Monday, December 12, 2011

Where to Next?

"In a way, winter is the real spring, the time when the inner things happen, the resurgence of nature."
-- Edna O'Brien, Irish novelist

There are so many books that I want to read right now, though it is a challenge to find the time during the holiday season.  Most of us have probably been doing a lot of running around getting ready for Christmas.  I want to take a deep breath, settle down, and relax for a few hours.  Reading at this time of the year is one of the simple pleasures that can calm us down as the frenzied holiday activities accumulate.

As I look at my nightstand and all the good books that have been piling up, I need to make a choice.  Which book do I read next?  Which novel or memoir do I want to curl up with in front of the fireplace?  Where do I want to go in my imagination?  Whose words do I want to be inspired by?  There are so many good choices.


So I need to consider, where to next?

How about the year 1803 in England where mystery and intrigue abound in the setting of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice?"  In "Death Comes to Pemberley" P.D. James has written a sequel to this beloved novel in which Elizabeth Bennett is happily married to Darcy, but has to deal with the murder of her sister Lydia's husband Wickham.  James has combined her two passions here, one for the novels of Jane Austen and the other for writing detective stories.  I have high hopes for this one.

Or Victorian England to read about the life of Charles Dickens?  With the 200th anniversary of Dickens' birth coming up on February 7, 2012, there is no better time for a new biography of Dickens, who wrote some of the best-loved novels in English literature.  Clare Tomalin has written "Charles Dickens, A Life" a biography that reads like a compelling novel as it depicts the man's vices and virtues and the story of his turbulent path to greatness.  This is the time of the year when I reread "A Christmas Carol" and I am looking forward to learning more about the man who many think "invented Christmas."

I am already immersed in the world of 88-year -old Lady Slane, the subject of Vita Sackville-West's classic novel "All Passion Spent."  I am in the middle of this beautiful book that is set in England and enjoying the story of this gentle and gracious heroine who after the death of her husband declares her independence from her controlling children and proper Victorian marriage and finally enjoys a "room of her own."

Or how about New York in the 1850's in Edith Wharton's "Old New York?"  This book includes four novellas set in the New York depicted in "The Age of Innocence," a time when tribal codes and customs ruled society.  A friend of mine recommended this book, especially the last novella "New Year's Day," and I happily bought it because I can never get enough of Edith Wharton.

Of course, I could really take the plunge and immerse myself in "War and Peace" by Tolstoy.  Last year this major new translation by Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky was hailed as a milestone of translation and many critics felt it was as close as we could get to Tolstoy's masterwork.

How about a book by an author that I know very little about but that so many people have recommended to me?  "Old Filth" (which is the nickname of the main character) by Jane Gardam has been greatly admired by the critics and I am intrigued by what I have heard about it.  One critic wrote that "Old Filth belongs in the Dickensian pantheon of memorable characters." It is supposed to be a witty and beautifully written story about a retired lawyer and respected judge in England.  People have been loving this book.  I have to read this one soon.

I love the novels written by the Brontes, especially "Jane Eyre" and "Wuthering Heights," and would love to go back to their Victorian world at Haworth Parsonage in Yorkshire, England and learn more about them.  I bought "The Bronte Myth" by Lucasta Miller when it first came out a few years ago.  I have read a lot about the Brontes over the years but this books promises a different interpretation.  Miller writes that the Brontes became cultural symbols almost as soon as their novels were published and hopes to rescue the three sisters from all the myth and give us back three vivid women who were writing in the days when few women dared and were, according to many who knew them, cheerful and full of fun and merriment.

Or should I go to Paris in the early 1900's when Sylvia Beach founded the famous book store that became a second home for writers such as Ernest Hemingway and James Joyce?  "Shakespeare & Company" is definitely on my "to read" pile, especially because I have been immersed this past year in many books that depicted this era, such as "The Paris Wife" and can't seem to get enough on this topic.

And finally, I could take a trip through the history of ballet in the highly acclaimed "Apollo's Angels" by Jennifer Homans.  This book has just come out in paperback and people are still talking about this first cultural history of ballet, lavishly illustrated and beautifully told.  I love ballet and was given this book by my daughter last year for Christmas.  I can't wait to explore the history of ballet in Jennifer Homans excellent book.

After finishing "All Passion Spent," I think I will read  "Death Comes to Pemberley" because I cannot wait to see what the master mystery writer P.D. James (a favorite of mine) has done with the classic story of "Pride and Prejudice."  It really sounds like such a fun read.  What are you reading this holiday season?


