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it's question time!

So, what are you reading right now, and is it (or are they) any good?

I'm reading Marking Time by Elizabeth Jane Howard, which is the second book in her Cazalet quartet, about an upper-middle-class family just before and during the war. I just read the first one, and they are hugely readable, although rather depressing, as lots of the characters are very likeable and terrible things happen to them. The one who is really breaking my heart is Miss Milliment, the very ugly old governess, who loves literature and art and who has a sense of humour, but is so poor that she can't afford a wireless and has nothing at all to do in the evenings because she has no friends and her eyes are going which means that she can't read easily anymore. She sometimes talks to herself just so she can hear her own first name, because as her family are dead no one has called her by it for years. I've read similar things about old single women in the more formal past, and just thinking about it makes me want to cry. I rather hate the modern practice of automatically calling older people by their first names all the time because lots of them don't like it and find it intrusive and over-familiar, especially in nursing homes where they are relatively powerless. But this alternative seems much worse, and was much worse for old single women who were often poor and often lonely. Anyway! The book is great, and often very funny despite the sad bits, although if some of the characters don't end up more or less happy by the end of the quartet I will be very miserable.

I'm also reading Robert Winder's Bloody Foreigners: The Story of Immigration to Britain, which is absolutely fascinating and which should be made compulsory reading for everyone from Michael McDowell to the equally revolting bigots in charge of most tabloid newspapers. I've been reading it for weeks because I keep stopping and starting it, but it really is very good. And I'm also rereading Dorita Fairlie Bruce's magnificently titled That Boarding School Girl, which is often unintentionally hilarious and quite often intentionally funny.

Et tu?


( 41 comments — Leave a comment )
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Jan. 31st, 2006 07:59 pm (UTC)
The Chalet School Does Something-or-Other and the Middles Get In Trouble (Again). I'm around #30. Also Felix Holt, in the world's smallest font (Oxford World's Classics clearly want me to go blind).

What's the first book in the Howard quartet?
Jan. 31st, 2006 08:03 pm (UTC)
The Light Years - it ends at Chamberlain's "peace in our time" speech, more or less, so it's all about everyone thinking there's going to be a war. I think people tend to forget that there were evacuation plans and gasmasks back in 1938; I remember being confused as a kid reading a Greyfriars school story in a magazine from the summer of '38 and seeing references to gasmasks, because of course I knew the war started a year later; I didn't quite realise how close it came to starting the year before.
Jan. 31st, 2006 08:05 pm (UTC)
I've just finished The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets, which was very pleasant, if not what it was billed (I Capture the Castle / Mitford a-like). I'd recommend it as a good read.

I'm towards the end of one of the non-GGBP fill-ins, The Chalet School Librarian. It's really not very good, though not nearly as dire as Hilda Annersley, Headmistress.

I'm going to look out for that Cazalet series, it sounds wonderful.
Jan. 31st, 2006 08:10 pm (UTC)
Hee, I got The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets today with a full Hodges Figgis loyalty card (every time you spend a tenner your card gets stamped, and when you have eight stamps you get a tenner off a purchase) after reading your recent reference to it! I liked the sound of it and looked it up on Amazon, and thought it looked exactly like my sort of thing so I bought it (or rather, my loyalty card bought it) this afternoon! Sorry to hear it's not Mitford-esque, though. But it does look entertaining.

I've never read any of the fill-ins - the only published fic I've read is the rather grim The Chalet Girls Grow Up, which, wonderfully, depicts Joey as the deranged emotionally retarded freak we all know she is.
(no subject) - stellanova - Jan. 31st, 2006 08:12 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - slemslempike - Jan. 31st, 2006 08:40 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - nineveh_uk - Feb. 1st, 2006 02:02 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 31st, 2006 08:23 pm (UTC)
I lerve the Cazalet Chronicles - when you have read them all you must read her autobiography Slipstream, because they are based on lots of her own experiences.

I have just bought the Eva Rice and am planning an early night with it, my last book finished was The Way We Wore by Robert Elms which was interesting because we are almost contemporaneous and I remembered most of the excruciating fashions.

