Shelf Control #32: Sketches by Boz

Wednesday, 29 January 2019, and the fifth Shelf Control post this year. Shelf Control is a feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies and celebrates the books waiting to be read on your TBR piles. If you’d like to participate, simply pick a book from your pile, write a post about it, and link back to Lisa’s page. Do leave you links below if you do participate, as I’d love to check out your selections as well.

This week, once again I continue my ‘theme’ with a selection from my oldest pending books. There are a couple of further once agains this week–one again my selection is a classic title, and once again from a writer whose books I really enjoy. The writer, as I’m sure you’ve noticed already is Dickens and the book is Sketches by Boz. (Last week was Trollope, Dickens’ contemporary, whose books I also really like; post here)

What it’s all about: This book, first published in 1836, is as the title suggests is not a novel but a collection of sketches. A friend describes it in her review as a time machine that takes you back to 1830s England, mostly London. There are 56 different sketches of places and people, in which we see shades of characters from the novels he went on to publish. The sections include “Our Parish”, “Scenes”, “Characters”, “Tales”, “Sketches of Young Gentlemen”, “Sketches of Young Couples”, and “The Mudfog and Other Sketches”. (The version I downloaded from Project Gutenberg seems to have a few extras.)

The Streets-morning by George Cruikshank via wikimedia commons

The Author: Charles Dickens (1812-1870), author of fourteen (and a half) novels as well as novellas and shorter works, essays, articles, and non-fiction. Seen as a literary genius, he enjoyed unprecedented popularity during his lifetime. His works continue to be read and celebrated, adapted on screen and in the theatre.

Jeremiah Gurney [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Why I want to read it: For starters because I love his books. While I think I read A Tale of Two Cities first, it was Nicholas Nickelby¬†in which I really started to enjoy Dickens’ storytelling–he really drew me in and kept me hooked–and at a time when I was still getting used to reading the classics unabridged ūüôā But more than that, one aspect that I enjoy in Dickens’ books are his characters–Madame Defarge, Quilp, Pecksniff, Mr Micawber, Mr Pegotty, Mrs Gamp, Mr Chokumchild, Wackford Squeers, Ebenezer Scrooge and many many more. And this was largely what Sketches is–portraits of characters and places. So I think I am going to enjoy this a lot.

Dickens Dream by Robert William Buss [Public domain] via wikimedia commons
(Dickens with various characters from his books)

So, do you enjoy Dickens? Which is your favourite, and what do you love about it? Looking forward to hearing about it! And if you know of any retellings (books),¬†I’d¬†love¬†to¬†hear¬†about¬†them¬†as¬†well!

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#MarieKondo #30BooksChallenge

Photo by Mikes Photos on Pexels.com

Last year, Paula at Bookjotter put up a challenge of putting together a list of 100 books that you would choose to own, if you ousted every other book you owned. (Find her post here). I had planned to try this out as well but still hadn’t gotten down to it, and initially at least kept wondering whether I’d be able to to it at all–cut down to so few that is. But anyway, lately amidst all the talk about Marie Kondo’s comment about her having only thirty books or recommending that one have only thirty books (Still don’t know which is the correct statement), a smaller number popped up. Booktuber Hailey (Hailey in Bookland) made a video about the thirty books she would keep (hypothetical of course, no actual chucking of books involved) if she took the Marie Kondo challenge (find that video here). Sparked off by that into thinking on that track again, I have come up with a list of thirty books from where I will work up to the hundred (separate post in the next few weeks).

So here are my thirty. I have to say though that in making this list, I didn’t actually go and look at or through my bookshelves but compiled it off the top of my head (giving it some thought, of course), so there may be things I missed which I will correct in the 100 list. Also, while I’ve included both fiction and non-fiction, I haven’t included the other books (like my birdwatchers books which I’d never give up or Utterly Loveable Dogs (dog pictures and quotes) which I wouldn’t either–and such others). Also, this list is in no particular order.

