Monday, December 31, 2018

Back to the Classics 2018: Final Reminder and Deadline Extension

This is the final reminder about the Back to the Classics Challenge -- and a deadline extension! It looks like some people have been trouble leaving comments on my blog. I had set comment moderation for posts older than 60 days, due to spam, yet, some folks are still having trouble. I have temporarily turned off Comment Moderation. (I blame Google Plus; if anyone can enlighten me, I'll be very grateful.) I did say that readers who don't have their own blog could leave a wrap-up list in the comments and still qualify.

Therefore, if you do not have a blog and still want to participate, please remember you can also e-mail me via karenlibrarian13 [at] yahoo [dot] com with your wrap-up post (please include links and indicate which books go to the respective categories). I realize it is the last day of the challenge, but I want to be as fair as possible, so I am extending the challenge deadline FOR EVERYONE by 24 hours. The new deadline is Midnight, January 1, 2019 (Pacific Standard Time). 

If you have any questions, send me an email at the above address and I'll try to respond as quickly as possible (please keep in mind that I'm on Central European Standard Time). Also, remember to include contact information in your wrap-up if it's not already on your blog. If you have a Goodreads Account, I can contact you that was also.  I will notify the winner before publicly posting their name, and you won't win if I can't contact you!

And I am so impressed with how many people have completed the challenge -- nearly 50 people so far (the most ever!) and almost everyone completed all 12 categories! Best of luck and thanks again to everyone for participating!

Saturday, December 29, 2018

TBR Pile Challenge 2019: Viragos or Non-fiction?

I'm so happy that Adam from Roof Beam Reader is hosting another TBR Pile Challenge! It's my favorite book-blogging challenge (next to my own). I love it because it really inspires me to read books from my own shelves, which I am woefully bad at. Only about half of my 2018 books were from my own shelves -- better than past years, but not nearly as many as I would like.

However, I have a bit of a conundrum -- I've made up two potential lists, and I'm torn between the two. One is all Virago Modern Classics (e.g., mostly out-of-print, mid-century women writers); the other is non-fiction, a mix of history, memoirs, and biographies. Bloggers, which one should I choose?

The Virago list: 
  1. The Loved and Envied by Enid Bagnold
  2. At the Still Point by Mary Benson
  3. Fenny by Lettice Cooper (one of last year's alternates)
  4. Crossriggs by Mary Findlater 
  5. Joanna Godden by Sheila Kaye-Smith
  6. Treasure Hunt by Molly Keane
  7. Troy Chimneys by Margaret Kennedy 
  8. Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann
  9. The World My Wilderness by Rose Macauley
  10. The Play Room by Olivia Manning
  11. Frost in May by Antonia White
  12. The Misses Mallet by E. H. Young 

The Little Ottleys by Ada Leverson

Jenny Wren by E. H. Young

The nonfiction list: 
  1. An Unlikely Countess: Lily Budge and the 13th Earl of Galloway by Louise Carpenter 
  2. Long Live Great Bardfield by Tirzah Garwood
  3. Terms and Conditions: Life in Girls' Boarding Schools, 1939-1979 by Ysenda Maxtone Graham
  4. Slipstream: A Memoir by Elizabeth Jane Howard
  5. Speaking of Jane Austen by Sheila Kaye-Smith
  6. Edith Wharton by Hermione Lee
  7. Margaret Mitchell's Gone with the Wind Letters, 1936 to 1949
  8. Millions Like Us: Women's Lives in War and Peace by Virginia Nicholson 
  9. The Perfect Summer by Juliet Nicholson 
  10. The Bolter by Frances Osborne 
  11. A Very Private Eye by Barbara Pym 
  12. Bluestockings by Jane Robinson 
  13. The Other Day by Dorothy Whipple

Georgette Heyer by Jennifer Kloester
Period Piece by Gwen Raverat

I realize there are 13 on this list, so one has to go. But which one? And I suppose I could just compromise and pick six from each list!

Bloggers, have you read any of these? Good choices or bad -- I have until January 15 to amend my list, so I'd love your input. And are you signing up for the TBR Pile Challenge? I'd love to see your lists!

Friday, December 28, 2018

Back to the Classics 2018: My Final Wrap-Up

I've finished! Once again, I nearly didn't complete my own challenge, but I finally finished all twelve categories for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018. Here's what I read: 

1.  19th Century Classic: Nina Balatka and Linda Tressel by Anthony Trollope. Completed 5/3/18.

