Hello, and Happy New Year to you. Thank you for making a bit of time to pop in here. We packed Christmas away on Twelfth Night and put a full stop after it on Monday when I marked Epiphany by drawing my little wise men close to the stable and chalking our door but I know that some of you keep a different calendar and celebrated Christmas a few days ago, so Happy Christmas to you.
Like many other people, I have been making a few plans for this year and I can't do that without reviewing what I did last year so here are the rest of the books I read in 2019. I set myself a target of reading twelve books of at least 450 pages and by 10th June, when I shared my progress with you here, I had read ten, plus three shorter books. The pile for the second half of the year is much shorter.
Hanya Yanagihara's A Little Life is the longest book I read last year and I loved all 720 pages. It follows the life of Jude for more than fifty years, through an horrendous childhood and adolescence to a successful professional adulthood, and it is incredibly moving, but it is also raw and you do have to be able to cope with the sexually and physically violent passages - none is gratuitous and the sex is handled modestly, although the reader knows exactly what's going on. It's not a perfect book but I thought it was wonderful.
Following my visit to Wenlock Books on its final day of trading in June, I read The Trumpet-Major and fell in love with Thomas Hardy all over again, my first passion for him having flowered when I was in the sixth form at school. Back then I read The Mayor of Casterbridge, Far From The Madding Crowd, Tess of the D'Urbervilles and The Trumpet-Major and when I went to place this "new" copy of The Trumpet-Major on my bookshelf, under H, I discovered these copies of The Woodlanders and The Return of the Native, neither of which I had read before. What I particularly liked about The Woodlanders was the way Hardy wrote about trees, which I love and he obviously understood and loved. I know that some people don't fancy reading "the classics" but honestly, Hardy isn't difficult to read and I think he's marvellous, although I did find The Return of the Native, which is often said to be his own favourite of his novels, a bit melodramatic and so a bit ridiculous. I also recommend these Penguin Popular Classic editions which feel very comfortable in the hand, don't fall apart and are printed in a reasonable-sized font. Frustratingly, The Woodlanders was 444 pages long, 6 pages short of my qualifying number, but The Return of the Native was 482 pages and when I finished it on 18th August, I reached my goal for 2019: twelve books of at least 450 pages. Hooray! (Actually, I'm not frustrated at all because it's not really about numbers and targets, it's about reading and I loved reading The Woodlanders.)
Hardy put me in the mood for nature so it felt quite natural to read How To See Nature after those novels. Paul Evans is a Shropshire writer who contributes to the Country Diary column in The Guardian and describes himself as "a gardener, conservationist, writer, broadcaster and academic". According to the blurb, this book is "for 21st century readers in the countryside and the city, seeking out the wildlife that can be found all around us" and I couldn't put it better. The book told me how and where to look for wildlife and why it matters.
So, I was reading down the To Be Read pile at a merry old rate and then I began Claire Tomalin's biography Thomas Hardy The Time-Torn Man and was blown right off course. It took me three months to read this book and I'm not sure why. I was interested in the subject, obviously, and the book is well-written and illustrated by photographs. While I was reading it I enjoyed it, but I left long gaps between putting it down and picking it up again. Perhaps I should have devoted longer chunks of reading time to it? I really don't know, but I recommend it to anyone who is interested in Hardy. At 452 it took my total of "long" books to thirteen and exceeded my target. Double Hooray!
Reaching December, as I mentioned in my last post, I sought out some seasonal reads. I can't count Nigel Slater's The Christmas Chronicles in my list of books read in 2019 because I dipped in and out of it and didn't read every word, but it is a lovely book and I am glad that some of you recommended it. Jostein Gaarder's The Christmas Mystery is an Advent calendar written for children which I will return to the shelf and take down again on 1st December, even though it's no longer a mystery.
The last book on the list is another children's book, Barbara Willard's A Cold Wind Blowing. This was first published in 1972, although my Puffin edition dates from 1977, so I was probably twelve years old when I last read it. The book is set in the sixteenth century, Henry VIII is king and the religious houses are being dissolved and their inhabitants dispersed. It was a violent time. The story is centred around a landowning family whose head is a matriarchal grandmother and what surprised (and pleased) me is the feminist overtone. For example, have you ever wondered what happened to the monks and nuns who were members of those dissolved abbeys, priories and convents? Of those who were not killed, a few went to larger houses of their order, in this country or abroad, but most returned to secular life. Before doing so, they were absolved of the vows they had taken on entering the house so that they would not have to live in breach of those vows. However, while monks were absolved of their vows of poverty, chastity and obedience, nuns were absolved only of their vows of poverty and obedience and so still had to remain chaste. This meant that they couldn't marry, and how on earth was a woman supposed to live if she couldn't gain financial support through marriage? Grrr! Those former nuns who did marry and were discovered by the authorities were carted off to gaol and divorced from their husbands.
So that was my reading year: 8,788 pages in thirteen long books and eight shorter books read in 2019 - I have listed them all together on a separate page if you are interested. Some will be rehomed and some will stay here. Over the last two years I have made some very satisfying space in my To Be Read
pile shelf bookcase, although there are still enough books there for another year. This year I am going to reread some old favourites as well as some new books and as I now know that I can read more than I thought I could, my goal for 2020 is to read twenty-two books by 30th November. I have already finished the first.
I am sorry if I have irked you by using the word "loved" too many times in this post but I love reading. Have you been reading lately?
See you soon.
Love, Mrs Tiggywinkle x