  1. The Complete Short Stories of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
  2. Emma by Jane Austen
  3. Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte
  4. Gone Away Lake by Elizabeth Enright
  5. The Folk of the Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
  6. The Mysterious Affair at Styles by Agatha Christie
  7. The Secret of Chimneys by Agatha Christie
  8. 4:50 from Paddington by Agatha Christie
  9. The Age of Wonder by Richard Holmes
  10. Daughters-in-Law by Henry Cecil
  11. The Story Girl by L.M. Montgomery
  12. Alex in Numberland by Alex Bellos
  13. The Luck of the Bodkins by P.G. Wodehouse
  14. Spring Fever by P.G. Wodehouse
  15. A Pelican at Blandings by P.G. Wodehouse
  16. The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
  17. All-of-A-Kind Family by Sydney Taylor
  18. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling (Jim Kay, illus)
  19. William the Bad by Richmal Crompton
  20. The Mystery of Holly Lane by Enid Blyton
  21. Emil and the Detectives by Eric Kastner
  22. A Twist in the Tale by Jeffrey Archer
  23. The Moonstone by Wilkie Collins
  24. Picture Imperfect and Other Byomkesh Bakshi Mysteries by Sardindu Bandyopadhyay
  25. The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
  26. The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
  27. Our Mutual Friend by Charles Dickens
  28. Bleak House by Charles Dickens
  29. Nicholas Nickelby by Charles Dickens
  30. A Traveller in Time by Alison Uttley

So those are my thirty–a start at least to the 100-book list! If you’re doing a list too, thirty or a hundred, do share your links in the comments.

Bookquotes: Quotes from Books (41)

“‘Such nonsense!’ declared Dr Greysteel. ‘Whoever heard of cats doing anything useful!’

‘Except for staring at one in a supercilious manner,’ said Strange. ‘That has a sort of moral usefulness, I suppose, in making one feel uncomfortable and encouraging sober reflection upon one’s imperfections.'” 

Sussana Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Image source: Pexels.

How Jack Began to View the World

By Arthur Rackam via Wikimedia Commons

We’ve been seeing plenty of re-tellings lately, also books that explore the stories of what happens to characters from stories after we’ve “left” them–Alice some years later, for instance (like the new Alice in Wonderland and Through the Looking Glass movies or Ever Alice by H.J. Ramsay, which I have waiting on my NetGalley pile). This post is about one of the later category that is, what happens to a character from a story when he/she has returned from his/her adventure and settled down to a “normal” life. But it isn’t a book, but a poem–‘Stalky Jack’ by William Brighty Rands.

William Brighty Rands (1823-1882) was a writer and a major author of nursery rhymes of the Victorian era, who also worked as a reporter in the House of Commons. Labelled the “Laurete of the Nursery”, he wrote under the pseudonyms Henry Holbeach and Mathew Browne. Find a bio here.

The author: Images from the Victorian Web (here) and AllPoetry.com (here).

Anyway, back to the actual poem now. The poem is about Jack, the boy, “who took long walks; Who lived on beans and ate the stalks“. When we hear of Jack here, he has been a year and a day in the Giants’ Country, where he was lost, but has now returned. But ever since that incident, Jack has no longer been the same but is a much altered boy, and has undergone “A change in notions of extent!

Jack no longer understands things “normal” sized but views them as a giant would. He wants to enter at the second floor, wants a bowl of soup “as large as a hoop”, and thinks a sirloin no more than “a couple of bites”. Not only that, humans themselves to him are “minikin mites”.

As a result he has been bought magnifying glasses, and only since he put them on, has the world for him “come to its proper size”. All the boys. however, point to him, calling him Stalky Jack, and no girl would ever marry him, since she wouldn’t want to be thought three times her proper height. (Didn’t he marry a princess, though?)

That as the author points out to us, is the consequence of “taking extravagant walks; And living on beans and eating the stalks“.

This is such a cute and fun poem–it certainly brought a smile to my face. I honestly don’t think I would have thought of how perceptions (of size) would change if one were exposed to a world of such different proportions. I don’t remember my Gulliver all that well, though I know there were chapters between his different voyages. Did his own world, the “normal” world seem too big or too small (not as things should be) when he returned from Lilliput or Brobdingnag?


Gulliver and the King of Brobdingnag, James Gillray [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

I do remember that when he returns from the land of the horse-people, the Houyhnhnms, he is unable to adjust to life with his own kind, and lives as much away from them as he can.


Gulliver with the Houthnhnms, Grandville [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Exposure to different people, cultures, places does open up new ideas, bring out in us new perceptions of what might be good or right, or make us see our own world with new eyes. Whether we can readjust, or like Gulliver shun those of our kind since we’ve seen better, or need goggles like Jack to make the world seem normal again, adventures, an understanding of different places/cultures do change us in one way or other which Stalky Jack shows us in a fun and enjoyable way.

And while I may have taken off on a tangent in this post, this is a light-hearted poem to read for a laugh or at least a smile. Find the full poem on the Victorian Web here.

As Old as Methuselah: Not Quite but the Ten Oldest Books on my TBR!!!