2.  20th Century Classic: The Jewel in the Crown by Paul Scott. Completed 5/2/18.

3.  Classic by a Woman:  Pomfret Towers by Angela Thirkell. Completed 7/21/18.

4.  Classic in Translation: A Love Episode by Emile Zola. Completed 4/26/18.

5.  Children's Classic: Anne of Avonlea by L. M. Montgomery. Completed 1/15/18.

6.  Classic Crime: Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers. Completed 12/25/18.

7.  Classic Travel or Journey: Orient Express by Graham Greene. Completed 2/20/18.

8.  Classic with a Single-Word Title: Peony by Pearl S. Buck. Completed 2/24/18.

9.  Classic with a Color in the Title: Crome Yellow by Aldous Huxley. Completed 1/18/18.

10.  Classic by a New-To-You Author: Effi Briest by Theodor Fontane. Completed 3/7/18.

11.  Classic That Scares You: Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy. Completed 7/29/18.

12.  Favorite Classic Re-Read: Wives and Daughters by Elizabeth Gaskell. Completed 3/18/18.

Of the twelve, ten were books from my own shelves, which is good, but eleven would have been better. I also read five by women and two in translation. I wish those numbers had been higher, but I'll work on that next year. 

Favorites: Pomfret Towers, Gaudy Night, and The Jewel in the Crown. And Wives and Daughters, naturally!

Least favorite: There were a surprising amount of mediocre reads this year -- maybe because I chose a lot of lesser-known works (could that be the reason they're not so popular?) Probably Effi Briest which was just disappointing. I was actually enjoying Jude the Obscure until something really terrible happened in the story, I don't know if that would qualify it for least favorite but I'm really angry at Thomas Hardy about that plot twist!

Anyway -- it's exciting to have finished, though I can't believe it took me so long! I'm really looking forward to starting my list in 2019. Have you finished the Back to the Classics Challenge this year? There are only a few days left to post your wrap-up!

Wednesday, December 26, 2018

Gaudy Night by Dorothy L. Sayers: More Harriet Vane, Less Lord Peter Wimsey

Once again, I have waited until the bitter end to post my final book for my very own challenge. You would have thought that a Classic Crime Novel would be an easy and fun book to read, most likely one of the first books crossed off the list. I thought so too. 

Originally, my plan was to read one of several British Library Crime Classics I have unread on my shelves, but I'm sorry to say I've read two so far (in 2017, so I couldn't count them for this year's challenge) and in both cases I was underwhelmed. I started two others this year and abandoned both of them. I also thought about counting The Mystery of Edwin Drood or Whisky Galore, but neither really felt as though they fit the category -- Drood is unfinished, so it's not exactly clear if a crime was committed; and Whisky Galore is really more of a gentle comedy -- OK, they're stealing whisky, but it wasn't exactly the crime caper of the year. I also read Four Days' Wonder by A. A. Milne, which starts out with the discovery of a dead body, but that was really more of a screwball comedy. 

With less than a week left in my own challenge, and potential embarrassment looming, I gave up choosing from my own shelves and downloaded Dorothy Sayers' classic Gaudy Night from the library's online library. Published in 1935, it's considered by many to be Sayers' best novel. It's the twelfth in the Lord Peter Wimsey series and the third to include Harriet Vane, who is actually the main character in the story (Lord Peter doesn't even actually show up in person until the second half of the book). 

So. Harriet Vane, an alumnus of Shrewsbury College (a fictional women's college which is meant to be part of Oxford), receives an invitation to a reunion known as a Gaudy. On a whim, she accepts and after arrival, receives a nasty anonymous note stuck in the sleeve of her gown (back in the day all the students and instructors wore the black caps and gowns now traditionally worn only for graduation ceremonies). Having received poison pen letters in the past, she dismisses it and returns home. However, it turns out that someone at Shrewsbury is up to some mischief -- more notes and harassing letters are discovered, plus threats and destruction of property. The Dean of Shrewsbury is loath to contact the police, for fear of scandal, but she asks Harriet to return and quietly solve the mystery. Harriet begins to suspect various instructors, students, and staff members before enlisting the help of Lord Peter to find the culprit. 

