Monday, 4 January 2010

Resolution #1

After the frenzied month of Christmas prep, I do love the voluptuously lazy days between Christmas and New Year's.  My family, all of us owls by constitution, revert to the inclinations not possible in the regular workaday world.  By that I mean that we stay up until 2 and sleep 'til 10.  I think that it is the only time of year that I feel truly rested.

This year's post-Christmas week has been lazier than usual, mostly because we didn't host our annual New Year's Eve sleepover party.  Instead, we've watched lots of movies, read lots of books and completed several fiendishly difficult puzzles.  This little island of contemplative sloth has given me plenty of time to consider all of the changes of the past decade . . . and to consider the year ahead.  I'm not a great one for making new year's resolutions -- well, I do make them, just not with much conviction -- but this year I've decided to make three doable goals and really try to stick to them.

You might infer, from the above picture, that one goal might be to clear off my bedside table.  (Of course, being tidier and better organized is a perennial goal, but I'm trying for something more original this year.)  My first resolution, then, is to keep a reading journal. 

Every year, for as long as I can remember, I have vowed to read with more purpose and direction -- and to take notes.  Perhaps it is just the perpetual student in me, or perhaps it has something to do with my leaning inclination to someday finish my PhD, but I feel that too many of the wonderful things that I read just wash over me.  My memory is so terribly sketchy; it needs filling out a bit.

These bedside table piles I make are one kind of record, but ultimately, they get dismantled.  Since I (mostly) put the books that I've actually read back on the bookshelf, my bedside table is a bit of a halfway home.  It tends to represent what I've just finished, or only partially completed . . . or what I intend to read someday.  Like geological records, my book piles read top-down.  You can tell, from the top entries, what I've been doing this past week.  You can also tell, from the bottom of the pile, about my ambitions -- and what I haven't gotten around to yet.

Before the turkey leftovers had been vanquished, we were at the cinema -- to see the new Sherlock Holmes.  Top hats off to Guy Ritchie, Jude Law and especially Robert Downey Jr!  I thought this was a terrifically stylish and entertaining film.  Although it had never occurred to me to read one of the Conan Doyle stories, I was so taken with Downey's charismatic performance that it made me want to compare it to the original creation.  When the author mentions Sherlock Holmes's "bohemian soul" and cocaine habit, it did make me think that Sherlock Holmeses in the past have played him too staid Victorian.  I borrowed this book from the son of one of our friends, and although I enjoyed it, I will probably give it back without finishing it.  A few of the stories were enough to get the flavor.

The Jane Austen Book Club, Karen Joy Fowler
My youngest daughter and I watched this film the other night, and it inspired me to revisit the book -- which I remembered enjoying the first time I read it.  (I enjoyed it the second time, too.)  If I see a movie of a book, I have to then read the book so I can do a comparison.  Strangely enough, though, I don't really mind it when the movie changes details in the book . . . unless it is a bad movie.  Some would say that any movie that changes details from the book is, automatically, a bad movie.  Two of the characters in the movie meet, while seeing a filmed version of Mansfield Park, and discuss this very issue.

Keats, Andrew Motion
I was so taken with Jane Campion's Bright Star -- which describes Keats' relationship with Fanny Brawne.  Apparently, this biography of Keats inspired and informed her film.   I thought that Sigmund might buy this for me for Christmas, but he didn't, so I bought it for myself yesterday.  I can't wait to read it; a visit to Keats House in Hampstead (and the subsequent blog post) will no doubt follow.

Shakespeare, Bill Bryson
My husband read this a couple of months ago, and it got transferred from his bedside table to mine.  Not long after that, Sarah Laurence talked about it in a blog post and I resolved (again) to read it.  But it wasn't until I saw Shakespeare in Love a few days ago that I actually picked it up and started reading.  First of all, Shakespeare in Love:  I had forgotten how much I like this exuberant, delightful film.  Writers Marc Norman and Tom Stoppard do such a clever job of imagining how life might have shaped art.  Bryson's book focuses on what is knowable, as opposed to fancy or supposition, but it is also very entertaining.

