Home

#1930Club – some previous reads!

29 Comments

During our Club reading weeks, I always like to take a look back at books I’ve read previously from the year in question. 1930 turns out to be a bit of a bumper year; not only do I own a good number of books from that year, but I’ve read a lot too! So here’s just a few of them…

Just a few of my previous 1930 reads…

Some of these, of course are pre-blog: there’s two of my favourite crime writers lurking in the pile, Dorothy L. Sayers and Agatha Christie. The Sayers is “Strong Poison”, a book that introduced Lord Peter Wimsey’s love interest Harriet Vane. I adore all Sayers and I would have liked to revisit this during our weekly read. Christie’s “The Murder at the Vicarage” also saw a debut, that of Miss Marple (in novel form anyway – she’d already appeared in short stories). Again, I was so tempted to pick this one up, but I went for “Mr. Quin” instead as I know “Vicarage” so well. Dashiell Hammett’s “The Maltese Falcon” is detecting of a different kind, hard-boiled American. I love Hammett’s writing (although not everyone has enjoyed him recently…) and again was very tempted.

Katherine Manfield’s “The Aloe” is also a pre-blog read; it’s a slim and lovely Virago I’ve owned for decades and the story is a longer version of her short work “The Prelude”. A revisit to this one would have been lovely too, as her prose is gorgeous. “The Foundation Pit” by Platonov is most likely the first of his books which I read; it’s an unusual, allusive book and his writing is very distinctive. Yet another writer I’d love to go back to.

As for titles I’ve reviewed on the blog, there’s the very wonderful Jean Rhys. I wrote about “After Leaving Mr. McKenzie” relatively recently (well – 2016 actually…), and so I didn’t re-read. Yet another excellent woman prose stylist, with a haunting main character, compelling prose and a bleak outlook for women of her time and kind.

Nabokov’s “The Eye” was also a 2016 read; it’s a fascinating, tricksy and clever novella, with wonderful writing and a marvellously unreliable narrator. I love Nabokov’s prose and since I have many, many of his books unread on the shelves I should get back to reading him soon! πŸ˜€

Gaito Gazdanov is a relatively recent discovery; a marvellous emigre Russian author, many of his works have been brought out in beautiful Pushkin Press editions. “An Evening with Claire”, however, is his first novel which was brought out in the USA by Overlook Press/Ardis, and it features his beautiful, often elegiac prose in a work often described as Proustian. I believe more Gazdanov is on the horizon from Pushkin – hurrah! πŸ˜€

Not pictured in the pile above is “Le Bal” by Irene Nemirovsky. I came a little late to the party with her books; I failed in my first attempt to read “Suite Francaise” but after reading a collection of her shorter early works I came to love her writing, and “Le Bal” was one of those titles. It’s a powerful little story, portraying the dynamics of a mother-daughter relationship in all its horror and proves she was such a good writer.

So those are just a few of my previous reads, on and off the blog, from 1930. Really, it was *such* a bumper year for books, wasn’t it? So glad we chose it! Have you read any of the above? πŸ˜€

Looking ahead – to the past? ;D #1930Club

83 Comments

Those of you paying attention will have noticed that we’re edging ever closer to October; and during that month Simon at Stuck in a Book and I will be co-hosting one of our regular six-monthly reading Club weeks! If you’re new to these, basically we pick a year and encourage everyone to discover, read and discuss books from that year. You can review on your blog, post on other social media or just comment on our blogs. We love to hear what gems you’ve discovered or want to share, and the whole thing is great fun. Simon came up with the idea and as you can see from the different Club pages on my blog, we’ve done quite a few…:D

The next year we’re going to be focusing on is 1930, and as I usually try to read from my stacks I thought I’d have a nose around and see what I have that would be suitable. I was surprised (and not displeased!) to find that I own quite a substantial amount of books from that year and more than ever I think I’m going to find it very hard to choose what to read! Normally, I don’t share much ahead of the Club weeks as it’s fun to be surprised by what people read. However, there are so many books on the pile that I feel impelled to have a look now in the hope that some commenters might be able to recommend ones they think are particularly good. The mystery this time is going to be what books I actually choose!

A large stack of possible reads from 1930

So asΒ  you can see, the pile of possibles from books I already own is quite large… Let’s look a little more closely!

1930 Viragos

It should be no surprise, really, that there are several Virago titles from 1930 and these are all from my collection of green spined lovelies. I’ve definitely read the Mansfield; probably the Delafield and Coleman; and possibly not the Sackville-West or Smith. All are tempting for either a new read or a re-read.

