So it looks like I have moved blogs, to lavender tisane on blogger. I didn’t really want to let everyone know until I felt more settled in and comfortable, but I think I do like blogger more than wordpress, which has always felt too formal and intimidating for me somehow. I’m still not blogging too often, but I thought I’d rather continue to share this sense of community and friendship with you all in a more comfortable way for me than go completely off on my own. I’ve already reviewed Evelina by Fanny Burney there, as well as the first two Pink Carnation books by Lauren Willig, so please stop by for some lavender tea with me!

(By the way, what is the protocol or procedure on moving blogs, do people move all their old entries to the new site or just start over and tell people to refer back to the old one for previous reviews? Can you move comments over too? I don’t know if I’d want to move all my old entries, but I have a few favourites that I feel encapsulate the type of blogging I’d like to do going forward — more of a random hodge-podge of all my favourite things than anything too disciplined really — that I wouldn’t mind moving with me. Thanks again for taking the time to read my blog and hope to see you at the new one.)

I’ve been drafting my next blog post in my head for what seems like weeks now, so I’ll try to keep it short so I don’t keep putting it off! (I have made it up with British literature, if you’re wondering. I reread North & South by Elizabeth Gaskell for the third time, after my brief dip into Chinese books.) After that, I ended up watching Ballet Shoes one night on Netflix after feeling rather down and thoroughly enjoyed it (I so wish I’d seen it or read the book by Noel Streatfeild when I was younger as it encourages girls to have ambition and to work hard to do what they love, whatever that may be and also has so many great strong female characters in it, who like a lot of different things, from dancing and acting to math and flying airplanes), which got me thinking that instead of feeling I must only ever strive to read the most difficult and punishing books so I can prove what a smart person I am, I could try to read what I love for a bit. And by that I didn’t mean the recent British comfort books I’ve discovered this past year through blogging, I meant my first book love, stories with ‘romance and adventure’ as I’ve always thought of it, or what they mostly were, historical fiction.

I got a stack of books from the library and ended up finally reading my first Georgette Heyer (The Corinthian) and there it was again: that romance and adventure. I was so teased by my brother for reading what he called ‘soppy romance novels’ when I was a teenager and later after taking advanced English in high school and then studying English in university I wanted to learn more about the classics that I often regretted ‘wasting’ my teenage reading years on these christian historical novels, when I could have been reading Austen or the Brontes or Dickens or even Dostoevsky as I’ve heard others brag of. But the thing is, much as the classics truly are great books and profoundly worth attention… I also like what I like. My experiences have shaped me and it seems foolish to ignore that, to deny myself the type of books and reading experiences I still yearn for (and the kind of books I’ve always secretly wanted to write, which is historical fiction, with romance and adventure!). I’m tired of the elitism which seems to go on, where ‘thinking women’s fiction’ is judged better than ‘feeling and emotional women’s fiction’ — why do women put other women down at all? This was the only problem I had with the Heyer novel, the heroine who’s particularly boyish puts down a more girly romantic character. Is this necessary in books or real life? Why is acting more like the male stereotype, being less emotional and focusing more on the intellect, automatically better? Why is it I’ve always felt ashamed of being romantic and emotional and tried to hide it behind proving I was smarter than the boys (not that difficult since smart boys are often just giant nerds who like having fun and don’t feel bad about it, much more difficult are all the other girls trying to seriously prove themselves too)? Why not feel ok reading both types of books (if that is one’s inclination), blending thought and emotion, and not like I have to justify myself like this?

Georgiana, with her crazy fashion hat

Anyways, past all that, I discovered something. The Regency era, which I’d previously viewed with some distaste due to all those crazy Jane Austen fans (so not like me, I’d tell myself, since I like her for her great writing not just the romance and the spin-offs and movies!), was actually quite fun to read about. There was lots of wit and humour in Heyer, which is also one of the things I like most about Jane Austen and there was an emphasis on fancy clothes, which I’ve realized I have a weakness for in books. I also thought the 18th century might be worth checking out, since I’ve always thought Jane Austen was most a product of the rationalism and satire of that time and not of the romanticism of the early 19th century. I ended up reading the biography Georgiana, Duchess of Devonshire by Amanda Foreman (which the movie The Duchess was based on) and now I really want to learn more about the 18th century. The Georgians are a bit crazy and many of them gambled horribly (Georgiana was never able to clear all her debts in her lifetime or to fully stop gambling for decades, if ever), but they’re just more interesting and colourful to me than the Victorians. Their clothes are prettier! I may have found something I like for myself and not just because others like it. My interests in Jane Austen, Marie Antoinette and the age of sail all collide at the end of the 18th century and beginning of the 19th in a way I hadn’t considered before.

So I’ll see what comes of this but hopefully I can finally settle down with a time period long enough to be able to research and write about it. The interesting thing about Georgiana’s biography was how much the movie had made her life only about sex (cold Ralph Fiennes of a husband scares her in bed, she meets sad friend who then sleeps with cold husband, but cold husband must produce an heir and then she finds true love Dominic Cooper only to have to…) when really, she was a remarkable woman in so many other ways, mostly for her involvement in the Whig (liberal) party politics. She kept the party together by hosting many meetings at her house and through close friendships with different leaders when male rivalry and ambition threatened to destroy it. Not only did she set fashions for decades, but she used her popularity for what she believed in, canvassing strenuously for the Whig leader, Charles Fox and as Foreman says, “should be credited with being one of the first to refine political messages for mass communication. She was an image-maker who understood the necessity of public relations, and she became adept at the manipulation of political symbols and the dissemination of party propaganda.” She was a very close friend of the Prince of Wales and often tried to keep him from doing anything too stupid. She was also a writer who published an anonymous novel as well as some popular poetry and songs and she even experimented in chemistry and mineralogy later in life. She also lived in Europe for a year or so during the French Revolution (while giving birth to an illegitimate child), not an easy feat!

I’ve now jumped into Fanny Burney’s Evelina and understanding the time period more (it’s an epistolary novel and as Georgiana herself wrote hundreds or thousands of letters to many friends which are quoted throughout the biography, it becomes easy to see the popularity of that form for many early novels then — with no phones or telegraphs the communication between friends seems to be much richer for all the letters written — could blogging now be a way to recapture that?) finally helps me to get past the first few slightly dull pages to what inspired Jane Austen herself.

