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Archive for December, 2020

2020 is a strange year to look back on.  In some ways it was the year that felt like a decade, with so much happening so quickly and headlines changing every minute.  But in other ways I look back to things that happened in January and February and they feel so recent, largely because there was so little to fill the time memorably since then.

Reading, as always, has been a saviour and with limited opportunities to socialise there was more time than ever for it this year.  I made it through a ridiculous number of books, which provided comfort, distraction, entertainment, education, and companionship through this odd year.  Here are my ten favourites:

10. Plot 29 (2017) – Allan Jenkins
Not the book I thought it was going to be when I picked it up, but instead far more powerful and memorable.  Jenkins set out to write about gardening and his relationship with his foster family but instead undergoes a very emotional journey, unravelling the mysteries of his troubled birth family.

9. Beyond the Thirty-Nine Steps (2019) – Ursula Buchan
I loved this biography of the ever-fascinating John Buchan.  He was a man of such purpose, energy and loyalty and his varied accomplishments and loving legacy are a testament to these increasingly rare virtues.  His biographer is his granddaughter and she paints a rounded portrait of him both at home and at work throughout his too-short and extraordinarily busy life.

8. The Eighth Life (2014) – Nino Haratischvili (translated by Charlotte Collins and Ruth Martin)
A brilliant saga tracing the lives of the members of one Georgian family across almost one hundred tumultuous years, from the Russian Revolution to the early years of the 21st Century.  I loved every page.

7. Madensky Square (1988) – Eva Ibbotson
I think we all struggled with our reading at some point this year, a frustrating process when we know how helpful books can be in times of stress and uncertainty.  I read mindlessly for most of March and April but picked this up at the beginning of May and it broke the curse.  Ibbotson is always comforting but serious times called for serious measures and nothing but Madensky Square, the best of her novels, would do.  I wrote about it years ago and my love for its heroine Susanna and her friends and neighbours on Madensky Square in pre-war Vienna only grows with each rereading.

6. Love in the Blitz (2020) – Eileen Alexander
What a delight!  This collection of Second World War love letters written by a young Cambridge graduate to her future husband bubbles with humour, lust, and anxiety, tracking their romance from its infancy through declarations, separation, engagement and marriage.  I shared a few of the letters (here and here) and had to restrain myself from sharing dozens more.  Alexander is remarkably frank in her letters and they make for very refreshing reading.

5. Out of Istanbul (2001) – Bernard Ollivier (translated by Dan Golembeski)
This story of one man’s journey along the Silk Road was just what I needed in this travel-free year.  In the spring of 1999, the sixty-one-year-old Ollivier set off from Istanbul intending to hike several months each year in the quest to reach his ultimate destination: China.  This volume covers the first leg of that journey, when he made it almost to the Iranian border before being felled by illness.  It’s a fascinating journey and Ollivier is refreshingly free of the arrogance of so many male travel writers, who set out convinced of their invincibility.

4. Beartown (2017) – Fredrik Backman (translated by Neil Smith)
Set in a small hockey-obsessed town in Sweden, Beartown thoughtfully looks at how a horrible event splits the community.  When the town’s hockey star rapes a girl at a party, the majority of the town immediately rallies around him.  It’s an incredibly powerful story about the dangers of group identities, told simply and with great empathy, and deserves every bit of hype and praise that has been heaped upon it.

3. Pravda Ha Ha (2019) – Rory MacLean
A chillingly important journey through today’s Russia and other increasingly authoritarian Eastern European states.

2. Where Stands a Wingèd Sentry (1941) – Margaret Kennedy
Kennedy’s memoir of the first spring and summer of the Second World War is a wonderful record of a strange time and reading it through our own bizarre spring was perfect timing.  When everything felt uncertain, it was reassuring to be reminded that people had reacted the same way eighty years before (and ignored the same good advice that was being doled out both then and now).

1. Business as Usual (1933) – Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford
Business as Usual was the happiest discovery for me this year, and for many others, thanks to its spring reissue by Handheld Press.  And if ever there was a year where we needed happy books, 2020 was it. This epistolary novel about an optimistic young woman’s move to London and work at a large department store is enchanting and I delighted in Hilary’s determined progress.  It is that rare book that suits me in most moods, giving me something to laugh over when I am down, to comfort me in times of stress, and to inspire action when I am feeling daunted by the world.

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The only mistake I made in reading Business as Usual by Jane Oliver and Ann Stafford this year was that I did it too early: this would have been the perfect book to soothe and comfort during the stressful early months of the pandemic but it was just as delightful when read in the calmness of January.

