Weekly Geeks

Now it’s Spring, this week’s Weekly Geeks task asks us to look back on the first quarter of 2011 in books, as well as our anticipation for the beginning of the second quarter of the year.

My reading pace is pretty regular, as I read about 8 books a month and in the first three months of the year I’ve read 25 books. Thirteen of these are crime fiction and six are non-fiction, mainly biographies or autobiographies.

The top five books are (in the order I read them):

They are all crime fiction and pretty old crime fiction too, apart from Donna Leon’s Drawing Conclusions which is a new publication this year.

My choice of reading doesn’t change with the seasons, so I expect I’ll carry on reading a mixture of fiction and a sprinkling of non-fiction. The main change in my reading has been through using a Kindle. I’ve downloaded quite a few classics, so I’ll be reading more of those in the coming months.

As for organising books I’ve been weeding out some books that I think I won’t want to read again and either taking them to the charity shops or exchanging them for others at Barter Books in Alnwick. I have actually taken more there than I’ve brought home so that’s made some space on my bookshelves – but as the books are double-shelved it doesn’t actually look as though there is more space. 🙂

Weekly Geeks: Blurry Book Disorder

This week’s Weekly Geeks questions are:

  • how do we avoid BBD (Blurry Book Disorder): When one can no longer keep characters and storylines straight? Often brought on by reading multiple books from the same genre in a short period of time.
  • and secondly how we avoid reading ruts.

If I’m not careful I do suffer from BBD – if I read one book after another too quickly without pausing between them. This is one reason I write at least a few words about the books I’ve read, as it does fix them in my mind a bit longer, and I can check back what I thought about it. But unless it’s an outstanding book the details of plots and characters don’t stay with me for very long.

I also find sometimes that I’m not sure whether I’ve read a book or not. This can be because I know the story from seeing a TV adaptation or a film as in the case of some of Dickens’s novels, like Oliver Twist. As for Crime and Punishment, I think I read it years ago, but then again maybe not, maybe I just started it and never finished it. This is another reason for keeping a list of the books I’ve read. The difficulty is that I only started to do this about ten years ago and then only spasmodically.

Books can become blurry when I’m looking at them in the library or in bookshops. It’s not so bad borrowing books I’ve already read but buying duplicates is bad. I have duplicate copies of a few books because I think I’d like to read them, buy them and then discover they’re already in the to-be-read piles.

As I read from a wide range of genres I rarely find myself in a reading rut and if I do I try to read something completely different. That usually works.

Weekly Geeks – Antique Books

This week’s Weekly Geeks question is:

The other day I was noticing the old books on my book shelf. Old, meaning books that were “born” a long long time ago. Books that were published AND printed a long long time ago. (Not simply books that have been sitting on our shelves forever!)And it made me wonder what old books other readers have in their collection.

So this week, write a post sharing with us what old antique books you may have on your shelves, and tell us the story behind them. Did you inherit from a relative? Are you a collector of old and rare books? Did you just discover a certain book in a used book store and couldn’t pass it up? What’s the very oldest book you have? Do you even like old books? Or do they creep you out? Do you read and enjoy your old books, or is it more a “look and don’t touch” thing?

I love old books as well as new books. I don’t own any antiquarian books – old, rare and valuable ones for example. My old books are just that – old. I don’t value them just as objects, but for their content and some of my old books are not in prime condition. They are well used and well loved.

The oldest books I have belonged to my parents. The earliest is Where Flies the Flag by Henry Harbour. The book has no publication date but was presented to my father for “Regular Attendance at Vicarage Lane Wesleyan Sunday School during 1921.”  The inscription notes that he had “Not missed during the year.” In 1921 my father was 7. This book is in good condition, although the pages are now brown with age and I’m not sure he would have read it then as it seems hard reading for a 7-year old.

Both my parents went to Sunday School and each year were awarded books for attendance. One belonging to my mum is the Empire Annual for Girls which was given to her in 1925 when she was 11. Another is The Girl Guides Book and inside this one she wrote that it was an award for 1st Prize for Sewing, so that must have been from her day school. I loved both these books when I was a child.

