Tag Archives: Austen

Ten Favourite Novels

My friend the Outdoor Voice recently asked for a list of my ten favourite books. Similar requests have been made by other friends via various social media at various times. This is a hard question. To make it easier, I decided to produce both a fiction and non-fiction list, thus (sneakily) doubling my choices.

These are my favourite novels. The first 9 are in alphabetical order by title (excluding “the” of course), and the tenth is my favourite book. Please note that Possession tops anything non-fictional I’ve read, so it would be my number 1 whether or not I made two lists.

  • The Children of Men by P.D. James
  • Coming Home by Rosamunde Pilcher
  • Crocodile on the Sandbank by Elizabeth Peters
  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson
  • Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers
  • Killing the Shadows by Val McDermid
  • Persuasion by Jane Austen
  • The Runaway Jury by John Grisham
  • Tigana by Guy Gavriel Kay

And the top of my list:

  1. Possession by A.S. Byatt

I sat with this list for a couple of weeks. A few books almost made it, but then were cut in favour of others. I frequently consulted my database of books I have read (records kept since July 1993) in making the list. I excluded two series from consideration: The Chronicles of Narnia and the Potter books. Both of those are favourites, but in both cases the series must be taken as a whole, not split apart. I realize that you can get Narnia all in one volume, but the order is wrong in that volume (in my humble opinion of course).

Which of your favourites are missing from my list?


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Funniest Book

Here’s the answer Publisher’s Weekly staff gave to the question “What’s the funniest book you’ve ever read?

The criteria for the PW list seems to be LOL funny. This is not mild amusement, this is LOL at least, if not ROTFL.

Turns out this is a hard question. I started thinking about it as a distraction from what I should actually be doing right now (sermon prep: it’s Thursday, but Sunday’s comin!) and I found a lot of books that I thought were amusing (Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman; Northanger Abbey, Jane Austen; Bridget Jones’s Diary, Helen Fielding) but while those evoked smiles and a few chuckles, they weren’t really Laugh Out Loud funny. I am pretty sure I did LOL for Weird Things Customers Say in Bookshops (Jen Campbell) because I work in a bookshop and I recognize those customers. But not everyone will find Weird Things as funny as bookshop staff do. I think the answer to this question is “It depends.” When I was small, Amelia Bedelia and her tribe were the funniest thing ever. Now, it takes more. It also depends on the timing of the read. Another time I might not find any of the books listed here very funny at all. Things shift and change.

How about you? Funniest book ever? or even lately? Books are never funny?


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Current and Recent Reading

It has been a bit of a slow reading year so far. Not that I haven’t been reading (68 completed books to date), not that I haven’t been reading widely (both fiction and non-fiction, the old books percentage is up-to-date), but nothing has really stood out so far. Sometimes that happens, then BAM, a book hits you over the head. Still looking for the BAM book.

Enjoyable current reads:

The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey. I started this one a while ago and never got past the first page. Not sure why. This time I’m enjoying it very much. There is this lovely little bit on books and reading near the beginning. The main character is in hospital recovering from a serious fall and is contemplating with some disgust the pile of books kind friends have sent in.

Even in that, you knew what to expect on the next page. Did no one, any more, no one in all this wide world, change their record now and then? Was everyone nowadays thrilled to a formula? Authors today wrote so much to a pattern that their public expected it. The public talked about ‘a new Silas Weekley’ or ‘a new Lavinia Fitch’ exactly as they talked about ‘a new brick’ or ‘a new hairbrush’. They never said ‘a new book by’ whoever it might be. Their interest was not in the book but in its newness. They knew quite well what the book would be like.

Excellent. The book itself is about Richard III, monarch who has recently been in the news because he was dug up out of a car park. This book is a great novel to give beginning history students, or anyone who thinks all history they’ve heard in school is true. This is one of my older books, so there is no discussion of kings in car parks at all.

Longbourn by Jo Baker. Below-stairs at the Bennet’s house during the events related in Pride and Prejudice. So far this is a well-imagined mirror world. I’m quite enjoying it.

Recent Reads:

The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs. A very enjoyable essay on reading and its benefits. Jacobs does not rail against the internet and all distractions, but talks about them as one who has been distracted, but managed to find his way back from distraction. With an e-reader. True story.

The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle by Haruki Murakami. I had high expectations of this book as many people said this was THE Murakami book as far as they were concerned. I’m not quite sure. I think I liked 1Q84 better. It is the fourth Murakami I’ve read, and it isn’t the last, but so far it isn’t my favourite. Possibly I was reading it at the wrong time.

What have you been reading?

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Nine (fiction) books on my to be read pile

True Confessions: I went to a bookshop today. Is anyone surprised? I was. I wasn’t really planning on it, but it turns out the new Book City Bloor West is open. I am so happy there are books in the ‘hood again, I went in and bought books. The three books I bought have been added to my growing To Be Read Pile. Here are 9 randomly grabbed books from my fiction to be read pile. The first three I bought today, the others I acquired as noted.