Methuselah, Carbonero el Mayor, Spain, Zarateman [CC0], from Wikimedia Commons.

This month, I’ve been focusing on the oldest books on my TBR (January Reading Plans here), so just thought of a light post on the ten oldest books on my TBR. I have a physical–pen and paper–list of all the books that I’ve bought and downloaded (kindle or PDFs), and cross-off those that I’ve read. In my ten-oldest books list, I’m not including books 1 and 7, since they’re on my January TBR. The first book Poland by James Michener, I have started, though am not very far in (112 or so of 846 pages) but I think I will be able to finish it in time. The second, Swann’s Way (no 7- I actually started this last year but then got distracted by other commitments), I will also try and get to. The rest, well, let’s see.

A bunch of political theory/philosophy books all ended up on my TBR when I was reading parts of them at the University, and wanted to read the whole, but I still haven’t gotten down to it. The rest seem to simply have gotten pushed back for one reason or another.

So here’s my list.

Do have a TBR list where you keep track of what you have waiting to read? Is it on Goodreads or a spreadsheet or a physical one as I keep? Which are the ten oldest on you pile? I’d love to hear about them, so do let me know in the comments.

Shelf Control #31: The Last Chronicle of Barset

Wednesday, the 23rd of January, and time once again for Shelf Control. This is a weekly feature hosted by Lisa at Bookshelf Fantasies,¬†and celebrates the books on your TBR pile. To participate, pick any book from your TBR pile, write a post about it, and link back to Lisa’s blog. Do also share your links in the comments below as I’d love to read about your picks.

As I’d mentioned last week, for the rest of January, in keeping with my ‘theme’ this month, I’ll be writing about some of the oldest books on my TBR pile in this feature (last week’s post is here). This week, my pick is Anthony Trollope’s The¬†Last¬†Chronicle¬†of¬†Barset. This is the second time I’m writing about a Trollope book in this feature (the other, The¬†Eustace¬†Diamonds I wrote about here). The Last Chronicle of Barset is the sixth and final book in Trollope’s Barsetshire series. Barsetshire is a fictional English county created by Trollope. Novelist Angela Thirkell also set many of her works in Barsetshire.

The story: The Reverend Josiah Crawley, the impoverished curate of Hogglestock is accused of theft, more specifically of stealing a cheque, causing a public scandal. How the community and others react to this forms the rest of the story. Crawley if I remember right, is also not the most likeable of people. Of course, this isn’t all that this almost 900 page tome deals with. There are romances, several other subplots, and we also catch up with characters we have met previously in Barsetshire and see what has become of them.

The author: Anthony Trollope, born in 1815, worked in the British Postal Department. He also wrote forty-seven novels (besides short stories), including the Barsetshire and Paliser series, and standalones like The Way We Live Now, He Knew He Was Right, and Orley Farm. 

Trollope, Napoleon Sarony [Public domain] via wikimedia commons

My copy: I downloaded a copy via Project Gutenberg as Trollope’s works are in public domain. (Find his works here).

Why I want to read it: I’ve read the first five books in the series, and enjoyed them and really want to see how it wraps up. There was especially one story thread left dangling in the previous instalment, The¬†Small¬†House¬†at¬†Allington, and I wanted to see how that is resolved. Also I enjoy Trollope’s storytelling. Even when one knows the answer to some questions (like in Orley Farm) he can keep one interested and reading right through. Which is quite something considering most of his novels are doorstoppers!

Have¬†you¬†read¬†this¬†one¬†or¬†any¬†others¬†in¬†the¬†series?¬†Or¬†any¬†books¬†by¬†Trollope¬†other¬†than¬†these?¬†Or do you plan o read any? Which¬†ones¬†and if you’ve read them,¬†how¬†did¬†you¬†like¬†them?¬†Looking¬†forward¬†to¬†hearing¬†your¬†thoughts!

Children’s Book of the Month: Pinocchio by Carlo Collodi

Cover of the Companion Library Edition (1965, Grosset and Dunlap), the copy that I have

The 1883 classic tale of the rather naughty wooden puppet. The translation I read was by M.A.  Murray, illustrated by Mariano Leone. The story begins with a carpenter Master Cherry coming upon a rather unusual piece of wood which seems to talk and laugh, and even cry. He hands this over to his friend Geppetto who has at that time come looking for a piece of wood to make a puppet by which he can earn a living. But even as he is making the puppet, he realises that this no ordinary puppet for it not only speaks to him, but begins to get into mischief like pulling off the poor man‚Äôs wig. And once Pinocchio is made, more mischief ensues as the boy is interested only in having his own way, even if poor old Geppetto has to suffer (even go to prison) in the process. But Pinocchio is not bad hearted. He in fact feels for his father and really wishes to do him some good. With good intentions, he starts off to school with his spelling book but before long is distracted by a puppet show. This is the beginning of a series of adventures where Pinocchio falls into one soup after another (from nearly being fried as a fish to turning into a donkey), while attempting quite sincerely every so often to turn good, and ultimately to become a boy.

