2013 – A Year of Reading, and plans for 2014


And actually, this was my first full calendar year of blogging – I can’t quite believe I’ve been doing this for 18 months now! I did wonder when I started if I would have the impetus to keep going, but I *have* enjoyed very much rambling away here, and sharing my thoughts on books and book-related thingies. Roll on 2014!

In the meantime, a few thoughts on the highlights of 2013. It has been on a personal basis a bit up and down, with various family illnesses and crises, so in many ways books have been what they always have for me, something of a coping mechanism. And I have read some wonderful volumes this year, and interacted with some really lovely people – fellow bloggers, readers, publishers – which has made the blogging journey even more special.

I’ve also learned things about myself as a reader, which is odd after all these years! The main thing I’ve discovered is that I’m absolutely rubbish at challenges! In 2012 I caught up late with the LibraryThing Virago Group’s readalong of Elizabeth Taylor’s works, and managed to keep pace. However, this year I only committed myself to one Barbara Pym and one volume of Anthony Powell’s “Dance to the Music of Time” a month and even that small challenge has proved impossible: I abandoned the Pyms halfway through the year, and am struggling with the last two volumes of Powell this month! I am definitely a wayward reader, influenced by whims and moods and what’s happening around me bookwise, so the only formal challenge I’m setting myself next year is the LibraryThing Great War Reading Event. This weighs in with a very reasonably one book per two months, and even with a choice of books, so I ought to be able to cope with that! Apart from this, I am really going to try to read as many books as I possible can which are already on my shelves – if for no other reason than to try to clear a few out and stop the house falling down under the weight of books!

So – highlights of 2013? In no particular order:

The Russians – I’ve spent time in the pages of a *lot* of Russians this year, having a particular binge on Dostoevsky. I finally read “The Brother Karamazov” which knocked me out – and I’d like to return to more of his books in the new year, as I do have a shelf full…. I also at last experienced the wonder that is “Anna Karenina”, a long and absorbing read which was just great to sink into. And then there’s Bulgakov – 2014 needs to see a revisit to “The Master and Margarita”!

Beverley Nichols – a recent discovery, and such a wonderful writer. His wit, his passion, his wearing of his emotions on his sleeve, his wonderful writing – in 2013 he became one of my favourites and I have the joy of several volumes waiting on my shelves for next year.

The Hopkins Manuscript – a lovely Persephone volume which I read fairly recently and which was unexpectedly compulsive. My unforeseen hit of the year!

Small presses and independent publishers – some of the best books I’ve come across are from publishers like Hesperus, Persephone and Alma Classics; and I’ve discovered new presses like Michael Walmer and Valancourt. Long live the independents!

Italo Calvino – I continued my reading of one of my favourite writers with a new collection of his essays – and I’m hoping that the volume of his letters will find its way to me soon…

Lost books – there’s nothing I like more than rediscovering an obscure volume and there were two stand-outs for me this year – Andrew Garve’s “Murder in Moscow” and the very wonderful Fred Basnett’s “Travels of a Capitalist Lackey”. I came across the Basnett book by chance in a charity shop and it ended up being one of my favourite reads of the year!

Anthony Powell’s “Dance to the Music of Time” sequence – I set myself the challenge at the start of the year to read the 12 books in this series, one a month. I haven’t quite kept to the schedule (though I do hope to finish by the end of December), and I’ve struggled at times – but this has been a really rewarding reading experience, and I’m so glad to have spent time with Nick Jenkins and the fantastic (in all senses of the word) set of characters that Powell peopled his books with!

The LibraryThing Virago Modern Classics Group – one of the most important things of my reading year has been my involvement in this group, surely the nicest and friendliest place on the ‘Net! The Virago group are responsible for introducing me to so many blogs, bloggers, books and authors; we share secret santa, companionship, views on books, recommendations and support each other in the highs and lows of life. I do feel blessed to have been part of the group this year and look forward to another year of reading Viragos (and other books!) alongside them.

So – Plans for 2014?

As I said above, I’ve realised I function best as a reader if I don’t restrict or tie myself down. So there are a small number of books I plan for the Great War Reading Event and here they are:

Not too many when spread out over 12 months and with a commitment to only one every 2 months even I should be able to manage to keep up!

I’ve also decided that in 2014 I’d like to read the Raj Quartet and so I’ve allowed myself the indulgence of picking up the first two volumes in a couple of local charity shops – not bad for £1.75 and £1 each! But I won’t give myself deadlines, I’ve decided – I shall just read them when the mood takes me.

