Back to Book Bloggery

So. Here I am again. After disappearing for about six months from the book blog-o-sphere, I got the itch to come back.

But first, I might as well tell you (if there is any of ‘you’ left to read this!) what I’ve been up to lately. My husband and I moved out to Regina, Saskatchewan at the end of August (after my baby brother’s gorgeous wedding). As soon as we got to Regina, my husband went into the hospital with more Crohn’s related health problems and I was left to unpack (along with my very helpful in-laws) in about a week before going back to school. My husband ended up having another surgery at the end of September, but since Saskatchewan has great health care, it finally seemed to work better than all his other ones and he’s now over his stomach infection and doing much better. But for about a month there, he was on IV antibotics 3 times a day, 2 hours every time. So it was very difficult to sleep with the constant beep of his machine and I’ve had sleeping problems ever since. Also, our car was broken into on my first day of school and wrecked enough that it was a write-off. We got a nicer second-hand car and… the first day we were out driving in it together, an old lady rear-ended us. And it was a write-off too. (And that’s not the end of my tale of woe either… but I’ll stop for a paragraph break.)

Perhaps by now it’s becoming apparent why I had no time for book blogging for a while? One good thing that happened in the midst of all the kerfuffle of moving and hospital times was that while I wasn’t sleeping at nights, I started writing creatively again. But it started to worry me because I’d be up for hours in the middle of the night, writing almost manically and unable to stop and just rest, even though I was exhausted. So I finally went to a counselor and began to seriously face my mental health problems. I’m now on anti-depressants and they are helping. I’ve been depressed to varying degrees all of my adult life and I had high anxiety when I was younger too, but I was always scared to go on medication for it. But it’s only helped me. They aren’t an instant cure but things are getting better.

I’m also taking a course in Office Education, something basic and practical (I am now a whiz at spreadsheets and business report formatting). I had intended to use it to go on to medical transcribing, since as a sensitive, depressed introvert, I’d really like to work in a quiet office by myself! But I’ve since discovered that I also enjoy accounting, of all things! My dad is a Chartered Accountant, but I always thought I was too much into the arts to be able to handle that. Now it seems I’m not as scatterbrained as I thought I was. So I might end up taking more accounting classes instead, I keep changing my mind between the two. I felt like a misfit taking this course, since I already have a university degree, and my first semester there was lonely and awkward. But I’ve made friends with another shy girl, who, when I admitted I liked British books, asked me with a light in her eye: have you ever seen North & South? So now we have Jane Austen movie days together. 😀

One nice thing about living in Regina is that our apartment is a 15 minute walk away from a big bookstore and a library! So we go there very often. Where we continue to indulge in buying more books and Starbucks beverages than we should… (My husband and I both love salted caramel mochas there, btw. So so good.) And I got to go to Toronto for the first time this Christmas, to visit my husband’s sister and her family, where I spent lots of time reading by the fireplace in a conservatory (! glorious), petting kittens. So there have been good things with the bad. I have also developed a cough that won’t quite go away and mild eczema on my hands, both due to the extreme dryness of a prairie winter (even Alberta wasn’t this bad!), which is irritating, but at least spring seems to be finally on its way.

As for the reading I’ve been doing, I’ve indulged in many kids books (The Penderwicks and sequels by Jeanne Birdsall are adorable, about a family of four sisters) and some chick lit, as well as a biography of Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress in 18th century France. She had gorgeous clothes, but by the end of the book I was rather disgusted with all the excessive spending in the French court that helped set up the downfall of the monarchy in the French Revolution several decades later. Also I was personally pissed off with her because she tried to get involved with politics by getting Louis to ally with Austria instead of focusing on fighting the British to keep their North American colonies — aka, that’s partly why I now speak English instead of French… Sigh. She was very good at staying in power for a very long time, they called her the unofficial ‘prime minister’ even when she hadn’t slept with the king for decades. So I enjoyed my time reading about the decadent 18th century, but was glad to leave it when the book was over.

I also enjoyed Uncommon Arrangements: Seven Portraits of Married Life in London Literary Circles 1910-1939 by Katie Roiphe, which featured the unusual love lives of Katherine Mansfield, Elizabeth von Arnim, Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf’s sister), Winifred Holtby, and several others. I liked spending more time in their early 20th century world, marveling at all the shenanigans they got up to and how being a writer didn’t always make them more clear-sighted about their own romantic difficulties.

2011 was also the year I began to read Diana Wynne Jones, a delightful British children’s fantasy author. Howl’s Moving Castle was my first and Fire & Hemlock was next, but over the winter, I’ve also come to love House of Many Ways (a sequel of sorts to Howl’s Moving Castle, although with a different main protagonist), Charmed Life (my first introduction to Chrestomanci), and Witch Week. They are all so varied — this is part of her charm, that you never know what will come next, but it also makes it harder to read her books in a row when you just want something exactly like what you just read. Even if there are some of the same characters from one book to another, the tone is never quite the same. 

