The book was thick and black and covered with dust.

Hello again! Over the last week (which has felt so much longer) I’ve finished cleaning, packing and finally moved to our temporary new home in a little cottage (with no bathroom or kitchen) on my parents’ acreage (out in the tiny hamlet of New Norway, Alberta, Canada for the curious). I’ve also survived visits from and to various overly chatty relatives and a trip back to Calgary, to get my husband’s medication and on that trip, we also survived spinning our car around on the ice several times in the middle of a busy highway. So life has been a bit chaotic lately, we still have clutter lying about our little place (literally two rooms and no more), the only tidy spot is these bookshelves! Somehow I didn’t think I could post sooner until I had a good bookshelf picture to share…

I’ve been busy rereading an absolutely wonderful book, that is becoming even more of a favourite than ever. If you want to know what it is, the opening sentence is my post title and it’s missing from its proper spot on the bottom shelf… I’ll write more about it when I’m finished, but I will say that The Magician’s Book by Laura Miller, my last read of 2010, helped me understand the Romance and fairy tales and all the things that went into it so much more (I admit to skipping a few parts on my first reading, but no more!) and all I want to do is relax into such a rich book, which I simply grabbed off the shelf on New Years’ Eve, but there are so many other things it seems I have to do, even on holidays.

I’ve also been putting off making a post until I could think up some sort of clever best books of 2010 list, so forget that, here’s a simple top ten, in order of when I read them:

  1. The Secret Garden, Frances Hodgson Burnett
  2. The Woman in White, Wilkie Collins (both read pre-blogging)
  3. Henrietta’s War, Joyce Dennys
  4. Miss Buncle’s Book, D.E. Stevenson
  5. Marie Therese:The Fate of Marie Antoinette’s Daughter, Susan Nagel (two partial reviews there)
  6. Harry Potter & the Deathly Hallows, J.K. Rowling
  7. Villette, Charlotte Bronte
  8. Tea With Mr. Rochester, Frances Towers
  9. Howards End is on the Landing, Susan Hill
  10. The Magician’s Book: A Skeptic’s Adventures in Narnia, Laura Miller (not properly reviewed yet)

What most surprises me about this list is that it has three non-fiction titles on it, one biography, a literary memoir and a mixture of literary memoir, biography and criticism. I don’t read a lot of nonfiction (although 7 this year is more than usual) but all were fascinating and well written in their different ways. I was also surprised that as I pondered my list, I finally decided Villette belonged on it more than any of the three more comfortable Elizabeth Gaskell novels I read (and loved, let it be added) this year. (The only author I’ve read more of this year is Jane Austen at four novels and again, none of them are on the list either, they’re too familiar now.) I found Villette difficult going, it reminded me too much of a very depressing and lonely summer in university, it was not at all comforting like the Gaskells and Austens. But I also found myself thinking of it more than those other books, long after I had finished it, not about the story, but the overall richness of the language and the power, strength and raw beauty in it. It has made me want to read more rich books and not just stick with what is comfortable, like Jane Austen’s sparkling social comedies. In fact, this year I want to reread Austen less often (or finally read a biography of her instead) to make way for more reading and rereading of other favourite authors I might get something new out of. Charlotte Bronte is definitely on this list, along with George Eliot (despite my best resolutions I never did read her in 2010), Oscar Wilde, L.M. Montgomery, E.M. Forster, A.S. Byatt and more.

Related to that, the reading challenge I got the most out of in 2010 was a personal one: to read more deeply, specifically, to read authors that I’d really admired from one book of theirs but had gone no further with. I didn’t get to all the authors I originally thought of, but I did read 2 Virginia Woolfs this year, 3 Gaskells, 1 Bronte, 1 Wilkie Collins, 1 Sarah Waters, 1 Elizabeth Bowen, 1 Nancy Mitford, 2 Frances Hodgson Burnetts, 2 Dorothy L. Sayers, and 2 Anthony Trollopes, whom I’d never read before and wanted to finally try. I also decided to reread more books this past year (20 all together) and found a lot of pleasure in that, so I will definitely continue both of those reading habits, along with focusing on anything Victorian: novels from the time period and historical fiction, even poetry and maybe plays; also fantasy and fairy tales and the type of imaginative literature inspired by fairy tales, like Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber.

