That Was The Year That Was, part 1

It seems to be fairly traditional to use the ending of the year as a time to do a quick round-up of the twelve months gone by.  I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do that. Some people can tell you their favourite books of 2017 but I don’t think I can do that either – I just checked on Goodreads and I exceeded by 126 book target by a couple. I read quantity and am possibly not the best judge of quality but, I suppose I can try a bit of a highlights showreel. Month by month, so I don’t get lost….

January

shtum2017 started with one highlight and one failure. I was very moved by Jem Lester’s Shtum – the story of a father and his severely autistic son – and left slightly cold by Paul Auster’s 4321 (in fact it was one of my rare failures to finish a book). I think I’m old enough now not to worry about finishing a book I’m just not enjoying – and since this was a well-reviewed and Booker shortlisted novel I’m going to assume that was down to me not the book.

February

9781848126015A short month but a good one for me. It contains my birthday so I usually take a few days off – which is usually why I get more read then than in January.  No real stand-out favourites but I did particularly like Samantha Ellis’ look at Anne Brontë and kept up my quota of unusual fairy tales with Garth Nix’s Frogkisser.  Also, as previously mentioned, I had a birthday so that was a highlight too.

March

20170302_092657.jpgSpring sprang and I took up running. I even joined my local running club (which, if you’ve seen the size of the hills around here, I thought quite brave…). The nights, however, were still starting a bit early so I had lots of time to read. Oddly two of the books I enjoyed most this month were featured later in the year as their authors appeared at the Bradford Literature Festival. I’d been gripped by Ross Raisin’s earlier book so looked forward to A Natural – this tale looked at a side of football culture which is overlooked: the emotional and physical strains placed on young players, some still young teenagers, especially those struggling with their sexuality. I also enjoyed The Djinn Falls in Love – a collection of short stories about djinns, genies and other supernatural beings. More material for my ongoing interest in folk and fairy stories from various cultures around the world. I also got to wear my best dress for World Book Day and spent a couple of days visiting my Mum.

April

IMGP0638Another big month. Easter, more running, trips to the Harrogate Flower Show and to see my niece in Nottingham (with a visit to the cat cafe – great fun!) and, very excitingly, the Tour de Yorkshire. This meant lots of cycling related books at work but also a chance to see the race come through the village I live in – so much bunting! In book terms the stand out book for the month was, unusually for me, non-fiction. Dave Goulson’s Bee Quest told me lots I didn’t already know about bees – fascinating and uplifting overall.

May

spacestarsWe always try to take our holidays fairly early in the year and this year was no different. Towards the end of May we headed off for Denmark and for once I couldn’t think of any books specific to the area I wanted to read (since I was already up on my Hans Christian Andersen). Still, I had plenty to read on the trip and managed to find a couple of contenders for favourite of the year too. Alison Weir is always on my list of must-read authors and her series on the wives of Henry VIII had now got to Anne Boleyn (almost a guaranteed subject for excitement and passion…). It was as good as I’d hoped it would be. Unexpected highlights were one of the new crop of thoughtful sci-fi novels and a Young Adult psychological thriller with heavy Breakfast Club overtones.

June

plumWe were still on holiday in early June – celebrating our wedding anniversary with Rob’s cousin in Sweden and then moving on for nearly a week in Latvia. I’m just going to say now that if you love cake and open-air bars with live music then go to Riga – you won’t be disappointed. Still lots more time for reading although, looking back, I am surprised to realise my favourite book of the month was one of poetry. I do like the odd poem but rarely take the time to read a book full. The end of the month saw the start of the Bradford Literature Festival – always a fun time but very busy. This year, however, I also got the chance to dress up for the gala dinner. It’s a tough job, bookselling!

Jane

 

 

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Take Courage:Anne Brontë and the Art of Life – Samantha Ellis

Anyone with siblings will know that each child is often assigned a characteristic within the family (in our family we even had little poems for each of us which I won’t repeat since my sister is not hairy and my brother is by no means bandy – I do, however, have a laugh like a drain). Famous families are no exception – like an episode of Friends we tend to think of the Brontës in terms of the rebellious, passionate one (Emily), the one who spoke out for the underdog (Charlotte), the one with the life tragically cut short (poor old Branwell) and, well, the other one. Anne seems to be the sibling who is relegated to being ‘the pretty one’…Now there’s nothing wrong with being pretty but it seems rather damning with faint praise if you are a Brontë. Seeing Samantha Ellis’s new book about Anne shortly after seeing Sally Wainwright’s thought-provoking To Walk Invisible over the Christmas period I was eager to read about the most invisible of the three sisters.

29779226This book was interesting because it was as much about Samantha Ellis as it is about Anne Brontë in some parts. Ellis, at the start of the book, is a single(ish) fan of Wuthering Heights who thinks Anne is a bit, well, boring. After seeing Anne’s last letter, full of a desire to do more in the future despite her failing health, she realises that maybe the view we have of her (largely from Mrs Gaskell’s rather fawning biography of Charlotte) could be flawed. Each chapter looks at Anne through her relationship with other members of the Brontë household, through her own writing and through Ellis’s growing respect for her as both a writer and a woman. She is shown to be courageous, loyal and a gifted writer – in many ways showing the qualities her sisters are famed for. Agnes Grey showed the reality of the life of a lowly governess before Jane Eyre (although the vagaries of publishing meant that it looked like Charlotte’s novel was written first) and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall was as groundbreaking as Wuthering Heights in its portrayal of a woman who leaves an abusive husband. And this at a time when women were generally considered the property of man…

As well as being a fascinating insight into the life of an underestimated author this book is also an incitement to reinvestigate Anne’s work. It seems the very least that posterity owes her…

Jane