The Quest for the Perfect Birthday Books…

So this is meant to be a very fast post (I hope!), just to occasionally dip my oar into the wonderfully stimulating world of book blogging.  I’ve been working for three weeks as a medical transcriptionist in the pathology department in a hospital (I’ve now typed up autopsies! which are intriguing and also sad) and am starting to settle in there a bit.  I’m going to be learning things there for years about medical terminology and all the quirky things doctors do, trying to decipher their written scrawls and their verbal mumbles!  It’s not exactly my dream job, but it’s also very far from the worst job I’ve ever had and I definitely like having a desk of my very own and the ability to put on my headphones and just type without having to smile or be friendly or do any customer service at all.  For an introvert, it’s a very refreshing change.

Anyways, on to the book discussion!  I’ve found that when I’m at home, since I’ve been staring at a computer screen all day at work I don’t really want to go online in the evenings, I’d rather read.  This is all for the good for my book-loving soul, but my tumblr has now joined this blog in a state of general neglect.  But since I am reading more in the evenings or at least thinking about books more, maybe I’ll try to occasionally blog here on the weekends, as I am now.

I’ve been trying to think of a few very special books to get for my birthday later this month and going over to my favourite cosy book blogger The Captive Reader to get ideas.  She got me lusting for the new Georgette Heyer editions that are coming out later this year (featured here) – I finally read The Grand Sophy earlier this year and found it absolutely wonderful, so I need my own copy of that soon, plus more of hers.  But then I found out those new Heyer editions wouldn’t come out in Canada until September, so then I began considering getting some more Persephone Books.

I just reread Miss Buncle Married (by D.E. Stevenson, one of my favourite British interwar Persephone Books authors) last weekend and oh how much I enjoyed it.  (Here‘s my review of it the first time I read it.)  It’s so utterly adorable and cosy and safe and sweet.  I know not everyone, especially in the grand and progressive era of the 21st century, wants safe and sweet anything, but I love those qualities.  It’s why Emma is my favourite Jane Austen novel too.  I long for books that give me a feeling of home and security (since I lost my childhood home in the countryside when I was young and had some childhood traumas as well) and safety, a feeling that all will be well, to overcome, even for a little while, my endless fears that all will go wrong.  I don’t need to read a book to get worked up, I have an overactive imagination to do that for me, all the time!  I don’t quite understand the desire to read sad books either – if I want to have a good cry I can just think about some of the things that have happened to me and how difficult it is to get over them.  I want to read to feel better, not to feel worse!  To use books as anti-depressants in my own form of bibliotherapy.  All that to say, Miss Buncle and D.E. Stevenson and cosy British books that are gentle and calm featuring lovely peace and quiet and ‘real friendly love’ are exactly my cup of chamomile tea.

I want more Persephone books so I can keep endlessly caressing their lovely smooth grey covers and getting lost in their cosy adorable worlds, but they’re also rather expensive to order all the way from England, so I began hunting about for a few cosy books closer to home.  I’ve also been craving a slightly gothic story or two set in Cornwall, in the tone of Daphne du Maurier or Susanna Kearsley and then my thoughts turned towards Mary Stewart, who wrote a lot of romantic suspense novels in the 1950s.  Many of her books have recently been re-released in adorable editions and oooh I just want an atmospheric (and yet still slightly cosy and reassuring) story set in England or Scotland!  So I may indulge in a book or two of hers for my birthday… (I keep an eye out for her whenever I’m in used bookstores, so I now have two in old editions, but the new covers are so adorably retro!)  I also recently finished reading the Miss Marple collection of short stories, which do feature a few slightly gothic little mysteries set around Cornwall and the moors, but they’re too short to really satisfy my craving!  For a while I thought I was really getting smart because I was figuring out every mystery ahead of the solution, until it occurred to me that I’d probably just read them years before.  Sigh.

And then of course there are so many other beautiful and entertaining books that I’d just love to collect (although living in an apartment does limit one’s ability to store all of the books one wishes to acquire, especially when one is married to a fellow book lover who has an even bigger book collection than one’s self…) that it makes the task of finding the perfect birthday books a rather difficult challenge.  Perhaps I’ll go for one Mary Stewart and one Persephone and one something else that is yet to be determined…

As a sidenote: I’ve currently been reading Inkheart by Cornelia Funke and while I love the book lover’s atmosphere it conveys and how clever it is about books, featuring larger-than-life characters with wonderful names like Dustfinger (an ambiguous fire-eater) and Capricorn (despite this being a kids book he is legitimately scary to me and I really don’t like his run-down village run by thugs in southern Italy!) that have come to life thanks to the magical reading abilities of one man called Silvertongue (who works as a bookbinder by day) and also featuring a stand-off between an author and the characters he’s created and his fear when he realizes he can’t control his own creations… but it is also so suspenseful and even sad and dark at times.  (And yes, that was one long crazy run-on sentence.  I am quite good at them.)  It’s not as safe and cosy as my adored Miss Buncle books, that’s for sure, but oh I’m just pulled in by the atmosphere of it and have to find out how it ends!  The opening sentence enticed me:  “Rain fell that night, a fine, whispering rain.”  And since then I just can’t leave it, I have to see the story through!  So here I am, reading a book that isn’t entirely sweet or safe, but definitely enticing, perhaps strangely bewitching?  Oh how I love all the worlds I can visit through my endlessly delightful books!  Sometimes I get exhausted thinking of all the books I ‘should’ read and how I’m never reading fast enough to read all the books I want to and how I’m always buying more books than I can keep up with (which is why I gave book blogging a break), but then it’s books like Inkheart that remind me of the heady delights and the endless magic that books offer.