So many ways to begin — first, isn’t this book cover gorgeous? I’ve begun to take an interest in China and Chinese fiction/literature/culture/movies/etc since picking up Love in a Fallen City by Eileen Chang (which also has a gorgeous cover, although I haven’t finished reading it yet) and being enchanted by another culture that called out to me through her poetic prose. The eastern culture of China is far from my own safe in western Canada, yet as Chang described how it felt to be treated as a colonial in Hong Kong, with the culture and people subordinate to the British, I could relate. I’ve read mostly British literature for years now, perhaps all my life. Canadian literature is never as good, I think to myself. I know more about British history than I do about Canadian history. And all this Britishness began to feel slightly samey, stale and soggy as mushy peas. I love female authors like Jane Austen, Elizabeth Bowen and Virginia Woolf, but must they endlessly nostalgically hover over the lost class based British way of life? It wasn’t an innocent past — it destroyed the hopes and families and traditions and cultures of untold numbers of women and men in so many other parts of the world, just to uphold a few people in decaying ruins. Yes, English women didn’t have the rights of English men. But the girls in Hong Kong (or Africa or India or Canada) were reduced to far worse.

So on my next trip to the bookstore, I began to look for Chinese authors and I found Dai Sijie, author of Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, who now writes from France but was born and raised in China. The story in Once on a Moonless Night reminds me somewhat of a Chinese Possession (A.S. Byatt even wrote a review of it, saying it “is full of tales within tales and worlds within worlds, ranging from ancient Chinese empires through communist China to modern Beijing”), as it’s the story of a quest to find a torn silk scroll that contains an ancient text in an unknown language and there’s also a love story attached. But it is more subtle and unending than Possession, almost like a dream, there aren’t two clearly defined time periods and sets of characters, there are many that weave in and out, or appear once and then disappear. I was often wondering what was true about Chinese history and what made up for the sake of the story. For instance, is the mysterious language the scroll is written in, Tumchooq, real? Did the country it came from ever exist? What about the Frenchman who eventually decodes it? And the last emperor of China, Puyi, and Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty who was a great calligrapher, poet and artist in the eleventh century, what were they really like? And the Empress Cixi and British involvement in China, when did it start, and I realize I know almost nothing about Chinese history and wish I knew much more than that. Towards the end of the book, the development of Chinese culture and language is filtered through Marco Polo’s (perhaps somewhat falsified?) accounts of his travels and the rise of Buddhism, showing the swamp of intertwining cultures and languages in the east that influenced each other, from India to China, and how unreliable what we think we know about history can be.

The book had a modern narrator (a Frenchwoman in love with languages, who studies not only Chinese, but also Tibetan, an African dialect and Hebrew) and as I say, a love story, with a greengrocer named Tumchooq (for the unknown language his father translated) who also has a mysterious connection to an exiled aristocrat and the Forbidden City. It also describes the harsh conditions of the work camps so many, from common criminals to ‘thought criminals’ (which could include famous authors), were sent to, in Mao’s time. Later on the story moves to a quiet Buddhist monastery and printing press in Burma (or Myanmar), where “mango, orange and avocado trees with cocoa pods peeping from beneath them” flourish. As I read, I suddenly wish to see these things (which now thanks to modern transportation, can be shipped from the tropical climate its grown in to sanitized western grocery stores, completely cut off from where it’s come from, just as tea is now seen as quintessentially British but was in fact originally from Asia), as well as the sun coming over the golden roofs of the Forbidden City.

I want to experience a different culture, to smell and hear and learn new things, although perhaps I’m only succumbing to Orientalism, the lure of the supposedly exotic unknown, and perhaps I’m too late for that anyway, as China now is becoming more capitalist and the past there as here is disappearing. Once on a Moonless Night does not resolve these differences between east and west, the past and present, it merely raises the issues and my curiosity with it. Here is the first half of the text on the torn piece of silk that the characters quest to translate and to find the ending to:

Once on a moonless night a lone man is traveling in the dark when he comes across a long path that merges into the mountain and the mountain into the sky, but halfway along, at a turn in the path, he stumbles. As he falls, he clutches at a tuft of grass, which briefly delays a fatal outcome, but soon his hands can hold him no longer and, like a condemned man in his final hour, he casts one last glance below, where he can see only the darkness of those unfathomable depths…

This is the story of all our lives — we are lost somewhere on a dark path, hoping to survive.

{By the way, I’ve changed my blog name from A Few of my Favourite Books to lilac tea, which better reflects my interests and the direction I hope to take this blog in — away from being rigidly in the book blogging mould and more meditative and casual. I’ve been happy to discover that not only is tea a more international drink than I’ve seen it as, but lilacs, my favourite flower, also show up in Chinese literature! So I’ll be sure to share quotes soon.

To those still interested in reading along, thanks for bearing with me while I change things around a bit. I was considering quitting this sort of blogging all together, but finishing this book earlier today showed me that all I wanted to do was discuss it with anyone who might be interested. I don’t want to rush to finish the books everyone in my corner of the internet is reading just to say I’ve read them anymore, I want to look for the books that personally matter to me, so I will likely be less involved online just so I can feel less overwhelmed and more able to read at my own pace and to figure out the other aspects of my life — I’m wanting to watch more movies and see them as a valuable art form too, as well as figuring out my career and what lies ahead on my own path.}

I’m back in snowy Canada now, but here’s a picture of my last day at the beach, reading To the Lighthouse. Virginia Woolf was at the start and end of my trip, I finished Mrs. Dalloway on the way to the airport two weeks ago (and got so much more out of it this time) and then finished To the Lighthouse on the plane coming back. In between I also loved The Enchanted April by Elizabeth von Arnim (it’s strawberry sweet) and The Dud Avocado by Elaine Dundy (quirky fun).

And I went to the Wizarding World of Harry Potter at the Universal Studios theme park in Orlando! It was thrilling, magical and at the same time just a bit too commercialized.

Aside from that, I’m just trying to recover from so much sunshine and excitement and noise — I didn’t even unpack today (and likely won’t be joining in Persephone Reading Weekend), I set up a LibraryThing account instead, here! I’m wanting to settle into some quiet old fashioned reading (Jane Austen or Elizabeth Gaskell maybe) or may do some very rare once yearly baking, I found a recipe for black forest brownies that’s rather tempting.

The whole mass of the picture was poised upon that weight. Beautiful and bright it should be on the surface, feathery and evanescent, one colour melting into another like the colours on a butterfly’s wing; but beneath the fabric must be clamped together with bolts of iron. It was to be a thing you could ruffle with your breath; and a thing you could not dislodge with a team of horses. And she began to lay on a red, a grey, and she began to model her way into the hollow there.

That was one of the quotes I remembered from reading To the Lighthouse in university.