  1. Absolutely love the Edna O'Brien quote and the cover of Old Filth! So many great options...

  2. Oooo such interesting reads! I actually bit the bullet and read War and Peace a few years ago as part of a summer reading group. Unfortunately, I just thought it was all right. Not horrible, but not terribly enjoyable, either. Granted, I did end up skimming over most of the "war" part and I normally like long, dense books (Dickens is one of my favorite authors).

    Amazon just recommended Death Comes to Pemberly to me. I can't think of a better way to deal with Wickham than to kill him off! Although, I do like the idea of he and Lydia making each other miserable for decades...

  3. Normally I would steer clear of Death Comes to Pemberley, due to my usual distaste of sequels written by someone other than the original author. But, I threw my snobbery aside and picked this one up. I mean, PD James! And I have to say.... it's utterly brilliant so far. Can't put it down!! And I don't really have time to read!!

  4. Wonderful suggestions- you've inspired me to make 2012 my year to catch up on the literary treasures I haven't yet read. I'm reading Of Human Bondage now, and want to get back to Virginia Woolf and Vita Sackville-West next. So many great books to savor! LOVE the Edna O'Brien quote; I've always felt that way, but never put it into words so beautifully. Must read something of hers as well!

  5. Amelia, I agree with you, that quote says it beautifully, doesn't it?

    Lauren, what a disappointment to get all the way through War and Peace and not be enthusiastic about it. You are so right about Wickham, yes he needed to be dealt with!

    Pamela, I am so excited to know that you are loving Death comes to Pemberley!

    Galli, I just finished Of Human Bondage and really enjoyed it, though it was tough going at times. I think it is an important book. So glad you are reading it, I want to know how you like it.

  6. Ooh, a colleague was really excited about the prospect of reading the PD James. I, on the other hand am sure that my hands will burn if I touch a continuation of Jane's writings.

    I feel like reading something festive next but there's a discussion about Mrs Lippincote by Elizabeth Taylor on January 1. I'd best get busy!

  7. I'll be interested to hear how you like Death Comes to Pemberley--I've been wanting to read it, as I'm a big fan of P.D. James (and the Darcys).

    I'm going to add Old Filth to my Goodreads "to-read" list right away!

  8. Some great picks to choose from. I've been wanting to read Old Filth as well. Maybe I'll wait to see how you like it first!

  9. I'm reading "Death Comes to Pemberley" now and loving it. I've had that version of "War and Peace" on my nightstand for 1 1/2 years. I feel like I need uninterrupted time to read it, so maybe after the holidays???

  10. What a wonderful post. You give me the urge to add all of these to my "wishlist" in hope that books, books, and more books will find their way under the tree the year. I think I'll put Old Filth on top, however. It has had me intrigued from the start and through so many recommendations.

  11. Wonderful post Sunday. I'm reading, "The Pilgrim," by Hugh Nissenson. A real find, which transports the reader back to the earliest days of the settling of America. Next? I think "Apollo's Angels..." she is coming to the writer's conference.

  12. Dying to read Death at Pemberly (hint hint, santa!!!) xo

  13. I always enjoy your book recommendations.

    I'm looking forward to my copy of The Russian Court at Sea, which is winging its way from the UK as I speak.
    I hope it's as good as it sounds!

  14. I, too, love Edith Warton and have Old New York (and at least 6 other books/biographies) on my "Edith" section of my bookshelf. Great book, I hope you get time to read it. Thanks,again, for these great book recommendations. Am reading Tender is the Night currently to wrap up my Sara and Gerald Murphy obsession. Next, Adam Gopnik's new book and Rules of Civility (thanks to you!)

  15. Thanks for all the recommendations! This list will help me with the current book rut I am in. I liked "Old Filth."

  16. I'm always afraid to read sequels to my favorite books like Pride and Prejudice. They rarely seem to live up to my expectations set by the first one, but I have to admit that Death Comes to Pemberley sounds very intriguing. I hope you tell us what you think of it once you've read it!


  17. What a good selection. I'm very much tempted to get my own copy of The Bronte Myth. As Charlotte was in the news yesterday it has re-awakened my interest in all things Bronte!

  18. Nicola, I would love to know what the news was about Charlotte Bronte. The Brontes are endlessly interesting!

  19. So many excellent books, so little time. I heard an interview on NPR with PD James, it was fascinating, about why she wrote this new book and that it is a "one of". Fascinating lady. Cannot wait to read the book.

  20. I highly recommend "Old Filth" by Jane Gardam. And when you finish it, you must read "The Man in the Wooden Hat." Old Filth is a portrait of a marriage told from the husband's perspective, and Wooden Hat is the same marriage story told from the wife's point of view. A fabulous writer who writes very sensitively and insightfully into the inner workings of a marriage and the things we learn late in life about our marriage partners. Since discovering Jane Gardam, I've read a good portion of her books and love them all.