Tuesday, February 04, 2014


Feeling a bit dim tonight with nothing much to say except - gosh, how can it be February already and hadn't I better do something useful with my life before it's too late...?

So I thought I'd write about books, which are at least produced by someone's industry, if not mine.

A few years ago, one of my daughters gave me this notebook. When I became 60 (3 and a half years ago, oh dear, where does the time go? - see above) I decided to keep a record, for my own interest, of the books I read, with some brief comments and a score out of 10.

Since then, the worst two (in my opinion) have been "Racing Through the Dark" by David Millar (2/10) and "The Finkler Question" by Howard Jacobson (3/10) WHICH WON THE BOOKER PRIZE (why???) so clearly lots of other people liked it. The former was about drug-taking in competitive cycling and to be fair to the chap, I have precisely no interest in competitive anything, so I wasn't really his target reader. I read it only because it was chosen for my book group, most of whom seemed to enjoy it, so what do I know?

As for the Jacobson - it was tedious and unconvincing, I thought. In fact, I read an article afterwards about how funny it was (I think this was actually written by Jacobson himself, mind you) and I was mildly surprised to find that it was even supposed  to be funny. I did briefly consider rereading it to look out for the humour but - no.

Having said all that, I do admire the achievement of people who write books at all. It's hard. And maybe one shouldn't criticise until one's produced something better oneself.

I've not given anything else less than 6 and mostly I've given 7s and 8s.

And the 9s and 10s?

9s and 9 and a halfs have included "A Lucky Child" by Thomas Buergenthal about his childhood in Auschwitz (very touching indeed); "The Collected Letters of Max Beerbohm"; "Case Histories" and its sequels by Kate Atkinson; "Letters to Monica" by Philip Larkin; "Instead of a Book", letters by Diana Athill; "The Priory" by Dorothy Whipple; "Dear Lupin - Letters to a Wayward Son" by Roger Mortimer; "Keeper - Living with Nancy - A Journey into Alzheimer's" by Andrea Gillies; "Three Houses" by Angela Thirkell; "The Diary of a Country Parson" by James Woodforde;  "My Father's Fortune" by Michael Frayn; "Love from Nancy - the Letters of Nancy Mitford"; "The Ladder of Years" by Anne Tyler; "Good Wives - Mary, Jennie, Fanny and Me" by Margaret Forster; "Jonathan - Jonathan Philbin Bowman, A Memoir" by John Bowman and Eimer Philbin Bowman; "The Missing Ink - The Lost Art of Handwriting And Why It Still Matters" by Philip Hensher; "What To Look For In Winter - A Memoir In Blindness" by Candia McWilliam. Some of these were rereads.

They were all terrific, in my opinion, and could just as easily have been 10s. Some of those to which I did award 10s (I'm so kind) have been: "True to Both My Selves" by Katrin Fitzherbert; "The Beginner's Goodbye" by Anne Tyler (probably my favourite novelist); "A Face to the World - On Self-Portraits" by Laura Cummings; "Life After Life" by Kate Atkinson; "So I Have Thought Of You - The Letters Of Penelope Fitzgerald" edited by Terence Dooley; "To The Letter - A Journey Through A Vanishing World" by Simon Garfield; "Letters Of Note" compiled by Shaun Usher.

Most of these, reflecting what I tend to read, have been biographies or autobiographies, diaries or collections of letters. It's not that I don't like novels - but I know I'll like the non-fiction genres if I'm interested in their subjects even if the quality of the writing isn't very good. (Amazingly, the two books  by Stephen Fry that I've recently read have had grammatical howlers in them.) I do love a really good (in my opinion) novel but quite a lot are a bit ho-hum, and heavens, I'm 63 and a half. Do I have time to read lots of ho-hum books before I die? I think not.

So go on - recommend me some fantastic novels, bearing in mind that my time on earth is running out. Not Jodi Picoult et al - I've only read one and it seemed pretty uninspiring, though clearly lots of people like her. And nothing too stressful - I'm not keen to read about violence, bodily fluids or dying children (especially not them) unless there's some other pressingly redeeming feature, such as its being written by Kate Atkinson.

How on earth did "Life After Life" not even get shortlisted for the Booker? Pshaw.

So, yes. That's what I write when I have nothing much to say. Lists... .


  1. Oh dont get me started on grammatical howlers, its really dreadful, me and you think alike.

    Going to check out your titles. One I enjoyed recently was Tracy Chevalier's The Last Runaway and the one before that Remarkable Creatures - both novels.