Before I go into my thoughts in the book, I’d just like to write about the edition that I have which is the Companion Library edition (1965) published by Grosset and Dunlap. When I bought this book (second-hand) I didn’t realise that this was actually two books in one, starting on opposite ends (see picture below). So it was a real surprise when I got home and noticed that. It has some nice cheerful (green and white) endpapers. I also quite liked the illustrations (the illustrators of both books must be related, Mariano Leone for this one and Sergio Leone for the King Arthur book), and especially the cover.

Anyway, now back to the actual book. For starters, I realised when I read that book that I hadn‚Äôt actually ever read it before. The impression I had of Pinocchio is of a boy-puppet who told lies which made his nose grow long, which was then restored if he tells the truth‚ÄĒsomething which would go on till he learnt his lesson. But this was not just that, in fact there were literally only two episodes of this. Pinocchio gets into various forms of mischief, but his worst habits are being disobedient and getting tempted by whatever people (usually the wrong sort) tell him rather than listening to good advice. That he is lazy, and like many children would rather be having fun than going to school adds to his troubles, and he finds himself in trouble (even on the verge of losing his life) each time he strays. But the kind of adventures he has and the different settings and characters are very imaginative, fun, and a real delight to read about. I enjoyed the descriptions, for instance of the poodle, Medoro who was sent by the blue-haired fairy to rescue Pinocchio:

‚ÄúHe was in the full dress livery of a coachman. On his head was a three-cornered cap braided with gold, his curly white wig came down onto his shoulders, he had a chocolate-colored waistcoat with diamond buttons, and two large pockets to contain the bones that his mistress gave him at dinner. He had besides a pair of short crimson velvet breeches, silk stockings, cut-down shoes, and hanging behind him a species of umbrella case made of blue satin, to put his tail into when the weather was rainy.‚ÄĚ

And the story is full of humour. There are also some (though not a lot) of rather Alicey (in wonderland) lines. For instance:

‚ÄúI wish to know from you gentlemen, if this unfortunate puppet is alive or dead!‚ÄĚ

…

‚ÄúTo my belief the puppet is already quite dead; but if unfortunately he should not be dead, then it would be a sign that he is still alive.‚ÄĚ

‚ÄúI regret,‚ÄĚ said the Owl, ‚Äúto be obliged to contradict the Crow, my illustrious friend and colleague; but in my opinion the puppet is still alive; but if unfortunately he should not be alive, then it would be a sign that he is dead indeed!‚ÄĚ

This is a humorous and fun read, and although it does (and understandably so) get preachy in parts about how young boys should behave (after all it was meant to teach a lesson), I found it to be a really enjoyable read.

#BookReview #ChildrensLiterature #Classic #Humour #Fantasy

Tackling your TBR Pile: Fun and Games

Piles and piles of unread books that we keep adding onto. Most of us I think. But really, there are so many books that one wants to read, and that one will be able to get to…eventually. My TBR currently has 268 books (a lot of these are e-books that I got for free on offer or as public domain books) but still. And it can get overwhelming at times. There are plenty of tips out there to get your TBR piles in order–reading more to unhauling (this I did one round of at the end of last year getting rid of a bunch of e-books that I had downloaded for free but which I didn’t really want to read), and of course shopping bans. But this post is about the reading part of those tips and some fun ways that one can go about doing that.

Book Challenges and Readathons: There are so many of these out there, on and off, and it’s fun to try read according to the themes or challenges put up and see how many of your books fit into the categories. For instance, there’s a mangathon next week, a 24 in 48 challenge next weekend, a fairytaleathon from February 1-10, and a Monstrous March in er… March. The Little Book Owl has a full list with all the relevant links here. I also am part of a group on goodreads A Book for All Seasons which gives out certain prompts to read (five topics + an additional sixth one) for each equinox period (find the group here). Bookriot has a read harder challenge which gives 24 prompts to be fulfilled over the year. The 2019 challenge is here.