And shown below are two of my Dad’s books – My Adventure Book and The British Boy’s Annual – this one was a Christmas present. They are both un-dated, although from “The Editor Chats” I see that he was asking for postcards listing the stories or article that had appealed most strongly to the readers to arrive not later than March 15 1928, so it must have been before that. Talking about the readers of The British Boy’s Annual, it wasn’t limited to boys as the editor wrote that he’d had a complaint from a boy that his sister had found it so interesting that she kept worrying him to let her have it for a while. I found it interesting too.

My favourite book of theirs – I don’t know which of them originally owned it – is The Coronation Book of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. I think this was published in 1936 as it was published before the Coronation in 1937, so I suppose it could have belonged to one of my grandparents originally.  It’s a history of the Royal Family and the Coronation ceremony, full of photos of the Family – including Queen Victoria with her children and grandchildren in the garden of Osborn House in the Isle of Wight in 1898 and our present Queen and her sister as children. Queen Elizabeth was 11 when her father ascended the throne.

I’ve spent hours as a child reading and looking at this book.

(Click on the photos to enlarge)

Weekly Geeks – Time for Reading?

This week’s Weekly Geeks question is about how to find time to read:

Do you read for a few minutes here and there?

Do you put aside certain nights or times of the day to read?

How do you minimize family interruptions?

If I don’t have some time for reading each day I feel deprived – I have to read even if it’s only for a few minutes. Reading is essential.

I’ll read whenever there are a few minutes here and there. At work I used to read whilst waiting for the lift, at breaks and at lunch time. I’ll read whenever I have to wait – at the doctor’s, dentist’s and hospital waiting rooms (it is more difficult to concentrate in those places, I admit). I also like to read whilst eating breakfast (but not other meal times), and each night I read before I fall asleep.

Family interruptions aren’t a problem. I can read whilst the TV is on, provided I don’t want to watch what’s on, of course. Sport is ideal for both reading and writing – the background noise seems to help me to read. This may be because growing up I had to do my homework in front of the TV in a warm room, or upstairs in a freezing cold bedroom (we didn’t have central heating).

Weekly Geeks – The books you’ve waited too long to read

This weekend, Weekly Geeks host EH asks about books we have waited too long to read.

Is there a book that has been hanging around your reading pile for far too long before you got to it. A book that probably got packed away until you accidentally got to it or a book that you read a few pages in and never got back to.

There are quite a few books over the last few years that I have started to read and not finished. I don’t mean the ones that I don’t intend to finish. Rather these are books I would like to read all the way through but have not so far got round to it. They are mainly non-fiction and the reason I’ve not finished them is usually that they take more time to read than fiction and so I slot other books in between reading sessions and sometimes just don’t get back to the non-fiction.

These are some of them – all books I do intend to finish:

  1. Thomas Hardy: The Time-Torn Man by Claire Tomalin – I stopped reading this partway in as I decided I needed to read more of Hardy’s own books before going further. I’ve read a few more of his books, but have never got back to this biography.
  2. A Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela – I must have read about half of this book before I stopped. It was so long ago that I can’t remember why I didn’t finish it.
  3. A Dead Language by Peter Rushforth – this one is fiction. I loved Pinkerton’s Sister by Rushforth. I found A Dead Language hard-going, but I will get back to it one day. The downside is that I’ll have to start it again as I’ve forgotten who all the characters are.
  4. 1599: a Year in the Life of William Shakespeare by James Shapiro – I can’t remember any specific reason I haven’t finished this book.
  5. Body Parts: Essays on Life Writing by Hermione Lee. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed each essay that I’ve read so far. As the essays are self-contained there is no problem in reading it in instalments.

Weekly Geeks – Overly Critical?

This week’s Weekly Geeks host Tara asks if we are OCRs?

O.C.R. = Overly Critical Reader

Symptoms:

  • not liking characters in the beginning
  • needing the main character to prove themselves before you’ll respect them
  • rolling your eyes while reading
  • needing things to be completely realistic
  • shouting things such as “WTF?!”
  • needing every plot twist and turn to be foreseeable

I don’t think I’m overly critical. I’m quite fussy about what I read in the first instance, so many books just don’t get a look in beyond the first page. I want to enjoy what I’m reading so I don’t start any book that looks boring or as though it’s not well written.

I do get exasperated when I read a description or a fact that I know is wrong, but a book doesn’t have to be completely realistic – I can suspend my disbelief to a certain extent. And I certainly don’t want every plot twist and turn to be foreseeable because that would be far too predictable.