Howl’s Moving Castle and House of Many Ways are tied as my favourites (and I made sure I got both of them for Christmas!) and both have a lovely cosy atmosphere of people learning to be friends in the midst of odd situations (specifically odd houses, that either have many strange and unexpected rooms depending on which way you turn the doorknob, or a castle that bounces about at will). Wizard Howl does show up in House of Many Ways in a fantastic disguise (I love him as Twinkle!), along with Sophie, who is still scolding him. It’s so rare that authors bring characters back after the happy ending, so that was lovely to see their married relationship. And that book features a great main character in Charmain, who is constantly reading, even while she eats, until adventures and magic and a volunteer job in the royal library and a little white dog begin to intervene…

However, I wasn’t sure if I liked Charmed Life much until I read the last page and burst into tears. (While on the airplane, flying back from Toronto. Usually I get claustrophobic on planes and can’t wait to get off, but I forgot to be worried while I was reading, so perhaps I was enjoying the book before the last page…) The tone of the book isn’t as happy as the other ones I’d read, despite the introduction of Chrestomanci, of whom I’d heard so much of (he’s an exquisitely dressed enchanter, with a different embroidered dressing gown for every day of the year), but that’s mostly because of the truly horrid Gwendolen who is determined to become powerful, even at the cost of her family. Her brother Cat Chant suffers some chillingly unexpected losses at her hands, but as I say, the ending makes up for it.

And Witch Week is about the horrors of a bad British boarding school with lots of bullying in a world mostly similar to ours, but where witches are still being burned to death. Unfortunately for the students, witchcraft seems to be breaking out everywhere, so they have to call Chrestomanci in to fix things up. This one is my least favourite out of what I’ve read of her work so far, but it’s still thought-provoking and entertaining, with some funny bits.

And I haven’t even mentioned that I’ve finally found a definite favourite out of Jane Austen’s novels… yes, Emma. I’d been leaning towards it for a long time, but last fall yet another reread cemented the deal. I even had to buy the lovely edition at the right just to appreciate it even more. 🙂 Now I have three copies of it, as one should for one’s favourite Austen. To me, the story and comedy and cosy homeyness of it never gets old. It always seems fresh and so funny. I know Emma herself can be annoying, but oh the social misadventures she gets up to! The Christmas Eve party at the Weston’s is very high on my list of favourite literary scenes ever, from John Knightley’s complaints about an inch of snow, to Mr. Elton’s hideously botched proposal. I’m laughing now just thinking about it. I used to think there wasn’t enough romance in the book, but the new BBC miniseries of it with Romola Garai and Jonny Lee Miller gave Emma and Mr. Knightley plenty of romantic tension under the surface in the midst of all their little tiffs, and I now just adore those two together so much. They are old friends and I love couples who start off that way. It’s fun to notice the little details in the book of where their feelings for each other start to show.

So I guess this is enough of my rambling for a while, hopefully I’ll keep this up more often now! I have a personal reading project I’m thinking of that I might share next time. Oh also, in the midst of my non-book blogging months, I have been happily discovering tumblr. My blog there (Lemon Rose) is mostly full of pictures of period dramas, 19th century paintings, and flowers, etc, but I occasionally write about what I’m reading, so if I disappear again, that’s where I’ve gone to. Salut for now, bookophiles!

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14 thoughts on “Back to Book Bloggery

  1. seagreen reader says:

    It's good to see you back Carolyn, I'm glad that things are more on an even keel for you now, and hope they continue that way.
    The Katie Roiphe book has been on my TBR list for ages, it sounds great.
    Joanne

  2. Nymeth says:

    It's so nice to hear from you again, Carolyn! I'm very glad to hear your husband is doing better and that you were able to find ways to cope yourself. I've had a difficult year myself mental health-wise. You're right, there's no instant cure, but just finding something that helps can be such a huge relief.

    Hooray for Diana Wynne Jones! My absolute favourite is Fire & Hemlock, but I've yet to read a book of hers I didn't enjoy. I've been “saving” House of Many Ways and I think it's about time I get to it.

  3. Buried In Print says:

    Welcome back! Aren't you just extra-grateful for books when you're having a rough go of things? What would we do without them?!

    I think Emma is my favourite Austen too, but I've thinking that I should re-read the others to see if that's changed in recent years.