It’s going to be an exciting and magical year for books, I’m already feeling more passionate about my reading and less dutiful. I ended up reading 71 books in 2010, this year I’ve thought of trying for more or alternately, less, so that I focus more on quality and worry less about numbers, but all I really want is reading experiences that are rich and that matter intensely on a personal level. No more following reading trends just to be like everyone else — actually, moving from a big city library to a very small one has relieved me no end, I finally can just read from my shelves with no pressure to rush to check out all of the latest books everyone is raving about (in fact, when I left my job at the library, one of the shelvers joked that with me gone, their circulation stats would go down drastically!). I want to take the time this year to read the longer books I tend to avoid, the harder ones that are deservedly satisfying classics, instead of filling up on so many sugary lightweights. My favourite unfinished book of 2010 is Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens, what richness there as well and how I would like to finish it, perhaps this year. I’d like to finish more of what I start this year in general (I have a whole list of books abandoned last year) and focus more on one book at a time, rather than frantically trying to read it all at once. I want to read more personally or closely I might say, thinking less about how I will write the review and more about the art of the language, the way the symbols echo through the book, what it means to me. I want to read books not as a competitive sport but as a meditation, holding them close to my heart, hearing the music sing on inside me.

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18 thoughts on “The book was thick and black and covered with dust.

  1. merilyn says:

    Hi Carolyn, Best wishes for 2011.I love your book list. The Secret Garden has always been a favourite and Miss Buncle I still keep delving into Howards Way on The Landing.I’m going to look out for The Magicians book.My resolution for this year is to read more library books.

  2. litlove says:

    I do love your closing thoughts – it’s so easy to turn anything into a competitive sport, when most activities benefit from being meditative. I hardly ever reread, but I can see why people do, and wish I did it more (guaranteed comfort when you need it). But how on earth are you managing with no kitchen or bathroom? I’m impressed but also slightly daunted!

    • Carolyn says:

      Thank you, I wanted to write more personally and comfortably here, as you have. Rereading for me isn’t just about comfort, but about a chance to catch all the little details I missed last time, to get even more out of a book. I read one university essay guide that suggested reading a work twice before writing about it!! (I don’t know how often that happens in university, especially at the undergrad level, though!) I also feel that I can’t say a book is a true favourite until I’ve reread it, that it enriches and changes me the more I read it again.

      My parents’ house is right next to our little place, so we use their kitchen and bathroom. It’s a bit bothersome not to have as much privacy, but the important thing is my husband has a chance to rest after all his surgery and hospital visits this past year. Once he’s feeling better we’ll move on to our own place again.

  3. nerdybookgirl says:

    I’m drooling over your bookshelves. This year I discovered Elizabeth Gaskell; I’ve no idea why I haven’t read her before 2010. North and South was wonderful. I, too, want to read more deeply. I’m trying to space out favorite authors like Wilkie Collins and Elizabeth Bowen so I don’t run out of titles by them for a good long while!

  4. Iris says:

    Your bookshelves are so organised and pretty!

    Rereading Austen less is an ungoing challenge for me. In which I am currently failing, because I am rereading Mansfield Park at the moment.

    I was hoping you could help me with something.. Would you be able to recommend a few Virago Modern Classics to start out with? Since I’d like to join you during Virago reading week but have no clue where to start.

    • Carolyn says:

      Haha, glad I’m not the only one trying to get past Austen! I do think Mansfield Park is allowed this year though, since it’s the one I reread least often. And maybe Persuasion since I didn’t read it last year…

      I’ve given you a few ideas on your blog, but I think I’ll make a whole post on that topic too, so thanks for asking. 🙂

  5. Claire (The Captive Reader) says:

    Welcome back! The bookshelves look lovely. I’m still unpacking out here but once I’m done I hope to post a picture too. There’s something so satisfying about getting to peak at other people’s shelves!

