Archive for the ‘Reading Challenge’ Category

It’s fun to have eyes bigger than your stomach, especially when the gluttony is metaphorical and all you end up with is a pile of more books to be read.  It’s even good to feel chastened by what I have not managed to read, because it tests my resolve, and I am determined to be a star Global Reader next year. 

Almost every cloud had a silver lining.  In this year of failing spectacularly to curtail my book buying, I also read and finished more books on the very same day as buying them than ever before.  I did not manage to listen to a single audio book, though I had pledged to do three, and that’s just fine because I’ve discovered that I’m just really, really not an aural learner.  When I heard the news of Christopher Hitchens’s death last week, I put on God is Not Great and I listened to him read his own book and it was marvelous.  It was also a reminder that few read as well as he, and in the absence of that kind of perfect match, I’d really rather just read my books.

I was glad to have an inducement to read science books, and on the strength of my enjoyment of that challenge, I am pledging to make 2012 a year in which to read more non-fiction to the kids.  History!  Science!  Exploration!  My eldest just wrote an essay today on why Science is his favourite subject, and I’m looking forward to finding books that will nurture that interest.  We’ve been so blessed to have shared so many hours tucked up with a good story, and I can’t wait now to explore excellence in children’s non-fiction. 

My version of the 1% Well Read challenge was to read from books recommended in 1001 Children’s Books To Read Before You Grow Up, and that was, by far, the most fun challenge of the year.  Not much of a challenge, it has to be said, but delightful reading.

And this is at the heart of what I discovered about challenges: too many are too easy for me because it is not actually a challenge to read books of Canadian fiction or children’s literature or mysteries because I read them already in great quantity.  What is a challenge is staying in touch with others who read them, but I’m not interested in blogging about Canadian literature or children’s literature or mysteries, so it leaves me a bit stuck.  I’m undecided about how to proceed with next year’s challenges, but having them has undoubtedly been a boon.

I have read with more focus, zeal and pleasure this year than ever before, and I think that I have felt less of the sadness and stress of “so many books, so little time.”  I’ve made the time, night after night, and at the end of this reading year, I am nothing but grateful for books.

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In a fit of, well, I’m not quite sure what to call my bookish over zealousness, I signed up for a number of reading challenges for 2011.   Some were really enjoyable, and I will write about those tomorrow, but some were a bust.  Chief among these were the TBR Dare and the Off the Shelf Challenge and my promise to myself to stop buying new books until April 1.  I managed to buy more than 30 books in the three months I was not supposed to buy books, mostly, it is true, for the kids, but who am I kidding, and then, because I had been “depriving myself,” I have been going nuts ever since.  “Nuts” means more than the 10 books per month I had bought while not buying books.  Say it with me, folks, “At least it’s not shoes.  At least it’s not shoes.  At least it’s not shoes.”

So that challenge did not go so well, and I have learned that abstaining from anything that I love is just a recipe for misery and guilt.  I love books, I read a lot of them, I have a constitutional inability to return library books on time, I like to write in them, so I might as well own them.  I will not be signing up for any more challenges that don’t allow me to buy books, and I’ve stopped apologizing for it. 

I was surprised to discover that the Chunkster Challenge was too much for me.  I signed up to read four books of more than 450 pages, and I only managed two: The Moonstone, and Little, Big (still in progress, but I’m determined to get it done before the end of the month).  I like a fast reading pace, and I found that I did not want to devote chunks of time to a chunkster.  The first I read in the first week of January (reread, actually) because I was sick in bed and it ticked lots of reading challenge boxes.  Then for the next 11 months, I was never drawn to a big book.  I’ve turned to Little, Big in the last weeks of December because it also ticks several boxes, but it’s slow going and I resent it a little.  One should not resent the book one is reading; it rather defeats the purpose. 

As a person who has lived in nine countries, I am appalled to tell you that my Global Reading Challenge was a total bust.  Two out of seven continents: Europe and North America.  Dreadful.  Must do better next year.

I lost interest in doing my updates of my reading challenges half way through the year.  No particular reason, I just did not feel like writing about it. 

And last, and most regrettably, I did not do much in the way of connecting with others who were doing the same challenges.  It was not the community-building exercise I had hoped it would be, which is a passive way of saying that I did not make enough of an effort to connect. 