Normally I do try to read series books in order, but I'd heard this was Sayers' best novel and I really wanted to read more about Harriet Vane. (I know many people love Peter Wimsey but he's not my favorite detective of all time.) It was a good choice, though, because I really liked this novel. It's the fourth of the series that I've read so far, and the second with Harriet Vane. My previous Sayers read was Strong Poison, which introduces Harriet Vane as a murder suspect on trial for her life. Naturally Peter saves the day and falls in love with her. Harriet's character is hardly developed in that story, and I'd actually find it rather annoying that Peter was so smitten without even knowing her. In this one, she takes center stage, and there's a lot more about women's education and the role of women, both in and out of academia. We learn a lot more about the attitudes of both men and women towards the rights of women, which I'm sure Sayers experienced first-hand when she was an Oxford student about the same time as her fictional counterpart. (We also get some insights about being a successful author which I particularly enjoyed). 

The reader does get more information about Peter and Harriet's relationship, which I admit was one of my favorite parts of the book. I did find the book a bit dense in parts when the academic characters are discussing philosophical points that I found a bit dry and obscure, and I had a bit of trouble keeping some of the characters straight, especially the other academic instructors who mostly seemed to run together. I particularly enjoyed Lord Peter's nephew Gerald who was quite delightful. It was a fun light read for the holidays, and I do want to continue with the series, though I'm not sure if I need to go back and read the rest in order or I can just skip around (I've heard Busman's Honeymoon is another of Sayers' best novels). Bloggers, what do you think? Read in order or skip around?

I'm counting this as my Classic Crime Novel for the Back to the Classics Challenge

Thursday, December 20, 2018

Back to the Classics 2019: My List

I don't think I've ever completed my exact list for this challenge, but here goes! As usual, I'm trying to read as many books as possible from my own unread shelves. I'm also trying to read more female writers and books in translation. And six of these are from my second Classics Club List!

19th Century Classic: The Duke's Children by Anthony Trollope. There's a newly restored version that was recently published and I've been waiting almost two years to read it! I'm in an online Trollope discussion group and they're reading the entire Pallisers series in order. I've been holding off so I can participate.

20th Century Classic: It Can't Happen Here by Sinclair Lewis. I'm trying to get this on the list for my real-life reading group, I think this would be great for discussion.

Classic in Translation: The Bright Side of Life by Emile Zola. Or The Wife by Sigrid Undset, the second novel in her Kristin Lavransdattir trilogy. I read the first book for this challenge two years ago, and I've been meaning to read the rest of the series. 

Classic by a Woman Author:  I have a LOT of Virago Modern Classics and Persephone Classics, so I'll probably choose one of those. I could also count The Wife for this category.

Classic Comic Novel: The Caravaners by Elizabeth von Arnim. I always enjoy her books, and this one is supposed to be really funny. 

Classic Tragic Novel: Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoevsky. You can't beat the Russians for a good tragedy! And I'm pretty sure La Debacle would qualify for this category also -- not many happy endings in Zola.

Very Long Classic: Imperial Palace by Arnold Bennett (bought for $1 at a library sale!), or Les Miserables. I finally got around to seeing the musical version of Les Mis; also, there's a new TV adaptation coming this winter. 

Classic Novella: Alexander's Bridge by Willa Cather. My last unread Cather, except for the short stories.

Classic From the Americas: The Children by Edith Wharton, which I have owned forever and still haven't read. I could also count Sinclair Lewis for this category. Or maybe I should finally read One Hundred Years of Solitude.

Classic From Africa/Asia/Oceania: I actually own two classic books from New Zealand -- Green Dolphin Street by Elizabeth Goudge, and The Godwits Fly, a Persephone classic, so I want to read one of those. 

Classic Set in a Place I've Lived: I should probably read Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann because it's a German classic -- but it's really long and I'm a little intimidated. If not, maybe Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser or So Big by Edna Ferber -- they're both set in Chicago and I lived there for ten years. 

Classic Play: I Am a Camera by John Van Druten. The English Theater company in Frankfurt is performing Cabaret this winter and I already have tickets to see it after Christmas (it's the musical version of  I am a Camera). I've never seen it and can't decide if I should read the play first or wait until afterward. 

Bloggers, have you read any of these? Good choices or bad? Which one should I read first -- probably a short one, since I've just realized that a lot of these books are really long! And have you signed up for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2019 yet? 

Monday, December 17, 2018

Reminder: Only Two More Weeks for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018!

There are only two weeks left for the Back to the Classics Challenge 2018! Did you sign up for the challenge? Have you completed six or more books? There's still time to complete the challenge and qualify for the prize drawing by posting a short wrap-up and linking here. Only twenty people have completed the challenge so far, so odds are definitely in your favor!

Reminder: read the directions CAREFULLY for your wrap-up, and include links to your original posts and contact information so I can notify you if you win! 