Published in 1933 (and reissued this spring by Handheld Press), Business as Usual tells with dashing epistolary style and comic illustrations the story of Hilary Fane.  Hilary, a young woman of twenty-seven with a history degree from Oxford and previous work experience as both a teacher and librarian, is trying to fill the time before she marries her fiancé Basil, a young doctor.  Anticipating at least a year before the wedding and, having been made redundant from her last job, Hilary is looking for a way to occupy herself.  As she explains to Basil:

…I know I couldn’t wait for you if I were idle, sitting about and trying to fill the gap between one lovely experience and another with those dreary little sociabilities that you despise as much as I do.  I wish I had the kind of talents that you’d really like to have about the house, my lamb.  It would all be so much simpler if my bent were music or if I could write.  But it isn’t any use, Basil, I haven’t any talents; even my drawings always got me into trouble.  I’ve just got undecorative ability and too much energy to be happy without a job.

And so she sets off, leaving her parents’ comfortable Scottish home for exceedingly humble lodgings in London and a job in a department store (a thinly veiled Selfridges).  She eventually finds herself working in the store’s library (I would never complain about going shopping if department stores still had these!) and the story follows her throughout the year as she advances at work, makes friends, and discovers the simple pleasures of her new life:

Oh, Basil, there are compensations!  It’s worth sleep-walking from nine to six all the week just to wake up on Saturday with half a day and a night and another day after that unquestionably one’s own.  I came out of Everyman’s and watched all the other people with hockey sticks and skates and suit-cases tearing for buses.  But I strolled, feeling marvellous.  Rather as if I’d kicked off a tightish pair of shoes.

Hilary is a wonderful character, full of energy and warmth and attractively straightforward in discussing anything on her mind.  Basil, we can tell from Hilary’s side of the correspondence, doesn’t share these traits:

I can fail and start again.  And with you to believe in my work, I could.

Only, now and then, I feel you don’t.  Do try to.  I mean, think of me as a creature, not just as a possible wife who will persist in doing things that tend to disqualify her.  I love you frightfully; but I want your companionship and tolerance and understanding even more than other things.  I wonder if you see?

Basil, the reader decides long before Hilary, must go.  Luckily, there is a very suitable replacement close at hand.

I love stories about work – I find hearing about people’s working hours and salaries and how they manage to live on said salaries endlessly fascinating – and I adore epistolary novels so the combination of the two was always going to be something that interested me.  But this book manages to be far more than interesting.  The reader cannot help but adore Hilary, who is endlessly curious, admirably efficient, and inspiringly intrepid.  It is a book to laugh over and to read for comfort and inspiration when you are feeling daunted by the world.  It is, frankly, quite perfect, which is why I am picking it up again as the book to see out 2020 with. It’s never too soon to reread great books.

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In a year full of comfort reads, Pravda Ha Ha by Rory MacLean made quite a change.  It’s about as far from comforting as you can get and is as urgent and important as it is upsetting.

When the Berlin Wall fell in 1989, MacLean set out across the newly opened East.  Thirty years later, he follows his journey in reverse, from Russia through the Ukraine, Hungary, Poland, Germany, Switzerland and finally back home to the UK, trying to make sense of how the hope and optimism he saw on his original journey has led to the corruption, authoritarianism, and exploitation rampant in Eastern Europe today.

Russia is, of course, at the heart of it all.  MacLean begins his journey there and his writing on it is superb, though the anecdotes he shares would hardly be credible were they from any other country.  With oligarchs, illegal immigrants, and hackers, he glimpses the new Russia, which looks disarmingly familiar to the old.  Its simplistic narratives about its history help fuel Putin’s mythologized version of the 20th Century, and kitschy celebrations are held for the glorious victories of the Second World War:

Beyond the billboard was the Night Watch festival ground.  Here every summer the notorious motorcycle gang re-enacted the Second World War.  In pyrotechnic fantasies and high-octane motorcycle stunts, ‘heroic’ Red Army bikers battled ‘heartless’ Wehrmacht BMW riders before taking on goose-stepping ‘pro-Western’ demonstrators.  In last year’s performance the Statue of Liberty even made an appearance, spewing a fiery retch of dollars ‘to poison, separate and kill the Slavic peoples.’

