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Clearing the shelves – it’s time for a giveaway or two! :D

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The parlous state of my TBR (and in fact my shelves in general!) is probably notorious by now; and the pictures I’ve posted of new arrivals on social media recently probably hint that even more books have made their way into the house. In mitigation, I have sent some off to friends, sold one or two and I have three large boxes in the hall awaiting collection by the Samaritans Book Cave! Nevertheless, I have half a dozen or so lovely titles that I really don’t need (owing to having duplicate copies in the main) and so I thought I would offer them to readers of the blog in a giveaway – it’s a little while since I’ve done one of these! šŸ˜€

And these are the books concerned:

Eight in total, now that I count them… Here’s a closer look at some:

These are all lovely Alma Classics editions which I’ve read but are duplicated or I won’t read again; so it makes sense for them to go to someone who would! The Jerome K. Jerome is great fun; Poe and Gatsby need no introduction from me!

Next up some Russians:

A pair of Turgenevs, which I have duplicated somehow; plus Fardwor, Russia! which was a great read!

And finally a Virago and a fragile Picador:

The Virago is a new style cover. As for the second book, much as it pains me to get rid of a Calvino, I already have the exact same edition from back in the day, so it’s a bit silly to hold onto it. Apart from this one, all of the other books are brand new.

So if you think you’d like to read one of these, give me a shout in the comments and let me know what book or books you might be interested in. I will have to restrict to the UK and possibly Europe, as postage costs anywhere else are going to be a bit awful. But speak up if you’re interested – if I can donate these to new, happy homes I won’t feel quite so bad about the books that keep sneaking their way into the house… ;D

Seriously funny!

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After Supper Ghost Stories by Jerome K. Jerome

One of the funniest books I’ve ever read, a title that makes me laugh every time I read it and which I’d take with me to a desert island, is Jerome K. Jerome’s “Three Men in a Boat”. It’s the title for which he’s best known, and I’ve read it several times; but although I’ve tried several other books by him (including “Three Men on the Bummel” and “Diary of a Pilgrimage”), I’ve never found that any match up to “Three Men…” However, one thing I didn’t know he wrote was ghost stories and so when I heard that Alma Classics were issuing a new edition of “After Supper Ghost Stories”, I was very keen to read it.

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A slim volume with a beautiful cover design (in that almost plasticky texture that so many paperbacks have nowadays), the book contains a number of short pieces. The first group is the titular collection, and the introduction was enough to have me smirking as the narrator explains the habits of English ghosts and how they only work on Christmas Eve. Set in his Uncle’s house, there is plenty of alcohol flowing as the guests relate their scary stories, trying to outdo each other. But our narrator is somewhat unreliable, gradually getting more and more confused as the alcohol takes hold, until the final story has him behaving very badly and blaming on a local spook!

Whenever give or six English-speaking people meet round a fire on Christmas Eve, they start telling each other ghost stories. Nothing satisfied us on Christmas Eve but to hear each other tell authentic anecdotes about spectres. It is a genial, festive season, and we love to muse upon graves, and dead bodies, and murders, and blood.

Jerome is obviously poking fun at the whole genre of Christmas fireside ghost stories and it’s great fun: not really scary, but very funny and enjoyable and full of Jerome’s trademark wit. You won’t get the shivers from reading these tales, but you will get a laugh!

The rest of the volume is made up of miscellaneous pieces which make fascinating reading. It’s difficult often to pin down what they’re actually about as they’re wonderfully random pieces that are all over the place! “Evergreen”, for example, which begins with Jerome lauding those ordinary, regular, stolid everyday people, ends with a screamingly funny sequence about a woman with a bulldog under her crinoline which had me laughing like a drain! “The New Utopia”, a strange tale which visualises an impersonal and regimented future, celebrates human life with all its ups and downs, its good and bad.

Similarly, in “Dreams”, Jerome looks forward and foresees his unhappy grandchildren growing to “loathe electricity. Electricity is going to light them, warm them, carry them, doctor them, cook for them, execute them if necessary. They are going to be weaned on electricity, ruled and regulated and guided by electricity, buried by electricity. I may be wrong, but I rather think they are going to be hatched by electricity.” Now, while I wouldn’t want to be without electricity, when I think of how dependent people are nowadays on their electrically powered gadgets, I think he may have a point…

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I often feel that JKJ was fighting his natural tendency towards humour in an attempt to produce serious works, and often struggled to decide quite what he wanted to do with his writing. Sometimes he seemed to be finding it difficult in his works to get in the right levels of humour and serious material, and although I like his funny writing he certainly has some more weighty points to make about humans and the world they live in which are still relevant today.