I am breaking my self-imposed no blogging while in Florida rule here to share a few of my adventures so far. As you can see, it’s lovely and sunny at the beach and I am so glad to be away from snow, but it’s not quite warm enough to do without a cardigan all the time! My husband and I have been busy hitting up all of the local bookstores at our usual holiday rate of one (and sometimes two) a day and I’m happy to be able to visit Barnes & Noble again. (We tried to find good used bookstores here last time. They were mostly in crummy old buildings full of crummy old books. We’re not going to keep that game up this year!) I’ve managed to find four Virago Modern Classics, all in other editions (mostly NYRB Classics — I am actually trying to control a new mania to collect more of those!), but still thrilling none the less. I am considering reading more American authors, and am starting to be drawn towards reading about New York in particular. (Any recommendations there?) Edith Wharton and Truman Capote are two I’m wanting to explore further and it’s nice to see more of their books in stock here beyond their most famous.

I’ve also been skipping between about eight different books so far on this trip! I don’t know why I can’t focus on any of them (I do want to finish all of them eventually), but here’s the list:

  • A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf — read a bit of this on the plane, with pencil in hand. I finished Mrs. Dalloway in the car on the way to the airport (absolutely fantastic this time around, so glad I read it a second time) and wanted to bring some more Virginia with me to keep that happy floating lyrical alive feeling inside. I love the feminist angle of this essay and have some more thoughts of my own on the topic, but it’s not quite the same thing as Mrs. Dalloway.
  • To the Lighthouse, Virginia Woolf — I haven’t read this since university and have been meaning to reread it eventually. I gave it a go our first night in Florida, but even it didn’t feel quite as joyful and light as Mrs. D (although isn’t as sad either) and I couldn’t quite handle reading about the old fashioned views on being a woman, as a big mother to all men, that Mrs. Ramsey holds. (I know those ideas aren’t embraced by Woolf herself, she’s just realistically portraying people as they are, but it’s too close to the way I was brought up.)
  • Someone at a Distance, Dorothy Whipple — to my delight this was waiting for me in Florida! I won a gift certificate from last year’s You’ve Got Mail reading challenge (thank you again, Stacy!), for the American Amazon, so had this sent ahead to my in-laws to meet me here. I was delighted with the first chapter, reading it our first day on the beach, but soon found the characters — the self-sacrificing mother, the demanding mother-in-law, the scheming frenchwoman, the daughter who loves her pony and her mummy so much, the noble brother in the army — to be slightly, well… unsurprising? I know so many of you love this that I will continue with it eventually, but for now I’ve skipped on.
  • The Enchanted April, Elizabeth von Arnim!!! This was my first book bought here (my husband found it for me) and when I began reading I breathed a huge mental sigh of relief. Wisteria and sunshine, holidays, yes every virtuous woman deserves holidays, I nodded along with the characters, smiling and sharing all their feelings. The problem is… I want to savour it! Especially for colder days when I’ll need more of an escape, when I’m no longer around palm trees and sunny skies and sand myself.
  • A Game of Hide and Seek, Elizabeth Taylor – I had brought this along for the trip, a fresh new Virago, and I breathed another sigh of relief on starting it. It starts with a fresh summer evening and young love, but quickly develops into a deeper and sharper examination of everyone’s motivations, just as I’ve come to expect from Elizabeth Taylor. It’s just a bit sad since things don’t seem to quite work out for the young couple.
  • The Dud Avocado, Elaine Dundy – another one of my VMC finds here. For the first chapter or so I wasn’t quite sure about it, but I’ve really come to love it. It’s the story of an American girl in Paris in the ’50s and she acts like Holly Golightly while talking like Philip Marlowe, with her hilarious use of American slang and catch phrases all her own. I’ve been reading out bits to my husband and really, I think I’ll just solve my problem and come back to this one.
  • Bliss and Other Stories, Katherine Mansfield — I always want to read more of her since I always like her when I do, so this was a noble attempt the other night before bed to get on with it. Perhaps it’s just not a good mix of author and my current location at the moment and I’m better off sticking with my amusing American friend above.
  • The Custom of the Country, Edith Wharton — phew! I got this one out today from the library to get into this whole New York thing, but maybe it feels a bit too slow and old fashioned for the beach, even with social schemers named Undine Spragg… Oh my bookishly wayward heart!

Speaking of New York-ish books that are ridiculously slow, this quote was in my head today:

It was New York mourning, it was New York hair, it was a New York history, confused as yet, but multitudinous, of the loss of parents, brothers, sisters, almost every human appendage, all on a scale and with a sweep that required the greater stage; it was a New York legend of affecting, of romantic isolation, and, beyond everything, it was by most accounts, in respect to the mass of money so piled on the girl’s back, a set of New York possibilities. She was alone, she was stricken, she was rich, and in particular was strange…

From The Wings of the Dove, by Henry James. (I do want to finish it and have never quite managed to. Talk about a book nemesis!)

Besides the new books, the wonderful thing about this trip is that I’ve started to write a few short stories. While thinking about feminism and what the act of reading means for women (it can be seen as a selfish act, since there are so many more useful things she could be doing — or this was how I was made to feel as a teenager when I was reading sprawled out on the soft instead of in the kitchen helping my mom and sister out. Reading Virginia Woolf’s essay earlier this week I was thinking, women need a room of their own just to read and think in privacy, just for their own peace of mind!), I came across this article from Bitch magazine a few years ago, about ‘women, writing and the problem of success.’ That women aren’t encouraged to be that ambitious as writers (let alone in math and science, etc!), that they need to downplay their creations as ‘this little thing’ so they won’t be so rejected. It challenged me to own up to something:

I want to be a writer. A Novelist. That is all I’ve wanted to be for years. I know it’s impractical, I know I need a back-up job (believe me I’ve been looking for a good one that will give me lots of free time and low stress with enough money for books and shelter), but it is all my heart longs for. And as it’s not at all harmful to anyone and will actually improve my mental health, I’m going to stop being ashamed of telling people this, as if it’s some pathetic little copycat secret.

I watched the first episode of Any Human Heart on PBS Sunday night, watched as a rather self-absorbed inexperienced British boy waltzed his way into writing a bestselling novel, thanks to timely encouragement from Hemingway and a supportive girlfriend at his side. My brother-in-law also wants to be a writer (of plays, not novels, so we’re still friends) and what has he done, oh he’s taking it seriously, he got an MFA impractical as it is and writes every morning two hours a day, plus looks everywhere for related jobs, he’s taught writing at summer camps and for juvenile delinquents. Me, I’m too terrified to even apply to a single creative writing class. (I have taken playwriting and screenwriting classes in university, but only because they were the kinds of writing I didn’t want to do, so it was fine if I failed.) I finally got up my courage to begin working on a novel a few years ago, but it began to go in scary directions (after sleeping around with various inappropriate people, my main character had a baby which was supposed to solve all her problems and her marriage, but then she didn’t want the baby after all or the happy safe ending I was determined she have and I was venturing into more realism and also postpartum depression than I was prepared to handle at that point) and I stopped. There’s another great essay by Virginia Woolf called Professions for Women (that’s a link to the whole thing, it’s quite short and definitely worth reading), where she talks about women writers and even herself, holding back their imaginations because what they have to say about their bodies and passions and experiences seems too dangerous. I could have cried when I read that.

