer in the dark forest of stacks that had a earthy smell in summer and reeked of damp wood in winter.  I would go to the library mainly to put my name on the list for the new Hardy Boys installment or a collection of Sherlock Holmes stories.  That school library, as far as I was aware, didn’t have a rigorous order: I would find books on dinosaurs next to several copies of Black Beauty, and war adventures coupled with biographies of English poets.  This flock of books, gathered with no other purpose (it seemed) than to offer the students a generous variety, suited my temperament: I didn’t want a strict guided tour, I wanted the freedom of the city, like that honor (we learned in history class) that mayors bestowed in the Middle Ages on foreign visitors.

This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository, an online book retailer with free international shipping.  If you buy via these links it means I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  

I finished reading The Hollow Land by Jane Gardam yesterday and it was perfect, as I have come to expect from her.  It was fluently, imaginatively written, full of haunting images and details I will not soon forget.  But there is one thing it is not: a children’s book.  And yet that is how it is marketed.

At its heart, there are two children (but child characters alone do not make a children’s book).  Bell Teesdale is eight when the book begins, a sensible country boy who, like the rest of his family, is pitching in with the haymaking on their Cumbrian farm.  Rain is expected so the family works through the day and into the moonlit night, to the despair of the London family renting the farmhouse next to the field.  A tractor circling outside their windows at midnight is not their idea of a relaxing summer holiday.  Tempers flare, words are exchanged, and both fathers are fuming by the time they go to bed.  But Harry, the London family’s very young son, and Bell subtly intervene and peace is made the next morning.

So begins the story of twenty years of friendship between the Teesdales and the Batemans, and most especially between Bell and Harry.  The entire Bateman family comes to love their country getaway, where Harry’s writer father comes to work during the school holidays, but Harry feels a particular bond with the place and is never happier than when exploring the fields, dales, and fells or communing with locals, like the egg-witch (whose story is one of my favourites) or the local chimney sweep.

Gardam is a master of the short story and while I always enjoy reading her stories, I sometimes feel frustrated by their brevity.  I want more!  Here, we have the perfect compromise: a collection of exquisitely composed stories all focused on the same people.  It’s not quite a novel – the stories jump about through the years and Gardam has no interest in explaining things the way she would do in a novel – but the satisfaction of getting to see lives progress and learn how things turn out for everyone as they age is absolutely here.

So why is it considered a children’s book?  A number of her early books are (this was published in 1981, relatively early in her career), but then again that classification seems to vary by publisher.  Some consider Bilgewater, A Long Way From Verona, and The Summer After the Funeral to be for younger readers, which I can somewhat understand.  Europa, who have been reissuing Gardam’s books over the past few years, consider those novels to be for adults and yet this collection they consider among her works for children.  I think that is stretching it.  It’s not inappropriate in anyway for a younger reader, it’s just written in a way I would think appeals to more mature readers.  A twelve-year old would be absolutely fine with it, but then twelve-year olds should be reading adult books and not children’s ones anyway.  The language, the sedate pacing, the frequent focus on adult concerns and thoughts, all seem to me to gear more towards an adult reader.  And Bell and Harry’s boyish activities seem perfectly tailored to the nostalgic adult reader who would like nothing more than to spend a summer day exploring abandoned mines or a winter’s one admiring extraordinarily icicles formed by a fierce, fast frost.

Regardless of your age, it’s a wonderful collection and, like Harry, I didn’t want my time there to end.

NOTE: Europa, despite their interesting classification of adult/children’s novels, having been doing great work reissuing Gardam’s older titles over the past few years.  The Hollow Land, Bilgewater, A Long Way From Verona, and a number of her other books are all currently available in excellent editions and all are well-worth reading.  She is a truly extraordinary writer.  And if you need more encouragement to get excited about Gardam, the Backlisted podcast did a wonderful episode on A Long Way From Verona that is well-worth a listen.

This post contains affiliate links from Book Depository, an online book retailer with free international shipping.  If you buy via these links it means I receive a small commission (at no extra cost to you).  

Searching for a suitable book for Easter weekend?  Let me recommend Bewildering Cares by Winifred Peck, which suits the occasion admirably being both cosy and heavy with aspects of church life.   It wasn’t quite to my tastes but I suspect I am an aberration and many of you would enjoy it greatly.

Published in 1940, this short book covers a week in the life of Camilla Lacely, a vicar’s wife in a mid-sized northern town near Manchester.  A lover of E.M. Delafield, Camilla attempts to write about church committees, war work, local squabbles, and concerns about her overworked husband and enlisted son with the same verve as the Provincial Lady.  Inevitably, she fails to capture the humour and quick-wittedness of those books but the result is still pleasant.  The book does drag somewhat through Camilla’s church-related duties and these take up a tedious amount of time.  In Delafield’s light-hearted hands I have no doubt this could have been made entertaining but it becomes ponderous in Peck’s far more earnest ones.

The best thing about Camilla is her taste in books and my favourite passages were reading-related ones.  For instance, I loved her musings on her fictional predecessors:

…I am rereading with infinite pleasure of the clergy ladies of fiction, Mrs Elton and Mrs Proudie, Nancy Woodforde and Mrs John Wesley […] I let my mind sink into sleep, fancying what sort of address Mrs Elton gave to the Mothers’ Meeting (if any), and how Bishop Proudie ever found the courage to propose to Mrs Proudie.

And who could resist her prescription after a long and exhausting day?

Arthur came in looking so exhausted that I went to the book shelf and took out Mr Mulliner Speaks.  I propped this against the water-jug for him, and Wild Strawberries by Angela Thirkell, which I have read thirty times already and will probably read thirty more, against the loaf for myself.  There is nothing so good for worried people as to read at their meals, and funny books if possible…

Others have written far more fondly and at length about this book so do read the reviews by Audrey, Julie, and Lyn if you are interested in learning more.  I am happy to have read this but will equally happily consign my copy to the give-away pile.  For me, this book is a poor example of Peck’s talents.  Her gifts are more introspective than observational, more earnest than comic, and it feels like here she tries – with middling results – to be something she isn’t.  Much better to read the excellent House-Bound (published two years later) and be swept up into a thoughtful, moving story about the war’s impact on domestic life and social conventions.