    One thing struck me though... Is someone keeping emails to publish at a later date as feel there aren't too many letter left to read?

    And it's February, we'll be better when the sun shines and this drafted snow disappears over here for which I completely and entirely blame Anna.

  2. Life after Life is sitting on my Kindle, awaiting my attention, as is Dear Lupin. I now know where I am going next in my reading (once I finish the curiously enthralling Swedish detective fiction written in 1964. And once I stop dropping back and re-reading old M R James stories)

    Keeper - Living with Nancy was a terrible difficult but rewarding read. My father in law has dementia (thankfully of the placid kind, not like poor Nancy)and we learned a lot from that book.

    I would love to recommend something but would be worried about doing so and wasting your precious reading time! If I have a flash of inspiration, I will let you know.

  3. Oh yes, I liked "Remarkable Creatures" but wasn't convinced, somehow, by "The Last Runaway". Didn't seem authentic (though how do I think I know what 19th century Quaker America was like?)

  4. Have you read "Wait For Me" by the Duchess of Devonshire ? It would fit into your biographies and i see you had another Mitford sister on your list.

  5. Oh yes, I've read all the Mitford letters and "Wait For Me". Great suggestion, though.

  6. Have you read AS Byatt`s The Childrens` Book?

    A many-layered and wonderfully rich novel. It begins in the late 1800s Arts and Crafts period and follows a family and their associates through the years up to the end of WW1.

  7. Oh dear, yes, I have read "The Children's Book" and didn't really like it though admired the ambition of it. Too many characters, I thought, and she seemed bent on including every single cultural / historical thing she could (and then explaining them, as if she didn't think we would have heard of them before). But maybe I shouldn't try to read multi-layered things late at night...

  8. I have a notebook where I write down the title of every book after I read it (along with the date). I also use Goodreads to rate and keep track of what I've read and what I want to read. My most recent 5-star book (5 being the highest rating on Goodreads) is Karen Joy Fowler's "We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves." I also like Meg Wolitzer, even though she sometimes throws in a bizarre scene that is a bit too over the top.

  9. Barbara Kingsolver, esp. The Poisonwood Bible and The Prodigal Summer. Have you heard of Elizabeth Strout? Olive Kitteridge is a good one to start with.

  10. Ah yes, Barbara Kingsolver. Keep thinking I should read her. Haven't heard of Karen Joy Fowler, Meg Wolitzer or Elizabeth Strout. Thanks.

  11. Impossible, really, to guess what novels someone else will enjoy - this seems to depend on some wonderfully ineffable factor. But I too loved those two latest by Tracy Chevalier (The Runaway also features quilts...) And have you read any Tessa Hadley? I love her tender, but clear-eyed and sometimes merciless evocation of women's lives and feelings today. And she's an intellectual who uses language well and beautifully. All her novels and short stories, really - I can't choose.

  12. "No interest in competitive anything" -- you made me laugh, as I certainly feel the same way for the most part. I was going to ask you if we couldn't interest you in competitive quilting, but then I realized that I don't like the competitive part of quilting either.

    Again, I'm with you on Jodi Picoult. Ok, for a quick read, but, that age question pops up and one wonders if life isn't too short these days. I love Anne Tyler too, although I haven't read many of her books lately. Have you read any Wallace Stegner? I loved Crossing to Safety. Most of my favorites that I would recommend are classics and you've surely read them all! ;-D

    (Oh, and knitting and quilting cut severely into one's reading time -- I need to work on my knit quilt read balance!)

  13. I also started to keep a journal of the books I've read, mainly for the purpose of recording them so I didn't borrow them from the library for a second time, forgetting I'd already read them!
    I dare not recommend any of my favourite authors and books to you and your followers - none of the books and authors you mention are familiar to me, so I suspect my tastes in reading are a bit 'pedestrian' compared to yours, lol.

  14. You *have* heard of Karen Joy Fowler, Mum - she's the "Jane Austen Book Club" author.

  15. Oh right enough! So I have. I enjoyed that.

  16. "The Lantern" by Deborah Lawrenson.

  17. I enjoy nonfiction, too. One of my favorites is Pearl Buck's My Several Worlds

  18. I am always delighted to see people's lists of books and their ratings! I like such a wide variety-I like to try a lot of different types of books depending on my mood. :)Thanks for sharing! Hugs!

  19. We have similar opinions concerning 'The Finkler Question' and 'The Last Runaway'.

    My current series of reading is by E.M. Delafield, who wrote 'Diary of a Provincial Lady'. I enjoy her writing very much and have 'The Way Things Are' on my 'to read' table.