I was in a Mitford phase all during November, and particularly enjoyed Anne de Courcy's biography of Diana Mosley.  One of my friends recently gave me this book of collected writings; it is the kind of book that you can easily dip in and out of, just like The Mitfords:  Letters Between Six Sisters.

Vile Bodies, Evelyn Waugh
This novel, which I only half-finished, is also from my recent Mitford phase.  Waugh dedicated the book to Diana Guinness (later Mosley) and her then husband, Bryan Guinness.  It was meant to be inspired by that whole Bright Young People scene in 1930s London, but frankly, I could find neither plot nor characterization in it.  Maybe they are in the second half of the book?

Someone at a Distance, Dorothy Whipple
I finished this book weeks ago; my only explanation for why it is still on my bedside table is the beauty of its cover.  I found its depiction of the dissolution of a marriage so moving.  On my recent trip to Persephone, I picked up another Whipple book -- The Priory.  I need to replace this one with that one.

The Wilder Shore of Love, Lesley Blanch
And now we are getting to the middle of the stack, where books get stuck for weeks and even months.  I found this biography of intrepid 19th century women at a second-hand book stall in Norfolk this summer.  I read the chapter about Jane Digby, and then I got distracted by something else.  I have a hunch that this one should go back on the bookshelf, as the time is not ripe for finishing it.

My Life in France, Julia Child
I'm a bit embarrassed to admit that I haven't read this one, as my mom sent it from Texas back at the end of the summer when the Julie and Julia film came out.  (Speaking of that, I was astounded to discover that none of my English friends were aware of Julia Child.  I kept saying that she was the Delia Smith of the United States, only even more iconic.)  This one will stay on the bedside table, and it's going in the queue -- but behind The Priory and Keats.

The Story of a Marriage, Andrew Sean Greer
A good (or bad, depending on how you look at it) example of my book greed.  I found it on one of Waterstone's 3 for 2 tables and a glance at the plot synopsis confirmed that it seemed like the kind of book I would like.  I haven't found out yet, though.

Becoming Queen, Kate Williams
There is a bit of trend in this list . . . and once again, I admit to being inspired by a film that I've seen.  I read this biography of Queen Victoria after seeing the film The Young Victoria.  Author Kate Williams also wrote a biography of Emma Hamilton's life, titled England's Mistress.  No film of that one, alas.

West From Home, Laura Ingalls Wilder
This is a collection of letters that Wilder wrote to her husband, back home in Missouri, when she was visiting their daughter Rose in San Francisco.  I didn't even realize that this small paperback was in my bedside stack until I started dismantling it.  Since it is a left-over from my LIW craze from last year, it indicates that my filing system got bogged down.  One of the few things that I recall from this book is the surprise that Almanzo called his wife "Bessie."  How could Laura be a Bessie?  There were probably other interesting things in the book, but I can't recall them . . . and that is why I need to keep a reading journal.

I got this from Persephone a few months ago, and it represents a reading goal of mine for the next year:  to further acquaint myself with 20th century British female writers.  Not only this Elizabeth, but also Elizabeth Bowen and Elizabeth Jane Howard.  And Rosamund Lehman.  And Barbara Pym.  I read in such a scatter-shot way, as is evident from this list.  It will be interesting to discover whether or not I can stick with a theme or time period.

The Children's Book, A.S. Byatt
I started this worthy tome, this Booker short-lister, a few months ago -- but I wasn't ready for the reading marathon that it required.  It has to sit at the bottom of the stack, because of its substantial size, but its  jewel-like cover is wonderful adornment for any bedside table.  Dovegreyreader scribbles and Dick have both recommended it, and those votes are enough to make me want to tackle it.  Perhaps a trip to the V&A Museum first? 

The Bedside Book of the Garden, Dr. D.G. Hessayon
Oh goodness, a Christmas present from last year -- and now we are full-circle again.
Another book to dip in and out of, especially when the garden is covered with frost (as it is this morning), and gardening is more about dreaming than doing.