The flip side of this is the pointed erasure of Soviet crimes from the history books.  While other nations have worked to face their pasts, Russia has chosen to ignore it.  As MacLean says, “few Russians accept that past atrocities must be unearthed and confessed for the psychic health of a society”.    Attempts are made by volunteers to raise awareness, in the belief that these events must be acknowledged so that future generations can learn from them – but that seems to be exactly what Putin wants to avoid.  How much easier to focus on a proud history as a nation of victors.

I like to think I’m relatively well-informed and not too naïve about current affairs, but at times I feel like I could not keep up with all of the threats posed by Russia.  The most chilling – perhaps because it was the one I was least aware of – was Russia’s ability to use human trafficking as a weapon against the EU:

Russia’s 1,300-mile-long northern frontier with Norway and Finland is among the country’s most strategic, guarded by the army, the KGB and the Border Service.  Along its length nothing happens without Moscow’s approval.  They Kremlin alone decides which roads to open and close in the heavily militarized region.

…No proof existed of the involvement of the Russian state, yet – immediately after Helsinki had voiced support for NATO – some 1,500 refugees were dispatched across its border as a warning.  The Kremlin wanted to remind the Finns that over eleven million foreigners lived on Russian territory, a vast pool of potential migrants who could be used to flood Europe.

Moving to Hungary, MacLean finds a sadder land.  Russia may be sinister but it is bold and confident and powerful.  Hungary, so hopeful in its new independence on MacLean’s original journey, has walked a darker path.  The country struggled to adjust to capitalism and while some succeeded, many were left behind to struggle:

In the communist years everyone had a job.  Everyone had a roof over their head.  ‘Workers pretended to work and the authorities pretended to pay them’ was a well-worn cliché, meant as a joke, yet it contained a grain of truth.  But the joke vanished with the Wall.  In the early 1990s workers’ hostels were closed, along with redundant factories, throwing tens of thousands onto the street.  Many tried their luck at small start-ups, opening video-rental shops, nail parlours or a corner grocery, losing everything when their enterprises failed.  They left their villages and towns in shame, escaping bad debts, joining the exodus to the capital.

It is no wonder that these people, left with nothing and with no support, long for certainty while trusting no one.  Which is how they ended up with their current authoritarian government, to the distress of MacLean’s old liberal friends:

‘Remember what I told you: Hungary placed its faith in the losers of every war since the sixteenth century.  This twenty-first century will be no exception.’  Alajos said in toast: ‘To a once hopeful Hungary.  Long may we mourn her death.’

Things are no better in Poland, where MacLean finds himself losing patience during a conversation with several thirty-something men who work in the country’s increasingly state-controlled media:

‘Do you fear Poland becoming a one-party state?’ I asked them.

‘The real question is, do we need an opposition?’ replied the American, almost impressive in his complete sincerity.  ‘There are such diverse opinions in the PiS.’

‘And what about the party’s tolerance of the far right?’ I said…

‘Our strength keeps them out of power.’

‘As in Berlin in 1933?’

Across all of these countries, MacLean sees lies being presented at the truth, myths obscuring more complicated realities, the complicated being passed by in favour of the simplistic.  How easy it is to guide countries once their people are motivated only by fear and pride.  But he returns home sadder still to see signs of the same behaviour at home: “How could the English – a people raised in a stable, peaceful and prosperous society with centuries of democracy and freedom – have swallowed the vapid promises of restored glory?  How could they – we – have allowed ourselves to be played like puppets?”

How indeed?

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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.

We have almost made it to the end of 2020!  That came up fast – so fast in fact that I didn’t realise how many library holds I had paused until the end of December until they suddenly arrived this week in an avalanche.  But it’s the best and least lethal form of avalanche and I have every hope of being able to dig my way out while enjoying the process.

We Germans by Alexander Starritt – I’m very intrigued by this slim novel, which takes the form of a letter written by a German veteran of the Second World War to his British grandson.

Life and Fate by Vasily Grossman – I read the epic Stalingrad a few months ago and this companion is praised as even more engaging and the best of Grossman’s works.

How to be an Epicurean by Catherine Wilson – the stoics have had their recent revival and here philosopher Wilson does her part to reestablish the Epicureans’ recipe for happiness: “a philosophy that promoted reason, respect for the natural world, and reverence for our fellow humans”.

Sarah’s Cottage by D.E. Stevenson – the sequel to Sarah Morris Remembers, which I recently reread.  I remember this being weak and unimpressive and yet I wasn’t ready to be done with Sarah after finishing the first book.

The Nymph and the Lamp by Thomas H. Raddall – During the 1956 Club back in October, Naomi at Consumed by Ink reviewed another book by Raddall, which intrigued me.  She also mentioned that this was her favourite title by him so I made it the first one I tracked down.