What I have done, though, is to deepen my friendships with the book lovers I already know, and some I’ve met through this blog, and that has been a pure delight.  My ego is a little bruised by having bitten off more than I could chew in some cases, but my bibliophilia is more robust than ever after a year of reading in a more planned and conscious way.  I will choose my challenges with a bit more caution for 2012, and with a better sense of who I am (not just who I want to be) as a reader.

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I will be reading by the sea for the next few weeks, and what better way to kick it off  than with Read by the Sea in River John?  Richard Wright, Johanna Skibsrud and Alexander Macleod.  I can’t wait!  I’ve added their books to my not insignificant load to haul across the country.

One of my reading challenges this year is nautical, so I was thrilled to find The Guardian’s latest podcast on the sea in literature, which includes a tour of a bookstore on board a ship. 

I read my first book for the challenge last month: On the Proper Use of Stars by Dominique Fortier and translated by Sheila Fischman.  It’s the perfect book for a nautical challenge.  It’s a fictional telling of the voyage of the Franklin expedition to find the Northwest Passage, and of the women Franklin and Crozier left behind.  Just look at Francis Crozier’s marvellous hubris:

The Terror and Erebus have been sailing recently in virgin waters.  We are advancing across a white map, drawing the landscape as if we were inventing it as we go, tracing as faithfully as possible bays, coves, headlands, naming the mountains and the rivers as if we had been cast into the middle of a new Eden–though this one is icy, sterile, and for the most part uninhabited, but even so it is up to us to recognize and christen the territory.  Before we came, the grandiose scenery of ice and sky did not exist; now we are tearing it from the nothingness to which it will never return, for henceforth it has a name.  If ahead of us there is only empty space, the road we have travelled is riddled with observations, summaries, detailed information; it has joined the ever growing domain of what upon this Earth belongs to us.

And the Terror and Erebus made an appearance on my Franklin-o-phile husband’s birthday cake this year. (I take no credit.  My sister-in-law and her neighbours, the baker-artists at Sweets & Dreams, made this happen.)

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Image by Anne Taintor

Sorry for a week’s absence.  I’ve been in bed with Jackson Brodie, on the page and on the screen.  And I like him.  I like him a lot.

I’ve heard lots of great things about Kate Atkinson’s Started Early, Took My Dog, so I bought it and it sat on the shelf.  I’ve had it on my shelf for ages because I did not want to read it out of sequence, but I also didn’t want to have to read the three previous books.  Then Tanis MacDonald raved about book three in the sequence, and I decided to begin at the beginning and give the first book in the series a go.  I’m doing a mystery reading challenge, after all.

I read Case Histories without a pencil in hand, because this was going to be just fluff, and, honestly, Nathalie, you don’t need to annotate detective fiction, but then there were bookish passages!  Like this one:

Amelia didn’t want to be this prudish—she felt like someone who’d missed their way and ended up in the wrong generation.  She would have been much more suited to a period with structure and rank and rules, where a button undone on a glove signaled licentiousness.  She could have managed quite well living within those kinds of strictures.  She had read too much James and Wharton.  No one in Edith Wharton’s world really wanted to be there but Amelia would have got along fine inside an Edith Wharton novel.  In fact, she could have happily lived inside any novel written before the Second World War.

And this one

They drove to Bamburgh and he took Marlee for a long walk on the beach.  He kept his shoes and socks on (like an old man, like his father), but Marlee rolled up her gingham pedal-pushers and ran in and out of the waves.  They didn’t bother going to look round the castle, even though he thought it had some kind of Harry Potter link that Marlee had been excited about initially.  Jackson tended to close his ears to her incessant Harry Potter chatter (he had had a wizard-free childhood himself and failed to see the attraction).

T.S. Eliot (“I grow old…  I grow old.”) and Harry Potter in one paragraph! 

But it gets bookishly better because book Jackson may have had a wizard-free childhood, but in audiobook world, Jason Isaacs, of Lucius Malfoy fame, reads all the Jackson Brodie books. 






Aaaaaaand on the BBC, Jason Isaacs IS Jackson Brodie!



Not that I’m a crazed addict or anything.

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April Round-Up

Books Bought

Perhaps the less said about this the better.  Oh, look!  What’s that over there?!  Just look at that lovely book I bought for Rowan.  Trees! 

A Little Guide to Trees by Charlotte Voake 

And just a few other books.  But look at the trees!