So, there we have it:  a marathon of linkage.  But isn't reading also about linkage?   And now, for a cup of tea and chapter of Keats.


Anonymous said...

My dear Bee,
I discover that you have been most attentive to the world of books.
Such a detailed and thoughtful post--quite putting me to shame.
Your bedside table is overwhelmed with delights.
I gobbled up all the Sherlock Holmes short stories as a child. I adore them still.
How do you find the time to read so much. I used to....
anyway, my latest discovery ,recommended by Susanna Gordon, the photographer, is
The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly. I'm loving it.
My resolution in 2010 is to finish the 3rd Jane book and actually get things sent out into the real world.
Off to dog run at 20'F

Cyndy said...

Wonderful list, Bee! I, too, have an inclination for the classics, but I now let many of them rest on the shelf while I read them online. offers (for free) a great variety of authors and I can read them on my laptop, using the light from the computer (so as not to bother DH). You can change the font size and color, as well as the background to make it easier on the eyes, as well (yellow text on green background is supposed to be good for reading eyes). When you are done reading, you can set a bookmark which is e-mailed to you. I recently reread all of the Sherlock Holmes stories and both of the Carroll's Alice books in anticipation of the movies. This is also how I finally got through all of Austen's books. Another cool part about reading them on the computer is that I can instantly copy and paste a favorite line and add to my ever growing list of favorite quotes. Of course, nothing tops actually holding a book in hand, with tea at my side, when all is quiet, but it seems that removing the clutter has smoothed a path to get some serious reading done. My best regards to Keats!

T Opdycke said...

What an inspiring list, Bee. Your nightstand looks so familiar. I've been reading Yeats, but I now have the urge to return to Keats once again with the books you mention, Keats and Bright Star. Time for a trip to the city.

Polly said...

Hi Bee - happy New Year! This is a great and very useful resolution, one that I should follow myself but I already know I would find it too difficult and also - it would probably get lost somewhere amongst a vast array of this year's my own very unrealistic resolutions.

And I love your list of books. I look forward to your review of Keats, I loved the film too.

I wasn't very impressed with Bryson's Shakespeare, I'm curious what you'll think.

I was put off Persephone books after reading Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day but now I'm tempted to read Someone at a Distance...

I had a great time at home at Christmas, I managed to get there and back without any problems whatsoever!

I look forward to seeing you again next week


Tracy Golightly-Garcia said...

"Happy New Year" Thank-You for sharing your booklist and resolution with us.

I have several books on my list to read for this year--one is a book you wrote on--The Ballad of Dorothy Wordsworth.

Tracy :)

willow said...

First on my list this year is James Joyce's "Ulysses". I also want to read Julia Child's book.

Voluptuously lazy. That is exactly what we've been these past two weeks. It actually feels good to be back on the regular routine.

Warm wishes for a grand 2010!

A Thousand Clapping Hands said...

Enjoyed your list, Bee. Good luck with the resolutions. I'm adhering to mine by getting up early this morning, but have to admit I'm pissed off about it at the moment. All I want to do is climb back in bed with my stack of new books. And now here I am visiting you and reading about your stack of books!!! And now I'm laughing. Well, hey, Good morning Miss Bee!


Evening Light Writer said...

I too am exactly halfway through Waugh's "Vile Bodies." I have laughed all the way through, even at parts when I'm not sure if I'm supposed to laugh. Your resolution to read more British female authors is a very wonderful idea.

For some reason I've never thought of keeping a reading journal.

Cláudia said...

"Every year, for as long as I can remember, I have vowed to read with more purpose and direction -- and to take notes. Perhaps it is just the perpetual student in me, or perhaps it has something to do with my leaning inclination to someday finish my PhD, but I feel that too many of the wonderful things that I read just wash over me. My memory is so terribly sketchy; it needs filling out a bit."