  1. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl. Why have I not noticed this book before? Possibly people have pointed it out to me but I couldn’t see it for various reasons.
  2. Divergent by Veronica Roth. Now A Major Motion Picture! But I’ve also been intrigued by what I’ve heard about this YA dystopia. My friend the Library Page is a fan.
  3. Longbourn by Jo Baker. My Orthodox Colleague is muttering about the pollution of the shades of Pemberley again, but I can’t help it. It is Austen FanFic.
  4. MaddAddam by Margaret Atwood. I got this for Christmas but Whim has not taken me to this book quite yet. I’ll get there soon. Almost there. (I’ve just finished reading The Pleasures of Reading in An Age of Distraction by Alan Jacobs, who talks about reading Serendipty and Whim. These things, he argues, are vital to the well-rounded reading life.)
  5. Millenium by John Varley. A Time Travel Thriller! according to the cover. I recently re-read a Varley book (Red Thunder) and enjoyed it so much I went Varley-hunting in several used bookshops. I scored a bunch. This is one of them.
  6. The Last Crossing by Guy Vanderhaeghe. Lent to me by 1Mom a while ago, but Whim has not yet encouraged me to open the cover.
  7. Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. The ambitious choice. I picked this mass market seventies edition up at one of my local used bookshops. The owner and I had a little chat about whether it was actually a readable book or not. We both agreed that the mass market format made it less formidable looking.
  8. Domino by Ross King. I’ve read King before and enjoyed his historical fiction. I found this used somewhere, so I picked it up.
  9. Winter in Madrid by C.J. Sansom. I really like Sansom’s murder mysteries set in the reign of Henry VIII. This is not so much set in the reign of Henry VIII, but I thought I’d give Sansom’s other work a try as well.

What is on your to be read pile?


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Sunday Excursions

This is not an excursus, but an excursion, a small trip around a few old books I read during my two months of silence. It does not follow the numerical sequence which I picked up with my Four Reasons post of yesterday, and which I’ll continue tomorrow, in the tradition of other Sunday posts this year so far.

Time Travel: Of course one of my reasons for reading older books is time travel. I travel to a different age, whether or not the author sets the book in his or her present, it is the past now. At times the author sets the book in some imagined future, but that is still time travel of a sort. I read one book set in the author’s future during my little blog break: Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. C.S. Lewis though very highly of this book when it first came out. I think it was mentioned in one of his letters. Lewis’s mention of Childhood’s End was the reason I picked the book up in the first place. It is certainly an interesting take on the visitation by UFOs/aliens story. If you haven’t read it and enjoy SciFi, I’d recommend it. It is vaguely Buddhist just as Orson Scott Card’s books tend to be rather Mormon.

Russia: I’ve now read two Russian Novels, both by Tolstoy. I should probably branch out and try some other Russian Author as well. Dostoevsky might be next. I did not revisit War and Peace, rather I read Resurrection. I began this book during Holy Week, and found it appropriate reading for the season. It is very good, and, I think, pretty accessible for Tolstoy. It is his last novel, first published in 1899. It gave me a different view of pre-revolutionary Russia.

England: Four books took me to England, two to the early 19th century, and two to the first half of the 20th century. Northanger Abbey, the Jane Austen I hadn’t read before, is quite amusing. Austen sends up gothic novels very well. Great Expectations is the first Dickens novel I’ve read. I have read A Christmas Carol, but it is better called a novella I think, and I know the stories of A Tale of Two Cities and Oliver Twist, but have never read the books. I quite enjoyed Great Expectations considering that I had low expectations as I thought that possibly Dickens has been over-hyped. I’m not as convinced of the over-hyped opinion as I once was. I’ve more Dickens on the shelf for this year, so we’ll see what comes of those. Both the Dickens and Austen books are set in the early part of the 19th century. Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh is set in the second World War, but recollections of the narrator give his story through the 20s and 30s as well. This has an interesting theological twist or two in it, and I’d like to hear what YOU think of the ending. Finally, His Last Bow by Arthur Conan Doyle brings Sherlock Holmes into the 20th century in a collection of short stories that are not entirely sequential, but include a story set during the first World War.

New England: Finally, I listened to Little Women by Louisa May Alcott on audio book. I still think that this is a rather moralistic/moralizing book that is not very theologically sound. It was interesting hearing it read, as I couldn’t skip bits as I tend to do when re-reading. I heard a lot more foreshadowing of who the boy next door would end up with than I’d noticed when reading the book.

Those are some of the places I’ve gone while reading, how about you?