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

A Novel Bookstore by Laurence Cosse

The Uncommon Life of Common Objects by Akiko Busch

Finding the Words Ed. Jared Bland

And Also Sharks by Jessica Westhead

How to Write a Sentence by Stanley Fish

My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me Ed. Kate Bernheimer

Irma Voth by Miriam Toews

Kristin Lavransdatter by Sigrid Undset

Beautiful & Pointless: A Guide to Modern Poetry by David Orr

Chicago by Alaa Al Aswany

Here to There: A Curious Collection from the Hand Drawn Map Association by Kris Harzinski

Pigs Make Me Sneeze! by Mo Willems

The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood by Howard Pyle

Home: What It Means and Why It Matters by Mary Gordon

One of Our Thursdays Is Missing by Jasper Fforde

Book Love: A Celebration of Writers, Readers, and the Printed and Bound Book Ed. James Charlton 

The Sentimentalists by Johanna Skibsrud (Gaspereau edition!)

Housekeeping by Marilynne Robinson

Books Read

Mary Poppins by P. L. Travers

To the kids, with much mirth and wonder.  How on earth did Julie Andrews come up with her interpretation of that character?  Night and day.

And Also Sharks by Jessica Westhead


Several books of poetry, among them:

Thirty-seven Small Songs & Thirteen Silences by Jan Zwicky

Question & Answer by Alison Pick

Rue the Day and Holding Ground by Tanis MacDonald


Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carrol

A re-read with Rowan, who surprises me with his appetite for books.  He seems not to be fully attentive, then springs the most amazing questions on me.  And his memory is unbelievable.  He remembered that there was a moment in The Hobbit when Bilbo is knocked unconscious, a discussion a propos of hockey concussions.

A Red Herring Without Mustard by Alan Bradley

What’s not to love about Flavia de Luce?!  I could not wait to buy this, and I got right to it.  Comfort reading.  Delightful.

Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte

A re-read before seeing the movie (which I enjoyed but did not love).  Jane as a child amazed me; Jane as an adult annoyed me.  What happened to her self-possession? 

Home: What It Means and Why It Matters by Mary Gordon

The Anthologist by Nicholson Baker

Juliet, Naked by Nick Hornby

A Christmas gift from Ted and book club read.  The book equivalent of a much-loved sitcom.  No hard work involved, thoroughly enjoyable, lots of chances to laugh out loud, the hard work of writing it all hidden away under seamless comedy.  I love Nick Hornby.  I love him the way I love Snickers bars.  Not the way I love dark chocolate.

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March Round-up

In the three months during which I was not buying books, I bought 35 books: 0 in January, 17 in February and 18 in March.  25 of those books were for the kids. 

So, in the three months during which I was not buying books, I bought 10 for myself.  7 of those books were work-related.

So, in actual fact, in the three months during which I was not buying books, I only slipped three times. 

I know, I don’t buy it, either.

I am going to declare the TBR Dare a qualified failure.  I gave in to temptation.  I bought books for the kids that could have waited, and yes, it was a way to satisfy the book-buying urge without having to cop to it.  But I also read 29 books from my shelves and read in a more purposeful way than has been the case in past years.  I have appreciated having the external check on my impulse buys and the push to just get on with what’s already on the bedside table. 

Books Bought (18)

I bought several new and used Folio Society books for the kids this month.  Having joined the Folio Society, I had to satisfy our membership requirements, but I also went in search of second-hand copies of books to add to our library: The Eagle of the Ninth and The Silver Branch, by Rosemary Sutclif, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, and At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald.

While killing time before a doctor’s appointment, I went into the Bob Miller Bookroom with Rowan and bought Coyote’s New Suit by Thomas King and Seamus Heaney’s verse translation of Beowulf.  We also met Charlotte, whom I was able to thank personally for the push to join the Folio Society.

I managed not to buy any books for myself in Chicago, but I did come home with a pile of them for the kids, both as souvenirs and as gifts from the Easter Bunny (shhhh): C is for Chicago by Ashleigh Deese Gramb, Looking at Pictures: An Introduction to Art for Young People by Joy Richardson, Draw Ocean Animals by Doug DuBosque, Frank Lloyd Wright for Kids by Kathleen Thorne-Thomsen, Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliett (set in Chicago), Elephants Cannot Dance, by Mo Willems, and 123 A Child’s First Counting Book by Alison Jay.

For work: Only Connect: Readings on Children’s Literature, second edition and Only Connect: Readings on Children’s Literature, third edition Ed. Sheila Egoff.

