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On My Book Table…6 – a bit of a shuffle!

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The world is a little bit scarier than usual at the moment, as we’re all quite aware, and so I’m trying personally to balance keeping my awareness of what’s happening at a sensible level and trying to keep myself on an even keel. Books have always been my go-to in times of stress and frankly are being a little bit of a lifeline right now. Anyway, after all the recent excitement of the #fitzcarraldofortnight, plus a number of new arrivals, I thought it was time to take stock and reorganise a little. Reading from one publisher is a lovely experience, but as I have so many other books lurking I wanted to try to clarify what I planned to pick up next. Of course, I never stick to reading plans, but it’s always fun to spend time shuffling books, as well as being very therapeutic… 😀

After spending some time digging among the stacks and moving books about, I ended up with a few piles I currently want to focus on and here’s the first:

This rather chunky pile has some of the weightier books (intellectually and literally!) that are calling right now. Some of these were in my last book table post, but some have snuck in when I wasn’t looking. There’s a lot of French writing there and both the Existentialist Cafe and Left Bank books sound excellent. Barthes is of course still hanging about in the wings even though I haven’t added him to the pile. I could go for a Barthes fortnight (or longer…) quite easily, but that might a bit brain-straining. Some of the volumes *are* reasonably slim so I might be able to slip them into my reading between bigger books – we shall see! 😀

Next up, some of the review books I have pending:

These are only *some* of the review books lurking, but if I put them all in a pile it looks scary and I panic, so I thought a modest selection would do. There are some beauties from the British Library Crime Classics and Science Fiction Classics range, as well as Camus and a classic Russian play and Frankenstein! They all sound so marvellous….

And this is the pile of recent finds or other titles I really want to read at the moment:

More French writing. The top two are books about French authors – I’ve read the start of each and they’re marvellous. The Queneau is short but essential (and another play! I’m reading more drama!!), the Hitchens and the Christiansen arrived recently, as did the beautiful Persephone (which I think I might well pick up soon). And the Makioka Sisters is there because there’s a readalong going on. I doubt I’ll get to it – I’ve failed every one so far this year, getting nowhere near either Proust or Musil. But it’s there just in case.

However, there *is* another pile of interest lurking. Coming up in April, Simon and I will be hosting the #1920club, the next in our themed weeks of reading from a particular year. I’ve been thinking ahead about which books I’d like to spend time with, and there really are some wonderful titles from 1920. I always try to read from the stacks and a quick dig revealed I had these books on the shelves:

All of them are beautiful titles, and most of them would be re-reads – which is not really what I want to do with the reading clubs. I have another new title lurking digitally which I am definitely going to overcome my aversion to e-reading and get to; but with the re-reads I shall have to be picky so that I can perhaps focus on unread books. Though it *would* be nice just to spend the week re-reading Agatha, Virginia and Colette…

And of course, just after I had finished writing this post, a lovely collection of review books popped through the door looking like this:

There are some wonderfully exciting titles there, including a new Crime Classic from the British Library; two editions from their new imprint focusing on Women Writers (which is being curated by Simon – well done, that man!); and a fascinating book on Artemisia Gentileschi with an introduction by Susan Sontag – how timely!

So there we go. The state of the books at the moment. I have just finished reading Lennie Goodings’ wonderful book about her life in the book trade and with Virago which I will eventually get to reviewing (I’m very behind…) – I highly recommend it. And I confess to being unsure as to what I’ll pick up next, although it may have to be escapism in the form of Golden Age crime. As usual, watch this space! 😀

A sublime account of some pioneering womens’ lives over @ShinyNewBooks #squarehaunting @francescawade @FaberBooks

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In between reading some absolutely marvellous books for our #fitzcarraldofortnight, I spent many happy hours this month reading a fantastic new books from Faber and Faber – “Square Haunting”, by Francesca Wade.

The book is a look at the lives of five inspirational and pioneering women at a point where they intersect; all five spent time living in Mecklenburgh Square, Bloomsbury and all had varied and wonderful lives. The book was highly anticipated, and didn’t let me down – it will be one of my books of the year, for sure, and it’s hard not to just turn into a gushing idiot when writing about it! 😀

The women concerned are H.D., Dorothy L. Sayers, Jane Harrison, Eileen Power and Virginia Woolf; and the book is a triumph. You can read my full review here!

