I’ve always loved to read but it has only been in the past few years that it seems to have become quite so overwhelming. I don’t mean that in a bad way at all – I still enjoy the reading itself – but since moving from an academic to a general bookshop, and starting this blog, I’ve found I am reading more than ever. I try to blog twice a week which means reading two books a week on average – obviously I can read more if I’m off work or read some books for younger readers and guest reviewers can take the pressure off from time to time (thanks to Rob and Charlotte in particular!) – and, on the whole I keep up the pace. Occasionally I can go a week or so with no post and, more rarely, even post three times in a week but I do okay. The only problem I have is that I am now reading, almost exclusively, new books. I often get these new books long before publication and, sometimes, in lovely, exclusive editions so I’m not complaining about this but sometimes I miss re-reading.
Re-reading is something I have enjoyed for most of my life. Most children have their favourite books and any parent who has had to read The Gruffalo, Peppa Pig or The Worst Witch for the eleventy-millionth time will know this. I liked to return to Alice (obviously), What Katy Did, and the Famous Five books and this habit of re-reading stuck with me. One of the reasons we have so many books at home is because I used to go back and read certain series or authors on a regular basis – Jane Austen, the Pern novels, Lord of the Rings. As time went by I got new favourites – I think I was reading Enchanted April at least once a year – but I still had time for my ‘regulars’ but now, with so many new books (and new favourites) I’ve had to give up re-reading. I’m starting to worry that I won’t get to read Emma again until I retire (unless we decide to do it for our book group, hmmm…..) so recently, after a long walk in rather miserable weather, when I decided that a bath would be better for my aging muscles than a shower I decided to just grab an old favourite and relax properly…This has started a brief spell of returning to old favourites – so here are a few I’ve managed to squeeze into my busy reading schedule.
The Grand Sophy – Georgette Heyer
When I was at university, and had to read lots of Very Important Books, I would relax by reading Mills and Boon. They were almost perfect: light, inconsequential and no-one expected me to write an essay on them. The only way it could have been any more perfect is if the library in York had stocked the complete works of Georgette Heyer. Or even just one or two. And The Grand Sophy would be pretty much top of my list of candidates for inclusion. Sophy is the only daughter of Sir Horace Stanton-Lacy and is sent to stay with her aunt when her father is sent on a diplomatic mission to South America. Her aunt and her family are expecting a meek young lady but they end up with a 5’9″ force of nature. Heyer is always spot on with her Regency detailing but Sophy is a heroine who would fit in to a modern romance novel: forthright, good-humoured and strong-willed. The only slight issue is a chapter where she rescues one of her young cousins from the clutches of a money-lender – the descriptions of the money-lender are a tad anti-semitic for modern tastes (although probably fairly standard for the 1950s when it was written).The book is jam-packed with balls, flirtations, misunderstandings, wit and romance and finishes with a happy ending – all in all a pretty perfect book to relax in the bath with after a soggy walk…
Rain – Melissa Harrison
The soggy walk I took was one I organised for Sunday Assembly Leeds – a combination of a Bank Holiday weekend, injuries and a drastic downturn in the weather meant that only Rob and I went but we very much enjoyed our six-mile stroll along the canal from Saltaire to Bingley and back. Our usual assemblies involve songs (we sang a few rainy day songs as we went), cake (cream tea at the Five Rise Locks cafe) and a talk. In lieu of a guest speaker I told Rob about Melissa Harrison’s book about walking in the rain. Like the best of assembly talks this book is both fascinating, uplifting and gives lots of ideas for the reader/listener to put into practise.
Harrison basically describes four walks in Britain, in varying sorts of rain and in each of the four seasons. As we found ourselves a walk in the rain isn’t necessarily a bad thing – particularly if it is a walk taken for pleasure rather a necessary one – raindrops on leaves are a soothing sound and rainy paths are usually rather less crowded. In fact we, like Harrison, discovered that there is a special sort of peacefulness to a wet walk – birds quieten, everything has its edges softened, stuff glistens. There is a lot else in the book which I didn’t recall when telling Rob about it – I re-read it a day or so later – so he missed hearing about the leech-powered storm alarm and the British Rainfall Organisation (now part of the Met Office and one of the most British things ever). As the glorious summer we have just enjoyed fades into memory you could do a lot worse than read this book and learn to appreciate our most common weather conditions!
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – J.K. Rowling and Jim Kay
I don’t suppose I need to say too much about the story element of this book. Most people who care to have read the books and many more have seen the films: and here is where this glorious illustrated edition comes in. The story is still there, word for word as you first experienced it, but it is enhanced so much by the illustrations. I’ve nothing against the films, if I’m not going for a walk they are a great way to while away a rainy Sunday, but it is great to see a different visual interpretation of Rowling’s actual words. I’m sure I’m not alone in mentally casting the film version of any book I read but when the film has already been made then it can be hard to get those images out of your head – for now I have both the film and Jim Kay characters visualised.
Interestingly it has been quite a while since I reread the Potter books – it could have been as far back as 2007 since I was in the habit of making sure I refreshed my memory of the whole story arc before the publication of each new book in the series – and I found I had forgotten a lot of the details. The early scenes with Uncle Vernon getting more and more frantic trying to avoid the letters arriving for Harry, all the Mirror of Erised episodes, how involved Neville Longbottom is from the start, so much… Serves me right for relying on the film versions for eleven years – I shouldn’t need telling that the book is nearly always better. And it really is with these stunning illustrations.