So I am determined to write again. Even if it’s not ‘good enough.’ Maybe “telling the truth about my own experiences as a body” could have saved Virginia Woolf? There is still time for me though. As long as I’m alive, I can be ambitious, I can tell the truth of my own experiences. I don’t need to keep silent anymore, I don’t need to listen forever without speaking up. I can model myself after the many great female authors I love and revere. I began to write a short story on the beach the other day, modeling it after Elizabeth Bowen and Katherine Mansfield’s short stories (and Virginia Woolf’s novels!) and what they’ve taught me. I used to freeze up from just writing something, anything, thinking that unless I could be as stoic about it as Hemingway, a stand up soldier at the typewriter, I wouldn’t succeed. But there are as many different ways to write as there are people and I have my own voice to find and deliver.

I’ll be blogging less (only once a week) so I can focus on my writing more and I may not reply to every comment, but I do value them and all of you reading so much. In fact, I know that it’s because of my new-found confidence in writing here (via Virago reading week and Virago Press giving so many women a voice, lighting a fire in me) that I’m able to start writing other things again too. When I listen to waves on the beach, I hear Virginia Woolf describing the sea, I feel the tone of a Katherine Mansfield reverie, I remember how Elizabeth Bowen shaped her stories, and words, memory, invention, comes splashing back.

Here’s a young Sylvia Plath interviewing Elizabeth Bowen for Mademoiselle magazine in 1953 (Plath used this time as inspiration for The Bell Jar), in May Sarton’s home incidentally! May Sarton and Elizabeth Bowen had some kind of relationship/affair also (here’s a Paris Review interview with May Sarton where she talks about Bowen, writing about her and her house in Ireland, Bowen’s Court). Such interesting literary links as I’ve been looking for Elizabeth Bowen photos and articles the past few days.

I’m thinking an Elizabeth Bowen read-along may work better than a reading week, since there seems to be enough excitement for her (and reading weeks are honestly exhausting to host!). When would work for those interested, the beginning of March or April or later? I will be going on holidays to Florida in two days (!! I’m not ready yet) for two weeks and will be trying to take a blogging break then, but let’s plan for something further down the road. The other question is, what do we read? I thought perhaps it could be fun to pick a date and then each post about whichever book of hers we chose, so there’s some variety, but if everyone wants to read the same book together, then we could discuss it more closely. Let me know what you think, Bowen fans, and if there is a book of hers you recommend reading or really want to read.

She’s also written a lot of short stories, as well as 11 novels (here’s the wikipedia page), so if you wanted to join in you could post about a story or two. (I read one yesterday that was rather terrifying, The Cat Jumps. Now I am a bit scared of her!) From what I can tell, her masterpiece may be The Death of the Heart (1938; “a story of adolescent love and the betrayal of innocence” the back of my book says, certainly it’s the book that made me like her so much), but you may have a different opinion! Her other most famous novels are:

  • The Last September (1929), about precarious position of the Anglo-Irish on the eve of the Irish War of Independence and the decisions a girl on the verge of womanhood has to make. (My review here.)
  • To the North (1932), which Darlene has just reviewed, saying “I was blown away by her writing and examination of the human psyche” and comparing the ending to Little Boy Lost by Marghanita Laski.
  • The House in Paris (1935), about two young children waiting for a day in a house in Paris, it also examines what has happened in the past, how the past of the parents affects the children (and is introduced by A.S. Byatt in my edition).
  • The Heat of the Day (1949) is set during World War Two and examines a love triangle, with a woman trying to protect the man she cares for by becoming involved with a spy.
  • A World of Love (1955) may not be one of her most famous novels, but it is mentioned in Singled Out: How Two Million Women Survived Without Men After the First World War by Virginia Nicholson, because the plot revolves around finding a packet of love letters from a soldier who died in WW1.

So there’s a few to choose from, plus she has earlier and later novels that may grab your interest. Right now I’ve got to choose some books to take with me to Florida — last time I actually brought two full bags of books on the plane with me! Perhaps only one bag this time. I actually began book blogging last year while I was in Florida (my in-laws live there, hence the annual pilgrimage), but this year I’m going to try to just have a holiday and enjoy the sun and the beach (and maybe a bookstore too) and stay away from the computer for two weeks! I’ll also be thinking about how I blog and maybe making some changes when I get back. I would like to start writing more regularly again and I don’t think I can do that and blog so often either, so I may have to cut back to a simpler approach here.

I haven’t managed to finish most of the books I’ve picked up this past week, I’ve been rather restless and depressed lately. I know reading is important to me, as I wrote in my last post (partly for my sanity and independence), but now the topic of what do I read presents itself. The classics everyone agrees upon? The books my friends like? I want to find my books, the ones that matter deeply to me, that speak to my heart, if you will. I know other people read for different reasons, to broaden themselves as people, for comfort, entertainment, escape, knowledge, but somehow I need to find the authors that don’t stifle and overwhelm me, I need to find echoing encouragement. Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth Bowen, Marcel Proust, these are some of the writers who make me feel I am not alone.

I am a picky reader for these reasons, I don’t find it easy to get into many books. I also stop reading many books if it feels boring or just not something that resonates with me. I don’t know if this is a problem, if I need to force myself to keep going (I was only 100 pages from the end of The Inheritance of Loss by Kiran Desai when I put it down for good, unable to stand such unrelenting misery, even if it did win the Booker) — somehow I can’t force myself (unless it was for a university class, which always enriches the experience anyways), my reading has to be for me. It’s not about how many classics can I stuff down my throat to look more impressive. I am all for reading the classics for enlightenment, but lately I’ve been feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of choice available to me as a reader and also the pressure in such a highly literate community of book blogging that I read ever more more more, more quickly. I’m just not a fast reader it seems or else perhaps I’m too easily distracted or I like to do other things, like thinking and journaling and talking with my husband… I don’t know how it is exactly, but some of you manage to read stacks in a normal full month, whereas I read 6 books in January while living out in the country with no job and plenty of time! I’m often torn between wanting to read more and write more and don’t do either as much as I’d like. (What am I doing, I’m online. Hence questioning continuing with book blogging the way I have been, but I do love the community here. It also shows me that I am not alone. I don’t know if full on artistic solitude is what I need either. Or is it, I’m scared to try.)