So far only 12 people have linked to wrap-up posts so odds are in your favor! You have until midnight, December 31 (PST) to post. What are you waiting for?

Sunday, December 9, 2018

Back to the Classics Challenge 2019

Books still life, unknown artist. Spanish, 1620-1640.
Old National Gallery, Berlin

It's back! After much deliberation, I've decided to continue to the Back to the Classics Challenge for the sixth year! I hope to encourage readers and bloggers to tackle all the classic books we've never gotten around to reading. And at the end, one lucky winner will receive a $30 (US) gift of books from or The Book Depository! The rules and the prize are the same as last year, but I think I've come up with some fun new categories. 

If you're new to the challenge, here's how it works:
  • Complete six categories, and you'll get one entry in the drawing; 
  • Complete nine categories, and you'll get two entries in the drawing; 
  • Complete all twelve categories, and you'll get three entries in the drawing

1. 19th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1800 and 1899.

2. 20th Century Classic. Any classic book originally published between 1900 and 1969. All books in this category must have been published at least 50 years ago. The only exceptions are books that were published posthumously but were written at least 50 years ago. 

3. Classic by a Woman Author.

4. Classic in Translation. Any classic originally written in a novel other than your native language. You may read the book in your native language, or its original language (or a third language for all you polyglots!) Modern translations are acceptable, as long as the book was originally published at least 50 years ago. Books in translation are acceptable in all other categories as well.

5. Classic Comic Novel. Any comedy, satire, or humorous work. Humor is very subjective, so if you think Crime and Punishment is hilarious, go ahead and use it, but if it's a work that's traditionally not considered humorous, please tell us why in your post. Some classic comic novels: Cold Comfort Farm; Three Men in a Boat; Lucky Jim; and the works of P. G. Wodehouse.

6. Classic Tragic Novel. Tragedies traditionally have a sad ending, but just like the comedies, this is up for the reader to interpret. Examples include The Grapes of Wrath, House of Mirth, and Madame Bovary.

7. Very Long Classic. Any classic single work 500 pages or longer, not including introductions or end notes. Omnibus editions of multiple works do not count. Since page counts can vary depending on the edition, average the page count of various editions to determine the length.

8. Classic Novella. Any work of narrative fiction shorter than 250 pages. 

9. Classic From the Americas (includes the Caribbean). Includes classics set in either North or South America or the Caribbean, or by an author originally from one of those countries. Examples include Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston (United States); Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys (Jamaica); or One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez (Columbia/South America). 

10. Classic From Africa, Asia, or Oceania (includes Australia). Any classic set in one of those continents or islands, or by an author from these regions. Examples include Palace Walk by Naguib Mahfouz (Egypt); The Makioka Sisters by Junichiro Tanizaki (Japan); On the Beach by Nevile Shute (Australia); Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe (Nigeria). 

11. Classic From a Place You've Lived. Read locally! Any classic set in a city, county, state or country in which you've lived, or by a local author. Choices for me might include Giant by Edna Ferber (Texas); Sister Carrie by Theodore Dreiser (Chicago); and Buddenbrooks by Thomas Mann (Germany). 

12. Classic Play. Any play written or performed at least 50 years ago. Plays are eligible for this category only.

  • All books must have been written at least 50 years ago to qualify; therefore, books must have been published no later than 1969 for this challenge. The only exceptions to this rule are books which published posthumously but written before 1969. Recent translations of classic novels are acceptable. 
  • All books must be read during read from January 1 through December 31, 2019. Books started before January 1 do not qualify. All reviews must be linked to this challenge by 11:59 p.m. on December 31, 2019. I will post links the first week of January for each category which will be featured on a sidebar of this blog for convenience through the entire year. (The link for the final wrap-up will be posted towards the end of the year, to avoid confusion). 
  • The deadline to sign up for the challenge is March 1, 2019. After that, I'll close the link and you'll have to wait until 2020 for the next year's challenge. Please include a link to your actual sign-up post, not your blog URL/home page. Make sure you sign up in the Linky below, not the comments section. If I do not see your name in the sign-ups, you are not eligible. If you've made a mistake with your link, just add a new one and let me know in the comments. It's no trouble for me to delete an incorrect link. 
  • Books may NOT cross over within this challenge -- that is, you may not count the same book multiple times within this challenge. You MUST read a different book for each category in this challenge, or it doesn't count. 
  • Participants must post a wrap-up and link it to the challenge, and it must include links to all the books they've read for this challenge, specifying which books for each challenge. If I cannot confirm which books you've read for each challenge, I will not enter your name into the drawing. It is fine to rearrange books for the challenge, since many books can fit multiple categories -- just let me know in the final wrap-up! 
  • The wrap-up post MUST include contact information so that I can contact the winner privately before announcing the winner on this blog. If your blog doesn't have a link, or if you have a Goodreads account, let me know in the comments of wrap-up post. If I cannot contact you, I cannot award you the prize!
  • The winner will be announced on this blog the first week of January, 2020. All qualifying participants will receive one or more entries, depending upon the number of categories they complete as stated above. One winner will be randomly selected from all qualifying entries. I will contact the winner privately and award the prize before posting on the blog. 
  • The winner will receive a gift certificate in the amount of $30 (US) from (US) OR $30 in books from The Book Depository. Winners must live in a country that receives shipment from one of these online retailers. To check if your country receives deliveries from The Book Depository, click here