I know this is a sort of a lazy comment, but are you sure you haven't been through my journals and copy/pasted this paragraph from them? God, I could see myself talking here!


Anonymous said...

how i would love to have a family who sleeps in till 10! i am lucky if my kids are in bed till 7am!

the list of books is wonderful. lots to add to my own to-read list!

Relyn said...


Just a quick comment before I even read your post. Yes, I keep a reading journal. I used to keep a paper and pen one, which I treasure. But, mid year 2008 I switched to GoodReads. I just love it. It's a social networking site and people use it many different ways, but I use it as my reading journal. There's a link in the sidebar on my blog if you want to check it out. I think you would love it. Plus, I think it would make it much easier to keep your resolution.

Pamela Terry and Edward said...

Ooh, I practically wallowed in this delicious post!! Books, and more books. Nothing better. I'm also happy to see that you liked the Sherlock Holmes film. We are planning to see that one.

Enjoy your reading! Like you, we have been on the 2 to 10 schedule and I'm finding it hard to come back to earth.

Yolanda said...

LIke Relyn I do mine on Good Reads you can customize your lists however you want. I will look forward to seeing what you read and how you like it. I wish you the best in 2010.

rachel said...

So interesting, Bee - I like scatter-gun reading better than following a theme, I must say. Seems to keep one's brain on its mettle. It would also be interesting to hear why you don't finish a book.

Have you read Claire Tomalin's 'Life of Pepys'? Such a great book to read alongside his Diary, and brings parts of London to life in the most vivid way every time you visit, or go on the Thames.

kristina said...

What an impressive pile! I adored Someone at a Distance and just started High Wages last night. And you must read the Julia Child soon...then of course watch the movie again!

The reading journal sounds like a super idea. I have a terrible time recalling the storylines of most of the books I've read. Very embarrassing...

K x

Fran Hill said...

Great list. I loved Bill Bryson's Shakespeare book. I went back to school today after the holidays and am so frustrated during term-time at the lack of reading time. A bit ironic, considering I'm an English teacher ..

Shaista said...

Bee, I am so interested to learn your other two doable resolutions!! Are you saving them for other posts?
The reading journal is always a good idea, or at least a little scribble of the books you've read in some corner margin of your calendar. Do you keep your calendars?
Mum really enjoyed Life of Pepys which a friend of yours has recommended. But I say, toss aside the Sherlock and grab some Dorothy Sayers - her entire Peter Whimsey collection is divine!
Happy happy New Year :)

Anne said...

I loved My Life in France, and I'm feeling a little sheepish for not having read it until a few months ago. We can be a bit embarrassed together. I think you'll enjoy it--Julia seemed like she was such a hoot.

Did you like The Young Victoria? It's playing at a small theater here, and I think I might see it.

Glad you've enjoyed your week of "active hibernation." I, too, love the week between Christmas and New Year's--it seems like the one week all year when it's okay just to relax completely.

La Belette Rouge said...

One of the things about 2010 I am really excited about is that I am going to be able to read for pleasure. It has been months since I have done that. You have some great books on your list. I am adding "The Pursuit of Laughter" to my book list.
Hope you have a very happy and literary 2010.

steven said...

oh bee i love love loved the picture of your pile of books. why? because like so many of your guests here, i too have a stack / several stacks of books on the bedside table, on the floor, under the bed and all waiting patiently to be read! how do they stand it?! i don;t make resolutions at any time of year but i do know that i am not buying (too many) books in the near future as i have far too many amazing titles waiting for me to bring them back to life. have a lovely time undoing the bibliophilical damage you have wrought on your bedchamber bee! steven

herhimnbryn said...

At least your bedside table is neatly books have overflowed to the floor.

I do enjoy reading your reviews. You had me nodding my head and aha-ing.

Happy New Year to you and yours.

Sarah Laurence said...

It is so good to find a fresh post! I’ve missed your voice, and it’s a relief to hear that your silence was only due to happy down time with family.