#1930Club – a great writer contemplates being poorly… ;D

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On Being Ill by Virginia Woolf

It’s no secret that Virginia Woolf is a favourite writer of mine; I’ve rambled on enough about her on the blog to make that abundantly clear. So whenever we have a club, I do cast around to see if there are any of her works that I can revisit (or indeed read for the first time!) as part of our reading week. Oddly, I don’t think I’ve managed this in previous club weeks, but when I did a little research about 1930, I discovered that an essay she first published in 1926 was issued as a standalone volume by Hogarth Press in 1930. I don’t currently own it, but was able to find a digital version of the original online (as it appeared ion T.S. Eliot’s “New Criterion”) – and fascinating reading it makes.

Woolf was, of course, well placed to discussed the pros and cons of being ill, having suffered recurring bouts of numerous ailments (both mental and physical) over the years. But any piece of work by her is never going to be straightforward, and her essay considers all manner of things relating to the problem of illness. In particular, she finds herself surprised that the subject is not dealt with seriously in literature, a thing she considers a failing. Certainly, the topic was one she featured in her own fiction, and I could name a number of novels and characters for whom illness is pivotal to their actions and indeed their lives in her books.

Parties, he said, bored him – such were English aristocrats before marriage with intellect had adulterated the fine singularity of their minds. Parties bore them; they are off to Iceland…

Woolf being Woolf, the prose ricochets off on all manner of tangents, which is part of the joy of reading her, and she considers the relationships between human beings, the tendency of people to behave so differently when ill, and how poetry is the ideal reading when one is poorly and a chunky novel is too taxing. She considers the effect of the physical body on the mind, and how we do not always get the sympathy we expect.

That illusion of a world so shaped that it echoes every groan, of human beings so tied together by common needs and fears that a twitch at one wrist jerks another, where however strange your experience other people have had it too, where however far you travel in your own mind someone has been there before you – is all an illusion. We do not know our own souls, let alone the souls of others.

Watching Woolf’s mind at play, ranging over all manner of topics, is always a pure delight, and reading this reminded me that I have several volumes of her essays crying out for my attention. Her prose is unique, completely individual, and her authorial voice unmistakable. Although I read her for the insights she brings, I also read her for the sheer joy of watching what she can do with the English language. “On Being Ill” was apparently a little neglected, although in recent year a new edition was brought out (which is now rather expensive….). Proof, if it was ever needed, that as well as being a genius of a prose writer, Woolf was also a stellar essayist. I really *should* dig out those essays… ;D

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

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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 as  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! 😀

The Houses of her Life #virginiawoolf @pimpernelpress

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Virginia Woolf at Home by Hilary Macaskill

Looking back over the Ramblings I realise that my recent posts have featured a *lot* of Russian books… Which is no bad thing, as I do love my Russian literature. However, I figured it was time for variety and bearing in mind the number of review books I have lurking (ahem) I decided it was time to spend a little time with another of my great literary loves – Virginia Woolf.

I’ve written about Woolf on the Ramblings before, and she’s one of the authors who’s been a constant in my reading life since my early 20s. At the time I immersed myself in Bloomsburiana, reading everything I could find by and about the various arty people attached to the label; and this generated a huge love of their writings, their artworks, their lives and fates. I’ve returned to Woolf in particular many times over the years, and so you might think that there wouldn’t be a lot left for me to discover about her. However, a beautiful new book which was sent to me by the lovely Pimpernel Press takes a look at Virginia from a perhaps surprising perspective – that of the houses she lived in during her life – and it certainly made me view Woolf in a new and interesting light.

It should first be stated that “Virginia Woolf at Home” is a very pretty book indeed! It’s a hardback edition, what I would call perhaps small coffee table size, and it’s stuffed to the gills with the most beautiful illustrations; of Woolf and her family and associates, her houses then and now, book jackets, paintings – well, it’s just lovely. There are seven chapters devoted to the main houses or areas in which Woolf lived, and each explores Woolf’s life whilst living there – from her thoughts on the places, their use in her work, even their eventual fate. By seeing Woolf placed firmly in situ like this, I found she really came to life for me; there are extracts from her fiction and non-fiction writings, memories from those who knew her and context – the latter so important, particularly when considering things like the potential scandal caused by a single woman moving into a flat in a block only populated by male tenants. Yes, times have changed, but it’s fascinating to see Woolf moving through those changes.

Macaskill really has done her research, and reading her wonderfully constructed narrative of Woolf’s life alongside the gorgeous illustrations was such a treat. Obviously, that narrative is not always completely linear, as there were often overlaps in time; the Woolfs would own a particular London house as well as a country house and the changeover between houses was not always at the same time. Macaskill provides a helpful timeline in the back with the country and London homes set next to each other which makes everything clear. It was intriguing to see quite how much Woolf’s houses and flats had seeped into her writing, and this was a particularly interesting aspect.