I am not keen on CS fill-ins as a rule, but Peace Comes to The Chalet School by katherine_b is very good - she gets it right, and it deals with the Armishire CS which is my favourite.
Jan. 31st, 2006 08:32 pm (UTC)
I rather like most of the GGBP fill-ins, and Peace was certainly one of the best. I like Chalet Girls Grow Up a great deal, but luckily I've only borrowed these. Had I paid actual money for them I would be furious.
(no subject) - stellanova - Jan. 31st, 2006 08:37 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 31st, 2006 08:26 pm (UTC)
I'm reading Little, Big by John Crowley. It's a pretty big book and I'm only a 100 pages in but I like it. It's quite mannered in writing style and I don't yet know whats going on but I definitely want to know more. The hero is a slightly flat man from an unnamed city that is clearly New York. But his flatness is clearly intentional and explained by the slightly bizarre way his dad brought him up. He's just married a women from a fey family with definite hints of fairies. There's a suggestion of some Tale he will fulfill and unexplained danger he may face. In fact, why am I wasting my time on lj and the NYRB, I should go back to the novel.
Jan. 31st, 2006 08:34 pm (UTC)
I'm reading Cold Mountain by Charles Frazier, which is GORGEOUS but OMG DEPRESSING. As a book about the American Civil War ought to be, I guess.
Jan. 31st, 2006 09:14 pm (UTC)
MIND-NUMBINGLY depressing. That book, while very good, was obviously written by dementors. I'm fairly certain some chocolate would help.
Jan. 31st, 2006 08:37 pm (UTC)
I've just started Pale Fire by Nabokov, which looks like it's going to rock, and is making me very happy and giving me all sorts of exciting ideas about postmodernism and the novel.
Feb. 1st, 2006 11:15 am (UTC)
Is Pale Fire postmodernist? Damn. I thought it was one of three or so modernist novels that I Actually Like, but it turns out that I like modernism even less than I thought. Bah.
Jan. 31st, 2006 08:42 pm (UTC)
I'm re-reading To Serve Them All My Days for the umpteenth time, I've just finished listening to it after your recommendation - I really enjoyed it until the very end, when they squashed the last quarter of the book into about ten minutes, which really annoyed me. But I love the book and it's an easy reread.
Feb. 1st, 2006 10:58 am (UTC)
I haven't listened to the last episode of the radio series yet, but I really want to read the book now!
(no subject) - minniemoll - Feb. 1st, 2006 11:18 am (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 31st, 2006 08:44 pm (UTC)
I adore the Cazalet quartet. I devoured them all in a week. They're the sort of books you're always extremely pleased to have discovered. I also second the recommendation to read Elizabeth Jane Howard's biography Slipstream. It's so interesting to see how closely autobiographical the Cazalet books are (can you guess which of the Cazalets is based on EJH herself? I couldn't for ages). Also, my mum is a friend of a friend of EJH and gets a brief mention in Slipstream, which is rather thrilling.
Jan. 31st, 2006 08:45 pm (UTC)
Oh, and I am currently reading Elizabeth Peters and loving it, based partly on your recommendation. So thanks!
(no subject) - stellanova - Jan. 31st, 2006 08:47 pm (UTC) - Expand
(no subject) - lsugaralmond - Jan. 31st, 2006 08:49 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 31st, 2006 09:04 pm (UTC)
I'm on a crime fiction kick this week, and dividing my time between Caroline Graham (just finished "Written in Blood") and Charlaine Harris (in the middle of "Dead Until Dark").

The former's work is pleasant English-set whodunnits. I like her habit of, in amongst solving the murder, arranging matters such that her sympathetic-but-downtrodden characters get a boost. The latter writes vampire murder mysteries - think Laurell K. Hamilton with less sex and more thought about how such a world would actually work, combined with the whodunnit genre. Very light literature, but a lot of fun.
Feb. 1st, 2006 09:42 am (UTC)
Oh, the vampire mysteries do sound interesting - as long as they are VERY unlike Laurell K Hamilton, as I thought the first Anita Blake mystery was so atrociously written I actually couldn't read it and donated it to charity because it was too shit to keep in the house (and bear in mind my house contains a complete collection of Sweet Valley High books, so the standards aren't high).
(no subject) - dorianegray - Feb. 1st, 2006 07:01 pm (UTC) - Expand
Jan. 31st, 2006 09:07 pm (UTC)
I'm another one who likes the Cazalet quartet. The first two books live the bathroom in the basket full of bathtub books. Although, having said that, I thought that the last book was so rushed that she EJH made some weird character decisions because the war was over and "what do I do with this character?" That's my impression anyway. Meh.