I did go into Edmonton, the nearest city, on Sunday and bought Orhan Pamuk’s The Naive and Sentimental Novelist, based on lectures he did at Harvard. It starts, “Novels are second lives.” I also got a purple library card (! something I didn’t even know existed so that I could wish for it!) — the Edmonton library seems quite good at branding itself, but there were fewer books on the shelves in prettier displays than the over-stuffed stacks in Calgary. I was able to find a few books I wanted (one Barbara Pym and Elizabeth Taylor each, a few Muriel Sparks), but not nearly the stack I’d find in Calgary, where they still carry many of the old green Virago Modern Classics, even if they are becoming quite battered. Did Edmonton used to have a better selection and just get rid of them in their drive to turn the library into a bookstore or do I have some librarian somewhere in the past to thank for taking the time to order in rare British books for the Calgary library?

One good book I have picked up lately is The Mountain Lion by Jean Stafford, which was sent to me last year by the NYRB Classics people for participating in the Spotlight Series Tour for them. I didn’t think I was interested in reading it then as the book was sent unsolicited, but suddenly pulled it off the shelf and it’s this fresh American coming of age story set in the ’20s that I know nothing about, but somehow the landscape and characters feel more familiar than those in British books and it’s a breath of fresh air in my reading. There’s a longing for adventure in the characters, they are not chained to small British towns and duties. So I will definitely be keeping my eye out for more NYRB Classics, they seem to have found books that have great writing but like the ones republished by Virago and Persephone, somehow fell through the cracks. The joy in discovering them is that here is a book that is completely new and unspoilt, you know nothing of it culturally and yet it is a gem, not the brightest and the blandest of the bestseller and prize winning lists. Hopefully I’ll be able to find a few more of them in Florida, and may read another American book while I’m there, perhaps East of Eden by John Steinbeck.

Any holiday book recommendations? I’ve found reading a book in the country where I’m visiting works well (Dickens in London, Proust in Paris were my honeymoon reads), but despite going to Florida I don’t like ‘beach books’, something that is thoughtful but not too dense tends to work well, ie, Mrs. Dalloway is better reading at the beach than Middlemarch, in my experience! I was also sent a copy of The Tapestry of Love by Rosy Thornton, so may bring that too. Maybe I could try some May Sarton for the Elizabeth Bowen connection.

This may be my last post for a while, who knows. I’ll see you tomorrow or in two weeks!

Thinking further about why I read. In my own experience, there was one great reason from the beginning: to escape. I remember as a child feeling so afraid, standing in my room, knowing that most people didn’t feel this way, but that I was afraid of what people would do to me. I read whatever I found on the shelves in the basement of our farmhouse, Swiss Family Robinson, Sherlock Holmes stories, an old book about heroic horses and dogs (I loved that book) and even The Cross and the Switchblade — yes, New York gangstas finding jesus in the ’70s! I have a poem I copied out from kindergarten, it was The Owl and the Pussycat by Edward Lear, that one just enchanted me (‘The owl & the pussycat went to sea, in a beautiful pea green boat’) and I also copied out the story from one of those Mr. Men books about Mr. Tickle! I made up stories in my head too, largely romantic nonsense, but all mine.

In many ways, my mom showed me how to be a close reader. She has endlessly studied her bible over the years, not just telling us the stories fit for children, but getting us to read the whole things ourselves. We would discuss translations and different interpretations of a passage or word and how the translation in this or that version affected the meaning. When I finally came to read In Search of Lost Time, I felt at home with a long complex story like that, debating which translation to read, which edition to buy, I felt I had found a book to absorb me for years, just as my mother had. The other handy thing about so much of the bible learning was that in university, I’d be the only one to catch every biblical reference in books. The professor asking, what significance is there in this character (from To the Lighthouse actually) throwing his bread on the water? Up went my hand. It’s from the Psalms. As Michael Dirda has noted, the bible definitely is one of the patterning sources for Western literature.  (And certainly has many gruesomely entertaining stories that I enjoyed as a kid!)

The other thing my mother does is talk and talk. Endlessly and usually about herself. Her own stories, her past. I grew up a listener, while telling myself my own stories inside. As I grew older and began to find great English teachers, one of whom introduced me to The Secret Garden, I clung to books more and more. They were a silent place for me alone. I didn’t have to listen, I could join the story. Mary Lennox’s story in the garden could be my story, in an inner secret garden, safe where no one else could be, in my imagination. My mother’s stories were narcissistic, they kept everyone out, at an admiring or pitying distance. But books let me in, to some place better. I could play with the sisters in Little Women and the Boxcar Children (I read absolutely loads of those books, I suppose an American version of Enid Blyton maybe!) and explore bravely with Nancy Drew.

Books were what gave me a self. They gave me friends who understood and the hope that someday I would meet better people like that. I wasn’t taught to be autonomous or independent or strong, it was all about self sacrificing and clinginess. But books gave me different ideas, they gave me thoughts of my own, dreams, they gave me such richness. In high school when my teacher talked about going to university to study English, I felt lit up. That is what I want.

In the years at university, trying too hard to become something I wasn’t (a school teacher), I gradually let books go. I had to study, there wasn’t time. I felt lit up again studying To the Lighthouse, but my marks weren’t high enough, I had to stop reading for fun. (I don’t ever ever recommend doing this in university, by the way!) After eventually falling into depression, I finally remembered the books. And thus had begun my long climb out of my past. Facing the darkness and sorrow of my childhood, looking for a way to tell my own story, looking for the people who shared it. I found them in books, Portia in The Death of the Heart by Elizabeth Bowen. Dorothea in Middlemarch. Jane Eyre, of course. Young girls and what happened when they tried to grow up.

Books have been my salvation. They’ve given me a soul, a chance to be myself. They give me space, they let me grow. They’ve shown me how to grow stronger and wiser. They’ve shown me that my story and my voice matter, even just written on a page for myself. They’ve shown me that my perspective matters, even as it changes. They don’t try to hold me back. Through books I learned and continue to learn how to live, how to be. I left behind the stifling confines of The One Book written in commanding men’s voices, to find the many books by women and men that were open and accepting, that showed many views of life, that welcomed me into the great conversation of the ages.

Now I read to be comforted, I read to learn, I read for enlightenment, to laugh or be changed, I read for inspiration, I read to find the people and stories who will see me through. I read to heal. I read to meet the most original people, authors, creators. I read to think deeply. I read to feel my independence, my freedom, to pick what I want. I don’t read from a bible reading plan, with its ordered days by chapter and verse. I read to be myself, to keep my insides alive. I read for life.