The real slip: a book about books: The Pleasure of Reading Ed. Antonia Fraser.  It was $7.  Hardcover.  I couldn’t resist.

For the grown ups from the Folio Society: Impossible Journeys by Mathew Lyons and The Complete Miss Marple Short Stories  by Agatha Christie.

Books Read (10)


Retold by Nicky Raven

Illustrated by John Howe

John Howe did the art for the Lord Of The Rings movies, which Rowan and Griffin have loved watching since reading The Hobbit, and I liked that bridge.  I wanted to read them one of the inspirations for Tolkien’s stories, and they ate it up.  I’m keening for my lost Old English knowledge.  The one class in graduate school that I thought I’d never, ever come back to, and here I am wishing I could remember more.  I think I’ll get the Seamus Heaney verse translation as an audio book to listen to in the car with the kids.

Whodunnit, Mystery Stories Selected by Philip Pullman.  A disappointment.

Still Life with June by Darren Greer was a Canada Reads Independently pick, for which I’m grateful, otherwise I would not have picked it up.  The story works its way to a wonderful confluence of narrative threads at the end.  It was a page-turner, and the metafictional aspect of it appealed to me. 

 Reading Women by Stephanie Staal.

I got a jump on National Poetry Month and read three collections of poems in March.  Boxing the Compass by Richard Greene won the Governor General’s award for poetry in 2010.  (Full disclosure: I studied 18th Century Women Writers with Rick in grad. school).  It is a marvellous selection, and “Boxing the Compass”, an elegy to his father, has become one of my favourite poems.  I also re-read A Newer Wilderness by Roseanne Carrara, another a marvellous collection by a friend from UofT that had me catching my breath with awe.  Joy Is So Exhausting by Susan Holbrook rounded out the three.

 Looking at Pictures: An Introduction to Art for Young People by Joy Richardson is an introduction to art history that Griffin and I read in a café across the street from the Art Institute of Chicago while we had an early dinner and before our Griffin/Mummy night at the museum.  Wonderful. 

This Cake is for the Party by Sarah Seleky gave me joy in spades.  Not one of the stories in this collection had an ending I would have predicted, and I very much enjoyed the rides these stories took me on.

Finally, I read Clare Messud’s The Emperor’s Children for my book club.  Never in all my reading life have I liked a narrator so much while at the same time having so little admiration for or connection to the characters she describes.  I kept marveling at how Messud pulls it off.  I will definitely read more of her.

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Back Soon

I’ve been in Chicago.  Will the temptations of a new city’s bookstores be too much for my weak willpower?  Will I make it to April 1 without having to admit total defeat in the TBR Dare?  Will it count if Ted buys them for me? 

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February Round-Up

Books Bought:

Not exactly none.

17 in fact.  They are mostly for others, but I know that denial is not just a river in Egypt.  Even though they are fairy tales, I admit the Maria Tatar books are for me.  Because I’m in love.

Still Point: A Novel by Amy Sackville (for Ted, the Franklin expert, for Valentine’s Day)

a pile of books for the kids, for Valentine’s Day, and just because:

The Seven Silly Eaters by Mary Ann Hoberman, recommended by Read-Aloud Dad

Wild About Books by Judy Sierra, but I forget who to thank/blame

I Can Read with My Eyes Shut! by Dr. Seuss, recommended by Kerry

The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien

101 Dalmatians by Dodie Smith

M is for Magic by Neil Gaiman

Each Peach Pear Plum by Janet and Allan Ahlberg

Moomin Book One: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip and Finn Family Moomintroll by Tove Jansson, because I read two of her books for adults and have long wanted to read these to the kids.

a pile of books by Maria Tatar: Annotated Classic Fairy Tales, Annotated Brothers Grimm, Annotated Hans Christian Andersen, The Grimm Reader, The Hard Facts of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales

I also joined the Folio Society.  Because Charlotte told me to. Because Andrew Lang’s Fairy Books are the initial gift.

And I bought two books for my book club:

Death in Venice, by Thomas Mann, and The Emperor’s Children, by Clair Messud.

No.  Not exactly none.

Books Read:


The Library at Night

The Hobbit, a glorious read-aloud with the kids.

The Girl on the Wall an autobiography in tapestry and words by Jean Baggott

Be Good by Stacey May Fowles, for Canada Reads Independently

Thanks to Maylin Scott at Dewey and the Divas, I won and then quickly read three New York Review of Books books: Great Granny Webster, by Caroline Blackwood, and The True Deceiver and Fair Play by Tove Jansson.  These broke my record from acquisition to read record: less than 12 hours. 