Villy and Louise were the two characters that got to me most. Miss Millament was affecting because of her situation and all that she could have been, but she was both wise and mostly content with her situation. Villy and Louise didn't even seem to understand that there was a chance for them until it was so late.
Jan. 31st, 2006 09:11 pm (UTC)
And after all that I forgot to tell you what I'm reading. I just finished reading Literature from the Axis of Evil which was a compilation of work that never made it to the West during the Cold War. It sounds really gloomy, but it was a really good book. I just bought The Lost Art of Keeping Secrets based on slemslempike's post about it being a cross between I Capture the Castle and The Pursuit of Love.
Feb. 1st, 2006 10:59 am (UTC)
Oh my God, there really is something in the air - I bought it yesterday too!
Jan. 31st, 2006 09:29 pm (UTC)
I'm reading Changing Planes by Ursula Le Guin, which is basically an excuse to write one-chapter descriptions of nifty ideas for alien/ other-plane civilisations. This is actually a useful thing for reading in short, occasional spurts on buses, and the descriptions are sometimes very beautiful, but it is a bit conceit-y.
Jan. 31st, 2006 09:47 pm (UTC)
"Celestial Matters", by Richard Garfinkle, which is sci-fi based on the ancient Greek concept of science. S'okay.

Recently finished "We Band of Angels: The Untold Story of American Nurses Trapped on Bataan by the Japanese", by Elizabeth M. Norman. Well-researched, engrossing, a good read.

Dipping into "The Zombie Survival Guide: Complete Protection from the Living Dead", by Max Brooks. Seriously, I can't tell if he means it or not.

Last night, reread parts of "The Nanny Diaries", by Emma McLaughlin and Nicola Kraus, just because it was there. Still cute. Am not feeling compelled to read "Citizen Girl".
Jan. 31st, 2006 10:47 pm (UTC)
I'm on a bit of a noir kick at the moment. Just finished The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler, which was great, but not quite up to the level of The Long Goodbye or Farewell, My Lovely. Now I'm reading The Blank Wall by Elizabeth Sanxay Holding--a Persephone book--and it's absolutely fantastic, about an upper-middle-class wife whose husband is away fighting in WWII and how she deals with an accident that turns ugly. It goes along at a cracking pace, and really brings up quite a few issues of class and motherhood.
Jan. 31st, 2006 11:08 pm (UTC)
Alas, books these days take me WEEKS to finish. I stash them all over the house and snatch a few paragraphs when I can.

So, my handbag book is Growth Fetish by Geoff Hamilton, a bristling polemic critique of Third Way politics / consumer capitalism. It begs a few too many questions, but it's a good, righteous read. My loo book is Reflections on the Irish State by Garret Fitzgerald, which I've only just started but which seems interesting. My bedside book is Adrian Mole: The Cappuccino Years, because that's what I read when I'm absolutely dead tired, so it needs to be UTTERLY unchallenging :-) My spare-room bedside book (Oisín's still in our room, so we tend to do our reading-in-bed next door) is Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond, which again I've just started but which seems to be his standard solid, readable pop-anthropology.

And JAYZUZ I need to read some good novels! I haven't, actually, in ages, which is most sad. I mean to join the library with my new-found freedom, and I may well look out that Howard set you're talking about - it sounds as though it might be just the thing.
Feb. 1st, 2006 10:12 am (UTC)
When I started using the library again after several years away, it was like a present - oh my god, free books! And the Howard books are perfect for the busy, because they're not hugely demanding but they are well written and emotionally engaging.
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