Miss Buncle Married & my new book toy

Eeee! Guess who just got a new Kindle?! My dad actually bought it for my husband and I (our third anniversary is in a week), since we were so enthralled with his Kindle. I thought I’d be sticking only with paper books forever, but the allure of being able to collect many old books in one portable place was very enticing. Awwww, thanks Dad. 🙂

Before I knew about that though (and that my two new Louisa May Alcott books are free on Project Gutenberg), my husband and I were off in Saskatchewan (the next prairie province east of Alberta), where it’s likely we’ll be moving this fall to take some college courses. I’m planning to study for medical transcriptionist and my husband for something similar, since the health care field will only be growing and even though both of us have bachelor’s degrees in the humanities, there’s not a lot we can do with them that doesn’t involve customer service (I was last working at a library and he managed a bookstore) and we’re really introverts who’d prefer to work alone and are too stressed and depressed by regular life to want very high powered or ambitious jobs. So it’s something we’ve been discussing for a few months now and it seems like a practical plan (especially since I still have a lot of student loans I need to pay off somehow) — typing is one of my few actually useful skills that I enjoy doing. (And I actually learned how as a teenager, on a real typewriter! It’s since proved very handy for all of my internet adventures.)

But I certainly don’t mind having paper copies of Alcott’s Eight Cousins and An Old-Fashioned Girl (which I had to get after hearing Claire rave about it!), since she was one of the authors I read in my teen years after I was mostly through L.M. Montgomery and I haven’t read much of her in decades. It’s delightful to explore good books from my childhood (though as much as I adored Nancy Drew back in the day, those books are really only fun to read as a kid, they’re too woodenly written to stand up to adult rereadings. Sigh. I of course have a copy of The Mystery at Lilac Inn though) and since my husband will want to also use the Kindle once in a while (he’s into classical mythology now, so I’ve already downloaded The Iliad and The Odyssey for him, in free translations by Alexander Pope, who knew?) so paper books are still mighty swell. I also finally got a copy of We Two: Victoria & Albert: Rulers, Partners, Rivals by Gillian Gill! I’ve been eyeing it for a while. It was so nice to explore good bookstores in both Saskatoon and Regina (the two main cities in Saskatchewan, we’ll be moving to one or the other of them) and I also spent a lot of time reading parts of The Wilder Life: My Adventures in the Lost World of Little House on the Prairie by Wendy McClure, which is wonderful. I wasn’t as obsessed with Laura Ingalls and Little House on the Prairie growing up as the author is, but I could still laugh and relate to many of the things she mentions. I’ll have to get it from the library or something to finish it.

I’ve also been indulging in a bit of Miss Buncle loveliness — I reread (my very own new dove grey copy from the Persephone Secret Santa exchange, last time I only had it from interlibrary loan and then kept longing for it the rest of the year) Miss Buncle’s Book and then got the next one from the library, Miss Buncle Married, which has also just been published by Persephone! It’s really lovely too, in fact I may like it a teensy bit more than the first book. The reason is that Miss Barbara Buncle, now married (obviously), finds a home. (Having been parted from my childhood home on our farm at the age of ten, I love books about people finding a home. I love old houses too.) In the first book she sasses all the overbearing people who overlooked her all her life through writing a bestseller exposing all their faults, now in the second book she comes into her own, finding a town with neighbours she can mostly really like and feel part of a welcoming community:

It was a very satisfactory friendship, for Barbara profited by it too. Jerry enlarged Barbara enormously. In a new friend we start life anew, for we create a new edition of ourselves and so become, for the time being, a new creature. Barbara had never done this interesting thing before. She had lived all her life in Silverstream and her neighbours were people who had known her from childhood, and therefore had a preconceived idea of her, so engrained, that they never saw her at all, any more than they saw the sponge which accompanied them daily into their baths. In creating a new Barbara for Jerry Cobbe, Barbara created a new facet of herself and was enlarged by it. She had no idea she was doing anything of the sort, of course, she merely felt that life had become very interesting, and that she, herself, was more adequate to its demands.

 There’s another sweet romance with her husband’s nephew too:

“And they’re frightfully devoted to each other,” continued Sam eagerly. “It’s rather nice, isn’t it?”