In fact, so many of the elements Macaskill teased out were fascinating; for example, I either never knew (or had completely forgotten!) that Woolf loved house hunting so much. I was also unaware that the Stephen house in Hyde Park Gate is the only house in London with *three* blue plaques: for Virgina, Vanessa and their father Leslie. All of the major events of Woolf’s life feature, and the picture of the Ouse at the end of the book was of course heartbreaking. There is a lovely final chapter  called “The Legacy” which covers just that; and I was particularly interested (and in some cases saddened) to find out what had happened to the various houses. I’m glad that the Woolfs’ last home, “Monk’s House”, still survives (I follow them on Instagram!) and one day I must visit. “…at Home” comes with a foreword by Cecil Woolf, Leonard’s nephew, and it’s sobering to think, as he states, that he’s “the last person alive who actually knew Virginia.” She steps so vividly from the pages of this book that it’s hard to believe that it’s approaching 80 years since she took her final walk.

I can’t really recommend “Virginia Woolf at Home” highly enough for its excellent combination of the visual and the written. There were a couple of places where I felt the text was very slightly repeating itself, but that’s a minor quibble. I would, too, have liked more notes on sources; I recognised many of the quotes and references, but someone less immersed in Woolf and her world might want a little more information. However, that’s by the by; if you want a look into the life of Virginia Woolf, both the women and the writer, this is a great place to start. It’s informative, evocative, readable and very lovely to look at. When I tweeted about its arrival, Simon at Stuck in a Book mentioned a book about Woolf and her gardens; if it’s anything like as good as this, I may have to search it out!

Review copy kindly provided by the publishers, for which many thanks!

True confessions… @PimpernelPress @BacklistedPod @RichardDawkins @OWC_Oxford @RusLibrary

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… of the bookish kind, of course…

Yes, there have been more arrivals at the Ramblings (although I have squeezed several volumes out in Happy Mail and donations). Mainly these have been review copies (as anyone who follows me on social media might have spotted), but I have to admit to a few little purchases…

So let’s share those first… And entirely to blame is the Backlisted Podcast which recently focused on Daniel Defoe’s “A Journal of the Plague Year“. I’d been considering reading this for a while – it somehow kept slipping onto my radar – and the podcast finished me off. After a Twitter discussion of which version was best to get, I somehow ended up with two…. Which will I read first? Who know, but I now own *two* Norton Critical Editions (my first was the Adrienne Rich collection I bought a while back)! 😀

Journal of the Plague Year

The next incomings are from charity shop and local Waterstones (who were having a sale).

Dawkins and Fellinesque…

A Dawkins for £1 is not going to stay in the charity shop when I’m about. And I have no idea what Fellinesque is (except I have a nagging feeling I might have read about it somewhere – if it was on your blog please tell me in the comments!) It sounds a bit weird, has the French Revolution in it (obvs with a guillotine on the front…) and was also £1. Worth a punt, methinks…

As for review books, the first arrived during the week and I was *so* excited about it, as I’ve been waiting to cover it for Shiny New Books:

Necropolis

I’ve read several of the titles put out in Columbia University Press’s Russian Library imprint, but I was particularly keen on reading this. Khodasevich is a poet I discovered fairly recently, and this book is about Russian writers from the early part of the 20th century. Can’t wait!!

And yesterday two more lovelies popped through the letterbox (well, actually, were handed to me by the postie, who is probably getting a bit fed up with carting large heavy book packages to the door – these were particularly weighty…)

Woolf and Carlyle

The one on the left is just gorgeous – a glossy colour picture illustrated book all about Virginia Woolf‘s houses. I’ve had a quick flick and it looks amazing! And interestingly on the right (because of Woolf’s interest in the Carlyles) is Thomas’s French Revolution history. A bit of a chunkster, but I’m desperate to read that too. I went to Carlyle’s house with my BFF J and it was surprisingly dark and small…

As I was grumping on Twitter this morning, it’s a little alarming when your review books form their own, separate Mount TBR. Self-inflicted wound I know, first world problem and all that.

Mount (Review) TBR…

However, I shall hopefully spend some time later on today sitting surrounded by a pile of books, flicking through them, reading bits and seeing which one hooks me the most. Yes, spoiled for choice…. 😉

“They have loved reading”. @NottingHillEds #VirginiaWoolf

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Essays on the Self by Virginia Woolf
Introduced by Joanna Kavenna

I guess it was going to be a given that, having been drawn back to Virginia by my wonderful read of “To the River”, I would want to pick up something Woolfian pretty soon. Fortunately, I had this beautiful little collection of essays standing by, courtesy of Notting Hill Editions, and it was just the thing I needed…

The book was actually issued in 2014, and I’m not sure how I managed to miss it at that time, since I do follow the Notting Hill releases keenly. This is one of their Classic Collection volumes, beautifully presented as always with cloth-covered hard boards, high quality printing and production standards, plus a lovely integral bookmark. So an aesthetically pleasing item in its own right!

