If you've not actually properly started reading a book (as in have read maybe two pages...) and decide after all it isn't what you're in the mood for and so set it aside, it doesn't count as abandoning it, right? After writing about setting books aside and the many thoughtful comments that followed, I've decided I'm not going to feel guilty about shuffling my reading pile about in my quest for just the right book at the right moment. If a book isn't giving you some sort of joy, then it's best to pick some other book that will, don't you think?
To that end I'm afraid I've returned poor John Keats and his beautiful letters to Fanny Brawne back to its spot on my shelves. I chose it as a possible read for Melwyk's Postal Reading Challenge before I had a chance to compile a proper list to read from, and since then I've even added more books to the pile, including Mary Hocking's Letters from Constance, which is proving a much, much better fit for my current reading mood. I do want to read Keats at some point, but his letters just weren't quite what I feel like right now, and I do want to read a collection of real correspondence, but I have all year to decide on a book, so no need to rush things.
Every so often I will scan online used bookstores for older Viragos (I can't seem to find many, hardly none actually, locally), and I netted Mary Hocking's novel not very long ago without realizing it is an epistolary novel made up entirely of letters between two friends. I tend to order Viragos by title or cover alone as I want to collect as many as I can (have quite a few already and hope to make a small dent in them this year after being so neglectful of them the last couple of years) as often there is little or no description of the contents, so it's often a surprise what I end up with. But this is Virago we're taking about so more often than not the books end up being hidden gems, which is what I'm hoping for with this book. I just started reading yesterday, and it's off to a promising start.
Letters from Constance was published in 1991, so not all that long ago, but it begins in July 1939 (do you see a trend here), and follows the lives of the two women up until the mid-1980s. What's interesting is the book is made up of only Constance's letters, as we don't get to see Sheila's replies. So the reader is left to imagine and piece together Sheila's life through Constance's eyes. Hocking does a very good job of (thus far anyway) presenting believable letters that do tell a story and flesh out the characters' lives. So often epistolary novels tend to have an artificial feel to them, though with a good writer I don't mind as long as I get wrapped up in the story.
So, here's a taste of what I've been reading:
The time is the lunch hour; the place, the reception room of an education office somewhere in the outer reaches of Middlesex. Only one character: a haggard young woman, left in charge of the switchboard she has not yet mastered. It is foggy outside, but one can just discern an overgrown garden in which dim figures are engaged in stirrup pump practice. A chill feeling of hopelessness seeps into the room, which is cold because the City Council sees it as part of its war effort to ensure that its staff are finished off by consumption before the Germans get a crack at them.
I miss you so much. No one here has a sense of humour. The Education Officer fusses about staffing ratios, fuel rationing and the quality of toilet paper now supplied to schools. He has an endless capacity for anxiety and the other men (three in all) are little better, worrying about what arrangements to make for their families when they are called up. The girls' talk is all about soldiers and they think I am stuck-up because I don't join in, whereas I am only silent because I haven't got a soldier. I knew sooner or later the deficiencies in our education would make themselves felt."
I'm quite enjoying this and to be honest it's sort of a relief to set aside a book that I wasn't feeling especially excited about picking up. As a matter of fact I've made some other adjustments to my reading pile (more relief), so I'll share my new books/reads soon. As well, I'll write more about Letters from Constance when I finish. It's just the sort of story I really like--one about women's lives. When I find an author I like I tend to buy other books by them, and I've already got a small pile of Mary Hocking's books growing even as I type.
By the way my month of letters is moving along nicely. I've managed to send at least a postcard a day to friends and correspondents and even fit in a letter or two!
A side note--for some reason Typepad is dropping comments into my spam folder from people who comment regularly. Not sure why this is happening, but if you think your comment has been swallowed--never fear, it may simply have gotten dumped into my spam folder and I will retrieve it as soon as I log in here in the evenings.