Seven ‘bookish’ heavenly virtues.

This week I’ve been reading more lists, though you might call them expanded. Re-enchantment of the World came up with the idea of connecting our reading experiences to ‘ideas of moral excellence’, and created seven questions that allow us to explore the positive aspects of reading. So thank you, Ola and Piotrek, it’s been fascinating seeing your answers, and tracking down some of the others.

So fascinating, I can’t resist claiming my space.

Which author, book or series do you wish you’d never read?

This is tricky. There have been plenty of books I haven’t enjoyed, and several I’ve not finished. But they all showed me something. I like thinking about how or why a book didn’t work for me.

There have been books that offended me, and one I was so disgusted by that I threw it in the fire. I can’t remember who wrote it, or the title. All I remember is that it romanticised rape.

Which book or series did you find so good that you didn’t want to read it all at once, and you read it in doses just to make the pleasure last longer?

North and South, by Elizabeth Gaskell. I read it over seven weeks, in equal sections, with my autumn reading groups, last year. I’d decided not to pre-prepare in the summer, because I wanted to discover the story alongside the group. It took a lot of will-power to resist finishing it ahead of the schedule. I re-read it again, right after the course finished.

Which book, series or author do you tirelessly push to others, telling them about it or even giving away spare copies bought for that reason?

The short stories of Elizabeth Taylor (1912 – 1975). Kingsley Amis called her ‘one of the best English novelists born in this century’. I like her novels, but the short stories are stunning.

They’re subtle, and subversive. Approach them with the idea that she had hidden depths, and you’ll find layer upon layer of meaning. I could go on, and on, but I won’t – here.

Which series or author do you follow no matter what happens and how long you have to wait?

I love trilogies, but add another title to that, and I tend to drift. So, not a series.

Author’s, on the other hand, I’ll wait for. I’ve been collection Jeffery Farnol novels for decades. They’re tatty old hardbacks dating from the 1920s, 30s and 40s. I haven’t wanted to read them for years, but I continue looking out for them, because one day he will be just what I need.

Is there an author, book or series you’ve read that improved with time the most, starting out unpromising but ultimately proving rewarding?

I was a teenager when I read my first Henry James, it was Portrait of a Lady, and I was determined not to be beaten. After that, I avoided him.

Then, I wanted a book to put with Kate Atkinson’s Behind the Scenes at the Museum, for a reading group, and What Maisie Knew, was the best match. It was a revelation. I’ve read more of his shorter fiction since then, and his essays are fascinating. When I have enough time in hand, I’m going back to try Portrait, again.

Which fictitious character would you consider your role model in the hassle of everyday life?

That varies, day-by-day, depending on what I’m reading. I can’t think of a single model. I do frequently wish I was as feisty as Lisbeth Salander, but I’d prefer not to have had the kind of experiences that seem to have caused her to develop those attributes.

Which book, series or author do you find most under-rated?

If only I hadn’t already mentioned Elizabeth Taylor… I don’t like to repeat myself, so looking back a little further in time, how about Arnold Bennett?

He was prolific and popular, in his day. But saying you write for profit, and letting people know that you have a rigid routine bothers some critics, especially if your books sell well.

The Grand Babylon Hotel was written in a month. I’ve read it, and while it didn’t strike me as being ‘great literature’, it was a lovely time-slip into Edwardian England.

The Old Wives Tale, which took him about seven months, has more power, and ambition. It hooked all four reading groups I shared it with, two years ago.

Virginia Woolf played a part in crippling Bennett’s reputation, in a 1924 lecture called Mr Bennett and Mr Brown. I suppose she had to. Though if she’d read his work closely she might have recognised some of his techniques.

On my bookshelf, Mr Bennett and Mrs Woolf sit side-by-side.

30 thoughts on “Seven ‘bookish’ heavenly virtues.

  1. Thank you, Cath, we’re very happy you liked the idea! 🙂
    Fascinating answers, and I must admit I need to try something by Henry James at last… I believe I did try a Polish translation of his book once, and it didn’t click for me, but it was admittedly ages ago 😉 And you make Elizabeth Taylor’s short stories sound very promising!

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Gosh another fascinating way to reveal your reading. Thank you! I love the subversive – short stories seem an ideal form. I have only read a few of Elizabeth Taylor’s and now I want more. Henry James: I think What Maisie Knew is brilliant but the one that hooked me first was The Golden Bowl. I read as much of his work as I could, though my younger self felt intimidated into writing silence. The Turn of the Screw helped me get over that again.

    Liked by 2 people

    • I know, isn’t it a great tag? I’ve been dipping into some of the other taggers (?) and found some intriguing lists.

      I haven’t read the Golden Bowl, and now you mention it, someone once told me it was one of his best. I’ve squeezed it into the bottom of the page of books in the back of my diary!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. That’s an interesting challenge with some unique questions. What I enjoyed most was seeing all the different ways that you (many of us) relate to books. They really are like little entities that we have relationships with for a short or long period of time. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    • That’s been my feeling, Diana. I’ve loved thinking about how I felt about the questions, and even surprised myself with some of my answers. I wonder how my answers would have compared a decade, or even two decades ago…

      Liked by 3 people

  4. What a fascinating idea. I like your list – it seemed to be a way of making you more real as a person. I’m a fan of Arnold Bennet but never got along well with Henry James. Elizabeth Taylor is still on one of my lists but I’ve not got to her yet. Keep on reading…you always have such interesting authors up your sleeve. 🙂

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Sheila, so glad you like my rambles through books. Having read a few of the other ‘takers’ on this tag, I had the same impression as you, that the answers provided intriguing insights into the writers.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Wow! Now we have another revelation, you are a fan of Jeffrey Farnol! And therefore of the Regency romantic genre, embodied also by Georgette Heyer. Thank the lord for that. It is a genre oft-times dismissed by the literati but in reality oft a rollicking good read.
    The great thing about literature is its volume, scope and variety – its a shame when critics narrow this down. You, Cath, never ever do that (although throwing a book on the fire gets a bit close – I’d love to know what it was called so I could join you ☺)

    (If you want to add a short story to the kindness category try “Human is” by Philip K Dick)

    Liked by 2 people

    • I freely admit that I gorged on Georgette Heyer in my teenage, Mike, and could not believe my luck when I stumbled across Jeffrey Farnol a little later. Rollicking good reads would be my summing up of them too.

      I also credit both writers with preparing me to embrace the worlds of both Jane Austen and Restoration comedies.

      Thanks for the kindness category suggestion. I’ll check my Philip K Dick selection and see if I’ve got “Human is”. It’s been a few months since I picked up any sci-fi.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. What a lovely idea and such a great list. I must get on with reading Elizabeth Taylor and I had no idea John Lennon had a book of poetry – but of course he did! So I must read that too.

    Liked by 2 people

  7. I’ve heard of Elizabeth Taylor for so many years but never read her. I really must change that.

    And as I see from the comments that Jeffrey Farnol is akin to Georgette Heyer, I must seek him out too! I would dearly love some “rollicking good reads” that compare to hers. Most of her imitators I find completely unbearable.


  8. Praise from Kingsley Amis is no small thing! And I know what you mean to be disgusted by a book. While I’ve been disgusted by characters in a book to the point of throwing the book across the room, I’ve not yet loathed any specific author…not that my pre-dawn brain can remember, anyway.

    (For the record, the book was BASTARD OUT OF CAROLINA.)


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s