The most elementary remarks upon modern English fiction can hardly avoid some mention of the Russian influence, and if the Russians are mentioned one runs the risk of feeling that to write of any fiction save theirs is a waste of time. If we want understanding of the soul and heart where else shall we find it of comparable profundity? (Modern Fiction)

As for the contents, well this is Virginia Woolf so it’s going to be good… The collection draws together essays by Woolf that consider the ‘self’ in all its variations: from the self of the artist, the social self, the self behind the mask, how the artist maintains their sense of self in the face of all odds, and so on. Taking this kind of thing as its stepping off point, however, the works featured here range far and wide over the rights of women, modernity, the future of the novel, the art of specific authors and so on. Woolf is never dull, and whether writing novels, short stories, letters, diaries or essays like these, her language is captivating and her linguistic flights unmistakable.

… reading, you know, is rather like opening the door to a horde of rebels who swarm out attacking one in twenty places at once – hit, roused, scraped, bared, swung through the air, so that life seems to flash by; then again blinded, knocked on the head… (A Letter to a Young Poet – Woolf on the effect of a good book…)

I confess I always feel a little inadequate when I’m writing about Virginia Woolf; so much has been written about her, she herself was a peerless author, so whatever can I bring to the table? Nevertheless, I’ll give my thoughts for what it’s worth… And first up I must say that this collection served to remind me just how glittering and brilliant Woolf’s prose really was; I’ve never read anything like it, and I don’t think anyone else could ever write like her. The way she plucks the most unlikely imagery out of the ether and spins a sentence that knocks you sideways is unparalleled. There are so many examples in just this slim collection, and when I think of the body of work she left behind I get quite speechless. When you think of the periods of illness she suffered and the relative shortness of her life, the achievement is even more immense.

The art of writing, and that is perhaps what my malcontent means by ‘beauty’, the art of having at one’s beck and call every word in the language, of knowing their weights, colours, sounds, associations, and thus making them, as is so necessary in English, suggest more than they can state, can be learnt of course to some extent by reading – it is impossible to read too much… (A Letter to a Young Poet)

As usual, I can’t really pick favourites, as each essay is marvellous; I’ve read several before, including “Modern Fiction” and “A Letter to a Young Poet”, and I would say they’re even more of a delight on a return visit. A particular treat, however, was “Evening over Sussex: Reflections in a Motor Car”, where Woolf allows several selves to argue the toss around her, whilst capturing vividly the sensation of driving through the countryside. It was published in “The Death of the Moth”, which I’m sure I have and which I’m sure I’ve read, but this wasn’t that familiar. It was stunning, however!

I have sometimes dreamt, at least, that when the Day of Judgement dawns and the great conquerors and lawyers and statesman come to receive their awards – their crowns, their laurels, their names carved indelibly upon imperishable marble – the Almighty will turn to Peter and will say, not without a certain envy when he sees us coming with our books under our arms, ‘Look, these need no reward. We have nothing to give them here. They have loved reading.’ (How Should One Read a Book?)

The selections in this lovely volume range from 1919 to December 1940 – so not long before Woolf’s tragic death; that last piece, a short extract from her diary where she reiterates her individuality, is particularly moving (but then nowadays I tend to find everything about Woolf moving). And reading this collection certainly makes me feel like immersing myself in her peerless prose for a while. Poignantly enough, I found that as I was making my way through the essays I could hear them in my head; I have a copy of the surviving recording of Woolf and her tone and inflection had obviously lodged in my mind so that the words I was reading were being replayed as if in her voice. It was a very odd experience, but added to the joy of reading this.

Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

There are a lot of collections of Virginia Woolf’s essays available (including some Complete volumes which I am gradually collecting…) However, they can be a little overwhelming, and I can recommend this lovely Notting Hill Editions book as a great way to start with her non-fiction. It contains some of her most important essays, gives a real sense of the variety and range of her writing, and the erudite introduction by Joanna Kavenna is a fascinating adjunct to the essays. I really don’t know how I missed this one first time round, but I’m so glad I caught up with it now! 😀

Review copy kindly provided by the publisher – for which many thanks!

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