  4. irisonbooks.com says:

    I cannot express how happy I am to see another post up. I missed you. It sounds like you had a very rough year. I am glad to hear your husband is doing a little better and that you are working on your own mental health. It's such a big decision to make, isn't it? I've been postponing for a while, but I know it needs to happen, and it is actually very encouraging to see others taking the leap, so to say.

    Ana convinced me to try Diana Wynne Jones. I have only read Howl's Moving Castle and loved it, and I have Fire & Hemlock waiting to be read.

    I really need to give Emma another try. Somehow, it is the Austen I have read least often up until now.

  5. Eva says:

    I'm sorry you've had so much thrown at you, but I'm thrilled than you're back & that the meds are helping. I only discovered DWJ in 2010, but she's become one of my go-to authors now! In fact, I've just brought another one home from the library. 🙂 I'll have to give House of Many Ways a go. My favourite Chrestomanci (so far, I've read three) is Nine Lives of Christopher Chant. It's truly lovely!

  6. Carolyn says:

    Thanks so much, Iris! It's scary to talk about being depressed and going on medication, even though there's been more support for that recently. I remember years ago a friend of mine saying she was scared to go on anti-depressants because she didn't know if she'd get the right dose. This scared me off trying them for over a decade, I just kept thinking I'm sure other people have it worse, I'll just try to get better naturally… But now I think that anything that helps (in a healthy way) is a good thing, life is challenging enough without huge mental health problems! My sister has also started taking anti-depressants since I have and found them helpful too, so that helps to remove some of the stigma of it. I'm actually shocked now that no counselor recommended them to me sooner, maybe because I just didn't even know how to tell anyone how bad I was feeling, because I felt ashamed of not being able to get better all by myself. I hope you'll be able to find what's right for you when you're ready. 🙂

    Yay for Diana Wynne Jones love! At the right time, her stories can be such a comfort.

    It took a long time for me to come to like Emma this much, at first I didn't get the humour of it at all. It's subtler than some of her books, but Hartfield and Highbury are where I'd like to live if I could settle down in Austen's world, rather than Pemberley or wherever else. I also love that one of the great themes of the book is that everyone sees and experiences things differently and that these differences of opinion are okay and also what make life interesting. Sometimes we tend to dwell too much on disagreements instead of just appreciating what we have in common, such as Austen fans heatedly arguing over which book or heroine or hero is their favourite! 😉

  7. Carolyn says:

    You must try Diana Wynne Jones, Claire! I wish there were more fantasy books like hers.

    Thank you so much for all your support, even while I wasn't blogging. Getting your emails and now letters has meant so much to me. I wish we could meet up again and talk for hours, like we used to, but maybe someday!

  8. Carolyn says:

    Hi Eva, it's great to hear from you again! I'm surprised and touched that people still remember me. You have to try House of Many Ways, it's so adorable. I tried to read Nine Lives around the New Year, but wasn't quite in the mood for it and it seemed a little sad. Both Christopher and Cat seem to go through some rather horrid things before they find out who they are.

  9. Carolyn says:

    Thank you! Yes, books have been a comfort to me for most of my life. I'm sure I became such an avid reader because I felt safe and at home inside their pages. Austen is definitely my favourite comfort author and as I've reread her over the years I've come to like her later books best — Emma, Mansfield Park, and Persuasion.

  10. Carolyn says:

    Thanks for stopping by, Ana, and for the good thoughts. I found it very hard to even speak out at first about having a problem and realizing that I needed medication. My husband teases me that I avoid going to see the doctor the way men tend to, but I'm trying to ask for help now more often.

    I'll have to reread Fire & Hemlock at some point (whenever I can find a copy of it again!), it's not as happy as Howl's Moving Castle or House of Many Ways, but it's very unusual and enchanting in its own quieter way. Yes, do read House of Many Ways, I think I might like it even more than Howl's Moving Castle, but somehow it seems shocking to admit to that!

  11. Carolyn says:

    Thank you, Joanne. I know I'm starting to feel better now because I'm able to read more difficult books again that I had to put off when I got really depressed, in favour of much lighter comfort books.

    It's a fascinating book. I usually avoid biographies because there can be too much information, but combining seven interconnected stories together worked very well and kept my interest. Reading about how relationships work out in the real world, instead of in novels, is always so eye-opening.

  12. JoAnn says:

    It's good to see you back again! I hope the months ahead are easier for you. Love that edition of Emma – Jane Austen is a favorite and I've been 'saving' Emma for years. Have read all of the others (some multiple times)… can't hold out much longer 😉

  13. Carolyn says:

    Thanks JoAnn, I'm enjoying being back. Gasp! You haven't read Emma yet! What are you waiting for! The sooner you read it the more you can reread it! That's the best way to read Austen! 😉 And I hope you enjoy it once you do give in.

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