Truth and fact are old-fashioned and out of date, my friends, fit only for the dull and vulgar to live by. Appearance, not reality, is what the clever dog grasps at in these clever days. We spurn the dull-brown solid earth; we build our lives and homes in the fair-seeming rainbow land of shadow and chimera.

With “Three Men and a Boat” Jerome got the balance right, and in many of the pieces here too his words of wisdom are tempered with some wonderful humour. “After Supper Ghost Stories” is a lovely little collection, ideal reading for the long winter nights when you want something to lift the spirits and make you think. So kudos to Alma for reissuing the book which goes a long way towards proving that Jerome K. Jerome had more to him than just his most famous title!

Review copy kindly provided by Alma Classics, for which many thanks!

Recent Reads: Diary of a Pilgrimage by Jerome K. Jerome

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After the length and depth of “In The First Circle”, I thought it might be nice to try something a little shorter and lighter – and this book certainly qualifies! “Diary of a Pilgrimage” is of course written by the author of “Three Men in a Boat (To Say Nothing of the Dog)”, a book which I first read many years ago and which I’ve returned to many times. 3 Men is of course hilarious and so although I hadn’t heard of DOAP, I snapped up the lovely little hardback version I found in the local Oxfam bookstore on the strength of the first page or two.

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DOAP was published only two years after 3 Men (in 1891), and it tells the story of the journey of the narrator and his friend B. as they travel over Europe by train to visit the Passion Play at Oberammergau. En route they suffer a bad channel crossing, problems with language and diet, the stress of foreign trains and other assorted difficulties. Finally they reach their destination and then, having had a transcendental experience with the play, return back to earth to deal with the journey home.

Despite some passages of great humour, this book does not quite capture the magic of 3 Men and it took me a while to figure out why. I think personally it was a lack of balance – 3 Men is a beautiful mix of humour and philosophising, with its 3 Men (and dog) adventuring along the Thames and having mishaps on the way. But DOAP was perhaps a little too restricted in its focus, and the two chapters of description covering the religious element of the performance and its execution were just a bit dull. The humorous pieces were in some cases wonderful – the chapter where B. wrestles manfully with European timetables in an attempt to work out connecting trains, which goes off into an extended flight of fancy about missing trains, was hilarious and had me laughing out loud. But the work was not consistent enough to scale the heights of 3 Men and I can identify with Wikipedia’s statement: He wrote a number of plays, essays and novels, but was never able to recapture the success of Three Men in a Boat.

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But there were enough lovely phrases and pieces of wit to make me glad that I did read this book:

“It is easy enough to talk about nothing, like I have been doing in this diary hitherto. It is when one is confronted with the task of writing about something, that one wishes one were a respectable well-do-do sweep –Ā  a sweep with a comfortable business of his own, and a pony – instead of an author.”

“And then you can….give your impressions concerning it. Never mind their being silly. They will be all the better for that. Silly remarks are generally more interesting than sensible ones.”

There is another hilarious sequence where our two gentlemen are eating in a beer-garden and all of their courses are eaten in time to the music, building up to bolting their cheese down to the ballet music from Carmen “after which we rolled about in agonies to all the national airs of Europe.”

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So, on balance, definitely worth a read for the humorous bits!

(And incidentally, the drawings, three of which are on these book covers, are a delight!)

Some Recent Finds – including a Russian treat!

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I’ve been trying to rein myself in a little bit recently, as I had a bit of a binge in London, and also been succumbing to online purchases because of my current hobbyhorse of comparing translations of Russian books! However, I did pick up a few bargains at the weekend from the charity shops – though not, alas, from Claude Cox Books which was unaccountably shut when we went past in the rain on Saturday. I do hope this isn’t a permanent thing…

(As an aside, I *hate* bookshopping in the rain – I’m always terrified that the precious finds are going to get damp on the way home – which wasn’t helped this weekend as I left Youngest Child’s umbrella on the bus – she was *not* amused….)

Anyway – the few treats:


First up, a Molly Keane I don’t have for my Virago collection – brand new and Ā£1.50 in the Saint Elizabeth Hospice shop, and apparently reckoned to be one of Keane’s best – yay!


Secondly, a rather lovely hardback by Jerome K. Jerome which I’ve never hear of (though I have of course read “Three Men in a Boat”). But it looked lovely and I read the first page and laughed out loud in the Oxfam Bookshop, so that was a good sign!


Finally, a pleasing find – I have been reading up on any 20th century Russian authors I might have missed, and this volume came up on a number of lists so it was must-have. Translation is by Michael Glenny who did a lot of Bulgakov (in fact, most of the old Harvill editions I have are done by him). Was most pleased to discover this book!

And another Virago which arrived in the post on Saturday:


I confess to having got a little behind with the Elizabeth Taylor read-along, having been distracted by Slavs, but I shall catch up as soon as I’ve dealt with the chunkster!

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