I love your first image of the books in the golden lamplight and the theme of this post. A reading journal is a fine resolution, especially if you update us on your blog. I can’t read without a pencil in hand.

I very much want to see the movie of Sherlock Holmes (I love Robert Downy Jr.) and all the more from your review. I also have never made it through a Sherlock Holmes book.

I haven’t seen the movie, but I did enjoy the book of The Jane Austen Book Club. It’s definitely for Austen fans, although the protagonist was a bit irritating.

Well, you know I read Bryson’s Shakespeare and loved it. It will definitely add to your enjoyment of Shakespeare in Love, which is full of historical references from his life. I recently saw the movie a second time and appreciated it the more for my recently acquired knowledge. It was fun seeing Shakespeare portrayed as a young and lively writer. However, I got irritated because sets on stage were not done back then. Also the movie was way more fictional than fact based. Bryson will sort you out on what is known.

I shall have to reference this post again for your other book recommendations. Happy New Reading Year!

Fantastic Forrest said...

My house of owls is just like yours. But our sleep habits came home to roost with a vengeance this afternoon, when Professor Owl came home early after teaching and crashed, Teen Owl followed suit an hour later, and Baby Owl is nodding off as we speak. It will be at least a week before our clocks are reset!

I love your sedimentary layers of books and the decision to keep a reading journal. It's so frustrating to lose track of the details and the delights of a book. I'm going to adopt this resolution too.

You already know I share your love of the Holmes film. Downey is so perfect in every way. I love that he is restrained around Adler. The asexual aspect of his character is Yeah, I know, I would find anything he did sexy, but seriously, the abstinence thing builds tension in a way that James Bond nailing every woman he meets just can't rival. RD Jr. is love.

JA Book Club - I read it when it first came out, loved it, forgot it, haven't seen the movie. I need to catch up with you on this one. I will take Daring Daughter along for the ride, I think.

Most of the other books sound really interesting, with the Bryson and the Child ones on the top of my read list.

Eager to learn about your other two resolutions. XO

Nancy said...

Love your reading list, Bee. I'm also crazy about the Mitfords. We also enjoyed the new Sherlock Holmes movie - well done. I was a crazy Doyle fan during my mystery phase. You have some others I will add to my reading table, which is bogged down at the moment. Thanks for sharing.

Barrie said...

I think all this reading and keeping of a journal will lead to.....a book review! ;) Hint, hint. ;)

iNdi@ said...

i had best intentions of tidying my bedside table before leaving for Denmark
it didn't happen
and it's a lot messier than yours
another job awaiting my return

CashmereLibrarian said...

Bee! Happy New Year!
I'm reading Kate Cambor's Gilded Youth: Three Lives in France's Belle Epoque. I'd recommend it to you but it seems you have enough on your plate.
I too have My Life in France ready to go at my bedside, but I also want to tackle The Children's Hour very soon. Also, Justine Picardie has a bio of Chanel coming out later this month which piques my interest.
I also have a couple of university library books stacked next to my bed on middlebrow American women writers of the early twentieth century, but I'm not feeling the interest right now. I keep renewing them, just in case.

Nimble said...

I will add my recommendation to the pile for Goodreads. I selfishly wish all my well-read friends would post their comments there. But paper is wonderful too. When I stumble across fitfully kept notes on my reading I always enjoy them. Sometimes I can't even remember the book they refer to, such is the sieve of my memory.

I'm surprised at how much everyone seems to have enjoyed Sherlock Holmes. The preview seemed D-U-M dumb to me. For my RDJr. fix I'm going to watch Iron Man again while I wait for II in May.

Again late to join the chorus, I'll recommend Up in the Air. A really grown up story. (Ooh that makes it sound awful and grim, doesn't it? It's fun too though.) Clooney can do everything with that face.

Reya Mellicker said...

It is so unfair that the world revolves around we diurnal types. Everyone else in my family is nocturnal - and therefore usually sleep deprived.

A reading journal sounds brilliant.

And I love the phrase, This little island of contemplative sloth.

