Big books

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books

I like big books and I cannot lie.

I confess that I have escaped life between the pages of a book like some people escape into alcohol or drugs. The comfort of a big book, for me, is that it will not end too soon and one can postpone the final-page slump that inevitably comes when a shorter book reaches its premature end.

When I was a child we would prepare for our Scottish holiday by choosing six books from the library. Before the two day drive to our destination was over, me and my sister had finished all of our library books. The rest of the holidays were spent with nothing to read, waiting for the treat of a town with a bookshop where we could make a rare purchase of a paperback read. I now travel with a Kindle, because I never want to have to risk this experience again.

I have been known to cry  (make that sob) at the end of a very good book, not because the story was sad but for sheer despair that something so lovely was gone. I don’t have a very good memory for the novels I read, but once a book is read it an never really be read again. When the Canadian novelist Carol Shields died in 2003 I had been reading the novels one by one as they were published. The thought that I would never read a new Carol Shields novel again descended on me like a life sentence. Whilst her family and close fiends were grieving the loss of a special person taken too soon, I was just upset that a source of particularly good reads had dried up for good.

These is some of the history behind my love of big books. With a big book on your bedside table you can delay, for the time being, all of the anxieties of what to read next. Starting a big book is full of challenge and adventure, like the first day in a new job. Reaching the end of a big book is like approaching the summit of a mountain or delivering a baby after a long labour. A big book in the coffee shop, or propped open on the train is a sign to all the world that you are no amateur when it comes to fiction. With a big book in my bag I feel like I could take on the world.

So, if you too are looking for some long reads for the summer, here are five recommendations, all over 800 pages long.

Tolstoy, Anna Karenina

I’m very grateful that my sister pointed out to me that Anna Karenina is a better read than War and Peace. War and Peace is an epic of Russian history with multiple families and storylines to keep up with, whereas Anna Karenina is on a smaller scale. Adultery and self discovery set against of background of Russian class war, this is everything you want from an epic nineteenth century novel.

John Galsworthy, The Forsythe Saga

Following the recent Radio 4 adaptation I went out and bought second hand copies of both volumes. The second volume will be my summer holiday big book read. Irene Forsythe is just as fine a character as Anna Karenina, in this vast family saga of feuds, fortunes and emotional tragedy.

Victor Hugo, Les Miserable

The musical beautifully covers just a tiny portion of the full story. This novel transports the reader to nineteenth century France through a series of diverse characters, locations and historic events. Monseigneur Myriel, the bishop, is one of my favourite character in fiction. This novel reads like many smaller novels in one volume, with carefully plotted connections and interactions, that create a cohesive whole.

Donna Tartt, The Goldfinch

I will be forever grateful to my dear friend bookshop Jo who suggested this book to me during an intense season of insomnia and low mood. It provided the perfect escape. The story centres around a small art work that becomes separated from  the gallery that owns it. Avoiding too many spoilers, the quality of writing in the scene that sets the plot in motion is exquisite and the pace and tension of the rest of the novel makes for a compelling read, something that is essential  in a very long book.

 

 Ken Follet, The Pillars of the Earth

My love of all things medieval, especially cathedrals, means I was destined to read this epic tale of ambition, power and intrigue, though it isn’t the type of book I would usually choose. Some of the writing , characterisation and plot device is pretty dire but spite this I don’t regret the time I spent on this book. I especially enjoyed the opportunity to enter into the minds of a late medieval master builder and his prior, even if the portrays did lack a certain psychological realism.

Happy (long) reading!

Yarn Along – March 9th

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I’m reading The Museum of You, by Carys Bray. I really loved her first novel, A Song for Issy Bradley and she is also a local writer. The copy I have is a publisher’s proof and it feels quite special, a sneak preview before the official date of publication (June 16th in the UK).

