chestnut book blog

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Recently reading…

Recently, I have been catching up on my reading. Last weekend, I finally had a rare chance to enjoy a few hours curled up with a hardback and it was lovely. Here is what I’ve been reading:

1. Life after Life by Kate Atkinson

When this was released, I heard such mixed reviews about it that I put it away on my bedside table for a few months rather than reading it immediately. I wanted the reviews to fade so I could judge it fairly and, also, I wanted to read it at a moment when I could really savour it. I am glad I waited until last weekend, when I devoured most of it on a rainy Sunday afternoon. The central concept of Life after Life, that of re-living your live until you get it right, is not new or original. However, there is something here that is unique. Perhaps it was the quality of the writing, or the fact that WWII setting is new…I’m not sure but Life and Life¬†lingered in my thoughts long after I finished it.

2. The Queen’s Gambit by Elizabeth Fremantle

This was a retelling of the story of Katherine Parr, sixth wife of Henry VIII and one of the more neglected characters in this well-worm period. I enjoy a good historical romp now and again and that is exactly what The Queen’s Gambit is. I did find the ending frustrating, but the bare facts are historically correct, so perhaps it was simply real life that I was annoyed with! What I did like though was the relationship between Katherine and Dot and the significance Fremantle draws into the clothes Katherine wears; a form of armour against court intrigue and her mercurial husband. This would make a good, easy, holiday read if you like historic fiction.

3. A Guide to Elegance by Genevieve Antoine Dariaux 

This lovely little hardback is quaint and wise. I really enjoyed a glimpse into the rules of elegance in the early twentieth century. Although much of this is outmoded now (four outfit changes a day anyone?!), there are still some lessons that struck home. I think this would make a lovely gift for anyone interested in fashion and style.

What have you been reading recently?


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Howards End is on the Landing

Susan Hill is a wonderful writer and I have a feeling that if I were ever lucky enough to meet her, I would find a kindred spirit. I have not read much of her fiction, apart from the wonderful The Woman in Black and The Second Mrs De Winter, but her non-fiction is so evocative and well-written I almost prefer it.

I was introduced to my first non-fiction Susan Hill book by my regular blog read, DoveGreyReader Scribbles. DoveGreyReader and her subscribers recommended The Magic Apple Tree as a touching meditation on life in a small village. At the time I read those comments, I was feeling a little overwhelmed by life in London and so jumped at the chance to immerse myself in the changing seasons of the English countryside and I was richly rewarded.

After that, I forgot about Susan Hill until I saw this beautiful book on a table in Waterstone’s. Howards End is on the Landing has one of the nicest covers I’ve seen in a long time.

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

Howards End is on the Landing by Susan Hill

The blurb evoked a journey through Hill’s bookshelves and the importance of reading. I was hooked and couldn’t leave the shop without it. One reason this particularly appealed to me that day was I’d been having a slightly heated discussion with the love of my life about the problem of book storage. He was asking me to whittle down my collection so we could avoid the double stacking, stacks on the floor, general nightmare of our study cum third bedroom. I was horrified. Give away my books? How could I do that and deprive myself of re-reading them all when I’m too old or poor to buy any more? Or deprive myself of a niggling question about X author or Y last line that a quick flip through my shelves can answer? Or deprive myself of the sentimental value and memories tied to so many of my copies? You can imagine I gave a rather robust defence. Love me, love my books! So this was the conversation I had in mind when I picked up this book about a year of reading exclusively from your own collection and the joys of rediscovery. Perfect.

The first thing to say is that Hill’s home sounds wonderful! Cosy fires, bookshelves everywhere and nestled into the countryside. She describes wonderful autumn afternoons of browsing through the bookshelves and then settling down with her selections at the kitchen table or in a soft armchair, with a fire and a cup of tea.¬†She talks of her reasons for doing this year of rereading as wanting to ‘repossess her books, explore what I had accumulated over a lifetime of reading and map this house of many volumes.’ I think that is exactly what I had in mind when thinking about why I was holding on so fiercely to all my own books.

There were so many gems of ideas, vignettes of Hill’s meetings with many authors and general bookish information in this book that I can’t begin to summarise them all, but one in particular that connected with me was about slow reading. Hill describes how her books deserve to be savoured: ‘Everything I am reading during this year has so much to yield but only if I give it my full attention and respect by reading it slowly.’ Hill is absolutely right that much is missed when reading quickly and it is a fault I know I have. I am so greedy for books I gobble them up quickly without pausing to reflect on the nuances and intricacies. I will now try to read more slowly to see if I get more from my own books.

At the end of the book, Hill lists the forty books that she could not be without. I have read about a quarter of them so that will be a challenge to do later this year. I grew to respect Hill’s opinions so much in this book that I will take her top forty extremely seriously. I suspect that Howards End is on the Landing may just be in my top forty.