Can I read e-books and audiobooks for the challenge! 
Absolutely! E-books and audiobooks are acceptable! 

Can I count this book toward another challenge? 
Yes, definitely! As long as it's another blog, that's fine. You just can't count one book for two categories in this challenge. 

Can I read more than one book by the same author! 
Of course -- as many as you like by the same author, but again, only one category per book. (You could actually read nine different novels by Trollope for this challenge.)

Can I read more than one book for each category? 
Well, yes and no. Many books can fit more than one category, so for example if you wanted to read only books by women authors, or books in translation, that would work, as long as they fit the criteria for that category, i.e., 20th century or comedy. But if you want three entries in the final drawing, you have to have one book for each category, not just repeat categories. Of course, you are NOT required to completed all 12 to qualify -- you just get less entries. 

Are children's books okay? 
Children's classics are acceptable, but no more than three total for the challenge! And please, no picture books.

What about short stories and poetry? 
Single short stories and short poetry collections do not count, but you may use full-length narrative poems (like The Odyssey) and short story collections such as The Canterbury Tales, as long as you read the entire book.

Can I change the books from my original list on my sign-up post? What if a book counts for two different categories -- can I change it later? Yes! And you do NOT have to list all the books you intend to read in your sign-up post, but it's more fun if you do! You may certainly rearrange or change the books for this challenge, as long as you indicate it on your final wrap-up post. 

Do I need to read the books in order? 
Not at all! Books may be read in any order. 

What if I don't have a blog? 
If you do NOT have a blog and wish to enter, you need to link to individual reviews on a publicly accessible site like Goodreads. You can specify which categories in the comments section of the link to the Final Wrap-Up Post, or within each review. Do not simply link to your Goodreads account.

So what are you waiting for? Sign up in the Linky below! I'll be posting my tentative list of reads for the 2019 challenge in the next few days. I can't wait to see what everyone else will be reading! 

Thursday, December 6, 2018

Back to the Classics 2019: Yea or Nay?

Edward Hopper, Compartment C, Car 293 1938

As you may have noticed, I've really been slacking off from the blogging the last few months. I don't know if it was just a temporary lull, or it's time to wind up this blog. It's been more than nine years, and sometimes I feel like I'm just moving in a different direction. I love reading, but sometimes writing blog posts feels like homework. Also, I've been traveling a lot this past year (I keep meaning to post about my trips but I never seem to get round to it.) We have less than a year left here in Germany before we move back to the U.S., and it's going really fast -- I have so much more I want to do before I go!

So, I've really been considering taking a break from book blogging, or moving this blog in another direction. But the Back to the Classics Challenge probably been one of my favorite things about it; I've been hosting this challenge since 2014, when I took over from Sarah Reads Too Much and I've been so pleased by the response! More than 180 people signed up last year, which is amazing.

What I'm asking is this: should I continue the Back to the Classics Challenge in 2019? How many people are still interested in participating? I realize that my readership may have dropped off because I've been blogging so infrequently, but if readers are still interested, I'll consider continuing. 

Please let me know in the comments if you're interested in participating. Thanks!

Sunday, September 30, 2018

Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson

 The governess. The spinster. The Aunt Sallies of life and standbys of British serialized humor. Submerged in other people's garments. 

I had really hoped to read two or even three books this past week for the Persephone Readathon, but I'm sorry to say that the events in the news were so upsetting, I could hardly focus on the book that I had chosen -- and I really wish that I had picked a more uplifting book. I'd been putting off Alas, Poor Lady for years -- it was so long and seemed rather depressing. It did take rather longer than I expected, as I normally zip through a Persephone in a couple of days, but I'm very glad to have read it.

