This has been a great fall for reading. You know how sometimes it feels like you need to read in order to breathe, like you’ll just curl into an anxious ball if you don’t get a chance to crack open a beautiful book? (Or is that just me?) It’s been weeks of that, on and off, since September. My knitting & sewing have slowed down considerably as a result, but it’s totally worth it. I thought I’d share some of what has been on my bedside table, work bag and sofa. A couple of them have already popped up in Wednesday yarn-alongs, but I’m usually only halfway through at that point.
The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, by Anne Brontë
I realised a little while ago that Anne is the only Brontë sister I’ve never read. I borrowed a copy of The Tenant of Wildfell Hall from work a couple of months ago so I could fix this. It’s quite a traditional romance, written in an epistolary format (i.e. letters). For some reason, my reading repertoire has never included much Gothic or Victorian fiction, but Tenant of Wildfell Hall fits with my conception of Gothic literature in particular. It’s a romance, with a mysterious independent (some would say isolated) heroine. Morality is crucial; in that respect, it reminded me a little of some of Austen’s work as well as Jane Eyre. The storyline kept me engaged, and I was interested in the future of the characters. I’m guilty of being a comfort reader who revisits favourites often, and I can imagine this being added to my rota.
How to be a Heroine, by Samantha Ellis
My previous thoughts on How to be a Heroine were fairly comprehensive, so I won’t repeat them here. I’ll just say again that I recommend it. If this book doesn’t make you want to become a bookaholic, nothing will!
Wuthering Heights, by Emily Brontë
Wuthering Heights plays a key role in How to be a Heroine, so naturally I felt obliged to re-read it. Like lots of people, I first read Wuthering Heights as a teenager, when I went through a phase of reading as many classics as possible. However, the novel never really stuck with me. I never felt the need to watch movie adaptations or reread it until now. The storyline’s so famous that I didn’t feel the need to revisit the actual thing. Rereading it was nice, though. I enjoyed Brontë’s language and her descriptive ability. It’s also a perfect book for the changing weather, and I really didn’t want to put it down. That said, I quickly realised why it hadn’t stuck with me – *whispers* I don’t like the characters. Is it awful to admit that? I was a quiet child & didn’t connect with Cathy at all. Some of them characters do turn out to be likable, but not until it’s a little too late for me. I’m glad I re-read this, and I may again in the future, but I’m sorry to say that Wuthering Heights will probably never be a favourite novel for me. *hides from all the Wuthering Heights fans*
I Capture the Castle, by Dodie Smith
Janet from Words That Can Only Be Your Own mentioned in her post about How to be a Heroine that she was curious about what Samantha Ellis would think of Cassandra, and also recommended I Capture the Castle in a comment on here. Other friends have also been recommending it for years, so I picked it up at work a couple of weeks ago. It was so good that I read it in about 2 days. It has a brilliant opening, and Cassandra’s a great character. I particularly loved the description of her bath routine, as I am also a huge fan of reading in the bath! The first-person narrative felt authentic, too. I was surprised by how timeless I Capture the Castle felt; I suppose this could be because the characters are, for most of the book, already living outside of their own time period (1930s). Of course many of the details, like what they’re shopping for and the decoration in the London flat, are very period, but overall it felt quite distant from a particular era. I think this is a good thing, as it lets you connect in a very personal way with Cassandra’s life. I loved it so much that I’ve already given it as a gift to someone.
The Far Cry, by Emma Smith
The Far Cry, published by Pershephone Books, was on the shelf next to I Capture the Castle. Published in 1949 (coincidentally the same year as I Capture the Castle), the novel follows 13-year-old Teresa on an unexpected trip to India with her father. It is exceptional. Smith travelled to India when she was 23 and kept a diary of her experiences, and it has clearly influenced her novel. The plot is simple – Teresa & her father have gone to India to meet Teresa’s half-sister. It really is the writing that sets this book apart. Here’s a brief excerpt, describing Teresa’s early impressions of Bombay:
“…rickshaws bounded; bicycles swerved; and the imperative warnings that issued incessantly from every whip and hooter, every bell and every hoarse throat, rose like vapour sucked up from the fuming earth by the high sun to be disperses as though it had never existed in the measureless wastes of that silent arid sky.
This hot white over-exposed light drained away the colours as it drained the virtue out of shade. Glare lay in flat horizontal planes. The chalky buildings were baked to such a dryness that it seemed at any moment they might change to powder and crumble. And bullocks…in the very middle of the road like boulders wedged in the spate of a mountain torrent.”
Thunderstruck, by Erik Larson
I love Erik Larson, even though as a volunteer in a charity bookshop he’s kind of a pain because other volunteers keep misshelving him in the crime section. Really, he’s just good at writing narrative history books. Thunderstruck is about a London murder that took place at the beginning of the 20th century, and how it fit in with the development of Marconi’s wireless telegraph system. Thunderstruck has a well-developed grisly murder story, clear technical information, and a good portrait of Guglielmo Marconi. The connection between the murder and the telegraph system is a little tenuous for me, but I enjoyed it nonetheless.
Lucy Gayheart, by Willa Cather
Willa Cather is one of my favourite authors, and I always think it’s a shame she’s not better known in the UK. She’s great at describing places, but as the title suggests, Lucy Gayheart is more of a portrait of a person. This isn’t my favourite Cather book, but it’s still pretty good. Lucy is a talented musician from small-town Nebraska who moves to Chicago to train. It’s a story of love, loss, and recovery. Admittedly, I’m biased toward Cather because her stories remind me of where I grew up, but I think she has an ability to connect with readers from around the world because of her characters. Plus, I bet if you’ve never been to small-town Nebraska, Lucy Gayheart would make you want to visit.
The October Country, by Ray Bradbury
Bradbury’s another favourite author. People who only associate him with Fahrenheit 451 are missing out. October Sky is a collection of short stories, which Bradbury excels at. They cover a range of emotions, from funny to spooky to sweet. I was also pleased to see the character Douglas Spaulding make an appearance. He’s the main character in the wonderful Dandelion Wine.