The Well Readers

This page is for people to share thoughts on what we’re reading – or re-reading.

Summer 2010 – What I’m reading

I’ve been rereading Daniel Deronda by George Eliot .  The first time I read it was years ago and I remember loving the prose.  It was late spring in the middle of a heat wave, and I spent several days devouring it on the lawn of the Divinity School in New Haven.  This time was rather different sitting on the 10th floor of the Costa del Sol hotel in Kuwait city overlooking streams of traffic on the coastal road and strips of sand.  However, both environments have been equally good for concentration.  Why am I making such slow progress this time round?

One of my favourite opening paragraphs ever:

‘Was she beautiful or not beautiful? and what was the secret of form or expression which gave the dynamic quality to her glance?  Was the good or the evil genius dominant in those beams?  Probably the evil; else why was the effect that of unrest rather than of undisturbed charm?  Why was the wish to look again felt as coercion and not as a longing in which the whole being consents?’

Why do I like it so much?  The series of questions opens up so many possibilities.  What a wonderful way to introduce a character in all her complexity and engage the reader’s curiosity!

12 Responses to The Well Readers

  1. Stephen says:

    Over the past few months I’ve been having a Roman episode. Firstly I’ve read all of the Ruth Downie books (http://rsdownie.co.uk/). Her novels are detective stories, I enjoy a good who dunnit, and these take place initially in Roman Britain and then Gaul. They evoke a social history of the time and at the same time give light entertainment.
    To follow up on this theme I’m now reading Robert Harris’ Lustrum which is the story of Cicero as consul of Rome. The machinations of the Roman senate are allied to modern politics and Cicero’s oratory still has a place in modern management.

    • Karin says:

      Interesting evolving reading process. Look forward to any insights as to what we might learn, or expect to see, in our current political maelstrom, based on your reading….

  2. Chris says:

    Never read Daniel Deronda but I shall now seek it out. Likewise Ruth Downie. I’m a great re-reader and re-cycler of books to make space for new. I recognise early whether a book is going to become a resident on the shelves or merely a visitor. Waterstones and Amazon love me – as do all the book stalls at local charity events. I am currently re-reading the full set of Albert Campion detective novels by Margery Allingham. Made more interesting having read her biography and been rather saddened to discover that the lady who wrote books that capture me again and again had rather a sad life writing to pay the bills run up by a somewhat feckless husband. Similar relationship with the Lord Peter Wimsey books from Dorothy L Sayers. Karin surprised me by confessing to an early love for the Miss Read books which are the place to bury yourself when you think mankind has become just too awful. I live in a small rural village in North Essex and so many of the truths about human behaviour described in Miss Read’s books are to be observed here on a daily basis, still alive and kicking. I own every one she wrote. In more modern guise I enjoyed The Lovely Bones by Alice Sebold but didn’t like the true story of her being raped as a young woman – titled Lucky – although I did read it to the end. It wasn’t the subject that put me off it – it was something to do with the writing and the insights into the author. The Thousand Autumns of Jacob de Zoet by David Mitchell had me enthralled – couldn’t put it down – until I approached the end when it suddenly died for me. It’s still by my bed with the book mark a quarter of an inch from the end. I know I shall never finish it.

    • Karin says:

      Be prepared for Daniel Deronda to be quite a long journey, and quite philosophical at times. Savour the prose though. I must re-read Miss Read as I read her in childhood and no doubt her books contributed to my vision of England through rose-coloured spectacles. Am currently reading Rumer Godden’s autobiography A time to dance, no time to weep, inspired by Dody Jane’s reminder of how good Godden’s novels are. Some evocative descriptions of both England and India.

  3. Dody Jane says:

    I am reading Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel. I love it! It is very different from what I tend to read. I would suggest that a solid grasp of Tudor history is a huge help as the reader approaches this book. This will help with some of the early chapters as you ease into her writing style. I read all of the five star and all of the one star reviews on Amazon when making my decision to purchase this book. Now that I am reading this ( I am more than half way through) I understand the one star reviews, but I do not agree. The problem is that this is not a lazy read. You must be alert or you will miss who is speaking or what is going on. The one star reviews complain the way she uses the pronoun ‘he’ – I do indeed see what they mean and understand how you could give up on this book. It is not for everyone.