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Four Reasons I’ve not posted in a couple of months

  1. I read Northanger Abbey, thus the world as I knew it ended. There’s your gratuitous LOST reference for the month.
  2. I’ve been writing things out in the real world. Isn’t the blog-o-sphere also a part of the real world? Hmm. Too philosophical a question for the moment. Anyhow, I finished one writing project (I think) this week, thus removing some writing from my current to-do list, and making (some) room for blogging.
  3. I travelled! Yay for Ambridge and Durham, not to mention The Constant Reader and The Norwegian!
  4. I also taught some, read a lot, and watched some movies. It’s been nice having a break, but I’ve been getting hints, from some quarters, that the blog might be missed, and I think I might have some more things to say. Keep watching this space.

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If it is Sunday, it must be time for an Excursus

Five random thoughts on a Sunday afternoon:

1. Did anyone else notice that the Olympics began with an alphabetical sequence? I did. I feel vindicated in my alphabet series. I wish I could find a list of all the things in that opening sequence. Ah well.

2. Child at church this morning in response to the question what do you like about winter: “I like winter the best of all the seasons because there are NO BUGS!” Think on this happy side of the polar vortices.

3. I’ve often thought that other people have way more stories of their lives than I do. Then I began realizing it I just need to figure out how to tell my particular stories. I’m starting with titles. “That time I met Chris Hadfield” is one title.

4. I’m reading Jane Austen’s unpublished fragments. Lady Susan isn’t a nice person.

5. I can’t wait to see what pants the Norwegian men curl in tomorrow at Sochi.

How has your week been?

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J is a Joker

J is an odd character – a joker, certainly, but is J just a funny guy? Don’t jokers have something sinister about them? See Batman if you don’t know what I’m talking about. Also see Alice in Wonderland. Thus, the letter

J oldletter

is for James. P.D. James that is, or Baroness James of Holland Park to be perfectly correct about the whole thing.

P.D. James writes mostly mysteries featuring the poetic policeman Adam Dalgliesh. (No, I don’t know how to properly say his name. This meant I didn’t read James for a while because I didn’t know what to call this character in my head. I’ve got some sounds in my head now when I look at the name, but am quite certain I’ve made them up and they are not correct.) The crime in the mysteries are a part of the sinister aspect of James. The other sinister aspect comes in what I consider her best work, The Children of Men, a novel set in a future in which humans have not been able to reproduce for 25 years. That is all I’m going to tell you about The Children of Men, except to say that you should go and read it immediately. If you saw the movie, purge that immediately from your mind. Read the book. I want to assign this book for courses on children’s ministry I may teach in the future. It would be one of the first books assigned. Read it and see if you can figure out why.

The fun part of P.D. James comes with Death Comes to Pemberley. Yes, that’s Pemberley as in Mr. Darcy’s lovely house in Pride and Prejudice. James is an Austen fan, and writes a fantastic fanfic follow up to Pride and Prejudice with a murder happening at Pemberley. It is brilliant and fun and you should just go and read it. I had a discussion with my Orthodox colleague who doesn’t think she can bring herself to read Death Comes to Pemberley because she feels it violates Miss Austen’s work. While I can see where she’s coming from a little, it is P.D. James, and she has done a marvelous job of helping us step into an extended version of Jane Austen’s world.

On a completely different note, today J also stands for Justine, as in Justine Dufour-Lapointe, gold medal women’s moguls for Canada! And she stands on the podium with her sister, Chloe Dufour-Lapointe, silver medallist! #WeAreWinter.


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F is for either Fielding or Fowler. I’m torn. Maybe I’ll go with both.

Helen Fielding gave us Bridget Jones and her diary. She also gave us some other people and their antics, but who cares. Bridget is all we care about. Good thing there’s a new Bridget book. I’ve not yet read Mad About the Boy but I do know the pertinent piece of information about Mr. Darcy. I will not repeat it in case you don’t know. I do hope Bridget does not disappoint.

Karen J. Fowler wrote a bunch of books, but I’ve only read The Jane Austen Book Club. It was very enjoyable. As usual the book is better than the movie. In this case I don’t think the movie does the book any harm, but it over-emphasizes an aspect of the story that I found odd. Overall, I found The Jane Austen Book Club very enjoyable. It is different than many Austen-themed books in that it talks about the books and their intersections with the book club members’ lives without an attempt to return to the idealized past.

Who do you read from the F-section of the shelf?

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Pascal’s Poem, or Erasure with a Twist

So I just had this great idea for a crazy random erasure poem. I’ll go through the first page of Pride and Prejudice (as printed in my particular copy) and take the words indicated in each line by Pascal’s triangle! In the first row, the first word. In the second row, the first and second word, in the third row, the first, third and fourth word, etc. Lets see what we get.


of a

However known the

his a truth is

minds families the some one

My his Netherfield had returned she

told Bennet his why young the north.


was so

that is to

servants be house by.

What Bingley Oh! to be

four year how his be so

you thinking nonsense, them occasion girls may.

Excellent. Nonsense. Just what is needed for a Friday night.

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