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Reading
For many years I have been buying far more books than I can read -- whatever I can afford, that look interesting to me -- and it has finally caught up with me. Stuff has to go. Although a friend who is a fellow bibliophile suggested we might get rid of the furniture instead, I'm afraid it is beyond that. So, I have been looking through boxes of books, stored in the loft for lack of anywhere else to keep them, and many of those books are, surprise surprise, unread. So, even though it is probably too late to ever catch up with my constantly expanding to-be-read pile (5 new books arrived in the post only yesterday -- review copies although I am without a review outlet now, unless you count this) this is what I've read lately:

1) THE SHORTEST WAY TO HADES by Sarah Caudwell. Copyright 1984, but this edition is from December 1995, and the price sticker on the back tells me I bought it at Murder One -- presumably on one of my trips to London in the late '90s. I may have been attracted to it by what looks like an Edward Gorey cover illustration -- I don't know for sure that it is, because there's no credit given to the artist. (Don't you hate that?) I don't know why I never read it before, but the first chapter is a bit turgid -- being devoted to the details of a complicated family Will; there's even a family tree to help you follow the lines of descent. But once past that, it's a delight for anyone who enjoys an amusing, very mannered, story...classic "cosy" mystery crossed with comedy of manners. Here's a tiny sample, a description of what happened after two young ladies had partaken of some "remarkable" fudge at an unexpectedly louche party:

..."She cast off all conventional restraints and devoted herself without shame to the pleasure of the moment."
I asked for particulars of this uncharacteristic conduct.
"She took from her handbag a paperback edition of "Pride and Prejudice" and sat on the sofa reading it, declining all offers of conversation. I have never known you, Selena, so indifferent to the demands of social obligation." ...

2) THE GUYND by Belinda Rathbone. This is a true story, a memoir by an American woman who married a Scot (heir to a lovely but crumbling Georgian mansion) about her ten years living there. As another American in Scotland I was obviously attracted to this, but her experience could hardly be more different than mine! The circles she moved in were much grander (even when down at heels), and not on the west coast, which makes a surprising difference. "The Guynd" is the name of the house, and should be pronounced to rhyme with "wind", apparantly.

3) ALL SOULS by Javier Marias. Not sure when or why I bought this, but think it was on the strength of a review I'd read of the author's latest novel. Anyway -- I just finished reading it, and am still in that pleasurable, excited haze of discovery that comes when you've discovered a new author to love. It is hard to explain just what impressed me so much, but it is more to do with the tone, the narrative voice, the observations (often quite striking) made by the narrator (an academic from Spain spending two years in Oxford), and lots of little incidental things -- echos, reflections, remarks that crop up from time to time and reverberate. The quotes on the cover refer mostly to the humour and wit which is certainly there, and the clever, sly and accurate depiction of Oxford University, but that wasn't what impressed me most. There isn't a lot of plot, it's like a kind of musing memoir, someone looking back on his few friendships and a love affair that stood out in an otherwise rather bleak and arid period of alienation. The narrator is also a book-collector with a particular interest in Arthur Machen -- then he decides to look for books by someone even more obscure, a writer who called himself John Gawsworth -- I had never heard of him and assumed that Marias had made him up until I came across the two photographs in the book -- one of Gawsworth (real name: Terrence Fytton Armstrong) in RAF uniform, the other of his death mask -- then I looked him up and found he was for real, a friend of Arthur Machen and M.P. Shiel (among others) -- and my enjoyment of "All Souls" kicked up to another level of fascination. A wonderful book, one I will certainly not be getting rid of -- I may even want to reread it; it feels like a book that should be read more than once. And if -- when -- I allow myself to buy some more books, some will be by Javier Marias.

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desayunoencama From: desayunoencama Date: February 4th, 2012 10:33 am (UTC) (Link)
The Caudwells are delightful! There are only four of them, alas: three she published during her lifetime and the posthumous THE SYBIL IN HER GRAVE.

They did have Edward Gorey covers in some editions, although I think Constable & Robinson have reissued them most-recently with new covers.
kate_schaefer From: kate_schaefer Date: February 4th, 2012 04:08 pm (UTC) (Link)
I'll have to look out for Caudwell, who sounds like my cup of tea.

In my reading list today, shweta_narayan is right next to you. In the real world, she has just moved to Aberdeen, not precisely close to Argylle and Bute, but considerably closer than California, where she lived until earlier this week. I've never met Shweta in person, but she travels in the same circles; I think I've just missed meeting her at a couple of Wiscons. She attended Clarion in San Diego a few years ago as a Butler scholarship winner. She's a fine writer, when her health allows her to write.
thefirstalicat From: thefirstalicat Date: February 4th, 2012 08:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
I love Sarah Caudwell's books - I believe the one you read is the second of the four she published. As someone noted already, Caudwell died young, I think in her 40s; I remember being quite upset when I heard because I so much enjoyed her books and now I knew there wouldn't be any more of them (selfish of me, I know, but then I never knew the author personally)....

Oh and just to add quickly - we finally received the new issue of Cemetery Dance in the mail (we're long-time subscribers) and I see you have a story in it, yay! The 'zine is next on my reading list after I finish Urban Noir, edited by Ellen Datlow (which is a lot of fun btw). I think it's been more than a year since we've had a new CD, they've been way off their schedule....
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