    In many ways, reading Wolf Hall is like reading a classic (Eliot, Austen, James) you need to read along for a while to accustom yourself to the cadence, but once you are ‘in’ you are right there and it is a wonderful book! I can’t wait to come home, curl up and start in every evening and I plan to finish it this weekend.

    I do not want to give anything away. This book reverses what you thought you ‘knew’ about Thomas Cromwell and Thomas More and Cardinal Wolsey. I find that fascinating! In keeping with Karin’s post on synchronicity, I am having one of those moments in reading this book. I took a class while getting my masters degree called ‘Moral Mazes.’ One of the books we read was “A Man for All Seasons” and we discussed More in great detail and eventually, we discussed how More was happy to burning heretics and our discussions revolved around what this said about him – and the moral constructs of the day. We discussed how ‘A Man for All Seasons’ portrayed the writer of Utopia, but left out what would now be considered the cruel side of his personality. Well, Mantel zeros in on this side of More very subtly.

    I don’t want to spoil it. It is really a great read, especially if you are interested in Tudor history and Henry VIII, Anne Boleyn , the reformation, the devastation of the monasteries (very interesting take on this!) I could go on and on and on!

  4. Chris says:

    Hi Dody Jane,

    I think Wolf Hall was my favourite read of the last year. Possibly of several years. You do have to be alert to who is speaking but once I had realised that the extra concentration seemed to add to my enjoyment. I was completely consumed by the book. And I’m no historian.

    If you like that one have you tried the ‘Shardlake’ series by C J Sansom? Lighter but very enjoyable – but I would recommend that you read the five of them in the correct order as you can definitely see the characters building as the books progress.

    And a huge thank you to Stephen for introducing me to Ruth Downie. I’ve just started Medicus – maybe ten pages in – and already hooked.

    • Stephen says:

      Hi Chris – I recently finished the most recent Ruth Downie Medicus story and she continues to keep me reading. There’s another one in the pipeline so I’ll let you know as soon as it becomes available.
      I’m now reading Lynda La Plante, Above Suspicion. She writes a good detective novel. Of course you may not have time because you’ve recomitted to supporting the Parish Council ;-).

  5. Chris says:

    Thanks for that, Stephen. Even if all 24 hours of my day were committed elsewhere I would still find time to read avidly. And we discussed who does what at the Parish Council meeting this week and agreed to shuffle round some tasks. So things are looking good.

  6. Chris says:

    Anyone a fan of Arthur Ransome – Swallows and Amazons etc? I’ve read and re-read these books since I was a child. Still do at intervals. Rooting around at the back of a bookshelf (double packed to accommodate an overflow) I found a book I’d forgotten about. It contained some of Ransome’s short stories and some of the unfinished work he left behind when he died. There was some informative and helpful commentary. I think I must search out some of his non-children’s books as the quality of the writing really grabbed me.

    And while digging about I also came across 84 Charing Cross Road by Helene Hanff. If you haven’t read it I think you American ladies with literary interests and affection for matters English would enjoy it. And also, of course, us English guys with a fondness for Americans.

  7. Chris says:

    Has anyone tried The Hare With Amber Eyes by Edmund de Waal? I loved it. I think it must have been up for some prestigious prize because I kept seeing it referred to a few months back but the descriptions didn’t seem to light my fire. In the end I read it because it seemed to haunt me – I just couldn’t get away from it. And what a treat. It’s the story of the author’s family told as it relates to the ownership of, or location of or movement between them of a set of Japanese netsuke. The Effrusi family were Jews who developed wealth in grain trading and moved from Russia across Europe into Vienna, Paris and London and established themselves as bankers, much in the mould of, for instance, the Rothschilds. The story, which relates the author’s investigations and travels to unearth the history of the netsuke which he now owns, takes us through the family’s period of accumulating and then enjoying unimaginable wealth and the destruction of all they had built when Hitler wielded power. I found it hard to put down and thoroughly recommend it.

    • Karin says:

      No, I haven’t read it but the title lodged itself in my brain below consciousness level. I love hares and amber, I think that’s why. I didn’t know it was about netsuke, but knowing that brings the title to life for me in both visual and tactile dimensions. Sounds good, maybe I will get there sometime….

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