Also, today I found a way to continue with Virginia Woolf. Last year I tried reading her more quickly, just to be able to get through The Waves and not drown in the poetic excess of it. But today, perhaps because it can still be ‘short story Saturday’ from time to time, I read a few short stories by Elizabeth Bowen, who helped me to figure out the right pace in which to read Woolf (they were friends), the way to pay more attention. To read closely, slowly, alertly. I was inspired to pick up my copy of her Collected Stories by 20th Century Vox and her post on Bowen’s WW2 stories called The Demon Lover. Demon lovers, not really my thing, but then I reread my favourite story of hers, called ‘Daffodils.’ It reminds me a bit of Katherine Mansfield’s ‘Miss Brill.’

A gust of wind rushed up the street, whirling her skirts up round her like a ballet-dancer’s, and rustling the Reckitts-blue paper round the daffodils. The slender gold trumpets tapped and quivered against her face as she held them up with one hand and pressed her skirts down hastily with the other. She felt as though she had been enticed into a harlequinade by a company of Columbines who were quivering with laughter at her discomfiture; and looked round to see if anyone had witnessed her display of chequered moirette petticoat and the inches of black stocking above her boots. But the world remained unembarrassed.

… Miss Murcheson remembered that her mother would be out for tea, and quickened her steps in anticipation of that delightful solitude. The silver birch tree that distinguished their front garden slanted beckoning her across the pavement. She hesitated, as her gate swung open, and stood looking up and down the road. She was sorry to go in, but could not resist the invitation of the empty house. She wondered if tomorrow would fill her with so strange a stirring as today. Soon, in a few months, it would be summer and there would be nothing more to come. Summer would be beautiful, but this spring made promise of a greater beauty than summer could fulfil; hinted at a mystery which other summers had evaded rather than explained.

… She was bewildered by them; could not fathom the depths of their cinema-bred romanticism.

… They had awaited a disclosure intimate and personal. The donor of those last year’s daffodils had taken form, portentous in their minds. But she had told them nothing, given them the stone of her abstract, colourless idealism while they sat there, open-mouthed for sentimental bread.

Sigh. Now I wish I could have Elizabeth Bowen week, to get you all reading her! She’s on those 1001 best of lists and a few of her books are still on the shelves even in western Canada, but I haven’t found many ardent fans of hers, what’s up with that? Clearly she needs some love. Maybe there is an Elizabeth Bowen group I could join, internet help me out! Or maybe I’ll just copy Laura’s Musings and create my own Favourite Authors page for her and other worthy members, where I may wax lyrical about their many wonders!

I’m thinking about trying to write shorter posts here, at least occasionally. We’ll see how it goes here. I’ve also been playing around with fixing the blog up a bit, using this painting on the left in my new header, it’s by Harold Knight, who’s best known for the painting on the cover of the Persephone Classics edition of Cheerful Weather for the Wedding. I really love that painting and finding more of his work just seemed to fit with my blog, especially since I am once again back into the early 20th century.

I’ve also been thinking about why I read and how to read and what to read and then how to write about what I read… venturing beyond only comfort reading, I see there is a whole world of challenging and enlightening reading available. Now I wish I was back at my old big city library, where Virago books were available right next to NYRB Classics and all kinds of literary criticism. At least my small town library has two books of Anne Fadiman’s and two Italo Calvinos, even if not Why Read the Classics? But I am busy making lists of what I do want to read and have a TBR page for the first time and someday I’ll have access to more books again. (In the meantime, I am trying to clear our paths of packed down snow that’s beginning to melt and then freeze again.)

Mrs. Dalloway is a difficult book to pin down. People assume that Virginia Woolf is a feminist writer, but she’s so much more than that. Going into her book with those assumptions, even for the second time, I felt a bit bewildered and out of place. She portrays the life, the visions, the thoughts in all of us. We see the good and bad sides of the characters, we see their thoughts and then other people’s thoughts about them as well. Despite the book’s title, Clarissa Dalloway is not the ‘heroine’ of the book in the way that Jane Austen’s women are, somewhat invulnerable to the real criticism she dishes out to the other characters, perhaps especially her introverts who seem to do no wrong, Elinor, Fanny and Anne. I know Austen’s heroines have flaws, but the books are their stories. They are the centre, the point, they are in some way the ones in the right while others must adjust to their truth (except perhaps her self-deluded characters like Emma and Catherine?). Can you read Pride & Prejudice outside of the perspective of Elizabeth? She has a strong interesting marriage plot, what does Mrs. Dalloway have, a party. Which she floats in and out of, not even a proper host of the book that takes her name.

I like Mrs. Dalloway despite her lack of true heroine status, she may be old fashioned, conventional or even a snob, but thankfully she’s not feisty. She’s real. She’s older, she wonders if she’s too cold, she reads memoirs late in bed, she remembers a moment long in the past, passing a stone urn with flowers in it. Then there’s her old friend Peter Walsh, I don’t like him as much, especially the way he’s always playing with his pocket knife whenever he feels insecure around women, but there the story is off following him now. Woolf wanted to show that regular women were a worthwhile subject for fiction (I think — is this idea developed in her essay Mr. Bennet and Mrs. Brown?), but here’s Peter. There’s another sort of boring, sort of self justifying character who never really does much (he keeps a notebook full of phrases for the time when he’ll start to write, but he never does, just ends his time out reminiscing vaguely) like Peter, narrating the end of The Waves and that also annoyed me. Are these just my expectations that Woolf be more of a feminist author and only portray women? Or does she not write men well or sympathetically or maybe that’s the point, oh help. She certainly accurately portrays the uncomfortable prickly yet nostalgic relationship between a man and a woman, when both have hurt the other years ago, let them down, the self justifying that goes on inside both still.

Now it is late and this isn’t short. But I’m wanting something different with my blog, my reading. When I raise possibility controversial questions about books like yesterday, I feel awkward discussing these ideas without thinking them through enough first, I want to use the blog as a way to explore the sudden thought, but then I wonder if it gets mired in arguments that may miss the point of what I was originally wondering about. I’m just thinking as I write, I don’t have it all planned out beforehand. Maybe it gets muddled. This isn’t my job, just a hobby and yet if people come here, this is what they read, what they know of me. (Am I even using my time best to be blogging so often and at such length, along with lately very extended comments? Why am I blogging at all instead of working on a longer more personal writing project? For community, support in difficult reading, endless book recommendations, a sharing of exciting moments with books and how to understand them and life itself, mutual enlightenment? Or just wasted time spent on too much self promotion?)

Such are the visions which proffer great cornucopias full of fruit to the solitary traveller, or murmur in his ear like sirens lolloping away on the green sea waves, or are dashed in his face like bunches of roses, or rise to the surface like pale faces which fishermen flounder through floods to embrace.

Well, now that I’ve tried to recover from all the excitement of Virago Reading Week (I was staying up late and waking up early, eager to read what everyone had posted!) and have only spent the time with my thoughts about literature and feminism jumping about more and more in my head, it seems time to discuss a few more things.