From Here to There by Michael Bond – I find the navigating instinct fascinating and so it’s no surprise that this volume, subtitled “the art and science of finding and losing our way“, appeals.

Rain by Melissa Harrison – There are many joys to be had from walking in the rain, which is good is it’s the only possible type of walking available here for much of the year.  Here Harrison takes the reader along on four walks taken in the rain throughout the year around England

A Promise of Ankles by Alexander McCall Smith – The most recent instalment in the 44 Scotland Street series.

All About Us by Tom Ellen – a light and fluffy filler.

Islamic Empires by Justin Marozzi – portraits of 15 different Islamic cities across history, focusing on each at the height of its powers.  I love the premise of this, though it did get a brutal review in the Guardian.

Masha by Mary Kay – I recently saw a review of The Youngest Lady in Waiting over at Shiny New Books and immediately placed a hold on this earlier book.

Noble Savages by Sarah Watling – Finally!  This was in every bookstore when I visited London last year but limited luggage space kept me from buying this biography of four fascinating sisters.  I’m delighted that my patience has finally been rewarded.

What did you pick up this week?

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I felt a little shaky and battered after reading Plot 29 by Allan Jenkins.  I thought I was picking up a memoir about how gardening had helped Jenkins throughout his life but was entirely unprepared for the detective story that unfolded as Jenkins seeks to understand his childhood and the family he came from.  At several points in the diary-style chronicle Jenkins stops himself, wondering what his story has become, slightly surprised by the darkness on each page:

It has been a year since I started this journal, my journey through my life and the life of my plot, my past unfurling like leaves.  It was to be different: a story of a small boy and the man he became, wrapped in flowers and food.  Other voices have drowned it out…

It begins as the story of Allan and his elder brother, Christopher, brought together ages five and six after spending their early years apart, in locations and circumstances Jenkins eventually, chillingly, begins to piece together.  Bonded, they are sent to foster with an older couple – the Drabbles – in rural Devon.  Stability never quite turns into family or full acceptance and the cycle of Allan and Christopher parting and living separate lives continues painfully.  But it is with his foster family that Allan discovers the joy of growing things, the certainty and hope that seeds and plants hold, and finds a passion that will help center him throughout his life.

We learn of Christopher’s relatively early death early in the book.  From there, we begin to learn more about their five other half-siblings by their damaged, dangerously unfit mother.  As Allan talks to the siblings who remained to be raised by their mother, he sees the blessing of not having been in her care and the scars of horrific abuse his siblings carry.  But he also tries to make sense of his abandonment when he was only a few months old and to solve other mysteries.  Eventually he even uncovers the identity of his birth father, a mystery to be solved with DNA testing rather than trust in what his deeply untrustworthy mother had put on the birth certificate.

Throughout this year of revelations and unravellings, he tends a shared allotment, a place of peace and renewal, where order can be imposed in small yet meaningful ways, and sense of progress and certainty grasped when all else seems lost.  He also has a holiday home in his wife’s native Denmark to retreat to, a place for family and more time in nature, for being himself.  In a life where identity has not come easily, where his name has been changed repeatedly as pieces of his identity shifted, it is in these natural landscapes that he knows himself best.

I don’t know if I would have picked this up if I had known how dark it would become but I’m thankful to have read it.  It is beautifully and powerfully told and makes me more thankful than ever for the luck of being born to a happy, loving, safe family.

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Back in May, when the world felt like it was changing every single day and even the calmest of us had anxious jitters, there were endless parallels being drawn between our era and the Second World War.  The fear of an uncertain future and the urge for solidarity certainly felt familiar to readers of history.  It was at that moment that I finally picked up Where Stands a Wingèd Sentry by Margaret Kennedy, which I’d providentially checked out before the libraries closed after years of wanting to read it, and found an eerily perfect book for our times.

Published in 1941, Where Stands a Wingèd Sentry is Kennedy’s memoir of the spring and summer of 1940, between the fall of France and the start of the Blitz, when she left Surrey with her children (and nanny) for a Cornish village.  Already a successful novelist, this account was written not for her countrymen, who knew Kennedy’s experiences first-hand, but for the still neutral Americans.  I’m not sure how well it worked as a piece of propaganda but as a record of the quickly changing times by an unusually literate recorder it is excellent.

