This post isn't about the Penguin Great Food series (though I have finally started reading The Well-Kept Kitchen in earnest), but I always like some sort of visual in my posts and this was the handiest 'book photo' that I could slip in. I also like the bright and colorful spines of the books--they look so cheery. It feels like a nice antidote the grey days that we've been having here. I don't know about you, but January is a hard month. The holidays (and more--my break) are over. The days are short (though they are slowly beginning to get longer) and it's been just cold enough to make my daily walks to the bus stop brisk in a shivery sort of way. However maybe I shouldn't complain too much as the snow that fell just before Christmas is beginning to melt (then run into the sidewalks and refreeze again at night). January is just such a back to business sort of month with nothing much to look forward to and I think I am not the only one experiencing the winter blahs. Things have gone a little quiet again in my corner of the blogosphere, too.
There's nothing for it but to get lost in a good book. Maybe I need to find a sunny sort of story to send to the front of the reading queue? Or maybe a nice travel narrative. The next best thing to traveling myself is reading about someone else having a good adventure. To that end, I've started reading Christina Hardyment's Heidi's Alp, which is on my list of thirteen books to read this year (and which I am determined not to forget about like I usually do the moment January turns to February). A few chapters in and I think it is just the thing I need.
The book came out in the mid-1980s and I bet it has been on my shelves since the paperback was issued. Hardyment, fed up with the bustle uninspired repetitiveness of ordinary modern life, decided a little adventure was what she and her family needed.
"What had happened to my old dreams, of exploring Trebizond like Rose Macaulay did, excavating in Anatolia like Freya Stark, daring the desert in memory of Lady Hester Stanhope? Was a family a ball and chain for life?"
She had been reading Kenneth Grahame's The Wind in the Willows to her younger daughters, and inspired by Toad's adventures decided they needed a few of their own. No better time than the present as the four children were all under twelve and not yet "under the grip of examination syllabuses". So an extended vacation was planned for May and June. It wouldn't be just any vacation, but one in search of the real world of children's literature. One of the daughters had been reading Heidi and was curious if the places she was reading about actually existed.
"We could hunt trolls in the Norwegian mountains, look for witches and wolves in the German forests. In Switzerland we'd rout out Heidi and William Tell, in Italy track down Pinocchio and Punch and Judy. What sort of man could write a book like Struwwelpeter? What was the true significance of Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty? Where did Don Quixote tilt at windmills? Was there a jackdaw at Reims, a hunchback at Notre Dame?"
Although the family has to pare down their list of places to visit, literature is mostly going to be their guide on their journey. It's a journey I'm looking forward to taking with them. Good timing, too, since my fairy tale reading is still in the back of my mind. I'll report back what I (rather the Hardyments) find.
I've settled nicely into my New Year's reading. I just finished Diana Tutton's Guard Your Daughters, which I very much enjoyed and will be writing about soon. I'm finding Charles Todd's second Bess Crawford mystery, An Impartial Witness, hard to put down. It's set in 1917 in London by the way, and Bess is a nurse. The books are reminiscent of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs books, but only superficially. And Susan Howatch's Cashelmara is getting really good. It may be a chunkster, but it is one that is easy to get into and easy to get caught up in the family drama. I find myself shaking my head at some of the characters, getting mad at others and reassessing my first impressions of yet others. Everything you expect from a good, dramatic story. And I think I am ready to begin Julia Strachey's Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. I'm all for cheerfulness.
I'm also back to listening to audio books. At the moment I am listening to Judith Kinghorn's The Last Summer, which is very much à la Downton Abbey in terms of plot. I think it is more romance than historical fiction. It's about a young woman, who at the start of the story is only sixteen, falls for the son of her family's housekeeper. He happens to be studying at Oxford, however. So while not of her social class, he's smart and educated and just when the two have fallen for each other WWI breaks out. I was afraid Clarissa would be a simpering miss, shallow and naive, but the story is getting better the longer I listen. I don't usually read romance novels and am really picky about what books I listen to, but I wanted a story that would be engaging but not too challenging if you know what I mean. This seems to fit the bill. I set aside audio books even quicker than paper books if something about it doesn't click with me.
For something with a little more substantial I've also got Charles Dickens's The Life and Adventures of Nicholas Nickleby read by Simon Vance. I sampled it and liked the narration so am looking forward to listening. I have never thought of reading this particular Dickens novel, but now I'm quite excited about it. Audible has a special three for two sale going on--you can get three audio books for the price of two tokens so I am trying to decide which will tempt me most. So far I've got on my list of possibilities Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon (I've read this before, but I'm not averse to listening to the story again), Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice (I've read it a few times but it would be fun to listen in honor of the book's anniversary), Deborah Blum's The Poisoner's Handbook (nonfiction about the birth of forensic science in the 1920s) and Michael Pollen's The Botany of Desire (I love the narrator--have listened to him before). I've got a few days to decide. I have lots of audio books lined up so I guess I'll be spending lots of time out walking (which is when I listen to most of my audio books).
I hope you'll check back later on Friday or over the weekend as I have another Lost in the Stacks instalment lined up! In case you missed it Stefanie at So Many Books gave us a peek inside her library last week!