I don’t feel the need to like all the characters, in fact unlikeable characters can be more interesting and necessary to the plot. It would be terribly boring if every character was ‘nice’.

I like reading critical reviews because then it gives me another view from the gushing praise some reviewers give (on Amazon for example), so in my reviews I like to say why I don’t like certain aspects of a book if I’ve found it disappointing or poorly written and give an overall idea of whether I loved it or not. I don’t give ratings on my blog, but I do on LibraryThing, where my average rating is 4 stars (out of 5). I also rate each book privately as I read it; most are between 3.5 and 5, where 5 is excellent and 3 is average. I don’t put it on the blog because it’s very subjective. I’ve noticed that this varies from blog to blog and I’m wondering  if I should start putting my rating in the review?

Weekly Geeks – What Makes an Author Last?

This week’s discussion topic is inspired by the fact that on September 15 the world celebrates the 120th anniversary of the birth of Agatha Christie.

Have you read Christie’s books? Recently? What do you think it is about them that has given them such lasting value?
Or perhaps you have another favourite author whose works have outlasted those of their contemporaries? Maybe you’re a fan of Charles Dickens whose work is still widely known and studied while those of his contemporary, Edward Bulwer-Lytton, languish in relative obscurity.
What do you think it is that gives your favourite long-lasting author an edge? Is longevity all to do with quality? Quantity? Style perhaps? Or luck?
Agatha Christie is a great favourite of mine. I read a great many of her books as a teenager when I first came across her books and I’ve been taking part in the Agatha Christie Reading Challenge – my contribution to the current blog tour will be 22 September.

I’ve already written quite a lot about Agatha Christie’s books so for this post I thought I’d I’d write about another favourite author – Jane Austen. I first read Pride and Prejudice even before I knew anything about Agatha Christie. I can’t compare the two because they are so different – Jane only wrote six novels, Agatha over 80, Jane’s are romantic fiction, whereas Agatha wrote crime fiction, and so on.

Jane Austen’s lasting appeal is certainly down to the quality of her writing. Her characters are timeless. She portrays flirts, bores, snobs, the self-centred and foolish people as well as high-principled characters such as Jane Bennet (in Pride and Prejudice), who is determined to see good in everyone.  Her characters are amusing and well drawn, with great depth so that we are convinced of their reality. But her books aren’t sentimental and they are full of wit and humour. She writes about serious subjects treating them with humour and irony. In fact she delighted in a sense of the ridiculous, with such characters as Lady Catherine de Burgh and Mr Collins (Pride and Prejudice). And then there is Mr Darcy, handsome and aloof, a man who has won the heart of many women readers and also TV viewers with Colin Firth’s portrayal in the 1995 TV production.

Jane Austen’s England was at war with both America and France and the French Revolution was being fought across the Channel, but little of this is seen in her novels, just as it didn’t directly affect much of the nation. England was then largely a rural, agricultural society and Jane’s characters live in that world – a world of social inequality, one in which the role of women was very different from that of today. And for me this too is part of her appeal. She takes me into that world as I read her books. And yet because she was more interested in relationships, courtship, love and marriage than in national or international affairs her work has a timeless quality.

Her popularity is widespread from the academic to the popular. Her books are studied in schools and universities and they have been dramatised for the stage, TV and radio, and made into films and musicals. The first stage production was the 1906 play of Pride and Prejudice. In 1940 it was made into a film starring Laurence Olivier as Mr Darcy and Greer Garson as Elizabeth. Later two musicals of Pride and Prejudice were produced called First Impressions, Jane Austen’s first title for the book. Since then numerous TV productions of all her books have been made, and sequels, prequels and adaptations galore. More recently Pride and Prejudice has entered the zombie world with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, (a book I cannot bear the thought of reading!) and also Bollywood with Bride and Prejudice.

There are numerous biographies, Jane Austen clubs and societies, in the United Kingdom, Australia and North America. The Jane Austen Centre in Bath, the Cobb at Lyme Regis and the house she lived in at Chawton are places of pilgrimage for her fans. And there are several blog sites dedicated to celebrating Jane Austen’s work, including:

Writing this has made me want to re-read her books and read for the first time The Watsons, Lady Susan and Sanditon. I also have Jane Austen’s Letters to read.