I don't think down time, time to contemplate, is ever slothful. But it is beautifully phrased.

Happy 2010!!

Lisa said...

I love to read your writing about books. Lovely. I don't think I've told you this, but you've inspired me over the last year or so to read more for pleasure. It's meant less time for reading blogs, but oh, how I missed reading novels. So thank you.

I look forward to following your reading journey as much as you are willing to share with us.

Happy 2010, Bee!

P.S. In a moment, I'm unplugging from here, grabbing my book and going to run on the elliptical. Books make the best elliptical buddies.

SE'LAH... said...

what a wonderful list Bee! I hope to read a bit more for leisure.

Happy New Year!

one love.

♥ Boomer ♥ said...

Wonderful and inspiring post!!!

Marcheline said...

Bee -

If I never get another thing done all this year, it's all your fault.



Kristen In London said...

How I love your reading list, Bee, and I envy you that gorgeous bedside lamp! Trust me to focus on the essentials... Diana Mosley is a wondrous creation, certainly. And I think there is nothing more enjoyable than "My Life in France." I had such mixed feelings about "Julie and Julia" but one certainty is that without that blog there would not have been the renewed interest in Julia that we've been enjoying, so... silver lining?

My daughter is horrified by the trailer from the "Sherlock Holmes" film as she's devoted to the original stories, but perhaps we can get her to unbend?

♥ Braja said...

Loved Bill Bryson's Shakespeare....a rare treat .....

Dick said...

Oh, worthy resolution, Bee! I have a similar stack awaiting some sort of thoughtful ordering, but I shall probably blunder on much as ever, not knowing what will be the next in line until I'm on page 10 and still going.

Sherlock Holmes/Conan Doyle marked a crucial stage in my pre-adolescent reading. CD's mastery of style and the beguiling characterisation and sheer narrative drive consolidated a taste for something more than the war biogs and Western novels that were my staple then. I still dip back in again from time to time, particularly after watching one of the Jeremy Brett/Edward Hardwicke BBC episodes on Sky.

The Keats I might buy; the Bryson 'Shakespeare' is in the pile, as is the Mitford letters selection.

I'm nearly through 'The Children's Book' and already I'm beginning to anticipate that time-and-place bereavement that strikes immediately after finishing a last page. I'm sure that many whose discernment I respect would find its mighty cast of characters all jostling for attention within a far-from-linear storyline tedious. But I'm going to have real difficulty finding a worthy successor. With Victorian/Edwardian Southern England so crucial a location for 'TCB', I might have to resort to Holmes and Watson for a while!

Beeswax said...

If your friends here talk you into Goodreads, look me up there (Kelly Beeswax).

Isn't Diana Mitford the Fascist? Can't remember. And is there a movie about them? I'd love to see it.

I love me some Keats. I had a fish once, and called him Keats. Can't wait for your field trip pictures.

blackbird said...

I, finally, started to keep a list of titles read a year and a half ago and I'm so glad that I did. Seeing the title is enough for me to remember the book and the hours spent reading.

The next thing to do is to make a list of what I want to read so that I can recycle all of the little pieces of paper that litter my tables and desk.

My bedside table is very tidy with only the book that I'm currently reading, a clock and a lamp. I'm so nearsighted that I'm afraid that I'll lose my glasses if I have more there. My books to be read and those home from the library are in a book case by the front door.

Christina said...

oh as i read this, i hear a symphony, of the most beautiful music, playing. of course it is all in my head, but that's okay... this post is headed straight to my heart.
oh this is lovely, friend, just lovely.

Wayne said...

The Chicken Whisperer: Laura Ingalls Wilder and family authorship

A new essay about Laura Ingalls Wilder, Almanzo Wilder and Rose Wilder Lane, is now available as a Kindle E-Book!
Based on a scholarly paper written for University of Connecticut, author Wayne Jebian examines the roles played by Laura, her daughter, Rose, her husband Almanzo, and her parents in the creation of the best-selling "Little House" series of books.