Alas, Poor Lady is the story of a Victorian family with seven daughters, ultimately focusing on the youngest, Grace Scrimgeour, born in 1869. Her father, a retired army officer, is forever disappointed that he has no son (who finally arrives two years after Grace); he takes little interest in his daughters other than providing them a perfunctory education and assuming eventually some man or other will take them off his hands. After nine pregnancies in more than 20 years, her mother blithely assumes the same, without preparing her (or her elder sisters) with the means to find a husband or learn to support her self -- it just wasn't done. 

A Honiton Lace Manufactury. Frederick Richard Pickersgill, 1869.

Some of Grace's elder sisters snag husbands and even have sons, but Grace and her unmarried sisters are doomed to spend their lives doing needlework and Good Works appropriate for middle-class ladies. One of the sisters, Mary, suggests higher education or even teaching as a profession; another, Queenie, the nerve to suggest opening a needlework shop. Both of these ideas are immediately rejected as being unsuitable -- what would people think

 Her stillborn love affair, her spinsterhood she might forget if they would let her, the loss of her shop never. It was her real broken romance. 'I could have made a success in business but they wouldn't let me.'
   That would be her story in all the years to come.

Eventually, through bad money management, bad investments, and just bad luck, the unmarried Scrimgeour sisters enter a slow downward spiral to genteel poverty, becoming a burden on relatives and living from hand to mouth.  I'm always interested in the lives of the Victorian, but this book was a tough read in parts, with, as always, women having few choices. The eldest sister, Gertrude, has a rude awakening from her own marriage and childbirth (nearly the same time as Grace's birth); but at least she has financial security. It's a very well written book, but I did have to stop several times because I was so distressed at the mistakes and injustices that these spinster sisters faced. Grace's multiple attempts to catch a husband were especially distressing. 

Author Rachel Ferguson
This book reminded me a bit of Pride and Prejudice, just from the aspect of getting so many daughters married off. (Imagine if Bingley hadn't rented out Netherfield Hall -- would Jane have been forced to marry Mr. Collins? Ew.) Mrs. Bennet is normally the object of ridicule, but if you think about it, Mr. Bennet hasn't done diddly squat to find his girls suitable husbands, and hasn't put any money aside for dowries. He hides in his study and never even thinks about their education, or the suitability of having all five girls out in society at once. It was more difficult for the older girls to find husbands after several seasons -- and if their sisters came out, they would be even more competition. How awful would it be to have season after season and remain unmarried, then see your younger sisters married off before you? At least one of Bennet parents cared about what would happen to them. The Scrimgeour parents basically stick their heads in the sand and just assume everything will take care of itself eventually. And the ending, thankfully, wasn't as depressing as I expected. 

Endpapers from the Persephone edition of Alas, Poor Lady, a detail from an early 20th century tapestry.
The Scrimgeour sisters spent a lot of time doing needlework.
Alas, Poor Lady is the only Persephone by Ferguson; however, the Furrowed Middlebrow imprint of Dean Street Press has reprinted three more of her novels: Evenfeld; A Harp in Lowdnes Square; and A Footman for the Peacock, which is the only Furrowed Middlebrow left on my TBR shelves. Bloggers, have you read any of these? Which do you recommend? And did you enjoy the Persephone Readathon? Thanks again to Jessie from Dwell in Possibility for hosting!

Monday, September 24, 2018

Persephone Readathon Check-In and Giveaway!

So excited for another Persephone Readathon! I'm a bit late with this posting, but I've already started my latest Persephone, Alas, Poor Lady by Rachel Ferguson. I seem to have put this one off forever -- I think I've owned it for at least five years. But I've read more than 100 pages so far and I'm quite enjoying it. It's fairly long, more than 450 pages, but I'd like to try to squeeze in at least one other dove-grey book by the next Sunday if I can -- I also own two newer Persephones which are quite short: Tory Heaven by Marghanita Laski, and The Journey Home and Other Stories by Malachi Whitaker. I've been really impressed with Persephone's short story collections, though I do find short stories difficult to review.

And now for the giveaway!!

A couple of months ago I was at the only used bookstore around with books in English (tricky to find here in Germany). I naturally checked the Classics shelf, and was delighted to find a Persephone -- a pristine copy of Cheerful Weather For the Wedding, in the Persephone Classic edition!

I already own a copy (sadly, packed up and in storage) but I could not bear to leave it on the shelf so naturally I bought it! I realized it would be the perfect book to share as a giveaway during the Persephone Readathon! 