There are also a couple of review books I need to get on to:

Apart from this, I need to take some serious action about Mount TBR. I actually have so many books that I haven’t read that I don’t even have a separate TBR shelf (or two) – if I tried this the books would end up in chaos, so everything is shelved roughly by category/author. The danger in this is not only that I can’t find things, but also that I forget what I’ve read and what I haven’t read, and also forget what I had intended to read next. Therefore, I’d like 2014 to see a process of reading what I already own, then deciding if I want to keep it or not, and perhaps gradually slimming down the shelves a little. If I had an infinite amount of space I wouldn’t worry about it – but I haven’t, so I need to reduce the collection a bit.

I think this is a workable plan and gives me a *lot* of freedom in my reading – after all, whatever whim takes me, I’ll probably have *something* to fit it in my library! So that’s my plan – what’s yours?

Recent Reads: Crazy Pavements by Beverley Nichols


I must confess I’d never heard of Beverley Nichols till I stumbled across an intriguing review of this book on the rather wonderful Reading 1900-1950 blog. Of course, having recently read Bright Young People, I now know a lot more about the author and it seems he had quite a varied and interesting career. But I felt that “Crazy Pavements” was worth a read, particularly as it seemed to be early criticism of the BYP and also to have prefigured much of Evelyn Waugh’s work.

Our protagonist is a young man called Brian Elme. Brian is a gossip columnist who blags his way through his daily routine by making up stories about the glitterati (in those days the aristocracy) which they are too stupid or too far away travelling round the world to care about. He shares rooms with Walter (an ex-Naval officer) and they live a happy, if impoverished, life together. But Brian is entranced by the distant image of the beautiful Lady Julia Cressey and things start to go horribly wrong when their paths actually cross. The rather naive Brian is taken up by Julia and her group as an antidote to their ennui. He is drawn into a dark, corrupt world of vapid people who drink, drug and party all night long and are empty, emotionless shells. Will he survive or will he be tainted and then destroyed by them?

For a book written with such a light touch, this novel deals with some pretty heavy stuff! The corrupt, aristocratic world which Brian enters is portrayed very graphically for the time – there are constant cocktails, drug taking, sexual predators (in particular Anne Hardcastle, a grotesquely voracious older woman), plastic surgery: you name it, it’s there. Well, apart from one thing – homosexuality is obviously a huge subtext here but is not mentioned by name, only implication. This is understandable because it was illegal in the 1920s, but the relationship between Walter and Brian really can’t be properly understood in any other terms, and similarly with Lord William Motley and Maurice Cheyne.

See page for author [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Nichols is scathing about his characters – the descriptions of the way that Ann Hardcastle’s face has been sculpted into shape are disturbing, and his dissection of Maurice’s personality is similarly harsh. Lord William comes closest to recognising the truth about the way the group really are with his private collection of masks. These reveal, in a kind of Dorian Gray way, the personalities beneath the facade that the party-goers wear and he seems to be a surprisingly astute judge of character. His mask of Brian reveals a handsome but weak young man, and indeed Brian comes close to losing himself completely to decadence during the book.

Julia Cressey is something of a sad figure, totally unable to experience or express any emotion. She briefly falls in love with Brian and has a night of anguish wrestling with an emotion she is unused to dealing with, but she cannot sustain this and quickly returns to her old ways. There are some quite shocking scenes at the end where Julia’s behaviour descends into the horrible depravity of trying to persuade Brian to give himself to Anne Hardcastle as Anne is blackmailing her. Brian is suitably disgusted and this episode spells an end to his love of Julia.

Nichols drew strongly on the real lives and events of the Bright Young People, and a pivotal moment of the book is the party based on the real Second Childhood Party, where the guests attend dressed as infants. As behaviour degenerates, both Brian and Julia realise how preposterous the whole situation is and how foolish their way of life.

But the book is surprisingly readable for all of the unpleasantness it portrays. Nichols’ style is engaging – as a narrator he is very witty and keeps breaking off to address the reader. There is a lot of humour, though it’s humour with bite, and it’s hard not to get involved with the characters. The ending is perhaps a little trite, but I feel that maybe Nichols wasn’t quite sure how to resolve things for Brian. I guess love will conquer all is the message, although the kind of love harks back to the subtext! In fact, in later life Nichols stated, “Of course Brian and Walter were lovers, and Lady Julia was based on one of those predatory young queens who collects conquests like scalp-hunters collect scalps,” but in the 1920s he could not have been so outspoken.

One finds oneself wondering what Nichols’ contemporaries thought of the book – as he was one of the BYP himself, he was rather biting the hand that fed him. But from the point of view of literature, this is a nice little work and deserves more than its current forgotten status.

(As a side note, I’ve never come across Florin Books before but they seem to be lovely little volumes, and the list of other titles in the back makes me want to go off searching the Internet!)
* Lovely 1920s flappers from http://bumblebutton.blogspot.co.uk/

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