Reading themes: This is something I do (and am sure others do too), and have been doing for a few years off and on now.. Simply pick a theme or a genre (based on your TBR, since if you just randomly chose one, you’d probably end up adding books rather than removing them), and read those books for a week or a month, or whatever period you like to spread it over. One of my favourite that I picked a couple of years ago was all the books on my TBR which had an animal and bird in its title, so some of my pile for that “challenge” looked like this.

Book Bingo: I don’t care much for Bingo itself but book bingo looks like a great deal of fun. It’s basically a bingo ticket with various prompts which you read and cross out.

Source: http://schoollibraryjournal.tumblr.com/post/40763408466/bingo-reading-bingo-challenge-via-random

For me, I think, a regular bingo ticket would work as well since I have a numbered TBR list, I could simply pick the books against the numbers on the ticket (any random ticket off the net), and cross them out. I haven’t tried this out yet but should be fun!

I just found this Bingo Challenge for January 2019 (at bookish.com here)

Source: https://www.bookish.com/articles/january-bookish-bingo/?platform=hootsuite

Bookopoly: A monopoly board but with books and reading in mind. I think, it is played just like monopoly but with a board that’s designed for books. I’ve seen people make these for themselves and apparently, they’re also available on Amazon. Again something I haven’t tried yet but sounds good.

Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/157696424437961857/

So there were some fun ways to tackle your TBR. What’s your current TBR like? How do you go about reading through it? Any specific challenges that you’ve been doing? Or games or memes that make it more fun (of course, reading any book itself is fun, that’s why we have such huge TBRs in the first place)? I’d love to hear all about it, so do leave a comment!

Review: #MaddyAlone by Pamela Brown #NetGalley

My thanks to Steerforth Press/Pushkin Press and NetGalley for a review copy of this book.

Maddy Alone is the second book in Pamela Brown‚Äôs Blue Door series. (Find my review of the first book, The Swish of the Curtain here). This one was first published in 1945 (the author must have been just out of her teens at this point), and is being brought out again by Pushkin Press. In the first book, seven children, Sandra, Nigel, Jeremy, Bulldog, Lyn, Vickie and Maddie set up their own theatre company in Fenchester, where they live‚ÄĒthey put up shows (from Shakespeare to their own plays) during the holidays and for different occasions, and finally manage to convince their parents to send them to drama school. In Maddy Alone, all the children have gone to drama school except Maddy who is now twelve but still too young to join them. Working (not very hard) at school, she feels it is unfair that they get to go to study drama while she has to study arithmetic (or in her words, or something like them, about Mr. A, Mr. B and Mr. C, who dig wells). She is excited when the holidays approach for all the others will be back and they can put on a show but it turns out that only Sandra is coming home while the rest are to stay back in London where they are needed for a show. This naturally disappoints her some more, especially since even Sandra when she‚Äôs there is more interested in going shopping with their mother. But some excitement is in store for Maddy when a film crew comes into Fenchester to shoot a historical film, and Maddy finds herself the leading lady! Maddy becomes a film star alright but also remains Maddy, able at most times to get her own way, and to get people to do what she wants, and up to plenty of mischief in the process.

This was a really quick read, much shorter than the first book but still very good fun. This time, as I already wrote, the story pretty much focuses on Maddy. One can relate to her feeling of being left out of things (of all the excitement, so to speak) because of her age, and her inability to understand/accept that the others had also got to go to school as well, but at times, at least initially, she did also come across as a tad more childish than I liked. But as things move along, and she gets her big opportunity, I also found myself appreciating how she did stay grounded and normal despite all the attention that was coming her way, and the possibility of fame‚ÄĒshe is excited by things that are happening and not so very interested in regular school life, but doesn‚Äôt acquire airs or always want to dress up or play film star. In fact, quite the opposite, she is the characteristic Maddy ‚Äúbullying‚ÄĚ if I can call it that more than one person (including a gruffy old peer) to get what she wants, questioning things that are not to her liking (even if to means giving up the opportunities she has), and worried about letting the other Blue Doors down if she doesn‚Äôt do well enough. She learns a thing or two in the process but essentially remains the same mischievous girl. It was good fun reading of her adventures and antics (which at one point reminded me of the Family at One End Street), and of Mrs Potter-Smith making a nuisance of herself as always, and I can‚Äôt wait to pick up the next one and see what the children get up to next.

Pamela Brown, who started this series when she was just in her teens (13 according to Wikipedia; the first book was published when she was 16), was a writer, actress and television producer, and like the children in the books put on plays with her friends when a child.

The book comes out on 14 May 2019.