I know I've mentioned the postal reading group I've been involved with here. It's a through the mail reading group where we each choose a book and then send them off to the person next in line and then every two months the books get dropped back in the mail onwards until each person in the group has read each book. It's been great fun, and now that we've completed this round I can share the books I read. There were fourteen of us and it took two years for the books to travel from place to place--they've been all over the US and UK with a side trip to Germany. I read all the books, though there were two I didn't complete--in one case I just started too late and knew I would never finish it by the mailing date and the other was something I wasn't clicking with at the time and decided to set aside, though unfortunately I never got back to it.
This is the first time I've participated in something like this and choosing a book was a little bit agonizing. The members of the group have very similar tastes (it was originally formed to read Persephone Books' titles, though they've branched off and read a variety of other titles now), but it's still hard to try and find something that might appeal to everyone. I've read all of Annabel Davis-Goff's novels and loved them. She was born in Ireland but now lives in New York City and takes as her subject the decline of the Anglo-Irish. The Dower House is set in the 1960s and is a coming of age story. It's been long enough now since I first read it that details have faded, but now that I have my copy back a reread is in order. Each person sends a notebook along with their book so each person can write their thoughts and opinions. The Dower House seems to have been well liked with the exception of a few quibbles here and there. It doesn't sound as if it was a slog for anyone, which I was pleased to hear.
I'm afraid I didn't write about most of these books, which is a pity as now I won't be able to write about them so late after having read them, but I'll give them a mention here. I think in the next round I will at least keep some sort of little journal or make notes to myself.
A Month in the Country by J.L. Carr - This is a wonderful story about a man recovering from his experiences during WWI. While restoring a mural in an old church he falls in love with the vicar's wife. I have been trying to find a used copy of this as it is a keeper.
Grand Hotel by Vicki Baum - A famous movie was made from this book, which I have not yet seen. I'm afraid this is the book I had to send on unread due to lack of planning. It's about the guests staying at a grand hotel in Berlin.
Mystery Mile by Margery Allingham - This was my introduction to Albert Campion, who is a very eccentric character that I am getting to know from his earliest days as I am now reading Allingham's first novel, The Crime at the Black Dudley. Mystery Mile is set on a small island off the coast of Sussex and has great atmosphere--it's a great setting for a murder mystery.
Two Days in Aragon by Molly Keane - And this was my introduction to Molly Keane--the book that made me want to read every book she wrote in the order she wrote them. I'm working on that project very, very slowly. Keane is another Anglo-Irish author whose stories are very authentic.
The English Harem by Anthony McCarten - Generally I love a story that is a comedy of manners, and this was a satire as well, but I just didn't click with it at the time I was reading. I do wish I had gone back and finished it, as I would have liked to have found out what happened to Tracy Pringle. It's a story of a clash between cultures and seems very timely.
Nervous Conditions by Tsitsi Dangaremba - I don't read many books by African authors, so this was outside my normal comfort zone, but I very much enjoyed it. I did note it in passing, and wrote in part: Although the novel purports to be about "the colonization of one culture by another", it's really about so much more than that. It's about family dynamics and a woman's place in a patriarchal society, about what an education does and how it makes one question one's surroundings.
Love Child by Edith Olivier - This reminded me a little of The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson. Both are somewhat whimsical stories with characters who have rich imaginations, and in both the characters' imaginations actually come alive. Both are very clever indeed. Simon wrote about it here.
The Cobra's Heart by Ryszard Kapuscinski - This is a Penguin Great Journeys book, which are abridgements/extracts of one of the authors' previous works. In this case it is a compilation of essays on Africa by Kapuscinski. As I mentioned I don't tend to read much by African authors or books about Africa, but I found this fascinating. I always meant to go back and find more by Kapuscinski--this is a good reminder. By the way, I wish Penguin in the US published this travel series.
Me: A Book of Remembrance by Winnifred Eaton - Eaton was Canadian born of English/Chinese parentage and Me is an autobiographical novel of her experiences as a young woman in the 1920s trying to get by in the world. Although there were moments I wondered about Nora's choices, I enjoyed getting a sense of what life was like for a working woman of that period.
The Tattooed Map by Babara Hodgson - I very much enjoyed the interactive aspect of this book--I don't read enough graphic/illustrated novels. This had an unusual story with an ending that was left up to the imagination.
So, this is a pretty eclectic group of books, don't you think? I hadn't read a single one previously and many were completely uknown to me. This was a fun experience and one I am looking forward to repeating. Now I just need to think of a new book to send for the next round!