Where the Elephant is in the room, the Elephant of unread books by authors whose names begin with E.
Actually E is for Eliot, as in George Eliot, the pen-name of Mary Ann Evans. I’ve read exactly one of Eliot’s novels, Silas Marner. I have other Eliot novels on my shelf in the to-be-read area. I also have a biography of Eliot in the to-be read area of my books. I think I should read Middlemarch next. But somehow, I never quite get to starting Middlemarch. Somehow Eliot/Evans never quite makes it off the shelf and into my hands. I’m not sure why this is the case, especially since I’m consciously trying to read older books these days. I found Silas Marner hard to get through, so I may be expecting the same of other Eliot works. Possibly you English Majors will tell me that SM was possibly not the George Eliot book to start with. I’d love to hear this, and also would appreciate hearing what you think I should attempt next.
What E-books have you read lately?
D is for Daniel and Dean, as in Lillian Daniel and Kenda Creasy Dean. Daniel and Dean have co-authored books — not with each other though — in my field, pastoral theology. Lillian Daniel worked with Martin Copenhaver on a book called This Odd and Wondrous Calling: The Public and Private Life of Two Ministers. Daniel and Copenhaver are pastors who reflect theologically on all parts of their lives. By making some of their stories and thinking public, they provide the rest of us with two examples of practical theological thinking. I appreciate their work. D is for the duo of Daniel and Copenhaver.
D is also for the duo of Dean and Foster, who together wrote The Godbearing Life: The Art of Soul Tending for Youth Ministry. Kenda Dean and Ron Foster focus on youth ministry, but, in my mind, this book speaks into something that resonates in ministry to any age group. Dean has also written other books on youth ministry and teaches at Princeton Seminary. The Peace Pastor and her husband the Foodie Theologian have heard her speak and thought a lot of what she said. The Godbearing Life is a book I highly recommend for anyone working in ministry, whether with youth or not.
C could be for Celtic given the decoration above, but C is for Cleeves. Ann Cleeves writes mystery books. She’s got a few series on the go, but I’ve only read books that feature Vera Stanhope. Let me tell you how I encountered our hero, Vera.
Last year I was in a used bookshop (oh the shock, I know you think it out of character, I never visit used bookshops), and the owner recommended Cleeves as an excellent mystery writer. She made me a like it or trade it guarantee on the book. I thought hey, can’t lose with that offer. So I bought Hidden Depths. I really liked the detective, Vera Stanhope. The woman who ran the bookshop thought that I might. She was right. If you like your detectives thoughtful, quirky, and moody, this one is for you. This series is a UK police procedural, my favoured sort of mystery book. Since reading Hidden Depths I’ve kept an eye out for more Vera Stanhope, and have found a couple of others. They are quite good reads.
I like finding books through recommendations from slightly unexpected places. I’d not been in this particular bookshop for some time — it used to be a regular haunt of mine when I lived in North York. Now it is just a little bit too far out of the way for me to visit it very often. It is a small shop, tightly packed with good stuff. It has a good used bookshop vibe, not a junky used bookshop vibe. It isn’t too trendy or incense filled or hip or anything. It isn’t over messy or over neat. It is just right. I wish it were closer to my house, or on my way to somewhere else, but it isn’t. So sad.
Any mysteries you’d recommend to relative strangers?
But it isn’t. For today, B is for Brooks: Geraldine Brooks to be specific. I’ve read one book by Brooks — People of the Book. I promptly recommended it to 1Mom, who also thought it very good. With this positive reading experience, you’d think I’d go after more works by Brooks — who has a very short but distinguished backlist. (I guess all of her books could be considered backlist at this point as her most recent novel came out in 2011. She does take her time with writing. This is not a bad thing, especially when an author writes historical fiction.) But, I’ve only read the one book. I’ve looked at some of her others, but haven’t gone there yet. March is a different angle on Little Women, and the other two are set in the seventeenth century. I am not sure why I hesitate over reading other books — possibly it is because I liked People of the Book very much and I’m afraid that is her best book, and feel certain I’ll be let down by the others. This is rather pessimistic of me. Anyhow, long story short, you should read People of the Book, it is very good. And I should get over my pessimism and read more Geraldine Brooks. Because B is for Brooks.