There are still a few Virago reviews popping up, including this one by Rachel at Flowers & Stripes, about Pat Barker’s first novel Union Street, which she tried for ten years to get published and was constantly turned down because it was considered too bleak and depressing. It’s about working class women living in poverty and violence, from what I can gather. But haven’t men written about the working class before, why should this have been so unpublishable? Angela Carter was the one who encouraged Barker to submit it to Virago and so began her career, as a Booker winner! (Though she won the Booker for writing about men and male themes, namely soldiers and war. I’d like to read the Regeneration trilogy, I’m just saying.)

I was amused and awakened by this part of the review:

It’s the story of seven girls/women who live on Union Street. It is definitely not a comfort read. This is real poverty. Not the ‘we used to be rich but now we’re living in a tumbling pile, at least we have Granny’s fur stole to keep us warm’ type poor. This is ‘thank my lucky stars I hopefully will never live like this and what can I do to make sure other people don’t too’ type poverty.

As a matter of fact, I did read a bit of I Capture the Castle recently (comic yet heartfelt coming of age in tumbling pile), which I enjoyed more than I expected to and most of Diary of a Provincial Lady, which I didn’t really enjoy. Horrors, but it seemed that her life was actually unfulfilled, with a husband who doesn’t pay attention and endless envy of those better off, or else that it’s just British humour exaggerating things, in either case, the life described seemed small and I couldn’t see the meaning in it. Or maybe I was just in a bad mood and feeling restless?

To be fair, I’ve also got a library stack of more feminist books like Memoirs of a Dutiful Daughter by Simone de Beauvoir and Beloved by Toni Morrison and Lady Oracle by Margaret Atwood and honestly… I’m not reading them either. I considered Elizabeth Bowen, since I own most of her books in beautiful editions and have only read two (but what fantastic two: The Death of the Heart and The Last September. I highly recommend her as another great early 20th century female author! Darlene of roses over a cottage door is also reading and loving To the North right now.) — I really want to read and promote more of her books, but none of them were quite right just now.

I tried to read some Proust again, since I keep longing to think more deeply and privately like that, but it began to seem too ornate and also too male, with his mother obsession. (I have read In Search of Lost Time before, I’m just not always in the mood for that much neurosis!) I tried to read Thoreau’s nature journals and fell asleep. They are beautifully written in places and I do enjoy good nature writing on occasion, but better for skimming than linear beginning to end reading, is all I can conclude. (I’ve tried to read them before and was even then, quite rightly distracted by Virago books!)

As for Virago books, I’m definitely wanting to read more, especially Rosamond Lehmann and so was happy to find this article by Jonathan Coe about her and other Virago authors and how he discovered them and is inspired by them in his own writing.

Thinking further about Dusty Answer, I realized it has many of the same basic elements as Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh — both extremely nostalgic stories about a lost upper class British way of life, with the outsider main characters completely enamoured of a rich and glamorous troubled family. Both main characters also go to one of the big British universities, Judith Cambridge, Charles Oxford. They also both form sudden and extremely intense relationships with one beautifully charming person, who takes a liking to them for no real reason. These relationships both hint at going beyond simple friendship, and indeed both of their charming friends are involved with other homosexual characters. What else, other love affairs don’t work out as well as hoped, although for different reasons. And let me add… Lehmann’s book was written in 1927. Waugh’s? 1945. Waugh’s novel has never been out of print, while Lehmann’s was and remains almost forgotten. Personally, I wasn’t quite a fan of Brideshead (more horrors?), the religious theme drove me nuts with its ending of ultimate conservatism, propping up the past, the sterile old British way of life. Dusty Answer has a more uncertain ending, but also one that gives freedom and opportunity to women. The future is open, not reigned in by platitudes and dead duties.

I’ve now picked up Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, which seems to be what I want. I read it for the first time last year without ever knowing how to properly write about it, there was so much beauty but also so much sadness. As someone who’s been through an at times suicidal depression, I didn’t know what could be said that wouldn’t seem too personal. I’d like to explore it more here this year, there’s so much that is fresh and joyful and so lyrical about it. It seems I could read the first few pages over and over, for sheer pleasure. Woolf was very influenced by Proust, but there is nothing overly ponderous or self pitying about her work, there is such a celebration of life. And yet she shows the darkness too. I have a lovely Mrs. Dalloway Reader, edited by Francine Prose, which also includes the short stories that developed into the novel, as well as selections from her diary about writing it and essays by other critics about it, of her time and ours, I keep wandering into these parts and learning more about Mrs. Dalloway instead of reading it at times!

The real unedited Jane Austen. Deal with it.

I’m still thinking about how to see Jane Austen as a feminist, although I’ve been a bit hesitant to write about it, for fear of feathers and ruffling and all that. But the gist of my idea is — what if Jane Austen didn’t marry not because she never met a man who could be her Mr. Darcy but because… she wanted her freedom? To continue writing and thinking for herself. My romantic self would think it so sad she remained single and yet wrote these classic romances and yet, that image of her as a pining romantic didn’t gibe with the lively sharp witted and even at times spiteful author I sensed in the books themselves, who would never tolerate any such sentimental nonsense. The truth is, if a woman did marry in that time, they’d be worn out from having babies All The Time. They wouldn’t be able to write and they wouldn’t be having endless fancy love times either! Sex would likely be frightening because of the endless pregnancies. And Jane gave up in a large and poorer household, she knew what it would be like for her.

Being single and relying on her male relatives for support wasn’t easy either, but at least she had that metaphorical room of her own. The other idea I had is that maybe she did slip the reality of women’s lives into her novels, but it was hidden under the necessity (for a woman writer at least) of a happy conventional ending. Most men then and now, are more likely to be either like her bad men, and Wickham, Willoughby, Crawford, Mr. Collins etc do seem completely realistic in their self-centeredness or they’d be a more realistic version of her heroes. In reality, Darcy would continue to be an arrogant snob, Tilney a know-it-all tease, Knightley a scold, always wanting to fix Emma, just as she wants to fix others, Wentworth is resentful, Edmund Bertram blinded by infatuation. And both Colonel Brandon and Edward Ferrars are nice, but bland. (Honestly, read the book, Colonel Brandon is never sexy. I’ve tried and tried to read him that way and it just won’t work.)

I think the realistic sides of these men are shown in the first three quarters or so of the books before their completely abrupt turn arounds, with often very sudden and unlikely proposals all around at the end. (Tilney and Catherine, really? Fanny and Edmund, come on. Also anyone, have you ever heard of a real Mr. Darcy changing that much?? Well, have you, I’d like to know! Usually they are far too aware of their elevated positions to go after anyone less than perfect. In women’s novels the richer man tends to love the poorer woman. In men’s novels the hard to get girl suddenly falls for the nerd. It’s all a fantasy without any equality, and equality, a meeting of equals, is what’s needed in a balanced relationship. It’s just not as exciting…)

Dead inside Jane Austen who never actually existed.