If you aren't familiar, it's a novella about a single day in the life of a young woman named Dolly, her wedding day. Things are not necessarily as they seem, as the bride has doubts, and a former suitor arrives. It's a very quick read, only 119 pages, with wide margins. It could easily be finished in a single sitting (and I might reread it before I pop it into the post for the winner). It was also adapted into an excellent film starring Felicity Jones and Elizabeth McGovern in 2012. 

That's Felicity Jones (right) as the bride, and Zoe Tapper (her bridesmaid? I've forgotten.)
  • If you'd like to enter the drawing, just leave a comment below and tell me which Persephone is your favorite and why. (If you haven't read any Persephones yet, just tell me which one you'd like to read!) 
  • The drawing will be completely unscientific and I'll pick my favorite response. 
  • Deadline to enter is Sunday, September 30, 11:59 p.m. Pacific Standard Time. 
  • The drawing is limited to residents of the U. S. and Europe -- I live in Germany and can mail via European and U. S. mail. 
  • Please leave a good contact email in your comment (if it doesn't automatically link) so I contact you if you win!
Anyway -- happy reading to all! Hope you're enjoying your Persephones this week! 

Sunday, September 23, 2018

Poor Caroline by Winifred Holtby is Poorly Titled

I only have one book left to finish for the TBR Pile Challenge, a massive omnibus of short stories by Katherine Anne Porter. (I keep buying short story collections but find them really overwhelming and unwieldy to read in omnibus collections; also, I never know how to review them.) So I thought I would take the easy way out and read an alternate, Poor Caroline by Winifred Holtby, a mere 266 pages in paperback. However, it took me nearly three weeks to finish this book, compared to a mere five days to zip through the nearly 500 pages of South Riding, Holtby's most famous work.

Published in 1931, Poor Caroline is Winifred Holtby's fourth novel, and was an instant success. Unlike her other novels centered around life in Yorkshire, Poor Caroline is a satire set in London, and follows the lives of several people who become attached to the fictional Christian Cinema Company, devised to create "clean" British cinema for the masses (this is just before color films became popular; I can't remember if the films in question are talkies or not). 

Nevertheless. The corporation is basically started by a Caroline Denton-Smythe, a 70-ish spinster living in genteel poverty who has decided it his her lot in life to find causes. She is joined in this endeavor by Basil Reginald Anthony St. Denis, a dilettante war veteran and minor aristocrat; Joseph Isenbaum, Jewish businessman looking to get his young son enrolled at Eton; Hugh Macafee, a curmudgeonly film inventor; Eleanor de la Roux, a distant cousin from South Africa who's inherited a little nest egg. Other side characters include Caroline's vicar, Roger Mortimer, and Clifton Johnson, a somewhat shady scriptwriter. 

The book begins and ends with two cousins who have just returned from Caroline's funeral. The rest of the chapters alternate between the characters, giving the reader back story about how each of them become involved in the project. Every chapter ends with someone saying, "Poor Caroline," from whence the title came, but I think it's a terrible title. 

This book seemed to take forever -- I almost felt like the chapters were short stories, rather than a single narrative. It also didn't help that I kept putting the book down because I really wasn't that interested in the characters, or quite frankly, the idea of Christian cinema. (As a former librarian, I'm not a big fan of public censorship). Taking so long to read the book really made it hard to keep the characters straight, and I found Caroline herself to be really depressing -- my favorite characters were the South African cousin and the vicar. The cranky film scientist was interesting, but he was such a sexist jerk that I wanted to throw the book across the room. 

I so wanted to like this because I loved South Riding and really enjoyed the other Yorkshire novels.  Overall I think it was just OK -- maybe I just didn't get the satire. I just have one more of her novels unread, Mandoa, Mandoa! which is another satire, set in a fictional African country. I'm a little hesitant because I think I prefer the Yorkshire novels. Well, it's one more Virago crossed off the list. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Is He Popenjoy? Is the Strangest Title of Any Trollope Novel

Apparently, 2018 is my Year of Trollope. I've now completed five of his works this calendar year (though to be honest, four of them were really quite short). The longest thus far was Is He Popenjoy? which also has the honor of Oddest Book Title of the Year; also, the honor of Most Irritating Title to Type Because It's Constantly Autocorrected to Popinjay, which is not the same thing at all. (I have since learned that Popinjay is a kind of Scottish archery game.) Popenjoy was chosen for a readalong by my Facebook Trollope group, and though the group read was scheduled for late September through November, I started it early and was so involved in the story I sped through the 655 pages in a week. 