I’ve decided that I need blog prompts to get me back to writing more regularly. I like the alphabet. I’ve done an alphabetical series around here before. Plus there’s the lyric from “The Sound of Music” referenced in the post title — this blog is about reading, and when you read you begin with A B C. Plus, I think Alphabet Books are fun. So we’ll do some alphabetical posts for a while and see where it gets us.
A is for Atkinson. Currently I’m reading Life After Life by Kate Atkinson. While LAL is not exactly a back-list book, I’ve read all of Atkinson’s backlist. I heard an excerpt from Behind the Scenes at the Museum read aloud on the radio. It hooked both the RABro and I. There we were, travelling down the highway, listening to the CBC as is our habit, and pouf! we’d had a new author to read handed to us. I zoomed through the books Atkinson had out at that time (three or so I think) and have been reading all her others as they appear. I really like Life After Life. It may be her best yet. It has an alternative universes feel to it, but done with less science fiction and more reincarnation/deja vu sorts of things. Basically Ursula, the main character, re-lives the same life again and again, finding new ways to live and die. When I heard the premise I was afraid it was going to be a boring book, but this is anything but boring. You should read it.
Here we are in another Polar Vortex. In honour of the cold, a list of 50 essential mysteries to read when you cannot possibly go outside has been posted over at Flavorwire. This list is an entertaining read, though it is heavy on USAian Noir, and light on the British mysteries I like. I have noted a few books from the list to hunt down.
In the meantime, I’ve got a lovely pile of books to get me through any vortices that might spin my way this week. I got both Atwood and Atkinson (MaddAddam, and Life after Life respectively) for Christmas. I’m also slowly making my way through a really interesting library book called Time’s Anvil: England, Archaeology and the Imagination by Richard Morris. I first heard about the book on a podcast, and it is fascinating. The book won a prize for non-fiction books in the UK, and I am not surprised. It is quite good. It also riffs off on the philosophy/idea of time. I like it when a book does that.
What are you reading?
I just finished listening to The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie. I’ve not read Christie for some time. Hercule Poirot annoys me. The Restless Teacher thinks I’ve deeply misunderstood Poirot as she enjoys his exploits. What got me this time was the thick narrator. Are Christie’s narrators always so stupid? This guy thought he knew what was going on, but Poirot ran rings around him, insulted him to his face without his realizing it, and generally made a fool of him. It felt like Christie was mocking the English gentleman. I’d never noticed this before. I will watch out for it when I revisit Murder on the Orient Express which I will do when I’ve finished Passage to India.
Speaking of Passage to India here is a great description from that book. I feel like Forster is trying a little to hard to find felicitous phrases, but then this one pops up and I thought — there it is, that is what he’s trying to do but not quite making it most of the time.
They [the English] exchanged the usual drinks, but everything tasted different and then they looked out at the palisade of cactuses stabbing the purple throat of the sky; they realized they were thousands of miles from any scenery that they understood.
“The palisade of cactuses stabbing the purple throat of the sky.” Got it that time E.M. Forster.
I like making connections. I make connections between ideas, between people, between books and people, between ideas and people, between lots of things. Making connections is one thing I think I’m reasonably good at. It is a difficult to describe skill in job-hunting though. Just saying.
Today I made a connection, not new to the world at large, but new to me. I am reading (slowly) The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature (2nd Edition), edited by Margaret Drabble and Jenny Stringer. I’m in the ST- entries. I’m reading this reference work from A-Z because I do not have a degree in English Literature and so am trying to learn a little more than I would just by reading English Literature in itself. Also, it gives me ideas for old books to read. So, the connection made today was between Leslie Stephen, known to me as the editor of the original Dictionary of National Biography, a reference I often consult in my work with women who interpreted the Bible, and Virginia Woolf, 20th Century author of some renown. Stephen was Woolf’s father. This was remarked on incidentally in the entry Stephens, Leslie in the COCtEL. It is, however, the main point made about Stephen in the Wiki article on his life. (Aside: I tend to prefer the COCtEL approach, which gave Stephen his due for his own literary work, rather than just making him the parent of other people.) The Wiki article on Woolf makes a connection between Stephen’s work on the DNB and Woolf’s “experimental biographies.”