Classic Crime from 1930

Again, no surprise that there should be classic crime from 1930. Sayers is a favourite of course (yes, I have two copies of “Strong Poison” – don’t ask…) and this would be a welcome re-read. The Christies are again books I’ve already read, and I know “Vicarage” very well, so the “Mr. Quin” book would be a fun choice. Hammett too would be a re-read. Not sure here what to choose, if I end up re-reading.

1930 Russians

There are indeed Russians from 1930, which might be unexpected bearing in mind the events that were taking place amongst the Soviets in that troubled era. Certainly, Platonov was probably written for the drawer; and Nabokov and Gazdanov were in exile, as was Trotsky. Mayakovsky’s last play was published in 1930, the year he died. Well. I think I’ve read the Platonov, the Nabakov, the Gazdanov and the Mayakovsky definitely. Not so sure about the Trotsky. All are very appealing.

A selection of other titles from 1930

And here’s a pile of general titles from the year in question. The Rhys is again a book I’ve read (fairly recently); “Last and First Men” was purloined from Eldest Child who I think might have studied it at Uni; “War in Heaven” I’ve had for decades and have probably read – I do love Charles Williams’ oddness so that’s a possible. I confess that the Huxley at the top of the pile is a recent purchase, as I saw it was published in 1930. It’s short stories, in a very pretty old Penguin edition, and I’d like to read more of him.

As for the two chunksters at the bottom, well thereby hangs a tale… I’ve owned these books by John Dos Passos for decades and never read them (oops); “U.S.A.” is a trilogy of three novels, and the first of these was published in 1930. Dos Passos was known for his experimental writing and why I’ve never picked them up is a mystery to me. I’m thinking that if I can motivate myself to read the 1930 novel it might set me on the road to reading the rest – we shall see…

Oh – in case you were wondering what the paper on top of the pile of books was, it’s this:

Woolf On Being Ill…

I hoped to find some Virginia Woolf to read for 1930, but the only thing could see was her long essay “On Being Ill”. I couldn’t easily find it in the essay collections I own, but I managed to track down a scan of the original magazine publication online. I love Woolf in all her forms, so this one may well get some attention.

So what can we be sure will be on the Ramblings during the #1930Club? Well, for a start there’s likely to be a guest post from Mr. Kaggsy (which is becoming a regular occurrence!). I hope to read at least one Agatha, and also something of substance. I’d like to try to really work out which of these books I’ve actually read and which I haven’t, going for new reads instead of re-reads. Apart from that – well, watch this space to find out what I finally pick for the #1930Club! πŸ˜€

Looking forward into 2019 – some bookish non-resolutions!

57 Comments

The start of a new year is traditionally a time when we book bloggers start looking ahead and making plans and deciding what challenges to participate in and what projects to undertake. When I first began the Ramblings I was well into that kind of thing and used to fling myself into numerous commitments – usually to fail.. I think I know myself better as a reader nowadays, and for the last few years I’ve kept things light; I dip into challenges and projects as the mood takes me, and apart from our Club weeks I commit myself to pretty much nothing! This seems to work well and I can see no need to change things for 2019. πŸ˜€

Some post-Christmas book piles…. =:o

However, there are certainly a few aims I have for 2019, so time for some gratuitous book pictures and resolutions that probably will go very much awry!

LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group reads

The lovely LT Virago group plan some wonderful group reads every year; most recently focusing on specific authors every month, and I did dip in last year. 2019 is to be dedicated to reading books written in, or set in, the 1940s, with a particular theme every month. January is ‘family’, and there are a number of books from either Virago or Persephone I could choose from, and as I already have several on the shelves it’ll be a choice from these if I decide the mood is right!


I must admit that “Dimanche” and the Attia Hosain are both calling strongly; I was late to Nemirovsky’s writing but do love it; and I read “Sunlight on a Broken Column” back in 2014 and was transfixed. Watch this space to see if I *do* actually join in!

Penguin Moderns

As I mentioned yesterday, I was very fortunate to receive this box set from my lovely Offspring on Mothers’ Day, and although I was happily reading my way through it I kind of got sidetracked towards the end of the year. Hopefully, I can climb back on the wagon soon…

Poetry

2018 was a year with an increasing amount of poetry in it, particularly Russian but latterly French. I’ve been loving dipping into big collections, and I need to keep myself in the mindset that I don’t need to read a collection in one go; I *can* just dip and enjoy as the mood takes me.