In May and June [1940] “the whole world was in a state of chassis” to quote the Paycock.  Everything was slipping and sliding and changing, and one never knew what was going to happen, or what to think, and the lifebelt of today became the straw of tomorrow.  I felt bound to slap every day’s impressions and reflections down onto paper for fear I should forget them, as one tries to remember and fix a dream.  Even now [August 1940], re-reading the May entries, I am astonished to find how much I have forgotten already, and how far we seem to have travelled since then.

Kennedy chronicles the everyday things – evacuees, the Home Guard, all the usual stuff of home front books – but that is not what resonated for me on reading this.  Those details are too familiar from dozens of other wartime books.  What is captivating here, reading this book in these times, is how well Kennedy captures people’s feelings, her own included, and how familiar they are to what we have all felt this year:

All my life I have had a great curiosity to know what it felt like to live through history.  I have wondered how ordinary, everyday people, like myself, felt and thought while they were waiting for the news of Waterloo, or when they saw the beacon fires which told them the Armada had sailed.  Were they horribly frightened or were they always quite sure they would win?  Did they realise all that was at stake or did the little commonplaces of life still hold the foreground in their minds?  Could they sleep and, if they slept, what kind of dreams did they have?  What kind of jokes sustained them and what sort of prayers did they say?

Kennedy’s assessment of the government’s feelings towards its wartime citizens, desperate for information, could just have easily applied to the arrogance with which today’s British government responded to the coronavirus:

We had this whim, this caprice, to know how the war was getting along, which was a great nuisance when they were all so busy, and so a few facts were flung to us at random, and we were left to make what we liked of them.

They tried to run the war in the manner of good civil servants, and nobody has a greater contempt for public opinion than a first-rate English civil servant.  Perhaps it is because we are all so meek and law-abiding.  We pay our taxes promptly and without grumbling, and we fill up correctly all forms sent to us and post them on the right date.  Therefore they despise us, as servants despise easy-going masters, or as children despise a father who always uncomplainingly foots the bill.  Hitler understands that total war cannot be waged in that manner.  He does not dare to flout public opinion, but takes the greatest pains to lie to it and flatter it.  But he is not a civil servant.  Our civil servants take the stand that if we have no confidence in them we can oust them, since we are a democracy.  But in the meantime pray do not speak to the man at the wheel.

As with any piece of history, it is both reassuring and frustrating to see how consistently people respond in times of stress.  We are predictable but we never learn.  All of the responses Kennedy witnessed or saw herself exhibiting could be seen this year again, and the good, practical advice being dispensed was just the same – and just as likely to be ignored:

I still cannot sleep so I went to Dr Middleton to ask for a bromide.  He used to attend all our family in the old days.  He asked:

“Are ye worrying about anything?”

When I said I was worrying about Hitler coming, he said, “He won’t,” so firmly that I almost believed him.  He looked me up and down very crossly and said:

“I suppose ye’ve been reading the newspapers?”

I pleaded guilty.

“What d’ye want to do that for?”

“I like to know what is happening.”

“Aw!  The newspapers don’t know.”

He said if I must read a newspaper I should stick to The Times because I would find there any news there was, put in a way that would send me to sleep instead of keeping me awake.  He said that when a war broke out once in the Balkans and there were scare headlines in all the streets, The Times headline said: ACTIVITY IN EUROPE.

He asked me how often I listened to the wireless.

“Four times a day.”

“And that’s three times too often.  I’m sure I wish that infernal contrivance had never been invented.  When I think of all the insanity that’s poured out over the ether every minute of the day, I wonder the whole human race isn’t in a lunatic asylum.  And what good does it do ye to know what’s happening?  Ye aren’t responsible.  Ye don’t like it.  Ye can’t stop it.  Why think about it?  Go home and fly kites with your children.”

“How many other patients have you said all this to?”

“You’re only the twenty-seventh this week.”

Despite being focused on the events of 1940, this truly felt like the most relevant thing I read in 2020.  By focusing on human reactions to upheaval and uncertainty, Kennedy’s memoir is able to resonate outside of times of war and suit any period of mass turmoil.  I found it deeply comforting to know how little people change, how predictable we are, and, ultimately, how resilient we can be.  I’m delighted that Where Stands a Wingèd Sentry is being reissued in March by Handheld Press and can only hope that, with vaccines being rolled out across the world, reading it in 2021 will be a very different experience than it was reading in the tumultuous spring of 2020.

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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.

Sharlene has the Mr Linky this week

The last gasp before Christmas and I am certainly gasping.  This year has felt like a marathon that will never end and I so looking forward to taking some time off.  I’m working Christmas Eve morning but after that will be off until January 4th, leaving plenty of time for Christmas celebrations (which start and end on Christmas Eve in our house), lots of time outdoors (most likely in the rain, based on the weather forecast, but positive temperatures in December are a highlight of living in Vancouver), and, of course, reading.