In reviewing the wiki articles to link to this paragraph, I’ve also made another connection in my own head. Woolf was the great-neice (through her mother) of Julia Margaret Cameron, a nineteenth-century photographer of some note, whose work I’ve examined with interest because of my research into 19th C women. A comparison of dates indicates that Woolf was born three years after Cameron died.
What do all these connections mean? It isn’t completely obvious to me what they mean, but now I have a sense of Virginia Woolf’s world that I did not have before. I have a sense of her family connections, a sense that a writer of genius did not appear in a vacuum, but came from a family with literary interests (she was a third generation published writer on her father’s side of the family), connected with women who did unconventional artistic things (through her mother). It means I may read her with more sympathy than I might have before. Had I read her before, that is. Maybe now I’ll try? She did write books before 1970, so maybe I’ll go there this year.
Last year I resolved to read more older books. This year I resolved to do the same, but more. Fifteen days into the resolve, I wonder if it was too much to do a same-song-second-verse-a-little-bit-louder-and-a-little-bit-worse kind of resolution. It feels like it is taking a lot of concentration and thought to find the older books to read. But I thought the same thing last year.
I made the resolution again because I have more unread old books that I want to read. Last year having a goal that I wrote about here in public meant I read more far more of these than I would have otherwise. It also meant that I re-read all of my Dorothy Sayers books, which felt like a bit of a cop-out. In the fall almost all my older books were Sayers. Of course, now Sayers is out of the road, and I can’t use her as a fall-back this year. Plus there are a lot of other old books which are just as enjoyable as Sayers. I’ve just got to find them.
Currently on my Old-Book-To-Be Read Pile I’ve got A Passage to India (E.M. Forster, 1924), Murder on the Orient Express (Agatha Christie, 1934), and Assignment in Eternity (Robert A. Heinlein, 1953). I’m currently listening to The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie (1920, introduces Hercule Poirot) and have just finished Landfall by Nevil Shute. You might see a new pattern developing, but don’t worry — while it might be fun to revisit a select few Agatha Christie, I have no intention of reading the complete Hercule Poirot as I’m not a fan of Christie’s as I am of Sayers. The only other Christie books I’ll consider re-visiting are Death on the Nile and The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I’m more likely to re-read most of Nevil Shute’s oeuvre. Shute worked with aeroplanes in the early 20th century and his fiction reflects his knowledge. The aerospace engineer in me finds his books fascinating.
Last year I didn’t get to Dickens or Conan Doyle or H.G. Wells. They are on my list of authors to get to (through?) this year. Do you have any suggestions for other older books I should consider?
I’ve found some interesting lists for a foggy Saturday.
Apparently there are a lot of movies based on books coming out in 2014. Who knew? Obviously I’m out of touch with movie-land. Of the sixteen book-based movies listed in that linked article I’ve only read two: Winter’s Tale by Mark Helprin, and A Long Way Down by Nick Hornby. I enjoyed both of those books and would recommend them. I’m not at all sure Winter’s Tale can be made into a movie without hurting the book. It will be an interesting problem. Of the other 14, I intend to read The Giver sometime; the others I’m not sure yet. Also Gillian Flynn appears to have won the author adaptation prize for the year — she’s got two books on the list. Further, is anyone surprised that The Fault in Our Stars is being made into a movie? Anyone? No? I thought not.
Sometimes books contain other books that don’t exist. Possession and The Blind Assassin are my two favourite examples of books nested in books. Now there is a list of Best Books That Don’t Exist because authors made them up. Such a great list.
In other news, I’m reading Light in August by William Faulkner. The Constant Reader told me that this would be light reading compared to The Sound and the Fury. I’m not there with her. I found The Sound and The Fury readable and followed the story — Light in August is tortured and twisted in comparison. Maybe it is just the weird January weather. Maybe my brain can’t take the polar vortices followed by what appear to be chinooks.
What are you reading?