The Midnight Disease: The Drive to Write, Writer’s Block and the Creative Brain

Dear Enemy by Jean Webster, which I liked much less than her Daddy-Long-Legs

Enchanted Hunters: The Power of Stories in Childhood by Maria Tatar, a wonderful read.  Review coming soon.

Mirror, Mirror on the Wall: Women Writers Explore Their Favorite Fairy Tales, because I’m now writing about fairy tales, too.

Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, for book club.

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Books about My 2011 Reading Challenges II

The Heroine’s Bookshelf: Life Lessons, From Jane Austen to Laura Ingalls Wilder

Erin Blakemore

Toronto: Harper Collins, 2010.

Oh, dear.  I am not at all the right reader for this book.  No, not at all.  This is a particular blow because I agree in principle with much of what Blakemore says, but I am so disappointed that this passionate book lover is not speaking to me.  We are not a good match, this book and I.  The tone is all wrong, though I might agree with the substance of what she says. 

Blakemore’s book is divided into 12 chapters, each giving a biographical sketch of an author and a summary of the plot for her protagonist.  Each chapter is focussed on a theme like ambition or simplicity, and each ends with a suggestion of how to match what ails you to the book balm.  For example, the chapter on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice ends with the suggestion that you read this book

  • When your mom complains that you’ll never give her grandchildren
  • When your inner people-pleaser threatens to drown out your gut instinct
  • As an antidote to deathly seriousness (17)

Well, accuse me of deathly seriousness if you will, but a list like this shuts down much of the magnificence of these books.  I also bristle at the idea of my favourite books as self-help guides, because I don’t sit down with Pride and Prejudice for a “life lesson.”

“Heroine” designates both author and protagonist, and Blakemore does make a convincing case for why these authors and their creations are the timeless touchstones that they are.  My favourite aspect of the book was the biographical sketch of the author in each chapter.  Blakemore gives an efficient and concise summary of the writers’ personal and professional lives, without ever being reductive about biographical readings of the fiction, and I was grateful for the overviews.  The twelve chapters discuss 

  • Jane Austen and Lizzy Bennet
  • Zora Neale Hurston and Janie Crawford
  • Lucy Maud Montgomery and Anne Shirley
  • Alice Walker and Celie
  • Betty Smith and Francie Nolan
  • Colette and Claudine
  • Margaret Mitchell and Scarlett O’Hara
  • Harper Lee and Scout Finch
  • Laura Ingalls Wilder and Laura Ingalls
  • Charlotte Bronte and Jane Eyre
  • Louisa May Alcott and Jo March, and
  • Frances Hodgson Burnett and Mary Lennox. 

Each chapter also ends with a list of three of the protagonists’ “literary sisters,” for further reading.  Since I have read and re-read all twelve books, it was for the literary sisters that I took up the Heroine’s Bookshelf Challenge.

The book gets off to the most awkward start, though, with an introduction that seems to be addressed to people who don’t read, which is odd, because, well, this is a book.  Not only people who don’t read, but who actively argue that there are better things to do and it’s a waste of time to read. 

Writing a book about reading at a time when the practical is the popular has been a rare challenge.  Surely there’s always something better to do than revisit women who’ve been dead for centuries. (xix)

Well, yes, but choosing to read in spite of life’s other pressures is precisely what makes us book lovers, isn’t it?  Blakemore makes exactly that point, but I do wish she had taken a different tone.  Why be pre-emptively defensive?

In times of struggle, there are as many reasons not to read as there are to breathe.  Don’t you have better things to do?  Reading, let alone rereading, is the terrain of milquetoasts and mopey spinsters.  At life’s ugliest junctures, the very act of opening a book can smack of cowardly escapism.  Who chooses to read when there’s work to be done? (xi)

Again, I scratch my head in wonder.  If those who hold this opinion aren’t reading other books, they likely aren’t reading this one, so why address them and their arguments?  Here is a book about the timelessness of books, and it is mired in its own time: mid-recession, belt-tightening, grouchy-about-frills-like-reading time.  I wish she had dispensed with all of the pre-emptive defense about why books matter and just gotten on with the job of extolling the heroines. 