    I’m quite intrigued by your top ten list, particuarly as I’ve only read two of the titles (The Secret Garden and Henrietta’s War). Miss Buncle’s Book is obviously one of my reading priorities for 2011 and I already have a hold placed on Howard’s End is on the Landing.

  6. bookssnob says:

    Well look at you, all organised and moved in! Those bookshelves look lovely. 🙂

    WHAT an interesting top ten list. I heartily agree with the excellence of many (though Howard’s End is not one of them! Susan Hill is too much of a name dropper for me!), and am intrigued by the bio of Marie Antoinette’s daughter – I had no idea they had any surviving children. Fascinating!

    I LOVE Our Mutual Friend. It’s my favourite of the many Dickens novels I have read. It’s so dark and rich and wonderful. You must finish it!

    • Carolyn says:

      Well, those bookshelves are the only truly organized section yet (of course my first priority!), I have another bookshelf that is still chaos.

      Yes, Marie Therese, the oldest child of Marie Antoinette (she’s a little girl in the movie) was their only surviving child and actually married her cousin who’s father (Louis XVI’s brother) for a while came back as king of France, Charles IX, I believe. She was called Madame Royale and even Napoleon admired her, her life is fascinating.

  7. kiss a cloud says:

    Is that line from Possession? I’m sure I’ve read that before. But wait.. no kitchen and bathroom?? Good thing you have those shelves stacked full! I’m joining your Virago Week as I happily disovered I’ve Grace Paley’s The Little Disturbances of Man on the TBR shelf. Happy new year!

    • Carolyn says:

      Right you are about Possession and my parents’ house is right next door for the kitchen and bathroom thing, although it still makes things more of a challenge. So glad you’re joining Virago week, lots of interesting reads!

  8. Mindy says:

    I just discovered your blog and I’ve really been enjoying it. Glad to hear that the spin-out ended okay– scary. Thanks for the link back to your review of Howards End is on the Landing. I read it last year but didn’t know anyone else who had. I’m thinking about trying my own month of reading at home. I’m pretty sure I couldn’t stay out of the library for an entire year.

  9. Eva says:

    All of those Modern Library spines look *lovely* together! And I adore Possession as well: as soon as I saw your post title I squealed a little.

    I loved Magician’s Book, and I’m on the list for Howards End is on the Landing. I’ve seen very mixed reviews of that one, so I’m hoping I’m more on the ‘love’ end of the skeptrum.

    I want to continue reading deeply too, and I have high hopes for my reading year! And I’ve always read personally: I think it’s the best way to go about it. 😀 I love book blogging because I get to read other people’s personal reactions to books, and because I get to gush about my favourites and complain about my non-favourites and all that. But I think there is definitely something about making reading a public act that can lead to stress: a ‘competitive sport,’ as you say term it. It’s good to be on guard against that. 🙂

    • Carolyn says:

      When I first was moving my books in, I stacked all my black Penguin classics and my Modern Library books together, just to see how tall the piles were!

      I really don’t think there’s any novelist quite like A.S. Byatt, she does so much more than historical fiction. I hope you enjoy Howards End is on the Landing, the one thing you can say without argument is that it is beautifully written.

  10. BuriedInPrint says:

    “reading experiences that are rich and that matter intensely”

    Nicely put. A couple of your favourite reads shared here are on my TBR list; the Frances Towers and the Joyce Dennys. I’m looking forward to them even more now!

  11. Danielle says:

    Lovely shelves–mine are not so neat I’m afraid! The Woman in White is one of my very favorite books, so I am always happy when I see someone else enjoy it, too. I’m still using the library, but I am trying to be very selective and not check out so many books this year in order to read more from my own piles! Good luck with the reading plans–I also want to be a more careful reader–something to work on over the year!

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