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.
The Pursuit of Laughter, Diana Mosley
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.
The Other Elizabeth Taylor, Nicola Beauman
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.