With her choice of twelve heroines I have no quibbles at all.  These books have given me many hours of comfort and joy, and I was pleased to have been reminded of old friends.

Immediately after putting this book down, I picked up one of the literary sisters.  I’ve had Dodie Smith’s I Capture the Castle on my TBR pile for ages, and Cassandra Mortmain is named as one of Jane Eyre’s literary sisters in steadfastness.  I devoured the book, gorging on its delightful wit and whimsy.  For giving me the nudge to read I Capture the Castle I am profoundly grateful.  Dodie Smith and I, we are a good fit.

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Books About My 2011 Reading Challenges: I

P.D. James

Talking About Detective Fiction

Toronto: Knopff, 2009.

Before I began my mystery reading challenge, I decided to knock this book about mystery books off of my TBR pile.  I’m glad I did, because in addition to offering a useful overview of the genre, James has strengthened my resolve to catch up with some mystery writers from the Golden Age that I’ve not read yet.  (Nicholas Blake and E.C. Bentley.  And because of the TBR Dare I won’t be able to read them until April 1!  No matter.  Plenty to keep me busy until then.)  If you are looking for a quick read, a well-informed historical overview of the genre of detective fiction, and an impassioned discussion of the value of great writing, this book will do it.

Talking About Detective Fiction was first published by the Bodleian Library; in 2006, the Library approached James to write it as a fundraising venture.  Not only, then, is there a wonderfully apt conjunction of author and subject, but also of patron.  Oxford is up to its eyeballs in fictional detectives, including, of course, my favourite curmudgeon, Inspector Morse. 

I thoroughly enjoyed James’s “talk,” but it is in a bit of an odd spot, rhetorically speaking.  There are several notable tensions.  Here is an expert on the topic—as researcher, consumer and practitioner—but her objective is to offer an overview. 

Given that she is writing an overview, it is odd that she also assumes that her readers are already familiar with the sub-genres of detective fiction.  She refers offhandedly to the “dons’ delight” and the “cozy.”  It is a pinning down of these sub-genres that I’d been hoping to find when I read the book, so I was disappointed with her ready assumption that I already knew their names and definitions.

The most striking tension, though, is that she assumes her readers’ familiarity with many of the books to which she refers, even, on occasion, spoiling the plot, a cardinal sin of any reviewer of mysteries.  The most overt example of a plot spoiler is her discussion of Agathe Christie’s The Murder of Roger Ackroyd, so shut your eyes when you get to that bit if you don’t want to know!  (As it happens, I already knew the identity of Roger Ackroyd’s murderer, even though I have not yet read the book.  My husband read it last summer and exclaimed when he got to the end, and, over his protests, I told him that it was alright to tell me whodunit, fully assured of the frailty of my memory.  I was sure I’d forget.  I haven’t.)

The reader, then, is supposed to be a novice in need of an overview, but already in on the secret of whodunit in more than one case. 

I forgive James her rhetorical awkwardness, though, for including a marvellous quotation from Dorothy Sayers about how detective fiction is as much a form of escape for the writer as the reader.  In a letter to her American publishers about her amateur detective, Lord Peter Wimsey, she wrote:

Lord Peter’s large income (the source of which, by the way, I have never investigated) was a different matter.  I deliberately gave him that.  After all, it cost me nothing, and at that time I was particularly hard up and it gave me pleasure to spend his fortune for him.  When I was dissatisfied with my single unfurnished room, I took a luxurious flat for him in Piccadilly.   When my cheap rug got a hole in it, I ordered an Aubusson carpet.  When I had no money to pay my bus fare, I presented him with a Daimler double-six, upholstered in a style of sober magnificence, and when I felt dull I let him drive it. (107)

Marvellous!  Just look at how she paces that last sentence!  “A style of sober magnificence”: a perfect description of the escape offered by expertly written detective fiction. 

I let James’s book be my first book about books for the year and be my guide to my first novel, Wilkie Collins’s The Moonstone.  Technically, it is a re-read, but my frail memory was happily dependable in this case, and I not only forgot the all-important solution to the mystery, I forgot how deliciously bookish it is.  Gabriel Betteredge, the butler, reads his Robinson Crusoe like a bible.  He treats the novel as a kind of oracle, and Collins plays with his readers’ probable compulsive reading and attempts to divine the future of his own text.  It was a delightful read, cunning in its humour and plot.  The Moonstone ticks boxes in about six of my reading challenges, too, so I’m off to a great start.

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