The rather large Elizabeth Bishop collection requires attention, as does the lovely French book I got for my birthday from Middle Child; and I really must finish Baudelaire…

Self-imposed Challenges!

I set myself up for failure, don’t I? I get all enthusiastic about something, put together a large pile of books on the subject, read one if I’m lucky and then instantly become distracted by another subject/author/shiny new book. The curse of the grasshopper mind, I fear.

There’s the French Revolution. There’s Utopia. There’s those lovely London area books Mr. Kaggsy got me. There’s two huge volumes of Sylvia Plath’s letters and all of Katherine Mansfield’s notebooks. Any of these would be project enough for a good few months, but will I stick to anything? Not very likely…

Clearing the decks and reading more

I think ultimately that’s my aim this year. I’m not going to impose a book buying ban, because I would fail instantly, but I *am* going to try not to amass quite so many books, and to pass on a book quickly after reading it unless it moves and shakes me, or I think I want to read it again at some point. I’ve been clearing out books I’ve had for decades and either not read or only read once. I’ve hung onto them out of some kind of sentimentality perhaps, but I’ve taken a long hard look and decided in many cases that I actually don’t want to read a particular book or two, and they will go. Which will make room for the recent incomings…

Plus I need to waste less time on YouTube and mindlessly looking at social media, and simply focus on reading more. I *will* continue to enjoy good documentaries when they turn up (as I mentioned yesterday, I’m very much looking forward to Richard Clay’s forthcoming prog on viral memes) but aside from these I want to give more of my time to reading. Currently, I’m deeply involved in this chunkster for a Shiny New Books review and it’s proving completely absorbing.

Whether I can keep up this level of involvement when I go back to work remains to be seen, but I shall try! What reading plans do you have for 2019? πŸ˜‰

It’s December – so that means more books…

23 Comments

There is an inevitability about the arrival of new books in December; as well as Christmas, there is also my birthday which occurs about a week beforehand. As my friends and family know me well, there will always be book gifts and this year is no exception. So I thought I would share them as usual – well, why break a habit?? ;D

First up, this little pile arrived from various sources on my birthday (and I did share an image on Instagram):

A fascinating selection! The top four are from Mr. Kaggsy – three wonderful books from the British Library focusing on my favourite areas of London, and a period crime novel set in the Jazz Age – I’m intrigued, and with the London books there’s another risk of a reading project… “Nihilist Girl” came from a Family Member after instructions were issued, as did “At the Existentialist Cafe” after a link was sent to my Little Brother! French Poetry came from Middle Child and the Beverley is from my BFF J. who is a great Nichols enabler…

There was a late arrival courtesy of Eldest Child in the form of this:

I follow the Bosh! boys on YouTube as they come up with some marvellous (and relatively easy-seeming!) Vegan recipes, and I’m always keen for new foodie ideas – so this will be just the ticket!

Next up, some arrivals from my Virago Secret Santa; this is a tradition we have on the LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics group and it’s such fun to take part! My Santa this year was the lovely Lisa from the USA, and by some weird trick of randomness, I was *her* Santa. Needless to say, I was spoiled….

The two Mrs. Oliphant books complete my set of the Chronicles of Carlingford – I’m very keen to get to read these all at some point. The Nemirovksy is short stories and I’ve not read any of these. And a lovely hardback of “Golden Hill” which sounds fascinating! Thank you Lisa! πŸ˜€

Then there are the Christmas arrivals! Some of these were requests/instructions and some of them my friends and family improvising.

The second volume of Plath letters was from Middle Child; the Katherine Mansfield Notebooks from Youngest Child. I long to sink myself in both…. The beautiful first edition of Beverley’s “Sunlight on the Lawn” (with dustjacket!!) is from my dear friend J. – just gorgeous…. “Sweet Caress” is from my old friend V. and I don’t think I’ve read any Boyd so I’m interested in taking a look… The rest are from Mr. Kaggsy who has been as inspired as ever. The John Franklin Bardin omnibus is a particularly intriguing; I’d never heard of the author but he seems to have been a highly regarded and very individual crime writer so I can’t wait to explore. However, Mr. Kaggsy excelled himself this year with this:

“But, Kaggsy!” I hear you cry, “you already have so many copies of The Master and Margarita!” Yes, I most certainly do, but I’ve always wanted a copy of the Folio Society edition. It seems to have been spiralling upwards in price to dizzying heights, but amazingly Mr. Kaggsy managed to track down a Reasonably Priced copy and snapped it up! Grinning like the Cheshire Cat here….