So. The Popenjoy referred to in the title is not a thing, but a title -- specifically, the title of the heir apparent to the Marquis of Brotherton, a fictional aristocrat. When the novel begins, the current Marquis, fortyish and unmarried, has been residing in Italy for some years, and is estranged from his family: his mother, the Dowager; his four sisters, three of whom are unmarried; and his youngest sibling and only brother, Lord George Germain. Lord George is young and good-looking (if somewhat serious), but cash-poor, as he basically lives off the management of the estate while his brother has all the capital. George is aware that if his brother ever returns, he will have essentially nothing. However, the slim chance exists that the Marquis may never marry, and that George might eventually become the Marquis. Therefore, any future son could be the heir to the estate, Manor Cross.

Lord George is desperately in love with a Miss De Baron, but as neither of them has any money, she rejects his proposal of marriage early in the first chapter, marrying a wealthy older man instead. Lord George is brokenhearted, but eventually, is persuaded to consider another potential bride -- young Mary Lovelace, daughter of the Dean of Brotherton. Mary's father is from humble origins but worked his way up through the Church hierarchy -- and though Mary is young and pretty, she has the added attraction of 30,000 pounds, inherited from her late mother's father, who made a fortune in candles. 

Mary is just nineteen and Lord George is thirty-three, but the marriage takes place, with some stipulations: the couple will have a House in Town (aka London) and spend four months of the year there, paid for with the Dean's money. The Dean feels that since Mary has spent virtually her entire life in the country, she deserves a little society for at least part of the year instead of being shut up in the Brotherton Estate, Manor House, with George's older sisters -- who are rather petty and judgmental. And the season spent in London is where the trouble begins. Mary doesn't know a soul in London and makes a new frenemy of the former Miss De Baron, who is now Mrs. Houghton. Mrs. Houghton likes Mary but has an ulterior motive -- she thinks Mary needs taking down a peg or two for the sin of marrying Lord George only a year or so after she herself rejected him.  (Apparently it was the duty of Lord George to pine away for her forever). Mrs. Houghton introduces Mary to her cousin, the dashing Captain Jack De Baron, who loves to dance and ride and shoot pool, all things that Mary's husband does not. 

Things are further complicated by an announcement from Italy that the Marquis is getting married to an Italian woman, quickly followed another announcement that the marriage has taken place, and has quickly produced a son. Naturally, this sped-up timeline raises some eyebrows, particularly with the Dean, who has a vested interest in any future grandson becoming a future Marquis. Eventually the Marquis shows up with his Italian bride and sickly son, though they're mostly kept hidden away from view. 

I love this cover, from an inexpensive "yellow back" edition from about 1881.
It's from a collection at the Philadelphia Athaneaum.

So, most of the plot centers around tension between the newly married George and Mary, due to the interlopers (honorable or dishonorable); and between the Dean, George, and his brother, about the legitimacy of this little boy, known to all as Popenjoy, though presumably he has an actual first name, though it's never mentioned. (I only learned the Marquis' given name is Augustus in one of the final chapters, so presumably, the little boy is named after his father). There's tension between George and his brother, who's never had much interest in the family in England; tension between the Dean, who is pressing the case with his own lawyers, and George, who would rather let it lie; and tension between the Dean and the Marquis himself, who is a really unpleasant git. 

There are also some fox hunting scenes (of course) and a weird sub-plot about women's rights activists which, frankly, did nothing much to advance the plot. But this was starting to be a subject of discussion in the 1870s when the book was written, so I guess Trollope was trying to be timely. There's a German and an American activist, both women, and I'm not sure if Trollope was poking fun at these two countries, or to women who have the nerve to want rights. He does make the point that there is a double standard regarding the reputation of women after some unpleasant gossip about Mary and Captain De Baron starts circulating. 

This isn't one of Trollope's most complex novels, but I really enjoyed it. The plot about the jealous husband has been repeated a couple of times in other Trollope novels (specifically Kept in the Dark and He Knew He Was Right) but I suppose it's tough not to repeat yourself if you've written 47 novels. The question of Popenjoy's legitimacy was inspired by the Titchborne case that fascinated the public when it came to trial in 1871.

This is the 32nd work I've read by Trollope -- 31 novels and his autobiography! That leaves only 16 novels left. I'll be sad when I've finished them all, I guess I'll just have to start reading them all over again!