Jerry nodded. “It is, rather,” she agreed. “It makes a nice sort of atmosphere, doesn’t it? I don’t mean soppiness, of course — that sort of thing always gives me the creeps — but real friendly love.”

There was silence on that. “Real, friendly love,” Sam thought, that’s exactly what I feel for her.

Awww. One thing I loved about both books was that the romance wasn’t exaggerated, it felt natural. No one swooned with passion, they simply liked and felt comfortable and right with a certain person (Barbara’s husband greatly admires her ability to eat a great many hot buttered crumpets, for a refreshing change!). It’s not anti-romance at all, it’s just letting it be simple and normal instead of needing to blow it up into something overheated and ridiculously out of all proportion. I share a ‘real friendly love’ with my husband and was delighted to come upon the phrase and a refreshingly real and innocent portrayal of love. D.E. Stevenson’s prose may be slightly simplicistic, but her stories are always heartwarming and comforting.

Now do I keep downloading more free books onto my Kindle (whee!) or pick one to read — perhaps The Solitary Summer by Elizabeth von Arnim? (It’s on Project Gutenberg, hoorah hooray and so on, I’ve been wanting to read it ever since discovering her other lovely books earlier this year!) I’ve been reading a beautiful new Oxford edition of Wilkie Collins’ No Name, which is actually quite good, but who knows. Perhaps I’ll e-read it instead.

Birthday books!

It’s still a week to go until my birthday, but I cannot resist…! My mom bought me three books for my birthday over a month ago and my grandma sent me a bit of early birthday money, so I am unable to contain myself anymore, I must have a beautiful picture of my growing stack of delicious republished forgotten classics. It’s been a long time since I’ve actually found books I know I’ll love in a bookstore.

So here’s the list:

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons, author of Cold Comfort Farm — my library still doesn’t have this one yet, so after a bit of impatient rechecking every few days to see if it was somehow there, I decided a birthday is the perfect time to indulge.

Wigs on the Green by Nancy Mitford — after enjoying Love in a Cold Climate recently and understanding all the Mitford humour even more thanks to Hons & Rebels by her sister Jessica, I wanted to begin enjoying everything Mitford and these new covers are particularly appealing, especially since Wigs on the Green is a parody of British fascism in the ’30s.

Mrs. Tim of the Regiment by the delightful D.E. Stevenson — my library does have a copy of this, but I cannot resist, especially as I currently do not have my own Miss Buncle’s Book! I must be able to hold at least one of her books to my heart, at any time I may wish to literally physically do so.

Love’s Shadow by Ada Leverson, The Brontes Went to Woolworths by Rachel Ferguson — once I’d read and loved Henrietta’s War then ever more of the charming and colourful Bloomsbury Group reprints have been joining my collection. And also my much treasured first Persephone book, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day by Winifred Watson.

All that plus a delightful new reading journal (it has sections for my biblio style and literary superlatives, plus such a nice cover) and some french macarons, which perhaps should have been savoured over one of my new books, but have already been gobbled up whilst sitting at the computer! The pink one was particularly delicious, I am happy to report — strawberry flavoured!

Miss Buncle’s Book by D.E. Stevenson

So it seems I may be starting my very own private Persephone Reading Week here, as I just finished Miss Buncle’s Book this evening! I’ve got it plus To Bed With Grand Music and The Victorian Chaise-Longue, both by Marghanita Laski, all on inter-library loans, ordered during the official Persephone Reading Week at the beginning of May and I need to return them soon, so I’ve been busy reading and laughing excessively.

Somehow Miss Buncle’s Book (by D.E. Stevenson, her novel Mrs. Tim of the Regiment has recently been republished by the Bloomsbury Group too, so I’ll need to get myself a copy) is even more adorable than Miss Pettigrew Lives For a Day, at least to me! I want to give it a hug and we can become best pals and braid each other’s hair (and I’d better stop before I get too carried away on that note!) In some ways it’s similar to Miss Pettigrew, both feature older women who have to earn their living somehow, but Miss Barbara Buncle decides to write a book about all the people in her country village and she’s naive enough to capture their faults down to a hair and enrage a good half of them utterly. It’s delightful seeing the good changes that happen in the village as a result of her book and how everyone tries to figure out just who wrote about them.

It is absolutely refreshing to read a book with at least half the characters being genuinely nice, good people (the other half are amusingly and increasingly out of control in meanness) and with a few small gentle romances that are quiet and unsentimental. It’s adorable, it has fresh country air about it, old men say “hurrah!” in it (and how often does that happen, really?) and my library has the next book, Miss Buncle Married. Hurrah, as they say! I wish I had my own dove grey copy of it, but in the meantime, library copies are lovely. I’m not sure if quotes will really capture the magic of it, there are late night reading sessions in old leather armchairs next to crackling fires and grey tweeds are worn by breathless young girls and there are autumn bonfires and daffodils in spring and oh just read it, it’s the perfect cup of tea for what ails you.