If you read Austen’s juvenilia, she satirizes romance and romantic expectations in novels to no end. I can’t stand it that she’s seen as being the grandmother of chick lit when she’s so much more than that! Also that movie Becoming Jane? What kind of sentimental tosh is that, that her doe-eyed princess diary juvenilia was sloppy and horrid trash until a man came into her life?! This trivialization and infantilization of female authors is truly appalling (you can bet if there was a bio pic of Hemingway the facts wouldn’t be so badly distorted). Go read Searching for Jane Austen by Emily Auerbach (rare link to actual book included, because it really is that good), where she discusses how Austen’s image has been tampered with over the years, from the first memoir written about her by her nephew, to make her look more pretty and safe and sweet, just good old Aunt Jane. The actual painting of her by her sister Cassandra, which looks cross and fed up and but also perhaps privately amused, looking critically at the world behind her folded arms (the first picture above), has even over the years been changed into things like the second picture I’ve included, which wasn’t an actual painting of her, just a prettified tidying up of the first and only painting of her!!! Now she wears nicer clothes, she’s not critical or even laughing, she just looks bored.

Similar things have happened to the Brontes to downplay that they knew how revolutionary their writing was (fancy women writing about alcoholism and revenge and madness, how shocking), their misery and seclusion on the moors was played up to heighten belief in their docility and innocence. The book to read there is The Bronte Myth by Lucasta Miller and now I’m done. I know it’s fun to read and watch Jane Austen (and the Brontes) as escapism, but it’s also good to look more deeply sometimes too and I think there are plenty of hints in the novels that lead towards that idea, that the Regency era wasn’t one glamorous party time of romance and that women were, as usual, getting the short end of the stick. Just a thought.

Perhaps — just one further thought! — she does hold out some hope that men (and women) can change and that women can have more equal and satisfying marriages built on love and mutual respect. But to my mind the transitions between her selfish ‘heroes’ suddenly becoming good men ready to marry the poor but plucky heroines are far too quick and unlikely. Perhaps in time, when more women refuse to be blinded by social conventions and write more openly about reality and are less willing to jump through sexist hoops, just as Jane Austen tried to do, then these kind of equal relationships can happen.

Oh what a delightful week this has been! And thank you all for joining in and sharing your love for the green spines and bitten apples. I’m including the photo to show that my small Virago collection has grown this week — I found a copy of Miss Mole by E.H. Young in the only used bookstore in the nearest prairie farming town earlier this week, just after posting about wishing I’d read it when I had access to a bigger library! And today, at the largest shopping mall in North America (that would be West Edmonton Mall)… I found my first Virago Modern Classic in a bookstore!!! (Books in other editions don’t count.) I looked for Pym, Comyns, Lehmann, just hoping for something. And then Taylor… and there was another Elizabeth, waiting to leap into my arms. I’m wondering if the popularity of Cornflower’s book group pick back in November of A Game of Hide & Seek was what got it onto the shelves? (It was the only one of her books there.) Could it be that bloggers can get these books back on the shelves??

I have to say, I love the new cover and was looking at it all the rest of the day with deep satisfaction, what a great way to end Virago Reading Week!

Right, now on to the last two prizes! Rachel has already given out three — congratulations to Thomas, Cristina, and Carol! Go put something green on! So now, drums please…

First, one prize for Best Review. I had my eye on two early on, the very first day Claire of The Captive Reader wrote movingly about Willa Cather’s The Song of the Lark, which has convinced me that I must try this author so many of you rave about and I must start with this book, “about desire and about devotion to one’s art.” But on Wednesday, Danielle of A Work in Progress wrote beautifully about the experience of reading The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim, saying that she only wanted to read it in “peaceful, quiet corners” — in a garden. This made me instantly pick up Elizabeth and Her German Garden and now I’m longing for The Solitary Summer too, which is the sequel. So this award goes to Danielle! And thank you to both of you for blogging so enthusiastically throughout the week.

Secondly, the prize for the Photo Contest. I said show us your Virago books and the more creative the better and you took me at my word! There were pets (also here), there was baking (featuring apples of course),  there were Viragos all over the bed (in a heart shape, because we heart Virago)!

But the winning photo incorporated pets and baking and gave someone “sweaty damp patches and a border collie now wary of aprons”… you all know which one that is!

Oh Darlene, you had us giggling all week! Congratulations and thank you for laughter with our serious feminist reading. (You must share the award with Deacon! Actually, on second thought… maybe a doggie biscuit will do!)

Danielle and Darlene, thank you so much for joining in this week, you truly light up our little corner of book blogging. Please email Rachel about the prizes. (Edit: there’s still Thomas’s give-away to be announced for whoever can guess the paintings from the four book covers on our button!)

Thank you all who shared photos of your collections as well (I particularly envy Simon and Hayley’s Virago loot), any chance to look at and long for other people’s books! Which obviously showcase better selections than that found in most bookstores, I was despairing a little, seeing the piles of fluffy escapist books all over the bookstore I was in today, until the Virago authors began smiling from the shelves — Zora Neale Hurston, Daphne du Maurier, Angela Carter, Margaret Laurence, Muriel Spark and Elizabeth Taylor. I just wish there were more of them, back in print and available in bookstores where I live. I am going to do my best to read and promote more Virago books, to get them into more people’s hands.

If anyone would like to join me in the occasional group read of a Virago Modern Classic (or books we think ought to be on the VMC list), I’d be thrilled! Let me know in the comments if you’re interested and let’s do something about keeping smart books for women (and men) on the shelves.

As Carmen Callil says,

And so, if founding Virago was my first light bulb, dreaming up the Classics was the second. How could I publish Frost in May? The answer came quite easily: here was the celebration and fun I was looking for, here was a way of illuminating women’s history in a way that would reach out to a much wider audience of both women and men. I would publish a multitude of novels, I would publish them in a series, I would market them as a brand, just like Penguin. If one novel could tell the story of my life, there were hundreds more, and thousands of readers who would feel as I did.

We are those readers today, over 30 years after Virago began, those women and men who choose something different than the conventional choices. We are a wide range of ages, we are single and married, in and out of university and a variety of careers, with or without children, we are gay, straight, bisexual, asexual, whatever. We live all over the world, we speak different languages. These are our stories, not about princesses and heroes, but about flawed, ambitious, aching people like us. And we can influence what’s published, what’s available in bookstores, what’s sold and read and thought about and discussed and taken to heart, what changes lives. Book bloggers can make a difference.

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