Finally, some review books have snuck in (as they say); I can’t share most of them, as the publication dates are a little way away, but one I can is this beautiful volume from Notting Hill Editions:

I love their books, and as an inveterate walker, the content looks just perfect for me. I want to get reading this one soon, so look out for a forthcoming review.

So as usual I have been utterly spoiled with new books and my only issue, as usual, is what to pick up next? Never an easy decision… Which would you choose??

β€œTo be alive and to be a β€˜writer’ is enough.” #KatherineMansfield @almaclassics

34 Comments

I spent some time over the summer revisiting the work of Katherine Mansfield, which was pure joy and came about because of two unrelated sources! Firstly, my OH rather cleverly presented me with the DVD which you can see in the picture: a wonderful 6-part BBC series on KM from 1973. With Vanessa Redgrave perfectly cast as Mansfield and the gorgeous Jeremy Brett as a very buttoned-up and intense John Middleton Murry, it made for compelling viewing. Now as you might have picked up, I’m not one for TV, especially not modern rubbish (!) – although I adore a decent documentary as I’ve often made plain. But this is TV from when I was growing up, which often looked more like filmed plays and had what I would call Proper Acting, and it was just brilliant and moving. Annette Crosbie was perfect as Mansfield’s BFF, LM, and the series featured episodes from her life interspersed with dramatizations of her work.

The show was a real treat, and made even better by the fact I had a lovely copy of a new selection of her stories which has just been brought out by Alma Classics. “The Garden Party and Selected Short Stories” is a handsome little volume, and contains some classic KM. The title story is possibly her most famous, but it also contains myriad treats from her other collections too. There’s “Je ne parle pas francais”, where Mansfield slips into the voice of a young French rouΓ©; “The Daughters of the Late Colonel”, a sharp dissection of two maiden sisters who’ve wasted their life looking after their bullying father; and several stories from “In a German Pension”, which cast a cynical eye on the snobbery and pettiness of boarding house life. And that’s just a few of the treats – the Alma book is a really nice collection and a good way to start to explore her work if you’re interested.

Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

Mansfield only ever wrote short stories (and poems and letters and journals, of course!) and that format seems so perfectly suited to her. I’ve seen her stories compared to Chekhov (another master of the form) and I don’t think that’s such a wild pairing. Many of the stories in the book draw on Mansfield’s childhood in New Zealand and they’re moving and evocative; she has a particular talent for capturing the child’s eye view, and revisiting her prose reminded me of why Virginia Woolf stated KM’s was the only writing she had even been jealous of.

My Mansfield shelf…

I finished both book and TV series in a fairly emotional state. I had quite an obsession with Mansfield in my early 20s but hadn’t read her for ages; and of course her life was such a short and tragic one, dying at an early age from TB. The end of the TV show was desperately moving, although it did send me off to check the facts, as I had forgotten that her husband Murry had been present when she died. I dug out my old Alpers biography and found that the TV show had been remarkably faithful to the truth, which set me off again. I have volumes of Mansfield’s letters and diaries on the shelf and I may have to make some return visits to those, as well as exploring the ones I’ve not read yet. Mansfield was a brilliant writer; both Redgrave and Brett are/were fine actors; and all of this added up to a marvellously emotional experience over the summer break.

However, despite him having bought me the DVD, I did actually have to explain to OH who Katherine Mansfield was…. πŸ˜€

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

“Memory wails in my faraway home”

13 Comments

Poems by Katherine Mansfield

Hot on the heels of my discovery of George Orwell’s poetry came the discovery that the wonderful prose stylist Katherine Mansfield was also a versifier – thanks to the fact that Michael Walmer has reprinted a beautiful collection of her poetry from 1923 and he’s been kind enough to provide a copy for review.

mansfield poems

Collected by Mansfield’s husband, John Middleton Murry, after her death, the book also contains an introduction by him; and interestingly he states that little of her poetry was published during her lifetime – which is a shame. The book is divided into sections, covering verses from 1909-1910, 1911-13, “Poems at the Villa Pauline: 1916”, 1917-1919 and what are listed as “Child Verses: 1907”. Apparently, some of the most beautiful were refused by editors because they didn’t rhyme, and Murry implies that they straddle the line between poetry and prose. Well, whatever you class them as, they really are quite lovely!