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Her first novel, A Song for Issy Bradley is the story of Claire, a mother who loses her baby and most of her faith in God. Claire’s husband Ian is a good Mormon elder who is ill prepared to understand what is happening in his family. His wife takes to her bed and his teenage daughter Zippy falls in love for the first time. In the process she begins to unravel some of the double standard inherent in relationships generally and in church life particularly. Whilst this is going on his youngest son Jacob is hoping for the miracle that will put everything right and their rebellious older son, Alma, finds his own miracle in the most surprising place. The final scene takes place on the beach not far from where I live and it caused some interesting discussions at home because my husband and I both interpreted the outcomes differently. But maybe that is one indicator of a really good read …

The second novel promises to me good like the first, though it was a little slow to pick up pace. I’m only 100 pages into The Museum of You and so far I’m totally convinced and engaged by the main character Clover Quinn and her mission to put together a museum style exhibit on the mother she never knew. I’m particularly intrigued that so much of the novel is set locally, with detail of streets and locations that are familiar to me on a daily basis. Not something I’m used to in a novel and frankly a rather unusual fiction reading experience.

When it comes to knitting I’m mainly making baby cardigans. They seem to bring so much pleasure to me and others. I think this is my sixth this year. I stick with white and love using vintage patterns that various lovely people have passed on. When I finish this one I’m planning on something a different; maybe a light shawl in some exquisite yarn or a summer cardigan in pink cotton (for me).

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PS. I just noticed that an audio book of Issy Bradley is currently available from Amazon in both the UK and the US for free. Can’t recommend it highly enough!

Today I’m joining a link up with other knitters and reader, hosted by Ginny Sheller of the exquisitely photographed blog Small Things.

 

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What I’m into in February

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I’m linking  up with Leigh Kramer for the very popular “What I’m into” series.

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What I’m reading

Kate Atkinson – Since Christmas I’ve caught up on all the Kate Atkinson that I’ve missed since reading Behind the Scenes at the Museum sometime in the nineties. I loved Life After Life, but if I described the outstanding features of the novel it would sound like a gimmick. What KA pulls off in this book is truly remarkable. The work is built around a series of ‘what if …?’  and KA’s seamless handling of multiple possible outcomes in one narrative is a rare literary accomplishment. Compelling, utterly convincing and unselfconscious. Great characters, strong historical setting and multifaceted plot. Loved it along with A God in Ruins.

 

Margaret Atwood – Atwood is my main author this year and I have set myself the task of reading all of her novels and hopefully some poetry and non-fiction before Christmas. I thought The Blind Assassin was simply stunning and this month I have read the short story collection, Stone Mattress. These stories are engaging, entertaining and wickedly clever. Atwood’s mastery of genres, complex literary references and finely tuned characters are everything I love about reading contemporary fiction.

John Galsworthy – The only thing I knew about the Forsythe Saga before I started it a couple of weeks ago is the infamous rape scene which is intrinsic to the plot of these stories but completely inadequate in capturing the depth and breadth of a wonderful family saga told over three generations. This writing is a pleasing combination; everything I love about Victorian fiction plus added character consciousness one would expect from a modern novel

Bradley Jersak, A More Christlike God – Andy and I are reading this in our own date night book club. Jersak is an Orthodox theologian and this is a helpful read for anyone who has trouble with those Old Testament stories where God take murderous revenge on his enemies. More generally the book offers a bible hermeneutic that helps them iron out inconsistent and unhelpful beliefs about about God that we may have inadvertently picked up along our way.

Michelle Paver – Our  book club book this month was Michelle Paver’s first adult novel, Dark Matter. Everyone in the group enjoyed this read but with a few minor reservations: some of us didn’t find it scary enough (it is supposed to be a ghost story) and others found the characters and the setting unconvincing. But we did all finish it and that says something about it as a good safe read.

Today I’m giving away  my copy of Dark Matter to one of my readers. All you need to do is like or comment on this post on Facebook or on the blog and I will draw a name for a winner, Monday 7th March.

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What I’m watching

I’m thoroughly enjoying my TV at the moment; long evenings knitting and catching up on favourites via the player are becoming quite routine. These favourites include, Dickensian, War and Peace, Call the Midwife, Shetland, Trapped, Happy Valley and The Night Manager.

On the internet

Loving my mom blogs at the moment and am earnestly in search of writer who can help me negotiate the tackiness of parenting older children. All recommendations welcome. In the mean time I’m mainly enjoying,

Vanilla Latte To Go – written by one of my playgroup mom, very funny.

We are that Family – on my radar for a long time and occasionally referred to, I’m now reading this regularly.

What I’m knitting

Baby cardigans. I have a vintage Peter Pan booklet with ten or so patterns that I want to try out and I’m slowly working my way through it. I wish all the babies of the world could be wrapped up warm in hand knitted cardis.

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