I still have plenty of books left from recent library trips but have added still a few more (and the library will be open next week so I’ll doubtlessly find more then):

Dark, Salt, Clear by Lamorna Ash – I read about this account of life in a Cornish fishing town back in the spring and was delighted to see the library had acquired it.

Possession by A.S. Byatt – I haven’t read this in far too long and it truly is the perfect book for dark wintery nights.

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole, Aged 13 3/4 by Sue Townsend – I think I was younger than Adrian Mole last time I read this and am looking forward to some humour – if ever there was a year when we needed funny books!

What did you pick up this week?

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Library Lust

Weir Phillips Architects (via Desire to Inspire)

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badge-4Library Loot is a weekly event co-hosted by Claire from The Captive Reader and Sharlene from Real Life Reading 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.

With just about two weeks left in 2020 (hurrah and good riddance!), I am stocking up on books for the holidays.  I’m not taking too much time off – just three working days – but the way the holidays and weekends align means I’ll have a lovely 10 and a half days without work.  With no entertaining pressures this year (no socialising outside of your household where I live), that leaves a lot of time to fill with books and walks.  Sounds perfect!

A Bite of the Apple by Lennie Goodings – the much-read memoir about the founding of Virago Press.  The Guardian described it as an “essential literary memoir” and everything I’ve heard from other readers has been enthusiastic.

Love and Freedom by Rosemary Kavan – A memoir of the sinister early years of the communist regime in Czechoslovakia by an Englishwoman married to a Czech.  This complements the extraordinary memoir, Under a Cruel Star by Heda Margolius Kovály, as both women’s husbands were persecuted during the show trials of the early 1950s.

Outpost by Dan Richards – a journey around the world in search of remote retreats.

Book by Book by Michael Dirda – Subtitled “notes on reading and life”, I’m so looking forward to this.  I loved Browsings by Dirda and think he is one of the best writers about books and the joys of reading.

Perfume from Provence by Winifred Fortescue – a 1930s  best-seller about moving to France.

The Pattern in the Carpet by Margaret Drabble – Last Christmas we pulled out some old jigsaw puzzles for the first time in years and since then have been unstoppable.  Drabble has been a more constant of lover of puzzles and here looks back on her life-long enjoyment of them.

Rachel to the Rescue by Elinor Lipman – a new book from Lipman!  A political satire/romantic comedy for the Trump era seems ambitious but I trust Lipman to always be entertaining.

Better Luck Next Time by Kate Hilton – Not a winner.  I’d heard this mentioned as a family story about the children of an activist icon and their cousins but, belatedly, also saw it advertised as a divorce romantic comedy.  It didn’t succeed as either for me but it was one of those quick books that I kept reading, willing it to get better and reward my attention.  It didn’t.

Swiss Watching by Diccon Bewes – I can’t go and observe the Swiss in person (*sob*) so I might as well read Bewes’ take on them.

What did you pick up this week?

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Home Work by Enslin du Plessis

It’s that happy time of year when the “My Life in Books” meme is doing the rounds and I thought I’d join in, following the fine example of Karen, Ali, Lisa, Annabel, and doubtlessly many others whose posts I’ve missed so far.

Using only books you have read this year (2020), answer these questions. Try not to repeat a book title.

In high school I was: One to Watch (Kate Stayman-London)

People might be surprised by: The Unpleasantness at the Bellona Club (Dorothy L. Sayers)

I will never be a: Lady in Waiting (Anne Glenconner)

My life in lockdown was: Life in the Garden (Penelope Lively)

My fantasy job is: Something Light (Margery Sharp)

At the end of a long day I need: The Lido (Libby Page)

I hate being: Rootbound (Alice Vincent)

Wish I had: The Beauty of Your Face (Sahar Mustafah)

My family reunions are: The Lost Europeans (Emanuel Litvinoff)

At a party you’d find me with: The Shining Company (Rosemary Sutcliff)

I’ve never been to: Madensky Square (Eva Ibbotson)

A happy day includes: Summer Light (Andrew Stevenson)

Motto I live by: One More Croissant for the Road (Felicity Cloake)

On my bucket list is: A Castle in the Clouds (Kerstin Gier)

In my next life, I want to have: More Talk of Jane Austen (Sheila Kaye-Smith and G.B. Stern)

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