O waters – do not cover me !
I would look long and long at those beautiful stars !
O my wings – lift me – lift me !
I am not so dreadfully hurt…

(From “The Wounded Bird” – 1919)

If there’s a running theme in Mansfield’s poetry, it certainly is one of melancholy and nostalgia. The verses reflect her longing for her homeland; they evoke her early life and her relationship with her beloved brother, Leslie, who was lost in the First World War; and a strong feeling for nature. The sea is a constant presence in her work, along with fantastic creations like “The Sea Child” and the Earth Child who features in the poem “The Earth Child in the Grass”, both of which works feature striking imagery.

Through many of the poems run Mansfield’s memories of New Zealand, appearing as almost a magical place; family and heritage are obviously important to her, and in fact Murry chose to dedicate the collection to Elizabeth von Arnim, Mansfield’s cousin.

So, as with Orwell, the question has to be asked as to whether Mansfield is as good a poet as a prose stylist, and I have to say that I think that’s not something that should even be considered. Certainly Mansfield’s poetry is often very beautiful and if read in isolation without knowledge of her prose would stand up in its own right. However, her prose was so perfect that there’s no point in trying to make comparisons of such different types of writing.

KM

Mansfield’s life was a short one, blighted by her ongoing illness and the search for a cure. The pensive quality of many of the lyrics here can’t help but suggest that they reflect a side of Mansfield that’s not so obvious in her prose. She’ll always be remembered for her remarkably fine short stories, but “Poems” is a valuable addition to the canon of Katherine Mansfield’s work and most definitely deserves to be back in print in this beautiful hardback edition.

(Many thanks to publisher Mike Walmer for kindly providing a review copy – much appreciated!)

Little Black Classics – Bittersweet Women!

23 Comments

For my second visit to the Penguin Little Black classics, I decided to read a couple of collections of short works by two very wonderful women writers – Katherine Mansfield and Kate Chopin. Chopin is particularly known for her novel “The Awakening” in which there’s been something of a resurgence of interest recently. Mansfield, of course, needs no introduction; short story writer par excellence, she was the one serious rival to Virginia Woolf and the one author of whom Woolf was jealous. I read “The Awakening” a long time ago, and can’t recall much about it (though I obviously liked it enough to keep my copy!) But I’ve revisited Mansfield more recently, and was even more impressed by her writing than on my first reads.

Miss Brill by Katherine Mansfield

katherine_mansfield

This little volume contains three stories: “Marriage a la Mode”, “Miss Brill” and “The Stranger”. I recognised the stories from my last encounter with Mansfield, but this is no way spoiled my enjoyment. Mansfield is a sharp observer of the realities of life, of how events can slip out of our grasp because of our lack of ability to control someone else’s emotions. Marriage is central to the first and last stories and Mansfield brilliantly portrays the failure of two people to have a successful union; how we are still strangers within that relationship. And “Miss Brill” is a poignant study of self-deception with Mansfield’s writing capturing the turn of mind of the title character and her delusions about her lonely life. There are no huge, dramatic happenings in these works; instead, events are quietly devastating, with human frailties highlighted and human needs thwarted. Characters are unintentionally cruel to one another, and there’s the sense that human beings will never really understand each other. These are powerful little tales and Mansfield was an incredible writer.

A Pair of Silk Stockings by Kate Chopin

Kate_Chopin

Chopin’s work is based in the south of America, and like Mansfield’s protagonists they experience self-deception and the unfairness of the world. “Desiree’s Baby” in particular is quite devastating, touching on prejudice and heredity, topics which also feature in “Neg Creol” and “Miss McEnders”. This is a world where men hold the power, where they cannot be expected to be fair, or constant, or kind, and women are very much at their mercy. “The Story of an Hour” particularly highlights this, when a wife receives news of her husband’s death as a liberation not a loss. And the title story features another running theme, that of poverty and temptation – when Mrs. Sommers suddenly finds herself in possession of a large sum of money, it’s so easy to indulge in all the little luxuries she’d gone without while holding her family together and providing for them.

Both of these collections were striking and strong, proving that there are plenty of women writers who can claim high status in the world of short story writing. And both have made me want to go out and re-read more of their authors’ works – which can’t be a bad thing. Another pair of winners from Penguin’s Little Black Classics! πŸ™‚

Older Entries

%d bloggers like this: